Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category
Whatever the outcome, may it truly represent the wishes of the majority.
I have not hidden my feelings as to the outcome that I would welcome. My post of the 11th September was subtitled “My hope for a ‘yes’ vote for Scottish Independence.” After my introduction to that post, I then republished an essay by George Monbiot that was published in the Guardian newspaper on the 3rd September 2014. Mr. Monbiot has made it very clear as to where he stands on this matter.
George Monbiot then followed up that Guardian article with another one published in the Guardian yesterday. It offers cogent points and, with his permission, I am delighted to republish it.
September 16, 2014
How the media shafted the people of Scotland.
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 17th September 2014
Perhaps the most arresting fact about the Scottish referendum is this: that there is no newspaper – local, regional or national, English or Scottish – which supports independence except the Sunday Herald. The Scots who will vote yes have been almost without representation in the media.
There is nothing unusual about this. Change in any direction except further over the brink of market fundamentalism and planetary destruction requires the defiance of almost the entire battery of salaried opinion. What distinguishes the independence campaign is that it has continued to prosper despite this assault.
In the coverage of the referendum we see most of the pathologies of the corporate media. Here, for example, you will find the unfounded generalisations with which less enlightened souls are characterised. In the Spectator, Simon Heffer mainatains that “addicted to welfare … Scots embraced the something for nothing society”, objecting to the poll tax “because many of them felt that paying taxes ought to be the responsibility of someone else.”(1)
Here is the condescension with which the dominant classes have always treated those they regard as inferior: their serfs, the poor, the Irish, Africans, anyone with whom they disagree. “What spoilt, selfish, childlike fools those Scots are … They simply don’t have a clue how lucky they are,” sneered Melanie Reid in the Times(2). Here is the chronic inability to distinguish between a cause and a person: the referendum is widely portrayed as a vote about Alex Salmond, who is then monstered beyond recognition (a Telegraph leader last week compared him to Robert Mugabe(3)).
The problem with the media is exemplified by Dominic Lawson’s column for the Daily Mail last week(4). He began with Scotland, comparing the “threat” of independence with the threat presented by Hitler (the article was helpfully illustrated with a picture of the Fuhrer, unaccompanied in this case by the Mail’s former proprietor). Then he turned to the momentous issue of how he almost said something wrong about David Attenborough, which was narrowly averted because “as it happens, last weekend we had staying with us another of the BBC’s great figures, its world affairs editor John Simpson”, who happily corrected Lawson’s mistake. This was just as well because “the next day I went to the Royal Albert Hall as one of a small number of guests invited by the Proms director for that night’s performance. And who should I see as soon as I entered the little room set aside for our group’s pre-concert drinks? Sir David Attenborough.”
Those who are supposed to hold power to account live in a rarified, self-referential world of power, circulating among people as exalted as themselves, the “small number of guests” who receive the most charming invitations. That a senior journalist at the BBC should be the house guest of a columnist for the Daily Mail surprises me not one iota.
In June the BBC’s economics editor Robert Peston complained that BBC news “is completely obsessed by the agenda set by newspapers … If we think the Mail and Telegraph will lead with this, we should. It’s part of the culture.”(5) This might help to explain why the BBC has attracted so many complaints of bias in favour of the No campaign(6,7).
Living within their tiny circle of light, most senior journalists seem unable to comprehend a desire for change. If they notice it at all, they perceive it as a mortal threat: comparable perhaps to Hitler. They know as little of the lives of the 64 million inhabiting the outer darkness as they do of the Andaman islanders. Yet, lecturing the poor from under the wisteria, they claim to speak for the nation.
As John Harris reports in the Guardian, both north and south of the border “politics as usual suddenly seems so lost as to look completely absurd.”(8) But to those within the circle, politics still begins and ends in Westminster. The opinions of no one beyond the gilded thousand with whom they associate are worthy of notice. Throughout the years I’ve spent working with protest movements and trying to bring neglected issues to light, one consistent theme has emerged: with a few notable exceptions, journalists are always among the last to twig that things have changed. It’s no wonder that the Scottish opinion polls took them by surprise.
One of the roles of the Guardian, which has no proprietor, is to represent the unrepresented – and it often does so to great effect. On Scottish independence I believe we have fallen short. Our leader on Saturday used the frames constructed by the rest of the press, inflating a couple of incidents into a “habit” by yes campaigners of “attacking the messenger and ignoring the message”, judging the long-term future of the nation by current SNP policy, confusing self-determination with nationalism(9).
