Sunlight Through Troubled Times

The Troubles” of Northern Ireland really came to a head in 1969, when, as a result of escalating sectarian conflict, British troops were deployed to Belfast and (London)Derry to act as a buffer between the ‘Nationalists’ (mostly Catholic) and the ‘Loyalists’ (mostly Protestant).

Initially the troops were welcomed by the nationalists but inevitably, as time passed, the troops found themselves attacked on both sides, loved by none. Although violence and the killings peaked in the seventies, the low-level war continued into the nineties.

At one point, during Operation Motorman (which the author witnessed first hand), there were nearly 25,000 troops deployed. By the time the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998, over three and a half thousand people had been killed, and many more wounded, as the violence spread from Northern Ireland to Eire, England and even mainland Europe.

How did this come about? There were long-term grievances held by a significant minority. That minority was alienated from major political processes, felt excluded and mistreated. As they protested, factions formed, sides were picked and violence became inevitable. Once conflict has begun, who has the courage to stop it?

All this with a total population of about 1.8 million, roughly 41% Protestant and 41% Catholic.

Which somehow reminds me of Chicago, with a population of 2.7 million, but divided more along ethnic than religious lines: 45% White, 33% Black and 29% Hispanic or Latino.

The link is in a report by the US justice Department, which finds a pattern of ‘excessive force’ used by the Chicago police Department. One of the major complaints of the Nationalists in Northern Ireland was about how they were treated (beaten and sometimes killed) by the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary).

Given the sense of alienation from the Chicago police, it is not hard to see where the massive rise in gun violence comes from. The similarities with Northern Ireland are striking, not only because of present day issues, but the sense of grievance going back hundreds of years.

So we have a large urban population with a sense of persecution and alienation from the State, ready access to weapons and a willingness to use them. Throw in gang turf wars, drugs and political corruption. Add a couple of hundred years of justified resentment. Stir in a little ‘color revolution’ come home to roost (Russia, China,… ? the many documented cases where the USA has destabilized and undermined other states must rebound one day).

What do you get – Urban Insurrection. As forecast in our post in March last year, this blog now expects violent disturbances, riots and civil disorder in some of our major cities.

It is worth remembering that throughout the thirty long years of varying degrees of turmoil, there were large parts of Ulster that were relatively untouched – but life in the big cities was ugly – almost intolerable.

What we are likely to experience is that the failed human experiment of living together in huge cities will fall by the wayside. These mega-cities will become eaten out from the center as they wither – rotten to the core, they will become compost, organic food for a new world.

Through the trauma and drama we may see fresher, more natural communities emerge. We need to use our imaginations, to look through the smoke and dust to see the glorious world that we share with so many other species.

Can you see the sunlight dappling in the clearing, hear the bird sing outside your window, smell the freshly-mown grass? No? Look again, it’s there. Now do you see it? It was always there … waiting for you.

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As above, so below.

How easily we choose the path of fear when confronted by the unknown – drawing the blanket over our head like a small child, rather than turning on the light to discover there is nothing of which to be afraid.

Here in America people have become afraid of pretty well everything. Perhaps the most ominous fear is that of bacteria: if a child falls over, mother is at hand with an anti-bacterial wipe to remove any contact with the earth; go to a grocery store and there are wipes to remove all trace of the previous shopper from the shopping cart; in the gym, wipes will be on hand to clean up the equipment.

The effect of all this is to cut our bodies off from their environment – an environment within which they have evolved over millions of years. Our bodies are literally a community of interconnected, mutually supportive cells. Cells which, over time, have voluntarily come together in co-habitation, frequently sacrificing independence for a higher purpose. Together they have formed organs and systems which are vital to our higher functions.

Our bodies are essentially a standing wave of cells in the physical environment. They give us the illusion of separateness from the world and each other, in the same way that a wave may be visible in the middle of a river, as the water pours over some unseen obstacle. Gross material like food flows into us, is broken down and stays for a while, and then is broken down again and flows away. More subtly we are constantly exchanging atoms and molecules with each other – what was part of your body a moment ago is now part of mine.

