Artists Under Tyranny

We know what comes next.  We know why it takes root and how it metastasizes.  And I’m afraid that, if we extrapolate from current trends, if nothing changes significantly for the better, then artists, innovators and intellectuals are all screwed.

Worse than that, we’ll collectively and individually do nothing effective to prevent it, even though we had the power and capacity to do so, all along.  We’ll watch it all unfold, paralysed by fear, disorganisation and the vain hope that if we keep our heads down and simply comply, we’ll be spared.  The truth is: nobody will be safe.

How can we be so sure?  We have the Soviet Union to thank for providing us with a blueprint for how outcomes develop, for thinking people, under any tyrannical reign.  In particular, we have the writings of  Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn, who described in insightful, uncomfortable and unflinchingly accurate detail how the lives of free-thinking, critical, creative people changed inexorably, in the face of mass irrationality.

His courageous analysis was a work of rare integrity, based on observation and a deep understanding of people’s fears and motivations.  Given that the same forces and characteristics are, today, in play once more, we can say, with reasonable certainty, that the same bleak prognosis will apply in our own time.

Tyranny creeps up on us slowly, disguised as something benevolent.  Those with eyes to see it, however, recognise its vicious nature from the outset.  To quote Solzhenitsyn, “Violence can only be concealed by a lie, and the lie can only be maintained by violence”.

Few listen, though, because the promises made, if kept, would transform the miserable lives of so many.  Sadly, there is no serious intention to keep those promises; a reality which becomes immediately apparent if you watch what they do, instead of believing what they say.

The divided are easier to rule, so the first tell-tale sign is language that overtly appeals to the idea that there are in-groups (“people like us”) and isolated out-groups, who pose a grave threat to progress, or so goes the demagogic rhetoric.  If giant red flags haven’t been waving furiously at you, in the past year or so, you are either in a persistent, vegetative coma or else believe you’re guaranteed life membership of the in-group.  But you’re not.  Nobody is.  (Well, you may be, but your life is likely to be much shorter than you think).

My family survived the Russian Revolution, Stalin’s Terror and accompanying famine, life under a fervent, national independence movement, Soviet occupation, surviving under Nazi rule, two World Wars, fleeing as destitute refugees, lived as nominally free citizens in a land of unfettered Capitalism (but as distinctly second class citizens), toiled as working class, manual labourers and experienced the opulence of living as privileged, comfortable, upper middle class elites.  Our family history is testament to what the critical thinker Chris Hedges writes: “The more despotic a regime becomes, the more it creates a climate of fear that transforms into terror.  At the same time, it invests tremendous energy and resources in censorship and propaganda to maintain the fiction of the just and free state.”. Believing the lies obediently will get you killed.

There are two simple techniques for keeping everybody in line, when the tyrants come to power.  The first is fear.  The other is false hope.  They work in tandem to ensure that nobody challenges the ruler.

Fear is the easiest to grasp, at a visceral level.  Resisting despotism is often a lonely, solitary act, exposing the dissident to the full, violent force of those that protect the tyrant.  Solzhenitsyn tells the tale of a rebellious prisoner, in the Siberian gulag, who used his training as a soldier to overwhelm and kill his guards.  Upon seeing this, his fellow prisoners immediately sat down, in horror, waiting for the replacement guards to come and place them under their supervision once more.  Far from seeing themselves as liberated, their fear of retribution made them act like cowardly captives, even though their immediate oppressors were now dead.

As much as the courageous rebel cajoled and shamed them, they would not join him in rebellion.  Had they joined him, the entire state gulag apparatus could have been decisively defeated and surely would have crumbled.  Their lack of courage condemned all of them to continue to endure continued, unspeakable torments, for years to come (if they didn’t succumb and die first).

In truth, people fear their freedom and release from whatever holds them captive, every single day of their lives.  Granted their true freedom, the responsibility of determining their own fate and the burden of having to make their own moral, ethical decisions in ambiguous scenarios, people overwhelmingly prefer to defer to a governing ruler, however malign and malevolent.  This tendency has a name: “Stockholm Syndrome”.  Tyrants know this and exploit it ruthlessly.

We saw something similar in China, when that brave, unknown man halted the tanks in the square, by the simple act of steadfastly standing in their way, daring them to run him down.  Instead of his fellow protesters joining him, in solidarity, they watched helpless, paralysed, and mortified.  Had they joined forces with him, then by sheer weight of numbers they would have rendered the military forces impotent and toppled the precarious power structure.  By standing alone, though, he was easily disposed of and erased from history.  The inaction of the rest of the protesters sealed his fate.  There are, today, vast electronic machines deployed to ensure that no mention of the incident is ever rendered to Chinese computer screens. The people in charge, “invest tremendous energy and resources in censorship and propaganda to maintain the fiction of the just and free state.”

In journalist Chris Hedge’s words, “Rebels will be persecuted, imprisoned or forced to become hunted outcasts, much as Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden are now.  A public example will be made of anyone who defies the state.  The punishment of those singled out for attack will be used to send a warning to all who are inclined to dissent.”  This is how fear works as a tool of control.

A close cousin of fear is intimidation.  Threats and menaces can be used to discipline a populace that dares to think critically of the tyrant.  Consider the so-called press conference held by president elect Donald Trump on December 11th, 2016. In this encounter, Trump refused to answer questions posed by reporters representing news organisations that had run stories he didn’t like, or who were critical of him and his agenda.  The message is clear.  Publish stories that are favourable to him, or risk being frozen out and hence, run out of business as a publisher.  Pure intimidation.

His audience was loaded with paid staffers, who jeered the media and cheered at his pronouncements, to give the false impression that the media are evenly divided between those for and against him and his policies.  To reduce public confidence in the reporters’ words, he baldly asserted that the media was dishonest.  Individual news outlets were singled out and labelled “fake news”, or “piles of garbage”.  All of this intimidation cleared the path for him to utter demonstrable lies, such as claiming he gave news conferences every other day, when he hadn’t, in fact, given one for literally months.  He also took credit for successes, such as Chrysler and Ford announcing that they would produce more cars within the United States, which actually had nothing to do with him.  Chrysler had been planning this for over a year and Ford attributed the decision to an agreement with the United Auto Workers union.

False hope works in different ways.  It turns ordinary people into willing, complicit, culpable collaborators of the tyrant.  They commit evil, at the expense of their fellow man, in order to take actions they believe will save their own necks.  If you feel pride in your position and possessions, you will hope that by complying obediently with a tyrannical regime, you will get to keep your position and possessions.  We all know that, under tyranny, everything you own, your status and your standing within society can be swept away at a stroke, on the flimsiest of pretexts.  There is no amount of compliance that can protect you from this, even though people imagine they’ll be OK.

The tyrant also offers false hope of a better future, but that always seems to be just out of everybody’s reach.  In the mean time, privations must be endured a while longer, in order to reach the promised Nirvana.  To deny your forbearance is treasonous.

Any artists that openly and steadfastly defy the state, or who continue to produce dissenting works, are easily liquidated and decapitated, one by one.  Their fellow artists do not stand by them, at times of threat, in mutual solidarity, to emasculate the violence of the tyrant’s willing tools.  Instead, the dissident is left to stand alone.  Even though every artist is, in a very real sense, already condemned, a forlorn hope that the state will ignore us if we comply will cripple and passivate many who have already been damned.  In Solzhenitsyn’s analysis, “Universal innocence also gave rise to the universal failure to act.  Maybe they won’t take you?  Maybe it will all blow over.  The majority sit quietly and dare to hope.  Since you aren’t guilty, then how can they arrest you? It’s a mistake!”   Even if you are arrested, then surely justice demands that the error will be swiftly and efficiently discovered and redressed.  This wilful ignorance and innocence, born of false hope, is fatal.

Hope, rather than giving you strength, can, counter-intuitively, weaken a person.  Solzhenitsyn asks. “If the condemned man in every cell had ganged up on the executioners as they came in and choked them, wouldn’t this have ended the executions sooner than appeals to the All-Russian Central Executive Committee?  When one is already on the edge of the grave, why not resist?  But wasn’t everything foredoomed anyway, from the moment of arrest?  Yet all the arrested crawled along the path of hope on their knees, as if their legs had been amputated.”  It is better to die on your feet than live on your knees.

In societies that are about to surrender to rule by a tyrant, those that can see it coming emerge as a stratum of wise, thinking people, who are that, but nothing more.  They’re mocked and laughed at.  Their truth, expressed through their writing or their art, sticks in the craw of people whose deeds and actions are single-minded and narrow-minded.  Like a flower that blooms too soon, emitting a delicate fragrance, they are mowed down.  Solzhenitsyn said, “These people were particularly helpless in their personal lives; they could neither bend with the wind, nor pretend, nor get by; every word declared an opinion, a passion, a protest.  And it was just such people the mowing machine cut down, just such people the chaff-cutter shredded.”  It’s a career-killing contagion.

Chris Hedges puts it this way: “The machinery of the security and surveillance state, the use of special terrorism laws and the stripping of civil liberties become ubiquitous.  The lofty rhetoric of liberty and the reality of the chains readied for the public creates magic realism.  Reality and the language describing reality are soon antipodal.  The pseudo-democracy is populated with pseudo-legislators, pseudo-courts, pseudo-journalists, pseudo-intellectuals and pseudo-citizens. Nothing is as it is presented.”  The wise, thinking people are steadily replaced by impostors, posing as wise, thinking people, but being, in truth, the exact opposite.

Demagogues, Solzhenitsyn reminds us, are stunted and shallow people. “Unlimited power in the hands of limited people always leads to cruelty,” he writes.

“The overall life of society comes down to the fact that traitors were advanced and mediocrities triumphed, while everything that was best and most honest was trampled underfoot,” he observes.  Phoney artists, innovators and intellectuals, surrogates, “for those who had been destroyed, or dispersed,” take the place of real artists, innovators and intellectuals.

The right response to despotism, tyrants and demagogues is, according to Solzhenitsyn, something he calls civil-valour.  It’s a species of valour that requires a moral courage that is more difficult than the physical courage encountered on the battlefield.  “This unanimous quiet defiance of a power which never forgave, this obstinate, painfully protracted insubordination, was somehow more frightening than running and yelling as the bullets fly,” he says.

Chris Hedges, commenting on the prevailing political climate in 2017 in America, says: “Self-interest alone should have generated sweeping protest, should have made the nation as a whole more conscious.  We should have understood: Once rights become privileges that the state can revoke, they will eventually be taken away from everyone.  Now those who had been spared will get a taste of what complicity in oppression means.”

Compare this to Solzhenitsyn’s testament:  “The traditional image of arrest is also what happens afterward, when the poor victim has been taken away.  It is an alien, brutal, and crushing force totally dominating the apartment for hours on end, a breaking, ripping one, pulling from the walls, emptying things from wardrobes and desks onto the floor, shaking, dumping out, and ripping apart—piling up mountains of litter on the floor—and the crunch of things being trampled beneath jackboots.  And nothing is sacred in a search!  During the arrest of locomotive engineer Inoshin, a tiny coffin stood in his room containing his newly dead child.  The ‘jurists’ dumped the child’s body out of the coffin and searched it.  They shake sick people out of their sickbeds, and they unwind bandages to search beneath them.”

“Resistance,” he writes, “should have begun right there, at the moment of the arrest itself.  But it did not begin.”  And so the mass arrests were easy.  And so we take our shoes off at the airport on command and submit to radiation exposures and cavity searches, conducted theatrically by the TSA, in the name of protecting us from an anonymous enemy.  Everybody knows that these measures are, risibly, wholly ineffective against real terrorists, but none dare level the accusation.

How can you win, against such a massive, oppressive regime, in which people engage in sublime insanity collectively?  Solzhenitsyn provides this answer:

“From the moment you go to prison you must put your cozy past firmly behind you,” he writes.  “At the very threshold, you must say to yourself: ‘My life is over, a little early to be sure, but there’s nothing to be done about it.  I shall never return to freedom.  I am condemned to die—now or a little later.  But later on, in truth, it will be even harder, and so the sooner the better.  I no longer have any property whatsoever.  For me those I love have died, and for them I have died.  From today on, my body is useless and alien to me.  Only my spirit and my conscience remain precious and important to me.'”

“Confronted by such a prisoner, the interrogation will tremble,” Solzhenitsyn writes.  “Only the man who has renounced everything can win that victory.”

My grandfather was held in captivity by the Communists, up to his knees in freezing water, for days.  He lost everything he owned.  In fact, over his lifetime he lost everything at least three times over.  I’m sure, standing in the freezing water of a dark, underground cellar, he doubted he would ever see his wife and family again.  Somehow, he clung on to his spirit and his conscience.  He survived, so that his son might inherit that spirit and conscience.  My father, in turn, passed that legacy on to me, as I hope to pass it on to my own children and their children.

Expect the tyrants to, in Chris Hedge’s words, “use the familiar tools that make possible the authoritarian state: mass incarceration, militarized police, crippling of the judicial system, demonization of opponents real and imagined, and obliteration of privacy and civil liberties, all foolishly promoted by the political elites on behalf of corporate power.”

Ellen Schrecker, the foremost historian of McCarthyism, said that, “the rise of Trump has been in the making for four decades.  Corporations funded and established institutions to close the cultural, social and political openings made in the 1960s, especially in universities, the press, labor and the arts.  These corporate forces turned government into a destructive power.  America was pillaged and cannibalized for profit.  We now live in a deindustrialized wasteland.  This scorched-earth assault created fertile ground for a demagogue.”

The late Lewis Powell, a general counsel to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and later a Supreme Court justice (and an evil bastard, in my view), in 1971 wrote an infamous eight page memo outlining a campaign to counter what the document’s title described as an “Attack on American Free Enterprise System.”  The memo established the Business Roundtable, which generated huge monetary resources and political clout to direct government policy and mould public opinion.  The Powell report listed methods that corporations could use to silence those in “the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals” who were hostile to corporate interests.

We can readily observe the reality of this prolonged campaign for ourselves.  Academics have been denounced; their opinions denigrated as the pronouncements of untrustworthy experts.  The church no longer has the authority over morals and ethics it once had, in no small part due to its scandalous and predatory behaviour toward vulnerable children and desire to cover it all up.  The media is fully bought and paid for by corporations, with journalisms on life support, struggling to remain viable and with newspaper business models in free-fall collapse.  The media more resembles entertainment and distraction, than being a clarion of truth, holding the powerful to account.  Intellectual and literary journals have, largely, retreated to publishing behind expensive pay walls, their papers no longer accessible to the general public, as the public library system is slowly dismantled.

None of this was accidental.

Powell called for the establishment of lavishly funded think tanks and conservative institutes.  We have them today, though they often conceal the true nature of their funding and patronage.  Their agendas remain hidden.

As part of his memo, Powell proposed that ideological assaults against government regulation and environmental protection be directed at a mass audience.  What are people, today, encouraged to vote for?  The Brexit vote was unashamedly framed in terms of removing European control over UK laws.  The desired result is deregulation of business, suspension of human rights legislation and exemptions to environmental protections.  Powell advocated placing corporate-friendly academics and neoliberal economists in universities (in much the same way that Solzhenitsyn documented the replacement of those who had been destroyed, or dispersed, with traitors and triumphant mediocrities) and banishing from the public sphere those who challenged unfettered corporate power—especially Ralph Nader, whom Powell cited by name.  Organizations, masquerading as grass roots movements, were to be formed to monitor and pressure the media to report favourably on issues that furthered corporate interests.  Pro-corporate judges were to be placed on the bench.

Academics were to be controlled by pressure from right-wing watch lists, co-opted university administrators and wealthy donors.  Under the prolonged assault the universities, like the press, eventually became compliant, banal and monochromatic.

“He spelled out a need for an alternative to academic knowledge,” Schrecker said of Powell.  “He felt the academy had been undermined by the left.  He wanted to establish an alternative source of expertise.  What you’re getting in the 1970s is the development of things like the American Enterprise Institute [in existence since 1938] , The Heritage Foundation, a whole bunch of think tanks on the right who people in the media can go to and get expertise.  But it’s politically motivated.”

“It was unbelievably successful,” she said of the campaign.  “It’s pretty bad.  What we’re seeing today is an assault on knowledge.”  Today, we speak of a post-truth society.  “What came out of this are the culture wars of the late 1980s and 1990s which created a set of stereotypes of professors as deconstructionist, raging feminists who hate men, cross-dressers, and, worse, who are out of touch with reality.”

Quoting Chris Hedges again, “The ideological attack was accompanied by corporate campaigns to defund public schools and universities,” (and privatise them), “along with public broadcasting and the arts.”  There is abundant evidence to show that the arts and artists have been left to fend for themselves, in a winner takes all economy, purpose-built to favour the rentier and the asset stripper, rather than the creatives and dissident artists.  Hedges goes on to say, “The humanities were eviscerated.  Vocational training, including the expansion of the study of finance and economics in universities, replaced disciplines that provided students with cultural and historical literacy, that allowed them to step outside of themselves to feel and express empathy for the other.  Students were no longer taught how to think, but what to think.  Civic education died.  A grotesque kind of illiteracy—one exemplified by Trump—was celebrated.  Success became solely about amassing wealth and celebrity.  The cult of the self, the essence of corporatism, became paramount.”

Schrecker said that during the McCarthy era, most of the Red baiting, blacklisting and censorship emanated from the government, especially J. Edgar Hoover’s Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Hoover and McCarthy, along with Richard Nixon and Roy Cohn, left ruined lives and reputations in the wake of their vicious inquisitions.  They effectively shut down freedom of speech and freedom of thought.

Freedom of thought is what is at stake, for artists.  Without the freedom to allow their imaginations to roam where they will, an artist becomes a flightless bird.

“There is an attack on the American mind,” Schecker said.  “A lot of what we’re seeing with Trump is the product of 40 years of dumbing down.”  Deliberate dumbing down, not accidental.

