Changing the World through the Emotional Influence of Art

I read something massively depressing, recently, so I thought I would share it with you (you’ll thank me later).

What the article says is that decisions are not made on the basis of facts, but on emotions.  Decisions are not made rationally and perhaps they never will be.  Education, good journalism, facts, scientific evidence and reason are no match for what people reckon.  In fact, when confronted with true, objective details that challenge what people reckon, they dig their heels in even deeper and reinforce their fallacious beliefs.  They’d rather be wrong, but sure of themselves, than corrected, if temporarily destabilised in their world view.  Entrenched views are swayed by counter evidence only to the extent that people stick to their guns even more doggedly.

For people trying to challenge accepted orthodoxies and who want to change the world by enlightening their fellow man with reliable, provable, testable evidence, or alternative possibilities, this sounds the death knell.  That approach simply isn’t going to work.  People’s minds are resistant to being changed, once their guts tell them something that isn’t necessarily true is what they should hold to be true.  Even if it isn’t.  Don’t present them with facts; they’ve already made up their minds.

What this means is that the first manipulator to reach people at an emotional level, with some new issue or other, has the power to implant any lie they like – permanently.  So long as you make it simple, emotional and as folksy as you can, without touching on the nuances and doubts, if you can deliver your manipulative lie so that it appeals to the gut instincts of most people, they’ll latch onto it and never change their minds, no matter what facts to the contrary come to light and no matter how much those that know the real truth try to reveal it and share it.

Shaping the ongoing media narrative, which is from where most people form their gut reactions and what they reckon, is crucial to anybody intent on manipulating everybody into believing what they want them to believe.  This is why so much money is lavished on the mainstream media.  It’s the reason why media barons hold so much clout.  Their business is embedding the ideas their paymasters want to embed in the majority of people.  They know, for certain, that once those mistaken ideas are entrenched, no amount of independent, alternative media opinion or solid investigative research can replace them.  Once the seed is sown, challenges to what people reckon just serve to strengthen the tenacity of the roots.

What this means, for artists, is that they have a rare opportunity.  They have the power to reach people emotionally, through their art.  That much has been established over the centuries.  So, provided that artists get their ideas in first, bolstered by the emotional impact that their art can deliver, they can be the shapers of what people reckon.

It’s no good railing against ideas that are already entrenched, though.  Those battles have, for the moment, been lost.  You have to lead the ongoing narrative and sustain that, over the long term.  Given that artists, with better ideas and sweeter alternatives for humanity, can begin to lead the narrative and present new ideas, in emotionally affective ways, then humanity can be changed and the world can be moved toward better outcomes for all.  The flaw in people’s thinking can be used to advantage, by artists, because they primarily deal in emotional movement, in preference to cold, hard facts.  We can change the world by reaching people’s emotions first, before the mainstream media gets to take a bite.

However, for this strategy to work, artists, as a group, would have to be thinking about alternatives and better outcomes and because they, too, have grown up with mainstream media saturation, the likelihood that they can think any differently to everyone else is quite low.  Artists, too, reckon what they reckon based on their gut reactions to what the mainstream media has been telling them, since they were babies.  To break out of the prison of other people’s lies, which have been deliberately embedded in your own thinking machinery by a massive apparatus dedicated to that purpose, takes quite a lot of personal commitment, effort and reading.  Some never even attempt it.  Your comfort zone is to take it all in as truth and embed it in your own gut instincts, disguised as what you think.  It’s not what you think; it’s what you were told to think.  Those are two very different things, whose difference we have been taught to ignore.  You have been manipulated.  We all have.  What you reckon has nothing at all to do with the world of facts, rational proof, evidence and data.  What most people believe to be true is a hallucination.

So, artists, there is the challenge.  Do you have what it takes to break out of the lies that have been indoctrinated into you and having done so, do you have the will and the determination to think and source better ideas and will you work tenaciously to instil those new ideas into other people’s minds, through the emotional impact of your art, before the mainstream media gets to them?  It’s a big ask and a tall order, isn’t it?  Unfortunately, the future of humanity depends on it.

You have a choice.  You can go back to sleep, living a zombie life, devoid of truth, but in the comfort of being with the majority of similarly deluded automatons, or you can think it all through, come up with alternatives and spread them, using your artistic talents as a vehicle.  What are you going to do?

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Lament for the Loss of Long Sentences

Apparently, nobody knows how to read anymore.  If you express yourself in clauses and sub clauses, or want to develop an idea over the course of a single sentence, you’re confusing people.  What should a writer do?

