Category Archives: Culture

The End of the Game

Death surrounds Peter Beard’s The End of the Game, not only in terms of the book’s subject matter but also in the fact that this particular edition was given as a gift to someone who died soon after receiving it, and so it returns to my bookshelf – don’t think the recipient had much of a chance to glance through it before dying.

It may come to be viewed as a strange artefact one day, a book like this, with its detailed imagery of human interference in animal affairs. One word in particular, a loaded word, springs to mind when thinking of human/animal interaction: dominion. There’s a debate going on at the moment as to whether some of us humans have misinterpreted the Bible’s meaning w/r/t the word itself. Has our interpretation of dominion led us towards endless destruction rather than promoting a sense of responsibility? The pictures give a clue to the answer to such a question.

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Ask Yourself, Is it Smart?

Five years on from Edward Snowden’s disclosure that governments collect huge amounts of data from “regular” citizens, it’s kind of perplexing to hear so many people caught up by the Alexa/Echo bug. Suspicious of many “smart” innovations, it is easy to turn down such things as “smart” light bulbs, kettles, electricity/gas meters, and so on. I mean, why would you want such things?

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And then there is the latest trend for voice collecting devices to be fitted around the home (bad enough that we have to carry mobile phones with us, but at least you can leave it in a drawer and exit the room). The Alexa/Echo thing means that wherever you are in the house it’s listening. And so, this begs the question, posed nicely in today’s The Guardian article commemorating the day that people got to know how interested their governments are in their everyday activities: “Why, just a few years after a global scandal involving government surveillance, would people willingly install always-on microphones in their homes?”citizenfour

Now that is a very good question, and if one requires a reason not to do such an idiotic thing, just spend a couple of hours watching Citizen Four, the documentary on Snowden and the actions he took on behalf of fellow citizens (here’s a free version– curious that the official site doesn’t let you watch it for free).


“The Market” and the potential Counter-Effect on Radical / Subversive / Revolutionary Thought (with links to posts on Russell Brand, Adam Curtis, Stephen Hawking, Paul Mason, Akala, and The Tarnac 9 (or 10))

A nagging doubt that continues to linger after reading/hearing/viewing what might be considered to be radical/subversive/revolutionary works in the form of films/documentaries/podcasts/books, etc., is that can such works actually be so radical/subversive/revolutionary if the owner of such works simply profit from them through the controlled and controlling system of “the market?”

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Basically, if what you want to change is the present system (and it’s worth clarifying that what’s being discussed here is the present post-industrial Westernised system of capitalism based on the rampant consumption of goods), then how can you hope to do so whilst profiting from it – because bringing the system down will ultimately disrupt that source of profit.

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Surely, there has to be some sort of self-sacrifice on the part of the owner of the works, where rather than merely accepting royalties, etc., and using them to fund cars, multiple properties, holidays, pension funds, and the like (which serves to uphold the status quo of the present system), the profits are used in a way in which they are directed against the system itself – use the money to do the things that the system will never do.

It seems logical that to subvert the system you must first cease to consume all else than that of the very basic necessities (food, clothing, housing). This might (depending on geographical location) mean a household imposing its own limits of expenditure, where a figure acts as a barrier to excessive spending, and that all other monies above that figure are used in altruistic ways – and not in the current “philanthropic” way that sees money given to charities only for it to be reduced from a person’s tax bill (and note the inefficiencies of charities in their handling of donations). No. Instead, this form of giving should very much be plentiful, anonymous, and given freely and willingly.

The question is, will anyone be willing to do so?

Links to previous posts (lucky dip):

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Working Class Kids’ Perspectives (or, just shut up with this victim culture stuff (see very foot of post))

The need to be articulate, to be able to source facts from history that are often purposefully obscured, and then, after all that, to be confident enough to place thoughts and ideas springing from the former into the public sphere, by whatever means and no matter the abuse that comes from this, is a talent worth having. However, it is not easily taught, especially when your upbringing is a working/lower/and/or/under-class one. Akala’s recent appearances, on Frankie Boyle’s New World Order and on Robert Peston’s Peston on Sunday, respectively, capture the extent to which the working classes (and those lower forms of classes) continue to be used as cannon-fodder, though both metaphorically and literally these days.

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On Peston on Sunday, Akala discussed technical qualifications such as Apprenticeships, amongst other things, stating that kids from Harrow and Eton aren’t the target market for this type of education, and that working class kids are being ushered into working class jobs. At which point Alistair Campbell piped up to mention the inequality that continues to be touted, shamelessly, through the private education system – if an education system exists that is meant to be so good that it equips youngsters to do the best jobs and to enjoy great earning potential as a result, then why is that that system is not the model used to educate all children who would benefit from it? That an education model exists that cannot be accessed unless a child has funds in excess of £20-30,000 per year is disgraceful, yet the practice continues with not even a hint of its proponents viewing it as so.

