Hi.  Some kind folks have followed this blog over the last couple of weeks, brought here by my liking and following their karate or similar related blogs.  I just want to let you know that this blog isn’t seeing much action just now, but I am doing much more work that you may find more pertinent, and not getting nearly so tired, sad and frustrated with the world, over at What I talk about when I talk about Karate.

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Twenty years ago I would regularly tramp up to Plymouth Hoe to raise a sociopolitical fuss about something. Usually, at that time it was the Criminal Justice Bill, the one that took away your right to silence while under arrest. Well, it didn’t, except that  ‘it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court.’ What a busy copper with a quota might make out of that I leave to your imagination.

So we didn’t get the Bill stopped, but we made a noise, and there was at least a sense that people in the UK could be roused to some form of caring about the slow erosion of their rights that has been taking place for half a century. I remember standing on the steps of Charles Cross Police Station shouting slogans until two fellow protesters, who had been nicked for swearing within earshot of a police officer, were released. There were about fifty of us.

Recently, I’ve felt like I’m living in a nineties flashback. I’m utterly broke, marginalised and angry. I’m listening to Senser and Sacred Reich, and going to protest events. Pretty soon, I’ll buy a pair of second-hand combat boots and fail to do the laces all the way up. Then you will know that the revolution has arrived.

On Saturday, I was excited to be doing my protesting on the Hoe again. I hurried home from my saturday morning appointment with my daughter ( a visit to ‘Soft Play’, something like the assault course at Lympstone in bright primary colours) to change my Primarni jeans for combats and shove waterproof trousers into the pocket of my ragged coat. I fortified my self with some Public Enemy and toast, and set off.

Arrival

Two slices of toast and too much coffee sat resentfully in my belly as I walked through grey drizzle to the Hoe. The tarmac expanse of the Hoe seemed empty. Two elderly women and an equally venerable man with a stick walked calmly by. The didn’t look much like the forces of peaceful revolution, but they did look peaceful.

At the far end of the Hoe I saw some coned off parking and headed towards it. To my left, the Wheel, Plymouth’s cargo-cult London Eye, turned slowly, pausing every minute or two to allow hopeful tourists to embark and disappointed tourists to escape. The Wheel doesn’t extend the seaward horizon far enough to be any different from just standing on the Hoe, and the landward view of Plymouth City Centre’s concrete and cardboard bleakness is hardly edifying. A gently somersaulting pallid pachyderm.

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There appeared to be no unusual activity on the Hoe at all. Dog walkers and mums with pushchairs were my only companions. I began to wonder if I was even in the right place. Was this supposed to be in Freedom park, or Central park? I noticed a group of people milling around between me and Smeaton’s Tower, and began to head towards them, but soon deduced from their bright man-made fabrics and rucksacks slung on both shoulders that they were in fact foreign students, and thus slightly less useful politically than even british students these days. They began to dissipate as I approached.

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As I passed though the cloud of peach fuzz moustaches and iPhones like a neutrino through candyfloss, I drew my phone to text my friend James, hoping to find out where I should be. Almost as I did so I spotted James standing at the base of Smeaton’s Tower. The gentleman with the green mohawk in the Victorian iron shelter near the tower could only be Wheelie, our organiser. A few other people milled around in the drizzle.

The greeting James and I shared perfectly captures the moment.

‘How’s it going?’ I asked.

James looked around him with a wry expression and replied; ‘Yeah.’

‘Innit.’ I agreed.

We stood in the swirling moisture for a moment.

‘The brave man does not fear the rain on his face,’ I observed, ‘But the wise man seeks shelter.’

Over in the shelter, Chris ‘Wheelie’ Wilshire was characteristically upbeat. ‘Quality over quantity,’ he grinned, and commented on an almost complete death of hatred. Hate can’t bear the rain. One-nil to us.