In Chris Hedges’ view, “All dissent will be criminalised.  Institutions, fearful and weak, will carry out purges of those few who speak out.  Most of society, intimidated by a war psychosis, will be compliant to avoid being targeted.  Resistance will often be tantamount to suicide.  We must not become preoccupied with the short-term effects of resistance.  Failure is inevitable for many of us.  Tyrants have silenced voices of conscience in the past.  They will do so again.  We will endure by holding fast to our integrity, by building community and by spawning new institutions in the midst of the wreckage.  We will sustain each other.  Perhaps enough of us will endure to begin again.”

With such a bleak prospect our likelihood, it begs an important question.  What can be done to end the oppression?  How can it be stopped and reversed?  If history is cyclic, as it has indeed been to date, then what causes the cycle to revert to the mean?

At what point do people snap and revolt against their oppressors?  Solzhenitsyn suggests, “So many deep historians have written so many clever books and still they have not learned how to predict those mysterious conflagrations of the human spirit, to detect the mysterious springs of a social explosion, not even to explain them in retrospect,” He goes on to say.  “Sometimes you can stuff bundle after bundle of burning tow under the logs, and they will not take.  Yet up above, a solitary little spark flies out of the chimney and the whole village is reduced to ashes.”

How can artists prepare for the coming years under tyrannical rule?  Here is Solzhenitsyn’s considered advice:

“Do not pursue what is illusory—property and position; all is gained at the expense of your nerves decade after decade, and is confiscated in one fell night.  Live with a steady superiority over life—don’t be afraid of misfortune, and do not yearn after happiness; it is, after all, all the same: the bitter doesn’t last forever, and the sweet never fills the cup to overflowing.”  We are rather obsessed with attaining personal happiness, in modern society, yet Solzhenitsyn suggests we have higher priorities, under despotism.

“It is enough if you don’t freeze in the cold and if thirst and hunger don’t claw at your insides.  If your back isn’t broken, if your feet can walk, if both arms can bend, if both eyes can see, and if both ears can hear, then whom should you envy?  And why?  Our envy of others devours us most of all.  Rub your eyes and purify your heart—and prize above all else in the world those who love you and who wish you well.  Do not hurt them or scold them, and never part from any of them in anger; after all, you simply do not know: it might be your last act before your arrest, and that will be how you are imprinted in their memory!”

It isn’t about you.  All we have is each other.  And we have love, spirit and conscience.  Do what you can to remain sound of mind and body, but defy quietly, steadfastly and constantly.  Obstinately remain subtly insubordinate.  Do not stand alone, waiting to be mown down singularly in a blaze of brief, but spectacular glory.  Maintain your understated dissent and do not lend the oppressors your consent.  Remain faithful to your own judgement, ethics and morals and refuse to submissively obey, but play the intellectual mediocrities that inhabit positions of power skilfully, so that you and those you love can survive, intact, unharmed.

Both of my grandfathers managed to get every single member of their immediate families to safety, beyond the reach of their oppressive tyrants.  Sadly, their extended families did not fare so well.  To escape with their health and their lives, my grandparents used their wit and guile and their agile thinking to, time and again, escape situations of great danger, without compromising their essential humanity.  I’m very proud of them.  There are lessons for every person and especially every artist that must, through circumstance and the political indolence of their society, live under tyranny.  Create.

Love each other and stay safe.

 

 

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Hunted to Extinction

David Suzuki, the octogenarian, Canadian academic, science broadcaster and environmentalist, recently posted a very interesting video.  In it, he asserted that economics is brain damaged.  He’s probably right.  What has this got to do with artists and innovators, though?

The thrust of his argument is that economics is not a science.  It’s a set of (warped) values, dressed up and dignified as a science, but it’s a sham science.  The example he gives is that valuable things that the planet provides are “off balance sheet”, when accounting for commercial activities.  They’re called “externalities”.  If you wipe out the rainforest, denude the oceans of fish or hunt a species to extinction, economics says that’s fine, as long as you make a percentage profit on the activity.

The underlying assumption, in economics, is that there will be another resource to exploit, when you completely exhaust one, so just move on and invest in the next thing, and making a killing on that, according to the money accountancy.  If there are no more fish, then invest in papermaking instead.  Once you’ve cut down all the trees to make cardboard, you can then invest in computers.  As long as the returns are there, economics says that it’s all right.  The free markets are functioning properly.

The whole economic value system is based on a demonstrably false premise, though; that resources are provided by the planet infinitely.  Nowhere does it admit that once those resources are fully exploited, they’re gone for good.  It has no way of accounting for that lost value.  It appears on nobody’s balance sheet, even though it is clear that humanity is the poorer for its loss and that something of tremendous potential economic value has been eliminated forever.

So, if a valuable species of tree, such as Australian semi-temperate rainforest cedar, is wiped out by economic over-exploitation (as indeed it was), and is gone forever, were those pieces of fine furniture made from those trees correctly valued?  Under our current accountancy practices, yes they were.  There was a resource, people cut it down and profits were made from selling the furniture that resulted.  The fact that this resource is no longer available for future generations, probably forever, appears nowhere on those balance sheets.  That cost was an externality.

This is what is so brain-dead about resource exploitation.  It doesn’t count the true costs.  A dollar’s profit is a dollar’s profit, no matter what you had to destroy to get it.  In effect, economics, in its end game, will turn the entire planet into a wasteland, but will be unstoppable, because during that reign of terror over all of humanity, shareholder profits will have been maximised and optimised.  What they’ll be able to spend those profits on is anybody’s guess, when all that remains is a lifeless husk of a planet.

Brain-dead economics counts human resources in exactly the same way as it accounts for Earthly resources.  The health and vitality of a population, and its creativity, are all taken as a given.  They will be in infinite supply and you don’t have to count the conditions necessary for their very existence in your profit and loss accounts, because those things are externalities.  It doesn’t matter that you have to feed a population healthy, nutritious food, in order for it to produce work and engage in creative endeavours.  You don’t need to account for the cost of warm housing and space to create.  The assumption that companies exploiting those human resources make is that those things will just be provided somehow and you don’t have to pay for them.  All you have to do is get the labour at the lowest cost, by bullying and coercion.

Of course, somebody has to pay to educate people, to hone their creative skills and to obtain spaces where creative work can be carried out.  The cost is borne by the artists and innovators themselves.

Unfettered free markets, in the past half century, have successfully exploited artists and innovators to create unprecedented corporate profits.  However, they have done so by hunting them to the edge of extinction and destroying their habitat.  It is now so expensive to find a place to engage in creative work (due to the nature of the property market), that the supply of creative industries is, in many places, drying up.  The feedstock to those creatively driven mega-corporations is perilously close to extinction.  There is nowhere to learn to be an artist, to practice and to create, without facing starvation.  In many cases, workshop and studio space is completely beyond the means of the average artist.

Innovators, too, have been hunted relentlessly.  Whereas once it was possible for some bright young engineers to start an innovative enterprise and to flourish, the operation of financial markets has made the process so unfavourable to entrepreneurs, of this type, that no sane person would buy into the bargain.  What bright and promising start-ups there were have been absorbed into larger monoliths, often bought and closed down immediately, to remove competition from a core corporate product.

What’s the result of the loss of creative habitat (workshops and studios), the destruction of creative ecosystems (networks of mutually supporting creative industries) and the extinction of innovative entrepreneurs?  We see it all around us.  There are no jobs created.  When the steelworks or dockyard or manufacturing line closes down, there is no creative industry to fill the void.  There is no equivalent of a Google or Apple in the UK, Europe and Australia.  A few large global corporations own everything and they can steam-roller competitors at a whim.

Creative industries have produced remarkable economic value, given their cost.  Yet, there’s nowhere to rehearse, let alone start a band and not many places to play, when you do.  Finding studio space large enough to accommodate the work of an artist, sculptor or photographer is nearly impossible, in most capital cities, where there has been a net loss of workshop and light industrial space to high-priced buy-to-rent residences.

In effect, it is increasingly impossible to have a bright, creative, innovative, artistic idea and to then create an enterprise around it, to allow the artist or innovator to flourish in their work.  They can’t even get started.  If they do, they are prey to much larger companies that will buy or crush them, as they see fit.  Creative people are treated as disposable, interchangeable resources, but the reality is that this resource has been over-exploited.  It is effectively economically extinct, having been driven to the margins and now engaging in creativity only as a hobby, funded by working a day job.

What is the net cost of that loss of entrepreneurial, creative talent (the feedstock to the very economy which has devoured it), which cannot now find a way to work and flourish, economically?  What is the true cost to the economy of this loss?  You won’t find the figure on anybody’s balance sheet, because it isn’t counted at all.  It’s an externality.

It is for this very reason that an evil, eugenic, master plan to cull the population of the planet doesn’t need to exist.  The workings of Capitalism, functioning entirely as intended, will do the same thing.  The economy will progressively chew through its human resource base, making them sicker, more miserable, depressed and obese, just so that profits can be made.  It will drive the creative, innovative and entrepreneurial spirits in that resource pool into extinction in exactly the same way that it over-fishes the oceans.

The rush to greed, without considering the limits to the exploited resource (i.e. us), pre-programmed into the correct workings of the brain-dead economic system we have chosen to worship, will have exactly the same effect as an evil Illuminati plan to enslave and degrade us all.  We’ll be crushed for profit until it will be impossible for us to create, to make art, to create new inventions and to provide new software and devices to improve the lives of humanity.  It just won’t be possible, when the education and workspace required is out of our economic reach as nascent, individual artists.

Dumbing down is just a side effect.  When the cost of learning and perfecting our creative powers becomes prohibitive, then the population, as a whole, will inevitably become deskilled; less capable of providing the creativity and dexterity that industry has previously thrived on exploiting.  This is why the fish caught in over-fished seas become smaller and immature.  They’re caught and eaten before they reach maturity.  Artists, similarly, will be, as a group, smaller of stature and less mature, because they will be used and spat out by record companies and the like, long before they have accumulated a fulsome body of work or matured, as artists.  This effect can already be observed.

When I was a younger man, there were many companies doing research and development, routinely.  Now, outside of Silicon Valley or China, not so much.  There are pockets of research and development activity, bought and paid for by global multi-national corporations, but the benefits to the local economy aren’t available, because the profits are repatriated.  Engineers are being farmed and harvested, but the proceeds of the bounty go elsewhere.  Because there are so few alternative opportunities where they live, these engineers work cheaply, too.  That means they don’t have the disposable income to buy art, or sponsor creative industries locally.  They’re too busy fighting to pay for their inflated, sub-standard, tiny housing.

So, I submit that the unfettered, but fully-intended functioning of unregulated markets, in an economic system we call Capitalism, has all but hunted creative people to extinction.  It is almost impossible for a young person to start a band, make a record, become a painter, create a start-up enterprise, write a book, perform, dance or do any of the thousands of other fundamentally creative pursuits and still flourish as a viable economic actor in the economy.  Even if they get started and can miraculously afford the cost of their work spaces, they are prey to larger companies that will buy, close, outcompete or otherwise thwart the creative person.

Can creatives retreat to creative day jobs?  Within corporate settings, creative humans will be paid the least money possible, so that their lives are endlessly precarious.  They will not receive rewards that are proportionate to the value of their creations.  These factors, in turn, will foreshorten their lives and affect their health, limiting their creative potential and productivity.

Meanwhile, we’re all fed nutritionally depleted food-like substances, while our living environment is progressively polluted, poisoned, despoiled and ruined.  A privileged few will, temporarily, live lives of opulence, fuelled by the profits they reap, but even they will have to live on this planet with the rest of us.  They cannot close themselves off from facing the consequences of their externalities forever, as much as their balance sheets might convince them they can.

So, the brain-dead, doomsday juggernaut of Capitalism rolls relentlessly onward; ruthlessly crushing everybody and everything beneath its wheels.

Is this what we want?

 

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Do You Feel?

Artists ask just one thing of you: that when experiencing their art, you feel something. An artist’s role, in society, is nothing if not to elicit emotional responses from their audiences. Failing to feel anything at all – indifference – is the worst kind of failure, as far as the artist is concerned. If artists can’t make people feel, armed as they are with media that have the ability to connect directly and powerfully with the heart and soul of man, then who can? Music, for example, is what feelings sound like. Colour is its own reward. Aesthetic discernment is called “taste”. An artist that cannot overwhelm your senses and transport you to another experiential state is hardly worthy of the name, after all.

Yet, society also erects ominous and formidable obstacles to feeling. We are not only discouraged from displays of emotion, but positively propagandised, from cradle to grave, to maintain a stoic, emotionally detached, sangfroid; burying our authentic reactions and feelings beneath an icy mask of controlled coping mechanisms and quiet desperation. Nothing risks quite as much disapproval and opprobrium as an emotional outburst, in which one momentarily expresses what they are really feeling, with pure, unalloyed honesty.

What are we told, first as children and then as adults? Man up. Big boys don’t cry. Keep a stiff upper lip. Keep calm and carry on. Don’t whine. Take it on the chin. Keep your chin up. Suck it up, buttercup. Worse things happen to ships at sea. Carry on regardless. All of these glib, idiomatic aphorisms share a common theme: above all else, bottle up and repress your true feelings.

Reveal them to nobody and most importantly, don’t burden anybody else with the necessity of responding with empathy. Just because you’re experiencing strong emotions, doesn’t mean you can oblige me to do the same, out of human solidarity. It’s every man for themselves, after all. To expect me to feel, because you are, is just impolite, or so the ceaseless propaganda would have you think.

This leads to several important questions. Why is emotional denial and repression valued, encouraged and almost mandated? Isn’t that tremendously harmful to the human psyche? Why is showing your feelings considered to be such a big crime? Who benefits?

Today, there is an industrial scale enterprise devoted to insisting you never experience (or more correctly, express) a negative emotion. A body of knowledge built around the assertion that the only good emotion is a positive, though understated, one has been amassed and weaponised for commercial gain. Productivity is held to be the highest and most noble of human aspirations. Passionate, explosive demonstrations of what you actually feel, whether positive or negative, is thought to be immoderate and casts the person doing so as somewhat unsound and suspect.

Resilience, while undoubtedly useful, cannot be your life’s purpose. If it were, it would signify a life marked by nothing other than incessant hardships, to which you must adapt and respond constructively, with admirable detachment, even though the shit is happening to you, without respite, all the time. Where is the joy? What happened to the good times? Why can’t you have peace of mind without synthesising it, in order to counter the unacceptable reality of your situation?

Having to be positive at all times, in the face of any horrendous circumstance thrown at you, limits the range of emotions you can be permitted to experience; feelings that have survived millennia of selective evolution for purposeful reasons. Without darkness, light is wholly unremarkable.

The tell-tale behaviours that signify somebody repressing the hell out of their feelings are pretty easy to spot. It’s a tactic we’re all taught, while growing up, but loathe to admit we’re engaging in. To admit to repressing your feelings, in a world that demands we be strong and unwavering at all costs, is embarrassing. It means we must confess we’re actually feeling something. We wouldn’t have to repress it, if we weren’t. Instead, we try to push that feeling deep down into the depths of our soul, without anybody noticing.

What we fail to acknowledge or face is that all repressed feelings resurface eventually. There are many displacement tactics we all use, at one time or another, to help us deal with our unexpressed emotions. A few of them are described below.

Some people immerse themselves in taking care of everyone else, because it’s easier to be a martyr, dealing with somebody else’s emotions, than dealing with your own reactions to crises. You look like you’re coping coolly, but you’re only evading the confrontation with your own feelings.

When someone evokes emotions in you that you just can’t handle, some people deal with that by running and hiding away. They absent themselves from the life of the person that makes them feel something strong, ignoring all attempts to make contact; treating the other person like a ghost. They only return when they’ve buried the emotion deeply enough that it won’t resurface for a while. Some never return at all, so strong is the feeling evoked in the presence of that other person.

Other people deal with the emotional discomfort of having feelings by staying busy constantly. This is an attempt to outrun their true feelings, which must inevitably be very exhausting, after a while. Workaholism is a convenient alternative to facing how you feel. It comes with its own self-justifications and the tacit approval of society. Over-commitment and over-scheduling are convenient escape routes.

Bare-faced denial is another common tactic. Insisting you feel fine and are fine, when you’re anything but, is a mask that many people wear, but it comes with a hefty dose of seemingly inexplicable anxiety and a bleak, cold, numb, dead feeling, inside. It’s not to be recommended.

Speaking of anxieties, another sure sign of barely repressed feelings are those irrational worries that are amplified hyperbolically. Many hypochondriacs are, in truth, simply emotionally out of touch with themselves. Their feelings surface and express themselves involuntarily, in the guise of new aches, pains, ailments and debilities. There’s no reasoning with them. Their emotionally overloaded subconscious is in the driving seat.

Another common emotional avoidance strategy is to remain relentlessly upbeat at all times, putting a positive spin on everything and smothering every setback or misfortune with an excessive dollop of gratitude, for the supposedly valuable life-lessons they taught them. Instead of dealing with their true feelings and worse, letting other people know they’re grappling with them, it’s easier to cast every negative thing as a positive thing in disguise. It’s obviously inauthentic and unrealistic, but worse than that, it inhibits other people from expressing their true feelings in their presence, for fear of being branded and condemned as a negative person. It becomes an infinite arms race.

Planning everything, way ahead of time, with obsessive precision, is the control freak’s favoured method of avoiding having to feel. They try to carefully orchestrate everything that happens to them, because they’re only capable of dealing with situations in which they can predict how they’re going to react and feel. The illusion of control creates the insubstantial phantom of cosy security. Trying to arrange everything, at all times, so that you can stay cocooned in your own, personal comfort zone, means you never have to do anything genuinely spontaneous or have to deal with unexpected emotional surprises. This emotionally repressive behaviour is tantamount to slamming the cage shut on your feelings and throwing away the key, so they can’t sneak out.