If the aim is to communicate with cattle; then set out the entire thesis of your argument in a bullet pointed list, I suppose, by all means.  Why not, for all the good it will do?  In summarising to the extent that you can reduce your ideas to a bullet pointed list, there is so much loss of nuance and subtlety that you might as well have not bothered to set your thoughts out in writing at all.  What good does it do to communicate incomplete, indistinct, ambiguous ideas with brevity?  It’s a distortion, that’s what it is.

However, if you want to stimulate intelligent discussion, provoke thought or change the world into the sort of place where people are able to comprehend long sentences fully, then I suggest writers continue to fight battles against the dumbing-down of society and provide those long sentences, which marketing web site graders so abhor.  If writers don’t, who else will?

It’s bad enough fighting against the Microsoft Word grammar checker, autocorrect and the prevalence of so-called “American English” spelling.  Now we have to truncate our train of thought so that it fits into ten word sound bites.  Has the world gone mad?

The loss of long sentences and a population unable to comprehend them is an insidious evil.  It leads to the loss of shades of meaning and toward a tendency to see everything in stark, black and white terms.  It removes the beauty of the language and replaces it with a utilitarian brutality, which serves only to obfuscate important distinctions and to forcibly regiment thought into regularised, homogenised categories.  In short, it’s a kind of intellectual fascism.

The loss of facility with language is precisely equivalent to a loss of power.  It makes you more manipulable and susceptible to emotional, knee-jerk slogans, with no underlying substance, delivered by vacuous puppets; the playthings of the powerful.  Without the means to express complex ideas and the comprehension of finely developed concepts, you lose something important, as a society.  Everything has to fit the predefined, pre-ordained form, or it’s immediately rejected.

Tl;dr.  It means “too long; didn’t read” and that has to be explained, because the meaning is completely obscured by the acronym itself.  Somebody encountering it for the very first time can only guess at what the letters represent.  Ironically, this terse, derisive insult to writers retains the semi-colon; once the marker of sub clauses in sentences which developed complex ideas.  There is nothing complex about this abomination.  It’s a proud assertion of being too indolent to spend the time required to read the preceding text in detail.  It proudly states that the reader actively and deliberately chooses to remain ignorant of the finer points of the argument; as if they are too busy and too important to bother and pretending they have better things to do with their time and attention.  This one piece of Internet slang is the very bane of our civilisation.  This is the reason we go to war on false premises, why we can be endlessly swindled and harmed by profiteers and why our politicians and financiers constantly get away with the outrageous.  We can’t be bothered with the details.

If one counts the social media interest score of this web site, it becomes abundantly clear that those on social media are barely interested in the ideas set forth here.  There’s plenty of content, but nobody is interested in it.  Well, this site isn’t for that majority.  It is for those that bother to read deeply, to think clearly and to entertain ideas that are outside of the accepted orthodoxies.  It’s for people that want to use and expand their brains, in the service of art.

I recommend reading books that were written over a hundred years ago.  There are many and they are free, as PDFs, because they are out of copyright, but some lunatics, somewhere, thought they were worth preserving on line.  What you will notice, besides the use of complex, long sentences, is that the vocabulary is full of what we, today, classify as “archaic” words, as if such words are a bad thing.  No, an archaic word is the loss of a piece of the language which precisely and concisely expressed an important distinction.  Substituting more modern words, for these archaic ones, leads to a loss of meaning and a smearing of distinctions.  When you get used to the prose and learn the long-forgotten words, what is striking is how colourful and vivid the writing is and how easy to grasp deep ideas become.  There is great joy in reading these forgotten works.

One notable example I encountered was an attempt to rewrite “Progress and Poverty” in a modern idiom.  I read both the original and the rewrite, side by side.  What became clear was how much meaning had been removed, in the rewrite, despite the author’s sincere attempt to provide a more accessible version of a long lost classic.  It was worth the reader’s time to learn how to read the original, because in doing so, more meaning could be conveyed into your brain.  The meaning, in this particular book, is well worth absorbing.

My wife, faced with the prospect of communicating clinical trial data to an audience of professors and PhDs, was instructed to use shorter words and sentences, so that these poor, befuddled people could grasp the barest thread of her meaning.  She, of course, refused point blank.  If an audience of professors and PhDs is incapable of comprehending long sentences and precisely intended words, what hope is there?  She wasn’t trying to explain these specialist concepts to brick layers or ditch diggers (no sleight against these honourable occupations intended).  She was addressing people who ought to have been entirely comfortable with her language and terms.