We hung around a bit, while families took photos of themselves standing at the base of the light house. We talked about World War Z and allegations of Facebook jiggery-pokery. I sat up on the central divide of the shelter and looked out at the steely expanse of the sound, naval vessels out near the breakwater, and turned my gaze from the Citadel all the way around to Mount Edgcumbe and Devils point, seeing the fortifications of old wars.

The best soldiers are often those with the bleakest backgrounds. When much of the military stone work around Plymouth was put in place, the British Army really was the best in the world, not only in spite of, but because of the fact that most of its recruits were attracted mainly by the fringe benefits of Army employment; like eating more days than not, a half pint of rum or pint of wine guaranteed daily, and military service being a generally preferable alternative to hanging or transportation, rather than any desire to be professional soldiers.

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I wonder briefly if that’s the purpose. Do the elite envisage a return to a way of war that burns men like straw, and need to degrade us to the point that fighting at the front, killing the man in front of you, who is no different from the man next to you, is a better option than enduring the home front? No, don’t be silly, I thought. If it get’s that far the war will be all over in an afternoon.

James broke into my increasingly dismal musing.

‘Have you tried the tapas bar down on the water front?’

My brain made the same noise as an old stereo needle dragged recklessly across the orignal cast recording of ‘Cats.’

‘James! This is a left-wing protest dude!’ I spluttered. ‘It’s not Yuppies Against Hate! Tapas!’

‘Tapas is like carefully sliced and prepared hate’ laughed Chris.

‘Served on crispy corporate recklessness,’ agreed James, gravely.

The gathering peaked here, at nine people. Sixty had agreed to come on Facebook, with thirty-eight maybes. Not many, but some. Some is better than none, but it was hard not to feel disappointed at such a level of literally fair weather activism. Will we never have a people’s revolution in this country for no other reason than the weather? Iceland managed it, so apathy must be the real reason.

The Police arrived, two WPCs on mountain bikes cycling along the seafront. They passed by without even seeming to notice us. They don’t need to. The narcotics fed into the populace through their LCD’s suppressing dissent and protest far more effectively than nightstick and water cannons.

Make no mistake, peace in your country in this era does not indicate that revolution is not needed. The countries in which rebellion and revolution are even now taking place are the ones that are not irreversibly advanced down the path of quiescence and have a chance to save themselves. Those of us anesthetized by celebrities, consumption and self-regard slip further from freedom every day and do not notice, or even care.

In coming conflicts, we in the ‘civilised west’ may come to realise we are not the global good guys we like to think we are, but by then it will be too late and we will have no choice but to fight, like Sven, Porta and the Old’Un, not to win the war, but for personal survival.

Getting cold and wet now, the gathering began to disperse. James and I tramped wetly across the tarmac of the Hoe, past the monuments to Drake and the war dead, down past the Holiday Inn and into the concrete heart of a wet and dreary Plymouth. Thousands braved the rain to come here and buy things, nine came to suggest that perhaps buying things isn’t the be all and end all.

‘What you said about the rain…’

‘Yeah?’

‘That was an Egg Shen quote, wasn’t it?’

‘Yes.’

<I’m going away for a few days, so here is some fiction I wrote a while ago. This is what happens when I read ‘Cassell’s Tales of Endurance’ and ‘The Naked and the Dead’ back to back. I was trying to capture the vivid portrayal of extreme fatigue that Mailer achieves, recalling moments of desperate suffering with an absolute clarity that is usually obscured by the protective fuzz of memory.>

Concerning Warmth.

I think above all other things human beings crave warmth, either of the physically toasty-warm type, or the more abstract warmth between family, friends, lovers…

My earliest, fuzziest memories are of delicious warmth, pressed against mothers flesh, sometimes directly and sometimes cushioned and textured by fabric and of this being the safest, most comfortable, warmest I have ever been. I’m certain I have been hotter, damnably hot, but I’ve never been warmer, that I can recall. Warmth does not solely consist of heat, there is something else, I am sure. Much more recently than the pre-oedipal memories of mothers comforting warmth, I walked in the hottest deserts, and found in all their searing heat no warmth whatsoever. The noon sun-baked the landscape with no love, bringing only heat, debilitation, thirst and madness. I remember-oh, how I remember-summer days at home where the sun blazed just as fiercely as it could and brought warmth along with the heat, be it never so hot as in the deserts.

