Categories
Power Dynamics

What Kind of Freedom Do You Want ?

Free woman

We all yearn for freedom. Instinctively nobody wants to submit to the will of others whom we cannot trust to act in our best interests. However, in today's complex high-tech society we've become so interdependent that we relinquish our personal freedoms and submit to higher authorities in all our daily interactions with the rest of humanity and man-made infrastructure. Failure to conform to societal norms can often result in isolation and impaired emotional wellbeing. So freedom is a very relative concept and can only be truly understood in the context of other desirable goals we may have in our lives and in wider society such as good health, safe neighbourhoods, social cohesion, prosperity or democracy. We often confuse freedom with rights or entitlements. Access to clean water is strictly speaking not a freedom in and of itself. It's a human necessity that keeps us alive and kicking. We may thus have a right to potable water and breathable air, but their availability depends on our ability to exploit nature either by choosing hospitable habitats or by taming erratic natural forces to meet our needs. Primitive human beings did not expect clean potable water to flow freely from taps. Our ancestors had to learn where to find sources of vital elements. We may have been free to move to inhospitable regions, but would have had to pay the ultimate price for our adventurism if we failed to gather life's necessities. Naturally, we cannot enjoy any other freedoms until we have attained the means of survival. Absolute freedom would let us do whatever we want, whether or not it's good for us or harms others. Both biology and culture determine what we want. Our more basic instincts are not just to survive, but to procreate, which in the case of human beings means partaking in a complex game to enhance our social status and mate with the most desirable partner. Absolute tyranny would grant us no freedom of action, speech or thought at all. We might exist, but higher authorities would monitor and control every aspect of our lives, purportedly for our own good. As a social animal, we have seldom enjoyed absolute freedom, and neither have we yet succumbed to absolute tyranny, although some societies have come fairly close. A lone hunter-gatherer in a fertile wilderness may temporarily enjoy absolute personal freedom for no other human being could tell him what to do. Visions of primordial freedom have long featured in our literature, often portrayed as the aftermath of a misadventure as in Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. The need to survive would constrain all his actions. He would not enjoy the freedom to lie in bed or play video games all day. Indeed they'd be no modern infrastructure at all. The only man-made artefacts would be the creations of our intrepid extreme survivalist. If one day our hero were to meet and fall in love with a woman, his personal freedom would end for cohabitation inevitably constrains your actions. Even the most primitive societies had the concept of social responsibility and rules which governed the behaviour of its members. If you broke these rules and lacked the authority of a lawmaker, you may well be banished and risk becoming yet another biogenetic dead-end. Most of us can thus only conceive of freedom once we have met all our other vital needs and satisfy a set of innate emotional and biological urges that evolved to ensure the procreation of the fittest. More important as a social animal whose young need extended nurturing all our freedoms are subordinate to community needs.

Communities may allow some activities, such as sexual liaison, only in private or in segregated settings to avoid unwanted resentment and disgust. One person's freedom ends where someone else's fundamental human rights begin. As soon as our actions affect other people, we are no longer free to do as we please and have to modify our behaviour to suit our social environment. In a complex society privilege thus means greater exclusivity via private ownership or temporary hire of private spaces, where one can exert greater personal freedoms without constant social surveillance. Naturally in your private space you could do good or bad things. You may partake in leisure pursuits of which many do not approve or at least do not wish to witness. Often we probably just want to work or relax without fearing social opprobrium. As soon as we leave our private space and enter a social space shared with the wider community, we adapt our behaviour and outward appearance. The range of permissible behaviours depends very much on the social milieu and level of trust. In private we may also discuss personal or business matters that may give us an unfair advantage over others. However, in rare cases where things go nastily wrong, some of us might commit heinous crimes that are obviously easier to conceal in more secluded surroundings. If you happen to own, and have exclusive usage of, a castle in a remote corner of the Scottish Highlands, you might be able to get away with murder much more easily than a typical resident of a high rise flat surrounded by neighbours and CCTV cameras. Many of us like to express our freedom through greater contact with nature, inevitably making us more vulnerable to natural predators and other humans who may take advantage of our nonchalance. Yet we can only confidently exercise such freedoms when we feel safe among others we trust.

One of the most fundamental principles of law is the presumption of innocence, i.e. the assumption that one does not seek privacy in order to commit heinous acts and most people have essentially good intentions unless proven otherwise. The principle of innocent until proven guilty may well have been the bedrock of both Roman and many modern legal systems in what we once considered the enlightened liberal world, but it relies on a strong foundation of shared moral and cultural values and high degree of mutual trust among members of our wider society. Once this reciprocal trust breaks down in an interdependent world, the authorities have to resort to growing levels of surveillance and subtle inculcation to maintain social order.

Complex versus Primitive Societies

Anthropologists often contrast complex with primitive societies. In essence the greater the size, specialisation and interdependency of a society, the more complex it is. More complex societies tend to produce more advanced technology that both expand and restrict personal freedoms. More primitive societies may afford its members greater theoretical freedom of action, but are inevitably constrained by rudimentary technology.

Technocratic Paradox

Undoubtedly most of us in modern European and North American cities enjoy easy access to better technology than our ancestors or the hapless denizens of cultural backwaters still clinging to outmoded ways of life. Our forebears had to survive without the benefits of modern telecommunications and comparatively inexpensive travel. Our day-to-day lives would be a never-ending tale of hard work and thankfulness for our anecdotal daily bread. Freedom never meant entitlement to a life of workless leisure and endless self-obsessed exploration. It meant first and foremost familial independence, i.e. the right of each viable family to manage affairs in their best interests and raise the next generation as they see fit. Under feudalism such freedoms were always constrained by land rights and punitive fees. Early capitalism transformed the nature of exploitation, so workers gained the freedom to compete with each other for breadcrumbs. Only later as technology improved could better educated and more specialised workers demand higher wages and better working conditions that also granted them greater individual freedom. Yet we tend to conceptualise our freedom of action only in relation to the dominant cultural paradigm of our era. Car owners may appreciate greater freedom to drive where they want, but such freedoms ultimately rely on massive infrastructure, advanced technology and regulations that prevent accidents and ease traffic flows. One may well enjoy the illusion of free movement on a desolate highway surrounded by wide open spaces, but when stuck in a traffic jam on a multilane motorway with no easy escape route, one may wish for alternatives. Indeed in many congested metropolises the mega-rich bypass overcrowded trains and gridlocked roads by helicopter. Hyper-consumerism has morphed into an arms race, where the same machines that once seemed to liberate us trap us into a high-tech rat race. Before the era of mass motoring urban children would happily play in the streets. Now their parents dare not let their offspring out not only for well-founded fears of road traffic accidents, but also because of a breakdown in communitarian trust and media reports of rampant child abusers and grooming gangs. Young children may be free to hop in their parents' car to the nearest shopping mall, sports centre or school, but are often no longer free to explore their neighbourhoods unsupervised. My point here is a higher material living standard does not necessarily beget more freedom. Better and more accessible technology may enable us to do things that our forebears could only dream of, but also impose other constraints. We may have the freedom to fly to Tenerife on holiday, but once there our actions are constrained by the thousands of other tourists who have taken advantage of cheap air travel and the facilities needed to support their lifestyle. To gain greater personal freedom you either have to venture off the beaten track and forgo many of the luxuries we now take for granted or buy access to exclusive resorts. Today's mega rich may profit from an increasingly globally integrated economy, but use their immense financial wealth to escape the excesses of mass consumerism and ubiquitous surveillance. We have thus commoditised freedom. If you like the commercialised hubbub of shopping and leisure centres with their incessant promotion of ephemeral products and synthetic experiences, then you have probably relinquished any true sense of self. Had I never visited a shopping mall, I may find the experience of temporary interest. Likewise I don't regret visiting the Great Mosque of Al Quayrawan (Kairouan) in the interests of anthropology, but I would not convert to Islam or agree with many of its practices. All activities organised by higher authorities restrict our freedom of thought, expression and action.

Free Will

In theory at least we are all mere carbon life-forms. Human emotions and culture would be inconceivable without our evolved intelligence that helps us learn new skills and concepts. To an animal behaviourist, a herd of cattle act in highly predictable ways responding largely biological impulses and environmental variables that may affect the availability of edible grass and potable water. They can easily explain aberrant behaviour in terms of disease or bad ecology. Most zoologists do not expect one cow to seclude itself in the corner of a field to write a philosophical treatise, compose a symphony or invent a new kind of manger. Neither do they expect groups of cows to gather to discuss how to free themselves from their human overlords. Yet our bovine cousins still have independent brains and some limited sense of self, albeit as part of a larger collective. We know this because most animals, except under extreme stress, act in the best interests of self-preservation. Without a sense of self, life and breeding serve little purpose other than to propagate one's species to the detriment of other life forms. Here we note two competing procreative strategies, known to ecologists as r/K selection theory. Lower animals with less evolved brains tend to maximise their procreative potential through r-selection and are limited only by their habitat's natural restraints. Such animals tend to rely more on collective intelligence than individual insights. Higher or more intelligent animals tend more towards K-selection with much higher investment in raising their young and much more selective mating strategies. However, a given species may adapt its procreation strategy to match environmental or cultural changes. Although human beings tend to more to K-selection, when compared to more prolific species, our rapid cultural and technological evolution has changed our procreation strategies and consequently the relative importance of individuals versus the collective. Our modern high-tech society would not be possible without hyper-specialisation and the creativity of a relatively small number of pioneering scientists, engineers, mathematicians, philosophers, entrepreneurs and philanthropists. Without a highly evolved sense of self our ancestors could never have innovated or challenged the old status quo. Critical thinking means understanding that the real world has many inconvenient dilemmas and paradoxes, e.g. should I satisfy my temporary desires by eating more ice cream or keep to a strict diet to maintain a healthy body shape and avoid unpleasant illnesses? Such a choice is an act of free will, a battle between biological instincts that evolved in Palaeolithic times and rational evidence-based behaviour. Prehistoric hunter-gatherers may well have feasted on nuts and berries to give themselves a much-needed sugar and fibre boost while stocks lasted. We evolved to crave things that were good for us or our longer-terms survival in most circumstances. But as we modified our environment through the invention of tools, farming and machines and we colonised habitats to which naked humans would be ill-suited, our instincts gave way to reason and culture, ways of life that evolved through trial and error. Ultimately everything we do or say can be reduced to biological instincts, but describing as human beings as mere carbon life-forms makes about as much sense as defining books as wood pulp products. Paper is a mere medium for advanced concepts expressed in complex human language. Free will is thus the intersection between physical reality and our intelligence. It is the act of conscious thinking when we consider conflicting options. We can exercise our free will to help ourselves, our loved ones or wider society. We are also free to make mistakes or follow the wrong advice. Without free will, independence is a mere figment of our imagination.