If you never permit yourself to be emotionally available to a partner that is very right for you, you never have to risk becoming emotionally connected and intimate with them. Your detachment is a shield against the rejection that you’ve convinced yourself must surely come eventually. You’d rather be with people who are wrong for you, because if you can shun intimate emotional attachment with these people, you can avoid it within yourself. It’s cowardly self-deception, based on assuming the worst, instead of hoping for and believing in the best.

Another way to avoid experiencing your deepest feelings is to turn everything into a joke. Morphing your pain into everyone else’s amusement and entertainment is presented like some kind of fraudulent proof that you’re not an emotional disaster inside. The tears of a clown.

Maintaining a tough as old boots exterior, hardened to the fickle winds of emotional affect, bullet-proof and not squeamish about anything at all, marks you out as an arch evader, rife with repressed emotions. There’s no such thing as an unemotional person.

I don’t mean you, of course. You’re perfectly fine. You’re unafraid of experiencing the full range and depth of your feelings at all times. Your vulnerability is positively invulnerable.

Quite recently, it came to light that three hundred police officers, in the UK, were accused of abusing their position of authority to exploit vulnerable women, many of whom were victims of domestic violence, to have sex with them. Instead of being the last bastion of decency and protection, these people misused their leverage in their position of relative power to extract something to satisfy their own appetites, instead of offering shelter and solace to those already in a terrible situation. The practice is so widespread that there is only one police force in the whole of the UK, out of a total of forty three, that has no such case under investigation.

How did the general public respond to this situation? With feeling and compassion? For those that even registered the fact, there was no outcry against the systemic failings inherent in putting horny, testosterone-fuelled young men in uniform, backing them with the full authority of the State and then casting them adrift amongst abused women, who are seeking a strong protector, only to exercise their position of privileged power for selfish sexual gratification. Far from curbing their powers and reining in their excesses, two thirds of the British public are actually in favour of arming these (and all other) police officers with tasers. Empower them to hurt some more, gratuitously, if they so please.

The hard-heartedness in this dichotomy is truly breathtaking. Those in favour of increasing the power imbalance between the general public and officers that evidently are unable to use that power responsibly and with moral restraint are, in a very real sense, accomplices to the reported abuses, yet hardly anybody will own that.

About five years ago, Rupert Murdoch’s attempt to take over the satellite broadcaster Sky, in the UK, was vetoed by the government, after a public backlash against the behaviour of many of Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers in hacking the phone messages of several celebrities and even a poor, dead, thirteen year old girl, who had been abducted, tortured and murdered by a psychopathic brute. Their methods, in breaching privacy so routinely and callously, were held to be abhorrent and Murdoch, therefore, not fit to monopolise ownership of yet more of the UK’s news media.

Fast-forward five years and the same owner is bidding for the same property, but with a more favourable exchange rate, with barely a whimper of resistance from the government or the public. It’s as if all is forgiven. It’s as if those horrific abuses never happened. Nobody feels strongly enough about the dignity of the poor dead girl and her family, any more. Those that don’t condemn it, condone it.

Yet, far from being able to cast this owner and his organisation as some sort of exceptional devils, our acquiescence actually holds a mirror up to each and every member of our society. This is who we are. We are unfeeling accessories to crime. Our tacit, corrupt acceptance empowers and emboldens the wrong-doers. We don’t own that, either.

It’s a fact that a staggering proportion of our population is currently on, or has previously taken, antidepressant drugs, to numb life’s pains and to avoid being exposed as having feelings of anxiety or depression. At the same time, suicide is the biggest killer of men under fifty. Sadly, ending it all can seem, to some, to be a preferable solution, compared to the shame of having to identify yourself as somebody feeling terribly unhappy and not coping very well. If these two facts don’t tell us that something is drastically wrong with how we regard feelings and conduct human affairs, then what more evidence do you need? Yet nobody else feels a thing.

Without a personal relationship with those suffering and dying, we barely even notice the cavalcade of misery. We turn a blind eye and carry on with our mental health assaulting systems and practices, as if there was no problem to solve at all. Rather, we look on those that succumb to mental health difficulties as weaklings, fit only to be culled. We repress any feelings to the contrary.

Children in Flint, Michigan are being poisoned by exposure to lead in their drinking water, permanently and irreversibly impairing their neural functioning, to save some corrupt crook the few hundred dollars a month it would cost to clean it up. There is no safe exposure to lead. Instead of a public outcry, though, nobody outside Flint feels a thing. The governing authorities within Flint don’t seem to care either. Meanwhile, multi-national corporations abstract clean, pure water from a nearby lake, for free, only to bottle it for sale. Do you care? Does anybody have any feeling for these unfortunate, vulnerable children? How long do you suppose we will be able to suppress and disguise our true feelings of outrage and guilt about this?

There is a man in Oregon named Semon Frank Thompson. He’s an active and vociferous campaigner against the death penalty, but he speaks with rare insight. Before he retired, Frank was Oregon’s appointed executioner. He was charged with executing two men, both of whom had given up their appeals and were resigned to dying at the hands of the state. That in itself was interesting. Had these two men finally felt the remorse for their crimes with full force, or had they simply been ground down by the death penalty machinery? We’ll never know and hardly anybody cares.

Frank, who had to supervise and conduct the judicial killings on behalf of his state, noted that after each execution, staff members involved decided they didn’t want to be asked to serve in that capacity again. Others quietly sought alternative employment. A few admitted to having trouble sleeping, developing symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder. While all of the executioners and assistants pretended to themselves and others that what they were doing was just, right, proper, sanctioned by law and simply doing their duty, each one had clearly repressed their actual feelings totally. They had submerged their feelings of revulsion at their own part in this macabre practice and were haunted by their own consciences, knowing that they, too, were now killers, just like the condemned.

To quote Frank, “It’s hard to avoid giving up some of your empathy and humanity to aid in the killing of another human being. The effects can lead to all the places you’d expect: drug use, alcohol abuse, depression and suicide.” This shows that, as a human being, it is impossible to be unemotional and not to feel, yet their situation and indoctrination demanded they carried on as if they didn’t feel a thing. It’s a classic recipe for repression. Deep seated emotional responses that the person has no permission to express.

And yet, the capital punishment machinery keeps grinding on, conveniently out of sight of society, which doesn’t care to know or feel the grisly details. You can still find widespread support for the death penalty, because the process has been so de-personalised, sanitised and de-humanised, in media portrayals. When baying for blood, consider that the blood may stain your own hands.

I think the last words belong to Frank: “We all share the burden of a policy that has not been shown to make the public any safer, and that endures despite the availability of reasonable alternatives. America should no longer accept the myth that capital punishment plays any constructive role in our criminal justice system. It will be hard to bring an end to the death penalty, but we will be a healthier society as a result.” He’s referring to mental health, in the main.

There is growing evidence that the population in prison is mostly comprised of those with profound and un-addressed learning difficulties (some due to brain injury at birth), those who have experienced serious, horrific childhood trauma and those that had suffered head injuries. What we see as evil criminals are actually brain compromised people, whose anti-social behaviour arises from their earlier mistreatment as human beings. But we don’t feel for them. Instead, we incarcerate them and brutalise them, on a daily basis, incessantly, “because they deserve it”. Our societal solution for all of these problem people is not to treat them with understanding, compassion and mercy, but to judge them harshly as unfit for lives of liberty and freedom.

Everything we know about neuroscience mitigates against prison as a means of correction. But it isn’t about correction, is it? It’s mostly about vengeance and punishment, so that the perpetrators suffer and we feel vindicated. Our dogged adherence to our own ignorance about these facts condemns us all. We feel nothing for the prisoners, but insist that their feelings be overwhelmed with constant pain and despair, for our pleasure. How long can we, as a society, repress our more charitable feelings about our fellow humans like this? How long can we reject rational, compassionate and effective solutions, based on good, solid neuroscience? By pushing these feelings down, we’re feeding a beast that will one day rise up and engulf us all.

Speaking of neuroscience, we now have a much better understanding of the mechanisms of brain damage that occur, when people are concussed. Concussion causes the irreversible destruction of critical, deep brain structures and tissues. Lateral, as opposed to frontal, blows are the most dangerous. Helmets, regrettably, do almost nothing to mitigate against this damage, as it is the result of excessive torsional, stretching forces on the cells linking the left and right hemispheres of the brain, both of which have relatively high inertia. It’s the reason why severe concussions result in a dissociation of the person’s mind. The left half literally no longer knows what the right half is doing, as a result of these cell deaths.

With all of this knowledge available to us, why then do we still participate in and become spectators of sports whose game play involves deliberate, strong and repeated blows to an opponent’s head? The players of these sports (and you know which ones they are) are almost certainly going to suffer some kind of early onset dementia, depression, loss of mobility and severe personality changes. Is that a price worth paying?

What is our culpability in continuing to spend our leisure time and money buying tickets to support these so-called sports. Are we really any better than those Romans that used to throw Christians to the lions, for entertainment? Why don’t we feel for the assured diminution of the persons we hail (only temporarily) as our heroes in these sports? Why do we still encourage little boys to participate in these sports from a young age? Are we mental? How heartless and callous can we be?

U.S. and British done operators are inflicting heavy civilian casualties and have developed an institutional culture callous to the death of children and other innocents, according to former drone operators. President Obama’s administration fully sanctions this targeted assassination programme and as such, are aiding in terrorist recruitment and thus undermining the programme’s stated goal of eliminating such fighters, the veterans will tell you. To quote an operator, “If you kill someone’s father, uncle or brother who had nothing to do with anything, their families are going to want revenge.” The drone operators and the administration are the terrorists. What could be more terrifying than being hunted down by a faceless robot, for crimes you didn’t commit, or without having those charges levelled at you, so that you could at least defend yourself. As an extra-judicial workaround, it’s positively Kafka-esque.

Drone operators refer to children as “fun-size terrorists”, likening their executions at the hands of drone operators as “cutting the grass before it grows too long”. But are they terrorists simply because a drone operator says they are? Do the operators care to discover the values and thoughts of those children? How do they know they’re destined and determined to be terrorists? Which of those dead children were actually peaceable, peace-loving and dedicated to promoting peace? They don’t care. They have numbed their feelings to the very possibility.

And what is the consequence of repressing these feelings for fellow, innocent human beings? Widespread drug and alcohol abuse, to the extent that operatives are flying drone missions while their judgement is seriously impaired. They’ve seen the abuse of children and innocents first hand and they are horrified.

Drone operators frequently intoxicate themselves using bath salts and synthetic marijuana to avoid detection in drug testing, in an effort to bend reality and try to picture themselves as not really being there. It’s a way of denying their own culpability, by imagining the “game” is not real.

How does the Air Force respond to the visible destruction of the mental health of their operators? They write emails, stating that the demands placed on the drone force are tremendous and that a great deal of effort is being taken to bring relief, stabilise the force and sustain a vital war-fighter capability. How? What makes them believe that this psychological damage is reversible or that relief is possible? Wouldn’t it be better to not damage their psyches in the first place? Why wound first and then try to heal? That’s just sick.

They go on to state that airmen (who sit in comfy office chairs, in an industrial estate, on the ground, while “flying” drone missions) are expected to adhere to established standards of behaviour. Behaviour found to be inconsistent with Air Force core values is appropriately looked into and if warranted, disciplinary action is taken. What they mean is that if you feel bad enough about killing innocents that you begin to numb yourself with drugs and alcohol, the authorities will weed you out, like a wrong’un and punish you for feeling something. The core values of the force must, we can only surmise, include the need to be cold-blooded child killers.

The Obama administration has gone to great lengths to keep the details of the drone programme secret. Why? Could it be shame? Could it be to avoid having to deal with the fallout and protestations of people that might feel something about this heinous crime? Could it be to hide away from their own consciences about what they’re sanctioning and commanding? Classified documents about the programme, leaked by a whistle blower with a conscience, who retained enough humanity to actually feel something about it, show that the programme kills people based on unreliable intelligence and that the vast majority of people killed in the multi-year campaign were not the intended targets, yet the military labelled non-targets it killed in the campaign as enemies, rather than civilians, by default.

Former operators said they had become acculturated to denying the humanity of the people on their targeting screens, developing a much more detached outlook about who these people were, that they were monitoring. Just as they were dehumanising their targets to justify their summary executions, delivered by impersonal machines in the air, they were becoming dehumanised themselves. Shooting was something to be lauded and something operatives should strive for, rationalising away the deaths of children and other non-combatants. A blood lust and an overwhelming eagerness to kill are not traits to be curbed, but instead encouraged and praised, within the ranks.

What do we, as a society, reap for our casual acceptance of drone strikes carried out in our name? To quote another drone operator, “In the short term they’re good at killing people, but in the long term, they’re not effective. There are 15-year-olds growing up who have not lived a day without drones overhead, but you also have expats who are watching what’s going on in their home countries and seeing regularly the violations that are happening there, and that is something that could radicalise them.”

During their service, the former drone pilots “came to the realisation that the innocent civilians we were killing only fuelled the feelings of hatred that ignited terrorism and groups like ISIS.” The drone programme, they concluded, is one of the most devastating driving forces for terrorism and destabilisation around the world, which has only made the problems worse. The drones are good at killing people, just not the right ones. We’ve forgotten our humanity in the pursuit of vengeance and security. Ironically, the pursuit of security, by these means, has resulted in a marked erosion of security. You have to conclude, then, that the whole programme was based on nothing more than vengeance. How do you feel about this?

A company with which I have first hand experience believes in a peculiarly inhumane human resources practice, as an article of its corporate faith. Pejoratively labelled “rank and yank”, it attempts to increase the overall quality of its workforce by an annual culling of the bottom ten percent of its workforce, according to their performance, as adjudicated by their line managers. Bear in mind that this company is already fully populated by over-achievers, performing far above the norms of the national (or international) workforce in general. The bottom ten percent would be considered outstanding contributors, in most other settings.

There is a slight problem with this annual round of the HR hunger games, however. Sacking people for poor performance requires evidence, under most employment laws (at least in the UK). For that reason, the company achieves its goals by the creation of performance improvement plans, under which, if the person does not meet the goals set by their line manager within 90 days, there are grounds for their dismissal. The goals are always onerous by design.

A consequence of this annual fight to the death is that colleagues and managers seek to sabotage the success of their rivals, rather than to collaborate effectively or encourage and help others to succeed. One particular method of sabotaging a rising star is to saddle them with having to administer performance improvement programmes, imposed on their loyal team members. I know, because with my tiny team of line reports, I was asked to administer no fewer than three, simultaneously (thereby also setting me up for an under-performance appraisal in the future, as these programmes take a lot of work and bring additional health-assaulting job stress, if you are intent on saving the employees in question).

The problem is, I had compassion for the subjects of these performance improvement abominations (none of whom I thought were under-performing, in absolute terms). I knew that the ranking was arbitrary in nature (because it was relative, not absolute) and I was also aware that I was being sabotaged, as I was a perceived threat to the secure tenure of the manager that saddled me with having to administer them. I left. My career with this company was cut short. I felt. I cared. But the company culture evidently doesn’t. Those that prosper under it think it’s just fine, or it would have been abandoned long ago, as it has been in many other companies that flirted with it.

Although the CEO of this company doesn’t recognise this dog-eat-dog characterisation of his company culture, people who know will tell you it’s the one he’s got. His refusal to deal with it is just another example of the repression of conscience and feelings. There has been at least one publicly reported suicide attempt, due to the imposition of a performance improvement programme on an employee (over a decade after I left, I must add). He jumped from the twelfth floor of the company’s headquarters building. In true “hide from shame” manner, the company didn’t even send out an all-hands email, addressing the incident. Instead, they opted for denial. Still more feelings being bottled up and held down. When will the safety valve give?

In Japan, inhumane working conditions have also led to suicide. In 1991, a twenty four year old recruit to an advertising firm, working such long hours, under such stress, that he was only getting two hours of sleep a night, who hadn’t had a single day off in seventeen months, finally snapped, concluded his life was not worth living and killed himself. Nobody cared, evidenced by the fact that in 2016, a quarter of a century after the first instance, another twenty four year old recruit of the same company killed herself on Christmas Day, after posting that she felt “physically and mentally shattered.” She had worked over one hundred hours of overtime, in the month preceding her death.

The culture of overwork to the point of death is so common, in Japan, that they have a word for it – Karoshi. About 2,000 people a year kill themselves due to work-related stress, according to the government, while other victims die from heart attacks, strokes and other conditions brought on by spending too much time at work. A fifth of the Japanese workforce faces the risk of death from overwork, according to a new government survey into the country’s notoriously strenuous working culture. The definition of overwork, in the survey, was working more than 80 hours of overtime per month – essentially putting in 6 full weeks worth of work in every 4 week period. Does anybody feel for these people or their families? How can this be condoned without outrage and immediate action to change things?

Cocaine users claim that their drug of choice is no better or worse, morally, than any other chemical intoxicant and further, that it’s nobody else’s business what substances they ingest, so long as they aren’t hurting anybody. It’s a popular view, in some circles, but it ignores the blood and killing that goes into producing each gram of the stuff. There is no such thing as fair trade cocaine. Every shipment comes with its own legacy of destroyed lives and families, corruption, environmental despoliation, violent crime, senseless murder, greed and misery.

On the consumer side, right now, nobody gives a damn. The users can be strict vegan yoga fanatics and still blow lines. Human bloodshed is just fine, for them, but not animal bloodshed.

Fox hunting and badger culling is, in their value system, abhorrent, but wasting a few South American dudes, to bring them their drug of choice is no problem. That’s an ugly set of values. With all of this in mind, why does cocaine still have such a strong hold on its users? Probably for the same reasons that people still buy fast fashion they know has been made by grossly underpaid children, working under horrendous conditions, in sweatshops. It’s for the same reason that people still consume fast food, made from tortured, abused, emaciated, sickly, battery-farmed animals. Convenience.

You have to learn to avoid your feelings and submerge your conscience, if you want the party drug to stay associated with letting the good times roll. Cocaine, interestingly, does a pretty good job of suppressing your true feelings on its own. And it’s addictive. That says something about us.