Perhaps, as the sun’s heat increases as latitude decreases, so its warmth decreases? This would imply that as latitude increased and the sun’s heat decreased, so its warmth must increase…but such nonsense! Here I lie, where if such a theory were true the sun would impart its greatest warmth for all its lack of heat, and not a therm of that precious commodity is to be spared. Nor even sight of the sun!

More recently still, I stood in the boiler room of a steamship, and watched men stripped to the waist feeding coal into the dragons-maw of the furnace. Hotter still than the cursed deserts, there was nevertheless a considerable sense of that ineffable component that makes mere heat become warmth. The stokers sweated, to be sure, until great droplets formed and ran down their backs, carving deep channels in the dark grime, but it was somehow more wholesome than the precious fluid sucked from ones body by scorching desert sun. I stood watching them for some minutes wearing a worsted uniform in the infernal temperature and glow, and was warmed considerably, but not heated overmuch.

Lying here, I cling fiercely to the memory of the warmth of the boilers, of the sun at home, of being held by mother, even of the terrible desiccation of the desert until I can smell the coal, hear the roaring furnaces and the clatter of shovels, I can feel the roughness of her cardigan against my face and the softness of her hands, my eyes remember the glare and, yes, the heat…but all the power of my imagination cannot bring the slightest suspicion of warmth to my shivering, starving carcass.

Perhaps it is the human component that changes heat to warmth? In all cases, save the desert, the heat is associated with the presence of others, mother, friends and family, the crewmen. In the desert I was alone and found only heat, and sand, and thirst. To be sure, I am not alone here, but my companion and I have lain in silence for hours now. Or is it a day or more? With the perpetual darkness it is impossible to tell. At first, we had the chronometer and everyone had a watch, some two, but as men fell out and died in the snow it somehow became less and less important to keep watches wound, and heavy, cumbersome objects like chronometers where dropped. For myself, winding a watch with frostbite is a bloody painful business.

I blame the dogs, totally without justification of course. They didn’t make me take my gloves off, only I can accept responsibility for that, but it was their harnesses I was untangling…and in seconds my hands were numb and waxy, painful cold replaced by a terrifying insensitivity. I thought it would make the tiresome chore of un-knotting the brittle leather of the dog harnesses quicker and easier. What a fool I was. My watch has been stopped certainly for days and manipulating the tiny winder with the blistered, blackening tubes of frozen fluid my fingers have become is simply impossible.

So, how long exactly my sole surviving companion has lain silent I cannot say. I cannot even say whether he is alive, in all honesty, as we both lie cocooned completely by our sleeping bags, as though we were children and the killing cold and the dark were a bogeyman that could be warded off by being completely covered. It is far too cold to allow a hole for ventilation so we lie hidden from one another by the vaunted new fabrics of our bags, as well as the polar night. Again, I desperately remember lesser discomforts, as when at home I allowed my sheets to cover my face as I slept and woke dewed with the unpleasant condensation of my own trapped breath. Here, the moisture in my breath soaks the fabric of the bag and freezes solid, and continues to accrete until the bag has the weight, flexibility and insulation of one fashioned of steel plate.

