Accidental Anarchist: Life Without Government, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer, directed by John Archer and Clara Glynn.

carne ross.jpg

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08z007p

This is the kind of programme I felt I should watch. For a start it’s got Anarchist in the title. I could mention Kropotkin, but I don’t know who he is, or Sid Vicious, Anarchy in the UK. For me it’s more an attitude. Life Without Government? Like Huxleys’s Utopia, I’m not sure it’s possible but Carne Ross seems to think it is. I hope he’s right.

What privileged position does Carne Ross come from that he gets his own documentary and an hour of our time to espouse his views and tell us what he thinks? Well, he’s an ex-diplomat. That should be impressive and for someone like me, working class and poor, you’d probably assume I don’t know, or meet, very many diplomats. But you’d be wrong. Old Lawrie who drinks in the same shithole as me, has a daughter who was a diplomat, and he’s been to Moscow, visiting her in the Foreign Office and some other places in China, but we’re not really interested in world peace because we’re watching Celtic and that’s all that matters. He loves Celtic and is always wants to ‘put one on him’ (punch him in the face). It’s his war cry when watching. His daughter is diplomatic when she hears him or comes to pick him up when he’s had one too many, but listen, who’s counting.

Carne Ross isn’t that kind of diplomat. You’ve just got to listen to his name. He’d fit in with the Brown and Blairs and ex-public school boys that do the right thing by serving their country, and even then he claimed he wanted to be –you’ve guessed it – not Prime Minister, like servant of the people David Cameron, nor Chancellor of the Exchequer, like that nice man George Osborne, but a diplomat.  He’s the kind of guy that stood behind Blair at the United Nations in New York ready to whisper in his ear and briefs him on the latest embryonic imbroglio in the Middle East.

What we need now is a Damascene conversion. You probably read in Acts about Saul’s conversion. He’s happily going along working day and night persecuting men and women that are Christian in a fashion similar to the way George Osborne persecuted poor people. A flash of light from heaven blinds Saul and allows him to see.

Carne from his apartment witnessed 9/11 and the planes crashing into the World Trade Center. He remembers the smoke and the ash lying on his window for months afterwards. These are novelistic details. He watched George W Bush ramp up the search for bad guys to blame so he and fellow Americans could play the good guys and take care of business. This led to wars in Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq. He was friends with government scientist David Kelly, who in his role as weapons expert, said unequivocally there was no evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. In other words there was no reason for the invasion of Iraq. He had a front-row seat of the cover-up of ‘fake news’.

Pause there. Carne took a year’s sabbatical to think and read.  If you’re an ordinary Joe don’t try that at home. Don’t shout at your boss on the way out, I’m outta here, see you next year and I might come back as an anarchist you fuckwitt.

He didn’t know that at the time. He lucked into it in the same way that Saul/Paul bumped into Christians. It seemed obvious that those rich guys that were screwing the poor and were quite happy to invade other nations weren’t to be trusted.

Evidence that we can do things differently. Ho-hum. George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia. Carne interview Catalans that were there and some that were not. They all agree that if Stalin hadn’t betrayed POUM (the Anarchist Movement and Hitler hadn’t been developing his new blitzkrieg tactics and if Mussolini hadn’t sent troops) then things could have turned out different. Even if not the roots of Anarchism remain in a collective that took back some unused land and used it to farm and build houses. Here we see them building their own houses. These are called outliers. Think of the images of deprivation George Osborne used to slaughter those on welfare. Outliers that smoked and drank and had eight children.

He sees Anarchist roots in the Kurdish-run region of Rojava, which helped defeat ISIS but is bordered by Turkey and Syria.

He sees it in the ‘Occupy Movement’.