In Western “democracies” especially, the political winds have, for decades, swept toward an increasing reliance on so-called “strong man” leaders, who are prepared to deal harshly with what the populace perceives to be the root of their problems and their supposed causes of their alienation (the details of which they have absorbed verbatim, uncritically, from mainstream media sources, whose role is mostly to distract the people from their real enemies: the ruling classes). People vote for violence and intimidation in vast numbers. They want to engage in posturing, with extreme menaces and threats, as a foreign policy position. Why? Because they fear that if they don’t, their supposed enemies will use those violent tactics on them. But is it true?

In any case, legions of young men and women are convinced that, if they serve their country (and Queen, in the case of the UK), then they will be doing their duty and will, therefore, be good people. It is still held up as the highest honour to fight and to die for questionable motives, under the direction of the crooks du jour that happen to be in power. Unfortunately, a huge number of these service people return from active duty shattered in both body and in mind. The suicide rates are disproportionate to any other occupational group and the rates of post traumatic stress disorder are through the roof. Tragically, they come back, like the walking dead, having killed their own souls.

They never asked themselves how killing other people’s children could ever lead to world peace, or why it was any of their business to be in another country, fighting the inhabitants, for unspecific goals. The mission goals are always framed in abstract terms, like fighting for freedom, or establishing democracy. Not a one of them questions whether or not they, themselves, have freedom or true democracy, or understand it well enough to deliver it to others. If it’s so worth having, why do they have to deliver it by violent force? Instead, they check their consciences, judgement, morals and ethics at the door and give themselves over to obediently following orders, because they think this will make them good people.

Unfortunately, child killers are still child killers, irrespective of their costume. And they know it. That’s what all the stress is about. They know, somewhere deep down, that they have committed terrible, evil wrongs, when their initial goal was just to be recognised as a good person. The conflict between those two poles is inestimable. This is the source of their angst and mental torment. This is what tears them apart. They wanted to be good, but in following orders, committed evil. Now the shame overwhelms their repressed feelings of morality and ethics. It’s an unresolvable emotional conflict, unless they retreat to fantasy self-justifications. They try not feel, but they cannot keep their feelings down.

Others have argued (and I concur) that blind obedience to authority is the very essence of evil. You have to suspend and suppress your authentic feelings fully, in order to comply. Let me expand on this point:

Political arguments are almost always bi-polar: each side argues for their own interests, at the expense of and against the interests of the other side. I want everybody to vote for my nominee, who will do what I want, not what you want. This spectacle is no different to slaves electing which King they wish to be enslaved by. Even when your side wins the election, you lose only slightly less than the other side, because you will be taxed and your freedoms will require the permission and assent of the ruling class. You exist at the pleasure and whim of the King figure you elected. If he decides to triple taxes, or to start a nuclear war, those things will impinge on you and you have no way of preventing them.

If both sides are effectively arguing for their own enslavement and only disagree which about which guy should be on the throne (or in the White House, or in Number 10), then nobody is actually arguing in favour of freedom, self-determination, the right to act voluntarily and the right not to be governed in whatever capricious way the King figure sees fit. That’s why governments can legislate to keep and view at will your browsing history, but exempt themselves from this surveillance.

Even if you favour the peculiar whims of the King figure, you’re arguing to use the full weight of the violent means available to the State to force ideas that you want, on others that don’t want them. If you want to fund nuclear weapons, but I don’t, you’ll use your nominee’s control over Government to make sure I pay my taxes to fund this abomination, which in a free society, I would never fund. In all of these political battles, one position is never adequately represented and it is never offered as an available democratic choice. How do you vote for the abolition of a throne for anybody to be on? How do you vote for no governance, by whichever crooks lust for power?

People that hold that Government is never legitimate (because nothing qualifies the nominated leaders to know better what’s good for all of us than ourselves) argue in favour of everybody’s freedom – real freedom, requiring nobody’s permission and allowing grown adults to make their own voluntary choices, as a matter of moral and ethical responsibility. Everybody else, in the political debate, argues in favour of their own continuing enslavement, where Government tells you what to do (and what you can and can’t do), requires your compliance, and needs you to register for permission to exercise your fundamental human rights. Indeed, the current UK Government has argued in favour of abolishing human rights altogether!

Rights are not something a Government can grant. It’s not in their gift. Rights are inherent in being human. All they can do is violently prevent you from enjoying and exercising your rights. That’s what they propose, with straight face and a claimed electoral mandate. They want to suppress and curtail the rights of some groups of people, so that the in-group can exploit and benefit from the situation. As such, the Government doesn’t represent us. They’re a ruling class doing what’s best for themselves, at the expense of the rest of us, whether or not we voted for them. Unless we are members of the ruling class (and everybody seems to imagine, wrongly, that they are) we all lose, while this continues.

I don’t want to be attacked and persecuted by my Government, but anybody who has ever been late with an income tax payment or a VAT return, or tried to establish their right to reside in the country, will tell you that this is precisely how they have been treated. The people meting out this ill-treatment of citizens of their own country have no feeling or conscience about the suffering and angst they inflict, or the damage they do to families and relationships. They’re just doing their Government-mandated job. They see themselves as good people, while stifling any real feelings of remorse, empathy or sympathy for their victims. They repress those. They don’t dare to feel, for fear of not being seen as “good” by the authorities that issue their instructions.

Everybody looks to Government to solve their issues and to restore some fictitious “golden age” – to take back control. This was made explicit, in recent elections. People want and expect Government to act in their self-interests and to hell with the people they perceive to have been eroding their privilege (whether or not their “enemy” has been correctly identified, or is just a decoy put up in full collusion with the mainstream media). The fact is (and it is demonstrable by examining history) that Governments don’t innovate. They don’t solve anything. What they mostly do is make things worse.

Leaders latch onto the ideas of other people, provided those ideas are self-serving to the leader and the ruling class. Other than those examples, though, they have a very poor record of coming up with radical, revolutionary solutions that genuinely benefit the entire populace. Instead, they’re all about special interests and preserving the privilege of the ruling class. You have to ask yourself why the people that vote for these King figures and their cronies feel so little pity and empathy for those who the ruling class’s policies disadvantage materially and harm physically and mentally. How can we be so inured to this suffering that we condone and permit the continuance of this corrupt game? Governance, itself, is rotten to the core.

Most people are so fixated and stuck in the mindset of being ruled by a ruling class, they can’t even process the idea of having no throne and no King figure. It’s not a thinkable thought. In their imaginations, a world without the ruling class is chaotic, uncertain, dangerous and places greater responsibilities on them to maintain civilisation. But is there any actual evidence for this belief? Freedom, as opposed to restrictions of freedom, should be the whole debate. Do we actually want to be free, or are we going to remain content with our freedoms being at the whim of a King figure and his ruling class? What if they exempt themselves from those restrictions? Is that a fair, just and healthy society? Should we pay taxes while members of the ruling class do not?

Under whichever guy you vote to put in power, psychopaths with guns will put you in a cage, denying you your liberty and dignity, for doing something non-violent and harmless to other people, if the ruling class so decrees it. The American prison system is full to overflowing with people that didn’t pay fines, smoked a little weed or were found guilty of other minor misdemeanours. If the full span of your thought process is confined to who you will choose as your slave master, for the next four years, then you’re already spiritually enslaved. You’re not even free inside your own head. You’re a captive of a mindset planted in your brain, by the ruling class, for generations, to serve their own interest.

The ruling class, above all, needs you to believe how much you need them. But you don’t. People have been scared into believing there will be unbridled chaos, without a ruling class. How do you know? Whenever the populace begins to suspect that the ruling class is not upholding its end of the implicit bargain, to relieve the pains of the populace, the ruling class simply redoubles their efforts to terrify you, invoking all manner of anonymous terrorist threats, extremists, drug-crazed, murderous street gangs, nuclear holocaust, unstoppable waves of immigrants, unaccountable EU lawmakers, and any other monstrous horde they conjure up and claim they’re saving you from.

It’s all theatre. Without the ruling class, all of those threats would lose their motivation to exist at all and would, in fact, disappear entirely. The ruling class are the root cause of those threats, not protectors against them. The lie that you need the ruling class to protect you is always a lie and they have been telling it for thousands of years, throughout all of human history. They have to pretend they are serving you, so that you will give them power and privilege. That’s all they really want, not to make your life better. Rulers only want to make their lives better. It’s a fraud. It always was.

The fact is that even with the ruling class supposedly protecting us from chaos, we have plenty of chaos right now. The uncertainty caused by the election of Donald Trump and his cabinet nominees, the lack of a clear plan around Brexit, the Greek debt crisis in the EU, the effects of austerity budgets and rampant privatisation, far from maintaining calm stability, have presented ordinary people with a chaotic backdrop to their lives. How could not having these rulers in power be any more chaotic than this? Do you feel safe and secure now? How do you feel about all of the people that will disadvantaged by these developments? Do you feel anything for them at all?

I’ll state it again, because it’s an important idea: the belief in authority is the essence of evil. If you want to understand anti-humanity, you must first understand humanity and what it is that makes humanity something worthwhile and worth preserving. Humanity reduces to how much you feel. It’s dealing with each other with love, compassion, conscience, free will and interacting voluntarily, without coercion, instead of by way of violence. Without those emotional qualities, robots would suffice.

If there is one thing that humanity has in common is that it strives to be good, no matter how misguided and wrong-headed its attempts to do so might become. Even the terrorists think they’re doing good, standing up to an evil, over-arching, technologically superior, imperialist power, like Han Solo and Luke Skywalker would. Their actions may become twisted and warped in their quests, but they believe themselves to be the good guys, even as they pointlessly slaughter innocents.

The very opposite of humanity is when those feelings are suppressed and repressed. The enemy is when people throw away their free will, shut down their individual judgement, ignore their conscience and blindly believe and obey some notional authority. Anti-humanity is those that need somebody else to tell them what to do and to defer to. This anti-human trait applies, whatever the chosen authority is. If it’s a bronze age text, an established church, the Government, a political party, a local council or even a corporation, the essence of evil is playing by the rules, believing they will be seen as good, without thinking, exercising their conscience or using their judgement.

You will never see a war waged between people of conscience, who think for themselves, who use their individual judgement to determine right from wrong. The only wars you will ever see will be prosecuted by people who follow orders, obey authority, believe in it unquestioningly and uncritically, who think that just following orders makes it OK to commit murder. They’d rather murder strangers, with whom they have no personal dispute remotely worthy of killing them, than rely on their own consciences.

Owning your true feelings is scary. It’s scary to be a self-determining, responsible human being, because you will be held accountable for what you do. The agents of evil always hide behind the justification that they were doing what they were told and following orders. Police officers will tell you they don’t make the law, they just idiotically, stupidly, robotically impose it on you, through the application of indiscriminate, unrestricted violence. Under this justification, they effectively assert that they have given up their humanity, in favour of being a pawn of a leader/politician, because they are too cowardly to take responsibility for their own actions. If they put on a costume and wear a badge, they can act like a badass tough guy and pretend that nothing they do is their fault.

This is why there is oppression and war. People think they are not responsible because they’re just obeying orders from a higher authority. It could be a body of laws, or a church and it’s teachings or any other religion, such as neoliberalism. They think they’re off the hook for any evil they commit, because they were just being obedient, good little agents of evil. It’s not their choice and not their fault. The problem is: it is their choice. They chose to obey. The ultimate lie is that you can evade responsibility by deference to somebody else. You can’t do that. You made a choice to obey. That was your choice and your responsibility. You signed your soul over to another. You did it. You can’t imagine your responsibility and humanity away. You own it.

You can’t claim you didn’t have free will or the option to use your judgement, because of the law. You chose to interpret and enforce those laws, through your personal actions. Yet, they still insist you can’t blame them. Yes you can. Choosing to be a robot, acting on behalf of that other thing, over there, still requires your active consent and acquiescence to carry out whatever evil actions the authorities command you to. That, in the final analysis, was your choice and you are responsible for it. If you chose to be an executioner, you chose to be a killer. If you signed on to be a part of an invading force or take a job as a drone pilot, you’ve chosen to massacre innocents, at your own hand.

Being a responsible, humane, feeling, compassionate human being is scary. Sometimes, you aren’t sure what to do. You’re presented with ethical and moral dilemmas and it is your sole responsibility to do the right thing. How do we know what the right thing is, or that the choice we make will lead to the right actions? What if we get it wrong and accidentally do something stupid and immoral? People are prone to doing stupid, immoral things, after all. This is the fear we attempt to evade by deferring to authority. We think we can relax, because if we do the wrong thing, the blame lies elsewhere. But this is a ludicrous fiction.

Being a law-abiding taxpayer does not make you a good person, if you know for certain that your acquiescence makes you complicit in funding the waging of wars of imperial domination. It won’t absolve you from permitting the open and obvious corruption among the ruling class to carry on regardless. None of that makes you a good person. If anything, it makes you a robotic zombie, not a caring, feeling human being. You’ve shut down your free will, conscience and judgement, just to avoid coming to the attention of the authorities as a rebel, renegade, revolutionary and part of the resistance.

Law abiding taxpayers funded and enabled all the wars. They’re totally complicit and have blood on their hands. They did this, thinking they were obeying the laws, being a good person and doing what the authorities told them to do. People must recognise the imaginary authority of the ruling class. Laws are just pieces of paper. Murder is bad, even if it is sanctioned by the rules of engagement, in a war. Murder would still be bad, even if it wasn’t ornately inscribed on a piece of legal parchment. We all, instinctually, know it. There is no need of a governing ruling class for us to hold this fundamental truth. We all know we wouldn’t want to be treated with arbitrary, crazed violence and can easily figure out that this means you shouldn’t inflict it on others either, irrespective of the circumstances (unless it’s your last resort to stop violence being inflicted on you).

It follows, then, that you should obstinately resist authority, especially if it endangers you. Where is the line where you decide to resist? How much can you tolerate and permit, before you have to take a stand? What level of abuse, carried out by the authorities, are you willing to condone, before enough is enough? Only your feelings can tell you. If you refuse to feel, or suppress your true empathy and compassion, you won’t know where to draw that line, until it is way too late.

Obedience to authority is not a virtue; its a mortal sin to give away your humanity, though we are taught otherwise. The ultimate enabling lie is that there is any way for you to escape your personal responsibility for acts carried out in your name, prescribed by an authority you happen to have chosen to obey. You can pretend to, but you really can’t. Those repressed feelings of guilt, which you have tried to intellectualise away, will lie in wait, deep down in your psyche, and corrode your very being.

You can’t credibly claim to be anti-war, if you believe in Government and therefore endorse everybody being forcibly robbed, through taxation and Government debt obligations placed upon us, to fund wars. You can’t escape your personal responsibility for the killing, even though law enforcement officers and soldiers routinely try to. You are the final decider. It’s up to you and should always be up to you, to decide what’s right and wrong. It’s your responsibility to decide what’s true and false, in all the propaganda that is thrown at you, and you must own what you endorse.

You can’t later say you were lied to, or they didn’t do what they said they would. If democracy has any meaning at all, then not only should your voice count equally, but you must also shoulder your equal share of the responsibility for the policies you voted for. If your party imposes policies that kill the homeless and disabled, then you voted to kill the homeless and disabled. It was you. You must bear your share of the blame.

As a human being, you and I must both figure out how to behave. We cannot defer our behaviour and its consequences to others. It is this fear that has lead to more evil than anything else. War is due to people suspending their true feelings, believing in authority, their nation, their church, their football club or whatever imaginary body in power told them to kill people that are not like them. Responsibility for being a human being is on you and will always be on you. As scary as that may be, the alternative is much worse.

You are absolutely personally responsible to ensure your community has adequate infrastructure, utilities, that it cares for its elderly and provides opportunities for children to learn. If, by choosing a King figure, it always turns out that Government lets you down, failing to provide those things, that’s your responsibility too. You must protect the vulnerable, without resort to Government enforced taxation, if necessary, to prevent taxation monies being syphoned off to further the interests of the ruling crooks du jour and to commit their evil crimes. That doesn’t mean you don’t have to contribute to the decent upkeep of your community. Of course you must. Tax avoiders and evaders, while not supporting wars and corruption, fail to recognise their full obligations to other humans. They might not want to fund war and waste, but they must provide health care, roads, bandwidth and education, somehow. It’s their ineluctable responsibility and shouldn’t require coercion.

This article has talked a lot about suicide and has previously noted that suicide rates among soldiers is extremely high. Some say it’s because they see horrible things in wars and this makes them decide to kill themselves. I find it hard to see the connection between seeing horrors and killing yourself. If the connection were that strong and it was true, then the horror movie genre would be out of business. There’d be health warnings and suicide watches, whenever the Exorcist was screened.

I think the suicides are better explained by the shame and guilt that soldiers attempt to repress, in order to follow orders and commit acts of destruction and murder, on people that they have more in common with, than they have with the ruling authorities. If they do something horrible (as opposed to seeing something horrible) and the terrible reality of the evil they’ve committed, by their own hands, because they were “just following orders”, eventually hits them, then that realisation of personal culpability and responsibility could drive a person to kill themselves, I’m convinced. If you pulled the trigger on the drone that killed that child, there was nobody else pushing your finger on the trigger for you. There may have been nobody else there. It was you. You can’t rationalise and justify that away forever.

A person cannot be a moral human being, if his job requires that he follows orders without question. It’s just not possible. The two positions are mutually exclusive. If you’re going to kill your own soul and shut down your judgement, suspend your conscience and cede your free will to an imaginary authority, then you might as well take your body out with your soul. If you leave your soulless, automaton, zombie-like, sleepwalking body alive, it will become a robot and a tool of the most evil people on the planet, to be used to do the most evil things imaginable. It’s far better to stop being an obedient tool, embrace your humanity, get in touch with your true feelings and start being a worthwhile human being.

