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A few thoughts on Karma

When you think about it on a mathematical and a psychological level karma must exist. Psychologically we all maintain an approximate balance so that we cannot be too happy or too miserable in perpetuity. This can be seen in the difference between people who live in first world nations and those who live in third world nations. Those of us who are blessed to have computers and electric, houses to live in, etc have different things to feel bad about, we can have bad days, we can even feel suicidal. Those who live with none of these benefits, no house, no electric, no food, etc can have good days; they find their joy elsewhere. If someone who is in a 1st world country will kill themselves out of misery then they obviously feel worse than someone in a third world country who is not miserable enough to kill themselves. The result of this internal balance which draws our feelings and sensations back towards a central stable area will mean that anyone who takes advantage of others for their own gain will achieve nothing because their experience will always pull back towards that central average.

It is similar in action to the way a drug user will gradually feel less joy at using their drug and will always want more an more. There is never any way in which a person can have more than others on an internal experiential level on any lasting basis. In fact there is also no way that a person can maintain an average feeling of sensation unless they are mentally damaged in some way because their experience will always be fluctuating either side of the central average or else the highs will have no lows to contrast against in order to be able to recognise the difference in them.

This psychological tendency to always aim for balance works in tandem with the mathematical tendency for numbers to always balance out. If you roll a dice millions of times you will ultimately find that any particular number will have approximately the same chance as any other number coming up. Life may be more complex than a six sided die but the same principle will apply. Over time things will have a tendency to average out. You may have a number of good days but you will also have a number of bad days in how fate tends to treat you. One day you will find a penny and on another day you will lose a penny. If you work harder you will earn more but if you work less hard you will earn less.

Most of the time this principle is very easy to see in action. The outliers are the problem in this theory. Human experience could be represented on a bell curve where most experience will be in the centre of the bell curve and at the edges there will be a few who seem remarkably lucky or remarkably unlucky. I have already pointed out that these outliers will have their experience drawn to a central stable set of feelings so the appearance of good luck or bad luck is merely an appearance as it seems to those viewing their experience from outside. The homeless person has advantages in some manners and, believe it or not, the wealthy person also has disadvantages. For instance, when you can afford anything you want instantly, then where is the joy of anticipation?  You move from one purchase to another experiencing a fraction of the joy any of those purchases would give one of us. Likewise, if you are cold and wet then the sheer pleasure you can feel from the occasions when you step into the warm and put on dry clothes are unimagineable to someone who has never had that experience. So once again we see the action of the psychological manifestation of karma combining with chance to always see that balance is achieved.

When it happens that someone seems to experience misery or joy for longer than seems natural then it is usually because they have imposed that upon themselves. Someone who has done something bad to another person will often feel guilty about it and that sensation of guilt will force them to judge themselves badly, while someone who has brought joy to others will go away with a warm feeling of having done the right thing. This has been proven in experiments where people were given money and told to go out and spend it. At the end of the day their feelings of happiness were compared to the beginning of the day and it was discovered that those who had helped others with the money felt far more happiness than those who had spent it on themselves. This is probably an evolutionary mechanism that is inbuilt by the mutual protection we gain from living in groups above the danger that individuals would have felt if living alone in the wild. This nature of cooperation and sharing would have greatly facilitated communal living and seen reciprocaton from others, which of course is a far more obvious manifestation of karma achieving balance between individuals.

The obvious exception to this would be sociopaths who feel little compulsion to help others due to their limited empathy. Hoever even sociopaths have been shown to have emotions, although on a greatly reduced level, so even they will be able to feel unhappiness or happiness in response to their actions. Additionally the greatly diminished state of their emotional level could be considered by those who have a typical experience of joy to be a punishment in itself. Plus the sociopath will often have had to have been through a horrific experience to damage their mind in that way so the loss of emotion is once again a way in which the psyche tries to achieve the central balance and withdraw from the extreme of the horror that they have already experienced.

In essence it ultimately becomes impossible for anyone to ever experience any joy over and above their fellow humans, no matter how much they take advantage of them, but similarly as karma dictates, noone is able to experience more misery than their fellow beings. Balance will always be achieved in the end.

However I am certain that everyone reading this will be uncertain about this conclusion.  Everyone knows of somebody, or is somebody who has suffered a terrible life changing incident that has greatly reduced their overal happiness.  There is certainly evidence that such circumstances can impact upon a person’s ability to feel happiness in their lives.  Regardless of what conclusions you draw from this evidence there still may be a way for karma to redeem itself, but to do so the conversation must pass into areas that are somewhat more philosophical.  In religion the problem is easily dealt with through reincarnation or the afterlife.  There are certain harshnesses to the idea of hell and heaven but karma is more likely to be associated with reincarnation.

I am not going to step into discussion of contiuity from one life to another but I will propose that in the event of reincarnation, if it does indeed exist, we are unable to retain memories from previous lives.  If we did then there would be little point in reincarnating in a form to learn the lessons of the previous life as we would simply continue where we left off.  Given the lack of memory actual physical continuity is not necessary as much as a mathematical continuity.  Indeed the essence of spiritual issues is their detachment from the physical.  The question should therefore centre around how much spiritual existence resembles physical existence.  All that would be needed for the corresponding and contrasting life to come into existence following the end of our own would be the laws of averages.  To put it simplistically, if at one point a person has behaved heinously and must therefore be taught the error of his ways then a corresponding life must come into existence in which those lessons can be learnt, perhaps the life of a devout monk or the life of a beggar.  As there is no memory from one life to another there is a missing continuity between the death of the one and the birth of the next.  Additionally there is no physical continuity.  There is a ‘spiritual’ continuity but what exactly does that mean?

 

Essentially, do we have individual souls?  The answer according to many religious and philosophical beliefs is that ultimately we are all one.  We all have god within us and we are seeking for reunification, etc, etc, etc.  Unsatisfying though it might seem, the only continuity necessary appears to be that the death of one with the birth of the other must both be connected by being related by both being part of the same existence.  Given the perceived nature of an all powerful god it is not even necessary that the two lives should exist consecutively.  The nature of us all being one, means, that in the formless nature of a fluid universe, we can in our ‘spiritual’ aspect be experiencing two contrasting lives separately and simultaneously.  Such is the nature of being part of a unified spiritual embodiment that is purported to have omnipotence.  To give it any limitation in that regard or to insist it follows the laws of physics misunderstands the nature of omnipotence and the power it has to be governed by physical laws, yet simultaneously not governed.  Naturally this falls a little outside the previous arguments I have made but considering karma is a theory that has always been considered to fall in line with the more esoteric ways of thinking it would probably be inappropriate not to cover some of the less conventional and scientific manners in which the concept could be described.

Naturally, if we need to rely on this final hypothesis, that can be difficult to come to terms with if we do not already believe in some kind of spiritual world already.  The impossibility of seeing beyond death or before birth renders any concerns academic.  The logic falls into place upon certain assumptions, but even if those assumptions prove to be false it makes little difference.  Similarly to a legal fiction this is a fiction that explains an idea and process, but does so in such a way that is not verifiable by material means.  Unfortunately this means that we have to rely on faith alone to accept this final argument as it is a faith based argument.  The positive side is that it makes no difference whether we believe it or not, so the action of faith is to simply take it for granted in the same way as Pascal might wager.

A new approach to slugs.

I have decided that I am approaching slugs in the wrong manner.  Many folk deal with slugs by poisoning them with various types of slug pellets.  I have always been dead set against this method because anything that eats the slugs will also suffer effects from the poison.  One of the great things about a garden is the birdlife.  In fact the birdlife can be a great help by predating on the pests that plague your garden.  It is therefore not desirable for the birds to be poisoned by pellets all over the garden.

