Where I Get Stuck

Every artist, it seems, struggles with something. For some, it’s fear of the blank canvas. For others, it’s the marketing. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. Struggle is part of the deal, when you’re an artist.

The problem with struggles is that you can get stuck. Getting stuck is definitely not a good thing, because it impedes any further progress. There are some struggles that can stop you dead.

For me, I’ve recently become aware that the struggle I look forward to least and which stops me in my tracks is that part where I get my art out to the world. 

It’s not that I don’t want to; it’s that the mechanics of doing so are arduous, to me. Of course, once I’ve set up a channel, producing and delivering more art into it gets easier. Writing blog posts on this blog site is like second nature to me, now, but when I had to set up a WordPress site, on my own, the very first time, it felt like I was climbing a mountain without oxygen. Every obstacle felt insurmountable. Giving up was ever so tempting.

What freaks me out is the thought that I might have overlooked a vital step, whose omission will later harm me. This is my big fear and the one I need to overcome.

Here are some of the things I’m currently struggling to set up:

1. Getting my music onto streaming and downloading services – I’d like to be paid for my music, yet sorting out all the accounts and agreements I need to move music I’ve already mastered into a place where you can buy it feels very difficult, right now. So many agencies and companies to deal with. I have so little idea what works best.

2. Publishing my own books – I have them written, but getting them formatted for electronic delivery and print on demand, attaching all the requisite ISDN numbers and listing them on sites for sale is something I don’t know how to do with confidence.

3. Podcasting – I want to put out some podacasts about some of my more popular blog posts, but it’s not the recording that daunts me. It’s setting up the audio hosting and publishing the podcasts on aggregation sites.

4. T-shirts – Every time I figure out how to get these printed on demand and into an on-line store, something better comes along and I feel like I need to do it that way instead. This is a fast moving target. Creating demand is also very difficult.

5. Product management publication – I’m working on setting up a site on Medium.com, but the number of moving parts involved in going live is astonishing. It’s not easy. I have the posts, but not the site. It scares me. I also have to use more social media accounts I’ll have to maintain, to build a following, using branding I’ve only just designed.

6. Company web site – I’m putting up a site for my limited company, on WordPress.com, but templates you’ve never used before are a bitch and so are the procedures for hooking up your own URL. Building an email list adds another layer of complication. This brings with it new social media challenges and obligations, too.

7. Guitar effects – making PCBs has changed a lot, since I used to do it. Learning the ropes again is taking time. Marketing the pedals on Reverb.com is new to me. Oh and this will require yet another web site.

8. Guitars – I have designs, but creating the CAM instructions is new to me, as is finding component suppliers that can reliably build to a CAD design. Creating demand is the other challenge. The guitar designs are good, though.

9. Novel digital signal processing algorithms for music – the design tools are a minefield. The learning curve is huge. I also have to find evaluation boards. Why am I doing this to myself?

10. Coding – I’m up-skilling on blockchain, ethereum, machine learning and distributed apps, while getting up to speed on serverless web stacks, containerised software and writing mobile apps. My brain hurts.

11. My personal web site has been neglected for the past couple of years, due to work commitments and now it needs extensive updating. That’s quite a chore.

12. Selling my paintings on-line – lots of options, but all require effort to establish and I have to photograph several hundred paintings and drawings. I also want to make prints. There are many obstacles.

The odd thing is that I know once I have these things up and running, incremental modifications should be relatively fast and easy. It’s setting it all up that grinds me to a halt. Usually, whatever I am doing I am doing for the first time and I constantly make mistakes. It’s very time consuming and daunting. My reserves of courage and resilience often run low.

Where do you get stuck?

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Untold Stories

It pains me to write this post and I’m not exactly sure why. I think it’s mainly because I sense a yawning vacuum, but don’t have a robust proposal to fill it – just some vague, sketchy pointers to a possibility. The story that fills the vacuum beautifully hasn’t been told. It hasn’t even been outlined, in full. It’s an untold story.

More than that, because there is a vacuum, there is no common, consensus framework of understanding, or accepted, untainted vocabulary, to even describe the key elements of the solution I’m hinting at. Everything about it is open to knee-jerk misinterpretation and grotesque distortion.

Much of what my sketchy proposal rests on are unthinkable ideas, in the current paradigm. The problem is that those objections are largely due to dogmatic adherence to failed ideas, yet those failed ideas are all that people have to cling to, so they’d rather shore them up, through a series of Byzantine rationalisations, than face the void. This makes it difficult to examine other possibilities. They’re stuck in one of two opposing ideologies, both of which were not the answer, but which they are inclined to defend to the death.

I guess my reluctance to write this is the certain knowledge that hardly anybody will “get it” and given its potential for causing extreme cognitive dissonance, it may result in pushback I’m not prepared to resist. I’m not the conservative-thinker whisperer.

Those caveats made, there are individuals who are espousing fragments of what I believe point to a viable solution, but they intermingle those with elements that are definitely part of the problem, in my view. You cannot rightly conclude that people are enslaved, but propose a different form of enslavement as the solution, for example, yet even articulate, wise thinkers frequently do. Similarly, you can’t say that economic growth is killing the planet, but propose a system of engineered economic growth as a remedy. There’s something wrong with your assumptions. If you demonstrate that capitalism is structurally broken, by design, then a shiny, new version of it, that shares the same fundamental flaws, won’t work.

I’ve not heard a coherent solution that combines all the pieces I think are necessary, to solve the puzzle. I’m not even sure that all the pieces fit together.

What’s the Problem?

The world is in a huge mess, posing imminent existential threats for all life. Economic theories, which were supposed to lead to the best possible outcomes are discredited and failing, leaving a vacuum in the frameworks of understanding necessary to maintain hope and believe in human progress. If anything, we seem to be going backward at an alarmingly accelerating rate.

Journalist, musician and activist, George Monbiot, characterises the mess with the following litany (which i have taken the liberty of embellishing). He notes these afflict practically all humankind:- The cruelty and indifference of governments, exacerbated by the disarray of opposition parties.

– The apparently inexorable slide towards terminal climate breakdown.

– Wholesale environmental destruction in the name of unsustainable growth.

– Gross inequality, leading to concentration of ownership and hence influence, increasingly dynastic wealth and disenfranchisement of the majority.

– The renewed threat of annihilation through thermonuclear war, contingent on the whims of unstable narcissists.

To this dismal list, I (also a musician, writer and artist) would add the following:

– A monopolistic, manipulative, indifferent, insensitive, arrogant and cavalier high-tech industry behaving like a rapacious, bad citizen.- Breaches of private, personal data with unknown consequences (e.g. the Equifax breach, to name but one of the most recent and extensive).

– The deteriorating state of general mental health, due in large part to the pressures and stresses of living in such a mess and being fully aware of it, but feeling utterly powerless to change it (constrained, of course, by what we believe are the only available courses of action).

Economist, musician and writer, Umair Haque, lists these massive existential threats facing humanity:

– Inequality

– Stagnation

– Climate change

– Extremism

What is indisputable is that, while we are much wealthier than five hundred years ago, we’re little happier. Good lives are unevenly distributed and the detrimental aspects of creating wealth (“illth”) has offset any gains. For all our much-vaunted progress, we’re going backward. It’s difficult to thrive and virtually impossible, if you live in poverty.

Money changes everything. It distorts rewards and incentives for human activities in perverse ways, leading to inhumane, destructive outcomes. We’re so fixated with perpetually playing the money game that it changes who we are and how we behave, frequently requiring us to jettison our values and our very personality, to wear the requisite masks and facades.

“Our problems look intractable, our leaders dangerous, while voters are cowed and baffled. Despair looks like the only rational response.”, says Monbiot.

“The most significant characteristic of modern civilization is the sacrifice of the future for the present,” philosopher and psychologist William James wrote, “and all the power of science has been prostituted to this purpose.”

Craving Redemption

The root of the problem is that the leading human narratives of recent decades have been stories we tell ourselves about what would be our version of a better world to live in. They’re fictions that share a common structure. They’re redemption stories.

What are redemption stories and how and why do we buy into them? Structurally, a redemption story is one in which a hero saves us all from peril. At the eleventh hour, when all seems lost, a superior man, more virtuous than his peers, steps up to take decisive action to save the day and avert disaster. All of the stories we tell ourselves about the world we live in share this risibly unrealistic expectation. Santa Claus, all the comic book superheroes, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy will surely rescue us, just in the nick of time.

We believe in the redemption fiction so fervently, as a population, that we pretend the deeply flawed individuals we elect to high office magically take on the virtues of their position. It’s why we vote for bogus strong-men and confidence tricksters. Anybody fraudulent enough to claim they are the saviour, with a straight face, gains a significant following and constituency.

To understand the extent to which our minds have become diseased and addled by our adherence to our own fictitious stories, a CNN reporter commenting live-on-air on the devastation of Puerto Rico by category-five hurricane “Maria”, recently, was not able to process how the country could be rebuilt, when it is already seventy billion dollars in debt. To her mind, it was as if the entire country had been wiped clean by a terrible force of nature, leaving nothing whatsoever standing, save the debt ledgers, which were miraculously spared. The obvious answer – that the prior debt would have to be forgiven and written off, in order to allow lives to be rebuilt – didn’t occur to her. It was beyond her framework of understanding.

That debts could be expunged by an irresistible “act of God” was not a thinkable thought, so complete was her lifelong brainwashing. Even while thousands of human beings were imperilled, cold, destitute, traumatised, hungry and homeless, her primary concern was that financiers would be repaid. This insane commentary was broadcast to millions, with the full backing and authority of an august news reporting organisation, as if factual.

