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All in the Mind Power Dynamics

Getting a taste of your own medicine

Corporate censorship

How hate speech laws have come back to bite their proponents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is the dispute really about anti-Zionism?

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

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

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

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

Freedom of Inquiry

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

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Power Dynamics

Race, ethnicity and religion

100 metres final 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Power Dynamics

Extinguishing Open Debate and Personal Freedom

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

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

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

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

The real environmental challenges

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

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

The Technocratic Trap

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

Politically Correct Narratives

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

Intellectual Honesty

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

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

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

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

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All in the Mind

Language is more about Meaning than Words

Tower of Babel

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

Not just Etymology

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

Substrate Languages

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

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

The Quirks of Insular English

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

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

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

Neurolinguistic Programming

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

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

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

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

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

Categories
All in the Mind Computing

On Social Competitiveness and Human Nature

As a species we combine social solidarity and shared culture with a strong competitive spirit. In a way these variant behaviours represent the true yin and yang of the human psyche, collectivism versus individualism or social cohesion versus self-betterment. One could argue that our social and technological reality would never have progressed without these instincts. Idealists have long envisaged a collectivist society devoid of competition at all levels in which our only motivation in life is to further the greater good of society as a whole and all rewards, both material and spiritual, are shared equally. Yet no modern society has achieved these egalitarian aims. As much as many of us may preach equality, at a personal level we remain highly competitive in our social interactions and choice of partners. All too often we preach social compassion in public, but practice social exclusivity in private.

Our technology inevitably relies on prior art or the acquired body of human knowledge accumulated over successive generations, while our social fabric and mores have evolved through centuries of experimentation and gradual adaptation. Social solidarity starts in the family where mothers and fathers sacrifice their body and soul to ensure the survival of the next generation and care for their living forebears. As societies evolved from small hunter-gatherer communities to larger fiefdoms and eventually nation states after the agrarian revolution, we had to share resources and infrastructure with a wider group of people with a common set of cultural traits and values. Yet societies remained profoundly unequal and riven by strong class chasms that prevented social mobility. If you were born a peasant and had to till the land from an early age with a rudimentary diet that stunted physical growth, you stood little chance of progressing to the professional classes or nobility, except potentially through marriage or adoption. The industrial revolution disrupted the feudal class system and later led to the expansion of state education and growing demand for a new class of literate and technically qualified workers. Much of the political debate since has revolved around two contrasting ideals:

  1. Equality of opportunity: Here we allow healthy but peaceful competition in social interactions and in the labour market, but the state intervenes mainly to ensure a level playing field for all children by funding universal education and providing a social safety net to prevent extreme poverty. However, this principle cannot guarantee equal success, which may depend on inherent aptitudes and biological differences, e.g. success in athletics may depend on training and diet, but also genetically determined physique.
  2. Equality of outcome: Here the state intervenes proactively to ensure everyone can attain the same socio-economic status through positive discrimination and massive investment to help underperformers. This principle identifies the least successful as victims of purported oppression, exclusion or prejudice. Here we should distinguish between giving everyone a fair chance to prove their worth and rewarding incompetence or demotivating excellence.

In truth neither approach has worked. As long as we have vast differences in wealth and culture, it will remain practically impossible to ensure a level playing field. The rich can always buy homes in the most exclusive neighbourhoods, shield their offspring from the worst aspects of today's anti-intellectual hedonism and hire childminders and private tutors. On the other hand the last 50 years of social engineering and positive discrimination in Western Europe, especially in Scandinavia, have failed to yield the results many envisaged in the 1960s. Men and women are not the same, at least according to most recent neurobiological research. Women continue to prefer people-oriented and caring professions rather than more technical or object-oriented professions, as revealed in one of the world's most gender-egalitarian countries, Norway. Likewise not everyone is academically gifted. Many of us are much more hands-on and prefer learning through a mix of practical experience and social osmosis. We can't all swat away for hours on end to pursue a career in engineering or scientific research, because the acquired knowledge would remain too abstract for many. Indeed that's problem with much of academia. They can develop mathematically correct theories and extrapolate internally logical conclusions based on selective facts or epidemiological data. The theoretical approach that drives so much of modern corporate and government policy making has one major flaw. It fails to take into account all factors that are either unknown or considered irrelevant. Back on planet earth simple practical people take such unknown and unforeseen factors for granted. Our daily experiences often defy academic theories, but are still dismissed as mere anecdotal evidence until they appear in an official report. So who's right? Theoreticians or practical laypersons? The answer is both in different ways. An academic may envisage a nanochip with a processing capacity greater than a human brain. A layperson may suggest that analogue human brains do not work in the same way as digital computers and they'd be right, but of our knowledge is fuzzy, i.e. based on a collection of associated concepts. However, cybernetic luddites have repeatedly been proven wrong. Advanced speech recognition, natural language processing, satellite navigation and even self-driving cars have long passed the proof-of-concept stage and promise to transform our lives. Cumbersome desktop computers gave way to more compact laptops, soon superseded by forever more sophisticated and versatile mobile devices in the form of smartphones, tablets, e-readers and watches. Academics may better understand the potential of cybernetic technology, but they fail to get to grips with the disruptive technology's impact on the lives of millions of ordinary people, who may soon be rendered either redundant or completely subservient to corporate control.

Procreative Competition

Few aspects of human nature are as socially competitive as our mating or sexual bonding strategies. Sex is both a social taboo and something we all intimately crave, when we're in the mood and with the right partner. Recreational eroticism has deep biological roots that ultimately seek to maximise our chances of passing on our genes and thus our cultural influence onto the next generation. We can transfer our cultural influence through adoption or through our life's endeavours, but until recently the biological family remained the primary means of preserving one's legacy for posterity. Naturally sexual desire is psychologically complex. Our erotic urges are much more powerful than our need to conceive more offspring than we can reasonably bring up. Such urges, especially among young men, merely satisfy hormonal impulses and boost our sense of self-esteem.