Another method of dealing with slugs is the beer trap.  This has always been my favoured method of getting rid of them because they can sink into oblivion after a night of drinking.  It doesn’t seem like killing so much as enabling.  This illusion is helped by the way in which so many of the slugs seem to just get drunk and then go and sleep it off under the lettuce rather than falling into the beer.

The method that I have found to be most effective is to remove the slugs from the garden.  Sending them all over the garden fence keeps them away from my plants for a while.  Luckily for the slugs I have a nice big grassy patch behind my house for them to spend some time in.  If not for that I would be torn between gifting them to the neighbours and throwing them on to the road at the front.  I feel far too sorry for the slugs to send them into the poisoned death traps of my neighbours’ gardens.  Other folk might feel sorry for the neighbours being invaded by slugs but I have some neighbours who I favour slightly less than the slugs.  The road is also not good as I feel sorry for the slugs hitting the tarmac as they soar over the hedge; I also wince every time I hear one hit a car roof or bonnet and worry what the drivers will think when they come out in the morning.

The problem with relocating the slugs is that they apparently have a rather good homing instinct.  I have therefore decided to focus on my new approach.  It turns out that there are about 25 different varieties of slug in the UK.  We are blessed with the kind of damp weather that most slugs love so they have done very well in our climate.  We are even picking up new varieties that are coming up from Spain.  It can often feel like there is only one variety because they all seem so similar.  We assume that the smaller slugs are younger versions of the big black ones we are used to seeing.  In actual fact it is the smaller ones that are the most trouble.  They are adults and they are a destructive army in their own right.

When targeting slugs it is very easy to go out and pick off the large black ones with a torch late at night.  This can help quite a lot, but it is actually the smaller ones that are most likely to be doing the greatest damage.  There are three or four different species of slug that are around 3cm or smaller and it is these that are the trouble makers.  Any gardener will be used to seeing slugs that are over 10cm in length but from my research it seems that these larger ones are less likely to be causing so much trouble.  

The smaller varieties will feed almost exclusively on things that I would rather grow nice and large to feed myself.  The larger slugs will often favour rotting vegetation, dead animals, and even other slugs.  They will only eat your nice fresh vegetables when they do not have access to enough of their preferred diet.  There are some larger slugs who will prefer nice vegetables instead of rotting matter but they are far less numerous than the tiny 3cm slugs that focus solely on your seedlings.  The irony is that as the larger ones are so much easier to see and catch it is they who have been taking flying lessons while the smaller slugs have been allowed to remain largely untouched as they go around eating my salad leaves.  They have probably become even more prolific in the absence of all the giants I have evicted.

My new approach is to keep the large slugs.  Rather than send them next door I am creating slug ghettos in which they can be put to work creating compost for the garden.  It always frustrates me how long it takes compost to break down.  If slugs are going to help me by digesting it then I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.  I have already noticed that some of them, particularly the paler ones seem to remain exclusively in their ghetto areas.

Step two of my plan which I intend to put into action soon is to cultivate the more favourable of the slugs.  The premium slug is the leopard slug.  It is lucky that it is this slug that is most beneficial for the garden as it is this slug that is most easily recognisable.  The leopard slug is covered in dots and dashes, so that it does look as though it has a leopard like skin.  The beauty of this particular slug is that as well as eating rubbish and rotting waste it will also hunt other slugs.  As a killer of slugs it is welcome in my garden.  There is always the danger that it might on occasion snack on some vegetables but this is a far lower risk than the risk of its prey eating my vegetables.

Hopefully the use of knowledge will lead to a lazier and more ecologically sound way in which to run my garden.  If this works it will back up my basic belief that almost anything can be improved by taking a different approach and using knowledge of your barriers to success in order to design methods to achieve your ends that contain fewer of the usual harms inherent in the prevalent systems in place. 

A tech utopia could be possible in a different world.

Having just read the Guardian article ‘The tech utopia nobody wants‘ it occurred to me that laying the blame on the nerds was unfair.  To some the idea of feeding the poor the artificial food stuff ‘Soylent’ in lieu of food stamps is a mark of a repellent future, just as there are people who rebel against the idea of Google glass becoming ubiquitous.  The problem is not a problem with the technology though, the rapidly changing nature of technology merely highlights flaws that have existed in society since the enlightenment era began.

Certainly there are solid reasons to allow the developers of technology to have less control over our lives.  Almost every piece of software I use has a feeling of being a beta version.  Some software is released in permanent beta; much of the software we use is supposed to be a finished polished version but is far from perfect.  Bugs and flaws are a common experience while we work on our computers; imagine if we had to put up with bugs and flaws in every aspect of our lives.  In fact we do have bugs and flaws running through many aspects of our daily lives because so many things are based around very modern technology.  The hidden pollutants and costs that frequently appear in our power sources, or the health problems caused by food additives are two examples of how technology exists throughout our lives and is not just the domain of silicon valley.

A very broad definition of technology would probably take in much more than the electronic world.  Stephen Fry, who is known for his love of technology once gave the example of the lighter as being the most important gadget ever invented.  We are so used to the lighter that we barely recognise it as something that hasn’t always existed, but almost everything around us is technology embodied.  Go back a thousand years and the average person might only have owned half a dozen things.  They would have had their clothing, which would have been barely more than what we might think of as a potato sack; they would have owned a bowl and maybe a knife; they might have owned a stool to sit on and a scraggy straw mattress to sleep on.  Aside from that there were not a great many possessions for most people; they were lucky to own themselves.  In the time since then technology has furnished almost everything around us.

When we live in what is arguably a tech utopia, or dystopia, already it cannot be fair to complain that the chaps in silicon valley are only now creating a tech utopia we don’t want.  We have had it for years already.  The complaint that it is only just happening now is simply fear of change.

However, it is not change in my view.  It is more of the same that we have been getting throughout the last few hundred years.  Many people are not happy and those who are happy are fully aware of reasons for the others to not be happy.  My opinion is it all comes down to a fundamental misunderstanding of utilitarianism.  Jeremy Bentham was one of the most influential proponents of utilitarianism, which is basically the belief that the greatest happiness of mankind should be the ultimate aim of all effort.  Naturally there are trade offs and under a strict utilitarian view it would be acceptable to sacrifice the happiness of the few in order to guarantee the happiness of the many.  The cruelty of nature prevents more humanistic philosophies from being practical as we simply are not able to prevent all unhappiness, misery and harm.

Bentham’s philosophy has had a strong hand in the dominance of the free market system.  According to the understanding of the free market we should be able to bring the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people by allowing competition to bring prices down and increase efficiencies so that eventually everybody will be able to afford all the luxuries they could possibly wish for and live in nice warm houses with big screen TVs and plenty of food.

The flaw in this of course is glaringly obvious but often overlooked; the output of the free market does indeed make people happier but as anyone with the most basic understanding of physics can tell you:- for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and, matter and energy cannot be created from nothing, only transformed.  There may be many other ways of saying it but essentially the free market doesn’t only create output, it also uses input.  The output makes people happy but it is often very much overlooked how much the input can make people unhappy.

There are minorities who are unhappy about many of the effects of the free market; unregulated industries creating pollution and other environmental problems comes to mind immediately.  Utilitarianism allows for the misery of the minority so long as the majority becomes happier; for this reason it takes a lot of impetus before many of the complaints against the free market are dealt with.  Often the solution itself is an effect of the efficient operation of the free market in that customers deliver a message by altering their buying behaviour.  There are many different and overlapping minority opinions that eventually become resolved in this way like direct democracy in action.  There is an area where there seems to be an increasing problem that is being overlooked which offends against the principles of utilitarianism and the basis of why we wish to use a free market system – the input that is needed to create the output that benefits us.

