Categories
Power Dynamics

The Sheer Arrogance of Tony Blair’s Clone

"But let me be clear - Britain may be a small island, but I would challenge anyone to find a country with a prouder history, a bigger heart or greater resilience."

David Cameron

So presumably thousands of years of Chinese, Indian or Middle Eastem history, literature, innovations count for little, and Britain's neighbours have little to teach us. Britain may have had its heyday in the 18th and 19th centuries, but today just builds on its past glory as a marketing tool.

"Britain is an island that has helped to clear the European continent of fascism and was resolute in doing that throughout the Second World War."

Such gross simplifications open up a can of worms. Broadly speaking in the 1920s and 30s more stable countries with relatively tame and malleable populations retained some form of consultative democracy, while those that underwent greater economic instability and had a more rebellious and free-thinking populace fell under the control of more authoritarian regimes. Moreover, Britain and France relied on resources from their empires to placate workers at home. The British government and UK businesses were happy to do business with a wide range of dictatorships. Indeed in much of the non-white British Empire, natives were only consulted through their leaders. In the first world war Bismarck's Germany and David LLoyd George's Colonial Britain had similar democratic credentials.

Britain is an island that helped to abolish slavery, that has invented most of the things worth inventing, including every sport currently played around the world, that still today is responsible for art, literature and music that delights the entire world."

The new capitalist ruling class only sought to abolish slavery after it had become an obsolete means of exploitation, replaced by wage slavery and the uprooting of traditional rural communities to make way for a new era of industrialisation and later mass consumerism. Child labour (exploitation of preteen boys snd girls)continued in the UK well in the 20th century, e.g. as late as 1911 over 18% of Lancashire boys between 10 and 14 had to work.

Reportedly at the G20 St Petersburg Summit a Russian official, close to Vladimir Putin, dismissed Britain as just a small country that nobody really pays much attention to. That may seem rather undiplomatic, but for over 15 years the government of this small island has been busy promoting military intervention under false humanitarian pretexts, while lecturing everyone else on free trade, democracy and human rights. Such an attitude presumes the UK government and its favoured NGOs know better than the rest of the world, eagerly awaiting Anglo-American emancipation.

All countries can cite their heroes and achievements. Without the agricultural revolution that spread from the Fertile Crescent of Mesopotamia via Anatolia to Europe and North Africa, few of the subsequent technological advances in later European empires would have been possible. To put things in perspective, the Sumerians had mastered the art of writing 5000 years ago, yet before the Roman Conquest there is little evidence of any writing besides isolated ideographs in ancient Britain or Ireland. Without literacy and an understanding of mathematics, developed by various civilisations over thousands of years, the famous scientists and inventors of the early industrial period would have lacked the intellectual building blocks that underly many ubiquitous objects like ball bearings, pistons, camshafts or electric motors that make our modern world possible.

Cameron's eulogy to the greatness of the small island he represents does have a modicum of truth. Beyond doubt between the early 18th century and the late 19th century, scientists and inventors flourished more in the British Isles than in many other larger countries. However, by the turn of the 20th century the US economy had overtaken Britain's while the centres of technical innovations had moved to US, Germany and Japan. Without its technological headstart, it is unlikely Britain would have conquered over 1/4 of the globe. Yet throughout its heyday of industrial power, the subjects of this blessed isle toiled away in factories, down mines and on ships for 12+ hours a day, were condemned to abject living conditions and had little say, if any, in the way their country was governed for the electorate was restricted to just a select group of male property owners. Infant mortality in the England of 1800 was much higher than in today's Malawi. Mine owners would willingly send 8 year old boys into dark and narrow coal shafts inaccessible to adults to gain a competitive advantage and drive their country's economic expansion.

If one's sole sources of current affairs news are the Anglo-American mainstream media (namely BBC, CNN, Fox News, Sky News, the Guardian, the Times of London, the Independent etc.) and one has failed to check their track record in the run-up to previous military interventions, one may be forgiven for believing, at least temporarily, that the head of the Syrian regime is a bad guy responsible for heinous crimes against his people, while the US and UK represent the forces for good. One can just imagine the spectre of multicoloured UN peace corps marching into Damascus greeted by thankful Syrians eager to join the global consumer frenzy. Indeed for some that is the end game, so all places just become provinces of a happy global empire of Latte-sipping Bohemian marketing executives debating the relative merits of Google Glasses, iPhones and Samsung Watches. In such a world regions would only differ in their climate, historical architecture and accent of World English. However, such a reality is unlikely to extend beyond an affluent elite. Behind the scenes the system's dependence on permanent economic growth in a finite world is causing greater tension over access to precious resources. The kind of free trade that successive British governments have championed have promoted not only greater interdependence and less food security, but have also enabled some financially rich regions to consume much more than their landmass and resources would otherwise allow. The UK may be a small collection islands, but through its reliance on imports it is a major offloader of pollution. All those inexpensive Chinese-made goods pollute China and depredate resources from the rest of the world to drive the UK economy. They do not somehow magically appear prepackaged in warehouses and retail outlets in wealthy countries, without undergoing multiple stages of industrial transformation and travelling thousands of miles.