We thus have both sexual selection, a process that affects all sexually reproducing species, and erotic selection, in which we choose to win the affection and favours of the most affable mates to enhance our status or our gratification. Players in this game may vaunt their physical desirability or their socio-economic status. A young woman may delude herself that she has just fallen in love with her affluent married boss, with whom she first slept while attending a business conference together. A sociologist would ask why some women fall for guys 20 or 30 years their senior, who are way beyond their physical prime and have other family commitments, rather than men in their age group. Numerous studies have shown that women actively pursue the most successful men, who are inevitably both a small subset of all adult males and are likely to be older than most attractive women, typically aged between 18 and 30. Believe it or not there is no shortage of heterosexually inclined young men who would like to mate with attractive females in their age group, but not enough females who aspire to mate with low-grade males who have yet to prove their worth. This explains two key differences between male and female mating strategies even in cultures where both promiscuity and contraceptives are socially acceptable. A young man can boost his self-esteem and thus gain a higher status merely by virtue of scoring with a physically attractive female. By contrast young women target high status males, or at least those perceived to have a high status. In other words young men would be happy to score with most younger women, provided they are not grotesquely overweight or suffer from some other hideous bodily imperfection. Indeed some low-status young males are so desperate for sexual encounters they can easily reassess their physical desirability criteria and make do with almost any potential partner available. Young women tend to be much pickier and effectively disregard most men in their age group. As a result a minority of alpha-like males get a disproportionate amount of female attention. Luckily nature does provide some checks and balances. Not all women pursue the high risk strategy of targeting alpha males. If a woman seeks commitment, affection and economic security from a relationship, a mildly successful beta male is more likely to reciprocate, and more important, stay loyal. However, given women and men differing erotic needs, an open sexual market tends to empower females more than males. Men create most of the impulsive demand, while women control the supply. To make matters worse a strong cultural preference for males in much of the Middle East, India and China has led to a growing imbalance of males and females at birth. Worldwide we have 1.06 males under 15 per female of the same age group. In China that ratio rises to 1.2. Indeed male homosexuality may be a reaction to both biological and economic imbalances. Sex may well be more fun when both partners understand each other's erotic needs, do not seek to gain other favours in exchange and need not worry about unwanted pregnancies or potential parental responsibilities.

Attractive women can thus play two games: reproductive selectivity and erotic selectivity. The former is fairly easily to understand in purely sociobiological terms. More successful men are not only better able to provide for their offspring's economic needs, they are also more likely to pass on better genes. By contrast erotic selectivity rewards men who best meet women's other emotional and economic desires. Put another way, we could describe wealth and power as the ultimate aphrodisiacs.

Undoubtedly environmental factors play a significant role in determining available opportunities, cultural outlook and socio-economic success in life, but we'd be foolish to deny natural physiological and indeed neurological differences among human beings. When it comes to partner selection, nature can be very cruel. Culture may affect which attributes are most valued by members of the opposite sex, but some players will always be at a relative advantage in the mating game.

Networking

The old saying goes it's not what you know, but who you know , but at the end of the day some of us do require some hard skills that extend beyond social networking and communication. Many modern professions ranging from marketing, sales, project management, recruitment to psychotherapy, policing, social monitoring, public relations, media presentation and entertainment depend primarily on advanced social skills. These mean our ability not only to interact with people from different walks of life and cultural backgrounds, but identify their weaknesses and predilections in order to modify their behaviour. People managers need enough technical expertise to win the trust of their more practical team members and see their projects to a successful completion, but their main task is to ensure workers not only comply with business requirements, but do not hold the business to ransom. That's why many technical tasks are assigned to teams with multiple layers of management rather than to one to two competent engineers, who may get the job done faster and more efficiently. If business managers can keep engineers focussed on circumscribed fields of endeavour, they can hide the full implications of their projects from well-paid technicians, e.g. technology developed for medical purposes could be adapted for military use.

Ironically as we depend more and more on technology whose inner workings few of us truly understand, the world's major tech companies are busy investing more in psychoanalysis and social engineering than they are in hard science.

Categories
Power Dynamics War Crimes

Another Day, Another Attack

British and Saudi Royals

How the British Foreign Policy Elite favoured its short-term commercial interests over the long-term security and wellbeing of its citizens.

Just in case you haven't read the news. Seven people were killed and 48 others injured in a van and knife attack on London Bridge and Borough Market, in which three suspects were shot dead by police. The perpetrators chanted This is for Allah. This comes just 12 days after an attack at the Manchester Arena with 22 fatalities and dozens more casualties.

When will we finally admit it? We can only enjoy the relative freedom to walk the streets of our cities in safety unperturbed by random terrorist attacks or oppressive policing, if first we manage our social environment sensibly and second we all share values of common decency and mutual respect. The fiction we prefer to believe is, despite many teething troubles, we are somehow all embarking on a new era of universal peace and love, breaking down barriers that once divided us and opening our hearts and minds to humanity's wonderful diversity. I agree cultural diversity may often be an asset because there's more than one way to interpret the world around us or organise complex human societies. The reality is too many of us are competing in a global rat race to acquire a bigger slice of the wealth created by a handful of global corporations to further our own subculture (whether it's postmodern narcissism or Islamic fundamentalism), genetic lineage or just satisfy our whims and fancies. In short, we may preach one-world love, but we practice selfish indulgence, which naturally lets others, smarter or more influential than we are, manipulate our desires and prey on our weaknesses.

Many wishful thinkers (a hackneyed epithet, I know) simply want to have their cake and eat it. They want to benefit from the wonders of dynamic, vibrant and fluid multicultural societies (which are really converging on a consumer monoculture) and a growing economy with plenty of technological innovation, yet complain when a few misfits spoil their party with acts of the vilest hatred imaginable. Whatever crimes our rulers may have committed, one can hardly blame carefree youngsters enjoying a pop concert, performed incidentally by an artist who has supported pro-refugee charities, or late night revellers in one of Europe's most ethnically diverse cities. The attackers did not care if you read the Guardian or Daily Telegraph, if you support open borders, if you oppose the Syrian government, if you hate Vladimir Putin, if you favoured gay marriage, marched against the Iraq War or dutifully displayed refugees welcome signs. To indoctinated Jihadis, you are all just infidels and will suffer the same fate as Orthodox Christians in Syria and Egypt. These attacks have grown in intensity over the last five years with hundreds of deaths every month and tens of thousands forced to flee their homes.