You might think you can be a soldier, a law enforcement officer, a tax collector, a bailiff, or a parking ticket issuer and be a moral human being at the same time, but it’s impossible. At some point, you will defer to an inhuman, imaginary authority, instead of applying your feelings, rational judgement and empathy. You cannot blindly follow orders, faithfully and to the letter, to appease a higher authority, and still be a moral human being. The two positions are simply incompatible. You have to take responsibility for your own actions, whether you choose to obey, so that you’re seen to be a good person in the eyes of the authorities, or whether you stand up to authority and do what you know to be right in your heart. You must, in my view, stop volunteering to be a weapon for whichever crooks or liars happened to win the election, this time around, whichever authority you choose to obey.

Humanity is scary because feeling things fully is scary. It’s why most people are afraid to exercise their humanity. It’s much easier and more comfortable to be a programmed machine, believing in whichever lies makes you feel best. I exhort you to choose the scary path of humanity, instead of the comfortable path (the evil path), which requires you to subvert and suspend your own judgement to an imaginary, external authority.

You’re going to be personally responsible for your actions either way (face it), so why give up the considerable advantages of morality, ethics, empathy, conscience, personal judgement and the autonomy to do what you know is right? Why would anybody give those things away, to wind up an emotional cripple in return, festering with repressed emotions that can erupt at any moment, volcanically? Does it really feel any better to go along with the authorities (or even having authorities), when the personal cost is so high?

Where do you start, to dismantle authority? What are the necessary pre-conditions, before the quality of peoples’ thoughts are high enough that they can make a success of a world without a ruling class? I think it starts with our approach to disciplining our children. There are two schools of thought: either they can be made to do what their parents want through violence, threats and menaces (the old “spare the rod” approach), or else they can be taught to respect other human beings and act in ways they would like others to act towards them in (the “do unto others” approach).

Those that were spanked into submission, as children, often claim, “I was spanked and I turned out OK.” Firstly, the fact that something happened to you doesn’t mean it was good that it happened. If you fell off your bike, when you were young, it’s not an argument to push children off their bikes. Secondly, the morality of a situation is not determined by whether or not it permanently harms somebody. You can’t say it’s fine to push children off bicycles because they didn’t happen to suffer a fatal head injury in the fall, this one time. They turned out fine, despite the push, in this one instance, but they could have been killed or maimed, or fallen under a passing bus. Clearly, the morality of the situation is that it’s not OK to deliberately push children off their bikes. Finally, others might not accept, on faith, your claim that you turned out fine. What kind of twisted adult goes around pushing children off bikes, after all?

Let’s say you’re in a restaurant and you see two families, each with several kids. They’re both well-behaved sets of kids, without being boisterous, loud or inconsiderate of other diners. At first glance, these are just two families that happen to have good kids. But the “proper behaviour” may have been taught in two distinctly different ways. The first family taught via authoritarian discipline. Do it because I said so and I’m the parent and if you don’t obey, you’ll be punished, disowned, unloved and otherwise emotionally and/or physically abused. The second family taught that their children should respect others – their wishes, feelings and property. Both sets of kids, superficially, appear to be well-behaved, polite and apparently considerate.

As they grow to maturity, though, these kids diverge. The first family’s children had been trained, quite intentionally, to make their decisions based on the rewards or punishments they would receive from an authority figure (their parents, at first). They have not learnt to exercise their own free will, using their consciences, judgement, empathy and feelings for others to decide what to do and how to behave. Their calculus, rather, is focused on what they can get away with. These kids are ideal recruits for the military. It’s an arrangement they understand well. If they obey orders, they’ll be rewarded. They won’t have to make their own moral decisions, because those will be made for them, by superiors. In fact, they have always been discouraged from doing so, all their young lives.

In the case of the first family, the main model of “right and wrong” that their parents taught them was that obedience is good and disobedience is bad. As adults, they assimilated effortlessly into falling in line under a new “authority” figure, without a second thought. They had been taught that it was not their place to question the rectitude or legitimacy of the orders they followed obediently. They were taught to obey without question and that’s what they did. Of course, they died, along with countless others brought up the same way, fighting in a war in some foreign land they had never heard of, for a purpose that was never clear to them. They fought against an enemy whose recruits had been brought up exactly the same way. Here were two sets of well-trained subjects, faithfully doing what they were told, annihilating and obliterating each other, loyal, honourable and obedient to the gruesome end. It’s how they were raised.

The second family grew into very different adults. Having been raised to respect the self-ownership of others, and having early on developed their sense of empathy and justice, accepting the concepts of self-determination and non-aggression (i.e. anti-violence), they spent their lives advocating peaceful, voluntary interactions, opposing and resisting aggression, whether officially sanctioned or otherwise. They didn’t murder anybody. They didn’t die pointlessly in wars.

It was only the respectful, peaceable children that turned their backs on their own judgement, as adults, who were bullied and cajoled into participating in a war, through the shame of being white-feathered and called a coward, that found themselves on the battlefield being killed, just like the obedient ones. A free-thinking individual that caves in to the pressure to obey has little better chance of survival, in a war, than the unthinking order follower.

The important distinction between the two styles of parenting is this: if you happen to command your children to behave properly, after having used rewards and punishment to train them to obey you, you didn’t teach them a thing about being good human beings. All you taught them was how to be obedient. They didn’t acquire a sound moral code. Once you are not there to punish them for their transgressions, what would their motivation be to behave decently? There is none. If all you taught them was how to avoid punishment, then the moment there is no longer a threat of punishment, why would they keep behaving that way?

Think about how that plays out in society at large. How many people do you imagine act the way they do, because they no longer fear punishment from an authority figure? How much pain and misery do they inflict on others because they have no empathy, feeling or respect for other human beings? If some authority they happen to find themselves under the control of commands them to do bad things, what do you think they will do? Will they feel any remorse and guilt, or feel themselves absolved of any responsibility for their actions? Still think they worked out OK?

If you wish to perpetuate the lie that we need to preserve a ruling class, then it’s easy. If you want your children growing up to be perfect subjects of whatever authoritarian regime happens to be in power, to blindly obey commands to and to have their decision-making processes governed entirely by reward and punishment mechanisms, then raise them using authoritarian methods, punish them harshly, when they don’t follow your commands and teach them unquestioning subservience and blind obedience to arbitrary diktats. That’s how to build a world where the question of self-governance, voluntarily, without being subject to the whims of a ruling class, can never arise. The choice will always be between which King figure to enslave us next. In fact, to attempt to remove Government, when people are stuck in this mindset, is to invite disaster. They’re not mentally prepared to live successfully, without hierarchy and violence.

If you raise children this way and they later join the forces, and they end up charging into battle, murdering strangers, or getting killed or maimed themselves, that will be the ultimate indicator that you have achieved your goal of training a human being, in your care, to forego their own conscience, free will and individual judgement, in favour of blind obedience to an external authority. Great. You’ve done it. No doubt, you expect some reward.

I’ll repeat this again: you will never see a war between two sets of people who were raised to think for themselves, to judge right from wrong for themselves, to accept personal responsibility for their own decisions and actions and to never hide behind the excuse that “they were just doing what they were told.” You will never see a war between people that feel for other people, with empathy, respect and consideration. Wars can’t happen without the complicity of heartless, authoritarian parents.

To change how society thinks and functions, therefore, you need to make people uncomfortable about their own authoritarian assumptions and traditional methods of parenting, which train people to become unthinking drones (or drone pilots). To fail to do so is to feed perpetual injustice and war. Even if you were brought up in an authoritarian way, it is your choice to change and to encourage the next generation to think responsibly, morally and ethically, for themselves. It is your responsibility, however damaged you may be, to encourage people to stand up to illegitimate authority (and all authority is illegitimate). This is the only way we can change the world so that it can function successfully without a ruling class.

If you were spanked as a child, or if violence was used in any way to coerce you into exhibiting acceptable behaviours, and you grew up to become a law enforcement officer, a soldier, a tax collector, a government bureaucrat, a department store security guard or just a proud, law-abiding tax payer, then I’m sad to say that you didn’t turn out OK. You turned out to be human livestock, serving a malicious, parasitic, violent, privileged, ruling class. That’s a harsh thing to face, but that doesn’t make it any less true. We are all, to some extent, tainted by this shared, cultural past. Even artists. We’ve all be affected. We’ve repressed the truth and the hurt of it, but it’s deep down in there, waiting to erupt and explode.

The very worst thing you can do is pass the authoritarianism on to the next generation. If you teach your children to respect and obey authority, then you are training them to be amoral, unthinking, compliant subjects of whatever thug, strong man, gang, cabal, dictator, crook, tyrant or ruling class they happen to latch onto as their new “authority”, after you no longer control them. Alternatively, you can stop it, help your children, help yourself and help humanity, by training them to respect others and to act with integrity and self-determination, based on a set of sound, humanitarian values. Above all, teach them to feel. Break the cycle. The choice is yours and you are personally responsible for your choice.

Enforcement, as in “law enforcement” and also as a cultural approach to organising human affairs, has a very big problem associated with it. The clue is in the name. It contains the word “force”. Force means violence against resistance and all violent force is potentially lethal. That being the case, the premeditated use of force to enforce carries the very real risk of homicide; premeditated homicide (or murder). At best, it’s bodily assault, but it’s never called that, if it’s carried out by one of the supposed “good guys”.

In fact, enforcement is the absolute epitome of violence. It’s almost always disproportionate, because it is one human being trying to get another human being to comply, by hurting them, possibly fatally. Given this is a “right” that nobody legitimately has, then it follows that it cannot be delegated to law enforcement officers or elected officials that write the laws.

If you think the enforcers are always acting with benign intentions, here is a picture of a man governing another man, because he was authorised to do so. He thinks he is using a non-lethal weapon to make the man with the firework comply with his instructions. He’s enforcing his word, which must be obeyed, because he has his authority costume on.


In fact, there are no non-lethal weapons. All weapons are potentially lethal, especially if used without a thought regarding the possible and likely consequences, in a given circumstance – a thought process that can easily be avoided, if you fervently believe you will bear no responsibility for your actions and can hide behind the orders of a higher authority. But as we have seen, that line of reasoning is a lie and to imagine otherwise is delusional. The person using this weapon and the people that made, sold and distributed it, share responsibility for what happened in this picture.

Nobody explicitly authorised this human being, wearing his magic costume of authority, to set fire to another human being, for the sin of not complying with his arbitrarily-issued instructions. However, Officer Flame-Thrower will tell you he was just doing his job, enforcing the law. In his mind, setting fire to a man, for the sin of running around with a firework and not sitting down when told to do so, is justifiable force, to obtain instant obedience. The authorities will, of course, back him in this assertion, or risk losing their authority.

Once violence is invoked, it is exceeding difficult to bring to a halt. Things simply continue to escalate, aided and abetted by a population that doesn’t care to feel for the victims. Fifteen years after the September 11th attacks, attributed to the wrong regime anyway, the war on terror hasn’t gotten past its opening act. Ninety percent of Iraqi youth now consider the United States to be an enemy of their country. The Islamic State, itself a consequence of the US invasion of Iraq, which may have been financed by Saudi Arabia, now controls vast areas of territory in Iraq, Syria and Libya. Evidently, it has demonstrated an emboldened capability to orchestrate attacks on mainland Europe. The past 15 years of war have come at a horrific cost and yet, little progress toward the original war aims has been made.

The US lost 4,500 service personnel in Iraq, another 2,300 in Afghanistan and hundreds of thousands more were forever damaged, with life-changing injuries. These figures exclude the 6,900 US contractors and 43,000 Afghan and Iraqi troops who lost their lives. The death toll in other countries attacked by the United States remains untallied, but conservative estimates guess at hundreds of thousands to well over a million. Add to that count the hundreds of people tortured in US custody and the thousands killed by US drones in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia and you have rivers of blood, justified on the basis of scare tactics about weapons of mass destruction, which we now know (and actually knew at the time) didn’t exist.

The financial cost of the war on terror runs into the trillions of dollars. We were governed into this war by leaders who are no longer even in power. Different King figures are on the thrones, but the war has its own momentum and doesn’t show any signs of ending. Military defence contractors, with no incentive to act in a morally correct way, have built an entire industry on providing overpriced solutions to made up problems. Every law abiding tax payer foots the bill. They bear the government debt that is loaned to finance these corrupt excesses and see their services and quality of living eroded, as the new King figures attempt to balance the books. Another trillion dollars has been spent building up a police state in the American “homeland” itself, too.

At home, the war on terror has become a constitutional nightmare in the United States, which has adopted a practice of indefinitely detaining terror suspects. Similarly, civil liberties are daily eroded in Great Britain and Australia. In the 2016 US presidential campaigns, torture became one party’s applause line, in no small part due to President Obama’s failure to prosecute the architects of the Bush-era torture programme. All of this foreshadows a war which could stretch 10, 20, or 50 more years – the governments of Great Britain and Australia remaining silently, serenely complicit. There is no way of calculating the loss to the civilian population. This is the population that cannot imagine the chaos of having no ruling class, remember.

An estimate of the cost can be measured in the devastation of the towns and cities which once bustled with life, in the families torn apart by drone strikes and in the havoc of hundreds of thousands forced to flee their bomb-damaged homes, leave their families and their homeland and their former life behind, as everything they knew is torn to shreds, for no clear reason.

It can also be measured in the blood of the obedient service personnel, who were lied to, propagandised and indoctrinated their entire lives, given a ticket out of post-industrial poverty by the military, shot up with experimental vaccines and shoved into the meat grinder for tour of duty after tour of duty. Of course, they had a choice and bear ultimate responsibility for believing the lies and propaganda, for taking the decision to follow orders without thinking and who were compliant in the face of an authority that clearly did not have their interests at heart.

In most cases, when they returned home, they were left to rot in run-down, de-funded hospitals and ignored by the glad-handing politicians trying to get themselves elected to power, to be the next King figures. The military-industrial cronies of these politicians and the bankers that financed their production have also disavowed responsibility for the ongoing care of veterans maimed by the weapons inevitably, mysteriously supplied to both sides of the conflict. They renege on their social obligations because they can get away with it. They can get away with it only because the population, as a whole, has turned a collective blind eye. They don’t care. They don’t feel.

Is it very surprising that, on realising they have been cynically manipulated and having obediently carried out evil crimes, for uncertain justifications, commanded by authorities that were never honest with them, or looking out for them, that suicide is gradually thinning their ranks? They obeyed so that the authorities would consider them to be “good”. They believed, without corroborating evidence, that their unquestioning obedience would buy them favour and the protection of their superiors. It never did and it was never going to. They’re not their parents. It was a grave error of personal judgement to sign up to obey. They held their own feelings down, so that they could execute on their orders, but once the double cross became obvious, it was impossible to contain those repressed feelings of guilt, shame and culpability.

It is widely recognised that the world of feelings and emotions is unpredictable, confusing and difficult to control. We fail to recognise that controlling your feelings is probably the wrong goal. In some societies, people are taught that it is all right to experience feelings and to tell the truth about them, witnessing their inevitable presence in our lives. In most industrial societies, however, children are taught strategies to suppress and deny their feelings, especially their so-called “negative” feelings, and that leads to problems later on.

Emotional suppression sometimes serves a useful and even an essential purpose. When we suffer a severe, traumatic injury, the body’s automatic shock reaction blocks all feeling and sensation, temporarily numbing consciousness and even causing amnesia about the details of the event. We have a memory blank so that we can begin to recover. Children that experience physical, emotional or sexual abuse commonly report feeling numb, losing consciousness and experiencing a disembodied feeling, observing the event objectively from above. In these cases, emotional suppression serves as a merciful blessing and a necessary first step in the healing process.

We learn, at a tender age, that no matter how much a parent, boss, policeman or other authority figure may violate you, it rarely helps to vent your rage. Expressing anger usually only makes matters worse and in some situations, can even get you killed. After the assault, as grief-stricken as you may feel inside, you learn that crying doesn’t help either, especially around people that will not abide your tears. You learn that the time and energy you expend expressing your grief, through bitter tears, might be better spent getting essential things done to remedy your situation.

We’re also conditioned to avoid showing fear to others, as that can undermine one’s ability to lead or take immediate action. It also marks you out as potential prey, to the predatory. Other situations force you to suppress your feelings, because they would be thought of as inappropriate. Experiencing sexual arousal at the wrong time or place, or with the wrong person, or laughing at a funeral, are most definitely considered to be unacceptable behaviour. We are taught to suppress our emotions as a way to avoid expressing them. We feel, but we cannot show that we feel. In order to form polite, civil, working groups, individuals must somehow control their emotional energies; maturing socially means learning to rein in our natural (but childish) tendency for emotional expression.

Regrettably, although emotional suppression can sometimes serve useful purposes, inhibition of the free flow of emotional energies, over a lifetime, causes serious damage to our bodies, minds and spirits. It’s quite literally a killer. Stifling emotion is like stifling life itself. Some describe it as a slow suicide from self-strangulation. Because the injuries from emotional suppression are so serious and debilitating, it would be only rational to find healthier ways to deal with the constant flow of emotion that we all feel.

Suppressed emotions don’t go away, they just sink deeper. Instead of resolving the emotion with some kind of positive response, we unconsciously choose to hold it inside, unresolved – sometimes for very long periods of time. It seems to be that people only have so much capacity to hold suppressed emotions inside. At some point, you’re overloaded with it. That can really make you feel low and our minds and bodies begin to operate at less than optimal efficiency. Our life span foreshortens, our immune systems weaken and our creative potential dries up. Disease, poor health and general unhappiness crowd out our life. We struggle along every day, energy-starved, while a huge volcano of unexpressed emotions lies beneath the surface.

We need our emotions. They provide us with the vital force to think creatively and act decisively. The more successfully we suppress our emotions, the less successfully we do anything else. Suppression leads to dysfunction. If you want a root cause for the ills of the world, look to this as a potential answer (and hence, feeling is the cure). All of the nastiness and cruelty, the inhumanity and narcissism, the insouciance and selfishness, the greed and recklessness, can be traced to emotional suppression. Learn to experience all emotions, positive and negative, in a healthy way that permits you to take effective action to change the situation and you begin to cure what’s wrong with society.