Most ironically, the globalist neoliberal elite do not really care about ordinary British people. When employers spoke of a skills shortage in the debt-fuelled boom years of the early noughties (2000-2007), New Labour had a golden opportunity to reform the welfare system and encourage the millions of workless adults reclassified as disabled to get back into work. Instead they decided to allow recruitment agencies to bring in Eastern Europeans in bulk to do jobs that ordinary working class people used to do, but now reportedly refused to. The pseudo-left liberal intelligentsia looks down on ordinary English people, dismissing them either as unenlightened feckless layabouts if they do not work or Daily Mail-reading whingers if they do work, but complain about mass immigration and social engineering. So the country that gave birth to Isaac Newton, James Watt and Alan Turing, now has a severe shortage of home-grown engineers and scientists because the new generation entering the workforce is more interested in easy money in management, training, recruitment, advertising and consulting. Britain has become a country where most workers can talk the talk, but few walk the walk without the aid of foreign machinery and resources.

Categories
Power Dynamics War Crimes

Left, Right and Plain Wrong

When political analysts first chose to classify opinions on a left-right spectrum during the French Revolution over 210 years ago, the left stood up for the underprivileged working classes, while the right defended the interests of the aristocracy and the emerging class of entrepreneurs. That was long before the emergence of the welfare state, mass consumerism and the globalisation of labour markets. During the latter half of the 19th century the left became identified with socialism and the transfer of ownership of the commanding heights of the economy to the workers. In the early 20th century the aspirational left branched into advocates of an international workers' state, often calling themselves Marxists, and social anarchists. The latter group saw no role for big business or central government and believed power had to be devolved to small communes and cooperatives as any large organisation, whether nominally public or private, is destined to subjugate both its employees and users.

As workers' organisations grew and their influence spread, the left came to be associated with many other social struggles of a rapidly industrialising world, from women rights to anti-imperialism. However, there was no default left view on each and every lifestyle issue. By and large the workers they claimed to represent were, and indeed still, are a fairly conservative lot tied to their homeland's traditions and often very religious. In a way leftwing thought grew out of the liberal enlightenment, the idea that human ingenuity can lead to infinite technological, social and economic progress and thus put an end to the evils of poverty and class division. In the early years of industrialisation, many radicals would despise the extravagance of the rich because so little was shared with the working poor and social welfare was limited to begging and charity. Social progress clearly meant extending the benefits of technology to the workers without whose labour the great imperial powers would never built their empires. Consumerism, i.e. the pursuit of economic growth through greater consumption of non-essential lifestyle products, remained the preserve of wealthy professional classes in most parts of the world until the 1950s, the automotive revolution and the advent of affordable television sets for all.

The Russian Bolshevik Revolution saw the emergence of a rival economic model to the laissez-faire free-market capitalism that had prospered in France, Great Britain, the US and later in Germany. Before 1917 much of the Russian Empire had remained a feudal agrarian society and industrialisation was mainly concentrated around Moscow and St Petersburg. The leadership of the new Soviet Union set about to industrialize the rest of their country through central planning. The whole federation was run as one large multinational monopoly in the guise of an enlightened workers' state progressing towards a socialist future and presenting itself internationally as a champion of workers' struggles and a fierce opponent of imperialism. While many self-declared Marxists and Leninists have written of the betrayal of the Russian Revolution and the failure of similar revolutions in other more advanced European countries, most notably in Germany, the left was tarred by its association with the excesses of Stalinism.

In reality laissez-faire capitalism, as envisaged by Adam Smith, namely peaceful trade among entrepreneurs with well nourished and educated skilled workers, had always been a myth. In the early stage of the industrial revolution, former peasants flocking to the mines and factories suffered a marked decline in living standards with very high infant mortality, not only through disease but workplace accidents, very long working hours (12-16 hours being the norm) and little time for leisure. The infrastructure required for rapid industrialisation and the growing need for a skilled workforce could only be provided through state intervention. No capitalist was powerful enough to coordinate the construction of the railways, roads, houses, schools and plumbing on which industry relied to thrive. As capitalism expanded, it relied on state intervention to gain control of resource-rich colonies and open up new markets. Many predicted the end of capitalism after Wall Street 's Great Crash of 1929, but the state intervened to save not only capitalists, but social order through a fledging welfare state. Ironically, both fascist Italy and Nazi Germany implemented the same kind of Keynesian economics, i.e. close partnership between big government and big business, that first Franklin Delano Roosevelt and then European social democrats have hailed since.

The outcome of the Second World War set the stage for a new era of mass consumerism alongside a benevolent welfare state. Most European countries were governed by Social Democrat or Conservative parties, who would argue merely over the extent of state intervention and various lifestyle issues as technological progress saw rising living standards and more leisure time. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, this model of development was restricted to North America, Western Europe, Japan, Korea and Australasia.

While the left appealed to notions of social progress and various struggles against prejudice and injustice advocating greater social equality and solidarity, the right appealed to god, country and family. Ironically this struck a chord not only with religious leaders, who before the advent of the welfare state saw themselves as upholders of social justice, but with common folk too especially in more ethnically homogeneous regions outside the main metropolises that had attracted millions from diverse regions. Commoners also tend to hold greater national and regional loyalties than their more expensively educated and better-paid compatriots, often much more cosmopolitan and internationalist in outlook. Honest working people have long taken a very tough stance against fraudsters, gangsters and thugs in general, whether these hail from the privileged property-owning classes or at large among the underprivileged working classes. Last but not least, ordinary people have tended to have more traditional values on issues such as women's rights, sexuality and even ethnic diversity.