In any case there is no heat here, and if the human component is essential to warmth, so then is the component of heat. As I think a little longer, I wonder if there is human component any longer in this frigid hell. There has been not a word between us, certainly for days, and I struggle even to remember my companion’s name. Does he outrank me, or I him? Rank, familiarity and social niceties have been dropped in the snow in the last terrible fortnight along with the time pieces, the scientific equipment, the samples. In lightening our sleds as far as possible, we discarded along with the useless equipment those final shreds of behaviour that made us civilised men exploring the wilderness, and became again a mere desperate tribe, struggling futilely for survival. Friends of years became indistinguishable, no more than nameless members of our bearded, filthy tribe. Known simply as Man Before and Man Behind, we stumbled through the snow. When Man Before fell, still, to the ridged ice, oneself and Man Behind fell upon the carcass of the sled, stripping it of the flesh of food, clothing and usables, leaving a skeleton of useless items, theodolites, books and letters from sweethearts. Items we once deemed essential now left to the freezing embrace of the ever thickening ice.

So we struggled until at length we became Man Leading and Man Following, myself and my companion, the last of our tribe. Some time ago we simply stopped. Without a word of discussion or agreement we lay down the sled harnesses, pitched the tent with glacial haste, and lay down in our rigid sleeping bags to await…what? Rescue perhaps, or more likely the grip of death, the incremental death of the cold as lips, cheeks, nose and toes follow the fingers into morbidity.

Food imparts it’s own special kind of warmth, discrete again from the simple heat it provides. I remember winter dishes from home, hot pots and stews, thick with roots and the unctuous meat juices, that carry the love and care from the cook to the consumer, the human component again the essential. Elsewhere in my travels I ate lighter dishes, yet spiced and sauced to impart much warmth. Even before we began to starve, our rations in this miserable place were utterly joyless. Pemmican and biscuit, heated to scalding over the spirit stoves yet failing to warm in any meaningful way. The food of halcyon remembrance was served by loving parents, grandparents or spouse in an atmosphere of comfort and happiness, cloth, crockery and cutlery laid out just so. Did I ever eat in that way, or is it a dream, a confabulation, and the last, best meal I had was a battered tin mug half filled with rancid Pemmican, dried meat swimming in the scalding fat and a few crumbs of biscuit, handed me by a deathly apparition in filth ridden clothes, the frozen dog excrement on his gloves adhering to the mug. I gulped it down, reviling the taste, hardly noticing it burning my numb lips. Crouching dismally with the canvas of the tent tight to my back, the wind an icy cat-o’-nine-tails, this meal brought no warmth, only the joyless energy required to walk, and push, and drag and toil into the whiteness.

When the pemmican was gone we ate the dogs. The beasts had been on the same starvation rations as the men for some time, and there was precious little meat on them. Nevertheless, it was deemed better that they die, that we might live, and sentimental as we were, we thought it more merciful than allowing the hounds to starve alongside us. Now I might wish we had done so, for the few more weeks we gained from devouring the sorry creatures was simply extending our time in frigid purgatory. On we went, now man-hauling our sleds sustained only by the meagre scraps of frozen flesh we gnawed from the dog carcasses that our sleds were now carried. There was no question of cooking the meat, the fuel for our spirit stoves was long since exhausted. This is the point, I now realise, at which the final vestiges of warmth left us at last. In a landscape of total frigidity, plodding silently detached from one another we gnawed our frozen dog meat bereft of any vector for receiving human warmth.

When the dog meat ran out, men began to die. The expedition became an elongated graveyard in the snow, it’s entrance marked by the first pair of mounds of snow, pitifully temporary monuments to our comrades. The path through this exclusive resting place wound for 20 miles, passing every few miles a single grave, sometimes a pair, plots alloted simply by the expedient of piling snow over a body where it fell. A promenade through this longest and most sparsely filled of burial grounds would end here, at this pathetic canvas tent half covered by drifting snow, it’s sides bowed by the ferocious wind and driving snow. A pair of sleds, also covered by snow and nameless frozen chunks of garbage, lie abandoned a few yards away.