There is ample evidence that we do not think rationally about the mental model we hold of the world. Our political and economic beliefs are not formed on the basis of facts and evidence, as we might like to think. Instead, they’re adopted by each and every one of us on gut feel, intuition and by trusting other people who share their views with us. As social creatures, we have a deep need (a survival instinct, if you will) to fit in and be liked, so we bend ourselves to fit other people’s expectations of us. We give in to groupthink.

We buy into our ideas primarily by invoking what Daniel Kahneman called Type 1 thinking. This kind of thinking is quick and dirty; based on impressions, prior prejudices and our faith in beliefs, rather than cold, careful, analytic, fact-based reasoning. In other words, stories are more powerful and compelling than appeals to facts and logic. We base what we think and how we act on the stories we tell ourselves. It should be noted that stories are constructs – they need not bear even a passing resemblance to reality for vast swathes of the population to buy into them fervently and sincerely.

The two prevailing redemption stories of the previous century, which have become like a religion to their respective devotees, can be roughly described as Socialism (and its more extreme cousin, Communism) versus Neoliberalism (also known as unfettered free-market Capitalism). Under both of these systems, ordinary people need only put their faith in the government, in the case of Socialism or corporations, in the case of Neoliberalism and all will be well. Every desire and need will be met, without anybody else needing to concern themselves with how. A good life can be had (indeed good lives are maximised), if only a pure version of each of these redemption stories is allowed to do what it may.

The conflict between the two stories arises because both stories promise the same optimal outcomes, but by diametrically opposite means. In one, economic planning and wealth redistribution is achieved by elite committee. In the other, it’s by the operation of self-interested, greedy, private elites. Both assume that the route to a thriving, good life for all is by economic optimisation, forsaking all other aspects of existence that human beings recognise as being necessary for a good life. As such, both stories share the same blinkered view of what makes for happiness and satisfaction. It all revolves around money and who has it.

There is a popular fallacy that holds, “If you’re not a Capitalist, you must be a Communist”. It is perhaps because of their similarities that people gravitate to these being the only two possibilities. This is an example of a false dichotomy, though. Both systems of governance are, in fact, forms of Capitalism – one is private Capitalism and the other is state Capitalism. Both consume Earth’s resources without limit, in the name of progress. They differ principally in their hierarchies of control and distribution of wealth.

They’re not even pure. When a supposed free-market enshrining capitalist government bails out failing private banks with public funds, risk has been socialised, even while profits are privatised. Similarly, when a nominally communist government, such as China, becomes a partner in private enterprise, with the profits bypassing the general population, to what degree does it remain socialist?

We’re strangely blind to any solution that doesn’t fit the Socialism or Neoliberalism paradigms, as if only these two stories are possible. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate that other stories are indeed available.

What is most problematic about both Socialism and Neoliberalism is that neither has delivered a good life to all. Under both, there are multitudes existing in abject misery, constrained in their social mobility and unable to resource their self-development. They don’t work, no matter how much they’re tweaked, purified and perfected. The more dogmatic their implementation; the greater the misery they inflict. They’re failures, resulting in economies that have severe weaknesses and structural problems. Both are utterly discredited, yet nearly everybody clings to a version of one or the other. We have an economic muddle rather than an economic model.

Both of the prevailing, competing ideologies inflict a multi-level hierarchy of increasingly parasitic elites on the populace, to the general detriment of the well-being of the majority, despite their propaganda to the contrary. Both spread the lie that we need the ruling class, when the truth is that they need the obedience, compliance and subservience of all of us.

Perhaps the worst aspect of this exclusive two-story existence is that studies have shown that loneliness faithfully tracks the degree of polarisation between the two views. The more extremely we believe in one or the other, the more isolated we become as human beings from other people. We also know that loneliness kills. It’s more effective at ending lives prematurely than other more obvious vices, such as smoking.

Under both regimes of thought, we all end up wearing masks and acting out roles to conform with the ideals delineated by the prevailing story, taking us further and further away from our instinctual values and true nature, thereby causing us deep internal stress and discomfort; ultimately adversely affecting our mental and physical health. We’re not really the people the stories dictate we must be, in order to succeed within the boundaries of the dominant narrative. We are neither purely, selflessly altruistic, nor are we monstrously, psychopathically rapacious. We’re not like that at all.

The observations on the deleterious effects of isolation and inauthenticity are unsurprising, as both redemption stories are presented as predatory zero-sum games, with the benefits shared extremely unevenly. Neither one is about expanding the overall stock of beauty and providing the necessities of good living (thriving), nor about sharing it equitably. They are stories about winners and losers (i.e. somebody takes from somebody else, by force, conquest, domination and violence), not win-win scenarios.

Redemption is promised, but not for everyone. Only the most worthy are deemed deserving. Casualties and shameless exploitation are not only tolerated, they’re fully expected – by design.

An Alternative Redemption Story

With both narratives so badly flawed and ineffective, there is a pressing need for an alternative story of redemption. Under both of the existing narratives, there never seems to be enough money and wealth to go around, despite the depletion of every available natural resource. Neither system addresses how to increase the stock of genuine wealth, or defines it in terms other than purely materialistic ones. There is much more to living a good life than having more stuff and we all intuitively know it. Clearly, we need a new way of thinking about and conducting human affairs that results in better outcomes than either of the existing stories can ever hope to deliver. What are the elements of a redemption story as yet untold? What pieces of the new narrative come close to describing a system of living that promotes universal human well-being?

Umair Haque has thought deeply on the subject and proposes an alternative framework of thought and action to economics, called Eudaimonics. Eudaimonia is the art of realising genuinely good lives for all. That’s a much better goal than realising genuinely good lives for only the chosen few (which is all that socialism and neoliberalism offer), don’t you think?

Some of the aspects/properties of this new redemption story are named and described below:

* Mu – Don’t overthink things. Accept some things as presented, at face value.

* Pu – Being effortlessly, naturally one’s truest self.

* Ziran – Natural self-transformation.

* Arete – Virtue as a lived, everyday experience.

* Ren – Compassionate wisdom, or benevolent humanity.

* Wu-wei – Natural, instinctive flow, which frees human potential.

* Sunyata – Feeling part of a boundless, joyous, whole.

* Ahimsa – To not wish or intend any harm. The very opposite of harm.

* Anubhava – Intuitive, direct knowing . First-hand experience of a thing.

* Summum bonum – Achieving the highest good for all.

In order to realise eudaimonia, Haque further proposes that organisations of all complexions need to act in ways that enhance the lives of everybody. There’s an old saw that states you get what you measure, so he suggest that we characterise human organisations by these metrics:

* Omega – An organisation’s ability to create immediate eudaimonia.

* Theta – An organisation’s ability to create long-term eudaimonia.

* Lambda – An organisation’s ability to realise human potential/possibility.

* Kappa – An organisation’s net effect on well-being.

* Epsilon – An organisation’s equality of well-being.

To my way of thinking, these are good, worthy ideas which should be included in a future redemption story, but I don’t think economic activity will wholly cease. Given that some form of economic activity takes place, the key is to do it in as benign a way as possible, consistent with maintaining good lives. Nevertheless, eudaimonia is an interesting and very necessary paradigm shift. It begins to examine the problem of enhancing human existence from a non-economic perspective. That’s important.

I’ve been thinking about this problem for a long time, too and I think I have stumbled upon some of the necessary ingredients for good lives to thrive universally. My starting assumption is that people are mainly born good. Criminality is a result of corruption of an initial state of being (due to the distorting power of money, adverse childhood events, the application of violence). I start from an axiomatic belief in the goodness, trustworthiness and honesty of most people. If this isn’t true, we’re all screwed anyway. The entire exercise would be futile.

How to Thrive

This is where I make bald, unproven statements, with insufficient explanation or justification, in the interests of brevity and exposing the ideas in as simple a way as I can. Yes, that leaves them open to misinterpretation and attack, but better this way than to write a detailed essay on each one, which each probably deserves and requires. It is my assertion that focusing on these elements provides a viable framework within which humanity can live good lives, without destroying our life-sustaining habitat, the living world, in the process. Here they are:

Redeem yourself – Saving the world is more about self-transformation than politics and economics. There are no mythical, magical, peerless, unreproachable leaders. One isn’t going to emerge to save us all. Our redemption stories are myths. Haque has said,”it isn’t the gods who write the book of destiny — it’s us. It’s up to us to create tomorrow.” In other words, unless each and every one of us participates in saving the world, nothing is going to change. The downward spiral will continue. In all likelihood, that means we’re going to have to change ourselves, every one of us, first.

This is the key to it all. Unless we give up redemption stories where somebody else saves us, we’re sunk. Redemption will only come from our own collective actions. We have to transform ourselves at the same time as everybody else does, or it doesn’t make any difference. There are no saviours.

The fundamentalist religious redemption stories, where a God of your choice saves humanity, also have to be abandoned. God, Allah, whichever God you care to name hasn’t saved us all so far and therefore isn’t likely to in the future. If you believe that redemption will only take place in the afterlife, then please leave this life to those that don’t happen to believe that. You’re taken care of in the afterlife. Many others of us are of the opinion that stories of redemption in the afterlife are human creations, designed to make us accept a lack of redemption in this life. In other words, they’re another species of predatory propaganda propagated by a powerful elite trying to maintain their illegitimate privilege – the clerical hierarchy.

Evolving ideas – We’re all a work in progress. So is changing our redemption story to one that promotes good lives. The solution to the world’s problems lies in first raising the quality of our own ideas and actions. We should be aware that this won’t happen overnight, in one blinding flash of lucid insight, shared universally, but we should also note that we don’t have much time. The doomsday clock is ticking.