Not surprisingly, throughout the 20th century we saw apparent sudden swings and alternations from left to right and vice-versa. Mussolini started his political career in the Italian Socialist Party, coined the term corporatism, believed in a strong partnership between Italian industrialists and the state and advocated social solidarity. Was he a product of the left or right? Indeed how did Stalin's Soviet Union differ from Hitler's National Socialist Third Reich other than their purported ideologies?

The end of the cold war around 1990 and China's embrace of Western consumerism in the late 1980s also saw a rapid acceleration in corporate globalisation, i.e. the transfer of power away from nation states to large transnational corporations and nongovernmental organisations. For a fleeting second, some pundits believed the great ideological conflicts of the 20th century had come to an end. In 1992 Francis Fukuyama wrote "the End of History" announcing to the world that liberal democracy had triumphed over communism and fascism, a vision supported by other global developments such as the end of Apartheid in South Africa. Now, the old left-right moved onto more social and lifestyle issues, more a battle between liberals and conservatives than between aristocrats and workers.

Yet, as Francis Fukuyama later admitted, history hadn't ended at all, the new ruling elite had merely adopted the internationalist and progressivist rhetoric of the old left. While the new rulers of the world had really just evolved from the old imperial rulers and capitalist bosses, the public perception of this brave new world may well be remembered in years to come as one of the best rebranding exercises in history. New global brands such as the United Colors of Bennetton, Starbucks, McDonalds, Apple Computers, Sony, Microsoft, VW, Exxon, Coca Cola, Nike and Adidas hid their true business practices behind a mirage of youthful, multicultural, shiny, happy consumers enjoying their products.

After the tough postwar years, Western Europe enjoyed over 3 decades of relative peace and social cohesion. I emphasise the adjective, relative, because the period had its fair share of crises and struggles, but by and large Europeans had never enjoyed such a high standard of living and the gap between rich and poor narrowed considerably. By 1970 most Western Europeans could read and write, had a home with water and electricity and a job. Most households had at least one car and ordinary people could afford goods and holidays that once seemed the exclusive preserve of the upper middle class. However, contrary to conventional wisdom, such social peace, based on near full employment and widespread prosperity, could not be achieved without significant commercial protectionism and state intervention.

To be continued....

Categories
All in the Mind Power Dynamics

Double Ungood: Brave New World Film

Things might not have panned out quite how George Orwell predicted in his infamous dystopian novel, 1984. In many ways rather than progress towards austere authoritarianism, modelled on Stalin's Soviet Union, penalising expressions of excessive joy, the latest phase of corporate globalisation has seen the spread of mass consumerism and commercialised hedonism as tools of social engineering. It is much easier to control an atomised populace mesmerised and distracted by mass entertainment, online games and trivial pursuits, than a disgruntled collective of workers frightened into submission. Overtly negative language instils fear and apprehension and can only influence people if counterbalanced by a deluge of positive messages about life and the organisations the establishment would like us to cherish. However, Orwell did foresee the gradual adaptation of language to change the way people think, or more accurately suppress certain thoughts altogether.

In Orwell's 1984 the government set about to phase out negative words. In a transitionary period, a simple negative prefix un could be used, hence ungood for bad. Thanks to positive psychology, so popular with corporate management, and neurolinguist programming (NLP), we can observe the ame trends today. A negative is now often the absence of a positive or replaced by deceptively neutral but prescriptive adjectives, e.g. a behaviour may be described not as wrong, bad, immoral, evil, indecent or selfish, but simply as inappropriate, i.e. possibly appropriate in an officially approved outlet for our frustrations, but not in the referenced context.

Indeed the worst abstract noun today is negativity itself. Any language or behaviour that meets this definition is simply deemed out of bounds, not acceptable, incompatible with our enlightened, tolerant and diverse brave new world. It provides the ultimate pretext for silencing dissent. Public organisations claiming to be open and democratic, often define all unpalatable opinions as "negative".

http://www.youtube.com/embed/ek5vse2_Aq0

Brave New World movie from 1980

In his 1931 novel, Aldous Huxley presciently anticipated many modern trends. Note how negative thoughts were reserved for outcasts known as savages, those who lived outside modern society and didn't take soma (chill pill, antidepressant) or participate in conditioning sessions. Critical thinkers were treated for deviance or banished to remote islands and any defiant behaviour was treated, as it is increasingly today, as a sign of psychiatric malfunction. View the film above and you will see what I mean.

Categories
Power Dynamics

Forerunners of Modern Globalisation

Homo sapiens sapiens first evolved as a distinct species at least 120,000 years ago with some recent finds in the Middle East dated as long ago as 200,000 years ago. On that time scale, the Neolithic agrarian revolution, which took place in most parts of world between 15,000 and 5,000 years ago and only reaching some locales such as Australia with European colonisation, is fairly recent. Prior to the agrarian revolution, communities had a much more direct relationship with their natural surroundings, were largely nomadic hunter-gatherers and so intensely involved in precuring food for their extended families that they lacked the technological means for more advanced forms of political organisation that could subdue other populations.