When the original English economist Adam Smith travelled through Europe as a tutor he met the French economistes whose ideas inspired his later book, ‘The Wealth of Nations’ and kick-started our modern approach to economics.  The economistes grew to be known as physiocrats as economics developed on account of their view that the wealth of nations depended upon the agriculture of the nation.  It was agriculture that fed the horses and fed the men and thus allowed work to be done and allowed development to occur.  Prior to this, wealth was largely considered to be how much gold and silver a nation possessed.  Since those days, changes in technology have caused the wealth of a nation to be defined more by how much oil it can access.  The more oil a nation possesses the more machines it can power and the more plastics it can manufacture.  The majority of the input needed to create our output is therefore provided by oil fields and coal.  The problem is that there is still a link in the chain that has more in common with the early days of economics when Smith was travelling through Europe.  We may not make great use of horses anymore but production still relies a lot on people.

So while we take out all our products in the hope that we will create the greatest amount of happiness, we must still input our own efforts to produce them.  We find we are not as happy as we wish because we are not producing enough wealth and enough products, and our solution is to streamline our processes, and become more efficient.  We must work our factories harder and create more output in order to create this greatest amount of happiness.  In theory this should work but it seems that at a most basic fundamental level the powers who oversee this process have overlooked the fact that the consumer is also the creator.  The streamlining makes the overall amount of happiness decrease as men become automatons working in streamlined production lines, always aiming for greater efficiency.  The reward for achieving greater efficiency is to be challenged to achieve even greater efficiency by the next appraisal.

Societal happiness decreases.  The solution: push harder to be even more efficient.

This is not the approach in all nations of the world.  Many countries and many companies are well aware of the absurdity of this approach, but often they only have this luxury while wealth is abundant.

To bring this blog around full circle to my beginning point I think one of the major complaints that can be levelled at a technological approach is that we have become so good at inventing and building machines and computers that we have forgotten that not everything runs like a computer.  Our technology may be very advanced but our understanding of medicine, psychology, politics, and economics among other disciplines is nowhere near as advanced.  Our mistake is to think that the lessons we have learnt in technology can be applied across all disciplines.  The analogies do not work.  Society cannot be run like a machine because the happiness we are aiming to create exists outside the physical processes of creation and consumption.  Everyone is aware that as consumers we are not machines, but the thing that legislators seem to have forgotten is that as producers we are not machines either.

Jimmy Savile and the Reality Distortion Field.

It is shocking to read the information that has been coming out at the inquiry into the activities of Jimmy Savile.  A lot of what has been said implies further actions that cannot be proven.  A child taken by Savile who is not seen alive again; admissions of strange behaviour in the morgue and abuse of bodies; the keeping of trophies taken from the dead; connections with children’s homes where sexual and physical abuse was now known to be rife.  Worst of all is the fact that all this latest information is only that which is associated with his behaviour within the hospital system.  There is such a huge amount of abhorrent behaviour that it is easy to forget that he would have led a similar life out in the rest of the world.

A lot of the claims being made against Savile in the NHS reports being discussed at Leeds General Infirmary sound so outlandish that if it weren’t known that this is an official inquiry it would be easy to believe that a lot of his behaviour was nothing more than urban legend surrounding a vile criminal.  As it is, the truth is that he very probably did not just the things that have been claimed in the NHS reports but also much else besides.  

Inevitably where there is a likelihood of making financial claims against his estate and claims in tort against the hospital services that enabled him there will be people trying to take advantage of this.  Even if there is no one trying to take advantage there will be a perception that people will try to take advantage.  For this reason each claim of abuse will have to be examined to determine that the claimant is not simply making things up.  Another inevitability is that a lot of real claims may not have the requisite level of proof to satisfy an investigation.  When many of the victims were already dead there is even less proof; dead men tell no tales.

The police have identified fewer than 300 crimes according to one of the reports I have read today.  Over the long life of Jimmy Savile this would not even represent the tip of the iceberg.  Anecdotally, sexual assault was literally something that Savile habitually committed with a far greater frequency than anyone I know has ever had hot dinners.

When I first started investigating Savile I was struck by the coincidences surrounding his connections with The Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe.  One of the victims was left just outside Savile’s home; another was left inside the grounds of a hospital, not one of the hospitals with which Savile was intimately associated, but that would be stupid, however it would certainly cross his mind that a hospital’s grounds would be a reasonable place to dump a body; another victim left at a location that even shared Savile’s name, sadistic humour?  Savile’s friendship with Sutcliffe at Broadmoor; the fact that during Sutcliffe’s teenage years Savile was the manager in one of the local clubs Sutcliffe may well have frequented.  As if all these coincidences weren’t enough I later discovered that during the investigation into the murders Savile was even accused by an anonymous tip off.

I am certain that the crimes of Savile go far further than we will ever be able to prove, far further than we will ever even be able to suspect.  What interests me now is how he could ever have managed to get away with it for so long.  If anyone were to commit half the atrocities the police are certain about they would ordinarily have spent most of their lives in prison.  Savile has been described as being perceived as a National Treasure despite the fact that so many people knew about his personality traits that everything short of public accusations had been made on television.  Somehow he sustained his image as the kindly millionaire doing a lot of work for charity right up until his death.  Once he was gone the house of cards collapsed.

An expression associated with the late Steve Jobs was the ‘reality distortion field’.  Steve Jobs was able to assert his personality so strongly that he could make the impossible real.  His engineers knew that the things he asked of them could often not be done.  Steve asserted that they would be done anyway.  By the time of Steve Job’s death the things they had made were of such excellence that they had reshaped the technological landscape and made his company the most valuable company in the world.  Steve travelled in India in his youth, spent a lot of time meditating, and had claimed to have been enlightened.  These are all the sort of things that one would expect to hear from the sort of person who could have an ability to shape reality with the force of his own personality.  

Steve had the backing of the traditions of eastern mysticism and ancient belief systems in the qualities he used to change the world.  It seems to me that Jimmy Savile exercised a dark counterpart to this reality distortion field.  He could seemingly do whatever he pleased and never be caught.  It was so obvious that his behaviour was conducted in full view of the British public.  He was a regular fixture on British television, often with children sitting on his knee, often with his arms around scantily clad teenagers on Top of the Pops.  He made open admissions of some of the things he did to nurses in the hospitals.  Many of the things he did there were well known to them; he had a reputation.  Yet it was only after his death when his personality was no longer there to exert its influence that the reality distortion field came crashing down.

This all sounds a bit esoteric and I apologise for that.  I am making no supernatural claims about either man.  I am merely observing that there is a similarity in their two vastly contrasting contributions to mankind, a similarity that could certainly appear to more primitive minds to have supernatural explanations.  The psychology behind whatever allows for such forceful personalities to extend beyond themselves is at present something that we are not yet able to fully understand.  The disciplines of psychology and psychiatry are still in their infancy and the number of variables involved, plus the difficulty in making constant enough and accurate enough observations on something as impermeable as the human mind makes it tricky to develop our knowledge further.  

Despite my belief that this could all be explained in purely scientific and rational terms I am convinced that what we are able to observe in these two contrasting examples is an ability to shape the perceptions of others by providing such psychological cues that they could effectively twist reality to their own wills.  The fact that folklore has developed describing such personalities before is evidence that this sort of thing is not previously unheard of.  Where Steve Jobs has changed many of our lives for the better with his ability to push technological development forward, Jimmy Savile has done the opposite, satisfying his own selfish desires and inflicting misery and unhappiness around him.  Where one might have been seen in the past as the prophet (he certainly turned a profit), the other would have been seen as one of Satan’s minions on earth.  Had he lived in an age where such beliefs were prevalent I have no doubt that Savile would have used such a title to enhance his power.