A sudden urge to move fills me. I must make contact, some final word or look with another human being before the end. Pushing open my sleeping bag allows in a rush of colder air, searing my nose, throat and lungs. I haul myself half upright in the cramped tent and reach for my companion, every movement allowing more frigid air to reach me, sucking away energy and resolve. I grasp his shoulder and pull him towards me. He rolls over easily, sleeping bag falling away to reveal the blackened lips drawn back over dry teeth. My companion’s beard is sparse on the discoloured, dessicated skin. He is dead and I have not even the strength to weep.

At length, I stand, a process which takes some minutes, straightening from the tent into the freezing blast of the wind. On the horizon, the merest glow has appeared, the vaguest promise of the sun. I take a step towards it and another, before falling forward onto the iron hard snow. I lie still, sinking slowly into delicious warmth.

According to an infographic I saw recently, pregnancy and childbirth are the biggest world-wide causes of death for 15-19 year old girls.  The infographic is understandably quite upset about that.  It offends our western sensibilities to hear of women this young, children almost, being enslaved to the womb  as soon as menses are happening.  To us, childbearing is something that is supposed to happen when your body is fully mature, you have decent security and a support network and a shiny hospital to give birth in.  Isn’t it?

Unfortunately, for much of the world, no.  No it isn’t.  To me, this is a prime example of the overriding challenge facing humanity now: reconciling our evolved instincts with our emerging rational thought.  We evolved to live in a very different world to the one that most of you who read these words actually live in, and even those furthest from ‘enjoying’ western civilisation probably do not have quite the life pressures of the first humans.

Childbearing is something that is supposed to happen as soon as possible, evolutionarily speaking.  The earliest humans had a rough old life, with a projected lifespan of around 20 years and the childbearing process had grown long and arduous, with a practical limit of two viable offspring at a time, those offspring being entirely dependent on the mother for a dangerously long period before they can start to contribute to the tribe.  In that situation it was advantageous (to the species as a whole) to breed as soon as possible, and as often as possible, the creation and nurturing of the next generation of the species taking evolutionary priority over the quality of life, or even survival, of the current iteration.

In the ‘civilised’ countries where marrying and breeding in the high school years is generally frowned upon, we face a terrible struggle to stop the randy little bleeders doing it anyway!  Anyone with a daughter, and who was once a teenage boy, sweats with panic at the thought of parties and concerts and nightclubs and school trips away.  The activation of the human reproductive system (after a very long wait compared to most other species) brings with it a compelling desire to use the damn thing, now, while the body is young and elastic and strong enough to bear the strains of savannah life, climbing trees to sleep, running from leopards and so on, while several months pregnant. We have beds now, and the leopards are generally no longer a problem, but that compelling desire is still there.

In the ‘first world,’ we’ve increased our lifespans, opportunities and standard of living to the point that, when viewed intellectually, the imperative to breed early does not seem so pressing, and we’ve taken control of our reproductive biology to the point that we can have sex just for fun, with a far reduced risk of unwanted pregnancies.  We don’t need to squeeze out children as fast as possible, in the hope that one or two of the nine mum birthed, before number ten killed her, will make it to adulthood.  We can plan it, get everything ready and go ahead in the almost certain knowledge that it will be ok.  In the west, a stillbirth or miscarriage is a seen as shattering tragedy, but for many elsewhere in the world it is a numbly accepted fact of life.

If we want the luxury of placing one’s own quality of life ahead of the biological imperative to perpetuate the species that western middle class life affords with its security, education and health care to be extended to all human beings, then, well, the security, education and health care have to be extended to them too.  It’s that simple, and it will mean that the middle classes of the west will have to bite the bullet and accept a slight reduction in their standard of living to effect a massive increase in everyone else’s.  Such a small sacrifice really…like going from you having a 46″ telly and me having no telly, to both of us having a 28″ telly.

We are really a very simple animal, and when achieving even the bottom layer of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is not necessarily a given, then self-actualisation goes out of the window in favour of the older, more basic, drives.