By and large human communities kept their distance limiting population growth and conflicts, but traded tools, artefacts and bounties. The earliest human settlers of Europe were not imperialists intent on dominating other peoples or seeking greater wealth for their rulers, but adventurers seeking greener pastures and often responding to regional climatic and environmental changes. Some anthropologists now consider the first waves of Indoeuropeans who expanded from Anatolia or the Crimean region around 7000 years ago to be the first imperialists, who set out to spread their culture on horseback through their mastery of animal husbandry and ability to generate food surpluses and this sustain larger communities. Pre-Indoeuropeans correctly designate the peoples who had colonised the Indo-european linguistic and cultural area before Indo-European expansion as opposed to later waves of migrants such as the Ural-Altaic who rode in from the east. Recent genetic analysis of established communities across Europe has shown how significant proportion of the modern European genome can be traced to a handful of ice-age retreats. The modern linguistic landscape emerged from an interaction between these pioneer communities and subsequent colonisers, but as Stephen Oppenheimer's research into origins of the British suggests, each new wave typically little more 5% to the existing ethnic mix. When pro-Globalists argue Britain has always been of nation of immigrants, they seem to overlook two critical factors, timescale, environmental sustainability and population density. Very early peoples could expand into new uninhabited regions without need for conflicts over economic resources with rival groups and even where other humans had settled in the vicinity, ample space allowed for some peaceful cohabitation and intermingling among groups with similar levels of technological advancement. Comparisons with the world's remaining pre-agrarian peoples may not prove very instructive as they tend to inhabit extreme environments as are usually surrounded by more technologically advanced communities eager to reassign their habitat to other more productive purposes.

Globalisation is simply imperialism on a planetary level, in which old nation states have become little more than regional councils implementing policies dictated by unaccountable supranational bodies. Imperialism means the subjugation of other communities to expand the military and commercial influence of a given ruling class. Historically speaking all nation states, which today form culturally distinct entities, grew out of generations of empire building.

Western European Timelines:
Years ago
20,000 to 11,500 Early Mesolithic with only a few communities in ice age retreats.
11,500 to 7,000 Post-glacial expansion to central and northern European mainly following coastal and river routes.
7,000 to 2000 Gradual expansion of agrarian civilisations and early empires.
2000 to 500 Imperial expansion, nation building, wars, spread of Christianity and Islam and introduction of the feudal system and mercantile networks.
500 to 250 European colonisation of the Americas with outposts in the Africa, Asia and Australasia
250 to 50 Industrial revolution and expansion of great European and North American empires. Consolidation of competing nation states with advanced social welfare structures.
50 to 20 Accelerated globalisation with domination of a US-centred business empire, supported by a huge military-industrial complex and limited national sovereignty, but kept in check by rival regional power centres and national welfare states.
20 to near future Rapid of growth of rival power blocks within the global system and huge expansion of consumption in the world's most populous countries, accelerated pace of migration, disappearance of national sovereignty, increased political instability, early signs of resource depletion.

In the beginning we had small communities around a limited number of extended families. It wasn't until the agrarian revolution that we could produce enough surplus food to enable the development of urban settlements and advanced political organisations. Some such civilisations may have existed as long as 15,000 years ago as evidenced by the archeological finds in South East Asian Malay archipelago, which during the last ice age formed a continuous landmass from modern Java to Cambodia, known as Sundaland. Archeologist Francis Pryor estimates Britain's neolithic population as little more than 100,000 in 4000 BC and Ireland's at around 40,000. In Roman times it barely rose to a staggering 3.5 million, out of an estimated 56 million in the whole Roman Empire, only to decline again to around 1.5 millions in the aftermath the pan-European Justinian Plague between 540 and 750 AD. For 700 years Britain's population fluctuated between around 2 and 8 million before the industrial revolution enabled a huge demographic boom and the excess population could easily emigrate to new colonies.

As recently as 1850 much of Africa's hinterland remained unchartered by European explorers, while to your European the world revolved around their region and nation state with merely tales of remote promised lands. To many French, German and Italian farmers English seemed about as relevant to their every day lives as Latin or Chinese. While the educated classes may have been aware of emerging empires abroad, most ordinary Europeans were only aware of foreign culture through tales from relatives who might have migrated. Indeed the great European exodus did not really get into full swing until the end of the 19th century. In 1850, shortly after the Mexican-American war with the acquisition of California and Texas, the US had just 23 million inhabitants. By 1900 this had soared to 76 million nearly doubling to 136 million in 1940 as Europe plunged into its second episode of mass slaughter of the last century, and most of the rise can be attributed to immigration. Now the US population stands at 320 million. The country may be large, but has ceased to be self-sufficient in non-renewable energy and a net exporter of food (see The Next Crisis Will Be Over Food). Worse still like the UK, the US outsources much of its heavy industry, so much pollution is generated elsewhere to satisfy consumer demand in the US.

My thesis is simple. Nation-state imperialism with rival French, Spanish and British empires has morphed into multipolar globalisation, where US and European multinationals collaborate with Japanese, Chinese, Brazilian or Russian corporations. While the system thrives on consumption generated in Europe and North America, growing demand in India and China means as per capita resources become scarcer capitalists are likely to switch from the current hyper-consumption model, where indulgence is practically subsidised to boost the retail sector, to a more traditional survival of the fittest.