This is healthy. As our world has evolved and changed, so this natural harmony between nature as our body, and nature as our environment, has also evolved, adapting intelligently to change. We have not developed alone.

Our immune system is designed to learn through it’s interactions with the world. Such learning provides immunity and a healthy body. A body at ease. It is natural for our cells to interact with their surroundings so that they successfully deal with threats – become immune to those threats.

If we lose the connections, we lose the immunity – no longer at ease, we become dis-eased.

Humanity appears to be set on a path of isolation and extinction. As we fearfully seek to protect ourselves from bacteria, we forget that 95% of the cells that make up our body are themselves bacteria! In our ignorance we have started an indiscriminate war against them (and ourselves).

In the same way that the cells in our body can develop immunity to threats, so do the cells ‘in the wild’. Bacterial microbes in nature are also working hard to survive. The big difference is that they are not becoming cut off from their wider environment. As a result, they are becoming immune to our antibiotics. Their adaptation to threat seems to be more successful than ours. We hear of ‘superbugs’ but not ‘super-people’.

The professor leading the research in the above article talks about ‘staggering levels of genetic mutation in microbes’ found in English rivers, and uses the word ‘Armageddon’ to describe our prospects.

The strategy of cutting ourselves off from each other and our environment is clearly a disaster at the physical level – how much more so at our emotional and cognitive levels? It seems so much easier to attack what we are afraid of, than to make the enormous effort to understand and communicate.

But the bitter taste of the consequence of such decisions will linger much longer than the short sweet taste that came from momentarily ‘dealing with’ the problem.

If I grazed my knee or fell over in the dirt as a young boy, my grandmother would say ‘don’t worry, we will all eat a peck of dirt before we die’. Perhaps it is not too late to re-engage with our world and each other.

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Welcome to The Gulag

As I write this, a viral video (The Wall Street Code) tells a fascinating insiders tale of how stock markets are fraudulently manipulated by algorithmic trading.

It is difficult for most people to grasp how this affects them. It seems so remote – high finance – a long way away. It’s just those bankers and geeks again.

But it impacts us all, directly. The price of food, clothes, vehicles, houses – everything – is much much more expensive because of it. It is one of the reasons we have austerity. The higher prices do not affect those with big salaries, the cost of a loaf of bread or pint of milk is a tinier fraction of their disposable income than for the less well-off.

The unfairness and criminality are, of themselves, good enough reasons to pay attention. However, there is a deeper, darker lesson hidden in there. A lesson about corporate greed and how society is inexorably being sucked dry by it.

That the fuel in your car is paid for by the death and maiming of millions of people worldwide is now so well known that it is a non-fact. Like the mistreatment of chickens or pigs by supermarkets. (If you can watch all of this video about production of Walmart pork, you have a stronger stomach than I do.)

The recent fuss about spying by the NSA and GCHQ has focussed on the issue of government surveillance and invasions of privacy. While important, the noise has obscured the fact that it is the multi-national corporations that have and use the relevant data.

Pay attention next time you search for a product on the internet. You will immediately see advertisements for those very same products pop up on totally unrelated sites. You are being watched, tracked and sold to – but not only by governments.

It is in the interests of insurance and pension companies to know about your interest in particular symptoms or medications. They want to both reduce their risks and increase your contribution.

Military spending for oil, animal cruelty, corporate spying – all these are now common knowledge. But I have to thank ZeroHedge and Michael Krieger of Liberty Blitzkrieg for this latest example of how corporate greed is reshaping society: the Private Prison scam.

It has been obvious for some time that the ‘soft gulag’ that we have entered is structured around an institutional dependence on privately offered ‘public services’. A good example is the way community hospitals are closed down and then hotels, restaurants and shopping malls spring up around their regional replacements.

The same has happened with prisons. Prison visitors need food and accommodation when they go to remote prisons with awkward visiting hours. Prisons are an even better corporate investment than hospitals, because the prisoners can be made to do a valuable days work for a pittance.

Whether it is producing hi-tech components in the USA or manning call centres inside prisons in the UK, prisoners have become slaves – labouring for the profit of private corporations. A labour force that takes no vacation, is forced to work and has no union – a corporate dream.