Let us face the ugly truth. Islamic fundamentalism is by any measure one of the most illiberal, intolerant and regressive ideologies that has ever cursed our planet. Its respect for human life and real cultural diversity is comparable in every way to Naziism. Yet today's self-declared anti-fascists, who in Britain organise under the banner of Hope Not Hate, prefer to march against fringe Little Englanders, UKIP or anyone else who supports stronger immigration controls, wishes to preserve traditional English, Welsh or Scottish culture or just uphold the kind of liberal values we had adopted by the 1960s and 70s in the face of Islamic fundamentalism and state-enforced suppression of intellectual freedom. If Hope Not Hate and antifa really wanted to combat totalitarianism, they would march against Islamic extremism rather than appease it.

Establishment Complicity

Our government's reaction to these attacks has always been the same: to restrict everyone's freedom and privacy. It took Prime Minister Theresa May just 12 hours to announce higher levels of Internet surveillance. So we all have to have our social media and private electronic correspondence monitored just in case we express sympathy for proscribed organisations or even for political causes opposed to our rulers' vision of globalisation. I honestly do not buy the theory that Western governments want to impose Islam on Europeans and North Americans. If Islamic fundamentalism colonises the West, as Francophone Algerian writer, Boualem Sansal, foretells in his recent apocalyptic novel 2084: The End of the World, it could in my view only occur due to a systemic collapse of Western civilisation, which continues to spread in the form of mass consumerism and rapid technological innovation in most of the world. If Saudi Arabia represents a threat, it does so with weaponry we sold them and with the proceeds of our addiction to its abundant cheap oil, which just happens to lie under their sand. If there were easy alternatives to fossil fuels, our energy companies would have adopted them decades ago. Indeed Norway and Japan have already converted most of their cars to hybrid or all-electric engines, but that transition will only partially relieve our dependence on petrochemicals. The Middle East quagmire and the emergence of radical Islam or Wahhabism is a direct consequence of decades of US, UK, Israeli and to a lesser extent French foreign policy in the region.

Naturally the affluent elites can always buy greater seclusion from the masses and the kind of internecine urban warfare that inevitably follows the breakdown of social stability, especially in locales with divergent ethnocultural communities. The last adjective implies a difference in ethnic background and/or in cultural identity. One's ethnicity is largely transmitted through one's parents and upbringing, while one's cultural identity, such as religious affiliation or adopted lifestyle, tends to be much more fluid.

Deliberate Destabilisation

There are two ethical justifications for military interventions abroad. One is to defend your own country against foreign aggression. The other, known as humanitarian intervention, is to prevent mass murder or obscene human rights abuses. For most of our history, our rulers have presented these rationales as defence of the fatherland and spreading our superior civilisation. Thus the British Empire saw its role as civilising primitive tribes and backward societies. Yet these pretexts have a very bad track record as the outcome of one allegedly defensive war can soon justify another war, whose rationale depends on a selective interpretation of objective reality. While we can certainly cite examples where the bad guys, i.e. the side with the most repressive or murderous regime, lost (e.g. the defeat of Nazi Germany), there are countless others where the winning military power is so dominant from a cultural and technological standpoint that it can rewrite history to fit the narrative it wishes its new citizens to believe. Europeans did not conquer the Americas and Australasia in order to liberate the native peoples of those continents, but to expand their mercantile empires and colonise new resource-rich land.

As Britain transitioned from a colonial power to a modern European state, its foreign policy elite had to find a new role as mere vassals of a larger US-centred corporate empire. Yet the UK continued to exert considerable influence in the post-colonial era. The Foreign Office and secret services had acquired a good deal of expertise in forging strategic alliances with ethnic or religious factions with a grievance against their new governing authorities. This was especially easy in the many artificial states created by post-colonial planners or in the case of Iraq, hastily drawn on a map as the victors of WW1 carved up the former Ottoman Empire. The Foreign Office's has for the last 60 odd years endeavoured to make the world safe for big business and thereby to capitalise on Britain's post-imperial influence on one hand, while destabilising any regional powers that threatened the supremacy of global corporations. In a complex world, this is no easy task especially when you're competing with rival powers such as Russia, China or India or even settling scores with allies like France (e.g. UK support for the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front to embarrass France over its previous support for the deposed Hutu-led Rwandan government).

Since the late 1990s the Blair, Brown, Cameron and now May administrations have presided over two policy areas that favour Britain's commercial and geopolitical interests over the security of its own people.

  1. Interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria have not only destabilised those countries, they have unleashed a large migratory wave from a region with a high birthrate and serious environmental challenges. If humanitarian intervention had been successful, we might expect the migratory tide to ebb.
  2. Relaxed immigration controls from the Muslim countries with easier family reunions. Official immigration restrictions may have seemed rather strict and even unfair on a personal level (the liberal media loves to cite examples of Australian or US citizens whose work visas have expired despite being married to UK nationals), but in practice a well-organised army of migration lawyers manage to circumvent most restrictions, so the UK's Muslim population has continued to grow both through new immigration and a high fertility rate. Vast swathes of London, Birmingham, Manchester, Bradford, Luton and many other towns and cities across the country now have Muslim majorities who live as parallel communities. The so-called liberal media has tried its level best to downplay the scale of creeping ethnic cleansing, but I've experienced its reality first hand. Many state schools in these voluntarily segregated districts have no non-Muslim pupils at all. Worse still, Islamic schools, often funded with Saudi money, have proliferated in our larger cities. For all the talk of multicultural harmony and integration, communities have grown apart as the traditional settled communities vote with their feet and move to outlying suburbs and satellite towns. Yet to many globalists, even to mention this problem is tantamount to racism.