Identity Politics and Personal Freedom

A free person does not need a label to define or justify his or her behaviour. As long as our behaviour does not unduly limit someone else's freedom, without their express consent, then our predilections are a matter for us alone or other people with whom we choose to share such experiences. We have devised two dominant ways to deal with the complexity of an increasingly interconnected and transient society. The free market, in theory, allows competing cultural paradigms to coexist and find their own niche in a rapidly evolving world. By contrast a socialist utopia would replace competing cultures with a universal super-culture that would seek to eradicate practical inequalities between individuals. Equality and diversity may sound virtuous, but in practice cannot coexist, unless we redefine diversity in terms of ethnic background, gender identity, sexual orientation or non-conformist personality traits. Indeed we would never have progressed beyond the Stone Age if we had all conformed to societal norms. Some of us needed to think out of the box to devise new ways of overcoming natural constraints, while others had to nurture our prehistoric inventors. Natural diversity, especially of the intellectual and vocational kinds, spearheaded human development. Sadly such natural differences are also grotesquely unfair. A maladapted person without an opportunity to flourish is an evolutionary dead-end. Hence we descend mainly from the survivors of past civilisations with high infant mortality rates. Anyone with extremely dysfunctional behaviour would either not have survived to adulthood or would have been shunned by the wider community. As a result only more advanced, mainly post-agrarian, societies could afford a degree of specialisation that would take full advantage of the rare intellectual skills that saw the development of writing, mathematics and applied sciences, without which our modern world would be unthinkable. We have seen neither the triumph of Smithsonian laissez-faire economics nor a transition to a command economy with full public ownership. Instead we have the growing dominance of large transnational corporations closely tied to global banking cartels who work symbiotically with millions of smaller service providers and suppliers. These conglomerates not only bankroll the world's most influential media outlets, they fund myriad third sector organisations to lobby governments and promote the kind of lifestyles that suit their long-term business interests best. Many of today's leading businesses invest more in marketing, advertising, lobbying and law than they do in research and development. Any large hierarchical organisation, however classified, is much more concerned with bending the will of its subjects, whether citizens or consumers, than empowering others. That's much easier task if you can split your subjects into a plethora of interdependent identity groups. Your freedom to consume has to be balanced by other freedoms, such as financial independence or privacy.

Traditional ethnic, religious, professional and biological identities have recently given way to new identities based on lifestyle choices, personality profiles, erotic preferences or ancestral traits such as skin colour. It may matter little whether you are Portuguese or Polish, but it seems to matter more whether you chose to stay in your home region or migrate to a wealthier country, identify as an avid gamer, suffer from OCD, are allergic to nuts or enjoy erotic exchanges with members of the same sex. An almost endless array of circumstantial and behavioural traits can divide people into thousands of subcategories that justify special treatment and new regulations that affect the rights and freedoms of others. Corporate globalisation is commodifying thousands of years of gradual cultural evolution into a set of marketable flavours and identities that mainly serve to subjugate us to their domination. In this bizarre brave new world we are no longer free to criticise a religion that considers homosexuality evil or to challenge the fashionable view that sexual orientation is an immutable inherited trait. We are no longer free to challenge the theory that human activity has caused climate change or to challenge the logic of mass migration. Now I don't dispute that mass consumption has environmental consequences or sustainable migration can be of mutual benefit. I just want the freedom to investigate and discuss the evidence for these propositions.

Freedom to Breathe Fresh Air

I value the freedom to walk in the countryside undisturbed by vehicular traffic, noisy machinery or rowdy behaviour. Yet such freedoms can only be guaranteed by limiting the freedoms of others. You may believe the freedom to cross national boundaries untrammelled trumps all other freedoms such as the freedom to walk your dog in the park without getting mugged or raped. In a complex and unequal world we cannot grant everyone universal freedoms that do not inevitably counteract each other.

Categories
All in the Mind Power Dynamics War Crimes

Whom should we believe?

Orwellian Future

The War on Dissident News

The establishment media have now coined a term for news sites that regularly challenge their orthodox narrative, fake news. This is rich for news organisations that have cheerled wars in the Middle East, turned a blind eye to atrocities committed by our allies and consistently supported the suppression of viable national democratic institutions by a cabal of global corporations. For the last 30-odd years a small set of worldwide news outlets such as CNN, BBC, Sky News and Fox News have literally manufactured the news we consume. They set agendas and decide which events, staged or otherwise, deserve our attention. Some wars go almost unreported, while mercenary reporters go out of their way to discover any evidence of atrocities committed by our official enemies. However, now CNN and the BBC have serious competition as more and more people switch off their TV sets and seek alternative sources for their news online.

Last week the UK government passed the Investigatory Powers Bill that requires Internet service providers and mobile phone companies to keep logs of customers' browsing history for a year, so that government agencies can gain access to this minefield of data. In the wake of Donald Trump's surprising electoral success, we have begun to hear calls for filtering and even outright censorship of alternative news sites such as Zerohedge, Drudge Report, Breitbart and Infowars. In the UK social justice warriors have campaigned to ban allegedly rightwing newspapers such as Daily Express, the Sun and the Daily Mail (which is now the most popular British online news site) from college campuses. My twitter feed has messages urging me to sign petitions to stop major corporations from advertising in these papers. Naturally without advertising they would lose their main revenue stream. Just a couple of weeks before the US presidential election, Barrack Obama lent his support to the concept of a truthiness filter that would rank information sources by their reliability. Indeed we've seen a number of initiatives, supported by NGOs, that claim to help us check facts, so much so that the verb fact-check has now entered the Oxford Dictionary. The mainstream media resorted heavily to fact-checking during the recent EU referendum and US presidential campaign. Presumably if you are unsure about a claim you should visit a purportedly non-partisan site that will set the record straight. Fact-checking services use a technique that the public relations industry has perfected over the decades. First they rely on a foundation of indisputable facts and common misconceptions that can easily be debunked. However, their real purpose is not to disprove unfounded claims, but to discredit any verifiable facts that challenge their integrity. To do this, rather than disprove incriminating allegations outright, they present selective evidence to the contrary intermingled with a few unfounded or wild accusations that can easily be disproven. e.g. Is it true that Hillary Clinton participated in satanic rituals involving children? Whatever the evidence on this claim may be, it was never the main focus of any investigation into the operations of the Clinton Foundation or Hillary's role as US Secretary of State. Such questions are mere diversions from the real issues such as Saudi funding of both the Clinton Foundation (confirmed by Wikileaks) and Hillary Clinton's awareness that Saudi Arabia funded Daesh / ISIS. Fact-checking has turned into a massive industry whose main purpose is to sanitise news and discredit alternative news sources.

In some left-leaning circles it is now mildly trendy to lampoon anyone who lends credence to news reports from sites they inevitably dismiss as alt-right, pro-Putin, conspiracy-theorising, misogynist, homophobic, transphobic, Neo-Nazi or possibly, if it suits their agenda, Islamic fundamentalist. Back in the day Western conformists would dismiss any unorthodox facts perhaps as Soviet propaganda. Most challenges to mainstream Western propaganda came not surprisingly from the left. The traditionalist right hated the Soviet Union so much they would support almost anything the US did to defeat it, including arming the Mujahideen or supporting repressive dictatorships in Saudi Arabia, Chile or El Salvador.

The tide began to turn in the post-Soviet era as the US and its allies waged wars on humanitarian pretences against regimes they accused of despotism, nationalism or both. The old left-right divide on US-led wars faded as the new universalist establishment won the support of the conformist left and even some genuine radical thinkers such as the late Christopher Hitchens, who exposed the misdemeanours of Henry Kissinger and then went on to support the 2003 invasion of Iraq. We no longer fought wars to prop up anti-communist religious extremists and dictatorships, enforce neoliberal economic policies or defeat the USSR's allies. Rather we now intervened militarily to spread democracy, human rights and enlightened Western values against anachronistic nationalists and/or religious conservatives. As ever, the establishment media accused opponents of Western military intervention of siding with the enemy, who was no longer the Soviet superpower, but a motley crew of isolated rogue states that failed to cooperate with the new corporate world order. To counter mainstream war propaganda you have to be an expert on Middle Eastern, Central Asian and Russian history. You also need access to reliable sources of information that challenge the globalist narrative. As a result most of us with a limited budget and limited time have to rely on alternative news sites and try to read between the lines. I always have time for John Pilger and no serious scholar of turn-of-millennium politics would be complete without reading Noam Chomsky and Ed Herman's Manufacturing Consent. The latter made the important point that most of the information you need to reach logical conclusions about world events is freely available, but submerged by a deluge of manufactured news, based on selective factoids and staged media events. To hide the truth the mass media do not have to lie, merely omit inconvenient news.

Real Fake News

While the mass media has allowed some debate about the US role in the destabilisation of the Middle and Russia's recent intervention in support of the Syrian government, much of the news we have seen on our TV screens has been filtered by an allegedly humanitarian organisation, the White Helmets. If you only ever get your news from the BBC, Guardian, CNN or Sky News, you will be none the wiser. Even traditionally anti-war MPs from the SNP and the leftwing of the Labour Party have recycled the line that most deaths in the Syria can be attributed to Bashar Al Assad's regime and that the Russians have bombed civilians indiscriminately while the peace-loving White Helmets saved innocent children from an evil alliance of the Russian and Syrian barrel bombs. Journalists Vanessa Beeley and Eva Bartlett have exposed the web of deceit behind the Syrian conflict, especially the strong ties between the White Helmets, Blackwater and Al Nusra, a Syrian opposition militia affiliated with Al Qaeda and with a record of brutal attacks on Christians. In 2013 the BBC broadcast Saving Syria's Children. The footage is no longer available from the BBC iPlayer and copies have been removed from YouTube. It purportedly showed Napalm attacks by Syrian government forces against civilians in a rebel-held area. Robert Stuart has analysed the documentary, which appeared fake from the start, and identified a number of actors used in other propaganda pieces. It was little more than a macro-simulation, yet served as the basis for widely publicised claims that the Syrian regime had deliberated targeted civilians with chemical weapons. Why would the Assad Dynasty wait forty years until the whole world was watching to start massacring its own people?

The more I learn about the Syrian conflict from people who have witnessed the operations of Western NGOs and opposition militias firsthand, the more I distrust the mainstream narrative and clearer it becomes that the US-led alliance destabilised the region. I want the freedom to read dissident news and challenge the truth that emanates from the corporate media. We are heading down a slippery slope to the kind of state-sanctioned censorship that China has imposed on its people.