Flattened hierarchies – The more I study the root causes of conflict and stupid decisions, the more I am drawn to the idea that hierarchy plays a large part. It’s amazing how little power it takes to corrupt a person utterly. Once an individual or group of individuals concludes that it is their divine right to sit astride the rest of humanity, to control them, farm them or interfere in their lives and decisions, the inevitable miseries and gross injustices follow. It doesn’t seem to matter what scale of organisation you care to name – from a dictatorship attempting imperial global hegemony to a small business or the local PTA. There is no natural order of things that installs particular humans in positions of authority. It’s always usurped and insinuated. No leader has legitimacy to rule, because they’re all fallible humans. The longer I study this issue, the fewer people I see are genuine heroes, capable of saving us all and with unfailing wisdom. They just don’t exist. 

The irresistible conclusion is that the only way to avoid the problems caused by corrupt and inept leaders is to gravitate toward anarchism, in the sense that there are no rulers ruling over other people. That inevitably leads to the idea that in order to maintain the smooth working of human affairs, government by voluntary participation and consensus is the only viable option. We all share this small planet. Cooperative “running of things” by mutual agreement is the only way that life can thrive and lives can be universally good.

The end of hierarchy further leads to the end of unearned income and illegitimate, unaccountable privilege. The opulent class will have to make a new life on a level playing field, with no special claim to wealth or resources. The rest of us and the planet can’t sustain supporting the rich as a class of idle people, producing nothing of eudaimonic value and frequently destroying the chances of a good life for millions of others. That means there can be no rentier culture and scarcity-creating gatekeepers. Abundance should never be restricted into austere scarcity, to suit the interests of a tiny, privileged minority. This is especially true of human knowledge.

Blockchain – This is an important technology because of its potential to democratise trust and identity, to protect private data and to allow fair trading and monetary systems to emerge. It can also be subverted and there are agents attempting exactly this, at present, largely to protect existing hierarchies of privilege, power and wealth. Unfortunately, the most popular blockchain technologies have flaws built into them, which separate Bitcoin miners from users (granting them differential privileges, power and wealth) and severe scalability problems. Solutions to both problems, however, exist, though are not widely adopted. My bet is that if Algorand were to displace Bitcoin and Blockstack be constructed on top of Algorand, to displace Ethereum based on Bitcoin, we’d have something with legs.

A blockchain applied to distributed applications, because it flattens hierarchy and removes privilege, is a technology that can be particularly life enhancing. There are many human transactions that can be made more equitable and secure with this technology. For example, issuance of cryptocurrency at the point of eudaimonic value creation would lead to less inequality of wealth and opportunity. Many more kinds of work could be properly valued according to how much it helps us all thrive. 

Blockchain also has the potential to allow individuals to take control of their own data, instead of handing it over in its entirety to government agencies or private interests (or both) in exchange for access to useful services (such as a search engine, for example). Blockchain is a technology that can establish transparent trust, without a trusted authority. The authority is all of us – the community. Data is encrypted in transit and at rest and attacker transactions are traceable (bugs excepted). Data transactions are trusted and logged in an immutable ledger and all accessors are known. Revocation of data access also becomes possible. Today, it’s very hard to get your data back or prevent somebody who previously had to access to your data from accessing it in the future. You can’t change your mother’s maiden name.

If you study the design of monetary systems, blockchain is also a better form of currency that can be engineered to enhance eudaimony. Blockchain can be publicly-owned technology in which we can all participate as first class digital citizens. Encryption is fundamentally necessary for eudaimonic life and it either exists or it doesn’t. If the NSA can crack it, then anyone else can too. They’re not special, as an organisation, other than being obscenely well funded. This is a hierarchy that needs flattening quickly.

Doughnut economics – Author and economist, Kate Raworth, has proposed a remarkable set of ideas as an antidote to the shortcomings of traditional economics. If we accept that people are going to need to trade goods and services and use resources, then working out how to do that while minimising the harm is a worthwhile pursuit. 

The unique thing about doughnut economics is that it seeks to balance human needs with the planet’s capacity to provide them. Somewhere between human well-being and planetary capacity is the sweet spot in which all transactions of an economic kind must exist. Today, we frequently see the economy failing to meet human necessities (because it does so very unevenly), while simultaneously destroying the environment, as if it were infinite and easily replenishable. Neither is the case. 

Doughnut economics makes the case for less inequality, for cooperatively owned innovation created through open collaboration, and for economic circularity, whereby firms bear responsibility for cradle to grave product lifecycles, recycling, repairing, reusing, repurposing and renovating the products of human ingenuity, instead of wasting and needlessly discarding them.

Universal basic income – That stress and anxiety you feel over your job and finances? That’s been a key ideological political policy goal since the 1970s. It was no accident. You voted for it. That’s one of the reasons why real wages have barely risen in decades. The situation was motivated by baseless, bigoted beliefs, carefully contrived and mercilessly engineered.

A universal basic income would tend to end underemployment. If governments can engage in years of quantitative easing, where money is pumped into the banking system, then it can just as easily pump that money into the pockets of the population. The precarity that has been deliberately engineered, far from motivating everybody to become more entrepreneurial, has instead merely resulted in a massive transference of wealth from those less well equipped to aggregate it, to those that are. The rich got richer.

The result has been widespread impoverishment of particular groups in society, including the disadvantaged, the vulnerable, the poor, the old, the ill and the disabled, but also the young. The older generation has tacitly declared war on the young, depriving them of the earnings and opportunities previous generations took for granted. A universal basic income could end the economic war of the old on the young. In line with the use of Blockchain, discussed above, we could do it with cryptocurrencies.

Incidentally, the whole idea of a universal basic income is still presented as a risky experiment with uncertain outcomes, which might be terrible. In fact, the experiments were done in the 1970s, in the US and Canada, no less and the data proved it was an unmitigated success. Further, the data shows that the longer the delay in introducing it, the more it costs society. In other words, we’re crazy if we don’t introduce it immediately. This is hard, experimental data, not conjecture.

Voluntary taxation – You’re kidding me, right? Who’d pay tax if it was voluntary? The answer I am going to offer is: anybody that wants to live in a civilised society that has infrastructure, health care and education, independent of your ability to pay for it piecemeal, at a particular crisis moment of need. In other words, if you want to live in the modern world, you’re going to have to pony up. 

Isn’t that theft? Not if it’s voluntary. If it’s voluntary, you’re asking people to gift it to the community. I’d like taxation to be relative to the amount of eudaimonic consumption you take from the community. If what your actions result in is a depletion of other people’s good lives, then you really ought to pay your share. That means the extent to which you use water, electricity or wear out the roads with lorries. Similarly, if your activities are regenerative, improving the lot of the community, the community should reward you. You done your bit. Working out your contribution to your community on the basis of whether you increase or deplete eudaimony seems to be more equitable than on pure economic consumption or income, both of which are imperfect proxies. If you do a lot of damage, you ought to pay more. If you make everything better for everyone, it should be less.

Tax avoidance and tax evasion might seem clever and rebellious, striking a blow against oppression and for freedom, when taxation is compulsory, but refusing to invest in your community and the infrastructure you depend on to live in a civilisation is stupid, free-loading vandalism, when it’s voluntary. The mythical fiction is that, if not compelled to pay, life is good when nobody pays. It isn’t. Life degenerates to barbarism, if nobody pays. Privileged people like to believe in exceptionalism and special pleading. They contend that their contribution is already so wonderful that to tax them would be egregious. Their contribution to eudaimony ought to be measured.

Connection – Time and again, study after study provides solid data to confirm what we all intuitively knew. Human beings flourish when they have good relationships. That puts a premium on communities, compassion, empathy and altruism. Today, we destroy communities with abandon and we look down on compassion, empathy and altruism with derision, as character flaws and weaknesses. It’s open season to prey on those that work to increase human connectedness. This behaviour is the opposite of what we require for well-being. The quality of our relationships matters crucially to our collective happiness. Our current freedoms have isolated us, as relationships have disintegrated. We cannot ignore this important ingredient in living a good life any longer.

Immigration is a red herring – Nations exist to exclude. They consist of a group of people who, usually by conquest, have appropriated the wealth and resources of other people and places for themselves and don’t want to have to share it out. It all starts with that heist. If you don’t plunder other regions, there is nothing you need to fear, when its inhabitants swarm all over your borders, trying to share in the spoils of the theft, which they assert an arguably just claim on.

If everywhere is as good a place to live as everywhere else and resources are pooled in a common wealth, why would you need borders or squabbling nations? What would you go to war over? The maintenance of illegitimate privilege plundered from others is the real root cause of nations and their violence toward immigrants. Make everywhere a good place to thrive and nobody will want to leave where they are. As the child of immigrants, I know well of which I speak. Nobody wants to leave their home, if you don’t turn it into some kind of wasteland for them.

The other half of this equation is that if everywhere is a good place to thrive, why shouldn’t people move around? The usual arguments are down to disagreements about beliefs. The root cause of this dispute is the quality of thought that underlies these beliefs. Usually, the beliefs in conflict are some kind of religious redemption story and people are content to live their lives according to this fantasy or that, rather than working together to make the world they actually inhabit fit for well-being. Instead of waiting for an imaginary saviour who somehow never actually comes, they could abandon their particular fervently-held redemption story and start redeeming themselves.

Deep peace – Put your guns and punishment away. There is ample evidence that force is a failure. It doesn’t lead to people changing their minds or their behaviour. It just spills blood. A world which fosters thriving has no violent enforcement or coercion of any kind, as far as possible. Also, it doesn’t tolerate manipulation of minds for corporate gain. 