Emotional suppression changes and deforms our bodies. Inevitably, emotions bottled up inside cause us to express these in chronic tension and contraction of our muscles. Those muscular tensions are powerful enough to change your body form and posture, almost always for the worse. We hunch. We slouch. Our chests cave in. We tilt our pelvic bones away from intimate contact. We clench and grind our teeth. We hold our feet and hands in tension, eventually affecting our mobility and dexterity. We get inexplicable aches and pains, or recurrent injuries. Even our faces tense up, leaving tell tale marks and changes to our visual appearance.

All of that constant muscular tension fatigues us. Forceful muscular contraction and stifled breathing, all part of forcing an emotion to be suppressed, takes a toll on your physiology. The stronger the emotion, the more force required and it takes continual contraction and denial to sustain the suppression. The older you get, the more emotions you have bottled up and the more energy it takes to keep the suppression going. That’s going to wear you down, in the end. So much of the chronic fatigue that afflicts people in modern societies stems from this unconscious sustaining of emotional suppression.

If we remain chronically guarded and contracted, to maintain our emotional suppression, then it becomes exceedingly difficult to reach out and touch others, both physically and emotionally. We begin to lose our capacity for empathy, mercy and understanding, because it is all we can do to keep our selves together and functional. Our connectedness to others suffers in direct proportion to the emotions we suppress. Thinking back to prisoners, most of whom are emotionally damaged, but unable to express it, is it any wonder they act in such decidedly antisocial ways? What else would you expect? If a drug addict is expending all their resources numbing their pain chemically, why would you expect them to be sociable, affable, charming, well-adjusted and capable of positive interactions with other people? Of course they’re going to steal your stereo. They’re too emotionally constipated to consider your feelings.

When I see emotional suppression and its connection to the reduction of compassion and social empathy in these terms, it’s no wonder there is racism, discrimination, sexism, bigotry, the persecution of minorities, huge income inequalities, corruption, extremism and terrorism. Everybody is some version or another of Ebenezer Scrooge. Positive emotions, such as love, compassion, empathy, intimacy, and trust only occur between people who can connect. The more we suppress our emotions; the less we can connect with others and the more difficulty we have with basic human relationships. A tight and chronically suppressed person has contracted his or her being in and away from others and becomes effectively disconnected and less able to relate. They’re emotionally disabled.

The emotionally disabled act in destructive ways. All of our violence, wars and oppressions, racism and sexism, and various domination-driven inhumanities can only be perpetrated by those who have cut themselves off from “the other.” We cannot intentionally hurt another person (or animal, plant, or ecosystem) with whom we experience a living connectedness. To the contrary, before we actively attack or exploit another person or group we must first sever our common links. Before we lash out, we must first suppress, contract, disconnect, and separate. This is why it is so important to learn to feel.

We’re awash with people that have been conditioned to suppress their emotions, since early childhood. All of their traumas are locked away inside. They struggle with the emotional experiences that define any life, hiding from grief, running from fear and collapsing helplessly in the face of anger. The simplest pleasures elude and perplex them. They live their lives of emotional suppression defensively, reflexively and unconsciously; their biological, creative and intellectual potential dammed up, rendering them prone to disease and less capable of dealing with the challenges of human existence. In their emotional suppression and resulting disconnectedness, they feel alone and lonely. Their enthusiasm for life is diminished, they feel chronically fatigued, tired all the time and no longer experience joy through play. They make terrible artists.

The emotionally disabled treat everybody else abysmally, as you would expect. How could they not? The essence of their humanity has been conditioned and trained out of them, through judgemental opprobrium. Knowing no other way of being, they routinely pass the same on to their hapless children and so it passes on, down the generations. They can’t even feel the insanity of it all. They do not feel.

A healthy approach to being able to feel emotions is often called “emotional intelligence”; a much maligned and misunderstood term that is often mistakenly taken to mean that you seldom feel anything “bad”, because you’ve developed the discipline “not to”. If that were the definition, it would equate precisely to emotional suppression. In truth, emotional intelligence is not about control over what you choose to think, how you allow it to affect you and how placidly you react, in the face of any situation, no matter how upsetting, alarming, disturbing or unacceptable. It’s something very different.

Real emotional maturity is about how thoroughly you let yourself feel anything and everything. Emotional intelligence is the extent to which you can immerse yourself in those emotions, whether they’re good or bad. It’s about the quality of your emotional sensation, not the careful subdivision of feelings into positive and negative, avoiding the negative. The foundation of authentic emotional intelligence is a realisation that whatever comes, even if it’s the worst thing that could ever happen, it’s just a feeling – a sensation – in the final analysis.

When you see emotions from that perspective, the only thing bad about the very worst is how you would feel about it. It’s all perceptions about what you make it out to be, what you think or assume the repercussions might mean and how those would ultimately affect how you feel. The ideas we hold about pain always seem to last longer than transient, physical pains. We may harbour a sense of foreboding, fear, anxiety, a sense of worthlessness, the notion of being alienated and not belonging, for a very long time, compared to physical pains such as a pinch, a sting, a pang of hunger or a kick to our ego.

We fear our feelings because we have been taught that our feelings have a life of their own, that they’ll carry on forever if we give in to them and that even momentary awareness of them condemns us to suffer with them, without relief or respite. Truthfully, though, have you ever felt joy for more than a few brief minutes at a time? Doesn’t your anger flare, but quickly dissipate? It’s only your tension, depression and sadness that last longer – products of emotional suppression, rather than emotional experience. These long-lived sensations are symptoms, not feelings.

Suffering has been defined as the refusal to accept things as they are. That’s all there is to it. It owes its etymological roots to ideas of bearing from below, resisting, enduring and putting under. In other words, suffering is suppression. It follows, then, that healing is simply permitting yourself to feel. Unearthing your traumas, humiliations and losses, allowing yourself to experience the emotions that you ought to have felt in the moment, but which you denied yourself at the time, can be extraordinarily cathartic. Giving yourself time and permission to filter and process all the emotions you suppressed at the time may be what you need to let you keep going; perhaps even to survive. Carrying the weight of suppressed emotions around with us becomes burdensome and tiring.

We’re afraid that reacting appropriately emotionally, in the moment, will be beyond our capacity to cope, because the feelings would be far too big. Moderation is the biased, default mindset of our age. We were taught to love, but not to be too loving, because we might get hurt. If we are too smart, we’ll get bullied. If we’re too fearful, we’ll be vulnerable. It’s as though we must attenuate the amplitude of our emotions, for fear of the grave consequences of leaving our feelings as large as they may actually be. We’re required to be compliant with what other people want us to feel, especially authority figures. In what sphere if life does anybody actually know what’s best for anybody else, though? The presumption that we should acquiesce is based on little more than implicit, assumed threats of violence and loss.

This is not an easy cycle to break. As children, we were punished for crying out, if our emotional state wasn’t in perfect alignment with our parents’ convenience and expectations. Somehow, you had to manage to not feel sad in front of the guests, even if you were justifiably sad, or complain about hunger, en route to some distant destination. Children aren’t afraid of feeling too much; it’s the people that call them crazy, hysterical, dramatic, histrionic and wrong. They are the ones that don’t know how to handle it, who by dint of the power imbalance of the situation, want you to stay conveniently hushed up and bottled up. Those are the people that want you to not feel, not you.

The numbness you inevitably feel, in complying with others insisting that you suppress your emotions is, ironically, a feeling too. It’s feeling everything, but having learned not to process anything at all. Numbness is not nothing; it’s the feeling of adding to a perhaps already-full bottle of suppressed emotions. If you felt nothing, you would feel neutral – neither numb, nor in pain. The fact that you feel numbness, in place of the emotion you ought to be feeling, is because you’re feeling everything at once. It’s not an absence of feeling; it’s an overload.

Your feeling of sadness may be telling you that you are still attached to something being different. However, your guilt is saying you are afraid you may have done something bad, in someone’s eyes and your shame reinforces that with the idea that you are bad, in someone’s eyes. It’s usually somebody you care about or respect, or otherwise feel the need for their approval. Anxiety is your internal resistance to the process of emotional suppression. It’s your sense that something is wrong, that you are losing control of your own emotions and that your conscience is uncomfortable about that.

Your tiredness and feelings of perpetual fatigue are your subconscious resistance to who you are being turned into, as opposed to who you really are and the person you actually want to be. It’s the feeling of your will being broken. Your annoyance and shortness of patience is directly proportional to your repressed anger. Depression, which gives rise to marked biological changes in your neurochemistry, is everything you suppressed coming to the surface, even as you struggle to keep it submerged below the level of your consciousness.

At some point, most people conclude that life cannot go on this way, that you’re missing out on much of the flavour of living, that you’re off course, stuck, lost and without compass or bearings. It is at this point that you might realise you don’t need to change your feelings to suit other people. Instead, you learn to lean into them, savour them and try to learn what they are trying to tell you. They almost always have your best interests at heart, if you take the time to pay attention to them. Your emotions are how you communicate with yourself. We know this instinctually. They’re a feedback loop designed, over evolutionary time, to preserve our well-being. This is how we find ultimate peace: by allowing ourselves to feel, authentically, without judgement.

Every feeling is worthwhile and valuable. We miss so much of our own lives by trying to change our every emotional response into something more anodyne, or by thinking that some feelings are right or wrong, good or bad, positive or negative. We get stuck in internal arguments about what should have been, or shouldn’t have, all because we’re afraid that we’ll tell ourselves something honest, that you might not want to hear or heed. The feelings we suppress most are often our most reliable guides to our hearts’ true desires. We don’t suppress these feelings of our own volition – we do so for fear of concluding something other than what those around us have strongly implied they will find acceptable. We want so desperately to fit in and so, forego the opportunity to be outstanding and unique.

When you jettison your own moral judgement and internal compass, valuing other people’s acceptance of you over your own, you sign up for a life of battling your own instincts, in order to assimilate the needs of other people’s egos. This is, in fact, what obedience is all about. Obedience is the decision to suspend your own conscience, judgement, values and desires, to gain the favour of some authority figure or other, so that they might permit you to live, relatively unmolested by their violence.
When you give up your very humanity, in this way, by suppressing your true feelings, you find a world and lifetime of listening to yourself, leaning into your emotions, allowing them to be, following what they tell you, perceiving in high fidelity, and of experiencing the very sensation of feeling will constantly elude you. You’ll have cut yourself off from your own soul, for want of a more apposite term. Sadness can’t kill you. Depression, as a sensation, won’t necessarily do so either, but fighting it most assuredly will. Ignoring what your feelings tell you, loudly and clearly, so that you look good to others at all times, will slowly demolish your body and mind. Trying to escape your feelings, rather than confront them, or denying them, or suffocating them, or allowing them no place to go other than into your deep subconscious, where they will embed, fester and control you, will all slowly destroy you.

Suppressed emotions will rob you of every bit of life you do have. Your choices are to allow yourself to feel everything, or else numb yourself into feeling nothing. You don’t get to pick and choose which emotions you will feel and which you won’t. You are either attuned to their ebb and flow, or in resistance to the nature of them. It’s your choice and your responsibility to choose.

Compounding human misery is the tendency to doggedly stick with a wrong or bad idea, in the full knowledge it is wrong, even if it means other people suffer, rather than admit to your mistake. We’re so afraid to feel the shame and vulnerability of having harboured and supported bad notions, we’d rather suffer ourselves, than admit we were in error. In our culture, being right is equated with being smarter, more moral or better than others, so we can’t face what we perceive to be the opposite of those things. We’d rather dig our heels in and insist we were right all along, no matter what intellectual convolutions we need to engage in to justify our position.

We hold onto bad ideas long after we’ve begun to doubt their correctness ourselves. Admitting you were wrong about one thing opens the door to the possibility that you were wrong about many other things; perhaps everything. We find this feeling hard to accommodate. This is one of the more significant impediments to positive change, in the world. We’d rather believe Government is essential, long after the evidence conclusively shows it to have been a massive mistake, impervious to tweaks to correct it, and a terrible burden on humanity, for example. Most people still can’t process that idea, as I said earlier in this piece, but it’s a central idea is getting past the current global mayhem.

Recently, it was reported that eighty percent of Britain’s 40 to 60 year-olds are overweight, sedentary and drink too much. Rather than have some sympathy for these people and soberly, honestly, reflectively examining what must have led to such significant numbers having diminished health prospects, radio shock jocks demanded that they pay for their own health care, rather than burdening the NHS (which they have funded, through their National Insurance contributions, for decades). In a classic example of victim-blaming, they put the problem onto the shoulders of the afflicted, as if there were no other root cause than their own indolence and stupidity.

When an entire population cohort has such a percentage ailing, that’s not stupidity and indolence. It would be actuarially impossible for that explanation to hold. I submit it’s the weight of repressed emotions they’ve accumulated, after five decades of neoliberalism and its harsh, unfeeling doctrines. It’s the physical manifestation of the horribleness of their life chances, over the lifetime they’ve lived, in aggregate. In other words, the ill health of an overwhelming majority of a single age group points to a systemic problem. Perhaps they’ve been governed too inhumanely for too long.

We must, as a society, begin caring more about out-groups. There are reports that in Britian, the homeless are moved on by wetting them down, on freezing nights. Why is this not an act of premeditated, attempted murder? There can only be a few likely outcomes to saturating people, in freezing weather and leaving them outside, without warmth, protection and shelter. They will die, or get severely ill, or lose extremities to frostbite. What else can happen?

We read that a security guard for a major department store in Portsmouth, which prides itself on its glitzy, cosy, Christmas ads on the television, allegedly did precisely this, on Boxing Day. The advertisements preach goodwill to all men, via lush voiceovers, provided by A-list stars. Their guards act differently, it appears. A homeless man was soaked to the skin, ruining his bedding, donated supplies and clothing, and the security guard was abusive to him. No doubt, he believed he was just doing his job. It was his understanding that his employers required him to move the homeless on, by any means, to ensure customers weren’t put off entering the store and spending their money.

Let’s take a closer look at the web of culpability. The department store, on investigating the allegation, claimed that it was a simple mistake and offered their apologies and some new clothes to the homeless man, to make amends. It was lucky he was still alive to apologise to. While they claim their guard acted without authority and accidentally, it was clear that this employee had an unfeeling attitude to the homeless. That should have disqualified him from employment in this position of minor power. The department store and the guard must both own this.

Those A-list celebrities, who said nothing, also own some of the blame. The taint extends to them. They played a part in creating a stark dichotomy between the cosy, Christmas message and the reality of homeless people with nowhere to sleep. Had the man died, or been maimed, they would have been accessories to the fact. It was the image of the department store they played a part in creating that the guard was trying to realise; clean, sanitised, with no inconvenient homeless people spoiling the idyllic scene.

No doubt, the guard himself would be very unlikely to admit personal responsibility for his actions, but the objective facts are that, without a badge and a uniform, he was a man who mistreated another less fortunate homeless man, because he deferred to an authority and disclaimed his role in it. The man he mistreated probably had a home, at some point, but had lost it for whatever reason. In reality, then, he wasn’t a homeless man. That’s a label. He was, when it’s boiled down, just a man – abused and assaulted by another man, who thought he was only doing his job. This is the point we have reached, in modern Britain.

Disturbingly, those who advocate kindness, respect and tolerance are openly derided as “bleeding heart liberals”. Selfish, cold-heartedness appears to be the new fashion. Everybody is espousing harsh treatment of those that need help most. They’re seen as the problem and the burden and it seems to be unacceptable to carry them any longer. It’s every man for himself. Look at it this way, though. What amount of repression and emotional denial will it take to behave this harshly, consistently? To remain unfeeling, in the face of situations that require you to feel, is an emotional breakdown on a massive scale, just waiting to happen. This combustible mixture of outward cruelty and inwardly suppressed feelings is liable to blow up in all our faces.

When it is stated Government policy to act in such inhumane ways, is it any wonder that the arts are being progressively de-funded. The arts are, after all, an entire industry devoted to getting people to feel something. To have people feeling would be to undermine the emotional repression required for the continued, flawless functioning of the dogmatic, ideological system, as imagined and enacted by the ruling classes. If people start feeling, the jig is up for the rulers. This, dear readers, is the point. This is their Achilles heel and the most compelling reason why we must feel, more authentically and deeply than ever before. Artists have a critical role to play.

We retreat from feelings because our world is now so complex and unjust, that those feelings would threaten to overwhelm us. Instead we construct unrealistic, simplified viewpoints and models of reality, which are not reality and we know it, but we insist on inhabiting those imaginary spaces, all the same. That confection, which exists in only our own minds and which runs counter to the evidence of experience, if we cared to look, is where we spend most of our unfeeling, emotionally-repressed lives.

We retreat into just-pretend and make-believe, fully aware that we are doing so. That way, we can blame everything on immigrants, those with different sexual orientations to us, the disabled, the poor, prisoners and any other simplistic grouping of scapegoats. The theses rarely withstand factual scrutiny, but nobody cares about that. We can’t feel their pain. Everything is somebody else’s fault. No blame or personal responsibility is accepted, by us, for endorsing the policies we voted for or failed to effectively challenge.

Of course, it could be argued that recent events, politically, are all about expressing all the repressed hatred, held in check for so long. My argument is that if people were comfortable expressing their hurt and pain, the result of being left behind as an economic underclass, much earlier, then the hatred would not have festered, rotted and finally spewed forth in a tsunami of irrationality, spite and bile letting.

Ultimately, as terrifying as it is to own your part in the problems caused by the authorities you endorse, you have to decide if you want to be an accomplice to (or enthusiastic participant in) State-sanctioned murder, theft and violence, just because it is “authorised” and “legal”, or will your inner sense that you know it’s wrong prevail? Will your conscience outweigh your fear and obedience? You are solely, personally responsible for deciding, whether you acknowledge that or not. If you choose to ignore your feelings, you will eventually experience something quite similar to post traumatic stress disorder, because that is the inevitable consequence or repressing your true feelings, for a long time.