If I had lived in the Soviet Union, as a natural rebel I would have probably listened to the BBC World Service or Voice of America to find out what's really going on in my country. The more the ruling classes censor the media, the more people begin to distrust it and the harder it is to sort the wheat from the chaff.

If we start censoring tabloid newspapers because they publish stories critical of mass immigration, itself a product of globalisation, we'll end up censoring dissident sites that challenge the disinformation of our mainstream media on matters of war and peace. In the end we will be unable to hold our governments to account because any hard facts that contradict their narrative will be taboo.

You cannot favour free speech only for a narrow range of opinions you deem acceptable. You have to defend people's right to express opinions you may find offensive or interpret facts in a manner you find at odds with reality. It seems our real rulers are playing the infantile left like a fiddle. They have now joined forces with the corporate left to demand censorship of opinions and news they deem as hate speech. Our future is uncertain. We may soon have the technology not only to monitor all human interactions and track people's movements, but to read people's minds and remotely administer psychoactive drugs. If we don't make a stand now against corporate interference in news gathering and intellectual freedom, it may soon be too late.

Categories
Computing Power Dynamics

Is Oceania still at war with Eastasia?

Goldman Sachs

How President Trump could signal the demise of the USA as a superpower and how the globalist elite may switch allegiance to other centres of power.

In George Orwell's 1984 Oceania appeared to be in a never-ending war against Eastasia. Airstrip One, the new name for Great Britain, belonged to Oceania with North America and Australasia, but Eurasia stretched across continental Europe to Vladivostok. At least since Britain's WW2 alliance with the USA first against Nazi Germany and later against the former Soviet Union, the UK intelligentsia has consistently supported the US in its many deployments oversees. Admittedly the British government remained technically neutral over the Vietnam War, but the mainstream media gave the US State Department an easy time over the sheer scale of its war crimes in Indochina. Critical analysis came mainly from the left, whom we could split into pro-Soviet and anti-Soviet camps. Yet the carefree hedonism that accompanied the protest movements of the 1960s and 70s could not have existed in the same form in any other society. Students could stage colourful musical protests and develop a hippie counterculture precisely because of the affluence that their capitalist society provided. In the USSR you only had freedoms that the state explicitly permitted. While Americans could protest against racial segregation or unjust wars, Soviet citizens could not openly oppose the party line. Many anti-war rebels of the 1960s would become the entrepreneurs and neoconservatives of the 1980s and 90s. With the fall of the USSR, global capitalism was all that remained in most of the world. Even China embraced its own brand of crony capitalism managed by a one-party state. Yet the US did not stop waging wars in multiple conflict zones. It simply redeployed some resources from Western and Central Europe to the Middle East. The State Department's new goal was not the defeat of Soviet communism or the protection of Western Europe against a rival expansionist superpower, but the pursuance of a New World Order dominated by liberal democracy and free enterprise. Alas both stated goals were mere illusions. Personal freedom depended on widespread prosperity and social cohesion, while free enterprise depended on ideal market conditions, economic growth and healthy competition. In short the relatively successful mixed economy model that boosted living standards in North America and Western Europe in the 1960s and 70s relied on a fine balance between private enterprise, state interventionism, managed international trade and protectionism.

By opening up markets to global corporations and transferring powers to supranational organisations, rather than create a new world of commercial opportunities for an increasingly mobile and versatile labour force, the ruling elites have paradoxically expanded the role of governments and a wide range of non-governmental people management organisations. If you let your manufacturing industry relocate to low wage economies and let low-paid migrants do all the manual jobs that local workers used to, you have to offer your disenfranchised working classes alternative employment. For a while many bought the theory that old manufacturing jobs would be replaced by new jobs in retail, marketing, media and information technology. But big businesses first outsourced call centres to places like India or the Philippines and then replaced them with interactive Websites. The manufacturing jobs of the recent past are not coming back, because it will soon be cheaper to automate these tasks. If the US can no longer rely on steady stream of Mexican immigrants to pick fruit for peanuts, it can hire a team of talented robotics engineers to automate the whole process and thus save future generations of the humiliation of such back-breaking drudgery.

Rapid economic and technological developments have disempowered the working classes, or at least those unable to adapt. As a result, contrary to all the rhetoric who may hear about millions of new small businesses (usually contractors), we've seen a massive rise in the welfare-dependent population. As clever-accounting hides the true level of unemployment, it may be better to talk of underemployment, i.e. people employed only part time to do unrewarding jobs that serve no real practical purpose and who could not survive without some form of welfare subsidy. More disturbingly, the boom of this century's first decade was largely fuelled by debt. Big business sold millions of tonnes of consumer goods with a very limited shelf life that would be soon be superseded by further innovations. Clearly the economic numbers do not add up. Nobody on an average wage can conceivably afford the kind of lifestyle we see in American soap operas. Real estate inflation has long been much higher than retail inflation. More and more young Americans, just like their cousins in Western Europe, can no longer afford to get on the housing ladder, as the wealth gap grows. Traditionally the forgotten people of rural and suburban America would have voted Democrat. They did not need a tax cut, but more government help to get back to work. However, the last 8 years have only seen more jobs outsourced abroad, growing levels of unskilled immigration and record levels of welfare dependence. Trump's rhetoric on immigration and unfair trade deals appeals to more conservative Americans from the Rust Belt and Deep South. The Clinton campaign could only offer more of the same, while receiving massive funding from the same global corporations who outsourced manufacturing jobs and supported the US's disastrous wars in the Middle East. More than any other politician Hillary Clinton has advocated pro-active military interventionism combined with greater global convergence and high levels of immigration. If one slogan could resonate more with your average Joe than anything else, it was Trump's rallying cry of Americanism, not Globalism. The country that exported its brand of universalism to the rest of the world, now wishes to shield itself from the world it helped to create.

Deep in the belly of global finance is a man seldom mentioned in the mainstream media, George Soros. He doesn't just move currency markets, but has been active in fomenting protest movements against national governments that fail to cooperate with the global institutions Mr Soros favours. His Open Society Foundation has its tentacles in many organisations which masquerade as left-leaning grassroots movements (See Organizations Funded Directly by George Soros ) . His involvement in world affairs started shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall through various business schools and media outlets in former Warsaw Pact countries. But after a brief foray into the Balkans quagmire, Mr Soros turned his attention further afield funding pro-EU groups, such as the fanatically federalist European Movement. All these organisations share a few key features. They champion the rights of perceived minorities, especially migrants, and offer new international solutions to social injustices. While some campaigns seem innocent or even laudable, the solutions on offer always lead in one direction: greater global convergence. The trendy left has gone from being mildly critical of George Soros in the early 90s when they rightly viewed him a meddlesome billionaire banker, to brothers in arms. Soros-funded campaign groups, most notably those claiming to further migrant rights, have hired many left-leaning journalists and activists, who genuinely believe they are working for the greater good of humanity. Disasters, such as the regional conflict in Syria and Iraq, are presented as opportunities for refugees to enrich Western Europe with their diverse customs and immense talent. While Soros-funded activists are often critical of past Western intervention in the region, they are more focused on facilitating the movement of refugees rather than stopping the wars that purportedly caused the refugees to flee in the first place. In my experience most Soros-funded activists also recycle the orthodox line that the mainstream media endlessly promotes on the causes of such conflicts, i.e. they are inevitably blamed on local despots rather than foreign intervention, except when the intervening foreign power is conflict with globalist interests as in the case of the recent Russian intervention to help Syria defeat ISIS.

Three apparently disparate groups have thus converged in supporting a new universalist agenda. Together they call themselves the international community supported by major governments (such as the US, UK, Australia, France, Germany etc.), major corporations and an international intelligentsia of enlightened experts and human rights campaigners. Sometimes these groups are so intertwined, it's hard to tell them apart. Someone may start their career as a political activist for some noble cause, such as refugee rights, global hunger prevention or climate change awareness, then get a job with an international charity before moving to a global corporate services company like Price Waterhouse Coopers, Ernst and Young, Deloitte or KMPG with a stint in politics or media advocacy.

Consider the strange case of one José Manuel Barroso. As a young man in the mid 1970s he belonged to the Maoist Portuguese Workers' Communist Party (see him speak in a 1976 TV interview ). By 1980 had joined the mainstream governing PPD (Democratic Popular Party, later PPD/PSD-Social Democratic Party) and rose through the ranks to become Prime Minister of his country in 2002. After supporting the 2003 US invasion of Iraq he became President of European Commission in 2004. Last year, after 11 years of loyal service to European superstate project, Barroso accepted a role as non-executive chairman of Goldman Sachs International. What, you may wonder, has this to do with the recent electoral success of Donald J Trump? Well, his opponent, Hillary Rodham Clinton, clearly was funded not only by Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan, but also by George Soros. Indeed a long list of former EU commissioners and politicians ended up working for Goldman Sachs. The Clinton Foundation has long had close ties with George Soros, so much so, that Hillary's daughter, Chelsea Clinton, married his nephew in the billionaire's mansion.