Shoving any idea down anybody else’s throat by force is no way to win hearts and minds. Punishment isn’t a deterent and it isn’t corrective or rehabilitative, as the recidivism rates demonstrate. It just destroys lives. There is also no limit to the extent of an arms race. The other guy can always come up with a weapon more terrifying than yours. This spiral is infinite. Owning a gun simply increases your odds of having that gun used to kill you or of harming innocent bystanders and killing innocents you mistakenly characterise as threats. The data shows that as a means for self-protection, guns simply don’t work.

You’re much better off addressing why somebody would need to be coerced by force in the first place. Usually, it’s because they don’t have a way to live well.

Protected childhood – We now know that adverse childhood events are at the root of much criminality and bad health (both physical and mental) in later life. They are reliable predictors of adult difficulties. Therefore, the avoidance of adverse childhood events has to be a prime concern of a community dedicated to creating an environment for universal well-being. 

To accomplish this will take a large change in mindset. We are taught to compete, conquer, vanquish and dominate and reward those that exhibit these characteristics most strongly the best. This has to change. People in power are usually dominators. I advocate the removal from positions of power of dominators. Don’t prey on the children. Make sure their childhoods are protected from adverse childhood events. It’s important.

Truth and reconciliation – There are deep, multi-generational wounds that will never heal unless we address and own up to them. Slavery happened. Imperialism happened. Genocide was real. The result of those acts was terrible harm and injustice. They were nothing short of murderous. Generations of lives were scarred and blighted as a consequence. We need to find some frank honesty about our long, bloody history of conquest to bring an end to the conquest mind set. Without owning up to the dreadful wrongs of the past, we can’t hope to reconcile and build a future together.

Planned product durability – Capitalism, especially, takes the raw materials of the planet, turns them temporarily into products, which swiftly thereafter are thrown away, in landfill. Effectively, capitalism succeeds in turning raw materials into refuse. We then litter the planet with decaying, toxic garbage. So, we convert nature’s beauty and bounty into unsightly rubbish, polluting and despoiling the environment into which it is discarded.

This is clearly unsustainable. You can turn everything into garbage, in the end. In the meantime, though, some products are legitimately life-enhancing and have real purpose. The key is to make those products last much longer, before they become waste. Planned product durability, in opposition to planned obsolescence, is the way forward.

Engineers and designers can just as easily devote themselves to producing good products, made to be fixed. This also affords them dignity and purpose in their work. We can create products that are necessary, that are a good deal, designed to fit humans as they are, with affordances for our many differences. They can be a joy to maker and user, with emotional appeal, quality aesthetics, elegance, sophistication, and embody cultural values. IN short, the things we make can be a better fit for a finite earth. We’ll have to give up our infinite growth hallucination, though. Our redemption stories (neoliberalism and socialism) share this growth hoax. No planet in the real universe can support this crazy idea.

Food – The purpose of food production has been subverted to making short term profits for shareholders. This is not what food is for. Food is to sustain and enhance life. Therefore, we should focus food production on providing sustainable nutritional value, not on providing low prices and high margins. Stop subsidising the production of excess simple carbohydrates. They’re literally killing us. Antisocial behaviour in prisons, including violence, are reduced by vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids with similar implications for those eating poor diets in the community. Why would you produce food that hasn’t got this nutritional value?

A push toward producing nutritious food probably implies large scale reform of land ownership and stewardship. The present owners of farmland haven’t looked after it well. They don’t care to, or when they do, feel constrained not to by the prevailing economic redemption stories.

The way we exhaust soils today, saturate landscapes in needless pesticides and accelerate water run-off, causing erosion and exacerbating flooding, by denuding the agricultural landscape of trees, is sheer lunacy. At some point, the soil just gives up and then we starve. Urban landscapes could sustain food production, increasing food security, but currently don’t. We’d rather have lawns.

We do almost nothing to reduce food miles, by growing more food local to its consumption, resulting in increased carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere. Research shows that vegetables grown in carbon dioxide rich environments turn to junk food, as they grow quickly and with excessive starches and sugars, at the expense of vitamins and minerals.  

Similarly, tortured, abused, maltreated, suffering animals do not produce nutritious foods. They produce diseased, depleted food stuffs. Animal welfare is tremendously important to the nutritional value of what we eat.

Choice and agency – When your democratic vote actually doesn’t count, because the legislative process has been bought and paid for by corporate lobbyists with special interests, you don’t feel you have much choice or agency. When your government has you on lock down control, via blanket surveillance and CIA-funded information dissemination (via Google and Hollywood, among other channels), it’s hard to maintain freedom of thought and action as anything other than an imaginary concept. Public discourse ought to be a process of refining and clarifying our true societal and personal preferences and goals – it’s time well spent. Choice and agency should be protected and perpetuated. Freedom of thought and expression are actually humanity’s survival skills.

Only a privileged elite would object and only on the grounds that they think their current arrangements are best for them. It can be easily argued, though, that better, more fulfilling, life-enhancing lives are possible even for the elite, if they relinquish their control over the rest of us. The maintenance of their paranoid systems of manufacturing consent is self-defeating. It denies the most pampered and opulent people an existence much more conducive to living well than their current money-fuelled lifestyles of waste and indolence currently do.

Quality of thought – We’re never taught about our intellectual blind spots and cognitive biases, so we spend most of our lives blissfully unaware of them. We think we’re making rational, informed, logical, independent decisions when nothing could be further from the truth. This leads to poor choices and the belief in ridiculous redemption stories. It also allows those that understand how the mind works to maintain absolute, manipulative control over those that don’t. 

Ultimately, this has a very bad effect on our ability to thrive. Education to make us aware of and to minimise our cognitive biases and to counter mysticism and baseless religious extremism, can improve the quality of thought and bring us out of the dark ages. Believing in wrong-headed, shitty, imaginary ideas does more harm to us all than we acknowledge. Being able to think critically and clearly is something that has been denied to many, to maintain hierarchies and power structures. We can’t afford to entertain this any longer. There’s too much at stake.

Conflict and deadlock management – When we get into arguments and disputes, we always feel a compelling need to prove we were right. It becomes the thing we care about most, in the heat of the moment. In actual fact, the higher order outcome most people desire is for goals to be met. Conversations are supposed to lead to a positive, desirable action, not just prove you were correct. We can learn to conduct conversations this way. 

Training in conducting crucial conversations, so that mutually desirable outcomes are achieved, is available. We would make more progress toward making good lives for all, if we were shown how to conduct non-violent communication. That way, we could enrich our shared pool of meaning and reach mutually workable outcomes, rather than defending our own honour.

Public interest research – In science, medicine and academia, there is a pressing need for community-funded research into questions that have no obvious, immediate route to commercial profitability. We can’t remain ignorant, as a society, about important questions, today ignored, because they aren’t likely to yield an acceptable return to private interests. We also cannot allow distorted or cherry-picked research outcomes to be the only ones published, so that they favour private interests. 

In much of the body of science published today, these are the biases. Meanwhile, there are crucial questions that science could provide answers to, but which are never studied. We just don’t know the answers. An example is that, when medicines are released, doctors must report related adverse events encountered in the community. Pesticides released into the environment don’t have this requirement and there is no maximum exposure known or determined. Why should this be?

Science, in allowing itself to be subverted for profit, has a lot to answer for.

Crimes against eudaimony? – Sanctions against those that destroy eudaimonic value might mostly consist of community exclusion (admittedly a form of violence), but preferably a rehabilitation of their bad ideas through enlightenment. I think that anyone that deliberately, systematically and maliciously destroys the prospects of a thriving, good life for others, or impairs their well-being, needs to be reined in by the community. It should be seen as grossly unacceptable behaviour. 

Under the two prevailing, orthodox, redemption stories, we don’t even note when eudaimony is destroyed. Often, the destroyers are rewarded. The current situation is no damn good.

This is not an exhaustive list, I grant you, but also not a bad start, I think.

Refining Our Story

The story isn’t and should never be set in stone. Part of the reason our world is in the grip of sclerotic ideas that bind us all into inaction is that we don’t allow our redemption stories to evolve, as our understanding of our situation and our humanity changes. That’s a terrible mistake.

It’s not the destination; it’s the journey. We can’t know what leads to good outcomes for all lives unless we are prepared to conduct experiments and refine our ideas as we learn more.

Social scientist, Joe Edelman, writes: 

“When we choose, we do so based on a rough guess of what our true interests are, and we are always looking to improve that guess by finding better goals and values. Change comes through participation in a process — of reflection and discovery and clarification — leading to a better understanding of which goals and preferences we’ll stick with and which we’ll discard.”

“What is even more important to a person than their current goals or preferences? The process of refining, discovering, and clarifying those goals and preferences.”

“This vision (of constantly refining our search for better goals and values) — and these principles — are inspiring and practical. They compare well against the drab future-visions we’ve been fed. Visions like

– Fully Automated Luxury Communism

– A Return to Liberal Ideals

– Economic Nationalism

– Green Technocratic Management

– Blockchain Crypto-collectivism.”

Who Tells the Story?

I’m going to assert that artists and writers are well-equipped to tell the new redemption story of personal redemption. They have the tools and skills to articulate the ideas clearly.

Artists and writers are arguably the best story tellers. It’s what they do. For a new redemption story to take root, it has to be lucid, powerful and compelling. That’s going to take a lot of work.

People who are artists and writers already have a grip on what’s required to achieve self-actualisation, to be self-motivated and to move things forward voluntarily. They are also well-versed in aesthetics and seeing differently. These are excellent qualifications to steward a fragile, nascent set of ideas like the ones proposed above.

It could be said that the life of an artist is a close proto-precursor to a highly eudaimonic life. As a model of living a good life, creative people already have a taste of it.

