Emotional labour and the paradox of ownership

The late, lamented, David Graeber talked about emotional labour in his book Bullshit Jobs. We live in a society that’s in thrall to ownership. If you own an enterprise, or are a director of it, you don’t have to make any effort to understand what your employees want, or even think. On the other hand, they have to understand you, because in a real sense their lives depend on it and you could discard them if you felt like it.

Of course, this is taking the idea to an extreme that’s probably not been as evident since Victorian times. But if you think how power hierarchies work it’s a very cogent thing. If you look how corporations work, with the lower-ranking employees scurrying around to avoid offending their masters and avoid showing initiative that could result in being wrong, it’s still very apparent. Particularly now, when trade unions and collective approaches to running society have been so traduced and neutered compared to the ridiculous cult of the individual and the leader.

It also explains why so-called leaders in corporations are always bemoaning how they can’t get people to own problems and solve them for the company. Well, bluntly, why the fuck should you? The owners keep the rewards and you get the ulcers. Doesn’t sound like a good deal to me.

This forced, insincere, emotional labour, pretending to give a shit about what some dickhead boss wants, is at least part of what Marx called alienation. I believe that it’s what is causing the rising tide of mental illness in the West.

Marx pointed out to us that we are slaves. Wage slaves. Instead of being fully owned like the chattel of old, we rent our labour out for fixed periods of time in exchange for tokens that we can use to get the necessities of life. If you aren’t a member of the owning class (and very few people are) then this is where you sit despite all the freedoms you have on paper. As an individual you have very little power. This is why our society makes a cult of the individual, it means the powerful few keep control while the rest of us wander around with nothing. The freedom you have is the freedom to own things, or the freedom to starve if you don’t and can’t get to place where you can rent your labour to someone who does.

The paradox

If you’re human you can’t help being emotionally involved with the enterprise you work for. You identify with it, and even feel that you want it to succeed. This is why being made redundant can hurt so much, part of your humanity is being thrown away by people who don’t value it. It’s also why the saying it’s not personal, it’s business is such a load of crap. It’s personal all right, business won’t work without both kinds of labour. Now we arrive at the point of the title of this essay: the paradox of ownership.

Say if you work for a company that’s very successful, that you put a lot of effort into, and it’s bought by someone, your contribution does not belong to you. Your owner has taken it and turned it into money, but it has nothing to do with you any more. Unless the original or new owners decide to acknowledge you with some kind of thank you (financial or even just verbal) you may not even have a job. You own your labour, and emotional labour in particular is hard, separating your feelings from what you do is damn near impossible.

The ownership of the company and the ownership of the work mean different things. The emotional labour you may have put in is necessary, may even have built something that can be sold by your employer, but if the company is itself sold it’s been taken from you to make a commodity. This is the quintessence of capitalism, everything you have, even the things that make you feel human, perhaps even love, become things.

A company is all of the people who work there, all of the things they did to make it better and help their customers. All the folks you enjoy working with and want to succeed. All that stuff, that human stuff, can be sold from under your feet and you will get nothing unless there is some kind of contract or the owners are willing to share.

A cynic would say that you shouldn’t give too much, if anything, to avoid being hurt. Just the time you’re paid for and that’s that. Is this what will work for you, though? It’s right to want human contact, and right to want to help others. Neither of these things is pathologically bad. However we live in a society with a bad pathology. Where the accident of ownership means you can do what you like to the people that work for you and they can’t do anything about it. An owner isn’t even obliged to understand the thing they own and how it works – think about it, it is absolutely mad when you get down to it. This bad pathology hurts us inside and out, it dehumanises and makes hurting other people seem acceptable. This is why dangerous nonsense like the enterprise destroying concept of shareholder value is acceptable if all you want is to play games with money – what the enterprise does, what value it brings, is overriden by who owns it.