More disturbing, however, are the close ties between mercenaries and NGOs. The US has long deployed security contractors in conflict zones. These mercenaries are literally guns for hire, who may protect the mining interests of global corporations in African trouble spots such as Sierra Leone or Equatorial Guinea one year and the next be on a mission to train opposition forces in Syria or supplement the Iraqi government's ill-disciplined armed forces. One such group is Blackwater, recently rebranded Academi. Former British army officer and security expert James Le Mesurier, worked for Blackwater in its murderous operations in Iraq. In 2014 he founded the infamous White Helmets in Syria, allegedly to defend civilians in conflict zones and provide critical humanitarian and medical aid. At last we saw a merger of deceptively progressive media activism and the kind of dirty tricks operations many believed the CIA had ceased to undertake in Central America. We now have videographic evidence of Humanitarian aid workers colluding with the same Islamic fundamentalist militias that the US denies supporting. Well-intentioned politicians and former aid workers, such as the late Jo Cox, naively lent their support to this organisation and as a result many worldwise Guardian readers developed a new worldview that pitted the forces of progress represented by the EU, NATO and NGOs against the forces of reactionary nationalism personified by their new bêtes noires of Bashar Al Assad and Vladimir Putin. This simplistic worldview could point to Assad's brutal repression and autocratic rule as well as Putin's alleged corruption and anachronistic views on homosexuality.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/YmjMZbaMsF8

Many analysts, myself included, sought to explain recent military conflicts purely in terms of superpower politics and economic expedience, e.g. privileged access to key resources such as oil. It seemed logical to attribute US interventions in the Middle East to US corporate imperialism Others opted for convoluted explanations that typically implicated Israel. Thirteen years after the US occupied Iraq their Air Force is still bombing insurgents, while its ally Saudi Arabia is busy bombing the Houthi militia and loyalists in Yemen. Let su not forget the US's pivotal role in arming and funding opposition militias in Syria. The Middle East quagmire has led to the emergence of more virulent strands of Islamic fundamentalism whose influence has infected not only the Middle East and South Asia, but growing Muslim communities in Europe and North America. This begs the question to what extent do these wars benefit ordinary Americans? After all many of us fall into the trap of claiming that the Americans invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, the Americans destabilised Libya and Syria or the Americans sold arms to Saudi Arabia and Israel. In reality most Americans did no such thing. Their government did. Worse still even many politicians are woefully unaware of their government's role in destabilising much of the world. The US State Department will never admit to funding head-chopping Islamic extremists. It simply claims to have supported Syrian opposition forces who want to see the replacement of the current Baathist regime with a more democratic system. Traditionally a large cross section of patriotic Americans would have supported whatever the US military and secret services did abroad because they believed, mistakenly in my opinion, that such actions ultimately served to defend and broaden the reach of the liberal, democratic and free market values on which their country was founded or at least the kind of prosperous and socially cohesive society that had evolved by the late 1960s. However, many have begun to question this logic. How did US interventions in the Middle East help ordinary Americans back home? They may just have given the United States a few more years of cheap oil, thus delaying an inevitable transition to more more fuel-efficient vehicles. Yet our ruling elites expect North Americans and Europeans to pay the price of a never-ending series of wars, flows of migrants and refugees and resurgent Islamic fundamentalism, a rival strain of global cultural convergence. All for a few barrels of oil.

Something Bigger Is Afoot: Global Realignment

When the world learned that the US electorate had failed to endorse Hillary Clinton and had let a former reality TV star and property mogul Donald Trump win instead, the neoliberal media erupted in indignation. Throughout the campaign the BBC could only discuss how to prevent the accidental election of a populist demagogue because of wild conspiracy theories about Hillary's email server. As it became clear that Trump had indeed won and may break with over 30 years of military and political interventionism combined with free trade and open borders, the mainstream media began to change their tune. If the world's strongest economic power will no longer spearhead the globalist project because it jeopardises the security of its own citizens, who will? What follows is admittedly conjecture as neoconservatives within the Republican Party, not least those allied with Vice President Mike Pence, may keep the USA firmly within the globalist camp. The linchpin in this realignment is not Theresa May or Angela Merkel, but Vladimir Putin. There are now no major ideological differences between mainstream conservatives opinion in Russia and United States. They all support the same basic values of strong families, limited government, hard work and enterprise. Today only the government account for just 35.8% of the Russian economy and 41.6% of the US economy. By contrast the UK figure is 48.5% (France 56.1%, Germany 45.4%). A bilateral trade agreement between Russia and the US would be of huge mutual benefit. Russia has immense resources and the US still leads the world in structural engineering. In a near future where most mundane jobs can be automated, big business will no longer need a large pool of malleable cheap labour. Why should the US continue to waste vast resources trying to reshape Middle East and build a new world order in its image, if the cost vastly outweighs any benefits to its current citizens. A deal with Russia and continued friendly relations with Canada, Australia and Japan could give US businesses access to vast resources without the high political and military costs associated with interventions in the more densely populated regions of the world.

Yesterday Nick Clegg, the former leader of the British Liberal Democratic Party and passionate supporter of the European Union, voiced his concerns about Trump's alleged friendship with Vladimir Putin. After dismissing the idea of a European Army as a wild conjecture during the recent EU referendum debate, Mr Clegg urged Britain to align militarily the new EU Armed Forces to oppose Russian expansionism. Here Mr Clegg makes a fundamental error of judgement. While the USSR undoubtedly had expansionist aims and Soviet troops were until 1990 stationed as far west as Berlin and Prague, Russia only has a few border disputes with countries that were historically part of the Russian Empire and have large Russian speaking populations. Russia has no immediate strategic need to occupy Ukraine or invade tiny Estonia. Russia has plenty of land and resources and has managed surprisingly well with sanctions imposed by EU and US. However, it would like to maintain its longstanding commercial and cultural ties with these countries. Ukraine and Baltic States could prosper as intermediaries between Central Europe and Russia. Amazing the establishment media here hate Putin so much, they are willing to entertain the possibility of new military alliance, potentially with the USA, to oppose Russia. We must ask whose interests such a conflict would serve.

The worst human rights abuses in today's frenetic world occur, not unsurprisingly, in regions under the greatest environmental stress, i.e. those least able to provide their people with a comfortable standard of living, namely most of the Middle East, North and West Africa, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Burma and parts of Central America. Many of these countries are close allies of the US and/or NATO. How can one justify belligerence against Russia because it fails to share the West's values on homosexuality and has purportedly very high levels of corruption (though whether corruption is greater in Russia than in the US or EU is matter for reasonable debate), while selling arms to and collaborating closely with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain ? These countries are not just repressive dictatorships with extreme levels of state-sanctioned corruption, they enforce a strict Islamic code on women's rights to education and workplace equality and outlaw homosexuality completely. If we cared about human rights, surely we should impose a trade embargo against these countries and refuse to buy any of their products until they adopt our standards of morality?

Let's forget about all the moral case for disengaging with the Middle East, the business case is much stronger. I disliked Donald Trump's simplistic rhetoric against Islamic extremists and his offensive bad hombre reference to illegal Mexican immigrants who statistically commit a very high percentage of crimes in the US. However, the USA cannot accommodate everyone in the world who would like to take their slice of American prosperity. Just consider Nigeria, with a current population of some 190 million and fertility rate still over 5 children per woman. Its population is projected to rise to some 500 million by 2050. Most Nigerians now live in or around major urban centres and are keen to emulate the consumption patterns of North Americans. Only a naive policy advisor could fail to envisage potential socio-environmental problems as hundreds of millions leave the developing world to seek prosperity in richer countries. One would have to be amazingly naive to believe that most of these new citizens of the affluent world will acquire the kind of high tech skills we will need in 2050. If the destiny of many of current US citizens is a life of welfare dependence under the guise of the basic income, why should we subsidise 100s of millions of new citizens in the US rather than Africa, the Middle East or elsewhere. If the likes of Amazon want a larger pool of keen consumers, do they really need to live in the United States? Moreover, if existing information technology can let us communicate instantly with people all over the world, do we need to move physically to another country to share our cultural experiences? Indeed we could live together more peacefully if each national community had its own cultural space where its own rules apply. Modern telecommunications ensure that we are still aware of other ways of life. If you think all women should conceal their bodies and faces, move to a country where such rules apply. If on the other hand you're quite happy to bare all at the beach on a hot summer's day, you may visit locales where naturism is tolerated. Believe me, over the next 50 years we will have plenty of contentious moral issues to debate. Should we allow euthanasia for mental illness sufferers or human cloning? Both these controversies have huge implications and thus must be held to the strictest standards of open public debate. This cannot be done in a world of poorly educated welfare claimants dependent on corporate benevolence.

Personally, I suspect many will soon be very disappointed with Donald Trump's presidency, but not because he will reintroduce anachronistic discrimination against women, blacks or homosexuals (a mere figment of the infantile left's imagination), but because he will be a prisoner of the same neocon lobbyists who held sway under Clinton, Bush and Obama. However, if his administration seeks peace with Russia and withdraws from Middle East after eliminating ISIS, while renegotiating trade deals in the interests of working class Americans, the globalist cabal may well move to Berlin. If NATO splits, it will not because the USA abandoned Europe, but because globalists want war with Russia.

I just don't know how they can pull this off without involving other key military players such as Saudi Arabia (the world 4th largest military spender), India or even China. If you imagine Europe 20 years from now with a large and politically engaged Muslim population allied with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan (and what about Iran?), the mind boggles. We'd have a Middle Euroasian Union comprising the Arab World, European Union, South West Asia, North Africa and possibly West Africa as far as Nigeria. We could call this new superbloc, Globalistan. Its official religion would be Political Correctness and its official language Globish, with only partial mutual intelligibility with Oceanic English.

Categories
Power Dynamics

Out-of-touch Euro-phobic Elites

I love Europe, its peoples, its cuisines, its landscapes, its architecture, its music, its literature, its languages and its philosophers. Call me a nostalgic but I don't want the French to become German, the Germans to become English, the English to become Polish, the Italians to be Swedish or the Swedes to become Moroccan. I'm quite happy with the French being French and the Swedes being Swedish, just as long they do not impose their ways on everyone else. Now if the Swedes acquire a taste for Italian or Catalan cuisine, while the Portuguese hire Danish engineers to teach them how to build wind turbines, that's also fine by me. I think we could all learn a good deal from each other, as long as we can choose which bits of other people's culture and technology to adopt.

I truly, though rather naively, wish the best aspects of European culture could have been exported to the rest of the world through more peaceful and reciprocally beneficial means. Some European countries have held vast empires in other continents, often supplanting much of the indigenous population. The 19th and 20th centuries also saw some very dark chapters in European history, as rival imperial powers fought murderous wars to impose their economic and cultural supremacy. Wouldn't it be wonderful if all these disparate peoples could come together in a new club to resolve their differences and build a new shared future. The European Union would seem to have been created with the best of intentions, until you take a closer look at which vested interests its remote leadership really defends.

The Italians consider heaven to be a place where lovers are Italian, cooks are French, mechanics are German, police officers are English and it is all coordinated by the Swiss. By contrast hell is a place where lovers are Swiss, cooks are English, mechanics are French, police officers are German and the Italians coordinate it all. If we set aside national stereotypes, the European Union is beginning to resemble this satirical version of hell, except Europe's new rulers don't really like Europeans, at least not those who choose to stay in their own country and prefer their own national or regional culture.

Today Labour's mysterious shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, gave us an insight into the thinking of policymakers by claiming borders between countries will become irrelevant by the end of the century.