So, for the benefit of those that cannot be bothered to learn to read long sentences, let me set forth my argument for you, in bullet points:

  • You’re an ignorant zombie.
  • You like it that way.
  • You don’t care that it makes you stupid and pliable.
  • You probably had to look up the word “pliable”.
  • Most of you couldn’t be bothered to look up “pliable”.
  • Your life will always be controlled by other people.
  • Nothing will ever get better.
  • You will be affronted by your own distorted interpretation of this list.
  • What I said and what you understood will always be different.
  • We don’t connect, in any way, as human beings.

On the other hand, if you reject the “marketing-isation” of humanity (don’t get me started on neologisms) and want to read and write long sentences, I applaud your effort and hope that in doing so, you enjoy a richer intellectual life, infused with soaring ideas and possibilities, communicated to you across time and space, by people that had excellent ideas to share.  It will make you a better person.

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When Ignorant People Ask for Complex Impossibilities

People with the money to commission artists (or engineers, or anybody else that works creatively) often ask for things they don’t understand and which, even with the most talented, creative minds there are, and infinite time and money, can’t actually be done.  They don’t know that what they’re asking for can’t be done, because they don’t understand what they’re asking for.

Rather than face the fact that they don’t understand what they’re talking about and bombastically insisting upon, they will, instead, attempt to distort reality and accuse the creative person of having a lack of talent and of being obviously inferior.  They imply, often insultingly, that if this creative won’t do the work, they’ll simply find one that will.  In behaving this way, they gloss over the fact that there is no creative anywhere, in the known universe, with the laws of physics that apply uniformly, throughout the cosmos, who can make what they have ignorantly asked for.  They don’t care about that.  They just want what they want.  “Don’t present me with technical obstacles, just do it”.  That’s their mantra, as if you’re just being wilfully difficult.

There’s no reasoning with them.  Presenting them with hard evidence, facts and proof doesn’t work, either.  Their opinion always outweighs your facts.  If you were as smart as them, you’d be as rich as they are; they believe, so just shut up and listen.

We can imagine taking a trip in a time machine, but that doesn’t mean somebody can actually make one for you.  In our imaginations, we can travel faster than light, but not in the real universe.  I’ve heard it said (to me) that nothing is impossible; you just haven’t thought of a way of doing it yet.  That may or may not be true, in the abstract, but for the immediate term, what they’re asking for is practically impossible and even more so, with the derisory budget and insufficient  time often proffered to do what, to the requester, must be trivially simple and routine, because they say it is.

Ego and ambition is a funny thing.  Some egos are so large that they have their own micro-climates.  A powerful, relatively wealthy individual commissioning in ignorance, wanting a creative to do the impossible for next to nothing, would rather shoot everybody in the room dead, than admit to the terrible, yawning gap between their megalomaniacal, delusional specification (a.k.a. wild demands) and reality.  They won’t allow themselves to look stupid, at any cost.  Yet, the truth of their stupidity is abundantly obvious to all that do understand what this person is asking for.  They’re stupid.  They have no understanding of what they’re asking for.  That’s a fact.

I used to try to guide these people toward realistic solutions, to do a large part of what they want, which was a feat in itself, rather than provide everything they asked for (because it wasn’t possible).  I learnt that this tactic is futile.  They will look at your outstanding creation, something that perhaps has never been done before and which required extreme skill, application, sacrifice, sweat, stress and talent to produce, at the price they want to pay and in the time they allowed, and adjudicate it as wanting.  They’re not satisfied.  They’re not happy.  They asked for something else, but all you gave them was this.  The fact that it might be amazing only confirms, in their minds, that you were holding out on them, all along and denying them the equally amazing (but impossible) thing they asked for.

There is no pleasing the ignorant.

My advice, when confronted with an ignorant commission, which clearly isn’t grounded in facts, objective reality or reason, is to run, not walk, to the nearest exit.  The commission will only damage you and your professional, artistic reputation and they won’t accept what you produce, no matter how good it is, because it isn’t the thing they stamped their feet to have, which they demanded in a flight of sheer tantrum.  They might not even pay you and certainly won’t pay you well enough to make it worth the grief you will encounter.  Let them find another creative to do their bidding.

We live in a time when the wealthy are increasingly unaware of how technology works or even what it takes to create something of artistic merit, from nothing.  Consequently, their demands are growing in their absurdity and impossibility.  It’s a combustible mix, in Carl Sagan’s prophetic words, that is liable to blow up in our faces.  For creative people, it frequently already does.

You’re far better off making nothing, than trying to create a Quixotic hallucination that occurred in the irrational mind of somebody psychotic, but infinitely ambitious, who happens to have an open cheque book.  Sure, they can dream, but you don’t have to be the creative artist scourged in order to try to bring into existence something that can never be made manifest.  I’d rather have my teeth drilled by a trainee dentist, without anaesthetic.