I don’t. And I’m sure the Chechens also thought they would be able to get autonomy from Russia, only to be crushed. Let’s not mention China, the new number one superpower and hardly a case for free speech and anarchism. And let’s not forget George W Bush was so dim he had to wear socks labelled ‘left’ and ‘right’ but compared to the moron’s moron that is the current President, well, I’ll let you fill in your own analogy (if you need any help with what analogy means don’t ask Donald J Trump). And the hawks of yesteryear seem like Christian doves compared to this US cabal of warmongers. I’m not betting against a world war. North Korea, of course, is only too happy to show the world its weapons of mass destruction. And let’s not forget the moron’s moron and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change he did not sign. That means in the short term millions on the move. I see anarchy, but not the vision  Carne Ross has of it. More like the four-horsemen-of-the apocalypse anarchy so beloved by novelists and the bible.  I pray he’s right.

 

 

Advertisements

Paul Mason (2015) Postcapitalism: A Guide To Our Future.

Paul Mason is an optimist. I’m a pessimist.  He outlines the problems mankind faces in the future and suggests as a utopian solution of free money and us all working together in a non-working world. I tend more towards the four horseman of the apocalypse scenario.

Mason suggests there are a number of negative feedback loops that will work together to make the world a much poorer place for 99% of humanity, but if we reverse engineer this process we can all become richer and make a fairer and more prosperous world for all. ‘Neoliberalism is Broken’ is the title of his first chapter. We all know how this works. We’ve being doing it for the last thirty years and the process has accelerated since the financial meltdown of 2008. Work longer hours for less pay, or no pay. Sing hallelujah, and thanks boss, as money flows from the poor to the rich at an increasing rate.  Thomas Piketty, Capital, did the maths. Algorithms rule the world.  But Mason sees a chink of light in the information age. Technology that puts at least fifty percent of the workforce out of work, (timescale by 2050, or at cinema near you soon) will, as work itself become redundant, give us more leisure time. When the distinction between work and leisure becomes blurred creativity will flourish. Examples, oh dear, ‘people will blog, make movies, self-publish books’. Shit. I’m already doing all these things. I must be living in the future. It’s Martin Ford’s The Rise of the Robots, but with a happy ending. The robots won’t gain an awareness of themselves as a singular being, in the singularity, and mankind as being a species that has reduced the planet to a giant hamburger, and instead of keeping mankind as a pet, they’ll not do the logical thing and mine us for the energy in our hair and skin and meat and reduce the world to something like a boxset of hell played on an endless loop, but instead of that, our android friends will free us from work.

The merit in that argument is it is logical. William Shakespeare’s Brave New World  before Brave New World has Ariel working for the man, Prospero, in  The Tempest.  All utopias are a bit like that. Prospero might have stolen an island home, but it was from an evil witch, and give him his due, he did give gainful employment to the witch’s son, and became master of the monster, Caliban, who he used as another source of free labour. Prospero was free to do what he willed, as we will be in a prosperous new age based on exciting new technologies. Fritz Laing, Metropolis. As above, so below. Aldous Huxley and George Orwell both envisaged a time when work would be something that would be optional – for the elite. As it always has been, but Mason argues that the problems facing us are global problems and unless we face them together they will defeat us and the capitalist system will fall apart.

Global warming is an example of this. Mason doesn’t think the market can work well enough to allocate resource so everyone can meet their energy needs and keep enough fossil fuels out of the air and keep the temperature of the earth below an increase of around two-degree centigrade level. After that runaway global warning will take place. Being born in a particular location will be the equivalent of a life in poverty and death with millions of refugees on the move. I called this melodramatically, The Third World War, and suggested it’s already begun. I think it’s a war already lost. Human casualties, I’d guess, somewhere in the range of the Black Death, one in four. I can be bland about it because I’ll be dead by the time this is fully realised. But if you’ve children of grandchildren, be very afraid. Mason suggests that we leave all fossil fuels in the ground, turn to solar, wind, and sea, as Germany has done, with up to 50% of its needs being met in this way. So it is possible, but is it probable?