That gives us just 84 years to solve all the planet's social, environmental and economic imbalances, something we've been unable to accomplish since the agrarian revolution ten to fifteen thousand years ago. Without borders and local governments in some way accountable to their citizens, people will inevitably just follow the money and relocate to the most prosperous regions. This would turn the whole world into a giant version of London, but with much greater extremes of rich and poor. Jeremy Corbyn's Labour party merely offers a more naive and idealistic version of the Blairite dream of one-world government via intermediary stages like the misnamed European Union. They may pretend to oppose bombing or support a radical redistribution of wealth from rich to poor, but they are much more concerned with opposing any attempts to regain greater national sovereignty. As British steelworkers see their jobs outsourced to China and unemployed young Britons face growing competition from a never-ending stream of cheap migrant labour, Jeremy Corbyn chose to spend last weekend with migrants at the infamous Calais Jungle asylum seeker camp. In urging the government to accept more refugees, Jeremy Corbyn enjoyed the support of the BBC (who hosted Songs of Praise there in August last year), the Guardian, Independent, numerous NGOs such as George Soros' Open Society Foundation, David Miliband (now working for Rescue International, a refugee charity) and incredibly, Tony Blair, who as we know is a mere spokesperson for global banking and energy cartels.

Whether your tribal sympathies lie with the notional left or right, across Europe's diverse national communities one trend is clearly coming to the fore. Political elites, whether left or right, are ideologically committed to a process of gradual global convergence and will pursue these objectives irrespective of their electors' wishes. Some policies seem quite benign, e.g. promoting English language teaching to help youngsters compete in a global economy (though often undermining national languages). Other policies are often welcomed by progressive campaigners, e.g. enacting gender equality laws or enforcing new environmental and safety regulations, but lack any real grassroots support. However, some policies may attract wide-scale opposition and thus need to be carefully managed or simply explained as a necessary compromise for membership of the European Union. Millions of Southern Europeans working in small family-run cottage industries have found themselves out-competed as national governments have been forced to remove protectionist tariffs for traditional products. It comes as little surprise the two avowedly globalist British trade commissioners, Leon Brittan and Peter Mandelson, negotiated free trade deals on behalf of the European Union. They may have belonged to the British Conservative and Labour parties, but their policies did not serve the long-term interests of either British or continental European workers, but rather those of banks and multinational companies traded on the London Stock Exchange.

A quick perusal of the Guardian newspaper's job section soon reveals a plethora of relatively well-paid vacancies for transnational organisations (charities, NGOs, large corporations, consultancies, legal firms etc.) concerned with global governance, a concept which trumps traditional territorial institutions. One seriously has to wonder why so many well-funded NGOs actively promote mass migration as a solution to all known social, economic and environmental problems. To wit, if people flee destabilised war-torn regions, rather than oppose those responsible for funding rival militias or expose the sheer mendacity of our corporate media over the true causes of these conflicts, global progressives will just urge us to welcome more refugees and blame recalcitrant local leaders for all bloodshed. Over the last 20 years we've witnessed successive bogeymen in the guise of Slobodan Milosevic, Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, Muammar Gadafi and more recently Bashar Assad. Whether these leaders were really as bad as our mainstream made out is immaterial as their power pales in comparison with that of the world largest banks and commercial concerns. They were all very local phenomena involved in complex regional conflicts, whose outcome inevitably empowered global institutions and led to more displacement of local communities.

Back in 1975 my father, a card-carrying member of the Labour party, campaigned for Britain to leave the European Economic Community joining many others of on the left of Labour movement from Tony Benn to Barbara Castle and Peter Shore. I seem to recall trade unions advocating import controls and supporting the Buy British campaign. Now the other politically active members of my extended family are all steadfastly pro-EU as are the leaderships of the SNP, Plaid Cymru, Liberal Democrats, the Greens and the Cameronite wing of the un-Conservative Party. Many on the left mistakenly view the EU as a progressive force for good on issues such as workers' rights and environmental protection. They suggest the only reason anyone could be opposed to the EU is because they hate Europe, are intolerant of migrants and want to leave poor UK residents at the mercy of a nasty Tory government intent on undoing everything good the EU has ever done. The EU is certainly fairly good at marketing its projects and achievements. I regularly see placards by car parks, historical buildings and playgrounds proclaiming the role of EU grants in their construction or restoration. Countless NGOs and research institutes also depend on EU grants. So not only do we let the EU decide how to spend our money, but much of it serves to promote the EU itself.

One would naively imagine the EU reflects the wishes of different European countries, some sort of compromise between the needs of Italian textile manufacturers, French wine growers, German carmakers, Polish coal miners, Spanish farmers and British media workers. Alas it's nothing of the sort. European regulations have prevented governments from defending the interests of their own electors and forced them to open up markets and even public tenders to all and sundry. The main beneficiaries of the EU are large corporations who need a dynamic, malleable and mobile workforce and an expanding consumer market. Moreover, Europe's elites do not even trust other Europeans. They seem hell-bent on managing a massive movement of people both within and from outside the current borders of the EU as well as expanding their megastate to Turkey and the Ukraine. If you love Europe, you should oppose unaccountable superstates. As the EU's dream of culturally homogenised brave new world order evaporates, we should build a new alliance of independent peoples, trading fairly where it makes sense, sharing ideas and technology, but also never forgetting the little native people who thrive in culturally cohesive communities.

Categories
Power Dynamics

Should we still call the global lingua franca English?

In more innocent times we associated a language with its national community. For much of history nations and languages had a symbiotic relationship. Language is the ultimate propagator of the cultural traits that hold together communities and enable the development of hierarchical command structures. A multilingual country is effectively an empire, for it has to unite peoples unable to communicate easily except through the medium of a common higher-register language that is not their own. In a simplified multipolar world, each country would have its own language and a set of shared customs, e.g. In Denmark one speaks Danish and in France one speaks French, both languages inextricably bound to their motherlands. Admittedly French serves as a lingua franca in much of Northwestern and Central Africa and even Danish acts as a colonial language in Greenland. French is also spoken in Quebec, Walloon Belgium, Western Switzerland and a few French overseas territories dotted around the globe, but most native speakers live in metropolitan France. By contrast, only 8-9% of native English speakers live in England. The ethnic English proportion may be a little higher if we include the greater diaspora in Canada, Australia and South Africa who still identify as English, but most native English speakers are North American and many more live in Australasia, Southern Africa and elsewhere.

It's hard to measure just how many people speak English worldwide as a second language. It could be as many as 3 billion if we include everyone who has learned some basic English at school or at work to as few as 500 million if we restrict the total to those who speak the language with a high degree of proficiency and, most important, retain full mutual intelligibility with native English speakers. Other estimates relate to varying degrees of fluency and may apply different criteria, e.g. the number of school leavers with a basic English language qualification or a random sample of the general population in which participants have to engage in long conversations with varying levels of difficulty (e.g. ranging from basics such as asking for directions to discussing more challenging topics such as politics). As a rule, English as a lingua franca is much more widely spoken in cosmopolitan cities and by members of the better educated professional classes. Whichever way, recent technological and cultural changes have vastly expanded our need to communicate with people from other language communities. Global English, for all its defects, not least its inconsistent pronunciation and orthography, has succeeded where Esperanto and a handful of other neutral artificial lingua francas failed. As the pace of globalisation and cultural change accelerates, the core of native and near-native English speakers will find themselves outnumbered by those who speak the language in wildly divergent and creative ways with little reference to the original variant of English that first migrated from the British Isles in the 17th century. Indeed it was not until the mid 19th century that English gained the upper hand over French, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Russian or Chinese. Although France lost the Seven Year War in 1764, having to cede Quebec and most of its Indian territories to Great Britain, and its hopes of European supremacy were dashed at the 1815 Battle of Waterloo, French remained the preferred language of diplomacy and of greatest prestige in Europe well into the early 20th century.

English means different things to different people. To the English, it may still be a symbol of ethnic identity if spoken in its insular form with its odd colloquialisms and regional pronunciations. Today you will seldom hear the clever melange of Anglo-Saxon and Norman French that characterised Shakespeare's works, but rather a mishmash of vernacular British English, Americanisms and branded neologisms interspersed with politically correct NewSpeak and catch phrases popularised by TV personalities. The Scottish and Irish tend to have a more pragmatic view of the language, but take pride in their local dialects. To Nigerians or Indians, English is the high register of their commercial lingua franca. The subtleties of regional English dialects or latest suburban slang from Merseyside or Hampshire are of little interest to your average African or Asian business person, for whom English is a vehicle of communication and expression, but not a badge of tribal identity. To continental Europeans, English was, until recently, just another foreign language, but has now become a gateway to participation in the globally integrated business world, academia and youth culture, especially of the kind that global entertainment businesses most heavily promote. At times it seems everywhere global English trumps native languages, even where they remain strong. Yet to view this as a triumph of English culture over the rest of the world is in my humble judgement to misunderstand the far-reaching consequences of rapid global cultural convergence. Indeed traditional British English may well be a victim of its own apparent success, submerged by a rapidly morphing global lingua franca that owes as much as to Bangalore, Berlin and Beijing as it does to Birmingham, Brisbane and Boston. If a Briton from the 1950s could, through the magic of a time machine, experience the linguistic reality of modern Britain, she would be very confused. While superficially many common words would be much the same, many old terms and phrases have acquired new meanings or been superseded by more politically correct neologisms. Much discourse would be unintelligible without detailed knowledge of the last 50 years of technologically driven culture replete with brand names, acronyms and adapted foreign recipes. Back in the 1950s most Britons did not even have a phone or a television set, let alone an iPhone.

Opinions on the role of global English vary. Robert Phillipson has put forward the theory of linguistic imperialism, a must-read for anyone interested in cultural change. While I find many aspects of this perspective persuasive, especially in the context of cultural imperialism, in my experience abroad the key drivers behind linguistic homogenisation are not native English speakers at all, but international business. British imperialism and later US economic supremacy merely set the stage for English to expand way beyond its core of native speakers (still only 6.5% of the world's population). I find Jean-Paul Nerriere's concept of Globish, as popularised in 2009 book of the same name, much closer to the emerging linguistic reality, although I do not share his optimism that American and British English will retain their privileged status, which will wane with their relative economic and cultural decline. While I found much of the historical research in Nicholas Ostler's The Last Lingua Franca of great interest, I cannot support his conclusion that automated simultaneous translation technology will supplant the need for global English and let everyone cultivate their own vernacular. I've no doubt natural language processing will sooner or later let us translate human speech into a machine language intelligible to computers, but it will be some time before computers will be able to interpret the full range of nuances of colloquial human speech. Like it or not, cultural convergence is the order of the day, so now the French have to learn Globish while the Brits have had to discard feet, pounds and pints in favour of metric units.