The old adage applies, when it comes to ignorant commissions, to create complex impossibilities, demanded by egotistical maniacs:  You can’t teach a pig to sing.  It can’t be done and it annoys the pig.

Leave them to their mania.

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The Joy of Intuitive Anticipation

They say that guitar players’ brains are different to other people, in that they have a stronger tendency to synchronise with the music, at a biophysical level, and with other players.  According to studies, they temporarily switch off their consciousness and enter an unconscious state.  It’s a state that has been described as intuitive and spiritual.  Here are some links about it:

Having been a guitar player for over forty years, here’s what I can tell you from my own experience:  There is a feeling of satisfaction and completeness – a feeling that you want to repeat and that gives you a feeling of elation and joy – which comes from the anticipation of what the other players around you might play and then playing something to complement that, but then discovering that your intuition, or educated guess, if you like, was right, as the music progresses and unfolds.

It all happens very quickly.  Yes, you are in time and tempo with the accompaniment and you are “in the zone” tonally, with your articulation and with the notes you are playing, but you get this sixth-sense feeling (from I don’t know where) that the other player will go in a particular musical direction, so you make plans to play something that will work with that, assuming that they do and voila, as you both continue to play, you discover that your intuition was correct and that the piece you just composed, in your head, fits perfectly.  It is often at these moments of happy synchronicity that the emotional affect of the combined ensemble is at its height.  Because you anticipated what the others will play and played something that would go with it well, the emotional moment you jointly create is much more powerful.

Guessing wrongly, or just playing what you want to play, irrespective of what the others are going to play (which, in an improvisation, you can’t know), is a recipe for disharmony and discord, both literally and in the sense that it feels emotionally perturbing.  It feels so bad and so wrong that any group of musicians that play together regularly eventually learn to avoid it as much as possible, using a variety of strategies, including just not playing.

On the other hand, you can tell when this happy synchronicity has happened, because the musicians in the ensemble will often smile to themselves and to each other, spontaneously and uncontrollably.  If you are a guitar player, you recognise that these performers are experiencing that joyful satisfaction of having almost unconsciously, intuitively anticipated what the other would play and played the ideal complement to it.

This phenomenon is, I think, the reason why so many people love jam sessions and it is certainly the reason that I do.  The emotional and psychological reward for getting the anticipation right is like a powerful drug.  By the same token, musicians that are not experiencing this synchronisation of ideation often hate jamming with a passion.  They just can’t do it and don’t get the mental rush, because those intuitive anticipations are just not happening for them.  There is no psychological payoff.

A jam session where nobody is listening and everybody is competitively playing against each other is very boring.  It can be rescued by pitting your own intuitive anticipation abilities against the other musicians, even if they aren’t interacting with you.  At least then, you get the sense of having pulled something magic out of the bag, from a cacophony of noise.  You can feel good about playing the magic parts, to resurrect and rescue the mess.

The ultimate experience, though, is when all the musicians in the ensemble are playing in the zone and listening to each other carefully, so that they not only intuitively anticipate the other musicians’ contributions, but equally importantly, make space for those contributions to come to the fore and gain some prominence.

You can tell when musicians are improvising and achieving this mutual, intuitive anticipation.  They’re all having fun and it’s infectious.  The audience enjoys it, too.  Better than that, the quality of the music made is very high.  They’re striking sparks of each other and the music sounds energetic, active, innovative, exploratory and interesting.  Unfortunately, it’s a relatively rare phenomenon to experience, unless the musicians are very accomplished, masters of their instruments and all willing to play the game.

When it does happen, though, it’s a thing of beauty to witness and one of the best psychological feelings it is possible to experience, if you get to participate in such music making.  It might only happen to you a few times in your lifetime, but it feels better than the rush you get from speed (i.e. going fast, not the amphetamine drug), the frisson you get from doing something dangerous or risky, the euphoric joy you get from mutual love, the intellectual satisfaction of solving a difficult problem or finding just the right word or phrase and far more satisfying than any chemically-induced high.

I’m sure you get a similar feeling as a composer or music producer, but working on your own and experiencing a synchronicity with your own previously recorded parts is not the same as discovering a kindred musical spirit in another human being, or group of human beings.  The intuitive anticipation, I’m sure, extends to drummers and bass players too, both of which can find themselves guessing exactly the right thing to play and finding that it works perfectly with what everybody else is playing, when they do.