If you choose not to feel for much longer, you may not be able to make amends for your actions, carried out over a lifetime, after the fact, to assuage your guilt and regret. Unlike Scrooge, there may be no opportunity to place a metaphorical prize goose on the Christmas table of the less fortunate. It might be too late and the damage done, too permanent. Or, you can try to repress even those feelings of remorse for even longer and see how that turns out for you.

If you numb your feelings to your pain, you numb them to pleasure, joy and gratitude, too.

How do you feel about all that?

 
(P.S. Writing this post has been emotionally bruising, to say the least. It took a long time to write, to distil the ideas and connect them, from various sources and to have the clarity of mind to set forth my thoughts in writing. Sorry it’s a long read and a long time between posts, but I think its importance warrants the detailed treatment. If you’ve read this far, you’re truly intrepid and I sincerely thank you.)

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Growth

What you’re trying to become is always different to the artist people think you are today.

Embrace the difference.

Happy New Year.

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When to Start Again

It’s one of those classic creative tensions, as an artist. When the work you’re making goes wrong, do you keep trying to fix it or should you start afresh? It can be a matter of degree. When the fault is hardly detectable, or can be corrected or camouflaged effectively, then there is no shame in a small amount of judicious tweaking and remediation. In that case, maybe you’re being too much of a perfectionist. You need to get your act together, not rip up and retry.  

On the other hand, we’ve all experienced fundamental flaws in the work, perhaps in the very composition itself, where no amount of tweaking can redeem it. It takes courage and honesty to see that the work can’t be rescued and that, despite the work you have already put into it, perhaps over a long period of time, you have to put version one in the bin and start with a fresh white sheet. Some things you can edit to perfection, but other things are the proverbial turd-polishing exercise. Knowing the difference is crucial.

I first confronted this hard lesson in guitar building. My mentor told me how guitars frequently outlive their makers and how trying to get away with a flawed component will be a testament to your lack of craft skill for a very long time. He encouraged me to abandon components I’d made mistakes on, rather than have them ruin an otherwise creditable instrument. It’s really hard to consign something expensive and hard to make into the dustbin, for having slipped the tool inconveniently against the grain or getting the dimensions slightly wrong. It’s why woodworkers say, “measure twice, cut once.” The instrument turns out much better if you are more honest bout your mistakes and if you make the choice to only include parts of the highest quality you can produce. Amazingly, your second try is almost always better than you thought you were capable of achieving. Throwing the flawed piece away teaches you an extraordinarily powerful lesson. Of course, if version two is also flawed, it takes tremendous courage and fortitude to throw it away, too, and start on version three.

In the software industry, we accept iteration. We assert that version one will be less than perfect, but that we will iterate and correct the design, over time, using feedback from the users of the software. That might seem like deliberately releasing mistakes, but it’s more positive than that. It, instead, involves the end user in the design process, so that the final iteration (if there ever is one) will be very close to perfection indeed. That approach doesn’t work so well with paintings and recorded music, but it could do, if we allowed ourselves to accommodate it, culturally. Many painters do a series of sketches and studies, before committing to the final work, after all. Musicians do the same with early demos. Film scripts are so frequently revised, during production, that they employ a script supervisor to coordinate all the insertions and deletions. In every case, they do these revisions and iterative actions before the work debuts. I wonder how the art would change if real audiences were exposed to early drafts, on the way to completing and polishing the finished work.

The key to when to start again is when intention and actuality diverge beyond the authority of reasonable corrective actions. For the sake of illustration and example, let’s try this thought experiment. Suppose we view globalisation and capitalism as contrivances; imagined, envisaged and invented by human beings. That’s not so far fetched, is it? They’re not immutable laws of physics, after all. Think of them as elaborate games we, as humanity, devised and voluntarily play. Let’s further imagine that, as a somewhat arbitrary game with made-up rules and conventions, that other quite different games are possible and that we could choose to play any one of the multitude of alternative games, simply by choosing to do so, en masse. As such, we can regard capitalism and globalism as works of human artifice, still in progress, which we are struggling to tweak, correct and perfect. Those propositions are not entirely unreasonable, are they?

Let’s now consider the stated and implied intentions of the games we currently play. As participants in the game of capitalism, we dream of security. It is our implicit intention to create a world for one and all that provides security. We want our game to provide security from humiliation, penury, dependence, indignity, arbitrary ruination, dismissal and uncertainty. The trouble is, none of those intentions have been affixed in the rules of capitalism. Writing much simpler rules (I.e. to maximise profits for shareholders), we hope (and our dogmatic theory posits) that these securities will be inevitable by-products of perfecting an economic machine which purposefully maximises profits for investors. Nice idea in theory, but does it happen in practice?

When capitalism (and its bigger brother, globalism) are obeying the explicitly stated rules of the game optimally, our own well-being is entirely irrelevant to the economic machine we have built. This is not an unintended aberration. It is a manifestation of a game applying the explicit rules deliberately, faithfully and by design. To perfection. Therefore, the only options we have are to tweak the artifice until it works less perfectly, according to the limited rules we baked into it, or we can scrap this game and devise another that has explicitly stated rules regarding human security. Why should we not start afresh?

Foolishly, we generally do not scrap the machine. Instead, we’re far more inclined to blame ourselves. Maybe we’re just not playing the game correctly. After all, the game provides enough evidence of people who thrive and succeed (albeit in tiny quantities, compared to the number of participants in the game), to suggest that the fault must lie with something those people denied security, by the game, must have done wrongly. We are prepared to entertain the theory that the system is not working “as it should”, according to our belief system and its inferences.

We’re wrong, of course. It’s probably working very well indeed, according to the stated rules of the game. The apparent discrepancy is because it was never intended to work in the way we would like, safeguarding our own well-being. The game of capitalism, which we collectively devised, places no special value on the longings and aspirations of the labour force. It’s essential concern is the accumulation and protection of capital, as clearly indicated in the name of the game: capitalism. It has no explicit intention to ensure our security, provide us with good lives, with plenty of quality time-off and loving relationships within our families. Capitalism is indifferent to all of those concerns, being designed only to maximise shareholder return. It doesn’t even care that shareholders live in abject immiseration, as a direct consequence of its adherence to the explicit rules of the game. All it needs to do is throw money at shareholders. If it has to ruin the lives of even its own shareholders, in order to return profits to them, then it will do so, as programmed.

With capitalism’s goals prescribed the way they are, people are just an input to production, with no special status above other costs of production (e.g. rent, energy costs, plant, technology, taxes and so on). Labour is just another cost, according to capitalism’s explicit rules. The strange happenstance that this particular cost has feelings, relationships, dependents, a hierarchy of human needs, complex psychology, requires regular rest, gets ill or, if pushed too far, commits suicide is little more than a puzzling inconvenience, in the focused pursuit of shareholder returns.  

We shouldn’t conclude there is anything faulty about the capitalist machine, requiring tweaks and correction, simply because we have no financial security or security of tenure. Just because we have little time to see our families, are exhausted when we do so, we suffer from extreme levels of negative stress and have an uncertain future, doesn’t mean it’s broken. In fact, these are the very preconditions for the effective working of our economic mechanism. If we wanted different outcomes, or to factor in and respect these human characteristics, we’d have to write very different rules and change the game substantially. Our ambitions for happiness should not be confused with the stated goals of capitalism. They are, in fact, very different projects and we fool ourselves to imagine they are the same.

Our relationships with corporations, the very instruments of capitalism, often last as long as a marriage. Indeed, those corporate relationships may strain our marriages to the extent that they end prematurely. This is because our corporate relationships are fundamentally abusive, in order for capitalism to flourish and function at maximum efficiency. Our corporate “spouse” requires and indeed exercises the right to, at any point, leave us suddenly bereft and alone, in order to save themselves a few percentage points of profit, by taking up with an offshore replacement for us that is much more compliant, pliable, obedient and flexible. When dyed in the wool apologists for capitalism call for deregulation and the slashing of red tape, what they mean is that they wish corporations to treat us even more abusively, contemptuous of our well-being, in order to squeeze a little more profit out of the arrangement, for shareholders.

Institutions, in society, that once acted as a brake on some of the more egregious excesses of capitalism have, through judicious tweaking and correction of the artifice, been effectively neutralised and rendered impotent.  

Religion, which once insisted that Sundays be a day of sacred observance and rest, has been overwhelmed by the commercial imperatives of consumer demand. It has been totally supplanted and replaced by the more stimulating and worker-motivating narratives of social Darwinism (where only the dogs who succeed in eating all the other dogs survive).  

Unions have been divided and thus ruled, by the simple expedient of convincing ambitious workers that they could be millionaires, if only they would ditch their solidarity with their plodding, quotidian brethren. Union organisers have been effectively labelled as the enemies of progress and the sole impediments to improved standards of living, even though the opposite may, in fact, be true.  

Technology gives us tireless machines that work all hours, allowing the crisp distinction between work and leisure time to be blurred and ultimately dissolved. Workers happily sport devices that track them and make them contactable at all the times, seeing them as beneficial and even essential, whereas in reality they are little different, in ultimate function, to prisoner electronic tagging ankle bracelets.  

Travel has never been faster or cheaper, so that it is now possible to squeeze in several meetings, on a few continents, in just a single day, interspersed with telepresence sessions, conducted via unified digital communications, on your mobile device.

We search, in vain, for the tantalisingly elusive work-life balance. Anyone who sincerely believes that such an equilibrium is attainable has not begun to understand the compelling logic of the capitalist system we have devised and perfected.

Our best ideas, to date, about how to run an economy are squarely at odds with how we wish to raise families and maintain loving adult relationships. Work consumes us, even at home, numbing our heads with work-related worries and duties. We’re not closed, never around, inattentive, emotionally unavailable, uncommunicative and unappreciative of our partners and children; just tired, stressed and pre-occupied with work-related worries and duties. We are required to be obsessive about the office, at the expense of our other significant relationships, just to keep our jobs. Indeed, work directly and decisively played a significant role in the destruction of the marriages and families of many of my friends.

It isn’t our own incompetence or indolence that causes this collision between our work and home lives. We live in a period of time where both demand to monopolise our lives. Ideas about work, efficiency, profit, competition and providing appealing goods at lower prices clash inevitably with the needs of families and relationships. In essence, we’ve constructed a hellish existence for ourselves, simply by stating an incomplete set of fundamentally irreconcilable goals, for our capitalism game. The more productive our economy, the less secure and serene and the more agitated our lives become. Is that what we want?

Why do we keep at this flawed human creation. It’s way beyond redemption through moderate, sober tweaks. Our artifice is fundamentally flawed in intention, evidenced by how effective it has become at accomplishing its stated aims, which regrettably didn’t explicitly include human well-being and happiness.

Clearly, it’s time to completely abandon capitalism and start afresh. It can’t be corrected. In fact, it has been so refined and corrected, that it is doing precisely what it was envisaged to do. In leaving out the explicit goals of human security, this game now utterly crushes those securities under foot, in the name of efficiency. Consequently, this whole edifice efficiently makes everybody stressed, insecure and miserable, save those lucky few inhabitants of yachts in Monaco. There are, by necessity of the rules of the game, fewer of those each year, too, as growing inequality, baked into the fundamental workings of capitalism, concentrates wealth into fewer and fewer hands. It really is time to start again.

There are other human-contrived artifices that now also exhibit incorrigible divergences between intention and evident outcomes. A militarised police force, for example, which murders unarmed adults and children, for the “crime” of insufficiently immediate or non-compliance with their arbitrary commands, with seeming impunity, no longer serves and protects the community or polices with consent. How can it be fixed without starting again, but this time with revised, explicit goals?  

Politicians that lie to you, steal from you with threats and menaces, backed by the full weight and extent of the law and then spend that stolen money in ways you would never condone, would seem to be beyond correction by a few tweaks to the situation. Hence, this hierarchy should be dismantled wholesale and replaced with something exhibiting far fewer of the obvious corrupting temptations.

Even traditional, hierarchical, corporate management, for decades the mainstay of capitalism, is being replaced entirely by more efficient, self-organising teams, working in agile, iterative sprints, to deliver continuous innovation. It is being resisted in most corporations, but it is also now obvious that a fresh start is long overdue.

Today, many of our traditional elites are being rejected by the electorate, which is, instead, empowering candidates and projects that promise change. Unfortunately, when a population decides the time has come to start again, not every change proposed will result in desirable outcomes. Indeed, some politicians may promise desirable, explicit goals in a new game, but may, in truth, have no intention whatsoever of delivering those goals. If they come to power, many pundits will counsel patience, claiming that we’ll survive the current iteration, however flawed and that we will have time to correct this new game, on subsequent iterations. Sadly, the assertion is not true.  

One of the dangers of starting again, with something new, is that no matter how incorrigible and corrupt the thing it replaces, if the new, explicit rules are imperfect, or not executed with sincerity and fidelity, we immediately incur a situation where the intentions of the people diverge markedly from evident outcomes, far beyond the authority of tweaks to correct. This sounds high-falluting and theoretical, but what it means is that some people will, as a direct consequence of imperfect revolutionary ideas, not survive long enough to influence subsequent iterations. They’ll die or be killed, long before any revision can take place.

A very real danger looms, during any revolution that presumes to start again and redesign our humanly-contrived systems. Mere survival isn’t enough and assurances that “we” will survive refers to a privileged and limited “we”. In America, “we” excludes half a million or more LGBTQ men and poor people of colour who didn’t survive Reagan’s ideological indifference to AIDS. 200,000 Iraqis and Afghan civilians and thousands of allied troops did not survive Bush, Blair and Obama’s adventitious wars, premised on faulty assertions about weapons of mass destruction and a knowing deception about their alleged role in the destruction of New York’s twin towers. Obama deported 2.4 million immigrants, breaking countless families and leaving them without the means of survival. Nixon’s war on drugs, expanded exponentially by Clinton, has wasted a trillion dollars, incarcerated masses of black and coloured people and thus devastated countless communities and families. It also exacerbated police violence and abuse among communities assaulted, for long periods of time, by state-sanctioned terror.

The poor and vulnerable do not survive. They don’t live to see the new changes revised and perfected. Even the white, middle-class has been cleansed by policies promising change, but which did nothing to protect the security of this constituency, as if it was not a stated goal. Blaming the victims had lead to an unconscionable suicide rate and myriad premature deaths,directly attributable to compassion-free reforms.

Trump’s predecessors all made start-again changes that have led to death and devastation. The current president elect has made his most dangerous, divisive and destructive goals explicit, in an unprecedented fashion. His evident lack of competence to govern, his disregard for the protections afforded by the Constitution and international law and his clear inclination toward violence and bigotry, are disturbing, to say the least. With such a change agenda, it is obvious that not everybody is going to survive. Is that the kind of revolutionary, start-again change we want? Aren’t there other far from satisfactory human games we should be starting-again instead?

Artists have, in general, found clever ways of knowing when and how to start again. Perhaps we need to start teaching investors, corporations, politicians, law makers, economists and the electorate at large these crucial lessons.

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Raising the Stakes on Failure

As a child, my favourite game was learning. It’s what I called “play”, but my approach was always curiosity-driven, by design and undertaken to see how far my imagination could take me. My play was always about seeing if I could do things I had never done before and sticking with it until I could accomplish whatever it was that I had dreamt up. It wasn’t challenge for the sake of challenge, though. It was more purposeful than that. Rather, it was more exploratory in nature, as my own peculiar route to knowing the world and understanding myself.

When I was young, I was largely unaware that people saw the world or approached learning any differently to how I did. It took me the best part of five decades to grasp that the way I was wired was not very common. That knowledge was the first glimpse of an understanding that helped me grasp why I had always encountered such violent, vicious opposition to anything I proposed, in work settings. School and working life had been deeply painful, because of how people reacted to how I was inclined to navigate the world, acquire new knowledge and set sound courses through seemingly uncertain futures.

My late father and I used to have this exchange daily, after school:Dad: “Well, son, what did you learn today that you didn’t know yesterday?

If I proceeded to regale him with some new thing I had learned, he’d smile, satisfied and I would know I had pleased him. If, on he other hand, I responded with, “Nothing much,” in a typically surly, teenage way, he’d deftly remark, “What a waste of a day!”

This was a semi-serious game with us, but it underlined the parental expectation of continuous work, learning and improvement. As training to keep choosing a growth mindset, it was successful.

The tragic reality was that some days, I actually didn’t get the opportunity, at school, to learn a single, new thing. My day really had been wasted; in compulsory, meaningless, arbitrary, obedience exercises, rote learning, memorising facts simply to be able to regurgitate them in exams, or going over and over things I had already grasped, so that the less motivated, in my class, could catch up. I felt the loss of that learning time acutely and it frustrated me enormously. It’s one reason I would come home and play my guitar for literally hours, every afternoon. I still had my rock band to look forward to, on weekends. Guitar and music theory lessons were also on Saturday morning and I always learnt something new at those. I read “Guitar Player” magazine, “International Musician and Recording World” and “Elektor” electronics magazines voraciously. If school taught me nothing new that week, at least I could learn something about guitar playing, musical equipment and technology, guitar building or electronic design, in the evenings and at weekends.  

My dad saw my frustration and was my obliging taxi driver to all of these extra-curricular activities, even though he worked shifts and should have been sleeping. I never thanked him enough for those sacrifices. He understood, because he was also a keen learner, self-motivated and driven by sheer curiosity. On Saturday nights, if he could swap a shift, he would gig as a drummer with his dance band, pack up and go to work on the night shift at the steelworks, after the show, returning home in the morning, with his drum kit still in the car. He said we needed the money (which we did), but I’m sure he also needed to make music as much as I did. He was a passionate drummer.