Categories
Power Dynamics

New Labour’s 1997 Manifesto

This is the honest manifesto the Labour Party did not publish in 1997 before its historic landslide win, well it did gain 43% of the popular vote with a 75% turnout.

Education:
  • We will introduce tuition fees, initially at £1000 per annum, then rising to £3000 per annum, and allow students to repay their loans over extended period of time at competitive interest rates.
  • We will make exams easier to boost pass rates and thus expand the further education market in collaboration with our corporate friends.
  • We will increase class sizes to accommodate more newcomers.
Family:
  • We will introduce working family tax credits and expand a range of special benefits to encourage couples to separate.
  • We will continue the demonisation of fathers, while encouraging loutish behaviour via our entertainment policies..
Economy:
  • We will promote the outsourcing of manufacturing and the expansion of non-productive media, entertainment and banking.
  • We will drive consumer growth by letting banks offer loans to benefits claimants and then bail them out when it all goes pear-shaped.
Entertainment:
  • We will deregulate gambling and promote violent video games as eco-friendly works of art.
Health:
  • We will double spending on lifestyle drugs, large IT projects and management consultants.
  • We will subsidise IVF so single mothers can have children outside of a loving relationship.
  • We will promote early screening of mental health issues, appropriate medication and employ more special needs learning support assistants. Our target is for approximately 10 - 20% of all kids to be labelled special.
Taxation:
  • We will offer billionaire gangsters complete tax exemption.
Housing:
  • We will encourage immigration, leading to higher property prices and rents, and offer landlords special housing benefits.
Race Relations:
  • All opponents of our policies will be demonised as racists, while radical Muslims will be tarnished as terrorists.
Environment:
    We will encourage immigration, emigration, long-distance commuting and consumption to boost our economy, while lecturing the population on climate change.
    Foreign Policy
      We will join the United States in military interventions in the Balkans, Central Western Asia and the Middle East in order to secure control of fossil fuels and minerals and to prevent China from denying our multinationals easy access to resources essential to our way of life.
    Categories
    All in the Mind Power Dynamics

    Ubiquitous Assault on the Senses

    How will future generations view early 21st century Britain? An age of enlightenment that allowed more women than ever to work, redefined loud arguments as domestic violence, exposed childhood sexual abuse and extended the benefits of prosperity to more people than ever. This is the spin of the neo-liberal media, i.e. you've never had it so good or experienced such a wonderfully fair and harmonious society. Surely you don't want to return to the dark ages when parents routinely spanked their children at the slightest hint of disobedience and women were chained to the proverbial kitchen sink? In affluent communities violence has been confined mainly to virtual reality, blasted through speakers in the form of death metal and rap, projected onto mega-screens and translated into a captivating and highly addictive games. We are not just separated from the harsh realities of nature as our forebears knew it, but shielded from the consequences of violent ideation, now a dominant form of entertainment. This genre of entertainment may be likened to less technologically advanced spectacles such as gladiatorial fights in ancient Rome, or more recently boxing, wrestling or fencing, but over the last 20 years we have witnessed the gradual encroachment of war themes into our leisure life It's no longer just war movies, thrillers and video nasties occupying little more than one or two hours a week, but over 80% of the most addictive video games, paintball, Laser Quest and steady repetitive raucous beats and metallic dins accompanying electronic sound marketed as music and played in locales as diverse as sports centres, shopping malls and even offices. Indeed some young people find it hard to concentrate without a continuous blur of discordant noise at work. So paradoxically one may not shout at one's spouse for fear of being charged with domestic abuse, but one may play gangster rap at full volume while washing the car. If one dares suggest first-person shooters trivialise violence, one is soon ridiculed as reactionary and wait for it, against progress. Dare one suggest rap triggers feelings of hatred and intolerance, one is routinely slammed as intolerant of our wonderful cultural diversity.
    So while many of us feel increasingly powerless to change any aspect of our lives, we can only sit back and watch the spectacle of millions immersed in virtual violence in the safety of their bedrooms or offices. Paradoxically many first person shooter fans would be utterly horrified by the slightest hint of real-life gore. Recently an Italian teacher in a farming community arranged for her class to view the slaughtering of a pig. Parents were horrified, how could children learn the truth about meat processing. Sadly many pupils had previously believed meat comes from supermarkets in the same way as petrol just magically gushes from a filling station pump. Did our ancestors dream of heroic battles six to eight hours a day? Did they revel in death and destruction? At stake is the viability of human solidarity for if we dream of exacting revenge against perceived foes in times of economic disparity and limited per capita resources, we are doomed to repeat the worst democidal excesses of our recent history. To what extent is violence an inextricable part of the human condition and to what extent can culture either channel violent urges into socially useful activities or trigger violence in otherwise peaceful individuals?

    I would measure progress, not in terms of material possessions or abstract statistics championed by bureaucrats, but as a broad measure of social harmony, contentment and self-fulfilment, a delicate balancing act focussed on the reduction of conflict and personal suffering, e.g. ambition can drive innovation leading to significant improvements in life, but also cause conflict and selfishness.