I’m convinced this is the glue that often sticks groups of musicians together as a cohesive musical unit, at least initially.  Bands form around it.  I’m equally convinced that when bands break up (due to what is often attributed to “musical differences”), it is because one or more of the players no longer want to play this intuitive anticipation game, either because they have grown bored with it, or are seeking other affirmations, psychologically.  Sadly, for the musicians left behind, the loss of this psychological buzz can end musical careers.  The thrill is gone.  Equally likely, though, is that when bands reform or put aside their musical differences, it is because they find a way to reawaken that intuitive musical anticipation that they once enjoyed among themselves.

Life partners of musicians can find this mystifying and threatening, often reacting against it and thereby forcing their musician partners into painful (and unnecessary) choices and ultimatums.  The “love” that they feel threatened by, though, is very different to the relationship they share with their musical other half.  The so-called “band bromance” is of a different character to the relationship between an individual and their life partner.  Regrettably, unless you experience the joy of musical, intuitive anticipation, it’s difficult to see what the attraction is.  For this reason, musicians often partner with musicians, because they get it.

So, that’s what I know about what happens to your mind and feelings, when you experience the synchronicities that are being studied so earnestly, in academia.  It’s a feeling like no other and a psychological reward that is difficult to replicate.  As far as inducing the moment, it’s not that you have rehearsed and practiced, to play the right things with each other; it’s that they emerge, seemingly spontaneously, from your joint musical intelligences and tastes.  That’s the fun part.  It’s the sheer surprise and delight of it all.  For me, it’s the discovery of mutually satisfactory constructions, which happen, unplanned and in real time, which constantly amaze me.  I love it when musical imaginations are able to work together collaboratively and without having to put too much effort into it.  When it becomes formulaic, pattern-based, highly predictable and repetitive, my interest wanes.  Part of the thrill is in taking big musical chances and having them work out.

I realise this is a highly personal and slightly idiosyncratic account, but it’s my truth and I wanted to share it with you, in case you had experienced something similar.  Have you experienced the joy of intuitive anticipation?

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Ambition is Over-Rated

At lunch, the other day, a colleague of mine made the observation that in marriages where both partners are highly ambitious, they end up divorced.  It seemed like a throw-away rule of thumb, but there is a grain of truth to it.  We live in a culture that encourages ambition at almost any expense.  This applies to artists as much as it does to anyone.  It is held up as the greatest good to single-mindedly pursue success, no matter what the losses and collateral damage inflicted along the way.  The casualties, you see, are incidental, even if they happen to be the people you love the most and who love you, too.

Our culture is organised along the following lines:  we are presented with the inescapable imperative to succeed or perish.  This, of course, is not the only possible way that society could be organised and it isn’t even the best way.  It happens to persist as “the only way” because it suits the people that benefit the most from such an arrangement – those that live opulent, privileged, idle lives of unearned, unjustified, illegitimate comfort, wealth and power.

Faced with this “do or die” ultimatum, at the beginning of one’s working life, we dream up a lifestyle we’d like to live and set about obtaining it, with the skills we think we have.  That’s how ambition starts.  We imagine that we ought to be deserving of something not too far south of what the most privileged elites enjoy and we think we can apply our best personal aspects to achieving that goal.  We never imagine that it’s impossible, because those that already occupy those positions, in society, have no intention of diluting their advantages.  We don’t count the possible costs, either – at least not realistically, at first.

If you think you have a lot of valuable skills, or people tell you that you have, it’s tempting to dream up very big ambitions, because they ought to be reachable, with that huge bag of tricks you believe you have, yet it is rarely the case.  The amount of talent you possess does not correlate well to the success you will enjoy.  This has been proven time and again.  In reading about the historical paths of the great robber barons of the early twentieth century, the common thread was not talent or hard work, but rather a talent for unconscionable, ruthless, brazen, criminal dishonesty on a grand scale.

The fact is that when you have that sort of money, you can pay to have your past white washed and this, in fact, is what each and every one of those moneyed families did and continues to do.  Meanwhile, they amplify the myth that hard work, decency and raw talent is all that it takes.  Their stock in trade is to make you believe that the rules are written one way, while benefitting from playing the game another way.  Those that believe the myths propagated by the most successful in society, applying it to their own ambitions, are clearly and demonstrably on a fool’s errand.  That’s what history teaches, regrettably.

A worse problem, for those susceptible to ambition, is being told or believing that everything you have achieved so far is somehow not good enough, when it might really have been more than enough.  Consequently, you punish yourself into reaching for ever more and higher and higher ambitions, in the hope that something you do will be perceived as good enough.  Strangely, it never is.  The truth is that the inability to tell when you have achieved something good is rooted in insecurities and sometimes in abuse.  Recognising your achievements is something we must all take pause to do.  Otherwise, your ambition can become an out of control doomsday machine, with no limit.