I recognise that some may see this proposal for a better world as horrifying and admittedly aspects of it may inadvertently be so, which is why we should approach the solution as a process of exploration, discovery and refinement to clarify our real human goals; not blindly and traditionally adhere to notions force-fed to us by the two most prevalent existing redemption stories, both of which required a wholesale abrogation of our true human characteristics and desires.

Is The New Story Credible?

“Whether they are as big as countries or as small as startups, what organisations really have in common today is this: their economics work, but their eudaimonics don’t.”, writes Haque. “The old paradigm led us into an age where life itself is the price of success. But that kind of success, we’re discovering the hard way, isn’t just empty — it’s lethal.”

You may dismiss the alternative narrative as unrealistic or hopelessly idealistic, so bound to fail, but are the current neoliberal and socialist stories any more rational. If we judge by their results, what legitimate claims can they make for being any good?

Is the new story credible? In the frame of reference of older stories, obviously not (because those stories are reality distortion fields), but as a coherent, new paradigm, it’s feasible enough, provided enough people want to believe in it.

Why shouldn’t we believe in it?

References and Background Reading

My site statistics tell me that nobody clicks on links I reference, but all of these are well worth your time to read.

* Monbiot https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/sep/09/george-monbiot-how-de-we-get-out-of-this-mess

* Hutton https://amp.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/sep/09/do-we-have-will-to-reform-society-or-are-we-in-terminal-decline

* Hedges https://www.truthdig.com/articles/the-great-flood/

* Edelman https://medium.com/what-to-build/whats-next-4b4d00bd9403

* Brene Brown https://www.fastcompany.com/40465644/brene-brown-americas-crisis-of-disconnection-runs-deeper-than-politics

* Battelle https://shift.newco.co/tech-is-public-enemy-1-so-now-what-dee0c0cc40fe

* Haque https://eudaimoniaand.co/eudaimonics-d55727be1233

* https://eudaimoniaand.co/the-fundamentals-370db41b2958

* https://eudaimoniaand.co/the-principles-ae48beb232f1

* https://medium.com/bad-words/the-predatory-society-7e14028b7d33

* De Botton http://www.thebookoflife.org/business-and-the-ladder-of-needs/

* Sherman https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/08/opinion/sunday/what-the-rich-wont-tell-you.html

* Chu https://medium.com/the-polymath-project/rethinking-happiness-45905f45f3da

* Johnson http://www.politico.com/agenda/story/2017/09/13/food-nutrients-carbon-dioxide-000511

* http://awarenessact.com/22-savage-truths-about-existence-that-will-force-you-to-get-your-shit-together/

* https://www.commondreams.org/views/2017/09/17/growing-danger-dynastic-wealth?amp

* https://www.commondreams.org/views/2017/09/17/why-we-need-universal-basic-income?amp

* https://hackernoon.com/the-empire-strikes-back-with-a-coordinated-war-on-crypto-bdd84fd2f854

* https://copenhagenletter.org

* https://amp.theguardian.com/society/2017/sep/20/one-in-four-girls-have-depression-by-the-time-they-hit-14-study-reveals

* https://www.crikey.com.au/2017/09/21/keane-inside-the-terrifying-mind-of-tony-abbott/

* https://amp.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/sep/20/tories-debt-crisis-thatcherite-credit

* https://amp.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/21/assumed-safety-of-widespread-pesticide-use-is-false-says-top-government-scientist

* https://aeon.co/essays/if-your-pay-is-not-yours-to-keep-then-neither-is-the-tax

* https://www.commondreams.org/views/2017/09/21/capitalism-nightmare?amp

* https://medium.com/fast-company/a-universal-basic-income-would-do-wonders-for-the-u-s-economy-ddb0eb739c18

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Has Music Education Lost Its Way?

Depending who you ask, rock and roll originated some seventy years ago. Jazz is about a hundred years old. Even Rap is pushing fifty. These are musical art forms that predate young music students, today in their middle teens, by many decades. They’re not new art forms and they’re old.

The first generation practitioners of all of these musical genres are now dead or retired. This is dead composer music too. There’s nothing modish or faddish about them and no reason to doubt their cultural contribution, their aesthetic value or longevity. They’ve gone the distance and stuck around, having entertained literally generations of listeners, adding meaning and significance their lives.

Classical music began some four hundred years ago and it is generally thought that it ended two hundred years ago, or there abouts. In other words, it ended only twice as long ago as jazz began, three times as long ago as rock and roll arrived and only four times as long ago as rap emerged. On a millennium time scale, all of these musical forms are near neighbours. To my way of thinking, that gives them all roughly equal validity as art worthy of study and preservation.

Music education, with its heavy bias toward teaching and reproducing the classics, peppered with a little jazz, if it’s radically “contemporary” in its ambitions, ignores rock and roll and rap (and hip hop and dance music) myopically, in the main. But there is nothing contemporary about jazz. It’s an historical artefact. Why the bias?

Music educators, in my view, overthink music. They intellectualise it, focusing on how clever it is, how structured and how surprisingly intricate. Their fascination is with trying to reverse-engineer the thinking that went into its creation, in the mistaken belief that if you can figure out how it was constructed, you’re a true musician and a human being that can smugly assert their musical, intellectual superiority over other musicians that merely entertain, because they’ve unlocked the arcane secrets of dead composers. This approach is worthless.

First and foremost, music has always been about entertaining. It’s power derives from its ability to reach the deepest emotional states of the people it was written for. Music creates a shared, empathic experience, drawing communities together. It was always there to make people feel better and to create a sense of belonging. Music fulfills primal human needs.

Understanding the construction of a piece of music tells you very little about the zeitgeist that prevailed, when it was created, or what aspects of the music had the capacity to move audiences emotionally. It’s like understanding how a building was designed, without any reference to the landscape it was built in, or the lives of the people that inhabit it.

Secondly, being able to take something apart does not make you capable of conceiving, designing and constructing another. Ask any five-year-old that has disassembled an alarm clock. While you might gain insight into what makes it tick, it doesn’t instantly turn you into a clockmaker, even if you can successfully reassemble the clock. It definitely doesn’t give you enough insight or ability to innovate in the field of timepieces. For that, you’d also have to work on your imagination and a range of precision craft skills.

Here’s what I think modern music education misses. It shows you how to deconstruct, reproduce and reassemble particular types of clock (to continue the analogy), but ignores more up-to-date solutions, such as quartz crystal driven devices, digital timepieces and atomic clocks. In other words, it only addresses a small subset of the music that exists.

Musical education, as it is currently presented, does not adequately prepare young musicians to innovate in the creation of new music, because it ignores the cultural context of music made for the past seventy years, deeming it unworthy of study, analysis and emulation. There is no focus on how it is that music entertains and emotionally affects audiences, being too wrapped up in its own self-satisfaction at how clever and ingenious some forms of music were. 

There is very little attempt to understand why contemporary music has meaning and moves so many. It is not well-represented in musical instruction materials, for example. This aspect of the musical experience is almost considered an irrelevance, by music educators, whereas I would argue it’s the very point of being a musician.

You seldom see courses of instruction in exercising musical imagination with the structural knowledge gained from analysis of extinct musical movements, nor of applying what is known about musical construction to progressively innovate with new and pleasing structures, as yet unknown. Music education leans too heavily on reproduction and not nearly enough on origination and authorship. There are musicians cranked out of music schools that know everything about Mozart, but who cannot write a note of fresh, relevant, exciting, moving music for their contemporaries. That, to me, is very sad.

Accomplished players, when asked to improvise, often experience total paralysis. They don’t know how. Their dexterity on their instrument is polished and graded, yet when asked to take a solo, they freeze up and don’t know what to do. Their ability to conduct a musical conversation with other musicians and their audience is constrained because they only know how to speak the musical equivalent of Latin, not the contemporary, colloquial lingua franca they’d need to know, in order to participate.

The simple act of song writing offers a rich field of study, but it is little respected or taught. There’s a lot involved in writing a good song, but you’d never know it, from the graded piano and music theory syllabus. In fact, you could attain the highest grades in both, with distinction and still not know the first thing about writing a song as beloved, involving and poignant as Witchita Lineman.

Is music education’s purpose largely archival, or should it be dedicated to progressing the state of the art? Is it a shrine where dead composers are religiously worshipped, or should it be a forge where modern cultural experiences are wrought? Judging by the curriculum of what they teach and what they examine and seeing the very obvious holes in music education around creativity, imagination and innovation, I’d say they’re training custodians and curators of the past, not the composers that people will study in two hundred years’ time. That’s a tremendous waste of young musical talent and a huge missed opportunity.

Meanwhile, the people that really advance musical culture will tend to emerge in spite of formal musical education, rather than because of it. That’s a damning indictment of any field of scholarship. Imagine if engineering faculties did not consistently produce the best and most relevant future engineers, or if university medical schools produced nobody capable of originating future medical advancements. Music education is failing young musicians, largely because of its wrong-headed, elitist snobbery. It remains essentially clueless about teaching the aspects of music that matter to people most.

It’s long past due for reform.

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Recording With Commitment

Maybe it’s because I was recording sound long before there were DAWs, automated mixing consoles and plug-ins that replace tens of thousands of dollars/pounds/euros of outboard equipment, but it seems the way I record runs counter to how audio schools preach you ought to record. I happen to think they’re wrong and they’re getting sterile performances from the musicians they record, as a consequence of their method. 

I also think they’re turning mixing into drudgery, as they try to wring magic out of mundane performances by throwing effects plug-ins at them.

Audio schools teach that it is best practice to capture every recorded part as dry and clean as you possibly can, in the DAW, unadorned by outboard treatment, guitarists’ effect chains or even room colouration. The theory goes that this gives you the most options, when mixing. The problem is that all you’ve done is deferred your sonic creative decisions to the mixing phase, when you already have enough decisions to make just to get the balance right. When you also have to make each recorded part sound good, you can overwhelm the mixdown phase of the project with issues I believe you should have resolved earlier. This can lead to paralysis and despair.