    Human beings have a vast array of instinctual behaviours that may be unleashed under certain conditions. Some of our behvaiours require little active thought, either because they are essential to our existence and have been inherited from millions of years of evolution or because inculcated behaviours have become second nature. A healthy baby need not learn to suckle, breathe or even cry in response to basic nutritional needs. By contrast, humans did not evolve to drive cars or type, but many of us perform these tasks with amazing agility. In comparison with most other animals human babies are pretty helpless. Other newborn mammals can walk within minutes of birth. However, many other ingrained behaviours are learned skills building on our intellectual hardware and primitive reflexes, e.g. linguists such as Noam Chomsky believe complex language relies on a specialised brain functions absent in other species, but clearly the exact manifestation of our linguistic abilities depends largely on our environment. Our humanity determines our intellectual potential, while our environment determines how we develop and utilise our intellect. Without applying reason and compassion in the forebrain, a male responding to his innate libido might be inclined to sexually assault any unaccompanied attractive female within easy reach. Were we to let our basest instincts guide our actions, modern civilisation as we know it would never have arisen. The technological progress that helped us expand our food supply, tame nature to meet our needs and lower infant mortality relies on advanced forms of social organisation and co-operation, in which our intellect and sociability prevail over primitive forms of social control.

    Violence has long been a feature of human existence, but its role and pervasiveness have varied enormously over the millennia. Many anthropologists have observed we are the only animal that wages war against other members of our own species, but disagree on whether tribal warfare first emerged in the Neolithic era as stone-age humans began farming and establishing more permanent settlements around fifteen to ten thousand years ago, or whether internecine conflict has always accompanied homo sapiens sapiens throughout the Paleolithic era. We might consider some exceptions, e.g. a lion may fight a rival over control of a pride and then slaughter cubs that are not their own. However, not only are lions some of the most ferocious mammals, but their survival depends largely on brute force and obedience within a tightly knit community and, more important, on hunting other animals. They evolved to be top of the food chain, not to go forth and multiply and thus dominate through numbers. On the African plains, aggressive predators are in a minority, while the vast majority are mere grazers, browsers or warblers. Violence as a survival strategy only works if your species has a low population and can feed on a much larger number of easy prey. It is plainly foolish to apply human ethics to other species. Lions are born to kill and care only for their immediate family. Notions such as compassion and solidarity simply do not enter a Lion's mindset.

    We descend from a line of vegetarian and omnivorous primates, who succeeded in mastering their habitat through dexterity, cunning and social organisation rather than the exertion of physical force, which was largely reserved for travel, work, foraging, hunting of small animals and occasional defence against predators. Around six to seven million years separate us from our closest primate cousins, chimpanzees, but why would violence evolve as an innate human instinct? First we need to define violence a little more accurately. Many primates do not hunt at all preferring to forage as vegetarians should their habitat provide plentiful food, but we are most closely related to chimpanzees who do not only hunt, but have been observed resorting to violence as a means of conflict resolution and imposing their power on more submissive females. By contrast Bonobos, close cousins of chimpanzees, use playful erotica to diffuse social tensions. Obviously any carnivorous animal exerts physical force to catch and kill other animals. Few animals practice cannibalism except as a last resort in after a natural calamity. However, we do not relate to other animals in the same way as we relate to members of the same species. To a carnivore, other animals are food, not sentient beings. At this point it might be useful to distinguish intra-species violence from inter-species violence. Some would take an absolutist stance against murder of all sentient beings and thus promote vegan pacifism, arguing that human technology allows us to be at one with nature. However, most Vegans in wealthy countries relies on a huge human infrastructure that has completely reshaped our planet and effectively ethnically cleansed whole species from their natural habitats or confining them to wildlife reserves. To enable the apparently peaceful existence of a middle class Western European family with their 4 bedroom house, two cars, household appliances, endless gadgets, holidays abroad and weekly supermarket shopping sprees, we need to inflict violence on a huge scale against the planet's delicate eco-system, something many of us would rather deny. So we might not witness real warfare firsthand, but it is committed in our name so we can drive our cars and fill our refrigerators without much thought as to how that delicious frozen salmon ends up in our freezer. This warfare may not always be waged against non-collaborative communities, but simply displaces traditional human communities and other species in the name of progress.

    In many ways we are slowly emerging from an age of apparent harmony, in which people from different socio-ethnic backgrounds learned to live and work together. Certainly throughout history different ethnic groups have intermingled, but also fought bloody battles. Most of us have enough trouble trying to care for our immediate kith and kin. We can easily relate to our immediate geographic community and if this is cohesive enough, we might help disadvantaged neighbours. Charity really does begin at home. All of a sudden we have been asked to care not just for other members of our ethnic community, i.e. a group of people with a common language, mores and cultural identity, but all 6.7 billion estimated to grace our planet in 2010. As this is clearly impossible, we just pretend to care and look after ourselves, but often seek revenge against rivals by playing victims to justify our selfish actions. In reality while many of us pretend to care about the wider human race and some of us have been known to help strangers in distress, unless we are very rich and/or resourceful, we can only practically look after number one and our immediate family and friends. More important a socially competitive and high-consumption society pressures people to acquire more material posessions for themselves, either through hard work or financial manipulation. As a result millions are so busy struggling to make ends meet in a never-ending rat race, they have little time for others. Philanthropy has become a luxury afforded to the fortunate professional classes with time on their hands, while often members of idle classes prefer to indulge in media therapy (watching TV, chatting on Facebook etc.) rather than help others in their community. And even when people do help others, deep-seated cultural prejudices condition how this is targeted. The idea that billions of atomised human beings immersed in variations of the same global culture will learn to love each other is clearly a myth.