Another powerful driver of ambition is being assessed as being unequal to the task of attaining success.  When somebody dismisses your skills and abilities, there is a tendency to want to show them all and then they’ll all be sorry.  Once again, it’s based on something imaginary.  How could a person assessing you as worthless possibly know whether or not you had it in you to succeed on your own terms?  More likely, their assessment was useful to them, at the time, to bolster their own agenda, which may have included their own ambition to succeed, by eliminating you as competition.

The trouble is that we think control is possible, when all we can ever do is influence events.  There are a great many things we have no control over whatsoever, but we fool ourselves into thinking we have.  The idea that we can master our own destiny and create the conditions we require, by sheer force of will and the application of our powers of control is a hallucination.  It is a myth retold by people seeking to self-justify their ultimate success, in retrospect, but it’s rarely the truth.  There is only so much control you can exert.

It’s undeniable that much ambition peters out, in older life.  Perhaps wisdom arrives, or else their powers and energy fail.  Whatever the reason, ambitious people are less frequently encountered in older cohorts.  Perhaps the ambitious ones are already dead.

We justify and have ambitions, in younger life, in order to live a better life, in a better house, in a nicer neighbourhood, with better views.  We want to obtain the wherewithal to have better opportunities to experience the things in life that make us happiest.  That’s what we want.  The problem is that getting those things requires a marathon run in the rat race, against all the other grasping, ambitious people attempting to achieve the same thing, while the world is so designed to make the achievement of those things inordinately rare, relative to effort and diligence.  For every clear winner, there are millions of losers that remain in obscurity.

Fully distracted in the mêlée and confusion of the breach, you can easily lose sight of the reasons you had your ambition in the first place.  You can be “competed to death” and become so absorbed and lost in trying to succeed, in the face of the inevitable setbacks we all experience, that everything else in your life slips out of your sight and reach.  At this point, you’re just going through the motions.  Success loses its meaning and its sweet taste.  Instead, you’re in a bitter, protracted conflict, for reasons you can no longer fathom.

The bitter truth about ambition is that it can cost much more than it can deliver.

In compromising ourselves, in order to keep sight of our ambitions, we can end up building other people’s dreams, not our own.  The extraordinary, outstanding work you do can go almost wholly unrewarded.  Our culture has turned so weird that wild-eyed entrepreneurs now assume it as their right that everybody around them has to sacrifice literally everything (relationships, hobbies, recreation, time, sleep, health, money), in totality, to realise what is, in fact, just their entrepreneurial ambition.

It comes as a horrible shock and an affront to them when anybody suggests they ought to be included in the rewards of the success of their ambition, or wants to limit how much they are prepared to give up, to make the entrepreneur rich beyond their wildest dreams. They think you’re being out of line and rude for suggesting that, in helping to achieve their ambition, you might want some of the spoils of the victory. It’s really twisted.

At some juncture, you can wake up from the dream state of your imagined career path and realise you’re little more than an indentured slave, in reality.  This is not a pleasant realisation and one that many people resist, in order to sidestep the psychological disruption that accepting it would entail.  Denial doesn’t change the reality, though.  Your ambition may have led you to a situation where you have ceded all control, you have no realistic prospects of being rewarded and yet your effort and application must remain undiminished, or you starve.

The risks and costs of burnout are very real, for the ambitious.  You can literally run yourself into the ground and suffer the consequences, long before you realise it.  We like to believe we can withstand anything and will be able to recover to full, unblemished, rude health, if we need to, but time is often not on our side and we can suffer damage that we can never fully recover from.  To pursue your ambition with diligence, you make sacrifices you believe are temporary, but which turn out to be permanent.

In the end, you can wind up achieving your ambition, but losing all the things that you had assumed would still be there, when you did.  You can look around for all the people you wanted to share your success with and realise that they’re no longer there.  They slipped away, unremarked and unnoticed.  Your success no longer gives you the life happiness you were really aiming for.  What was all the sacrifice for?  Very often, we miss opportunities that are literally handed to us, because we are single-mindedly and doggedly pursuing our ambitions.  Missed opportunities lead to regrets.

It’s an age-old story and almost a cliché, but people still think they, uniquely, will not be the one caught in the trap, while pursuing their ambitions.  There is no objective basis for this belief.  It’s a hallucination.