People in the developing world facing a 35 year life span, in which infant and childbirth mortality will touch every family, in which one of a woman’s jobs is to birth new pairs of hands who will hopefully live long enough to help work the farm and…oh, please…keep us all fed for another season, will respond, have responded over generations, by developing societal norms that fulfil the biological imperative to reproduce, health and happiness taking  a much lower priority.

Viewed from our privileged perspective, these norms seem, well, not normal, and it upsets us that people are forced to live like that.  Eliminate situations like this by eliminating the economic, educational and health care gulfs between the world’s haves and have nots, and you eliminate the pressures that perpetuate the evolved, instinctual behaviour and allow rational consideration of one’s individual future to take place.

I’ve been posting, commenting, and shouting about socio-political stuff on The Facebook for a little while now, and some people have been confused. Some think I’m a socialist, a typical lefty. Others can’t decide what they think I think. I’m going to try to clear things up, or maybe just muddy the water some more.

I try very hard to avoid being pigeonholed as an ‘ist.’ If it’s possible at all to draw any conclusions from the last couple of thousand years of ethical philosophy, then they are; treat others as you would expect them to treat you, and be extremely suspicious of any who claim a direct line to moral truth. The first is the so-called Golden Rule, and pops up all over the place where people talk rationally about how best one might go about living, and is familiar to anyone with even a nodding acquaintance with the Bible, or even The Water Babies. The second abjures against subscribing to any pattern of thought that assumes an objective truth, of which they are the keepers. All religions, and most political ideologies fall into this definition.

Thus, I don’t call myself a socialist or anarchist, even though aspects of them appeal to me, because to anchor oneself to an ideology, especially in a polarised political climate such as the present, is to automatically refuse to consider validity in any other.  I don’t even call myself an atheist any more, as that is slowly becoming bogged down in dogma and ideological purity; I was blocked from commenting on the Holes in the Foam facepunch page after questioning the words of the Holy Madelyn O’Hair.

To refuse to engage rationally with another human being because their views are not exactly congruent with your own is foolish and arrogant, and ideological purity offers you this handy salve for cognitive dissonance.

It may come as a surprise, then, that there is one ideology I am prepared to embrace wholeheartedly; it is a totalitarian, elitist ideology.  The pseudo-Samurai ethic of traditional Shotokan Karate, which stresses self-discipline, fighting spirit and contempt for pain.   It is an ideology I apply only to myself and to students who have voluntarily entered the dojo to train.  A world run by the rigid Japanese etiquette and parade ground spirit of a karate dojo would be hell for most!  It is an aspect of my personality that I am pleased by rules and systematic hardship…it is an aspect of my intellect that I realise that what is true for me is not true for everyone.

Submitting to compulsion can be acceptable then, if one is doing so voluntarily in full knowledge and understanding, accepting that it is not permitted to attempt to enforce it upon others.

So a strong personal ideology, but no fixed political ideology, beyond the two statements of ethical philosophy mentioned above.  I’m not a lefty, either, or at least I’m not just a lefty.  The spectrum of left and right is lacking at least one axis if you ask me.  I was going to launch into a whole description of a certain geeky game’s system for describing the moral/ethical state of a character, but I decided not to.  Suffice to say, I consider myself neutral-good.

I appreciate the safety brought by the rule of law, but resent it’s interfering in private matters, and am incensed when it is used to marginalize and punish the vulnerable.  Not enough law is a bad thing, but so is too much.  I think it is far more important to do good than do well, and to take more than you need at the expense of another is the worst crime in the world.  If I can go back into the carbon and water cycles leaving the world one Planck Length better than when I arrived, I will consider my life worthwhile.

What I want for the world is freedom, with the understanding that freedom implies responsibility for one’s own actions; justice, with the understanding that justice means everyone gets what they deserve and need, not that I always get what I want; tolerance, with the understanding that tolerating something doesn’t mean you have to pretend you like it; and rationality, with the understanding that rational thought is just another instinctive process.