If Westminster is locked into a paralysing neoliberal consensus it is partly because the corporate media, owned and staffed by its beneficiaries, demands it. Any party that challenges this worldview is ruthlessly disciplined. Any party that more noisily promotes corporate power is lauded and championed. UKIP, though it claims to be kicking against the establishment, owes much of its success to the corporate press.
For a moment, Rupert Murdoch appeared ready to offer one of his Faustian bargains to the Scottish National Party: my papers for your soul(10). That offer now seems to have been withdrawn, as he has decided that Salmond’s SNP is “not talking about independence, but more welfarism, expensive greenery, etc and passing sovereignty to Brussels”(11) and that it “must change course to prosper if he wins.”(12) It’s not an observation, it’s a warning: if you win independence and pursue this agenda, my newspapers will destroy you.
Despite the rise of the social media, the established media continues to define the scope of representative politics in Britain, to shape political demands and to punish and erase those who resist. It is one chamber of the corrupt heart of Britain, pumping fear, misinformation and hatred around the body politic.
That so many Scots, lambasted from all quarters as fools, frauds and ingrates, have refused to be bullied is itself a political triumph. If they vote for independence, they will do so in defiance not only of the Westminster consensus, but also of its enforcers: the detached, complacent people who claim to speak on their behalf.
Never say never!
Next Monday, the 21st September, is going to be the most important day this year. No! The most important day ever!
Because next Monday is the date of the People’s Climate March in New York. It is predicted to be the largest climate march in history. Well over 100,000 are expected to attend. I shall write more about this event during the coming week.
But also the 21st September will be International Day of Peace. That coincidence strikes me as highly significant. For a world at peace would cause the most massive reduction in our use of carbon-based fuels.
Do I mention dogs? Read through to the end to find out! (Probably not difficult to guess the answer!)
Seven Reasons Why World Peace is Possible
The 21st of September will be International Day of Peace. It may seem a little premature to declare that world peace is due to break out by the end this month. I do not deny that the amount of killing and death and war and torture and death and coercion and abuse and death all over everywhere can be overwhelming. Nor do I deny that considering this, it is a natural assumption to believe people are sinners, destined for extinction. However, I do argue that compassion is as much a part of human nature as cruelty.
There is evidence that humankind did not always live violent lives. In fact, I assume most people reading this article are not habitually violent, and do not desire to watch someone suffer. All animals have the capacity to enrich the lives of others. We have the capacity to be both selfish and kind. What matters is which quality we chose to focus on; bringing that quality into focus within ourselves, the world, and our children.
Here I have collected an array of research demonstrating that there is a positive potential within each social group and person. I argue that humans can learn to build societies which are not founded on the expectation of organised violence. Here are seven reasons why world peace is possible. You won’t believe your own strength of belief: There is at least some hope.
The balance of this powerful and fascinating article may be read here.
How many links did you follow? Most of them are wonderful links to organisations that many readers, including me, may not have come across before.
So to close.
I was about half-way through arranging today’s post when I realised that dogs have evolved without the need to have their own police forces or armies. It’s not as silly as it first sounds. Of course, dogs fight and some fights can be brutal and, occasionally, fatal to one or more of the participants. But they have a keen sense of their locality, of their tribal space; so to speak. Even as domestic animals, they are fiercely protective of what is their own place. Before dogs were domesticated, like the wolves from whence dogs evolved, the pack size was around fifty animals with just three animals having any form of status; something that has been mentioned many times before in this place.
The point is that dogs are creatures that have evolved to live in a local community and to live peacefully; by and large. My sense is that ancient man also evolved to be most complete within a community environment.
This is the end of the era of huge federal and national social constructions.
We must return to locally run and managed communities, which is the pathway to peace across this planet.
The second of George Monbiot’s essays on Scotland.
In yesterday’s post Alba an Aigh or Scotland the Brave, I closed it by saying, “Since preparing this post, I see that George Monbiot has published a second essay on the subject of the Scottish referendum. I’m pondering republishing that second essay next Monday.”
Upon further reflection, it struck me that Mr. Monbiot’s second essay was better appreciated being republished in this place the following day; i.e. today.
Thus with no further ado, here it is.
England the Brave
September 9, 2014
The rest of the UK doesn’t need to be rescued by Scottish votes: independence could inspire transformation everywhere.
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 9th September 2014
Of all the bad arguments urging the Scots to vote no – and there are plenty – perhaps the worst is the demand that Scotland should remain in the Union to save England from itself. Responses to last week’s column suggest that this wretched, snivelling, apron-strings argument has some traction among people who claim to belong to the left.
Consider what it entails: it asks a nation of 5.3 million to forgo independence to exempt a nation of 53 million from having to fight its own battles. In return for this self-denial, the five million must remain yoked to the dismal politics of cowardice and triangulation which have caused the problems from which we ask them to save us.