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On New World Order, Akala brought the narrative round from “black gang violence in London” to violence that occurs across the country as a by-product stemming from a range of inequalities (access to education and funding, etc.) that serve to affect the working (and lower) classes disproportionately. A kid, no matter how bright, living in a tower block or on an estate where decades of neglect conspire to blight her/his surrounding environment with petty and serious crime, drug and other substance abuse, predominantly welfare-based “living” (or merely existing for the most part), and with access to only the most basic form of state education (which Gove and his cronies have recently tinkered with to make it all the more difficult for kids to achieve “good grades”), will struggle to leave such a cycle of neglect, and may not wish to because of the plight of those they will have to leave behind. Class struggle is as real now as it has ever been, it’s just that 42” TVs, a BMW/Mercedes on the drive, and semi/detached houses blind us to such facts.

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Growing up in “cut paper row” terraced houses similar to those described by Sylvia Plath, where there seemed from a child’s perspective to be little in the way of dissent detectable in mainstream media, it is noticeable, now, that there are voices with platforms to challenge centuries’ old systems of repression. Akala is just one of those voices, and any hope that we have of “things” changing are likely to involve people such as Akala spreading messages that pierce the thinly veiled construct that serves to promote the message that we live in a society of democracy, justness, and aspiration for all. We don’t. As a working/lower/underclass citizen with access to an internet connection, thirty minutes to an hour of researching “family tree history” on a site with free access will reveal that you are just as much in the gutter as descendants from years gone by – it’s just that your gutter affords you occasional trips to buy stuff you don’t need on credit terms that will punish you if you don’t continue to tow the line.

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And just because it is so good, here’s a link to Akala’s performance piece, The Ruins of Empires (but on this link it starts from around 6 minutes in).

And just because comment feeds descend into chaos the farther down them you go, here’s one from Peston’s Twitter page following the uploading of Akala’s comments on race and class. Look out for this delightful person (below):

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Leaps of Imagination, Like When You Were a Kid

Having the chance to flick through old tales once read as a child, or variations of them, has led to a profound thought: why not just solve the world’s problems by employing a child-like “leap of imagination?” An evil stepmother infiltrates a queen’s bedchamber disguised as a nurse (queen just given birth so she’s a bit knackered and off-kilter) – now, yep, fully aware of the portrayal of gender, here, but the writing of the tale nothing to do with me (adaptation of Grimm’s tales???), and if it were I’d probably opt for some sort of gender-ambiguous setting (open pronouns and stuff) – and then this nurse/evil stepmother just assumes control of the situation, no border checks taken place, no visitors’ pass scanned in the hall, just basically a total bypass of security protocols.

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So, what if the average thinking-person who worries on a daily basis about the inequities of life, wishing that they could end wars, humans mistreating other humans (whether individually or as past of a corporation or country), and who views hunger and water poverty as completely reversible given a bit more emphasis on compassion and a lot less emphasis on profit, starts to assume the same sort of control, but obviously, not with the same wicked end in mind as the evil stepmother/nurse person?

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Watching yet another documentary that tries to pick its way through the “this is not a conspiracist tale but you’d better wake up” waters of contemporary views about “leftist, liberal intervention tactics” (Ethos Movie) left the impression that, well, it shouldn’t have to be all that hard to effect change if you really want it. What I do most days is think of a problem, say lack of access to clean water for a good deal of the world’s population, and then start to work through the layers of things that would need to be done in a conventional, ordered sense (contacting politicians, NGOs, etc.), and then think about how the shortage-of-water problem is often caused by corporations that are deeply embedded in the political scene, so that, really, you know before you start that things are not going to be easy after all, and then that’s kind of depressing and debilitating, and then the mind starts to drift and something comes along as a distraction and then it all seems too much because you’re just one small person in what seems like a huge system of unfairness.

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But here’s the rub. Breaking that feeling of uselessness could actually be simple to achieve by employing the Grimm Practice (that’s what I’m calling it – GP for short). Think of a solution, and make it so. Now, the suggestion at the end of Ethos Movieis that we as consumers, as a starting point, can choose where to spend our money, and in doing so can provide incentive to corporations (but this could also be applied to governments, but that will be attended to in another post) to act responsibly, ethically, and basically, as good human beings (because a corporation is made up of humans). My very simple suggestion in this regard is to set up a system of an international boycott on the purchasing of any and all items from corporations that exploit people for profit. The boycott can be levied according to how much a corporation needs to change its ways – one day per year just to keep it in check; one week per year to push the message harder; and so on, until the people see that corporations change their ways.