In the end, ambition is exhausting and there comes a time in your life when you just can’t be bothered with it, anymore, I suspect.  The other thing that makes the attraction of ambition fade, in later life, is the fact that the fruits of your success are no use to you now, given that your best years are behind you.  What will you do with that great big house by the sea, now that your children have grown and left?  How will you enjoy driving that Ferrari, when you can’t react as fast as you once could and can barely see well enough to drive, these days?  Great; you finally bought yourself that super fast motor bike, but you’re fat and forty and a danger to yourself and others, on the public roads, with that overpowered beast.

It’s the people you wanted to share your success with that ultimately matter and you can share yourself with them, whether or not you succeed in your ambition.  It comes down to how much attention you pay.  Ambition can easily rob you of all your attention.

In the end, those repellent, desperate, grasping individuals that are busy destroying everything in their wake to achieve the dream they hallucinated, in their own heads, about the life they think they ought to be entitled to living, become quite tiresome and one is wise to try to avoid them and their ambitious plans, as much as possible.

Ambition isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

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What Happens When All the Artists Leave?

It’s an interesting question.  Can any formerly abuzz creative conurbation survive the loss of its artists and its most creative people?  I suspect London is about to find out.  I read this article this morning:

In the article, the author cites anecdotal evidence (quite a lot of it) of creative, productive people leaving London, for good, preferring to move to Berlin.  The reasons cited are the financial pressures, working life pressures, long hours, the high cost of housing, the low quality of life and poor standard of living, the homogenisation and gentrification of the city and the fact that people wanting to live the London lifestyle are pricing out the people that actually create the circumstances the real estate brochures rave about.

In essence, the root of the problem is that the privileged, rentier class has become way too extractive of the class that actually does the work and creates that artistic buzz.  The goose that lays the golden eggs is being strangled.

Why beat yourself to a pulp, work-wise, to merely exist in a tiny, grotty, 10 square metre flat in South East London, when you can work less intensely, doing more of what you want to do with your life and find a place to live that is 100 square metres, for roughly the same money and far less effort?  The calculus is unarguable.

Some people think, “Good riddance to the artists and creatives.”  Others barely notice or think it won’t matter.  We’ll see.

There is a skein of thought that runs through modern British life that seeks to correct and straighten.  Liberty, it is thought, must be curtailed.  The creatives think otherwise.  They know it is the lifeblood of the vitality of a city.  Constraining freedom, while building row upon row of identikit, globalised, chain stores and high-rise, glass-fronted apartments, with marble foyers, has all the charm of a corrective institution and none of the character of a creative foment.

Who predicted that the creative uprising would actually be a case of the creative classes rising up off their over-priced office furniture or IKEA sofas and simply leaving the place?  It’s a revolution, Jim, but not as we know it.  So far, nobody seems to be doing anything practical to retain them or lure them back.  We’re haemorrhaging the very source of the ideas that will be precious and needed, to fuel the future economy and nobody bats an eyelid.

In my view, that attractive lifestyle buzz that seems to be the reason that the cost of living in London has risen so inexorably might live on for even a century, in the myths and legends promulgated by tourist advertisements and estate agent descriptions, long after it has ceased to exist in actuality.  The flywheel effect will continue and people will continue to pretend there is an artistic, creative buzz in the capital, long after the artists have left.  However, the facts are that an entire industry will have been hollowed out.  I saw this happen in electronic product design, a few decades ago.

Some predict that London will become, ultimately, an expensive ghost town.  There will be no night life to speak of, no interesting, diverse communities to explore and to stimulate the curious, few creative enterprises and no critical mass of innovation and fresh thinking.

What I know about ghost towns, though, is that there is no such thing as an expensive one.  Ghost towns are abandoned.  Whatever there was of value, in a ghost town, becomes utterly worthless.  Everything is discarded and discounted.  Nobody wants to be there, at any price.  Is that the ultimate fate of Britain’s capital?

Berlin should know.  Seventy years ago, it was a city that was purged of its most creative and cutting edge artists.  I guess that’s why it’s cheap to live in, now.

We shall see.  We live in interesting times.

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Sensitive Souls in a Brutal World

The song that most accurately portrays what it must be like to be a highly sensitive soul, trying to survive in a brutal, uncaring world, for me, is Don McLean’s brilliant “Vincent”.  I commend the lyrics and music to you, if you are unfamiliar with the tune.  The artist described in this song, Vincent Van Gogh, and all people like him, are the people that break my heart and make me sad.  Gentle souls and sensitive artists are all too often crushed underfoot, by the insensitive, the grasping, the selfish, the ruthless, the insensate, the sadistically mean and by people that lack any semblance of empathy or compassion.  To endure a life of pain, giving the gifts of your artistic talents, generously and freely, while receiving nothing but derision, ridicule, ignorance and aggressive condemnation, in return, must be worse than a descent into Hell.