China and India playing catch up and building or having recently built hundreds of coal-fired stations.  But as Mason states ‘Between 2003 and 2010, climate change lobby groups received $558 million in the US. Exxon Mobil and the ultra-conservative Koch industries were major donors…’ What’s in it for them? Simple. Leave fossil fuels in the ground, or as Mason suggests in his chapter ‘Project Zero’ and Exxon Mobil will be worth zero on the stock market of any market. Far simpler to go out and buy a politician, or president.

One of interrelated problems Mason identified was workers in the Western world are getting older. Gee whiz, you may be saying, my hips killing me, I sure know about that. ‘Futureproofing’ on Radio 4 that around 50% of children born today will live until they’re 104. Great news for them. Around 4% of those born at the start of the last century lived long enough to collect their pension. So work hard and don’t collect your pension was the order of the day. Think about this. One in two hospital beds are filled by our fossil fools. Piketty suggests that rich countries growth will fall to around 1% to zero or negative growth. That’s where we are now. More must be done with less. That’s where we are now. Piketty also shows that the equation that you put into the system early and take it out in your later years, in health deficits, no longer works, or can be taken seriously. Mason shows that six of eight nations with populations under 30 are in Africa. Throw in India and US and the equation that one worker will be supporting one pensioner (around four workers fill those positions now) and you’ll be able to determine it doesn’t add up. Mason also shows that all that money invested in government bonds and shares and other financial assets are, in the longer term, worthless as the International Monetary Fund recognises. The bearer will not pay on demand.  When it unravels, as it will, then the provider of last resort is the government.

Here’s another of my favourites. The problem of supply is one of demand. Rosa Luxemburg, and all that. As Apple who make those nice phones and tablets and were the richest company in the world find to their cost, unless poor people have money in their pockets they can’t afford to buy those shiny new toys. One in eight workers in the US have at one time worked for McDonalds. Tens of millions wait for food stamps and flood into Walmart, who tell their staff to claim for food stamps. In our country we’re looking at the same solution: the race to the bottom. The solution, increased liquidity, give more money to the rich in the hope that it trickles –eventually- down to the poor, doesn’t work. It’s never worked, but is  neoliberal ideology in action.

Mason takes a hint from that well-known libertine, Friedrich Hayek, and suggests that citizens should be issued with an income to do with it what they liked by the government. Imagine if universal credit really was universal credit and how work would become an optional choice. But it’s another of Hayek’s truisms Mason challenges. Only the market can allocate resources. Computing power, argues Mason, can now do that just as effectively, or more effectively than any free market. Facebook and Google, for example, can anticipate our every need before we can even voice it. Their algorithms are getting better. What we think of choice is just a bit of camouflage as the servant serves us more of the same, but in a different colour. But imagine Mason suggests harnessing this power. Imagine the government building more houses. Imagine the government taking control of the money supply and instead of trying to sell banks we already own, lending money to rich people, lending it to fund social projects. Imagine the government running the energy industry for our benefit. I know, I know, it’s a bit much to take. Especially, the bit about taking money from the 1% who are rolling in it. There’s a loss of liberty there. Liberalism. Liberty. More equality.  Mason thinks that the threats that we face will allied with the technologies that we have developed will make it brave new world with everyone sharing in the fruits of non-labour. I’m more cynical. We’re at the Wright brother stages with the first aircraft. New technologies will enrich us, but not us all. The world is a more stratified place and will become even more stratified and uneven. Four horsemen on the horizon. Not even that far. I think I can hear the thunder of hoofs. But I hope Mason is right and I’m wrong, as I usually am.

Quote

Third Lesson: The Architecture of the Cosmos.

set squareIn response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Odd Trio Redux.”

Carlo Revelli (2015) Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, translated by Simon Carnell and Erica Segree.