“A UK without Scotland would be much less likely to elect any government of a progressive hue”, the former Labour minister Brian Wilson claimed in the Guardian last week(1). We must combine against the “forces of privilege and reaction” (as he lines up with the Conservatives, UKIP, the LibDems, the banks, the corporations, almost all the rightwing columnists in Britain and every UK newspaper except the Sunday Herald) – in the cause of “solidarity”.
There’s another New Labour weasel word to add to its dreary lexicon (other examples include reform, which now means privatisation, and partnership, which means selling out to big business). Once solidarity meant making common cause with the exploited, the underpaid, the excluded. Now, to these cyborgs in suits, it means keeping faith with the banks, the corporate press, cuts, a tollbooth economy and market fundamentalism.
Here, to Wilson and his fellow flinchers, is what solidarity meant while they were in office. It meant voting for the Iraq war, for Trident, for identity cards, for 3,500 new criminal offences(2), including the criminalisation of most forms of peaceful protest(3). It meant being drafted in as political mercenaries to impose on the English policies to which the Scots were not subject, such as university top-up fees and foundation hospitals(4,5). It meant supporting every destructive and injust proposition advanced by their leaders: the brood parasites who hatched in the Labour nest then flicked its dearest principles over the edge. It’s no surprise that the more the Scots see of their former Labour ministers, the more inclined they are to vote for independence.
So now Better Together has brought in Gordon Brown, scattering bribes in a desperate, last-ditch effort at containment. They must hope the Scots have forgotten that he boasted of setting “the lowest rate in the history of British corporation tax, the lowest rate of any major country in Europe and the lowest rate of any major industrialised country anywhere”(6). That he pledged to the City of London “in budget after budget I want us to do even more to encourage the risk takers”(7). That, after 13 years of Labour government, the UK had higher levels of inequality than after 18 years of Tory government(8). That his government colluded in kidnapping and torture(9). That he helped cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands through his support for the illegal war on Iraq.
He roams through Scotland, still badged with blood, promising what he never delivered when he had the chance, this man who helped unravel the social safety net his predecessors wove; who marketised and dismembered public services; who enriched the wealthy and shafted the poor; who pledged money for Trident but failed to reverse the loss of social housing(10); whose private finance initiative planted a series of timebombs now exploding throughout the NHS and other public services(11); who greased and wheedled and slavered his way into the company of bankers and oligarchs while trampling over the working people he was elected to represent. This is the progressive Prester John who will ride to the rescue of the No campaign?
Where, in Scotland’s Labour party, are the Keir Hardies and Jimmy Reids of our time? Where is the vision, the inspiration, the hope? The shuffling, spineless little men with whom these titans have been replaced offer nothing but fear. Through fear they seek to shove Scotland back into its box, as its people rebel against the dreary, closed future mapped out for them – and the rest of us – by the three main Westminster parties.
Sure, if Scotland becomes independent, all else being equal, Labour would lose 41 seats at Westminster and Tory majorities would become more likely(12). But all else need not be equal. Scottish independence can galvanise progressive movements across the rest of the United Kingdom. We’ll watch as the Scots engage in the transformative process of writing a constitution. We’ll see that a nation of these islands can live and – I hope – flourish with a fully elected legislature (no House of Lords), with a fair electoral system (proportional representation), and with a parliament in which only representatives of that nation can vote (no cross-border mercenaries).
Already, the myth of political apathy has been scotched by the tumultuous movement north of the border. As soon as something is worth voting for, people will queue into the night to add their names to the register(13). The low turn-outs in Westminster elections reflect not an absence of interest but an absence of hope.
If Scotland becomes independent, it will be despite the efforts of almost the entire UK establishment. It will be because social media has defeated the corporate media. It will be a victory for citizens over the Westminster machine, for shoes over helicopters. It will show that a sufficiently inspiring idea can cut through bribes and blackmail, through threats and fearmongering. That hope, marginalised at first, can spread across a nation, defying all attempts to suppress it. That you can be hated by the Daily Mail and still have a chance of winning.
If Labour has any political nous, any remaining flicker of courage, it will understand what this moment means. Instead of suppressing the forces of hope and inspiration, it would mobilise them. It would, for example, pledge, in its manifesto, a referendum on drafting a written constitution for the rest of the United Kingdom.
It would understand that hope is the most dangerous of all political reagents. That it can transform what appears to be a fixed polity, a fixed outcome, into something entirely different. That it can summon up passion and purpose we never knew we possessed. If Scotland becomes independent, England – if only the potential were recognised – could also be transformed.