I taught English as a foreign language for three years and soon learned English syntax had more exceptions than rules. As soon as I explained a rule, some wise spark would cite an exception, often from William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens or whichever pre-20th century English authors happened to be on their reading list. However, the biggest stumbling blocks for my German and later Italian students were pronunciation, especially understanding authentic native speakers, and literal translations from their own language. In the pre-Internet era my best advice was to acquire English-medium movies with the original soundtrack subtitled in English. Most could read the language much better than they could speak it. If you attempt to read subtitles in your own language, you will miss the subtleties and flavour of the source tongue. At the time the received wisdom was that English is on the whole much easier than the other main European languages. The English-is-easy meme has become a self-reinforcing mantra, which in my experience as both a language learner and teacher is more attributable to its cultural ubiquity and prestige than to any intrinsic qualities. On the surface English grammar is very simple with no confusing grammatical genders (e.g, the Sun is masculine in Italian and French but feminine in German), a limited range of verb conjugations (I do, he does, I did etc.. as opposed to faccio, fai, fa, facciamo, fate, fanno, ho fatto, feci, facevo, farò etc..), only a few dozen common irregular verbs, very uniform plurals with a few exceptions, of course, undeclined adjectives and just a barebones case system. One wonders how Czech children can cope with seven grammatical cases and three grammatical genders, but they do. Indeed even old English had five cases and three genders, very similar to modern Icelandic or German. However, by this metric, the easiest language in the world must be Chinese, in which verbs, nouns and adjectives are never suffixed and relationships between words are either implied by word order and context or emphasised with helper words. Native English syntax is not as simple as many continental learners of the language would like to believe. Word order plays a much more important role in English than it does in languages with a more clearly defined case system like German or Polish. English has special interrogative auxiliary verbs to maintain its default Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) word order (e.g. When did you live in Italy? but How many people live in Venice?) and has a vast array of verbal tenses with auxiliary words (such as I do, am doing, will do, am going to do, have done, have been doing, did, was doing, used to do, had done, had been doing etc). While English's verbal moods serve useful semantic functions for native users, their utility is lost on speakers of other languages. In Germany, the Low Countries, France and Northern Italy, past actions are typically expressed with a tense we confusingly call the present perfect, e.g. I have done.. (j'ai fait.., ich habe .. gemacht, ho fatto .. etc.) while English always uses the simple past for terminated actions (e.g. I ate an apple five minutes ago, but I've never eaten a horse ). English distinguishes continuous from simple verbal forms, e.g. I drink tea (i.e. I'm a tea drinker), but I'm drinking orange juice (at the moment). In many other languages, the same verbal form would be used in both cases.

While English syntax may be a tad quirky, the biggest challenge for most learners is pronunciation. I once suggested the best international language would be written more or less like English, but pronounced as if it were Italian or Spanish. Naturally, some sounds are easier for speakers of some languages than others. Castillian Spanish, Greek and Arabic have the dental fricatives /θ/ and /ð/ as in theft or then, often a source of ridicule for French, German and Italian speakers of English. However, consonants only form the outer shell of syllables. Vowels and stress add colour to our speech and help us distinguish thousands of short words that would otherwise be homophones. Moreover, English vowels are notorious for their indistinctness. Most languages use variants of the 5 cardinal vowels /a/, /e/, /i/, /o/ and /u/, with a few diphthongs and possibly a few extra vowels. English, by contrast, has a complex system of short, long and gliding vowels that sit midway between cardinal vowels. The cardinal /a/ may be confused with North American rendition of the short o in hot, or Southern English version of the short u or /ʌ/ in hut or the long /a:/ in heart (r is usually suppressed in modern Southern English) or the Northern and Midlands English pronunciation of hat. In unstressed positions most vowels become either schwa /ə/ or a short i /ı/, e.g. comfortable may be phonetically transcribed as /'kəmfəɾtəbəɭ/ . Indeed if English adopted phonetically accurate spelling, many would confuse it for a quaint Scandinavian dialect with a few extra letters and diacritical symbols.

Speech patterns are learned in early childhood. Each dialect has a repertoire of sounds it must distinguish to facilitate communication. Our ears are fine-tuned to differentiate the phonemes particular to our linguistic environment. Exposure to other dialects enables us to remap these phonemes to other variants. As the pronunciation of English differs quite markedly from its spelling native speakers will often associate different sounds with the same written form. Over time common terms tend to be shortened, while ambiguous short words may need a companion word to emphasise their meaning or may give way to less ambiguous alternatives. E.g. the old English term wifeman became woman, Nonetheless, some languages tend towards abbreviation much more than others. In Italy the term scontrino fiscale amused me, why would shopkeepers have to keep reminding me that the small paper receipt that had just given me was for tax purposes? Many linguistic communities prefer more complete and semantically correct terminology for cultural reasons. If we had retained the Victorian attitude to word formation, many common English-medium neologisms would be much longer. The first high-capacity horse-drawn coaches were commonly known as omnibuses, Latin for all, and only later shortened to bus. Terseness is not always an advantage as I find in my day job as a programmer, longer descriptive names are easier to interpret than concise but ambiguous names. The term iPad is the patented creation of a marketing department. It owes its success to its extreme simplicity. Yet pad has many other meanings, anything from a soft wad of material, a booklet of writing paper as in notepad, a flat-topped structure such as launchpad or heli(copter)-pad, the flat area of circuit board or a small city apartment. The correct term for a device like an iPad or a Kindle Fire, both ephemeral devices, is electronic tablet, but tablet alone has plenty of other meanings. Smartphone may be more neutral than iPhone, a trademark, but is itself a neologism that fails to adequately describe its true nature. Indeed the forerunner to modern smartphones was a personal digital assistant or PDA, which is admittedly not quite as catchy. These new coinages rely heavily on their neurolinguistic impact. They must be short, relatively easy to pronounce and distinguishable from their technical predecessors. If you want to sell a new kind of coffee, a descriptive Anglo-Saxon concoction like concentrated coffee with frothy milk would be bad marketing, cappuccino sounds much better to your average English speaker.

Categories
All in the Mind

Why do people get depressed?

With so much media attention, you'd seriously think depression awareness raising charities would want to answer this very simple question. As the purported biological disease model of depression has now become almost an act of faith, debate now seems to revolve mainly around the relative merits of different forms of treatment. Whether it's medication or intensive psychotherapy, any talk of treatment implies a medical condition comparable with cancer, Alzheimers or broken limbs.

Affluenza

By now it should be clear that higher material living standards do not necessarily lead to healthier or more balanced emotions. We possess more powerful, versatile and efficient electronic gadgets, more cars and can afford more holidays abroad than ever before. Yet this material abundance does not translate into greater happiness. The infamous Germanwings copilot, Andreas Lubitz, had a wealthy family who could afford to pay for expensive flying lessons. By any accounts he enjoyed a privileged jetsetting lifestyle and, if reports are correct, was not averse to performance-boosting and mood-altering medication. Countless multimillionaire celebrities have publicised their depressive episodes. Indeed depression seems largely a concern in opulent consumer cultures and the very concept of melancholy is practically unknown to pre-agrarian societies such as the Amazonian Pirarã people.

Human Emotions

Human emotions are certainly complex, but why would we have evolved to have clearly distressing and dysfunctional mood swings that make it hard for us to address any of the more immediate problems in our life? If your house is on fire along with all your worldly possessions, what should you do? Contemplate the market value of your endangered possessions? Spend the next 60 minutes negotiating with your home insurance company? Laze around watching Youtube videos about how to rebuild your life after a catastrophe? Actually none of the above, the most rational course of action would be to quickly find the safest way out of the building and if possible help anyone else at home to join you. If you fail to act fast in such situations, you may very well die and be forever unable to help anyone else dear to you. Ironically the kind of emotions people experience in the face of death differ markedly from the self-centred feelings of inferiority and introspection that prevail in melancholy. When faced with a life-threatening crisis, all considerations about your relative social standing, your body image, your love life or lack thereof or your financial woes fade into insignificance. If you are penniless, homeless and starving, the relative merits of the latest and greatest gadgets or the number of social media friends you may have, are of little concern, but you will be probably be very glad to have a square meal and a roof over your head.

Most of all people strive for two things in life: A sense of purpose and affection, i.e. we need to have clear idea of what we aim to achieve in life and to feel wanted or rather emotionally rewarded for our efforts. In the simple pre-agrarian societies that prevailed in most of humanity's two hundred thousand year odd history, our sense of purpose was the survival of ourselves and our immediate community while our sense of love came from the close bonds we had with our community. As long as we did our bit to help in the collective struggle for survival, we would be rewarded with love and affection. As many died young from diseases and injuries that can now be easily treated, the mere fact of survival gave us cause for optimism and gratitude to mother nature and our community. Diverse cultures throughout the world value health more than material possessions.

The lottery of life has always been tough. It is clearly unfair that some of us are blessed with better, stronger or more appealing physiques than others and are thus better equipped to attract the best mating partners. However, humanity would never have evolved to its current level of technological excellence if we had not been able to harness different skill-sets. Carrying heavy building materials undoubtedly requires much muscle-power, but several thousand years ago someone took a break from the tiring task of lugging stones and logs around to devise a new more efficient technique for transporting heaving goods. At first heavy slabs of stones were rolled on logs and later logs were cut into wheels on rudimentary carts. We still needed muscle-power to load and unload carts, but mechanical engineers and craftsmen had enabled us to carry more with less effort. Even primitive societies began to value brains as well as brawn, wisdom and experience as well as youthful energy. That explains why many primitive societies cherish their elders, although they may no longer be able to help hands-on with hunting, building and food preparation, their experience and wisdom is invaluable especially in small close-knit communities.

As societies became more and more complex with greater levels of specialisation, trade and competition, more people failed to lead productive lives as their potential skills had been outsourced or devalued by techno-economic progress. Greater opportunities for some always mean fewer opportunities for others. Current socio-economic trends clearly favour flexible and highly mobile labour markets with a rapid turnaround in human resources and skill-sets. These far-reaching changes affect every aspect of our lives from job security to intimate relationships. In our brave new world, the only certainty is perpetual uncertainty, which in turn makes more and more of us dependent on remote organisations just to stay afloat.

Drugs and Psychiatry

While I do not rule out that some genuine neurological conditions may make some of us more susceptible to melancholic thoughts, the primary cause of depression in modern society is a sense of helplessness, i.e. an inability to help oneself overcome a temporary setback, exacerbated by the breakdown of traditional extended family and community networks. Any purported treatment plan that fails to identify the root causes of so much emotional distress is doomed to failure as in any other cases of misdiagnosis. If you have a broken leg, pain killers may help you temporarily cope with unpleasant sensations, but may have long-term side-effects if taken for prolonged periods of time without addressing the root causes of your suffering. Likewise, no rational dentist would treat tooth decay with ibuprofen alone. In an ideal world we would avoid breaking limbs or exposing our teeth to decay, both of which depend on external or environmental factors. However, at least caries and bone fractures are easily identifiable medical conditions. Depression, on the other hand, is a state of mind induced in an incredibly complex organ with an estimated 100 billion neurons.