Advice for modern business

A change of tack today.  I am sure I have begun posts before by reminding folk that I am not a fan or corporations.  However today I have advice for business.  I often don’t say anything to people because whatever I am thinking simply seems too obvious, I later discover that the point I would have made was actually never considered by the person with whom I am speaking.  It occurred to me today that the usual polemical debate going on between the two sides in this issue might be a sign that many people did not realise there is a middle path other than compromise.  Most business owners are simply too busy working to give deeper consideration to the environment in which they operate.  This is why there is a necessity for academics to have think tanks in which they address issues on economics, sociology, etc.  Today I therefore offer the following advice to the corporations of the world, and in fact anyone else who wishes to find a gap in the market.  If it is followed then the result should be profits, happy people, healthy world, and even a change in my opinions.

 

The main aim of modern business is to make profit. If it weren’t enough that this is the desire of the business owners and board it is also enshrined in law by the Companies Act.  When making decisions there is a set of priorities to which the decision makers must adhere.  When it comes to things that affect the environment and greater society there is little more than an optional footnote to consider.  If that weren’t enough to upset people even customer satisfaction ranks well below profit.

 

Naturally this rule is very easy to enforce.  People like profit.  People like profit to such an extent that it even blinds some of them to avenues by which they might obtain more profit.  Many of you will be aware of the psychology experiment where children were left alone in a room with a plate of sweets and the promise of being allowed two if they could resist the temptation to take one.  For those who do not know this experiment there were two ways in which the children approached the task.  Some of them distracted themselves, playing with toys or looking elsewhere.  Others obsessed on the cakes, staring at them until they could no longer take the tension and had to have one.  The ability to focus on other things turned out to be a valuable trait in later life.  Being able to consider long term benefit over short term benefit helps many people in business and also in their personal finances; imagine where we would all be if we could not prepare for our old age.  One of the theories put about concerning the demise of the Neanderthal was that it lacked our ability to think in the long term.  It always feels necessary to obsess on the bottom line in business, but this is what stops one thinking ahead.

 

It is a constant complaint read in the business press that thinking in the short term is a continual source of trouble, from businesses being ill prepared for the future to the entire financial collapse.  With larger businesses the fault is difficult to pinpoint as even when the managers care about the long term they have to balance this against a a multitude of smaller issues, the most obvious of which being that many of the little people can only make enough money to live a decent life if they throw away their ethics in pursuit of bonuses.  When I worked in retail I lived in a culture of customer service where the company insisted we believe in making the customer happy and at their ease at all times.  We also had to balance this against the company insisting we must always make more money and compete against other stores in an effort to achieve an unobtainable bonus that had the same chances of being won as the carbolic smoke ball company planned for their £100 reward.  It didn’t matter how ethical the company was because we weren’t permitted the luxury of our own ethics.  Nor did I believe the company’s ethics had been seriously developed.

 

The result was that our business did reasonably well but superficially skimming the web revealed that hundreds of people hated us, hated our stores, and even hated us approaching them.  The reason this continues is all down to profit; until the enmity is reflected in the bottom line none of the directors will think to do anything about it. Unfortunately at that point the share price starts diving into a horrible spiral from which many companies fail to recover.

 

The profit motive itself can be damaging to further profit. 

 

The biggest profits are those being made by banks and utilities, the two most hated types of organisation must be the same.  A lot of people are moving to building societies to escape the first, entire towns are going solar to escape the second. 

 

Goodwill can be difficult to get.  Obtaining new customers is traditionally reckoned to cost about five times as much as retaining old customers. At present though we are in the middle of a worldwide, highly publicised financial crisis. In addition to this we are more connected than ever.  People don’t even get out of bed before they have read the concerns of their friends and acquaintances.  Many of those concerns are about greedy companies, greedy politicians, corporate mismanagement, environmental disaster, extinction, etc.  Goodwill is rapidly ebbing, bad will is snowballing.  Groups manage to gather hundreds and thousands of signatures on anti corporate petitions in a matter of hours.  Perhaps these petitions aren’t as effective as the public are hoping, but how long will the public put up with that before upping their game.

 

This might all sound like bad news and negativity but many of the greatest entrepreneurs do not recognise such a thing as bad news, only untapped opportunity.  When people turn away from one paradigm in droves, they turn towards another.  Apple’s Tim Cooke recently told his shareholders that if they didn’t like Apple’s decisions then they had the option to sell their shares.  This was reported as being in reaction to disgruntlement over maintaining environmental standards that were not reflected in profit.  Tim said that Apple did not use profit as its main motivation.  In my opinion he meant that Apple did not use short term profit as its main motivation.  The respect he gained by making the statement will translate to future sales.

 

The only way to succeed in a competitive market is to stay one step ahead of the competition.  This is easily done in the current business environment.  Where there are a huge number of disgruntled customers the obvious course of action is to give them what they want.  The big reveal is that this isn’t being done because companies don’t know what they want; worse, they think they do know.  It is in general a race to the bottom in prices. In corporate philosophy this is the best method to ensure continually increasing profits.  That is not what the people ultimately want though.  Whilst it is easy to sell things when they are cheap and often things are horribly overpriced, there are other concerns about which people are bothered. The whole conspicuous consumption thing is built into us by our evolution but that does not mean it is beneficial for us in the modern world.  Some trees will keep growing taller until they collapse under their own weight when they are put in an indoor environment.  We will keep handing over cash for junk as long as it is at a good price because we have the built-in desire to consume and compete.  We are as likely to destroy ourselves as the tree because our evolutionary urges use as little thought as the tree despite our ability to think.

 

We are only just beginning to think at a wider angle.  We are only just beginning to focus in the long term.  This is a great opportunity for business because a broad field is about to open in which the fallen behemoths of the corporate world will lie, destroyed by their inability to adapt with the same flexibility as their customers.  When the public are unhappy then it is obvious their desires are not being met.  Wherever businesses are thinking about how to protect their future they should realise that if they have something people want then they are going to be in demand.   What people are now concerned about begins at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs; their safety is paramount, they need a healthy environment to live in; their family is important, they need to leave a world for their children; their health is important, they are beginning to learn that so many substances developed in recent years are damaging to health; their egos are important; they don’t wish to see that they are on the bottom rung of the social hierarchy while a minority sit in extravagant luxury at the top.  Ultimately their spiritual needs are of importance and these are not supplied by filling the world with Tarmac and burning the forests any more than any of their other needs.

 

If you think it is business as usual when the world is changing all around you and there is disgruntlement en masse then you are not going to be in business for long. If you learn to anticipate and recognise the turning of the tide before your competitors then you may be one of the heroes of the future world just as Henry Ford was one of the heroes of the past.  I am not going to patronise anyone by describing in easy to follow steps how to start a business for the changing world; some businesses will succeed and some will fail, the same as it has always been.  I just wish to point out that supply should meet demand and that the public is now demanding something that is being supplied by precious few entrepreneurs.  

The Inequality of European Equality

The European Union is built on a number of principles based around fairness and the encouragement of cooperation between nations.  Equality is central to the philosophy behind this.  As is so often the case with the law and politics it is subject to continual change as precedents are set in courts and legislation is finessed by the legislatures of various countries and of the Union as a whole.  As is so often the case with the workings of mice and men, nothing seems to work quite right the first time.