However, the complicity of our ruling elites goes much deeper. British secret services have long colluded with Islamic extremists to destabilise unfriendly regimes. Mark Curtis, author of Secret Affairs: Britain's Collusion with Radical Islam, has detailed how the Manchester suicide bomber, Salman Abedi, and his father were members of a Libyan dissident group, covertly supported by the UK to assassinate Qadafi in 1996 . This is a very funny way of combatting religious extremism and fostering social harmony in a tolerant multicultural world. Many now yearn for the days when London cafés only served eggs, bacon and chips with a cup of tea, but at least you could identify common criminals.

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
Computing Power Dynamics

Madonna vs Alex Jones

 adonna

How the Virtue-Signalling Left Cares More About Affluent Jet-Setters Than Defenceless Goat Herders

The faux outrage about Donald Trump's controversial travel ban on citizens of 7 mainly Muslim countries reveals more about the priorities of the affluent infantile left than it does about any shift in US foreign policy. Most people in the world outside of North America, Europe, Japan and a few other wealthy countries cannot afford to fly to the United States. The freedom to travel where you want and to enjoy the benefits of advanced civilisations that took hundreds of years to evolve is a relatively new concept. By contrast food, water and shelter are the most fundamental human necessities. US foreign policy under Bush Senior, Clinton, Bush Junior and Obama has denied millions these basic human rights by bombing neighbourhoods, destroying vital infrastructure for clean water, food distribution and electricity, littering the landscape with depleted uranium, imposing sanctions, arming despotic regimes and covertly supporting Islamic fundamentalist militias in Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere. While many protested against the 2003 invasion of Iraq, opposition to subsequent military escapades and arms sales has been muted. The mainstream Western media, most notably the BBC and CNN, have consistently peddled US State Department propaganda by blaming local leaders, Russia or Iran for the region's growing instability. Indeed many left-leaning politicians and opinion leaders supported US intervention in the Middle East. Gordon Brown and the late Jo Cox MP published a report calling for more proactive intervention in Syria to counter aggression from Russia and President Assad. Their narrative leads in only one direction, a borderless one world government controlled by global corporations and policed by a transcontinental expansion of NATO. It's a vision shared not only by Hillary Clinton's campaign team, Tony Blair and George Soros, but also by the EU and China.

Yet the wishful thinking fake Left in all their collective indignation against President Trump seem much more concerned with the rights of affluent Middle Eastern globetrotters than those of Yemeni goat herders whose homes have just been bombed by the Saudi Air Force with the full cooperation of the US and UK or the rights of Christian Syrians murdered by rebel militias that the UK or US armed. They can only relate to people like themselves who value the freedom to travel abroad more than the right to safety, social stability and cultural continuity in your own homeland because they just imagine the world as one large university campus and project impractical idealist student politics onto the rest of humanity.

The latte-sipping soi-disant Left tend to confuse actions with categories of people. Migrate is a verb. Anyone who moves to another region or country is by definition a migrant just as anyone who travels by aeroplane is an air passenger. Migration may be good, bad or indifferent depending on objective environment and social conditions. Likewise anyone who drives a car is a driver. Logically driving may also be good, bad or neutral in different situations. The same human being may be a driver in one situation and a train passenger, cyclist or walker in other circumstances. We should not debate whether migrants or drivers are good or bad people, but whether mass migration or mass motoring make environmental or social sense. Oddly the two phenomena are closely related as people tend to move to more affluent countries with higher car ownership. In today's complex world immigration controls are like traffic regulations. Ideally we would not need any restrictions on movement and if we all lived comfortably in sparsely populated and resource-rich regions we could minimise both traffic and migration controls, but we don't. More freedom in one domain inevitably limits freedoms in other areas. People might value ease of travel, but we also need safe and peaceful neighbourhoods.

Until recently only a tiny fraction of humanity could afford long-distance travel. European emigrants to the Americas would save up many years only to endure a long and arduous journey in the lower decks of a ship. It's something people might do once or twice in a lifetime. On arrival they had little choice but to work for a living as there was no welfare to speak of. Not everyone succeeded. Some died through exhaustion while a few returned to their homelands penniless, but the American dream was open only to those who either arrived rich or worked hard and seized every opportunity. Not surprisingly the USA attracted the most highly motivated immigrants. If you were not prepared to adapt to the competitive reality of the new world, you were better off staying in your homeland where at least you knew the score. However, since the mid 1990s we've seen an unprecedented rise in global migratory flows as millions seek a higher standard of living in wealthier countries. People move not so much because they must, but because they can or rather because they are aware of better opportunities elsewhere.

Celebrity Rednecks vs Hollywood Divas

Two media-savvy celebrities vie for the hearts and minds of the American people. One is a pop star and actress whose semi-pornographic exhibitionism has helped promote the kind of consumer fetishism that big business loves and ecologists loathe. The other is a loudmouthed urban redneck from Houston, Texas, who has built his multimedia career on the conspiracy theory that the Feds want to deny law-abiding citizens of their god-given right to drive oversized SUVs and bear arms. At least Alex has ranted and railed against the establishment and stood up for free speech, but Madonna Louise Ciccone has only ever lent her support to Hollywood fundraisers to improve her public image. I can't recall her voicing her opposition to US arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Curiously Alex Jones and Madonna personify only marginally different versions of American exuberance and extreme indulgence. Both drive SUVs and lead jetsetting lifestyles that could sustain 100s, not 1000s, of African or Indian lives.

Since the inauguration of the accidental president of the United States, property developer and reality TV Star, Donald Trump, the world's most influential economic, military and cultural power has been split into two rival camps, both funded by big business. For decades the White House could rely on the main American and European media outlets to toe their lines on strategic foreign, economic and social policies. The Republicans and Democrats differed mainly in rhetoric, one appealing more to the conservative hinterland and the other more to the trendier metropolitan conurbations. In practice they both vigorously pursued policies that benefited mainly large corporations while attempting to manage the expectations and social conflicts of their diversified citizenry. Behind the scenes the two main dynasties of the last 40 years, the Bush and Clinton families, whose members played key roles in the Reagan and Obama administrations too, got along just fine. Bill Clinton famously vacationed with George HW Bush in Kennebunkport.