The over-prescription of anti-depressants is merely a symptom of a more fundamental problem, a shift away from the psycho-social model of emotional distress to a strictly biological model of mental health patients. The former model recognises biological differences that may make some of us more susceptible to mood swings (not least of which is gender), but rather than concentrating on natural phenomena we cannot easily change, it focuses on how the rest of society can help these people become more productive citizens able to help themselves and feel wanted by helping others. The latter approach, currently in vogue, treats individuals as psychiatric subjects and psycho-social stimuli as mere external triggers of underlying conditions. This turns the depressed into victim groups who require more treatment, and thus greater dependence on others, both of which are very likely to exacerbate their sense of helplessness and under-achievement. If a condition is considered a life-long illness caused by an underlying neurological syndrome, then there is much stronger case for lifelong medication.

Many claim that anti-depressants helped them out of the depths of misery or that they would be unable to function without them. Both claims dodge the more important issues of causation. First if you are on psychoactive medication, you cannot easily just go cold turkey without suffering severe withdrawal symptoms, because your brain has already adjusted to your regular chemical stimuli. Second, there is much stronger case for mild anti-depressants for short-term use if the underlying psycho-social causes are addressed, but in these cases we cannot easily identify whether Selective Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors such as Prozac are more effective than placebos or natural remedies such as St John's Wort. The evidence would suggest outcomes are much better for those with better emotional support from friends and family and more rewarding careers who only need temporary treatment. Unfortunately that leaves millions of marginalised individuals who struggle to realise their self-worth through meaningful work (sense of purpose) or relationships (sense of belonging).

Categories
All in the Mind Power Dynamics

Why Labour will not bring about a fairer Britain

In less than 5 years, the Labour left seemed to have forgotten the sheer treachery of the last Labour administration. Rather than focus their attention on the real ruling classes sitting in corporate boardrooms or relaxing on Caribbean yachts, they prefer to demonise the bunch of overgrown public school boys and girls in the current governmental management team. You see national governments don't really have much power these days. Big decisions are made elsewhere. More important, to any rational and emotionally detached observer New Labour and the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition are just two brands of the same product marketed at different sections of the voting public. The Conservatives like to appeal to the common-sense middle classes, a demographic that has shrunk considerably since the 2008 banking crisis. While Labour hold on to some of their core traditional working class vote in Wales and parts of Northern England, they appeal increasingly to the Guardian-reading managerial classes as well as ethnic minorities and welfare dependents who feel uneasy about Conservative rhetoric on tougher immigration controls or welfare cuts. Ironically the LibDems share much of the same demographic, but are tarnished by their support for the ConDem Coalition government. This leaves much of the tradional working and lower middle classes without a voice. Their jobs have been outsourced and their wages compressed, while their taxes fund massive corporate largesse and social engineering. For now, UKIP is filling this vacuum, but are unlikely to challenge the hegemony of the same bankers who corrupted New Labour or address the fundamental economic imbalances that causes much unbalanced migration. The Greens appeal mainly to wishful-thinking Bohemian intellectuals disaffected with New Labour, but offer an unworkable mix of high-tax and high-spending neo-keynsiansian and environmental measures that could only work in a zero-growth steady-state economy unable to fund the welfare state in its current guise. Let's just look at the some of the policies the last Labour government forgot to detail in its 1997 manifesto.

  1. Tuition fees, within months of being elected Labour reversed its previous opposition to replacing university grants with loans. The old system worked when only 15–20% of school leavers went to university, but the employment market now requires most office workers to have a degree. Indeed as the further education sector grows, degrees are devalued, but without a degree many young people cannot even get on the career ladder, unless they turn their minds to practical manual jobs. It would have made much more sense to keep grants for STEM and Medicine students and for top-performing students from poorer backgrounds in other academic subjects, while withdrawing subsidies from non-essential degrees while encouraging more to learn practical trades.
  2. Bombed Serbia (1998). Throughout the 1990s we witnessed ongoing civil war in the former Yugoslavia. The Western Media had decided to blame it on the Serbian leadership, which served as a convenient test case for the new humanitarian interventionism, especially as many of the alleged victims of Serbian nationalism were Muslims, whose votes Labour would later rely on. Blair could then pose as the saviour of Kosovan Albanians. We now know the death toll between rival groups was much more evenly balanced than presented in mainstream Western media and the purported Kosovan freedom fighters (KLA) were armed and funded by the CIA.
  3. Supported US destabilisation of Middle East with regular depleted uranian airstrikes on Iraq. The Blair government remained loyal to US foreign policy in the Middle East, joining regular airstrikes over Iraq to enforce the No-Fly Zone imposed in the aftermath of the first Gulf War.
  4. Let banks issue loans to low-paid and unemployed to boost consumer spending while manufacturing migrated abroad.
  5. Sold gold when at its historical low in 2001 to boost US dollar
  6. Allowed massive expansion of retail and entertainment sector.
  7. Failed to train millions of long-term unemployed people to do all those essential jobs that any country needs.
  8. Subsidised low-pay through working family tax credits.
  9. Hid real unemployment by broadening definition of disabilities and encouraging more young people to undertake useless degrees. Since since 1997 we have seen a proliferation of pointless non-productive managerial, marketing and surveillance jobs. Few jobs are directly associated with the things people really need. If you want to have your imported washing machine fixed, in our brave New World you'll probably call a service company who will dispatch a ready trained technician authorised to identify and possibly replace an inexpensive component. For every hand-on tradesperson or engineer, there appear to be many more pen-pushers and client relations managers. Official unemployment may be much higher in Spain, but at least Spain not only exports more food and cars, but has a booming tourist industry. However, if we look not at the official jobless count, but at the number of people with a real full-time job, then over 8 million UK adults of working age are not in employment, education or training or classified as stay-at-home parents. The UK also has the highest number of part-time employed workers who rely on tax credits to make end meet.
  10. Allowed a massive rise in unbalanced immigration leading to a huge oversupply of cheap labour and a population rise of 5 million in just 13 years. Since the end of WW2, the UK had accommodated many immigrants from its former empire. However, with many Britons migrating to Australia, Canada or the USA, net migration averaged under 30,000 a year and for a few years in the mid 1970s and early 80s was subzero. Since 1997 these numbers changed rapidly, as migratory pressures and cheap travel enabled millions to seek their fortunes in wealthier countries. At the same time, British workers lacked both key practical skills such as plumbing, bricklaying or catering and incentives to accept low-paid jobs, leaving a gap in the market for keen young labourers willing to work antisocial hours on little more than the minimum wage. This set the scene for Labour's 2003 decision to allow workers from Eastern European countries the same rights as any other EU countries. Since 2004 net migration has consistently topped 200,000 a year, dipping only briefly 2008 and 2011 and the country's population has risen from 58 million in 1997 to 64 million in 2014. Whole employment sectors, especially catering, construction and food processing, came to be dominated by new migrants. Yet New Labour pretended nothing had changed. Immigration had long been a side issue. While most politicians agreed balanced and gradual migration could benefit society, they now had to defend rapid and increasingly unbalanced migration, i.e. although many Britons migrated to the rest of Europe, they were either skilled professionals, English language teachers or retirees. As the New Labour decade progressed, more and more ordinary voters began to realise a disconnect between politician's rhetoric about building a new global future, and reality on the ground where whole neighbourhoods were transformed and job security became a distant memory. While the metropolitan elite discussed equality, diversity and anti-racism, the marginalised indigenous working classes were more concerned with job security and social cohesion.
  11. Allowed property prices to rise exponentially to over 10x average salaries. While official retail inflation remained low, housing accounted for a growing percentage of people's outgoings. Indeed Labour continued to sell off council housing stock to housing associations. As the number of low-paid and under-employed households continued to rise, the government's housing benefit rose to over £20 billion a year. In much of the South East of England, a married couple on average wages (approx. 25 to 30k) could no longer aspire to buy a house worthy of calling home.
  12. Obsession with growth led the UK to increase its carbon footprint largely through consumption of goods manufactured elsewhere. While British consumers continued to buy cars, washing machines, furniture, electronic entertainment gadgets and other household accessories, manufacturing jobs drifted abroad as UK workers proved unable to compete with East Asia. However, the service sector, especially retail, media and entertainment, kept expanding. Every week would bring news of factory closures and supermarket openings.
  13. Supported US occupation of Afghanistan in 2001. Within months of the tragic 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, New Labour joined forces with the US to attack Afghanistan, initially to hunt down the perpetrators of this dastardly act of terrorism, but latterly to promote women's rights and democracy. While they succeeded in killing tens of thousands and capturing eventually Osama Bin Laden in neighbouring Pakistan, the Afghan civil war continues to rage with much of the country still controlled by the Taliban.
  14. Deregulated booze and gambling. While Labour banned smoking, they made it much easier for people to get drunk and gamble away their devalued salaries. Indeed, not only did New Labour allow a massive expansion of casinos, they allowed the gaming industry to advertise on prime time TV.
  15. Enforced PFI contracts in the health service. Labour has long claimed to be the party of the NHS, yet under New Labour, the preferred way to fund new hospitals and facilities was through Private Finance Initiatives, which for short-term financial gain will burden future generations with £200 billion of debt.
  16. Expanded surveillance and tried to introduce identity card
  17. Supported US occupation of Iraq. Despite the largest demonstration in British history, with some 2 million travelling to Central London to protest the imminent US-led invasion of Iraq, the Labour government sent British armed forces to
  18. Oversaw massive rise in prison population. While nowhere near US levels of incarceration, England now has the highest imprisonment rate in Western and Central Europe.
  19. Passed 2007 Mental Health Act leading to massive rise in number of adults sectioned (detained) without consent. Note how mainstream politicians of all hues have championed mental health awareness, while in reality mental illness spending has continued to rise apace with the diagnostic rate for personality disorders. Yet few have linked this trend with other forms of invasive surveillance.
Categories
War Crimes