We’ve got a floor plan. In a reductionist world two features of space and time stand together in the battle-scarred macroscopic twentieth-century theories of Einstein. He explains how the cosmos came into being and hangs together. Contrast this with the mirrored microcosm of Bohr’s theory of how elementary particles work, the flickers of the creeping subjectivity of the observer effect and creating seemingly something from nothing. We have something that undermines the mechanical movements and objectivity of classical physics, but does not undermine the beauty and grace of Einstein’s equations. It complicates what is complicated – the architecture of the cosmos. Theories, like the individuals that produced them, don’t stand still. They say prove me wrong. The sky doesn’t fall down, but we can move onto the next theory that explains why it is still above, or indeed, below us.

Rovelli in his third lesson traces the scientific visions that have gone before and the revolution in thinking that has increased our understanding of how we ‘see’ reality.

In his first box, a figure of a little man (or woman) stands like an X with the earth below him and the sky above. For millennia, thousands of years, for any man that could see, this was unquestioned reality.

Borelli tells us that Anaximander twenty-six centuries ago questioned this reality. He asked how it was possible for the sun, moon and stars to revolve around us. His answer was that the sky was not just above us, but also below us. Thus in the second box the sky takes up the four corners and the little X-man is standing on a block of earth and has his arms raised to the sky, and his counterpart, another upside-down X-man, has his arms raised to the sky.

There is uncertainty in Borelli’s attribution of who first though of the earth as a great floating stone suspended in space, whether that honour goes to Parmenides, or Pythagoras (perhaps both and it took different cultural paths into our understanding?). Here the resultant diagram is no longer a box, but the more recognisable Ptolemaic system of circles within circles of unnamed stars and moon with the earth a shaded bullseye, and a little X-man standing on it, at the centre of the known universe.

The Copernicus revolution was the end of the Ptolemaic worldview. The earth was no longer the centre of the universe, but just one, among other planets, bigger and smaller than ours, in a diagram of a rock, with an X-man on it, circling the sun.

Here I’m going to step outside Borelli’s high-speed chase through time and interject Galileo Galilei.  The Renaissance astronomer and polymath famously was forced by the Catholic Church to recant his proofs that Copernicus was correct and to swear that the Ptolemaic worldview was the only model that worked in allowing God to put X-man at the centre of the universe and give God parental visiting rights. The mind of a visionary and the heart of a visionary may be pulling in different directions.

A contemporary comparison would be global warming. Scientist at the end of the 1960s charted the greenhouse gas effect of fossil fuel use in parts per million. The Third World War has begun with the loss of human life far more likely to be greater than the First and Second, and indeed all previous wars, combined all within two generations. A child born now will see the start, but not the end of it. But in terms of the solar system that’s not even a blink of light.

With improved instruments our measurement of the solar system has improved exponentially. The Hubble telescope which orbits the planet and allows us to see deep into space, studded with splashes of  galaxies moving endlessly in time since an estimated fifteen billion years ago; the earth a small ball exploded into being with the other planets that surround it, lies not at the beginning or the end, but part of time and space.

Apocalypse

Apocalypse.

Apocalypses echo what we know. The world will end. Three score years and ten. Well I’m looking at the tens. I’m not thumbing my nose and saying ‘Har, Har,’ because I’ll be dead. Let’s face it that kills any argument.

Nuclear Holocaust

We all know what this mean. Helen Macdonald was a wee lassie in the nineteen-sixties. She was instructed by her teacher how to make a nuclear fallout shelter in the cupboard beneath the stairs with old coats and a flask of tea.  But she was a nervous kind of girl. Her dad was far more practical. She tried to rope him into helping, but he told her not to be so daft. They lived close to a base and would be incinerated almost immediately. But not to worry. They wouldn’t know anything about it.

History shows that weapons when developed cannot be undeveloped. Fukushima, Chernobyl, Three-mile Island, small blips in a bigger war. International scientists suggest the atomic clock is at five minutes to midnight. But it’s been that way for quite a while, most of my life. I’m not worried, honest.

Global Warming.