Peace.   I want Peace.   Between nations, ethnicities, religions, ideologies, towns, football team supporters, and individuals, with the understanding that peace requires constant maintenance, adjustment and nurturing to remain peaceful.

We are ruled by people who do not want these things.  People who profit from our misery, from our pain, but more subtly from our obedience, inertia and irrationality, bending the world in the direction that suits them.

They want control, justice for themselves and oppression for the masses.  They want us hating and fighting each other so that we do not notice, and turn upon, them.  They want us stupid, quiescent, fat and lazy.  They want the material profit and power our dumb compliance gives them.

War.  They want War.  War keeps us afraid and foolish, accepting oppression of our own freedoms in the belief that it hinders ‘the enemy.’  War culls the poor, keeping our numbers manageable, allows tyrannical laws to be passed by frightened governments without a squeak from the even more terrified populace, and brings profit and power into the hands of those who will never have to shoot another man or bring shrapnel home with them.

In a lawful evil world , the neutral good man becomes restless.  I am finding it increasingly hard to sit still.

Very interesting on many levels. I’m fascinated by the psychology of decisions and motivation, and I immediately thought of the possibilities for influencing social, economic and ecological behaviours in this way, and I picked up a nugget or two that may prove useful in the dojo, but as the video went on I became increasingly uneasy… I’ve always assumed that the purpose of studying decision errors and biases was to educate humanity about itself and point towards a truly rational way of managing life. Utilising them to enforce ‘good’ behaviour (who says it’s ‘good’ anyway?) smacks ever so slightly of the Ludovico technique to me.

 

Human Chess

By Professor Leslie John, Harvard Business School

Identifying effective obesity treatment is both a clinical challenge and a public health priority. Can monetary incentives stimulate weight loss? Leslie John presents a study that examines different economic incentives for weight loss during a 16 week intervention.

Leslie John presented at the “The Science of Getting People to Do Good” research briefing at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, co-sponsored by the Center for Social Innovation.

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food

Take a look at this by The Void.

A beautiful example of  middle-class provincialism. Either you live like the people who run the food bank…quiet, safe, obedient, boring…or you have a ‘chaotic lifestyle.’ Just ‘lifestyle’ on it’s own is an insidious word; it implies a choice, a decision to be a certain way, a bed to be lain in. No one chooses to have a life in chaos, any more than a buffalo chooses to stampede.

This attitude fails to realise that living a life in chaos implies certain fundamental things have gone wrong; limited education and opportunity, poor decision-making skills, and, deliciously, societal pressure to conform to the idealised life we’re shown on TV add up to throw these people into chaos. No one took the time to help them realise where their potential was, how to avoid chaos, how to distinguish want from need; how to use the rational mind. They choose to live the way they do the exact way a chimpanzee chooses to run up a tree and scream when it sees a leopard; through instinct alone and lacking the understanding of viable alternatives.

scavenge

Trying to shame/punish/starve the chaotic into self-actualisation is insane. The whole point of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is that each preceding layer must be complete before the next can be addressed. I already know people who are taking past-sell-by-date food from bins at the back of supermarkets. (Unless this has happened.) When you are solely engaged day-to-day on securing shelter and food, in the constant cycle of tick and nicking and the micro-boom-bust of giro day then you have no time or energy, or inclination, for self-improvement.

Regardless of what I would wish, society, no matter how egalitarian, will always generate drop-outs and misfits. The uneducated, the underprivileged, the simply not very bright, the addicts, the folks who just aren’t very good at this society (me, for eg.) will always find themselves struggling along at the back. There has to be someone at the back.

We could see ourselves in a race and devil take the hindmost, but I’d prefer to see humanity marching forward together, bundling the slow into the middle of the pack if necessary, helping them keep up, and yes, carrying them in extremis.

Punishing people for behaving like animals in a way that will only force them to behave still more like animals to survive can only reinforce animal behaviour. When everyone has a full belly, everyone can have an open mind.