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If, say, a company like Starbucks (just for example) saw not one person cross its thresholds to buy its products for an entire day (anywhere in the world) it would likely start to change its ways (exploitation of low-paid workers; prices paid to coffee growers; the effects on communities where coffee is taken at a fraction of the price it will eventually retail at; and stuff like that). Now, if the opposite is true, that Starbucks turns round and says “fuck you, do this again and we’ll have to lay-off many of our workers,” what I’d say is ramp up the boycott action until it comes in line, which it will be forced to do (rather than go out of business altogether, which happens when a company’s turnover is 0 ($£€, etc.)). And here, we see the power potential at play. The Grimm Practice puts power in people’s hands. Don’t overthink things. Don’t analyse the possibilities endlessly (because that is debilitating), simply use the tools that we now have at our disposal – the internet to spread the word, social media to chart our successes, and our disposable incomes to withhold from those corporations that do not act in the interest of humanity as a whole. Vote GP.

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Current Adam Curtis Obsession #1

Tying in with a recent article on the “unstoppable rise of veganism,” a podcast of Russell Brand’s interview with Adam Curtis, “Do We Really Want Change?,” offers a potential route forward from the seemingly destined-to-fail calls for change that we have witnessed over the last decade or so, whether the Occupy Movement in the west, or the ripples of revolution around the middle-east.

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Curtis identifies an actual, though brief, moment in history that resulted in monumental change, and which came from the Civil Rights movement in the southern states of the U.S.:

“White activists and black activists joined together and they spent years giving their lives, and in many cases literally, up to trying to change the world, which they did, and they surrendered themselves to that” (0:22:20 – 0:22:30).

Curtis details the success of the movement and the subsequent failure of the New Left as the rise of “individualism” takes hold, disrupting the coming together of groups of people, instead spreading the message that to be “true” to yourself is the real “goal” in life and that from that (being an individual) the world will change as a result (which it hasn’t). So, with veganism on the rise (around 1% of the U.K. population is believed to be vegan) is it time to recognise that when veganism is most challenging and difficult that it is at its most effective?

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What I mean, here, is that the growing trend for multinationals to assimilate veganism into their practices (many of them dubious in nature) is perhaps yet another example of individualism working for the benefit of the corporations and managers of capitalism. The capitalist model has tapped into the fact that being vegan is not always easy (you can’t just nip into any old shop to buy a snack without inspecting the contents of that pack in the first place (and even then you need to be clued up to the names that are used to describe the ingredients).

So, instead of the practices of old, where (and this is true, I’ve heard many a vegan testify to this) vegans would meet with other vegans to discuss foods that they can eat, sharing knowledge, and maybe even discuss activism and the like (perhaps they can be called We-gans), “new vegans” are being presented with a rich array of products that save them from having to do so, thus removing some of the discomfort and inconvenience of having to “go out of your way” to source information. In doing so, vegans are being kept isolated from one another in that there is a lack of incentive to grow the vegan community (perhaps they can be called Me-gans) – instead, becoming individual vegans, just as the markets require us to be.

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A great example of this has to be McDonald’s new “Vegan” Burger, which reads like a contradiction in terms, or just a really sick joke. One of the largest killers of animals on the planet asking vegans to come into their “restaurants” and sit side-by-side with carnivores? Bizarre, but true. The motives behind the launch of the McVegan can only be linked to profit, for there can be no ethical reasons behind the decision, as the animal slaughter continues unabated.

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So, try not to get too excited at veganism going “mainstream” because you may just get what you didn’t ask for. Instead, think of the myriad ways that you, in your small but perfectly capable way, could disrupt carnivore practices. You could write about it, talk about it, or just do something about it (pouring super glue in the locks of McDonald’s doors as you pass a closed store (making sure that it was dried in time that no McD’s employee would suffer any harm in the process) would be illegal and childish, of course)…


The “Could AI Really do a Worse Job” Posts

Post #3 – When facts and figures just get a bit stupid. Quoting directly from Paul Mason’s Postcapitalism once more, it is astonishing to learn that:

McDonald’s […] is the thirty-eighth biggest economy in the world – bigger than that of Ecuador – and is also the biggest toy distributor in America. In addition, one in eight people in the USA has worked for McDonald’s (277).

 

Now, stop and break that down for a moment. More powerful, economically, than Ecuador (does McDonald’s have a seat at the UN? Should it after learning how huge and influential it must be? Is there some sort of ethical and moral code that should kick in when a burger joint gets to be this huge? And here comes the vegan bit of me – is it acceptable for a company to grow to become this huge when it pretty much occurs on the back of ceaseless, horrific slaughter of animals?).

 

And it’s not a toy company, so what do we think that the above statistic speaks of? The coercion of minors for profit? The shameless exploitation of a child’s propensity to want the toy that is linked to the latest movie/TV/gaming craze?

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And where do the other 7 out of 8 people work?

Potential AI solution: on the back of a justice system overseen by the logic and impartiality of AI (rather than the self-interest and bias of humans), we will… seize the illegal profits of McDonald’s; jail its owners for mass genocide following war crimes tribunals; turn over the running of the company to its employees, on the proviso that it turns to plant-based, sustainable foods; and use the excess profits to fund research into alternatives to plastic use, and into better recycling of the millions of plastic toys spewed out over the years. Good job, AI.

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