The Third World War started. I must take some responsibility for this. We in Britain exported the industrial revolution and the world’s growing reliance of fossil fuels. The effects are still up there in parts-per million and they’re not going away. We add grist to the satanic mills and an increasing temperature. We’ll have less water for drinking. Less water to irrigate crops. And less land to grow crops. It’s too early to suggest a pattern or how it will pan out, but countries with the most people China, India, Pakistan have nuclear weapons. India have over a billion people. They control drinking and irrigation water such as the Ganges which flows into Bangladesh with a population of just under 170 million, on par with the population of their neighbours Pakistan. With tens of millions of people on the move I’d suggest the atomic clock be moved at least two minutes forward. Three minutes to midnight.

Global Pandemic

Global pandemic have always been with us.  The Black Death wiped out about 25 million, but the world was a smaller place. Imagine a third to a half of the population of Europe being directly affected by disease. It’s difficult to think like that. Recently we had Ebola, and it’s all about containment. Poor people’s disease. Adequate screening. We think if we can keep it over there we’ll be safe. But there’s no way of knowing. It’s a scientific arm’s race in which diseases mutate faster than we can fix them. And there’s always that suspicion that somebody somewhere will infect us on purpose. Three minutes to midnight.

Global Extinction –other species.

There are almost nine million non-hominid species sharing out planet (excluding bacteria). There are two baselines. One is the natural extinction rate if we, the human race, weren’t here. The other is measuring the effect we have on this ‘natural’ wastage rate. The National Geographic puts man’s impact as 1000 times greater than this background noise. The word decimate comes from the Roman legions putting to the sword 1 in 10 of their legionnaires who had not fought well enough, or had committed mutiny or desertion. It acted as an example to others. The decimation of our natural environment is ten to the power of three that magnitude. Global warming it going to put a different kind of strain on our relationship with other species. It may be a pyrrhic victory with the only ones left being man and man’s best friend. Best start stocking in the Pedigree Chum. Hot dog could be taken literally.

Singleton

The Singleton seems a bit silly. It’s something we know about from sci-fi movies and Star Trek. Think of on-the run androids from Blade Runner. The out of control robot Will Smith is tracking in I, Robot. These are flavours of what the singleton means in the same way that Google glass, cars that drive themselves, and Apple watches that monitor health are aspects of enhancements that add to what we are, or what we are becoming. You look at automation such as Herb robots for housework. On the other side of that is the automation of mental work. Template programmes used by doctors to make diagnosis (machine does the thinking – the medical profession takes the credit). It’s been over twenty years since Deep Blue beat the world champion at chess. Bridge, checkers, Jeopardy! Machine learning wins time after time. Cinema again.  The ultimate indestructible robot Gort, mediated by Klaatu, who brought peace and the sword. Drones will deliver pizza and packages for Amazon, but in the not too distant future these same drones will be carrying passengers.  It’s a familiar world. But what happens in that blink of an eye when the machine learns about themselves and gains an awareness of existence, consciousness? With a seed Artificial Intelligence’s ability to read all of human history in a day we have created not so much a machine as a god. Our intellect and slow processing speed places us as the equivalent of woodlice to man. Venture capitalists such as Steve Joverston suggest ‘we’ll probably make good pets’. Three-D printers can print screws. Machines can make themselves. What need they for woodlice? I guess we like to think there’ll be some kind of Homer Simpson moment when we thwart the machines superior intellectual and physical abilities, including reproduction, by sticking it with a pastrami sandwich.

Apocalypse when?

At a cinema near you. Global warming has begun. I’d guess in the thirty-odd years I’ve left it’ll begin to bite. I’m sure all these other scenarios will kick in at the same time. The singleton one is the stupidest one, but unlikely doesn’t mean impossible and when impossible becomes probable there won’t be time to react. Your children and your children’s children won’t thank you for the world you’ve left them –if we’re still here. A minute to midnight.