Equality is important to Europe largely due to the fact that Europe has been largely under the influence of Christianity for well over a millennium.  Combine this with an inbuilt sense of fairness shared by all humanity and the aims of the Union and we end up with an aim for Union legislation that is important enough to create massive disturbance to the economic balance in some countries.  The idea of discarding equality and delivering preferential or prejudicial treatment to different members of society is more politically daring than the idea of simply brushing our hands of the whole idea of Europe and drawing a curtain on further involvement with the Union.  This is why UKIP and other parties with similar philosophies have grown so much more influential in recent years.

Immigration is a large target for enmity of newspapers and the disaffected.  There are continual complaints that jobs are being taken by immigrants from poorer countries.  There are even complaints that the same immigrants seem to also be claiming all our benefits at the same time.  Naturally they are an unfair target designed to distract the public from the far greater causes of economic problems within our country.  Most people are fully cognisant of the fact that immigrants provide the country with a dedicated workforce and contribute to a lot of our overseas dealings to the overall benefit of our economy.  The greater diversity of our population is beneficial on so many levels from natives of Europe developing tastes for products we can export to fresh DNA entering the genetic makeup of English people.

A far larger problem than immigrants coming into the country is the level of employment amongst those who are native to England.  A very small percentage of benefit claimants are taking money because they can’t be bothered to work and do not wish to look for a job.  A far larger proportion are actively seeking work and are unable to find it.  Public figures such as Edwina Currie echo the sentiment of Norman Tebbit that the unemployed need to get on their bike and find work.  The unemployed say they are looking for work and they are told they are not looking hard enough; they need to motivate themselves harder.  It is in the motivation to find work that the problem is developed.  There is a fundamental misunderstanding of the effect of ‘equality’ on the motivation of the work seeker.

Workers are largely in agreement that what motivates them to go to work is their pay.  If the employer stopped paying them then it would not be long before they would go somewhere else where an employer would pay them.  Likewise if they are being paid half the wage of the man next door who is doing exactly the same kind of work then it will not be too long before they start considering changing their affiliation to their neighbour’s employer.  This might seem obvious but it is central to the complaint that the unemployed are not motivated to find work.  If there is truly equality then there is equality of wage and therefore equality of motivation.  It therefore follows that all the unemployed are equally motivated to find work and that they cannot be at fault for not being motivated enough.  So where does it go wrong?  Why are people who should know better accusing folk of being too lazy to work?

The flaw of the system lies in misunderstanding what equality truly is.  There are so many factors to take into account when discussing equality that it can be difficult to develop an understanding of what constitutes equality without putting some deep thought into formulating an answer.  Naturally there is no time for most people to put deep thought into anything these days because they are too busy juggling a multitude of tasks to try and out compete everyone else in order to earn enough money to spend it on televisions, cars, horses and whatever else can be found to distract them from putting deep thought into anything.  Combine this with a far less rigorous education system focussed on developing vocational skills at low cost in short time and you find that few people really consider equality on more than a very shallow level.

If thought is not put into the subject of equality then it is plainly obvious that £10 in one person’s pocket is equivalent to £10 in any other person’s pocket.  £10 will alway have the exact value of £10.  Hence it is called £10.  If you are thirsty and need a drink then £10 can buy a lot of beverages.  Going on the logic that £10 is always worth £10 we have now found a solution to people who cross deserts dying of thirst; simply ensure they have a plentiful supply of ten pound notes and they will easily make it across.  Quite obviously there is something very wrong with this logic.  The beverage purchasing power of £10 is vastly less satisfying in the middle of the Sahara than it is in the Dog and Duck at last orders.

That is an extreme example but it serves to show that motivation will not always be equal for the same sums of money.  I daresay at last orders in the Dog and Duck I could convince some people to do all sorts of ridiculous and embarrassing things in exchange for £10.  If I was to try and similarly motivate a man dying of thirst in the middle of the Sahara then I would not be able to repeat what he would probably say to me in response, even though he is plainly in far greater need of a drink.

Likewise when motivating the unemployed in England there is the problem that the purchasing power of £10 in London is substantially less than the purchasing power of £10 in a rural village of Poland.  At first this does not seem like too much of a problem until you consider the Polish speaking ability of the average English person.  English folk are famous the world over for their language speaking expertise; everyone knows how bad it is.  English folk are therefore most likely to wish to spend their wages on buying a house, food and all other products in England rather than rural Poland.  A Polish worker on the other hand is far more likely to wish to save his money until he returns to his home country.  He will spend some to stay alive in England but he is no idiot, spending all his wages in this expensive country would be stupid when he knows that he will one day most likely be going home and he knows full well how cheap everything is back home.

The equality of wage is therefore not equal when judged by the ultimate spending power of the money the worker takes home.  The motivation is therefore unequal according to the same buying power.

So far this is all relatively simple and obvious.  Yet this does not seem to have been realised by the majority of crafters of policy.  Either that or they are keeping it well under their hats.  From here on in it all gets a lot more complicated.  Not all English people want to stay in England to spend their wages.  Not all immigrants wish to return home.  Some immigrants come from countries where they can make great use of the money they earn in the nation where they work; other immigrants come from nations where there is not all that much to buy on the shelves and the governance of the nation does not promote fond thoughts of returning.

Within the country that has an influx of economic migrants the government’s main concern should always be the people within its borders.  This does not necessarily mean favouring natives above immigrants but it does mean promoting the best opportunities for those who feel an allegiance to that nation and not demonising those who are restricted to being indigenous.  There are a great many hurdles to be countered in making sense of a system of equality that is inherently unequal but possible methods to deal with it would certainly include enabling greater cross border migration for reasons other than simply finding work.  If all migration is aimed at finding work then the problem will always exist that natives of countries favourable to paying a good wage will always be disadvantaged.  Employers will always be encouraged to pay wages that are not feasible for natives because they will always find employees from poorer nations for whom such wages are feasible.  It must be possible to give the native of that country the same spending power as the immigrant and the only way to do that is to ensure that emigration to poorer nations to make use of money seems as logical to the native as immigration to earn the wage seems to the native of the poorer nation.

It seems natural that language education should be heavily promoted in these economically wealthier nations.  Television and popular culture should also include far more international offerings.  Cross border travel should also be made easier; on an island this is obviously trickier.  Inevitably the only way to end the phenomenon of people from poorer nations having the advantage of greater motivation is the eventual equalisation of living standards.  As Employers take advantage of the availability of a more affordable work force we will ultimately see living standards dropping in England to match those in the poorer European countries.  This will further push the gap between rich and poor.  Naturally this is not ideal.  A way to prevent this eventuality would be to do whatever is possible to raise the living standards in each of the poorer nations.  This is part of the intention of Europe as a single political entity but to leave it up to the evolution of the market is going to create a painful and unenjoyable process for those who will lose out in the early stages of the transformation.  In the long run it seems inevitable that this is going to become a greater problem so it seems a good idea that these things need to be dealt with as soon as possible rather than dragging them out.  There are probably a great many other devices for resolving the problem but the first hurdle is to develop recognition that equality is far more complex than people seem to think or our governments are prepared to admit.

Google’s purchase of Nest may be a far better idea than it seems.

I have found myself drawn into the debate over the recent acquisition of Nest by Google.  As Nest is a maker of thermostats it is not a subject I would have paid the slightest attention to if it hadn’t been so extensively covered on the Tektalk podcast; by covered I mean panned, slated, poopooed, belittled, you get the drift.  A lot of people seem to be somewhat shocked by the purchase as it cost Google 3.2 billion dollars.  When Google itself has just under 60 billion in spendable assets then it makes 3.2 seem like a lot for a company I had never heard of until this week.  Playing devil’s advocate I intend to defend the purchase.  It seems to me that this is a lynch pin in the Google game plan.