But the real killer is this: a Public Interest report on a survey of private prison contracts found that a majority of contracts include a guarantee of ‘occupancy rates’. These are typically around 90%, but are sometimes 95% to 100% – if the targets are not met, the tax-payer has to pay an ’empty-bed tax’. Such contracts typically run for 20 years.

Just think about it for a minute. The civil authority is motivated to keep the prisons full! If they don’t, they have to pay. There are even cases where a private contractor has taken over a prison, demanded, and got, a 95% occupancy rate, and then subsequently converted some pre-release study facilities into more beds – to increase revenue.

No wonder the US prison population has ballooned up to nearly 2.5 million, 25% of the worlds total prison population, in a country which only comprises 5% of the worlds people. There is no bureaucratic incentive for rehabilitation, prisoner re-offending is a direct benefit to the state.

Corporate greed is driving, and thriving on, an increase in criminality. It is not necessary to postulate an intentional desire to dehumanise and dumb-down the majority of the population. But that is the outcome.

And corporate profit benefits from it.

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A timely response to snooping

We have just implemented a fantastic NSA/GCHQ-proof communication system!

Not only is this system impervious to all known email interception and decryption techniques, but it also provides time and a breathing space for busy people.

How does it work?

Well, when we wish to share some information with a friend, what we do is write it onto a piece of paper, put it into an envelope with a stamp and the address of the recipient, then post it into a mailbox!

Storing and analysing millions of emails each day is not too hard for modern software, but it won’t work with old-fashioned letters!

Do you remember when the fax became ubiquitous? It was quite shocking for the legal and accounting professions, because they were suddenly expected to respond the same day.

With email and social media, even 24 hours is too long to wait, so now we are expected to respond within minutes to ‘urgent’ communications. What started out as a great tool for getting lazy lawyers to respond, has become a slave-driver, whipping us if we don’t reply quickly enough.

Such hasty responses are just not compatible with human information processing, learning and decision-making. That is one reason why many bad decisions are made. There is a clue in the fact that so many projects fail and have to start over. Failure to understand and learn leads to the same approach being tried over and over again – even though it did not work the first time.

Next time you want to share something important, try using snail-mail. The pace of life becomes more humane. What has become the province of government and employers, becomes our own again. We can take our time.

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Cracks in The Machine

A recent post looked at how abuse against children manifests in the western home, frequently through religious inspiration. Desperate, fragile parents often attempt to gain absolute obedience from their children, driven by a desire to protect them.

But the problem extends far beyond the home. Institutional violence, abuse and neglect is widespread. In Germany, the Twelve Tribes sect have been caught at it on camera: adults beating and abusing children as young as four in an underground cellar.

A predatory Catholic priesthood has been exposed all over the world, from Australia to Canada to Britain. In the USA, adopted foreign children are given away to strangers – signed over with the stroke of a pen. Child exploitation is widespread in Britain.

In Northern Ireland, police are investigating abuse in the child care system. In Jersey they are once again following the trail of abuse relating to Haut de la Garenne, as part of the Savile enquiry. There has been systematic, serious sexual and physical abuse in Wales for decades. Claims in the eighties that a paedophile ring operated with impunity in the heart of the UK establishment were ridiculed. They turn out to be true.

There is a resonance between the parental need to control, which sets up the abusive environment, and institutional abuse.  For we have created a monster and in seeking to placate it, we offer up our children in sacrifice. A perverse replay of the biblical story about Abraham.

In an act of sadistic abuse, Abraham bound his son, Isaac, and placed him on an alter, intending to kill him as proof of his own holiness. Fortunately, Abraham’s mental aberration passed and he heard his conscience tell him not to do it. Little is made of the trauma suffered by Isaac.

Likewise, today’s children are offered up as sacrifice to the monster. We now require that they learn, at an early age, that they have to obey orders and do as they are told. School and University are no longer about enlightened development of the enquiring mind. They are about preparation for, and shaping to fit into, the corporate work environment.

For the monster that we have created is The Machine. Having invented a mechanical world, we find ourselves bumping into it at every turn, as if it existed independently of us. As if it can teach us how to be human.  We moved from a rural, pastoral life to city dwelling, losing touch with nature and seasonal rhythms. Gradually the corporate clock has come to rule our lives. We are no longer aware of the new moon, of the sound that the wind makes as it whispers to oak or willow, or the way animals might experience us.