Brilliant. A great example of one of my central themes…human evolved behaviour is not in step with the rate at which we can change our own environment.

Human Chess

Who hasn’t sent a text message saying “I’m on my way” when it wasn’t true or fudged the truth a touch in their online dating profile? But Jeff Hancock doesn’t believe that the anonymity of the internet encourages dishonesty. In fact, he says the searchability and permanence of information online may even keep us honest.

Jeff Hancock studies how we interact by email, text message and social media blips, seeking to understand how technology mediates communication

Speaker’s bio:  http://www.ted.com/speakers/jeff_hancock.html

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Fascinating and terrifying.

Human Chess

By Chris Simmons

The most diabolical, manipulative, and extraordinarily successful interrogation ploy I used to interrogate High-Value terrorists in Iraq was the Prisoners’ Dilemma. It LITERALLY never failed. Research the Prisoners’ Dilemma and you will find it called “game theory.” I can assure you its use is neither theoretical nor game-like. It appeals to the strongest and basest instincts in all of us – self-survival –by pitting members of a group against one another for a reward.

More was always better with this technique, but a two detainee minimum was sufficient. In our case, we always began our “theater of the mind” in the Black Room, so named as its floor, ceiling, and walls were painted matte black. We’d also found a way to give the room a slight echo-effect, which many found unsettling. Having captured several Al-Qaeda associates (all believed to have similar information) in a given raid…

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1984

Once again the other day, I heard someone use the phrase ‘It’s like 1984!’ to complain about speed and security cameras.

‘You haven’t read 1984, have you?’ I asked, and sure enough I was right.

In Orwell’s novel, the populace are indeed watched by cameras very nearly all the time, but this is not the main point. The cameras are a very small and crude part of the Party’s ability to control the behaviour of others. Controlling the behaviour of others through fear of punishment is achieved through surveillance to a degree, but the Party’s goal is to control ultimately what people think in order that the very concept of disobedience becomes impossible to articulate.

The Party seeks to achieve this in several ways:

An endless, grinding, brushfire war between shifting alliances consumes people and materials, with no obvious gains ever made. The nebulous ‘enemy’ have the capacity to strike rarely, randomly and with indifferent success at the civil population, but the fear of same resigns the populace to the necessity of tight ‘security’ thanks to the human brain’s inability to accurately assess risk while in a state of fear.

A media and entertainment industry colludes whole heartedly with the government in attempts to mould the thoughts of the people. Endless, unavoidable news stories trumpet the awesomeness of ‘Us’ and especially the horrid, hatefulness of  ‘Them’, whether they be the aggressive enemy abroad or the insidious enemy at home. Fear is promulgated and then forged into hate and zeal and certainty; into faith. The dumbly obedient are lauded and the thoughtful and inquisitive are marginalised. Knowing more than you absolutely need to know is seen as suspicious in some way. History is routinely redacted to suit the narrative The Party wishes to be believed: It’s always been this way. The Party has always been here. The Party is making life better for you, everyday.

Language is subjected to an effort to drastically reduce vocabulary and shades of meaning. If one does not have the vocabulary to describe refusal to obey, translating the thought to action becomes difficult. To this end, education among the proles is rudimentary at best and among Party members it focuses on indoctrination. No one needs to learn to think, only to obey. The ‘Newspeak’ dictionary shrinks with each edition, excising superlatives, surplus adjectives, archaic and ‘offensive’ terms; offensive, in this case referring to words that offend The Party’s morals only. It becomes impossible to say or even think anything not completely loyal.

So don’t worry about the cameras. Cameras are at best a crude, inelegant method of coercing and controlling a population, capable only really of controlling behaviour within an area under their purview.  The modern west isn’t really like 1984 just because we have lots of cameras. Maybe there’s a camera here and there, but in our own homes, and in our own heads, we are free people. None of all that other stuff is happening. Absolutely not. No.