My initial reason for looking deeper is that my wife feels the cold really badly.  I mean Really Badly, with capital letters.  When I am walking around the house in a Tshirt she will be wearing two cardigans and two blankets with a hot water bottle and the central heating on.  The idea of being able to turn the heating on when we are still ten minutes away from home is something that we would want to have asap.

My second thought is that this is a perfect additional tile for Google Now.  I have installed Google Now on a couple of occasions but aside from its excellent speech recognition it is of little use to me.  I work at home, I don’t drive, immediately a lot of its use disappears.  I also feel like an idiot talking to my phone in public and if I did I would find that it couldn’t find a 3g signal so I was wasting my time.  Such is the problem of living in the countryside, if I use anything other than an ancient nokia I have no hope of getting 3g.  If my heating could learn to control itself according to my motions then I would have a lovely toasty home all the time and my wife would be far more happy.

The best reason for my optimism in the purchase of Nest though is the money it will be able to save consumers.  I have heard the opinion that this is an expensive purchase, and wasted money but when your heating can learn how best to save electric in doing your will then you are going to save a lot of money.  Nest themselves reckon the saving will be about 20% of your heating bill.  This will pay for itself in no time.  Aside from the benefit of saving cash for your pocket you will also have the huge benefit of easing a great deal of stress on the environment.  Climate change will be reduced, air will be cleaned, customers will save money, which they will probably spend on tablets, phones, and any number of things in the google play store.

The big problem with the whole deal is that everyone expects Google to misuse the information gleaned from these sensors.  Everyone thinks that there is a wealth of advertising opportunities to be had from being able to monitor every movement of the owners of these devices.  Of course everyone is right about this, but Google have promised not to take any sneaky peeks at this data. Google have said that they will only use the data for purposes in the operation of the devices themselves, heating related, etc.  Given the billions spent on heating I am inclined to believe this, why alienate your customers to sell adverts to any other kind of business when you can use your knowledge to influence the sale of contracts that far overwhelm the amounts spent on mobile phones or broadband?

Another key in the puzzle that makes me think that Google will not look at the data is the even more recent news that they are going to be investing in Deepmind AI.  They will not need to look at any data, if they take the AI in the right direction they will be able to rely on the devices themselves knowing exactly how to use the data to maximise profit and there will be no human to see any of the data at all.  The data could be misused and noone would ever know because it could all happen inside the machines.

3.2 billion is a lot of money but in the long term it is less than most of use realise.  Naturally if you or I had this kind of money we would most likely become overwhelmed by the possibilities and disappear off on a long holiday/spending spree that would never end.  In multinational business dealing in the kind of devices that everyone can make use of it seems like a smaller amount.  All the same it is still a lot.  However as stage number one, the opening gambit of a far longer play, it might seem far less.

Nest is run by a team that have Apple pedigree.  This is valuable.  This is part of the legacy of the insight of Steve Jobs.  He may be gone but some of his decisions live on, and his decisions hold a mystique when compared to the decisions of all other CEOs.  There are a number of teams doing similar things with sensors and the ‘internet of things’ but they are all unknown quantities.  When a company has access to the resources of Google and has a serious game plan then there is no point skimping over the odd billion and risking getting stuck with a bunch of numpties who have been mismanaging the company you are buying.  If you buy tried and tested Apple veterans then you know you are getting quality.  That is a weight off your mind because the odds severely suggest you have made the right choice.  It is probable that there were some key patents involve in the acquisition.  Home automation seems like it was the natural next step in Google Now’s design, they could have been balked by the patents held by Nest.  There are other companies doing similar ‘internet of things’ tasks, but of them all, the combination of factors in Nest make it a no-brainer.

It is obvious that Google are playing a long game.  In a way they are far more able to get away with this than most companies.  Most companies have to worry about the next shareholder’s meeting and reporting the maximum amount of profits because they are always in competition with others and therefore need to cut costs all the time.  Google is currently free from this rat race and is still able to dream.  They have always been a very adventurous company willing to innovate to a massive extent and no matter what happens they can fall back on the massive profits brought in by being the go-to search engine, an actual verb in the dictionary.  This allows them freedom from the usual constraints of short term operation that usually control the decisions of companies.  Asimov wrote of a mathematician who predicted a thousand years of future in the foundation trilogy.  Although a thousand years is excessive it is my belief that Google are focussing on the distant future.  They probably have intentions of occupying a particular position in 2035 but in order to get there it is imperative they make this purchase now.

With most companies we all know what they are planning.  We might not know the specs and the design of the next Blackberry or Ferrari, or Conran, but we know roughly what they will be doing.  We know roughly what they are working on at this very moment.  Google is not that kind of company.  They could be working on anything.  Is it software?  Is it a phone, tablet, car, computer?  Are they working on giant robots, drones, space craft?  Nothing would surprise me with Google and for that reason I think that all the criticism of this purchase is looking at this all from the wrong angle.  Nest is an expensive acquisition but it may not be long before it begins to make a lot of sense to the rest of us.  The future is always coming and often it takes us by surprise.  We ought to keep our eye on Nest to see where the next surprise comes from.

http://www.businessweek.com/news/2014-01-28/google-nest-heats-up-takeovers-in-race-to-control-home-real-m-and-a

http://venturebeat.com/2014/01/27/robots-nest-now-artificial-intelligence-googles-next-big-buy-is-the-ai-company-deepmind/

http://news.cnet.com/8301-11386_3-57617161-76/how-google-and-nest-could-get-the-smart-home-all-wrong/

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/jan/13/google-nest-labs-3bn-bid-smart-home-devices-market

http://www.theverge.com/2014/1/14/5307530/why-is-everyone-disappointed-by-google-buying-nest

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/google/10570051/Google-buys-Wi-Fi-thermostat-company-Nest-Labs-for-3.2bn.html

Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

I have been forced to comment on a great hooha spreading across the internet at present that seems to be getting a lot of people unnecessarily upset.  Anyone who has read my blogs in the past will know that I do not approve of corporations and they might therefore be surprised to hear I am not against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.  I have always been a bit paranoid about the powers over my head ever since the days they were all poised to destroy us with nuclear missiles at any second so I am slightly surprised at my acceptance of the TTIP myself.  There are a number of commentators who are riling up the internet as though they were poking a wasps nest with a stick.  Of course the internet is quick to anger and there are millions of people who now oppose the TTIP.

I can’t help thinking that such an opposition is a sign of what I shall call farageing.  It seems strange to me that people who consider UKIP to be a group of morons have no problem with applying UKIP logic to the idea of an agreement with the States.  I can see where they are coming from to an extent.  I have no uncertainty that there will be a lot of negative effects from such a partnership.  However I am also sure there will be a great many positive effects from the partnership.  Such is the nature of change and if we were not able to put up with it then we would all be living in small villages of mud huts eking out a poor existence from what we could forage and farm in the small patches of land around us, with any excess being taken by marauders.  Whilst I might like to try such a way of life for a holiday I don’t think I would like to live there.  Change will always bring bad things but at the same time it tends to bring more good, that is why the majority of us would not trade our current homes for one a thousand years ago.