Donald J Trump is a loose cannon who dreams of a powerful, self-reliant and prosperous America trading peacefully with the rest of the world. Most notably he has publicly advocated strong nation states, secure borders and bilateral trade deals that protect the interests of local workers, all concepts alien to universalists. However, his presidency is now captive to a splinter group of the infamous neoconservatives who architected the USA's disastrous foreign and military policies over the last 30 years or more. While once united, the business elites in the US and to a lesser extent in the UK are now split into two camps. One remains fully committed to the globalist project and view conservative patriotism as an anachronism that must give way to a new global mindset. Globalists may pay lip service to local or national identity, especially for temporary electoral gain, but their long-term goal is a one-world government. A few years ago many would have dismissed such prophecies as far-fetched, but Western academics have long argued against nation states.

The other group recognises the world is a complex and dangerous place and prefers to build on the relative strengths of advanced countries such as the USA, Japan, Australia or France as a model that the rest of the world might emulate rather than attempt to re-engineer the world in their own image. While globalists always favour policies that undermine national privilege and favour cultural harmomisation, modern patriots favour stable societies that benefit their own people and here I use George Orwell's distinction between patriotism (positive nationalism) and negative nationalism. This marks a paradigm shift that may itself be an adaptation to the USA's relative demise as a superpower. When the Soviet Union fell in 1991, the USA utterly dominated the world's economic, cultural and military domains. No other country could challenge its hegemony. China may have had a much larger population, but lacked the economic and military means to be more than a regional power. Very much aware of the Anglosphere's soft power advantage, China has focussed on building up its economic leverage with the Europe and North America as well as expanding its mercantile empire to Africa, South America and even the Middle East. The East Asian superpower's economy is set to overtake the USA's in the next 10 to 15 years. A close alliance between China and Russia could challenge the USA's former dominance and prove a much better trading partner for Central European countries who already import much more from China than from the US and rely increasingly on Russian gas. Over the last decade US Foreign policy has attempted to thwart the re-emergence of Russia as a major player in a multipolar world, by preventing a trade alliance with Ukraine under Poroshenko and funding the Maidan movement to bring Ukraine within the EU and NATO umbrella. This strategy has failed. Russia can survive without the US or EU as it has a captive market for its raw materials in China, Iran and India. Russia has little need for territorial expansion and has only acted to defend the rights of Russians in neighbouring countries formerly in the Russian Empire and Soviet Union. Yet Saudi Arabia with a fraction of Russia's size and population now spends more on military hardware than Russia.

For the first time in recent history the CEOs of major American corporations and much of the so-called liberal media are openly hostile to the US Presidency. Sergey Brin, the multibillionaire co-founder of Google, led 2000 employees to protest Trump's travel ban. He has already alluded to a future President Pence, possibly after the successful impeachment of the sitting President. Their main concern is the ease of travel of affluent Silicon Valley workers, not the safety of Yemeni goat herders or Chicago residents.

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.

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All in the Mind Computing Power Dynamics

Universal Welfare vs Individual Freedom

Cybernetic servant
Cybernetic servant

Would global corporations bankroll a universal welfare system without seeking to control our lives?

Imagine a society that not only provided all your existential needs, but also gave you wide-ranging lifestyle freedoms and did not compel you to hold down a mundane job just to afford the necessities of life. This usually means clean water, food and shelter, but nowadays we could probably add a few more goods and services to our list of bare essentials. In Western Europe a minimum viable standard of living would include a cooker, fridge, washing machine, a shower with hot and cold running water, heating and last but not least telecommunications devices to enable everyone to stay in touch and enjoy 24/7 access to the world's media. In the not too distant past many ordinary Western Europeans had to make do without all the latest mod cons just so we could afford the basics, like food. If you couldn't afford a washing machine, you could always take your dirty clothes to a laundrette. If you couldn't afford a television set, you could always listen to an inexpensive radio or read a book borrowed from the library. If you could not afford to buy or rent a place of your own, your employer might provide temporary digs. Indeed the whole concept of a universal right to a minimum standard of living via state welfare is relatively recent. Until the early 20th century the church would have provided emergency accommodation for the respectful needy, but by and large the destitute only had two escape routes. They could find casual work at the going rate or, in the case of attractive young women, seek an affable husband. In either case the underlings had to show deference to the hand that would feed them. The only way to free oneself from the tyranny of bosses or financially dominant spouses was, and I suggest still is, to have the means to feed oneself. A smallholder may own just a few fields, work long hours to raise livestock and tend crops, but at least he's his own boss and, in a country that respects personal freedom, may lead his life as he chooses provided he respect the privacy and freedom of his neighbours and adheres to common etiquette of decency and courtesy when engaging with the wider community. I use the third person male pronoun here because historically women from humble backgrounds would aspire to motherhood rather than self-sufficiency without a husband. Nonetheless, most smallholdings were family concerns. Husbands and wives worked as a team and although men tended to work longer hours outdoors and do more of the heavy lifting, few could doubt the pivotal role that women played in raising the next generation.

For most of human history, unless you inherited considerable wealth, your only route to greater personal freedom was through hard work and dedication. All most people expected of their state was to safeguard their acquired rights and protect them against raiders who may seize the fruits of their labour. Before the industrial revolution the greatest liberation for most peasants was to unshackle themselves from the burdens of slavery or sharecropping and to cease being in debt to a feudal master. However, with the advent of capitalism and the growth of a working class wholly dependent on their employers, the downtrodden embraced the appeal of collectivism. If technological progress demanded extreme specialisation, growing interdependence and massive infrastructure that only large organisations could conceivably provide, then our future freedom logically depends on our ability to control the levers of power for our collective good. Most early workers' struggles focussed on bread and butter issues of survival, primarily working conditions and wages. Workers demanded the right to withdraw their labour and called on their governments to enforce minimum health and safety standards. Nobody denied that everyone had a duty to pull their weight and contribute to wider society by working to the best of their ability. Few anticipated that the underclasses of the future would not be 8 year old boys sent down coal mines or 13 year old girls working as chambermaids, but workless welfare claimants trapped in a cycle of psychological dependence on external authorities who may regulate every aspect their lives. While workers may always withdraw their labour to reassert their rights, welfare dependents are at the mercy of their benefactors.