We also had a family culture of improvising and making-do with what you had, instead of being stopped by what you didn’t have. If we didn’t have the tool we needed, we’d make one. This led to some ingenious, mysterious devices. I still have my father’s custom designed drum tuning key by my bed. It was made from some brass pipe, some sheet brass and some brass rod. It did the job for some forty years and will probably work for many years more.

Similarly, if we didn’t have the right materials, we’d see what we could repurpose from discarded objects. I remember making the frames of the kitchen cabinet doors from an old shipping crate. This focus on making progress relentlessly, with whatever was available, was a valuable lesson. I also learnt how much easier some tasks are, if you use the right tool.

To sum it all up, I think it’s fair to say that I entered education with some good, growth-oriented habits and an assumption that this was how everybody thought and behaved. You tried to do things you couldn’t do and inevitably messed it up, but when you knew better, you’d do better. Sadly, I couldn’t have been more wrong in my assumption and in my confusion, my desire to please and because of my unquestioning trust in my teachers and other authority figures, some insidious, fixed mindset beliefs began to take root, undermining my earlier growth-oriented ideas.

The fixed mindset was initially alien, to me. Then, as now, I couldn’t understand why some people believed your gifts and abilities were those dealt to you at birth and that you couldn’t do very much to change a person’s inherent nature. Sure, you could teach them, but only in the sense of unlocking some innate talent already within them. The concept of becoming something new and remarkable, simply by dedicating yourself to putting the work in to achieve that, was a foreign idea to them. Many of these people were teachers, who wanted only to sift the so-called bright and intelligent from the ordinary. The ordinary were sidelined, while those of us considered promising were encouraged to gradually reveal the gifts the teachers had already decided we did and didn’t have, more fully. This is why I was considered to be good at Maths, English and Science, but not Art. I hadn’t yet put any work of substance into painting and drawing, consumed as I was with music.

If you think about it, telling children that their intelligence, talent and abilities are gifts bestowed upon them by a benevolent God might make them feel special, privileged and fortunate, but it also negates and devalues any work and effort they had put in, to be able to claim those talents and abilities as their own. Intelligence, in my view, is how you look if you follow your curiosity, with diligence and bother to learn something in the process. But all that work counts for nothing, in the fixed mindset. That leaves you with two huge problems.  

Firstly, you have to explain why you were chosen to receive these gifts and the usual conclusion you reach is that you must be worthy and superior to ordinary people (which is an absurd, but wholly understandable conclusion to reach, given you must negate any and all work you put in).

Secondly, you have to find ways to maintain your status as a gifted individual, but without doing any apparent work in order to do so. Work is for losers, in the fixed mindset, because they need to work. The gifted mysteriously “just know” and absorb information from the ether, by osmosis, because, well, they are one of the chosen ones. It’s hog wash, of course, but if you are forced to deny the work you put in to appear talented, then how else do you live up to the myth? My tactic was to work alone, in secret (a very lonely and isolating way to learn, without peer support and solidarity), but having to make it look easy in class, repudiating all my own hard work, so that teachers could regard me as some kind of genetically endowed miracle. You begin to live a lie.

Privileged people always do this. They seek to justify their good fortune on the basis of some imaginary genetic superiority. At the same time, they’re discouraged from doing what it takes to earn good fortune. Why work for it, if it’s a gift you deserved to receive?

Actually, there is a third huge problem. If the abilities you demonstrate are thought to have come easily to you, jealous people, without those accomplishments, will despise you for making them feel bad and wonder why your abilities didn’t come easily to them. It won’t seem fair, to them. They’ll bully you and ostracise you. This, too, is very alienating, isolating and lonely.

To compound the insult of denying the work you put into learning things, praise becomes an unwelcome, if well-meaning, feature of your existence. The more you are praised for your giftedness, the less you can reveal how hard you worked for those “gifts” and the more precarious your position in the pecking order, because while others are working hard to catch up, you can’t admit to doing anything to stay ahead, or even to maintain parity with your peers. Instead, you start concentrating on how to keep people thinking you’re smart, rather than continuing to learn in order to really be smart. This is obviously dysfunctional behaviour.

Failure, when it eventually comes, is devastating. Instead of encouraging you to put more effort into learning, the message you get is that you were not worthy after all, having been unmasked as an imposter. This, too, is thought to be a permanent and unchangeable character flaw, in the fixed mindset world view. Suddenly, you’re just no damn good and worse, have been deceiving everybody all along. Your character is comprehensively assassinated. This failure, or the fear of it, can lead to you never trying, for fear of being found wanting. The stakes have been raised to extremes. You spend your time making sure people know you have unlimited potential, while never actually testing yourself to become the things you assert you could be, if only you could be bothered. It’s a fraudulent existence.  

Ironically, if you could commit to doing the required work, without the fear that every mistake you make, while you learn, will be gleefully seized upon and publicly proclaimed as iron-clad proof of your evident inability, you could probably overcome any perceived failure and get better. However, if you’re locked into the rules of the fixed mindset game, you can’t reveal any chink in your purported invulnerability. The shame would be unbearable. The humiliation would be unsurvivable.

Having other people call you “brilliant” imposes an external obligation on you to be outstanding all the time. You’re never permitted an off day, without raising doubts and suspicions about your character and abilities. You’re expected to stay at the top of the class, while maintaining an air of breezy indifference and contempt toward trying hard. If you are making quiet, extraordinary efforts in the background, desperately to maintain your advantage, you have to hide it. You become a closet learner, but the fun and play of it has all gone. Now, you learn in a cold sweat panic, looking over your shoulder, afraid of doing badly in public.

Sometimes, you can’t hold it all together. You’re overwhelmed. However, while you’re falling apart, everyone else assumes you’ll be fine. They believe you can overcome any challenge with ease, when in reality you are really struggling. Being friendless and isolated, with everybody else cast in the role of deadly rival, you find yourself unable to ask for the help you need, for fear of confirming that your failure and struggle is unarguable, hard evidence of your deep, incorrigible character flaws. Nobody can admit you’re just an ordinary person that works hard at being able to understand things quickly. You get no credit for that. Rather, your hard times are seen as the Gods casting you aside, once and forever.

Is it any wonder that anybody trapped in a fixed mindset environment, with all of its judgemental assumptions, begins to feel like trying hard and possibly failing are too dangerous and painful to contemplate? It’s a recipe for taking good learners and turning them into paranoid, passive, inactive placeholders; subsumed by avoidance and self-justification strategies; spending all of their time and energy fiercely protecting their position and privileges, instead of working diligently, each day, to become the best person they can be, mastering things they love doing.

Talent and abilities are not gifts, which magically from the sky. They always require application and effort. Sometimes, not much effort, but more frequently, a great deal of effort.

The problem with the fixed mindset is that it reduces to perpetual judgement of you as a person. It’s possible to be both underrated and overrated at the same time: underrated for your sheer effort and overrated for the assumption you can easily do anything you choose. It makes you withdraw from people, when you assume they’re judging you and regarding your so-called gifts with jealousy.

In the fixed mindset, which carries on unabated in the world of work, long after you leave school, you are made to feel shame for not living up to other people’s expectations of how accomplished you ought to be, but without showing you have put any effort into attaining that standard. It’s the worst kind of emotional blackmail and abuse. It turns you away from just enjoying learning and playing, towards constantly proving yourself and defending your position in the judgemental hierarchy. Essentially, it’s insidious pressure to live life on other people’s terms, not your own.

In most work settings, you will find you get precious little credit for any personal progress you make. You’ll be expected to pull rabbits out of hats routinely, even while feeling like a rabbit in the headlights. Nobody will have any faith in your ability to learn your way into a demanding role, or your speed at being able to do so. Even so, you’ll find yourself having to learn and improve anyway, on your own time, just to keep your job.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself putting lots of love into everything you do, but meeting with cold, brutal, harsh, snap judgements about your character and worth, when you present your finished work. They say wealth flows from energy and ideas, but I have living proof that it doesn’t. Your energy and ideas are so easily and capriciously squandered by those with fixed mindsets.  

Most senior positions impose the added burden of, at every moment, having to prove you still make the grade and are worthy of what you’ve earned, with almost no recognition of the extraordinary efforts it took to get there. Failing to make the grade, of course, demolishes your self-worth and self-confidence, but it can also reduce your income. It’s like a life sentence. 

We, as a society, raise the stakes on failure until it becomes too risky to leave your comfort zone.  

When I was a teen, there was a professional daredevil, my age, who lived about fifty miles away. Like Evel Knievel, he jumped busses with a motorbike. Every time he jumped some incredible number of busses and survived, more were added. The assumption was that he had magic powers and could jump the busses, no matter how many there were. Eventually, the stakes were raised to the point where each jump had a very high probability of ending in death, permanent disability or extremely painful injury, with life-changing consequences. He knew it. Any rational person knew it. At that point, he just couldn’t take the risk any more. Audiences, saddistically, wanted more world records and when he couldn’t jump any more busses, he probably felt they would consign him to the role of cowardly has been. Sadly, he committed suicide, alone in his hotel, aged just twenty, prior to a performance he was due to give. The stakes for failure had been raised so high, he had no other way out. Do you even know his name?

In the Myers-Briggs taxonomy, I’m an ENTP. Those are pretty rare, it happens. The consequence of that rarity is that, rather than being valued for being scarce, you tend to take punishment for being wired the way you are, from people that just don’t get how you think. You spend most of your time butting your head against walls, trying to convince avowed doubters that your vision is true, no matter what the idea happens to be. The relentless, constant conflict, in your working life and the personal attacks that arise because you can see what others cannot, due to your exercising your learning abilities and growth mindset, depletes you physically, assaults you emotionally and adversely impacts your health. It’s hard to be growth-oriented when others are not.

Working colleagues, past and present, have been more successful than me, partly due to luck, but mostly due to their sheer hard work. I cannot take anything away from their outstanding efforts and achievements. In all honesty, though, my situation is also due to me withdrawing effort, on some fronts, to save face. Among the many things, in various spheres of my life, which I avoid doing to prevent criticism, I’m pretty sure my job would be much easier, for example, if I wrote more software prototypes. Unfortunately, there came a point in my career where it just wasn’t possible to play with software and make mistakes any more, without some fixed mindset trophy hunter or other taking those learning efforts, full of blunders made while I groped around with the new software, and using them as proof that I’m some kind of clown, not worth listening to. Because non-ENTP people find my way of thinking about problems so unsettling, I feel they’d love to find a way to silence me, because I’m inclined to challenge their conservative assumptions. My many failures, which would undoubtedly accompany my efforts to learn to write with some of the newer, open source, software libraries, would be all the leverage they’d need. The stakes for failure have been raised too high for me to experiment and play with software, in public and yet I used to earn a living as a programmer.

I resent that situation. It consigns me to being all about unrealised potential instead of realised accomplishments. That isn’t fair. I might not be the most eloquent, fluent software author, but I can assure you that, with time and effort, I most definitely could be. That’s the point of this article. If you work hard enough at anything, you can master it. In any case, I could write well enough to at least express abstract software product ideas as tangible, runnable code. There just isn’t a safe way for me to do that in my working environment. It’s not safe to fail. There’s nowhere to play and I’m denied the tools. Buying the tools at home is currently beyond my means. Also, I contribute unique skills, as an ENTP, that nobody else does, which are valuable and important, if not always acknowledged and appreciated. Realistically, making my contributions in that area adds far more value, in the long run. I’d still make better progress with software prototypes I coded myself, though. Hard proof leaves opinionated doubters without a leg to stand on. It would be nice to add that string back to my bow.

As a society, we could choose to place less emphasis on those we assume to be born prodigies and on the myriad examinations we inflict on students to pass final judgement on the worthiness or otherwise of perfectly capable life-long learners. We could do more to recognise effort, progress and hard-won accomplishments. We could have more faith in people’s motivation to keep learning and improving, rather than demanding proof of reaching a certain standard, a priori. We could recognise that brilliance never comes easily and that potential is just the residual evidence of having cared about continuous innovation and self improvement.

These days, I’m more interested in doing things I love, which contribute to my progress toward becoming a better me. If I’m going to fail, it will be on my own terms. Failure is just a way point on the journey, not the terminus. My art, for me, is a playful exploration into what might be possible, when I apply media to substrates. I like to play. I always have.

Failure is an event, not an immutable characteristic.

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Behaving Badly

We all know the cliché; the “Enfant Terrible” – the out of control, rebel artist, gratuitously strafing his way through excess drugs, booze and sexual debauchery, yet somehow (miraculously) maintaining a consistent output of brilliant, original, groundbreaking work. They abuse their most important relationships, yet inexplicably, they’re still universally beloved and admired. It’s a nonsense, of course – a confection carefully crafted by marketing men to shift units, as any artist that has tried to live such a self-destructive life, for real, has rapidly discovered to their cost. Nobody can behave that badly and escape the consequences.

In upholding this stereotype as an ideal, is it we who are, in fact, behaving badly? Why do we egg them on, toward ultimate oblivion? Why do we insist our artists transcend mortality, when it is patently obvious they cannot. Nobody can. Are artists our blood sacrifices to an impossible standard?

George Orwell held that all human problems stem from a common cause. It’s a thread that runs through all of his best-known works. Charles Dicken’s novels, too, are testament to the very same thesis. Humanity’s ills can be attributed to the undeniable observation that human beings tend to choose to behave very badly.  

The solution, as obvious as it is, is not to impose more violence, laws, governance and force, to create the illusion of order. The people charged with doing that, in spite of their stated best intentions, invariably end up behaving extraordinarily badly themselves. The late Fidel Castro, to choose just one example, was demonstrably a poster boy for this terrible contradiction. No, the real solution is for individuals to choose, voluntarily, to behave much better than they do.

The prevailing zeitgeist holds that the key to thriving is whatever you can get away with. Like good little trained psychopaths, we imagine that taking whatever we want, justifying our aggressive greed on the basis of freedom, liberty and rugged individualism, while at he same time defraying the costs of our actions on everyone and everything else, is just fine. It’s how you win. It’s how you thrive. Capitalism is a religion devoted to this idea that behaving as badly and as capriciously as we want, toward other people, living things and the environment, is the highest ideal. We’ve essentially equated behaving badly with virtue and the highest good; so twisted is our logic.

Any sober examination of the facts quickly reveals that this cannot be, yet we doggedly adhere to the fixation. This, I submit, is unarguable proof of our collective insanity. Personal gain, at the expense of the destruction of other people and our shared life-support ecosystems, is no gain at all. Behaving badly is far from heroic, yet who do we laud as our heroes? Mendacious, dishonest, manipulative sociopaths, marked out by their extreme self-indulgence and conspicuous over-consumption. These are the people we want to be. Our fantasies and aspirations are about being able to behave as badly as the worst of humanity.

Humans have a seemingly infinite capacity to create self-serving justifications for their bad behaviour. In every case, their outrageous, petulant selfishness is wrapped up in talk of the natural order of things, as if it were some immutable law of physics. The truth is, that it’s the pure sense of entitlement to their own unlikely good fortune that the privileged seem to seduce themselves with.  

Those of a conservative inclination fervently and sincerely believe in their innate moral, intellectual and ethical superiority, which they feel gives them license to impose policies that are little less than murderous, on the poor, precarious, disabled and vulnerable. They don’t necessarily want to kill these people directly, but are quite relaxed about leaving them to perish. They don’t shed tears over the situation they, themselves, created and think that this is just Nature running its course, denying utterly their active part in helping Nature along. Regrettably, there is no hard evidence whatsoever for the genetic superiority of conservatives, which might have justified their entitlement to their good fortune, despite their obsession with DNA studies. The truth is that sudden misfortune can turn anybody into a down and outer, at a speed that few would be comfortable acknowledging. Yes, it could be you. Don’t fool yourself that you’re immune.

The recent Brexit and Trump campaigns and ballots appear to have unleashed a veritable orgy of bad behaviour, vindicating and elevating the seemingly worst-behaved candidates, giving license to the most base abuses by the winners and losers alike. The winners will, of course, be betrayed in the end, as what they voted for was pure impossibility. More bad behaviour. Expect similar in the forthcoming French and German elections. It’s what the electorate have been taught by example. When life’s apparent winners nakedly cheat, lie, evade their obligations to their societies and live lives of extreme and vainglorious opulence, is it any wonder that the bad behaviour of ordinary people seems wholly legitimised?

While the victors accuse the vanquished of character defects and moral deficiency, it masks the real socioeconomic causes of extreme inequality: there is a class of people making off like bandits, stealing from everybody they can – very bad behaviour indeed. Meanwhile, everybody blames the victims. Even more bad behaviour. The problem is that the victors can’t escape the boomerang consequences of their bad behaviour, in the end. It will come back to bite them and bite them hard.

It’s a peculiar irony that the privileged accuse the impoverished of a “culture of entitlement”, when it is their own sense of entitlement to their assumed privilege that has caused the suffering and misery in the first place. Swindlers always believe that everybody else is a swindler and further, that they should be better swindlers, so that they wouldn’t be so poor. These people deny their interdependence on the other people in the society they live in and never acknowledge that their existence is ultimately dependent on the kindness and indulgence of strangers. Other people are not prey, furnished for your sole convenience, so that you may take much more than you need.

What the genuinely productive and thriving artists all discover is that gratitude and generosity matter and matter crucially. You can’t behave badly, indefinitely and get away with it. Eventually, it costs you your creative capacities and your art. Successful artists learn that ethics, self discipline and choosing to behave well, both to yourself and to others, is the secret. You have to be a well-behaved person to be a good artist. Sure, you can get away with atrocious behaviour for a short while, but it’s not a viable way of building a long term career. And the important thing about good behaviour is that nobody can or will make you. It’s a choice you have to make, over and over again, at every moment, despite the temptations to choose otherwise.

Our politicians, activists, the partisans in the electorate, business leaders, financiers, landlords, entrepreneurs, war mongers, scientists, media barons and rabble rousers could learn a thing or two from thriving artists. Behaving badly is the road to ultimate destruction.

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