In the 1970s, I remember there was a popular band, who received accolades and adulation, seemingly everywhere they went.  The lead singer was a charismatic, larger than life character, who bestrode the stage like a colossus, yet inside, it turns out, he was a very sensitive soul who wanted nothing more than to sing and make people happy.  When the band broke up, he suddenly found himself met with resentment, rejection and indifference.  Confusingly, to him, he was singing just as well as he always had, tried just as hard to please audiences and worked as hard as anybody to re-establish himself and his new bands, yet he was roundly discarded and dismissed by previously loyal audiences.  He had had his time in the sun and was put out to pasture.  “Next!”

Being disorientated by the sudden change of fortune, drained of all energy, from years of gruelling touring and feeling lost and powerless to reverse the situation, no matter how hard he tried, he descended, sadly, into insanity.  Forgetting to eat or sleep, he would disappear for days at a time, wandering aimlessly.  Nobody knew where he was.  Few cared.  He was bound to die an early death.  The cause of this obvious decline and degeneration was undoubtedly the hostility and indifference of the people he wanted to please most.  Eventually, friends and family abandoned him and he found himself utterly alone, in a psychiatric asylum.  The psychiatrist noted his delusional and confused state, writing that the patient absurdly claimed to have had thirteen gold records.  To the psychiatrist, this was a pure fantasy.  In fact, it was true.

Fortunately, the story has a partially happy ending, in that this singer found his way back into the world, gradually, with setbacks along the way and never quite his old self.  They called it “rehabilitation”, but he has a clearer, more honest view of what it’s like to suffer a fall from fame than practically anybody.  There was nothing wrong with his art and he still sings beautifully, but that wasn’t enough to protect him from the brutality of the barbarous world.

His story is one of giving and giving and giving, putting out the very best he had of himself, but finding this met with cold, hard, cruel reactions.  Finally, he realised he had given so much, he hadn’t retained anything at all for himself.  While he was a big earner to agents and managers, he was pushed hard to bring home more and more money.  Nobody cared about the price he paid or the toll it took on him.  He was just a walking wallet, to all those people that sought to control him.  Being eager to please, he let them.  His life was not his own.  He was milked dry and glibly tossed aside, when no longer able to draw in the crowds, as he once had.  That sort of thing would have a tendency to unbalance anyone’s state of mind, I feel.

The sensitive, gentle souls who want to please, by giving their art generously, straight from their heart, are frequently threatened, pressured and squeezed, until they exhaust themselves.  All they want, in return, is to be loved, but that is precisely what they are denied.

After a while, you can see how easily the abused artist might begin to feel little other than betrayal, abandonment, like a total, abject failure and powerless to change the reactions of other people to them.  Paranoia can set in, when you wake up, one day and realise that you have been taken advantage of, by people that you loved and trusted, who didn’t have any concern about your well-being at all.  It’s a fair question to ask: who else might want to inflict such harm on you and who might already be in the process of doing so?  Far from this being a delusional thought process, it’s evidence-based.  It’s a rational, realistic response to sustained, unrelenting, merciless abuse.  The facts are undeniable, if excruciatingly painful.

Our society tells these sensitive people to toughen up, in order to withstand the blows, but to do so would be a betrayal of their very essence, as human beings and quite frankly, why should they change to withstand the terrible behaviour of other people toward them?  They are being treated in an unacceptable way, yet are told they must learn to accept it.  No sane person could remain so, when confronted with that stark, blatant contradiction; constantly and coercively.

Countless other artists and musicians, poets and writers, lovers and pacifists have suffered madness or premature deaths, due to the despair they endure at the hands of their fellow human beings, behaving despicably.  The body count is alarming and yet the death toll goes unremarked, never investigated and unpunished.  Those that inflict the most harm walk away, scot free, presumably to inflict the same, or worse, harm on the next gentle soul they find.

It’s regrettable, but true, that we live amongst legions of those that are ruthlessly competitive, bullying, heartless and domineering; whose credo is conquest and who seek to vanquish those they consider to be weak, comprehensively.  It’s not enough to win.  They have to make sure the loser feels the loss acutely.

The human propensity to crush the gentlest, most sensitive creatures among us, who are often the kindest, sweetest, most loving and generous of people, as well as exquisite artists, dismays me utterly.  They’re obliterated like bugs under a steel-capped boot.  The sensitive people are much easier to break than other people.  We should treat them more gently, to protect them from harm.  More than that, we should give them what they seek, instead of denying them, as if the act of denial is some sort of advantageous leverage and control mechanism.

They deserve love.

Do we have it in our hearts to love them?

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