Extended Childhood

Traditionally two main groups of commoners were exempted from the onus of work: the very young and the very old. While children have to mature physically and mentally and learn some core skills before their induction into the adult world, the elderly have earned their keep through a life of dedication to their family and community. Even in primitive societies young children play and the old relax and share their wisdom. As the industrial age progressed, businesses began to rely more on technical and intellectual skills and a less on sheer muscle power. Capitalist countries expanded mandatory schooling not just to appease demands for greater social justice, but to equip industry with a literate workforce better able to meet the challenges of greater technical complexity, which even in relatively low-skill jobs involved reading and understanding detailed instructions. Not until 1921 did the UK implement the Fisher Act raising the compulsory school age to 14. It took another 52 years for the school leaving age to rise to 16. Today over 90% of British teenagers remain in education or training at least until the age of 18, while those advancing to further education, has risen from around 10% in 1970 to 45% today. While the needs of business have changed, the UK has a massive undersupply of engineers and technicians and an oversupply of graduates in people management, marketing, psychology, law and humanities in general. Yet employers still complain about graduates with poor writing or number-crunching skills. Not surprisingly we've seen a fair amount of grade inflation and degrees from all but the best universities have been greatly devalued. As a result most graduates do not pursue their desired career. Not everyone can be a sports journalist or an equality and diversity training officer. Long gone are the days of secure permanent jobs where one could progress from an apprenticeship and work one's way through the ranks to attain well-remunerated senior role. Now many university graduates find themselves in a similar position to that of schools leavers only 30 years ago. They have to try their hands at a series of uninspiring low-paid jobs before they find an opening in a role vaguely related to their degree. Many may have to retrain in something more practical, such as nursing or plumbing, once they become aware of the limited commercial value of their sociology degree. Only a small minority of graduates, and it's hard to quantify just how few, have acquired the kind of scientific excellence we will need in the coming artificial intelligence revolution. We now employ more people to manage other people or to create ephemeral media campaigns than to develop and produce the technology we will need to survive and overcome environmental constraints on human development in the coming century. Today we have more persuaders than doers or more talkers than walkers.

The future of work

Much of Britain's manufacturing base has migrated abroad since the 1970s. Today's factories are more automated and mainly assemble or just repackage components made elsewhere. Owing to rapid technological innovation, product lines tend to have short lifespans and production facilities are regularly retooled along with their workforce, who are now viewed as expendable free agents. This helps explain the rise of agency workers and employers' preference for itinerant workers without local roots. As soon as advances in robotics can automate operations in a cost-effective manner, management can lay off most human workers. Driverless vehicles are already a reality. We merely need to perfect artificial intelligence to ensure their reliability in challenging and unpredictable traffic conditions. The writing is on the wall for long distance truck drivers and for millions of other skilled workers, whose monotonous occupations follow a programmable set of routines and respond to a predictable range of environmental stimuli. I suspect in the not too distant future smart vacuum cleaners will be versatile enough to climb stairs and automatically adapt to different floor types, reach into nooks and crannies and potentially call another robot to move furniture. In all likelihood most robots will not resemble human beings at all, but will be polymorphic with a multitude of attachments and tools for different tasks. Unlike human beings they will be easily serviceable and reprogrammable. Even the world's oldest freelance profession, often not so euphemistically categorised as sex work, now faces competition from lifelike erotic dolls.

However, the main stumbling block to the adoption of robotics is not the theoretical feasibility of artificial intelligence and nanotechnology, but the collapse of our underlying industrial infrastructure due to our gross mismanagement of finite resources and our inability to develop safe renewable energy able to meet our growing demands. We have probably already passed peak oil and over the coming 50 years we're likely to hit a peak human population of 10 billion. If we factor in the threats of climate change, clean water shortages in the areas of fastest population growth and insatiable demand for cars and other consumer goods in the developing world, we clearly face unprecedented environmental challenges that can only be addressed by taming human behaviour or significantly boosting industrial efficiency. Short of colonising other planets, the alternative may well be a world war over control of mission-critical resources.

Work and Society

Many think of work as drudgery we endure to earn a living. We would rather relax or pursue hobbies that inspire us. Few of us would enjoy getting down on our hands and knees to scrub the kitchen floor or crawling through narrow underground tunnels to mine coal. Yet during the early industrial revolutions millions of working class women and men had to endure these conditions just to fend for themselves and their children. When millions lost their jobs in the great depression of 1930s, the fledgling welfare state offered little consolation. Without work millions felt completely unfulfilled and would go to extraordinary lengths to relieve themselves of the shame and stigma associated with joblessness. The Jarrow March of 1936, ironically as the economy was picking up again in Britain, exemplified social attitudes of the era. Workers did not expect luxuries or endless charity, they just demanded a chance to earn a living to restore their dignity. The post-war boom of the 1950s and 1960s was built largely on a skilled working class whose earnings and leisure time rose as technological advances began to favour intellect and proficiency and over muscle-power and perseverance. It was a short-lived age of full employment, stable families and a narrowing social divide, unfortunately reliant on state subsidies and trade barriers to protect workers from unfair competition and unregulated market forces. Big business soon realised it could no longer boost its profits and expand markets in such a protectionist environment, holding it often at the mercy of militant trade unions. By the early 1970s UK industry had become both outdated and notoriously inefficient compared to their German, Japanese or Korean competitors. As the pendulum swung from protected markets and state-subsidised industries to free market economics, much of British manufacturing moved abroad. While some former manufacturing workers moved to the growing service sector, many were left behind. While material living standards have continued to grow, since the 1980s we've seen a widening gap not just in terms of wealth, but in education and personal attainment. The emergence of the trendy professional classes as the mainstay of our economic and cultural activity may well be but a harbinger of things to come. By 2012 over 60% of workers were tax-negative, i.e. received more benefits and direct services than they paid in tax. If we take into account indirect services consumed, the situation is even more unequal and this disparity is growing. By 2014 the top 25% of earners paid 75% of income tax and the 1% alone paid over a quarter. The only way of closing the income gap is to close the education gap, not in terms of nominal qualifications or years of formal schooling, but in terms of ensuring a much larger proportion of the population acquire the kind of intellectual and social skills we will need in the cybernetic age.