By this day next week, we shall know the outcome.
My hope for a ‘yes’ vote for Scottish Independence.
“Alba an Aigh” is Scottish Gaelic for the Scottish patriotic song, Scotland the Brave. It was one of several songs considered an unofficial national anthem of Scotland.
Before the main purpose of today’s post, I want to republish three comments to a recent post from Patrice Ayme, Free Scotland From Thieves.
First Alex Jones, he of The Liberated Way, commented:
I hope that “yes” is the outcome in the Scottish vote. I believe Scotland is part of a trend away from globalism and centralism to a new devolved form of localism.
To which I added:
Delighted to agree with Alex and for exactly the reasons he offers. All around the globe we are seeing countless examples of the failure, to put it mildly, of BIG GOVERNMENT.
Just as much in my new home country as it was in my old one.
On Sunday evening, neighbours Janell and Larry threw a short-notice BBQ. Thirty minutes after Larry’s phone call, we walked across our fields to their place, to join three other neighbours. It was a wonderful evening and the majority of the talk was about local issues: when is it going to rain, we are all short of hay, that sort of stuff.
Towards the end, there was a general rant about the state of the world. I hesitated, aware of my ‘new boy’ status, and then quietly remarked that Jean and I were overwhelmed by the friendship and cooperation of all those living nearby. And went on to add that the contrast between how our community worked and how the American government failed to work was stark.
Everyone signalled by grunts, words and body language their agreement.
Bon chance, New Scotland.
Patrice then offered:
Dear Paul: 100% agree. The strength of the USA is that the average state is 6 million people. The state of Massachusetts has excellent results on the PISA tests, in stark distinction with most of Euramerica. That’s entirely due to localism.
In my more or less native Bay Area, governance is extremely local, and there is the secret of Silicon Valley: most deals are made with handshakes, or people who argue with each other, while knowing they will have to keep on living with each other. Silicon Valley exists, because it’s 3,000 miles from Washington and New York.
They signaled with grunts and body language because of these low PISA tests, but, right now in the Bay Area, the PISA rising movement is engaged (having a 4 year old, I am in the middle of it).
Bonne Chance Scotland, indeed. Independence (from London’s plutocracy) ought to be easy as pie for Scotland.
BTW, the “City” is technically a plutocracy: voting there depends upon the money…
So it’s already clear where I stand!
As is the stance from The Automatic Earth Please Scotland, Blow Up The EU. Or try The London School of Economics: The ‘domino effect’ from Scotland’s referendum is increasing demands for independence in Italian regions. Then The Daily Telegraph weighs in with Britain faces storm as giant global investors awaken to break-up dangers. All great fun!
However, the most eloquent and powerful argument read in recent days comes from George Monbiot in his essay Someone Else’s Story. It is republished here with Mr. Monbiot’s kind permission.
Someone Else’s Story
September 2, 2014
Scots voting no to independence would be an astonishing act of self-harm
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 3rd September 2014
Imagine that the question was posed the other way round. An independent nation is asked to decide whether to surrender its sovereignty to a larger union. It would be allowed a measure of autonomy, but key aspects of its governance would be handed to another nation. It would be used as a military base by the dominant power and yoked to an economy over which it had no control.
It would have to be bloody desperate. Only a nation in which the institutions of governance had collapsed, which had been ruined economically, which was threatened by invasion or civil war or famine might contemplate this drastic step. Most nations faced even with such catastrophes choose to retain their independence – in fact will fight to preserve it – rather than surrender to a dominant foreign power.
So what would you say about a country that sacrificed its sovereignty without collapse or compulsion? That had no obvious enemies, a basically sound economy and a broadly functional democracy, and chose to swap it for remote governance by the hereditary elite of another nation, beholden to a corrupt financial centre?(1)
What would you say about a country that exchanged an economy based on enterprise and distribution for one based on speculation and rent?(2) That chose obeisance to a government which spies on its own citizens, uses the planet as its dustbin, governs on behalf of a transnational elite which owes loyalty to no nation, cedes public services to corporations, forces terminally ill people to work(3) and can’t be trusted with a box of fireworks, let alone a fleet of nuclear submarines? You would conclude that it had lost its senses.
So what’s the difference? How is the argument altered by the fact that Scotland is considering whether to gain independence, rather than whether to lose it? It’s not. Those who would vote no – now, a new poll suggests, a rapidly diminishing majority(4) – could be suffering from system justification.
System justification is defined as the “process by which existing social arrangements are legitimised, even at the expense of personal and group interest”(5). It consists of a desire to defend the status quo, regardless of its impacts. It has been demonstrated in a large body of experimental work, which has produced the following surprising results.