The dirty secret is that the application of plug-ins, no matter how expensive, can’t turn every dry signal into a wonderful sounding one. There’s more to it than that. They also can’t turn a lacklustre performance into a vibrant one. Suspiciously, if you record dry and clean, many of the performances captured sound bereft of spark and life. Why might this be?

My theory is that musicians respond to how good their instrument or voice sounds in their headphones, while tracking. If they sound fabulous, they play fabulously. They have an inclination to draw inspiration from their god-like tone and play or sing accordingly. Take all of that away from them and their sound is about as compelling as a lab experiment. Sure, you might capture a very faithful recording, giving yourself a blank slate to work with during mixing, but you’ve squashed the life out of it. The recording is sterile, but also horribly emasculated. It has no balls. You’ve mutilated the music. This does not serve the song.

Because I usually wear both the producer and engineer hats, when I record, my way of working may be idiosyncratic, but I think it has much to recommend it. My first instinct is to get the sound I imagine in my head before I print anything to a track. That comes down to getting the instrument in tune and producing the sound you want, in the room. Next comes mic choice and placement. The signal I’m going to record has to sound tolerably close to the one in my musical imagination before I even attempt to capture a performance. 

I also use a channel strip plug-in on the input, to tweak the sound so that what I hear in the monitors (and what the musician hears in their cans) sounds as near to what I want it to sound like in the final mix I imagine in my head. I’m already trying to envisage how it will sit in the mix, before I’ve even recorded the part. When I hit record, I know the musician will dig what they’re playing and raise their game to that higher standard, but that I’ll have a part I won’t need to change much, when mixing.

Here’s my insurance policy: I also take a split before the guitarist’s effects chain, a DI from the amp and a pre-channel strip feed and print those to tracks to the DAW too, while I record the fabulous-sounding track. I don’t use these in the mix unless I have to. They’re safeties. That way, if my imagination is imperfect and I find myself backed into an unanticipated corner, when mixing, I can reconfigure the signal chain, starting from progressively cleaner and unaffected versions of the same track. The important difference, though, is that even the dry prints are of a fabulous performance, made possible by the outstanding sound the musician experienced while tracking. The key is to capture great performances. Those serve the song.

The other option made possible by my method, at mixing time, is to blend the fabulous-sounding track with its dry or re-effected twin. This allows you to either clean up some of the colouration, or add another hue.

The big advantage of trying to build the mix in your imagination, before you record, and of committing to capturing the sound you want to eventually hear in the final mix, as you record each part, is that mixing requires fewer decisions. You start with stems that are already close to what you wanted to hear in your conception of the mix you had in your imagination. Half the work is already in the can, before you even start trying to obtain a balance.

Another important advantage of my method is that if you’re not sure how you want the instrument to sound in the mix, you can try different options, while tracking and print those too. You can attempt different creative options while the musician is available to record parts and respond to different sonic treatments. There is no rule that says everything you print to a track in your DAW has to appear in the final mix. That’s what the channel mutes are for.

So far, I’ve not painted myself into a corner. If the sound I envisaged won’t sit in the mix, I have clean, dry safety copies to reshape and mould. When I wasn’t sure which sonic treatment I wanted, I can compare them at mixdown, to see which one works better. I can even blend the two, or create a composite from the two different sounding performances. It’s a very flexible, fast way to mix. The point is that, even though tracking takes longer, mixing is a more satisfying experience. I claim this is what serves the song best.

When it comes to making music, early commitment often pays dividends, whereas indecision can ruin the music. DAWs make it easy to give yourself escape routes for when your early commitment was in error, but the more you do; the better you get. You find yourself resorting to the clean, dry prints less and less. More often, you find yourself nailing the sound you imagine in your head early and smiling more, when mastering.

Give it a try.

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Why Play?

As children, we play. Nobody has to compel us to play or tell us how. We just do. We make up the games we play, using our imaginations. It comes pretty naturally, for most people. We play as a childhood priority. If there is nothing else going on (perhaps especially if nothing else is going on), children will begin to play, using whatever is at hand. Clearly play has some evolutionary significance as an activity, or it wouldn’t be such an innate, instinctual thing. We clearly play for a reason, but what is it? Why do we play?

A second almost equally valid question is why adults tend to stop playing. Do we stop because we’re done, or because it’s conditioned out of us by society, or is that an evolutionary adaptation too? Would a return to play and being playful have any benefits to adults?

According to this study, “adults can positively utilise their inclination towards playfulness in many situations. They are good at observing, can easily see things from new perspectives, and can turn monotonous tasks into something interesting. At the same time, playfulness should not be equated with humor. Instead we need a new vocabulary to describe it, write psychologists.”

So let’s talk about why we play and what use it might be, for both children and adults. Perhaps, through play, we can recapture some of the many advantages of play in our daily lives by simply choosing to behave more playfully.

Play is:

  • Voluntary – You do it because you want to. Even if people tell you to go and play, you don’t have to and won’t, unless you feel inclined so to do. It’s impossible to force anybody to play. Compulsion is the surest guarantee of all play ending. You are the boss of you, where play is concerned.
  • Intrinsically motivated – You play because it’s what you want to do. There is no requirement for extrinsic rewards. You don’t need applause or a monetary incentive. The profit motive is a very poor motivator of play. Play is not valued in the free market and you don’t choose what to play based on pricing signals. Although professional sports people play for money, the best one’s do it for love, whether or not they get paid. Money alone won’t guarantee great play takes place.
  • Recreational – The essence of recreation is that it allows you to recreate yourself, mending the wear and tear and renewing yourself. Play is an excellent means of rebuilding your tired mind and body.
  • Pleasurable – We play because it gives us pleasure. We like to play. We like how it makes us feel. It’s happy-making.
  • Enjoyable – Because we feel good, when we play, we enjoy the experience. It’s satisfying. It gives us a sense of closure, if that’s how we choose to end the game we play. It can equally keep us in suspense. We choose, according to our whims.
  • A means of developing and using your curiosity – If you want to get better at using your natural curiosity, play is a way to do so. Curiosity is useful in playing and playing can make you experience heightened curiosity. There are more questions to answer, because you are playing. Things occur to you, in that relaxed and pleasurable state and you feel inclined to pursue those thoughts. Playing is often about wondering why and exercising “what if” scenarios.
  • A way of learning – People learn in lots of different ways, but play has the advantage of being hands-on and highly visual, spatial and interactive. As a way of learning, playing with things is powerful. Messing about and bumping into things, with purpose, is a great way to explore the terrain of possibilities. Because your mind is in a relaxed and pleasured state, it’s more amenable to uploading information without friction. You also make better associations between information, emotional states and visual stimulus. Play is a great way to learn things.
  • Observational – Playing amplifies your senses. You need to observe well to play well. Learning to observe is the first step to learning how to think critically. It helps you miss less. Your ignorance is ameliorated, because play teaches you how to pay more attention to your situation. Situational awareness is an asset. The more you notice, the better questions you can ask about why things are as they are and consequently, the more fruitful will be your solutions for shaping the world in better ways than how they are now.
  • A way to gain and explore new perspectives – In play, new perspectives present themselves. There they are. You either pay attention and explore them, or you cease playing. Often, the only way forward, in a game, is to see things from a different perspective and solve the intractable in that way. The first time I drew anything upside down, I was lying down under the living room coffee table, scribbling on the under-side of the table top above me. Who uses a table from beneath it? I felt transported to another place and time. I loved that feeling.
  • Imaginative – If it doesn’t exist, you have to pretend. Pretending is one of our earliest games. We learn to imagine things as other than being what they normally are, in order to play with them. Thus, a useless stick becomes a medieval sword. A cubby house becomes a moon base. You have to draw on your imagination to turn the mundane and prosaic into magical playthings. You even have to imagine the magic.
  • Experimental – It might seem like just messing around with stuff, by play can also be an experimental method of discovery. Seeing how to do things by trying them is the essence of the experimental method. There is an element of having a go and just seeing what happens, involved in play. If things don’t work out the way you expect, you try something else. Play is all about trying out the various possibilities.
  • A good use of your hands – Much of our nervous system is devoted to control of the fine motor skills that govern our hands. In playing with things, we usually pick them up and manipulate them. We get to use our fine motor skills and develop new ones, strengthening the neural connections that go toward muscle memory. Musicians play instruments and to succeed, they develop dexterity and flexibility beyond what would normally be required for survival. Playing is an excellent way to improve your motor skills and finely co-ordinated hand movements.
  • Engaging of your senses – Through play, we can stimulate our sight, our hearing, our voices, our sense of touch and of taste, as well as other kinaesthetic senses. We can experience new sensations simply by playing the right way. During play, we can experience the world in ways that are ordinarily not available to us. Through playing, we can heighten our experience of our sensations, paying special attention to how we perceive and feel, during our play time. Playfulness can help you learn to feel more acutely. It also sharpens our reactions and responses.
  • Fearless, daring, courageous and uninhibited – When you play, the furthest thought from your mind is whether or not you will fail or what the consequences of failure might be. In the moment, you simply don’t care. This allows you to be fearless and daring, uninhibited by the fear of failure or the embarrassment of coming up wanting. While you play, you are a god-like creature with super powers. Nothing will stop you.
  • Not judgemental – When you watch children play, they almost never sit in judgement of their game or ho well they played it, preferring instead to simply enjoy the time spent playing. Nobody cares whether your playtime is optimally productive or efficient. That’s not why you play. You play to have fun, not to weigh up the pros and cons of what you are doing. It’s just a game, after all. This is not a bad approach to life, in general.
  • Immersive – Have you ever noticed how, when you’re playing, everything else about the world and your life recedes and you find yourself fully absorbed in your play time. You are completely and totally immersed in the world you may have created, as part of your play. All your cares and worries are momentarily irrelevant and cast from your mind. You inner critic is silent. You are at one with your task and completely involved, using your whole mind and body.
  • Strategic thinking made fun – Often, while playing, we have to devise and revise strategies on the fly, without the benefit of thinking time or deep introspection. Our strategies lead us to succeed in our game, if they’re good enough. Being made to think strategically, without necessarily being aware that we are, is a useful life skill to develop. We can use our strategic abilities in many spheres of our lives, so learning to do it, while enjoying the lessons, though play, is very useful.
  • A route to achieving focus and flow – One of the most sure-fire ways to find your focus and get in the flow is to start to play. In fact, if you can approach your daily tasks with a playful attitude, you’ll find procrastination falls away. Taking yourself and your goals too seriously can lead to paralysis, whereas treating both like a game, which you like to play, can turn even the most challenging tasks into something approaching fun. Certainly the concept of viewing daunting tasks as a game to play is amusing in itself. Play is a way to turn what you have to do into what you get to do.
  • Revealing – Play shows you how things really work. It’s only by messing with stuff, taking it apart and putting it back together again that you gain deeper insight into how mysterious mechanisms function. All young engineers know this. If you want to learn to design something, take a few examples apart and study how they tick. Playfulness is next to analytical, in this case. Finding new ways to reassemble things, so that they function in ways not originally envisioned is another good game. Using them in ways other than their maker intended is also another fun game to play.
  • Exciting – Let’s face it. Playing is exciting. Your pupils dilate a little and your heart rate races slightly. You might even break into a sweat. Playing makes you alert and the more you play, the more you want to play. Compared to the ennui of everyday existence, the opportunity to play is something children welcome with open arms. It’s a chance to burn off excess energy, if you’re a child, or to discover latent energy you didn’t know you had, if an adult.
  • Stimulating and arousing – There are biophysical changes that occur, when you play. When playing with an intimate partner, this can include psycho-sexual aspects, arousal and deep emotional and physical awakenings. Even plain old vanilla playing can still get the body into a state of anticipation and expectation, changing the makeup of your body chemistry. Who knows? It might even reduce inflammation and rejuvenate your cells – I don’t know. Somebody qualified should study this. Playing can be a little like exercise, especially if it is vigorous. You move your body and think harder, burning more calories. Playing a musical instrument is definitely a physical act that makes you sweat and use muscles normally left dormant. Dancing is similar.
  • Life-affirming – There are few comparable ways of feeling alive and connected to the universe than you can feel while you play. This can give you a feeling of being glad to be present in the moment. Play is something we share with many other living things. The ability to play and to enjoy it is testament to a deep justice present somewhere in the cosmos.
  • Free-spirited – Play allows you to let your spirit do as it will, seeking nothing more than the gratification that spending a part of your life time engaged in a pleasurable activity can give you. There are no external constraints necessary and self-censorship is also not required. Here is an opportunity to be who you are, however you are, without censure. Grasp it.
  • Vulnerable – When you play, your guard is down. You aren’t worried about imminent attacks by predators. You are more concerned with playing. This is the ultimate state of vulnerability, where you are free to exist in your natural state, untroubled by threats. Being able to feel as if there are no threats and opening yourself to others, as a vulnerable human being, is a privilege that not many other scenarios provide, in life. Anxiety is temporarily suspended. Peace and calm enter your consciousness as you immerse yourself deeper and deeper into your play time.
  • Both collaborative and solitary – I’ve always thought that all creativity is a subtle blend of things you come up with in solitude, on your own, and the efforts of teams of people who take your idea and enhance it with ideas of their own. Playing is similar. Some games are positively solipsistic. Others are more like cat-herding. Collaborative games require the development of giving and taking skills and playing in teams, this way, can be deeply satisfying. My favourite aspect of this dichotomy is that it simply brings to the fore the fact that a balance is required. Sometimes you have to fly solo. Other times, it’s no fun unless others take part.
  • Cooperative and trusting – Cooperative play stops as soon as anybody playing stops cooperating. This is an important life lesson to learn. Cooperation is delicate and subtle and it can be all that sustains the fun of play. In order to cooperate effectively, you have to learn to trust other people and for them to be able to trust you. Everyone has to do their part, or the play is unsatisfactory. This is why bands are such good fun. Being in one relies on you trusting each other musician to play along. You also have to do what you’re supposed to do, or the song isn’t served.
  • Improvisational and spontaneous – The vast majority of our play is not pre-meditated or scripted. It evolves and develops spontaneously, as new ideas occur to us and new questions arise to provoke our curiosity. You have to think on your feet, inventively and improvise your play with whatever you have. Look back over history and you can find artefacts of play things made of the most unlikely materials, but they were pressed into the service of the game, nevertheless. To improvise, you have to think quickly, flexibly and creatively. Play encourages you to do all three.
  • Self-directed and autonomous – It’s possible to play quite well without the explicit compulsion of the authorities or a government and their latent threats of violence unless you comply and obey. You have free will and you can exercise it, to create and play whatever you choose, whenever you wish. There is no ministry of play directing how and when you may play and you don’t need anybody else’s permission to decide to play. Isn’t it strange that we don’t think we can maintain civilisation without authoritarian leaders and their dictatorial institutions? If that were true, how on earth would we ever play?
  • Unconstrained and unlimited – Because play is fundamentally imaginative, there is no limit to the things we can imagine and pretend. There are no limits. If you can think of it, you can play with it. Ideas are excellent play things, as are fictitious scenarios and universes that exist only as ideas in your head. You can travel anywhere in your imagined universe at infinite speed, or go backwards and forwards in time, if that is your wish. Play is a place where literally anything is possible.
  • A taste of freedom – With nobody to tell you want to do and no boundaries, playing in an environment where you can shape your play time to be any kind of universe you can imagine is the closest our minds get to exercising the feeling of genuine freedom. There are no obligations, bills to pay or schedules to adhere to, if that’s how you choose to play. Being able to exist in this state of absolute freedom is perhaps the only time in our mortal existence that this is possible.
  • Outside of ordinary routine – Routine is mundane and monotonous, but so much of what we do, in our lives, can be categorised as routine and ordinary. Play, in contrast, can be different every time. It can be extraordinary and nothing like routine. The spontaneity of playing is a very effective antidote to feeling like you are stuck in a rut, with no way to break it.
  • Innovative and inventive – Because you make it all up as you go along, while you play, you don’t need to be an expert at anything and you can invent at the speed of thought. New ideas make the play a lot more fun and certainly more fascinating. If you need to strengthen you ability to invent and innovate, play is an effective way to get these parts of your mind working well. There’s nothing at stake, other than the fun of thinking things up.
  • Interactive – Play takes on a life of its own. As you create the game you are playing, or explore the space of possibilities, you effectively interact with your own game play, which in turn prompts new ideas, thoughts and curiosities to pursue. As you follow those leads, the nature of your play changes in response. We are both shaping what we play and it shapes us. This is the essence of interactivity.
  • Creative – You can make your own rules, fashion your very own playthings, play with ideas that nobody else is thinking, design your play environment and generally arrange your play time universe in any way you see fit. It doesn’t have to be anything like anybody else’s and typically isn’t. Making and playing are closely allied activities and the more creativity you can apply, the more satisfying are the results. Creativity, unlike in other parts of your life perhaps, is an unarguable asset in play.
  • An antidote to boredom, anxiety, stress, trauma and rejection – All of these things, if they afflict can make it next to impossible to create. You may have the desire to be creative, but lack the will, due to feelings like these. A trick you can play on yourself is to convince yourself you aren’t creating a damn thing – instead you’re merely playing. Creative people invariably find that as soon as they start to play with their medium and materials, they actually start to create, whether they intended to or not. Play kickstarts creativity and in so doing, alleviates those feelings of boredom, anxiety, stress, trauma and rejection. And as you playfully create, you make something tangible that you and others can admire or use. Immediately, you begin to feel better and better about yourself. The self-recriminations at the lack of your application evaporate. All because you began to play.
  • Productive – Even things you love to do can become a chore, if you have to do them productively. Sometimes, you’re not into it, you’re exhausted, or you just can’t stand the repetition. When this happens, making your chore into a game to play can make the task seem like fun, restoring your productivity. There are few better ways of facing down a mountain of work to do than to execute in small steps, playing with it as you do. Dance with the challenge and it will yield.
  • Rejuvenating – Want to feel younger, or reminisce nostalgically about a time when things seemed simpler and less-complicated? Want to travel back to the days when you were happiest and carefree, when you could spend all your time doing what you loved most? There’s an easy way to do it. Play!
  • Healing and soothing – Play undoubtedly has a way of taking your mind off your troubles. It removes you from your present situation and places you in an imaginary play space. In your mind, you might not even be in the present. You may well be imagining yourself in a distant universe. This ability to remove yourself from your turbulent difficulties is what makes play so calming, healing and soothing. If you hurt somewhere, then taking the pressure off the point that hurts can be just the remedy. Play alleviates the pressure.
  • An escape – Every now and then, we all need to escape our situation. We might be struggling with no respite, the cards may not be falling the way we would like, for us, or we may be in an impossible situation. Staying for the battle may be so fatiguing that you lose your stamina and ability to cope. Play is somewhere to hide, when it’s all too much. Make time to enjoy your life, do what you like to do and recharge your batteries and you may find that your life is much more bearable and your resources to cope with challenges greatly expanded. Play has some wonderful medicinal properties.
  • A way to take heart, when you feel heartache or heartbreak – You wouldn’t be human, unless you had experienced heartache or heartbreak (or both). These are both very bad feelings that can and do inflict significant damage on your mind and body. They hurt. They can hurt you physically. Play, on the other hand, gives you a chance to be included, accepted and successful. You might be drawing the short straw in life, but in your play life, it’s possible to be a winner, or a very good loser. Losses, while playing, are as ephemeral and temporary as you wins. They don’t really matter. This property of play can give you heart, when your heart is not in it.
  • Lots of fun – Let’s face it. The main reason we play is that it’s fun to play. We can always create more fun, too, when the fun runs out. In fact, play is a fountain of fun that never runs dry. Who doesn’t like having fun? Even the most curmudgeonly among us would have to admit that levity and enjoying your play time are both worthwhile.
  • REWARDING! – This is the bottom line, actually. We play because it’s rewarding – in myriad ways. You always get more out of it than you put in. It’s like the universe’s ultimate gift. The more you play, the better you feel and the more you know. There are so few downsides to play, that it’s a wonder it is ever frowned upon by anybody at any time. Perhaps their real issue is jealousy at not being able to enjoy the rewards of play themselves. It remains a mystery to me why we have come to regard play as frivolous and childish, when it’s such a humanity-enhancing activity. If people would only play, instead of waging wars and applying gratuitous violence to their every situation, we’d be a happier, saner, more enlightened species.