We have become absorbed into The Machine. It now rules our lives, requiring our unquestioning obedience and the sacrifice of childhood joy. Corporations have become the agents of The Machine and in an extraordinary turn of events are now enshrined in law as individuals, with all the rights and protections of a human being. We speculate about meeting non-human life forms, without realising that we have already created so many of them that they are invisible.

The Machine and it’s corporate agents direct our lives, it is to them, not us, that our governments owe allegiance. While the unemployed riot, The Machine plays computer games with our young soldiers. In a bizarre mirror image of the gaming culture, it starts wars and plays shoot-em-up for real. Young men, who grew up shooting software enemies through X-Box consoles, are now inside the game. They have become the targets which they spent so much time imagining.

But, just as an abusive parental effort to instil discipline in a child will only breed rebellion, so it is for The Machine. As it seeks more and more control, creating robots, drones and laws with which to subjugate us, it breeds it’s own downfall. The enormous growth in youth unemployment across the western world is creating a generation who do not buy into the idea of a nine-to-five workday.

Why should they? It is clear that with modern automated production, goods can be made at a fraction of their sales price. Since we create money with nothing but the power of our imagination, there is always enough for whatever we imagine we can do. It is just a matter of priorities.

If we can (as we do) create trillions of pounds and dollars out of thin air to pay for bankers, bombs and bums in parliament, then we can also afford to keep the unemployed, restless, youth in a style to which they would like to become accustomed.

A couple of hundred years ago, we had little idea that we would end up in the world of today. It might be a good idea to look at the kind of world we are creating.

It is likely, but not certain, that humanity will prevail.  What can you do today, to tip the balance?

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Ban the bible?

When I moved back to Europe from living in Chicago in 1999, people asked me about America. One observation I made was that husbands were afraid of their wives, wives were afraid of other women and parents were afraid of their children. It seemed very much a land of fear (rather than a land of the free). It is now clear that the first decade of the twenty-first century has magnified the condition of fear many-fold.

To a European, who grew up exploring woods and common land away from adults; at first taking a couple of city buses, then later riding a bicycle five miles to school, the schizophrenia towards American children is extraordinary.

On the one hand they are extolled as paragons of virtue, to be endlessly protected. They are ‘the future’. They are the subject of endless marketing propaganda, both commercially and by government. Policies are given child-centric labels like ‘No Child left behind’.

For example, one of the most serious crimes a motorist can commit is to overtake a big yellow school bus when it has stopped at a bus stop! These vehicles are a site to behold: bright yellow, with big red stop signs that pop up when the bus stops together with lots of flashing red lights. When the school bus is taking on or dropping off passengers, all vehicles, on both sides of the road, have to stop. Extraordinary! Talk about over-protective!

But, and there is a big but, underneath that overprotectiveness is a really serious cultural psychosis, to do with control. Deep down it is as if American society is so afraid of it’s children that it goes to extremes to punish and keep them subservient.

Spearheaded by powerful religious groups, but widespread, is the idea that children must learn self-discipline through pain, early on. Not too early, as Dr James Dobson, one of the most influential religious broadcasters said: “There is no excuse for spanking babies or children younger than fifteen to eighteen months of age.” (Clearly it is okay to spank a baby of twenty months.)

Mind you there are others, like the Pearls, who advocate beating babies as young as six months. To such people, any form of independence or questioning of authority is entirely unacceptable. As the Pearls say:

Never reward delayed obedience by reversing the sentence. And, unless all else fails, don’t drag him to the place of cleansing. Part of his training is to come submissively. However, if you are just beginning to institute training on an already rebellious child, who runs from discipline and is too incoherent to listen, then use whatever force is necessary to bring him to bay. If you have to sit on him to spank him then do not hesitate. And hold him there until he is surrendered. Prove that you are bigger, tougher, more patiently enduring and are unmoved by his wailing. Defeat him totally. Accept no conditions for surrender. No compromise. You are to rule over him as a benevolent sovereign. Your word is final.