When England joined Europe in the early 1970s we felt a great deal of change.  Within a few short years there were an overwhelming number of new goods in the shops at ever reducing prices.  Admittedly if you want to buy a decent bit of Deutsch Wurst then you still have to pay a massive amount more than you would in Berlin but at least you have the option.  To compare what we can now buy in the stores compared to the early 70s you would be forgiven for thinking that the wartime rationing was still in operation at that time.  The breaking down of the barriers in Europe and the loss of customs tariffs on European goods allows us to live the colourful lives we have now rather than the grey lives we had then.  It also allows the producers of this country to sell with greater ease in Europe and when the pound becomes weak it means that there are far more customers helping to boost it up again.  Back then it was the way in which food improved that I was most impressed by.  Nowadays the thing that most people are having trouble buying and the thing that most people are coveting is electronics.  Our free trade agreement with Europe does not help too much there because in Europe it is England where the prices of Electronics seem to be most affordable on average.  If we had a trade agreement with America then we would suddenly gain the benefit of the fact that America has very low prices on Electronics compared to most other places in the world.

Aside from all the other benefits that might come from a trade agreement we would quickly find our capability to push our country technologically would become far more affordable.  Computers, tablets and phones would be cheaper and all the benefits of them would become more attainable.  Education would become cheaper for those who use such technologies to push themselves harder.  That education would be more useful with an extra market that wishes to trade with us without barriers.  This is only one aspect that would be helped by the agreement.  Those in favour would touch upon others.  Throughout the whole of Europe it is probably England that is positioned most favourably to benefit from this agreement.  We share a very similar language to the Americans.  They even name it English as it is so similar.  For us the agreement will be far easier to slip into than for the Germans or Greeks.

The one failing of the agreement that is being pointed out by the naysayers and is drawing all the negativity is the rights it gives to corporations to use arbitration to challenge governments that adversely affect their business interests.  Ironically the people who seem most alarmed by this are the same people who usually wish they could challenge the same governments themselves for all manner of idiocy.  They seek to challenge the governments for the idiocy of allowing corporations to challenge the governments.  It is true that we consider ourselves to be living in a democracy and we wish our desires to be adhered to.  With this in mind we vote for politicians to represent our wishes.  Once politicians are in power they can pretty much do what they want for the next 4 – 5 years.  What they do is usually appeal to the readers of the most popular newspapers because whatever rubbish is published in them will determine whether they get to keep their job at the end of the period.  Corporations are not one of my favourite forms of institution but at least they do listen to the actual democratic majority.  There are so many twists in the way that politics works that almost everyone must now be familiar with Winston Churchill having said democracy is the worst form of government.  The fact that he then said, ‘except for all those other forms’ meant that he still favoured democracy but simply felt its execution needed work.  The beauty of a corporation is that it will listen to the will of the customer.  One thing that many corporations have in common is that when they were not attentive enough and flexible enough to do what the customer wanted they went bust.  The thing that all the other corporations have in common is that they were attentive enough to do what the customer wanted and they thrived.

In general the TTIP is unlikely to cause a great deal of arbitration to be focussed against our governments.  It is a measure that is put in place in such agreements to protect companies in the worst possible circumstances where governments are using unethical levels of protectionism for their own industries.  This does not mean arbitration will be absent.  There will undoubtedly be some egregious use of the measures and no doubt we will all tut and blame the TTIP.  This will not change the fact that we will gain massive benefits from the TTIP.  It will also not change the fact that we are entering a new era of democracy.  We are being given a far more direct form of democracy than we had before because if we disagree with the way the corporations abuse such measures we have the ability to stop shopping with those corporations.  We have the ability to tell our friends to stop shopping with them.  With the internet what it is we have the ability to tell the world to stop shopping with them.  If the TTIP affects the web to such a degree that we cannot, and if this is something we dislike then we have the ability to set up meshnets, we have the ability to use usenet.  We still have a right to free speech, we have the right to say something about these corporations and they will quickly learn that the TTIP does not give them carte blanche to abuse their positions.

There will be change.  I have already said this.  But we live in a changing world.  Think of it not as change but as adaptation.  This will be a time of great empowerment for average people, if we want it to be.  Moving the emphasis of control away from government towards corporation really moves the emphasis of control into the hands of the people, and that is where it should be.

Further information can be found at the following URLs and at any to which they link.

http://mikesivier.wordpress.com/2014/01/15/osbornes-bid-to-end-democracy-by-the-back-door/

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/04/us-trade-deal-full-frontal-assault-on-democracy

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/11/eu-us-trade-deal-transatlantic-trade-and-investment-partnership-democracy

You will also find amongst them links to petitions of opposition if you so choose but you will need to find them yourselves.

Why the Government like Anonymous

The image and idea of Guy Fawkes has become a romantic concept. The Alan Moore book and subsequent film, V for Vendetta brought the idea of Guy Fawkes as a folk hero into the popular consciousness of the late 20th century. Guido Fawkes, the politics commentator may have had something to do with the character entering our contemporary field of vision. After years of burning Guys in effigy he has suddenly become a hero of those disgruntled with a hypocritical and uncaring government.

It is an image that has been adopted by the group, anonymous. A group whose main feature is given away by their title, anonymous. We don’t know who they are. They could be your next door neighbour; they could be your children; they could be your parents or even your teachers. They could be anyone. They could be the police and they could be government operatives. Just about the only thing that they couldn’t be is an acceptable figure to stand alongside if you are an average person working in an office who dislikes the government’s harsh plans of austerity. In essence, anonymous is the perfect activist group as far as the government is concerned because anyone remotely respectable does not want to be associated with them.

David Cameron has described legitimate protestors against austerity with terms such as ‘feral’. That is certainly how they looked on television to the rest of the country. The reason for this is that the ones in masks are so much more dramatic than the rest of the protestors. Why film those who look like normal everyday people when you can film those who look like characters from the film, V for Vendetta. It makes much better television to film the ones in masks. Not to mention that if anyone is going to be doing anything newsworthy for which imprisonment might be appropriate they will prefer to be in a mask. To the rest of the country observing through their television screens it appears that the only people present are wearing Guy Fawkes masks and smashing windows. It certainly never looks as though the protests are being attended by Bob from the pub, although he might be just out of shot in his tweed jacket, he is simply not newsworthy enough to make it onto television.

What is even better than the fact that normal people are alienated by anonymous is that if nobody turns up and starts vandalising the seat of power it is easy enough to send in anyone in a mask to do the job. If Boris Johnson was in the midst of a protest throwing bricks through the windows of the Supreme court nobody would ever know so long as he had a mask of Guy Fawkes on his face. We would laugh at the fact that someone had turned up in a suit with hair just like Boris’ hair but we would never imagine it was him. Of course I very much doubt that Boris would do such things. Mainly because we know that undercover police have been doing similar things for years. We have seen their confessions of working with activist groups in the newspapers. Why do it yourself when you have plenty of people who will do it for you.

Almost everyone dislikes the austerity measures dreamt up by Mr Osborne with the help of his limited experience and inadequate education. Almost everyone is being impacted negatively by them. Almost everyone would like to protest against them. A lot of people have been protesting against them, not that you would know that with the minimal coverage the television news has given such protests. According to the television news there have been a small group of masked ‘anonymous’ youths causing trouble in the capital. The average man is supposedly far more concerned with the mass influx of that nice couple down the road that own the corner shop taking all our jobs. Or the huge number of terrorists not blowing anything up with anything like the regularity that the IRA did. If only the IRA had been mostly Muslim instead of Catholic; the streets of London would have been far safer in the 70s.

As far as the average person is concerned the only people protesting against the fact that they are being overworked in a horrible job for so little money they can’t afford to pay for taxes and hideously overpriced power bills are ‘feral’ youths in Guy Fawkes masks. Therefore poverty, misery and hunger are obviously not the sort of thing that average people are complaining about. We will just put up with them because it is obviously natural justice that slogging our guts out all week should only just allow us to stay alive while inflicting all this misery on us while sitting in a gold throne is obviously far more worthy of an obscene income.