    Postscript

    While the Web is deluged with gamers' rants against any attempt to limit their freedom to indulge and many journalists in mainstream newspapers make a living out of promoting virtual violence as a legitimate genre of entertainment, my thoughts are not entirely unique. An Yugoslav Australian, Dejan, reached similar conclusions:

    Are we becoming a violence obsessed society? I think we are.

    Is it the excitement or the adrenaline rush? Maybe its a product of the life pressures we face today or even a mixture of the aforementioned? Something surely is driving us towards this culture where violence is being glorified and aggressiveness respected. It seems that way. The political sphere, the media and entertainment industries promote this aggressive culture that cant be leading the world towards a prosperous future, quite the contrary. Read full article at http://socyberty.com/society/the-obsession-with-violence

    Categories
    Power Dynamics

    The Keynsian Dream is Over

    None of the major parties in the UK have had the courage to tell the electorate the unpalatable truth. They act as mere middle managers or public relations officers, somewhere between their masters in global banking, energy cartels and military-industrial establishment and the hundreds of thousands of minion bureaucrats in the UK`s non-productive public and private sector institutions. It takes relatively little research to expose their presumed facts and figures. Indeed what should surprise us is not their apparent disagreements on issues such as Britain`s adoption of the Euro or immigration controls, but their agreement on the continued need for economic growth by injecting more virtual cash into an economy that has long ceased to produce more than a small fraction of what it consumes.

    Over the last 13 years Britain has experienced its biggest collective spending spree in history. We may look back nostalgically at the monuments and urban infrastructure of Victorian Britain, erected over a period of some 70 years when the country`s industry not only led the world, but could exploit the resources of a huge empire. Yet the UK`s national debt didn`t really figure until the great depression of the late 1920s. In the aftermath of the seconds world war, the US had amassed such a large surplus it could easily bail out much of Western Europe to fuel growth and give rise to a new age of mass consumerism. It may seem ironic, but without huge government intervention through fiscal stimulus packages, direct subsidies, nationalisation and social welfare, mass consumerism would never have spread beyond the affluent upper middle classes.

    Unlike previous splurges, Britain has gained little in lasting infrastructure. We have literally squandered 1.3 trillion of the country`s personal debt on holidays in the sun, property trading and 60" plasma TV screens. Most recent extensions to the country`s rail and rapid transit network were planned back in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, yet owing demographic growth in the Southeast of England and increased commuting as people are forced to buy houses further and further away from their place of work, road and rail networks are bursting at their seams. To accommodate a rising population and smaller households, property developers have littered the countryside with suburban sprawl composed of compact houses designed to last 30-40 years requiring more roads, plumbing and wiring. Superficially, much of the country still has vast expanses of greenbelt, farmland and pastures. In reality it relies on natural resources from abroad to temporarily support current levels of aggregate consumption. Everything from vegetables to bottled water, electronic gadgets to coal, timber to steel, plastic utensils to fridges or cars to ships are imported to the birthplace of industrial revolution, in effect exporting pollution. Arm-chair human rights activists may bemoan the working conditions and exploitation of the Chinese, Indonesian, Vietnamese or Eastern European labourers who actually produce the goods we consume, but would they get out of bed for less than £5 an hour, let alone the derisory pay packets of the millions of virtual slaves who enable us to party like there were no tomorrow? Left-leaning Guardian-readers tend to live in a bubble, in which their non-productive service-sector earnings are exchanged for real goods labelled fair-trade, organic or environmentally-friendly and inspected by wishful-thinking corporate compliance officers.

    The same government that bleats incessantly about climate change promotes economic growth and the globalisation of production. They may talk about investing in public transport, but rely on advertising revenue from automotive multinationals. The Blair years will be remembered as the final act of a 60 year experiment in mass consumerism, the age of 60†Plasma TV screens, people carriers and 4x4 off-road vehicles in suburbia, cheap Ryanair flights ferrying young Brits to stag or hen nights in Eastern Europe as well as for the commercialisation of the Internet and a national obsession with re-enactments of warfare and gangster violence. An age when absurd thought-suppressing political correctness coexists with disrespect for the uncool and widespread moral depravity, drunken binges and deregulated gambling.

    Rather than champion Blair as a great democrat or human rights activist, future historians will view his fervent support for US/NATO military intervention in the context of depleting fossil fuel resources. Whether the recent consumption binge will trigger catastrophic climate change or not, sooner or later we will be confronted with the harsh reality of limits of growth on a finite planet and will need to readapt to a more humble localised existence. New Labour left future generations with a cultural vacuum, unsustainable material expectations, a huge debt and a woeful shortage of practical hands-on skills.