Today the descendants of the old Labour movement not only champion welfare rights, but assume a great many working age adults will never be gainfully employed owing to mental or physical disabilities, concepts which are now much more loosely and widely understood than in the recent past. In the future most work will be either intellectual or social, requiring us to focus our creative and emotional skills and effort on endeavours that serve the wider social good rather just satisfy personal desires. An ideal job is one that you both enjoy and can help others. Your material or financial reward for your effort is a direct measure of its utility to the current socio-economic system. If you possess a rare talent the reward for your creative endeavours may be substantial. Thus an elite of sportspeople and entertainers can earn a fortune simply due to the inertia of market forces. While Premier League footballers may have to train regularly and exert themselves for 90 minutes on the pitch before chanting fans, a hospital cleaner will typically exert much more effort for a fraction of the income. Yet people's lives may depend on clean hospitals, but not on the outcome of a soccer match. Your salary is mainly of a function of your expendability. To what extent is your role mission-critical to your employer? If your employer is a major football club earning tens of millions of pounds in advertising revenue, broadcasting rights and ticket sales, their main concern is your ability to help win games and keep their investors and customers happy. While millions can play football, only a few hundred in the whole wide world possess the kind of rare talent that can make or break a sports entertainment business and a handful can command eye-watering sums, such as the record £89 million Manchester United paid for French international, Paul Pogba. That figure could employ around 4700 hospital cleaners on the national living wage and is a staggering 280 thousand times greater than the mean GDP per capita of Paul Pogba's parental homeland of Guinea. A hospital cleaner can be replaced literally at the drop of a hat, while a world-leading football striker cannot. Gone are the days when hospital cleaners could go on strike for more pay. These services are now predominantly outsourced to agencies. Back in the 1960s and 70s public institutions saw it as their duty not only to provide public services, but also to employ local workers who might get a much worse deal in the private sector. These days a hospital does not employ cleaners, it has a contract with an agency, which in turn procures the best human or technical resources for the job at hand. I recall working in the BBC's plush open plan offices in London's White City. At 7pm every weekday evening when most staff had left, a team of mainly Portuguese speaking cleaners would mop up the mess left by higher-paid BBC staffers. I know this because on one occasion their supervisor had to impart bilingual instructions to accommodate an agency worker from Ghana, who didn't speak Portuguese, but this was in the heart of English speaking world. Yet the same BBC struggles to admit the impact of globalisation on lower-skilled native workers (most of whom deserted the capital decades ago and could not afford to return). Currently machine-assisted human cleaners are still more cost-effective than robots, but as robots become smarter and more versatile human workers will focus more on supervisory and engineering roles. That leaves very little for those of us who do not possess exceptional analytical, creative or people management skills.

Most of us are what social researchers might call semi-skilled, i.e. we've acquired many practical skills through hands-on experience, but lack outstanding talents that set us apart from the crowd. In the recent past some semi-skilled labourers, without formal qualifications in their line of expertise, honed their skills to such an extent as to become invaluable to their employers or clientele, but with outsourcing and automation we've lost much of that traditional skills base for good. Many semi-skilled workers may well have much more experience than a someone who has been formerly trained, but their skills can be easily learned not just by millions of other workers, but by machines. Millions of us enjoy cooking from fresh ingredients, but it's often much more cost-effective just to buy a ready-made meal. Once we rely supermarkets to supply food, it makes little difference if a machine prepares an elaborate recipe from fresh ingredients or we do it ourselves from separately purchased ingredients. In many practical instances ready-made meals are both cheaper and healthier as otherwise you'd have to buy much larger quantities of the source ingredients, which may well go off before you have a chance to eat them. Fast food outlets have already automated most aspects of food preparation. In the near future human chefs will be a luxury available only to the affluent professional classes, but with more leisure time many will still prefer to engage in a little culinary therapy.

More disturbingly the two dominant narratives of public debate on economics and employment could both prove wrong. Global optimists keep reminding us how our growing economies, reliant on extreme labour mobility, can provide new opportunities for all, while identitarian populists from Donald Trump in the USA to Marine Le Pen in France pretend manufacturing jobs can somehow be repatriated. In reality outsourcing menial tasks to low-wage workers is just a stop-gap solution until robotics becomes more competitive. However, if big business no longer needs semi-skilled labour and only requires a select group of engineers, creatives, managers and entertainers, who is going to buy their products?