System justification becomes stronger when social and economic inequality is more extreme. This is because people try to rationalise their disadvantage by seeking legitimate reasons for their position(6). In some cases disadvantaged people are more likely than the privileged to support the status quo. One study found that US citizens on low incomes were more likely than those on high incomes to believe that economic inequality is legitimate and necessary(7).
It explains why women in experimental studies pay themselves less than men, why people in low status jobs believe their work is worth less than those in high status jobs, even when they’re performing the same task, and why people accept domination by another group(8). It might help to explain why so many people in Scotland are inclined to vote no.
The fears the no campaigners have worked so hard to stoke are – by comparison to what the Scots are being asked to lose – mere shadows. As Adam Ramsay points out in his treatise Forty-Two Reasons to Support Scottish Independence, there are plenty of nations smaller than Scotland which possess their own currencies and thrive(9). Most of the world’s prosperous nations are small: there are no inherent disadvantages to downsizing(10).
Remaining in the UK carries as much risk and uncertainty as leaving. England’s housing bubble could blow at any time. We might leave the EU. Some of the most determined no campaigners would take us out: witness Ukip’s intention to stage a “pro-Union rally” in Glasgow on September 12(11). The Union in question, of course, is the UK, not Europe. This reminds us of a crashing contradiction in the politics of such groups: if our membership of the EU represents an appalling and intolerable loss of sovereignty, why is the far greater loss Scotland is being asked to accept deemed tolerable and necessary?
The Scots are told they will have no control over their own currency if they leave the UK. But they have none today. The monetary policy committee is based in London and bows to the banks. The pound’s strength, which damages the manufacturing Scotland seeks to promote, reflects the interests of the City(12).
To vote no is to choose to live under a political system that sustains one of the rich world’s highest levels of inequality and deprivation. This is a system in which all major parties are complicit, which offers no obvious exit from a model that privileges neoliberal economics over other aspirations(13). It treats the natural world, civic life, equality, public health and effective public services as dispensable luxuries, and the freedom of the rich to exploit the poor as non-negotiable.
Its lack of a codified constitution permits numberless abuses of power. It has failed to reform the House of Lords, royal prerogative, campaign finance(14) and first-past-the-post voting (another triumph for the no brigade). It is dominated by a media owned by tax exiles, who, instructing their editors from their distant chateaux, play the patriotism card at every opportunity. The concerns of swing voters in marginal constituencies outweigh those of the majority; the concerns of corporations with no lasting stake in the country outweigh everything. Broken, corrupt, dysfunctional, retentive: you want to be part of this?
Independence, as more Scots are beginning to see, offers people an opportunity to rewrite the political rules. To create a written constitution, the very process of which is engaging and transformative. To build an economy of benefit to everyone. To promote cohesion, social justice, the defence of the living planet and an end to wars of choice(15).
To deny this to yourself, to remain subject to the whims of a distant and uncaring elite, to succumb to the bleak, deferential negativity of the no campaign; to accept other people’s myths in place of your own story: that would be an astonishing act of self-repudiation and self-harm. Consider yourselves independent and work backwards from there, then ask why you would sacrifice that freedom.
5. John T. Jost and Mahzarin R. Banaji, 1994. The role of stereotyping in system-justification and the production of false consciousness. British Journal of Social Psychology, 33, 1–27.
6. John T. Jost, Mahzarin R. Banaji and Brian A. Nosek, 2004. A Decade of System Justification Theory: Accumulated Evidence of Conscious and Unconscious Bolstering of the Status Quo . Political Psychology, Vol. 25, No. 6, 2004. http://www.psych.nyu.edu/jost/Jost,%20Banaji,%20&%20Nosek%20%282004%29%20A%20Decade%20of%20System%20Justificati.pdf
7. John T. Jost et al, 2003. Social inequality and the reduction of ideological dissonance on behalf of the system: evidence of enhanced system justification among the disadvantaged. European Journal of Social Psychology, 33, 13–36.
8. John T. Jost, Mahzarin R. Banaji and Brian A. Nosek, 2004, see above.
12. See also, on these questions, the Common Weal report by the Jimmy Reid Foundation: http://reidfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/The-Common-Weal.pdf
15. There’s more on all this at http://commonwealth-publishing.com/?p=255
Since preparing this post, I see that George Monbiot has published a second essay on the subject of the Scottish referendum. I’m pondering republishing that second essay next Monday.
Please be aware of the threat to the original concept of the Internet.
As received from WordPress at 14:30 PDT today; September 9th, 2014.