    Categories
    Power Dynamics

    Rewriting History

    A few months after Coalition forces successfully secured control of Baghdad and toppled a statue of Saddam Hussein in Fardus Square before the world's media, Tony Blair referred to way future historians will remember the liberation of Iraq. It is certainly possible to construct a version of history in which the US and UK armed forces liberate a country condemned to years of tyranny by a murderous despot and then proceed to build the foundations of a new liberal democracy extending both wealth and freedoms to the majority of ordinary Iraqi citizens, but sadly hampered by a growing insurgency fuelled by the forces of intolerant Islamic fundamentalism and funded by external powers. Fox News succeeds fairly well at convincing a large section of the American viewing public that whether or not the Coalition forces ultimately succeed in defeating Al Qaeda, they are a force for good, but to do so they have to suppress glaring facts on the ground, not least the ninety years of Anglo-American intervention in the Middle East, overthrowing democratically elected governments, installing despots and arming client regimes, and more important a medium term plan to seize control of the largest concentration of the world's remaining cheap oil and gas reserves. Fox News's rewriting of recent history differs little from that deployed in the Stalinist Soviet Union or in the short-lived Third Reich, except for their reliance on private capital rather than a state monopoly to ensure the masses only receive filtered information and all dissent is methodically sidelined and ridiculed.

    Some may recall the debate within the self-defined liberal left on the free speech we should afford to rightwing political extremists. Broadly speaking we may distinguish the Voltairean position preferred by the likes of Noam Chomsky with the militant anti-fascist position preferred by the ideological hard left, but intriguingly also by a number of national governments. The latter position, popularised as no platform for fascists, has two variants, one relying on the state to ban neo-fascist views and the other relying on militant antifascists to silence any murmurings of fascistoid historical revisionism, e.g. staging demos outside David Irving's lectures. I discussed this in Free Speech and Hate Speech, analysing the thorny issue of the intellectual freedom of Nazi holocaust deniers or revisionists (as nobody admits to denial). The subtle point many on the left fail to gauge is that historical research and debate does not need state protection, indeed as soon as the state outlaws certain versions of history, effective debate ceases. Thus currently it is illegal to call into question the official version of the Nazi holocaust in Germany, Austria, Poland, France and Israel, but apparently in Turkey and Israel it's fine to downplay the extent of Armenian holocaust. Naive leftists would extend the interpretation of the French Gaissot Law to outlaw denial of the 1918-19 Turkish slaughter of 1,500,000 Armenians (that's the usual estimate, but the Turkish government revises this down to 300,000), the victims of slavery (as many as 50 to 60 million) and the victims of Stalinism and Maoism (also in their tens of millions). As the Armenian case exemplifies, truth does not need state protection as long as historians on all sides of the debate with different cultural biases are allowed to continue their endless research and debate. When dealing with tragedies on the scale of the afore-mentioned massacres one can never be very exact with numbers, 100,000 soon becomes 1 million and 10 million can soon become just a few hundred thousand.

    Out of the blue the neolaborite Guardian reports on Amaresh Misra's "War of Civilisations: India AD 1857" claiming the occupying British administration was responsible not for just a few hundred thousands deaths during the Indian Mutiny, but a deliberate policy for the eradication of as many as ten million Indians, a forgotten holocaust occurring 88 years prior to the Nazi Shoah, but seldom taught in modern British schools. Now let's have a quick reality check. Ask a random group of 20 British teenagers of their understanding of the Nazi holocaust and then ask the same question to 20 Germans in the same age group. Surprisingly most will give fairly similar answers, though I'd hazard that the German group would be a little more precise in their rendition of the official facts. Now ask the same teenagers what they know about the Indian mutiny and with one or two possible exceptions you'll meet with blank faces. Why? Because the history of British colonisation is mainly written either by British academics or by the descendants of a highly anglicised Indian ruling elite, educated in English-medium schools. To limit the death toll atributed to British loyalists to just 100,000 (the orthodox figure usually cited in history books) is tantamount to revising the horrendous murder count of the 1994 Rwandan democide by only considering official death certificates or possibly corpses counted by Red Cross personnel, both of which are undoubtedly much lower than the usual estimate of 800,000 to a million. Anyone visiting the country in the aftermath of the slaughter could not fail to appreciate the scale of the atrocities, whatever the exact composition or ethnic identity of the perpetrators and victims might have been.

    Two key factors tend to muddy the waters when in comes to the historical truth of human death and desctruction. One is time itself. The further back in history a mass slaughter is buried, the harder it is to prove the exactitude of rival claims. The second is the powers of persuasion and social control. Most of us who have grown to like much of modern North American culture, myself included, may struggle with the notion that elements of the US ruling elite are responsible, either directly or indirectly, for millions of killings.

    Let's fast forward to the controversy over varying Iraqi body counts. Figures range from 650,000 as estimated by the Lancet October 2006 household survey to just 70,000 as estimated by Iraqi Body Count on the basis of press reports and other official sources. The former survey used the same cluster survey method deployed in Rwanda and not dissimilar at all from the population sampling techniques used to obtain figures for other mass slaughters of the last two centuries and much more accurate than wild exaggerations of enemy atrocities sometimes used to justify intervention, most notably during the 1999 Kosovo airstrikes when a UK government minister announced as many as 100,000 Kosovans had been gone missing and feared dead at the hands of Serb security forces, without any scientifically valid surveys on the ground to back up the claim. Later estimates fail to show more than 3000 deaths during the conflict. Yet when our rulers are responsible for mass murder, we are expected to believe only the lowest estimates.