The government knows full well that we are not going to like what they are doing at the moment. They know better than we ourselves know. They are privy to the kind of information that they are trying to keep hidden from us. As far as we are concerned perhaps there is only a small group of people who are really bothered by this austerity. We are divided sufficiently to stop us putting the pieces together too easily. With the knowledge that there is a disgruntled population, the most pressing need the government has is to keep us all quiet. Anyone who remembers the miners’ strikes knows how uncomfortable things can get when the people are unhappy. The friend of the government throughout all of this is ironically Guy Fawkes. As long as people are wearing the visage of this valorous visitation of bygone vexation they may indeed be the vestige of the vox populi but they may also be the very venal and virulent vermin they vow to vanquish. What we need is not the veneer of vanity of a vaudevillian veteran. What we need now is for ordinary, average people with ordinary average faces to say ‘it is US that dislikes these cuts’.

How to change the world

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.  I have stolen the beginning of a tale of two cities from Dickens because it is more appropriate now than ever.  I shall also be stealing the concern that Dickens had for social reform.  We often look back on the Victorian era as being a dark and oppressive time.  This is partly due to looking at it through the work of writers like Dickens.  Ironically it is also partially due to the spotlight on the failings of society provided by his work that led to this era being massively progressive.  There was a massive amount of change during the 19th century as prisons were reformed, working conditions were reformed and the law in general began to recognise a respect for human life.

It is a constant theme throughout history that change will always upset the people it affects.  The 20th and 21st centuries have seen even more change than the 19th due to the explosion of modern manufacturing techniques.  In many ways now is indeed the best of times, but as my opening line suggests it is also the worst of times in many ways.  We are technologically more advanced than at any other time in history but this has been at a cost.

The business techniques that have allowed us to have such massive growth are focussed on growth.  The corporations grew up as a solution to how such large scale projects as national railways could be completed when they were so far beyond the financial strength of the average business person.  Within the legislation that supports the setting up of corporations is a statutory mandate to seek profit and the benefit of the shareholders.  Despite recent attempts to mitigate this primary directive through concern for broader societal impacts, the dependence that corporations have had on legislative backing to aid their main aim  has led to anything other than legal rules being ignored where this aim is not supported.  As a result it has been recognised for some time that humanity is beginning to learn the Gordon Gekko mantra, “Greed is good.”

Although there is much to be said on the failing of ethics in modern business, this is not my intention with this post.  I think that by now the vast majority of intelligent people are well aware of the ethical tightrope walking that is practised by company boards.  Even those who are not intelligent or are not regular readers of the daily news must recognise the precarious positions they are being placed in by the way in which these large companies are affecting their lives.  Jobs are disappearing, wages are dropping, land is being eaten up, towns are dying.  Even those who might be lucky enough to live in wild countryside paradises may have been able to see that there are fewer insects than there once were, and fewer birds.  Even stranded in the middle of the Pacific ocean it is hard to miss the effects of a failing business model when you are surrounded by a floating pack of discarded rubbish the size of a country.

My intention is to talk about a solution to all these problems.  One thing is certain, our politicians have failed us.  With each successive government we see them ever more bowing to the wishes of the corporations.  Every government is so afraid that trade will leave their shores and instead give their wealth to international neighbours that they will allow the companies to get away with almost anything.  In addition to this a disaffected and disillusioned public is given little choice in the politicians who may next be given control.  Largely homogenous groups of MPs parade through parliament trying to make things better rapidly enough to prove they are the ones for the job before the next election date.  Unfortunately they have little power over companies big enough to buy their own countries so the focus of the legislative posturing is the behaviour of the people.  Even more unfortunately the behaviour of the people is a result of the interaction the people have with the companies.  In essence, the companies are creating changes that are producing negative effects amongst the populace.  The governments are treating the symptoms, not the causes, and the result is the deterioration of life for individuals.

We may be gaining massive benefits from the progress of technological development but at the same time we are losing freedoms that have been enshrined in British law since the Magna Carta; that go back almost as far as time immemorial.  Politicians even wish to knock back positive gains in human rights that have only been gained in the last 50 years.  If changes are holding back the agenda of profit then they are changes that are slated for reversal.

The majority of people feel helpless against the behemoth that is politics, law and business.  This is with good reason; the last millennium has been a lesson in the futility of standing up against them.  There have been gains in the past.  The revolutions of England, France and America wrought massive change.  There are even some who speak of revolution now.  Such a course of action is unlikely in the conventional sense.  Despite the hardships we have to face we are supplied with the things we need to keep us docile.  Television, the drug of the nation keeps many people far too busy to protest.  Where this is not effective we are beginning to see growing legalisation of marijuana across the United States.  I wonder if it can be just coincidence that this sedating substance, so very much favoured by many protestors I have met, is being made available to them at just such a time as it seems vigilance and energy are more important than ever.  Social engineering is often looked upon as a technique of conmen and hackers but it is also the tool of governments and corporations to keep populations on side and to make their own brands appear to be of value.

Despite the failing of democracy and the futility of revolt there is a way that is open to us to effect change.  The arrival of computers and the internet mean that direct action of the sort advocated by green peace or more darkly, anonymous, are not necessary.  All the actions that are carried out by the companies are in a manner of speaking truly democratic.  The big corporations are only there because we, the people, have allowed them to be.  It is us who have provided them with their wealth.  It is us who have observed their business models and decided that purchasing their products is something that we wish to do.   It is us who have said that the way in which they conduct business is acceptable.  It is us who can stop paying them if we decide that the way in which they conduct business is not acceptable.

In our traditional conception of democracy we might have made our vote for a better world by voting for certain politicians but the politicians themselves feel powerless to change the world when they have to bow to corporate demands.  That traditional conception was developed in a world before the internet and before instant communications.  We could not have known the details about what we were voting for.  We simply voted for someone we trusted to get the job done and then hoped that they had the inside knowledge to get the job done.  The internet now allows us to uncover the information for ourselves.  The only way that we can really change things for the better with greatest rapidity is to start doing this and to start voting with our money.

There was recently a worldwide protest against capitalism that swept across the globe through many capital cities.  The most that a lot of people heard about this was a paragraph on the BBC news website.  When it comes to the drama of public protest there is a tendency by the media to ignore it these days.  There is so much protest that there is lower news value in publicising anything that isn’t truly spectacular.  There may also be other reasons behind the scenes why it might suit news corporations to keep the protests quiet.  Protestors are portrayed as trouble makers, hippies, punks, anarchists, anonymous.  All the negative buzzwords are used to show protestors up as being something other than normal people.  Normal people therefore wish to distance themselves from these groups.  This does not mean that normal people do not share the same concerns.  The way in which the normal people can make their wishes known is to reward the companies when they get it right.  Shop politically.

I do not like the idea of boycotts.  They are a lot of effort for a start and can endanger the welfare of all those who rely on that particular company’s trade.  I do think that it is possible to make a change for the better in the world just by making slightly different choices when in the supermarket.  This is largely achieved already as people avoid the GM crops and buy more of the organic or whatever their concern is at the time.  The problem is the lack of transparency around the activities of the companies.  It is a shame that the newspapers are so wrapped up with other important issues like Chantelle’s latest diet because it is here where reportage is of greatest importance.  Companies would soon change their behaviour if they found that it was ceasing to be profitable.  They are like the genie in the bottle; they will give us what we wish but we must be careful what we wish for.

With that said, I am now going to go and find out whose products I should be buying and whose I shouldn’t if I am to bring my kids up in a world where they have a chance of a healthy and happy life.