Universal Welfare

The answer, so the wishful thinking trendy left tell us, is a universal basic income. I fully appreciate its appeal and take on board the argument that by guaranteeing everyone a basic income we remove not just the stigma associated with joblessness and the humiliation of holding down low-paid non-jobs (burger flippers, shelf stackers or call centre operatives), but we also greatly reduce the immense administrative costs of our current welfare system. Essentially the government would just give everyone a basic income that guarantees a minimum standard of living. If you want more you can undertake paid employment or may be inspired to volunteer in the ever-expanding third sector (charities, campaign groups, NGOs etc.), a great CV-booster when you do decide to get a real job. If you just want to take it easy, you can still survive on your basic income with no questions asked. It would also prevent people from claiming disability status due to some perceived relative handicap, which is really just a natural variation in the human condition or the result of acquired behaviour. However, short of a global revolution bringing all multinationals into public ownership and guaranteeing full transparency and accountability of all organisations responsible for our wellbeing, I think we need to take into account human nature. The strongest basic income evangelists insist it would allow people to unleash their creative minds without fear of losing their salary. Such idealists imagine the world as an extended high-tech hippie commune cum university campus. Were we all sandal-wearing bicycling vegans taking time off to write a book on the history of Mesopotamian basket weaving the basic income would be a great idea. Alas deprived of any motivation to focus one's creative efforts on something useful, most adults will succumb to a blend of junk culture and social gaming, no longer competing on skills, but on personality and worthiness. Our aim in life will no longer be to provide for our family through hard work, but merely to ensure we can gain the same emotional privileges. This helps explain the rise of social justice warriors with a bloated sense of entitlement. The great struggles against real injustice of the past (against slavery, imperialism, starvation wages, misogyny, racism etc.) will descend into a farce as most citizens will become mere beneficiaries of corporate welfare enjoying an extended childhood and just like children, their freedom will be at the mercy of their guardians, the technocratic and managerial elites. If the masses remain blissfully unaware of the activities of the regulating classes, they will be lulled into a false sense of security and treated like children, i.e. rewarded for good compliant behaviour and penalised for antisocial behaviour. Until the late 20th century most societies relied on the labour of the underclasses. Without ordinary workers, crops would not be harvested, houses would not be built, machinery would not be maintained, food would not be processed and distributed, infrastructure would crumble and people would starve. If the underclasses cannot produce a surplus of food, housing and tools, the ruling classes cannot accumulate the wealth they need to maintain their power and privilege through a network of administrators and security forces. In theory the working classes could hold their rulers to ransom. If their rulers failed to allocate enough resources, the underclasses could either rise up and overthrow their masters or switch allegiance to a rival faction or neighbouring fiefdom, especially if they possessed superior technology. Parents care for their children not only through strong emotional bonds, but also because of their future role as purveyors of the family's wealth for they would soon become workers and parents themselves. By contrast in the age of robotics, the workless underclasses will be mere consumers whose only duty will be to conform to social norms. We may well retain the illusion of democratic control via online elections for the most affable middle managers, but effectively we will be beholden to a technocratic upper caste responsible for programming and administering our cyberservants. Over recent decades we've seen a steady transfer of responsibilities from viable two-parent families to a maze of service providers. If something goes wrong, we tend to blame external agencies whether they are suppliers, manufacturers, safety regulators, doctors, nurses, social workers or teachers, because we have learned to accept that many aspects of our lives are out of our direct control. We have internalised the notion that one has to have special training to perform any task not deemed safe for laypeople. We have lost touch with mother nature to such an extent we are unable to accept its limitations. As robots evolve to undertake forever more complex tasks, we can expect the range of safe jobs to narrow to all but a few closely monitored human activities performed in controlled environments, such as eating, drinking, exercising, relaxing, playing or making love. For years officialdom has tended to discourage the old do-it-yourself attitude, while encouraging people to seek specialists. This may be preparing us psychologically for a future when robots replace technicians, decorators, builders, cleaners, nurses, police officers and other social surveillance officers. However, if only the gifted intelligentsia have any understanding of the inner workings of our high-tech world, how will the rest of us hold them to account? The people of the future could well split into distinctive castes along the lines the dumbed-down Eloi and Morlocks in H.G. Well's Time Machine. Slowly but surely we seem to be sleepwalking towards a Huxleyan future of human beings genetically engineered to assume different roles in a chain of command that only members of alpha caste understand.

Visions of the Future

The current rapid pace of technological and economic progress could lead in two apparently divergent but equally dystopian directions. One the one hand technology fails to meet the insatiable demands of a growing number of consumers either through limits to growth, such as peak oil or climate change, or through cataclysmic technical failures such as nuclear power plant explosions, or indeed a combination of both. Such a scenario may kill hundreds of millions of people, but may also forestall a cybergenetic dystopia of complete submission to technology out of the control of ordinary global denizens. On the one hand technology may evolve so fast to control the excesses of human behaviour and thus render both itself and humanity compatible with our planetary life support system. In other words technology will determine our living standards and, indeed, our procreative potential. Arguably it already does. Only last week the London Telegraph reported that Motherless babies are now possible as scientists create live offspring without a female egg. As always the neoliberal press presents the next step in human genetic engineering as a great advance enabling more couples, such as gay dads, to conceive. The next logical step is an artificial womb, whose development is no longer mere science fiction (See Men redundant? Now we don't need women either ). No doubt artificial uteruses will liberate women from the pain and responsibility of pregnancy, but soon biological genders may become obsolete binary categories that belong to a past age of primitive dependence on messy and inconvenient organic procreation. The affluent cyber-managerial classes will inevitably be able to afford better fertility treatment leading all too predictably to the emergence of a super-race, meaning the underclasses will simply lack the intellect to outsmart their rulers, whether humanoid or not.

The Alternative to Basic Income

If you thought the basic income sounds too good to be true, you're probably right. That's what a majority of shrewd Swiss voters concluded earlier this year. They understood that unless you contribute to the functioning of society, you cannot expect to have any meaningful say in the way it's run. You may well have the illusion of democratic control, but it will more like children choosing which flavour of ice-cream they want or which games they want to play during their birthday party. If they misbehave their true masters will drug them or confine them to their bedrooms. If their life support system fails, all they can do is follow instructions to wait for cybernetic technicians to repair the faults. However, a Huxleyan dystopia is not an inevitability if we wake up to its very real likelihood early enough and ensure all working age adults are directly involved in developing and regulating human-friendly technology. In other words robots should serve us and not vice versa and bioengineering should only ever assist natural human beings as we've evolved over eons. This means preparing the next generation for a high skill future where everyone will have a part to play in the development of our engineered environment. We must be fully aware of the consequences of new technology as the toys of today may become the prison wardens of our near future.