This need for total control and obedience is driven by fear and insecurity. Fear is manifest in the way young people are not allowed to drink alcohol until they are twenty-one, and the ruthless aggression showed by ordinary policemen when they are called to an incident. They really do jump all over a non-violent suspect, pin them to the ground, kneel on and handcuff them.

The idea that laws should be interpreted rather than religiously obeyed is not accepted. The USA (and increasingly the UK, to whom much of this now applies) has adopted the wrong mental model for people. We are complex adaptive systems and are innately uncontrollable. We can be appealed to and resonated with, but in the long term we can not be controlled from the outside. When we attempt to assert control over each other, we simply build in trouble – rebellion will happen, somehow.

Perhaps it is time that we recognised how much of a problem religion has become. Not Christian, or Muslim, or Buddhist or Hindu religion, but religion itself. The word religion comes from a latin root ‘ligare‘ meaning ‘to bind‘. Although the individuals on whom a religion are based, such as Jesus of Nazareth, might seek to set people free, their religions do not. They are the epitomy of top-down hierarchical control systems.

Christianity is an excellent example. The modern Christian church was founded by a Roman citizen, Saul of Tarsus (later known as Saint Paul), a man dedicated to destroying the works of Jesus. Although never trusted by the other disciples (his values and beliefs were in sharp contrast to those of Jesus), he appeared to change his mind and set about creating a religion structurally modelled on the Roman Empire.

In hierarchical systems, authority comes from above and obedience to that authority is necessary to maintain order. In an increasingly church-dominated society that is why children are subject to such brutally destructive regimes. Fragile, fearful  human beings, who feel lost and adrift in the accelerating complexity of modern life, look outside of themselves for salvation. They reach for books written for a different age, in the hope that if they obey their writings they will be okay. ‘God must save me, look at how I beat my children in his name!’

And finally, they find a vent for their anger and frustration by sending those very same, tragically unloved children off to suffer and die in a war, fighting against people who believe in a different book.

Perhaps it is time we listed quoting the bible as a hate crime.

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Fracticide – don’t do it!

Fracking is spreading over the face of the earth like a swarm of locusts consuming everything in it’s path. Is this how it ends – a dark wave of fracking engulfing us, polluting our water and making our land uninhabitable, as we commit fracticide?

Fracking – responsible, environmentally concerned people are incensed by the damage to the environment, the toxic carcinogens that are pumped into the ground and the pollution of the water table. They have all the data and rational arguments on their side. But they are losing the battle.

The real argument is not about facts and issues and data – it is about morality. Almost everything about fracking is deeply immoral. The corporations that do it are like enormous, obese teenagers throwing their weight around. They have never learnt self-control or self-discipline, they dominate and threaten their parents (us).

They are destroying wealth-creating businesses and jobs as they turn our farming communities into deserts, where townspeople have to queue up for water. They are a pestilence, spreading disease and illness to the people they touch. Consumed by their own greedy avaricious desire they extract as much as they can from each human resource they come across.

These unruly, selfish corporate teenagers do not care that they are destroying other people’s livelihoods: they promote a warped view of the American Dream. A view which says everyone must learn to stand on their own two feet. If you don’t make it, it is your own fault – you just did not try hard enough. You lacked the necessary self-discipline.

But these teenagers do not stand on their own two feet, they stand on the backs of millions of hard working people – extracting good will, hope and humanity from each of them in the same way that they extract gas from the earth. By fracturing their communities and poisoning their minds with toxic attitudes.

They have not made it by their own hard work, but by deception, corruption and fraud. They have no self-discipline. They cannot help themselves, they have to consume more and more, with no respect for authority or consequence. They have bribed and infiltrated governments in order to make and change laws. They have trumpeted warped, anti-human, immoral values through countless think-tanks in order to frame the debate.

And it has almost worked. But there is still time if we will each face up to our own responsibilities and assert our innate parental authority over these relentlessly greedy children.

Those who want smaller government must also demand smaller corporations. Reducing the size of government without addressing the malevolent power of the obese trans-national corporations will leave us completely at their mercy.

Corporations need to be brought down to size.

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