(Even if you are not a ‘blogger’, please read the following and sign by using the link right at the end of the post.)
Join Us in the Fight For Net Neutrality
“Net Neutrality” is the simple but powerful principle that cable and broadband providers must treat all internet traffic equally. Whether you’re loading a blog post on WordPress.com, streaming House of Cards on Netflix, or browsing handcrafted tea cozies on Etsy, your internet provider can’t degrade your connection speed, block sites, or charge a toll based on the content that you’re viewing.
Net neutrality has defined the internet since its inception, and it’s hard to argue with the results: the internet is the most powerful engine of economic growth and free expression in history. Most importantly, the open internet is characterized by companies, products, and ideas that survive or fail depending on their own merit — not on whether they have preferred deals in place with a broadband service provider. Unfortunately, the principle of net neutrality, and the open internet that we know and love, is under attack.
Net Neutrality under attack
The Federal Communications Commission has proposed rules that would, for the first time, expressly allow internet providers — like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T — to charge internet companies like Automattic, Netflix or Etsy for access to their subscribers. This means there could be “fast lanes” for companies who are able to pay providers for preferred internet access, while everyone else gets stuck in the “slow lane”…which means applications won’t perform as quickly, webpages will load slowly, and of course, buffering. A slow “still loading” spinner will be an unfortunate, but common sight on the new, closed internet that the big providers want.
Unsurprisingly, the large telecom companies who stand to benefit from the FCC’s proposed rules fully support their passage. They have nearly unlimited funds and hundreds of lobbyists in Washington to promote these harmful new rules.
But what they don’t have is you.
What can we do to fight back?
Automattic strongly supports a free and open internet. After all, WordPress.com, and the WordPress open source project are living examples of what is possible on an unthrottled internet, open for creation, collaboration, and expression. Over the last few months, we’ve joined 150 major tech companies in sending a letter to Washington in support of net neutrality, and met with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to urge him to preserve the internet we’ve always known.
Now it’s your turn.
Automattic, along with many other companies and digital rights organizations, is proud to participate in the Internet Slowdown on September 10. For this day of action, we’ve built a “Fight for Net Neutrality” plugin that you can enable now on your WordPress.com blog to show support for this important cause.
You can turn the plugin on by going to your Dashboard, Settings → Fight for Net Neutrality.
When you enable the plugin, we’ll replace a few of the posts on your site with a “Still Loading” spinner…to show what life will be like on an internet that features dreaded slow lanes.
The plugin will also display a banner that shows your support for Net Neutrality, and links to battleforthenet.com, where visitors to your site can sign a letter to the FCC about this important issue.
Please take a few minutes to enable the Fight for Net Neutrality on your site today, and visit battleforthenet.com to send a message to Washington that net neutrality must be preserved. Together we can make a difference, and we hope you’ll join us in this important battle for the open internet!
Note: When I turned on the plugin and ran the preview for this new post, it made it very confusing in my opinion. Thus as much as I support the campaign, and have signed accordingly, I have turned off the plugin for the time being.
So please all readers and followers of Learning from Dogs go to the BattleForTheNet website and sign to indicate your support for this important campaign.
Oh, and please click Like if you support the campaign. Thank you very much.
A powerful essay from George Monbiot.
I do so because in a world where much of the media is ‘bought’, and do understand that I use the term loosely, solid and trustworthy correspondents are to be applauded and, in turn, their views shared. Mr. Monbiot is a classic example of someone who adheres to a truthful perspective. I am more than grateful for the blanket permission given to me by GM for the republication of his essays.
Deviant and Proud
August 5, 2014
Do you feel left out? Perhaps it’s because you refuse to succumb to the competition, envy and fear neoliberalism breeds.
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 6th August 2014
To be at peace with a troubled world: this is not a reasonable aim. It can be achieved only through a disavowal of what surrounds you. To be at peace with yourself within a troubled world: that, by contrast, is an honourable aspiration. This column is for those who feel at odds with life. It calls on you not to be ashamed.
I was prompted to write it by a remarkable book, just published in English, by a Belgian professor of psychoanalysis, Paul Verhaeghe (1). What About Me?: The Struggle for Identity in a Market-Based Society is one of those books that, by making connections between apparently distinct phenomena, permits sudden new insights into what is happening to us and why.
We are social animals, Verhaeghe argues, and our identity is shaped by the norms and values we absorb from other people. Every society defines and shapes its own normality – and its own abnormality – according to dominant narratives, and seeks either to make people comply or to exclude them if they don’t.