Playing is serious stuff. I love playful people.

References

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/01/170111102859.htm

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Play_(activity)

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Rebuilding and Reinventing

Life can be a real bitch at times, despite all the things you have to be grateful for. You think you’re doing your best work, learning new skills all the time and creating copious amounts of tangible value, but events overtake you and you find yourself in the position of having to start your career path again, from square one. Often, this can be for the shittiest of reasons. Usually it is.

All the work you’ve done and all the things you’ve learned are scattered to the wind and you must rebuild. You no longer have access to your art or the resources you were previously enjoying to create your work. You lose contact with friends and collaborators, as you are cast out of your situation and into another.

Usually, this is a period of high stress. You may lose your income stream and not a little of your self-confidence. Resilience is required. You have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and reinvent yourself. 

Rather than seeing this as an unmitigated disaster, seeing it as an opportunity can be far more positively productive. That’s hard to do, when you’re still smarting from the insult to your happy plans, processing how it came to this and trying hard to stop caring about a situation you were previously passionately committed to. Dwelling on it is wasted time, however. What feels better is immersion into imaginative, innovative new approaches to your life and work, without the nagging, niggling issues you have left behind, albeit involuntarily.

Yes, you’re grieving, but keeping your grief in perspective is a good thing to do. It’s self-preservation. You can take stock of what you wished you had known, to have avoided the situation you’re now in, and can set about learning those missing skills. Sometimes, the skill you lacked was how to conduct an emotionally-charged, crucial conversation so that you get the outcome you wanted. In other cases, it could be a lack of empowerment you felt, due to not having specific technical skills that would have allowed you to create your own destiny, with your own two hands, without reliance on anybody else. You might simply realise that your guts were right all along and the culture you were joining was anathema to everything you hold dear. 

Instead of wringing your hands and regretting what caused you to have to rebuild, it’s better to embark on a programme of learning and self-development, to overcome the deficiencies you perceive may have lead to the present unplanned and undesirable outcomes. Reinvention is healing. It also equips you with additional shields against the same thing ever happening to you again. Skills build increased protection, though you can never have enough to avoid every unfortunate happenstance.

The exciting thing is that, rather than being overwhelmed by the mountain you have to climb to get to where you used to be (or further along), you can plan to do the things you love to do best. Motivation is usually hard to rekindle, after a shock to your path, but creating a disciplined work plan, where you eat your frogs first thing in the morning and eat the elephant by taking consistent, small bites, is the best way forward. Face and complete the odious tasks while you’re fresh and break up huge projects into doable pieces. The reward is getting to do things you always wanted to do, but lacked the time or energy. Now you have the time. Summoning the energy is your only real challenge.

Right now, I am in a period of intense up-skilling. I’m learning new things. I’m trying to overcome things that I felt were obstacles. For example, I’ve embraced creating digital art with my iPad Pro and Apple Pencil. I’m learning both electronic and mechanical CAD. I’m writing a series of articles for a different audience. I’m creating the sort of culture I would wish to see in a company, by personal example and I am learning to programme all over again, but to create mobile phone applications and distributed ethereum applications, this time. This is a chance to progress my music production and to design fun products. Armed with these new super-powers, adding these to my already quite broad portfolio of skills, I’ll be better able to realise my ideas, innovations and dreams. I won’t need anybody else’s permission and approval and I can choose myself for success.

Reading is another important activity. Filling your head with new perspectives, approaches and ideas can be the rocket fuel that drives your reinvention. It can also help you feel less alone and singled out. What you begin to see is that you’re just the latest person playing out particular dramas and that there is good advice available. You don’t have to figure it all out yourself. There are people that wrote down their learning and it’s easily available in books. That’s like getting a helping hand.

Walking into a situation identical to the one that caused me such grief, simply to get a fast income stream, doesn’t seem wise to me. Repeating a mistake shows you learned nothing from it. It dooms you to repeat the pain. If I can avoid it, I’d like to do that. Ideally, to feel safe and secure again, you’d like to do everything all at once and take the fast track to success, but you’re human. You can’t. All you can do is fill your day with enjoyable, forward progress toward purposeful, meaningful goals and hope the rest will fall into place. There are some things you can control and some you can’t. Learning how to handle to difference is crucial.

Yes, it’s terrifying. Yes, there are people depending on me. That weight is enough to crush anybody, but you can’t let it stop you. The only viable option is to build a better future. Fortunately, better is always possible.

If you find yourself having to start again, take heart because nothing stays the same forever. Change is inevitable. You might surprise yourself at the good things to come. Sometimes, being denied what you wished for most fervently is the greatest stroke of luck you could ever receive. It’s just very hard to see that in the moment.

There are some very good resources here to help you get your act together: https://letsqueerthingsup.com/2017/07/22/adhd-survival-guide/amp/

The best antidote to pain is to try to have some fun and enjoy the process of reinventing yourself. Focusing on things you love to do is a pretty good way to accomplish that. It replaces the gloom with hope. You have choices to make and more freedom than before to make them. Grasp that gift.

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How the Rentier Economy Destroys Artistic Quality

Society is in denial. Flat out, head-in-the-sand denial. The consequence of our collective refusal to believe in the truth of the situation is a hollowing out of cultural life, a diminution of the ability to see the situation with undistorted clarity (thus guaranteeing its perpetuation) and a vacuum in both moral and emotional intelligence.

We think that certain established commercial practices are benign and even representative of the highest virtue, but in reality, they’re a form of insidious corruption so corrosive, we dare not acknowledge the true root cause of the devastation. We think it’s good, but it’s very bad. Ordinary people aspire to join the club, despite the damage the practice does.

Our laws and their enforcement are heavily biased toward protecting kleptocrats who store their wealth in property, speculating on its scarcity. We enshrine the rights of rent-seekers over other citizens. They’re not called land “lords” for nothing. Rentiers create scarcities for profit, by inserting themselves as gatekeepers, between supply and demand, distorting markets in their favour. With their wealth and its associated influence, they can and do shape legislation to do their bidding. 

Aside from the inflationary effect of these “choices” (because, in truth, they were always impositions), the knock-on effects of the ever-escalating monopolisation of real estate destroys the quality of all art made. Let me explain how.

We’ve reached a point in time where a London parking space can earn more than most artists can, in a year. Pause for a moment to contemplate that fact. A rentier can extract more money from an inert square of concrete than from the most prolific, productive, in-demand artist using the same real estate footprint as their atelier. Creativity is valued at nothing, in effect.

Engineering continual scarcity in the property market pushes up the prices of everything that requires premises, while at the same time siphoning off unearned income (where no value is created). Speculation on the value of property and the rate of rents artificially inflates the cost of premises. Since every enterprise, including artistic or creative ones, must factor the costs of premises into everything they make and sell, there is a pressure on artists to produce works that take less space to make and intense pressure on their time, to produce more saleable works in a given day and to move these works off their premises and into the premises of their customers, as fast as possible. These pressures lead to corner-cutting.

It’s basic economics: No time and expense can be spent on art making. Undeniably, you need to live and work somewhere, as an artist, so if the cost of premises is inflated, due to parasitic scarcity, your costs skyrocket, eroding your earnings. The same happens to the disposable income of your customers. The irresistible temptation is to try to make ends meet by compromising quality. Make it cheap and hope your customers still have some money left in their pockets to pay for it, after they pay their rents and mortgages to live.

The same thing happens to your art materials suppliers. They need premises too and can’t load their prices up with excessive transport costs either. Whatever materials they supply to their artist community they have to provide cheaply. More corners must be cut. More quality needs to be sacrificed.

In the end, artists become non-viable enterprises and are driven out. Their works are impoverished and lack quality. Consequently, the stock of beauty and culture, in human life, is diminished. Artists don’t get to demonstrate other ways of seeing or to introduce innovative ideas and perspectives. They are unable to showcase human values other than the manic accumulation of wealth without appearing hypocritical. Their authority and credibility are both mortally wounded.

It is no small irony that one of the factors that causes the gentrification of run-down real estate is he presence of a vibrant artistic community taking refuge and working in more affordable premises. The artists build the vibe and are quickly displaced by new-comers seeking the vitality of that part of town, driven out by soaring rents and property prices. They kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.

Choosing a rentier economy over one that rewards genuine value-added equates to choosing an artless one. It all adds to the pernicious Grenfellisation of our society.

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