Rewriting History: The Myth of the Good War

Planned Berlin to Baghdad Railway

As we mourn the deaths of millions of young Europeans in a futile dispute between rival empires, British, French, Russian and American leaders perpetuate the myth of a simple battle between good and evil, freedom and tyranny, democracy and dictatorship. Yet without the deep scars left by the blood-stained aftermath of the Great War, much of Europe would probably not have endured revolutionary uprisings, which soon gave rise to much more grotesque expressions of tyranny in the form of Fascism, Stalinism and most catastrophically Nazism. Many younger people could be forgiven for believing Herbert Asquith, Winston Churchill and Lloyd George took the British Empire to war in order to defeat not just Prussian adventurism, but all the horrors later associated with Nazi Germany. Yet the Germany of 1914 was as democratic as Britain or France. Not only did Germany have universal male suffrage before the UK (which excluded not just all women, but also millions of poor men from the electoral franchise), it had the world's largest Social Democratic party and best organised labour movement. Far from being a beacon of social enlightenment, despite its wealth and intellectual talent, the United Kingdom still ruled over hundreds of millions of colonial subjects in the Indian Subcontinent and much of Africa. Openly racialist ideas justified the supremacy of small white minorities and local elites in most colonies. How could one country that had fought a long string of wars in locales as diverse as South Africa, Afghanistan and India lecture another with a much smaller sphere of influence and only a fledgling colonial empire? Just 44 years earlier Britain seemed quite happy for its ally Prussia to humiliate its long-time imperial rival France, by first seizing Paris and imposing its terms for peace with the transfer of much of Alsace and Lorraine to the newly formed German Empire. Only 55 before that in the infamous Battle of Waterloo, the British army under the command of the Duke of Wellington had helped Prussia defeat Napoleon and thus contain Britain's main maritime competitor as well as the dominant continental European power. For much of the 19th century Germany, not France or Russia, had been Britain's main ally on the continent. Britain supported the creation of the new Belgian state out of the southern Netherlands Provinces and French-speaking Walloon region to limit French ambitions more than those of Prussia. Indeed the British Royal Family descended from the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. In 1914 King George V's government effectively declared war on his cousin Kaiser Wilhelm II.

Standard schoolbook history usually emphasises the assassination of the Habsburgian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, which the Austro-Hungarian government blamed on Serbia, a small slavic state rising from the ashes of an Ottoman Empire in rapid decline. Sandwiched between the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires, Serbia naturally sought alliances with Russia and France. However, let us not forget France and Britain had temporarily joined forces with the Ottoman Empire to contain an expansionist Russia in the 1853–56 Crimean War.

In the century prior to the outbreak of the 1914-18 Great War, Britain had supported Prussia against expansionist France, France and the Ottoman Empire against expansionist Russia, before letting Prussia curtail the European influence of Napoleon III's resurgent Second French Empire. Why would Britain now side with Russia in its quest to gain a foothold in the Balkans via Serbia over the assassination of a foreign royal. While the German Empire had gained Alsace and Lorraine to the west and chunks of former Poland to the east, the Russian Empire had gobbled up the rest of Poland, the baltic states north of East Prussia and Finland as well as all the former Caucasian and central Asian Soviet republics that gained independence from the Russian Federation in 1991. Germany's main competitor in rapidly industrialising Central and Eastern Europe was Russia, who had in turn formed an alliance with its main competitor, and former occupier to the West, France. Britain, although now eclipsed by Germany and United States as an industrial power, had reached the pinnacle of its imperial power. Did it really matter if Germany settled a few scores with a despotic Russian Empire and once again put France in her rightful place as a medium-sized Western European nation? Could Britain not act as a mere mediator between Russia, the Ottoman Empire, France, Austro-Hungary and Germany. After all, it had both opposed and joined forces with all these empires to suit its imperial interests. As for neutral Belgium, it had just overseen the slaughter of possibly a million or more Africans in the Congo Free State (some accounts suggest as many as 10 million, depending on the accuracy of pre-colonial population estimates), while over half its European population would sooner reunite with the Netherlands than fight dirty wars in the service of Belgian colonialism.

However, Germany was certainly not blameless. It had been too eager to settle scores and strike preemptively against France via Belgium. Its military leaders sought to expand their geographic reach through their industrial power at a time when most of the world had already been carved up, except for one lucrative region whose recently discovered abundant fossil fuel reserves would enable unprecedented economic expansion later in the century. Kaiser Wilhelm's Germany had begun the construction of a ground-breaking Berlin to Baghdad railway, just as American and British geologists working for the Anglo-Persian Oil Company discovered black oil at Masjid-i-Sulaiman in the mountains of north-western Iran. Not surprisingly, though conquering the Middle East was never mentioned either as a pretext for war, much of Britain's military operations over the following four years took place not in continental Europe at all, but in Mesopotamia.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/2DCwafIntj0

For more read: The Darkest Days: The Truth Behind Britain's Rush to War, 1914 by Douglas Newton

Categories
Power Dynamics

The Globalist Mindset

If you love planet earth and the human race, may I humbly suggest corporate globalisation leading to a grotesque misappropriation of resources may not be such a good idea after all. However, some self-proclaimed progressives disagree. They somehow associate the onward march of transnational organisations, the proliferation of branded retail outlets and the relentless expansion of the non-productive hedonism business with a concept they like to call progress. Indeed, even many wishful-thinking greens and socialists have internalised the notion that we, as a species, are all on a one-way journey towards a better tomorrow and we can face all potential challenges through ever greater cooperation. Guiding us are an alliance of transnational organisations, multinational enterprises and virtual social networks integrated seamlessly with the entertainment industry. As soon as people gain access to the World Wide Web from Norway to Chile or Japan to Angola, they tend to join Facebook apparently to stay in touch with a diaspora of friends and family, but also to broaden their mindmap of familiar faces to friends of friends or newly formed virtual communities of special interest groups. Never has the world been more connected and never has travel from one country to another been so easy. Many global optimists already view countries as mere relics of a bygone era of nation states, fallen empires and anachronistic religions. Local languages, dress codes, cuisines and custom blend into a potpourri of flavours and choices available in an apparent free market. Whether a modern world citizen happens to be relaxing by the beach in Goa, visiting museums in New York City or Paris, attending a business conference in Dubai or inspecting a factory in a Chinese megacity, the interconnected global culture never seems far away. The same brands and artefacts of our postmodern decadence and techno-wizardry accompany financial wealth wherever it spreads. While 50 years ago opulence was concentrated in a handful of wealthy countries, extreme decadence has spread worldwide. There are billionaires in countries we once prefixed with the label third-world such as India, Brazil, Indonesia and even Nigeria, and billionaires in the first and second world countries often hail from former colonies of the old imperial powers. Nowhere is the scourge of ostentation as daunting as in the Middle East, the scene of over 80 years of imperialist meddling and destabilisation. Yet without easy access and control of the world's cheapest oil reserves in the Middle East, the global economy would shrink.

Just 20 years after the fall of the former Warsaw Pact, European governments have become little more than county councils negotiating deals with multinationals and harmonising legislation in line with new laws in other countries and with the wishes of international pressure groups. In practice government ministers act merely as middle managers implementing policies decided elsewhere and liaising with local underlings to mitigate adverse effects for social stability. In many ways the history of post-war Europe has been a conflict between rival visions of global harmonisation. As long as the rift between the Stalinist East and Capitalist West remained, leaders paid lip-service to outmoded concepts such as self-determination, national sovereignty and workers' rights. Countries could intervene to protect markets against destabilising global competition thus protecting not only local jobs, but also key skill bases. After the big powers had redrawn boundaries and forced millions to move, enduring extreme hardship and even starvation, from around 1950 to 1990, Europe enjoyed one of its longest periods of peace, social stability and general prosperity. Admittedly large pockets of relative poverty and social exclusion remained, as did authoritarian regimes in Eastern Europe and until the mid 1970s in Spain, Portugal and Greece. However, the degree of democratic participation and freedom of expression tended to reflect both social and economic realities. Those countries with the highest material living standards and thus best equipped to meet demands for better pay, working conditions and availability of life's pleasures and luxuries, could allow greater debate on economic policies and tolerate much greater dissent. If the business classes can distract the populace with bread and circuses and carefully manage the range of acceptable opinions, dissent can be easily sidelined or channelled into narrow lifestyle issues. Despite longstanding cultural differences, all Western European government pursued essentially social democratic policies. While governments allowed industries to compete, trade, expand and satisfy growing demand for consumer goods, they also invested in technological innovation and infrastructure, expanded welfare provision and protected national markets and workers against unfair competition from low-wage economies.

In the 1980s globalisation entered a new era with the Reaganite and Thatcherite obsession with supply-side economics and outsourcing of manufacturing. Since the fall of the former Warsaw Pact, we have seen the expansion of the European Union from a small set of countries with similar living standards to encompass most of the continent from Ireland to Romania or Finland to Portugal alongside other regional trading pacts from NAFTA, Mercosur to ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations). As a result the social democratic dream must either be extended to all and sundry or be gradually dismantled. In the UK we have the paradoxical situation where many descendants of the once proud working classes have become trapped in welfare dependence while low-wage jobs are increasingly the preserve of newcomers. To put things in perspective, despite public concerns about immigration from Commonwealth countries in 1950s to the 1980s, this immigration was always relatively balanced by emigration. Indeed between 1945 and 1995, total immigration to the UK was just under 2 million, a large number but spread over 50 years. Of course, the demographic effects were distorted by varying birth rates. Since 1995 more than net migration has been running at between 100,000 and 250,000 a year and the population has risen from a 58 million in 1991 to 63 million in 2011 despite a below replacement fertility rate among the native population. This means the UK has import raw materials, manufactured goods and food to sustain economic growth. So, as ironical as may seem to many trendy lefties, a higher population and greater economic growth in the UK leads to greater depredation of resources elsewhere. Where people suffer hardships in many apparently developing countries, it is often because foreign multinationals have uprooted them from their ancestral lands to exploit resources required by global markets. Yet corporate globalisation acts as double-edged sword, forcing people to leave their homelands and conveniently shifting the blame to the incompetence or corruptions of local leaders, while simultaneously promoting the very consumption-led economic growth that causes this displacement.

A False Sense of Security

Harold MacMillan, British prime minister in the late 1950s, once claimed "You've never had it so good". In some respects our material wellbeing and life expectancy have continued to improve since. However,what mattered most to those who remembered the humiliation of mass unemployment, soup kitchens, orphanages and real poverty below the breadline, were a secure job, affordable housing and a better future for their children. By the early 1960s most Western Europeans had all three essential components of the good life. With the advent of affordable television sets and growing car ownership, the new norm came to resemble the American Dream. It mattered little that most of the world still lived in a kind of post-colonial semi-feudalism or had to endure the excesses of Maoist or Stalinist authoritarian idealism.

Categories
All in the Mind

Huxleyan School Report

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

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