Today the dominant narrative is that of market fundamentalism, widely known in Europe as neoliberalism. The story it tells is that the market can resolve almost all social, economic and political problems. The less the state regulates and taxes us, the better off we will be. Public services should be privatised, public spending should be cut and business should be freed from social control. In countries such as the UK and the US, this story has shaped our norms and values for around 35 years: since Thatcher and Reagan came to power (2). It’s rapidly colonising the rest of the world.
Verhaeghe points out that neoliberalism draws on the ancient Greek idea that our ethics are innate (and governed by a state of nature it calls the market) and on the Christian idea that humankind is inherently selfish and acquisitive. Rather than seeking to suppress these characteristics, neoliberalism celebrates them: it claims that unrestricted competition, driven by self-interest, leads to innovation and economic growth, enhancing the welfare of all.
At the heart of this story is the notion of merit. Untrammelled competition rewards people who have talent, who work hard and who innovate. It breaks down hierarchies and creates a world of opportunity and mobility. The reality is rather different. Even at the beginning of the process, when markets are first deregulated, we do not start with equal opportunities. Some people are a long way down the track before the starting gun is fired. This is how the Russian oligarchs managed to acquire such wealth when the Soviet Union broke up. They weren’t, on the whole, the most talented, hard-working or innovative people, but those with the fewest scruples, the most thugs and the best contacts, often in the KGB.
Even when outcomes are based on talent and hard work, they don’t stay that way for long. Once the first generation of liberated entrepreneurs has made its money, the initial meritocracy is replaced by a new elite, which insulates its children from competition by inheritance and the best education money can buy. Where market fundamentalism has been most fiercely applied – in countries like the US and UK – social mobility has greatly declined (3).
If neoliberalism were anything other than a self-serving con, whose gurus and think tanks were financed from the beginning by some of the richest people on earth (the American tycoons Coors, Olin, Scaife, Pew and others) (4), its apostles would have demanded, as a precondition for a society based on merit, that no one should start life with the unfair advantage of inherited wealth or economically-determined education. But they never believed in their own doctrine. Enterprise, as a result, quickly gave way to rent.
All this is ignored, and success or failure in the market economy are ascribed solely to the efforts of the individual. The rich are the new righteous, the poor are the new deviants, who have failed both economically and morally, and are now classified as social parasites.
The market was meant to emancipate us, offering autonomy and freedom. Instead it has delivered atomisation and loneliness. The workplace has been overwhelmed by a mad, Kafka-esque infrastructure of assessments, monitoring, measuring, surveillance and audits, centrally directed and rigidly planned, whose purpose is to reward the winners and punish the losers. It destroys autonomy, enterprise, innovation and loyalty and breeds frustration, envy and fear. Through a magnificent paradox, it has led to the revival of a grand old Soviet tradition, known in Russian as tufta. It means the falsification of statistics to meet the diktats of unaccountable power.
The same forces afflict those who can’t find work. They must now contend, alongside the other humiliations of unemployment, with a whole new level of snooping and monitoring. All this, Verhaeghe points out, is fundamental to the neoliberal model, which everywhere insists on comparison, evaluation and quantification. We find ourselves technically free but powerless. Whether in work or out of work, we must live by the same rules or perish. All the major political parties promote them, so we have no political power either. In the name of autonomy and freedom we have ended up controlled by a grinding, faceless bureaucracy.
These shifts have been accompanied, Verhaeghe writes, by a spectacular rise in certain psychiatric conditions: self-harm, eating disorders, depression and personality disorders. Of the personality disorders, the most common are performance anxiety and social phobia; both of which reflect a fear of other people, who are perceived as both evaluators and competitors, the only roles for society that market fundamentalism admits. Depression and loneliness plague us. The infantilising diktats of the workplace destroy our self-respect. Those who end up at the bottom of the pile are assailed by guilt and shame. The self-attribution fallacy cuts both ways (5): just as we congratulate ourselves for our successes,we blame ourselves for our failures, even if we had little to do with it.
So if you don’t fit in; if you feel at odds with the world; if your identity is troubled and frayed; if you feel lost and ashamed, it could be because you have retained the human values you were supposed to have discarded. You are a deviant. Be proud.
1. Paul Verhaeghe, 2014. What About Me?: The struggle for identity in a market-based society. Scribe. Brunswick, Australia and London.
What powerful observations; what common-sense written by Paul Verhaeghe, and beautifully reported by Mr. Monbiot in an incredible essay.
You have probably guessed where I stand! ;-)
This had me laughing out loud!
Now before reading on, please allow me a moment to explain that the following does cast aspersions over the current president of the United States of America. I don’t have the right to vote in any form of US election so am very happy to let all of American politics flow over the top of my head. Thus this is published simply because it gave me so much fun when reading it and I wanted to share the fun with you. Very grateful to neighbour Larry for sending it to me.
A MESSAGE FROM THE QUEEN
To the citizens of the United States of America from Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
In light of your failure in recent years to nominate competent candidates for the esteemed position of President of the USA and thereby a continuing failure properly to govern yourselves, as the Head of State of the United Kingdom I do hereby give notice of the revocation of your independence; effective immediately. (You should look up ‘revocation’ in the Oxford English Dictionary.)
As your new Sovereign, I, Queen Elizabeth II, will resume monarchical duties over all states, commonwealths, and territories (except North Dakota, which I have never liked).
The United Kingdom’s current Prime Minister, David Cameron, will now appoint a Governor for America without the need for further elections.
The United States Congress and the Senate are disbanded with immediate effect. My Government is preparing a questionnaire, to be circulated next year, to determine whether any of you noticed the change.
To aid in your transition to a British Crown dependency, the following rules are introduced with immediate effect:
- The letter ‘U’ will be reinstated in words such as ‘colour,’ ‘favour,’ ‘labour’ and ‘neighbour.’ Likewise, you will learn to spell ‘doughnut’ without skipping half the letters, and the suffix ‘-ize’ will be replaced by the suffix ‘-ise.’ Generally, you will be expected to raise your vocabulary to acceptable levels. (look up ‘vocabulary’).
- Using the same twenty-seven words interspersed with filler noises such as ”like’ and ‘you know’ is an unacceptable and inefficient form of communication. There is no such thing as U.S. English. We will let Microsoft know on your behalf. The Microsoft spell-checker will be adjusted to take into account the reinstated letter ‘u” and the elimination of ‘-ize.’
- July 4th will no longer be celebrated as a holiday.
- You will learn to resolve personal issues without using guns, lawyers, or therapists. The fact that you need so many lawyers and therapists shows that you’re not quite ready to be independent. Guns should only be used for shooting grouse. If you can’t sort things out without suing someone or speaking to a therapist, then you’re not ready to shoot grouse.
- Therefore, you will no longer be allowed to own or carry anything more dangerous than a vegetable peeler. Although a permit will be required if you wish to carry a vegetable peeler in public.
All intersections will be replaced with roundabouts, and you will start driving on the left side with immediate effect. At the same time, you will go metric with immediate effect and without the benefit of conversion tables. Both roundabouts and metrication will help you understand the British sense of humour.
- The former USA will adopt UK prices on petrol (which you have been calling gasoline) of roughly $10/US gallon. Get used to it.
- You will learn to make real chips. Those things you call French fries are not real chips, and those things you insist on calling potato chips are properly called crisps. Real chips are thick cut, fried in animal fat, and dressed not with catsup but with vinegar.
- The cold, tasteless stuff you insist on calling beer is not actually beer at all. Henceforth, only proper British Bitter will be referred to as beer, and European brews of known and accepted provenance will be referred to as Lager. South African beer is also acceptable, as they are pound-for-pound the greatest sporting nation on earth and it can only be due to the beer. They are also part of the British Commonwealth (see what it did for them). American brands will be referred to as Near-Frozen Gnat’s Urine, so that all varieties may be sold without risk of further confusion.
- Hollywood will be required occasionally to cast English actors as good guys. Hollywood will also be required to cast English actors to play English characters. Watching Andie Macdowell attempt English dialect in Four Weddings and a Funeral was an experience akin to having one’s ears removed with a cheese grater.
- You will cease playing American football. There is only one kind of proper football; you call it soccer. Those of you brave enough will, in time, be allowed to play rugby (which has some similarities to American football, but does not involve stopping for a rest every twenty seconds or wearing full kevlar body armour like a bunch of nancies).
- Further, you will stop playing baseball. It is not reasonable to host an event called the World Series for a game which is not played outside of America. Since only 2.1% of you are aware there is a world beyond your borders, your error is understandable. You will learn cricket, and we will let you face the South Africans first to take the sting out of their deliveries.
- You must tell us who killed JFK. It’s been driving us mad.
- An internal revenue agent (i.e. tax collector) from Her Majesty’s Government will be with you shortly to ensure the acquisition of all monies due (backdated to 1776).
- Daily Tea Time begins promptly at 4 p.m. with proper cups, with saucers, and never mugs, with high quality biscuits (cookies) and cakes; plus strawberries (with cream) when in season.
God Save the Queen!
As a Brit living happily here in Southern Oregon, all I can add to this statement from Her Majesty is don’t mention the Scottish referendum in just a few weeks time!
Now I think I better run for cover!