This is why the rest of us need collectivism, and why we need each other. It’s why we need to reject the cult of the individual, the arsehole, and work together on things. It’s also why our owners have spent the last fifty years undermining trade unions, why the legal recourse for discrimination has been so restricted, why things like zero hours contracts have been created, and why the billionaire press is so hell bent on persuading us to hate even the idea of unions or collectivism and be suspicious of each other. The destruction of the post-war consensus was deliberate. It’s now almost impossible to remember what it was like when virtually everyone was in a union of some kind and your employer couldn’t pick on you if they felt like it. It happened so slowly nobody noticed, but the world is fundamentally different.

If an enterprise is sold, then there is a really weird assumption that the workers go with it. But what was sold, really? The mechanical thing. A business is a means of organising people and materials in such a way as you put resources in, turn a handle, and profit comes out of the process the handle initiates. So what the new owner bought was the process and the handle, possibly the brand if there is one. But they didn’t buy the workers, the physical labour was bought. Selling time for the use of your hands doesn’t mean you’re obliged to do the emotional labour as well, that would mean you worked for some kind of cult. So a business being sold generates a deeper conflict in the people that work for it. After all, chattel slavery finally disappeared a long time ago. They didn’t buy your heart, but they like to pretend that they did.

The other strange import from the USA, at least if you live in the UK, is this bollocks about family. Somehow the accidental combination of the people you work with and your employer’s limited largesse has created a family and you’re automatically a member. People you choose to be with vs. people you need to hang out with so you can earn a living. Bosses that assume you will go to out of hours virtual meetings and play pub games with strangers you didn’t choose as friends, whom you may not even like particularly.

When I worked for a big database company and 9/11 happened the billionaire boss sent an email round saying the folks we knew who died trying to take down the planes where all family. Maybe this was the harbinger of a new attitude where we all pull together and the wealth is shared along with the risk etc. etc. Six weeks later he was back firing people and doing all the aggressive stuff the MBAs told him to do to make even more money. It wasn’t a lie, as such, it just wasn’t a sentiment that lasted more than a week. Well, we aren’t dogs, our loyalty isn’t automatically given when someone shows even slight affection, and why should we pretend? Hey billionare narcissist, it’s just business and we don’t love you.

The cult of the individual also serves to isolate us from one another. You can find yourself in a situation and not realise that most of the people you work with feel the same. It’s what Marx talked about, what a class actually is, a group of people united by having the same needs and circumstances having the same perspective on what matters. Our owners are outnumbered and very weak, so they have to pretend our class does not exist. They have to turn us into individuals because it makes us easy to control. They create bureaucracies to hide from us so we can’t see their hands behind the puppet show.

This is also where the whining about people wanting free stuff comes from: nope, workers demand recognition of who they are and what they do. Their interests do not coincide with the owners. In fact the owners’ interests don’t necessarily coincide with those of the enterprises they own, they just want the profit and don’t care how it happens. This is why capitalism is destroying the planet – profit-driven ownership, rather than stewardship, is a very stupid idea when it becomes world-spanning monopolies that are wrecking the environment.

But if you look carefully it’s pretty easy to see, and then the paradox resolves itself by taking the ownership back from the people who only ever borrowed it, whatever they may pretend to.

The great reckoning

Various loons on Facebook and Twitter a pushing yet another narrative where they promote a helplessness in the people that follow it. They call it the great reset. Essentially Covid and the climate crisis are a deliberate thing that comes from yet another inaginary cabal far away and a great many people are going to die to keep the cabal in power.

Like a lot of these narratives you can’t do anything about it. It’s related to the whole QAnon farce, where shadowy forces are taking over the world. Lunacy with a nice side-order of anti-semitism and hate directed at places where it can do no harm to the established order.

To be honest, I don’t want to talk about this any more than I already have. It’s brain-melting rubbish designed to keep you afraid and passive. You can google it if you want to go down the rabbit hole.

Instead, what do we actually have?

As I live in the UK, let’s start there:

  1. We now have the highest per-capita Covid death rate in the world, largely down to idiots trying to save christmas and not even attempting to implement a zero Covid strategy. More infections also mean more opportunities for the virus to mutate, which is a great win, for the virus. At the time of writing over 1,000 people a day are dying.
  2. A government department openly and blatantly bullied the people who work there to keep turning up for work even if they’d been told to isolate. People were also ordered to turn off the track and trace app or ignore it.
  3. Brexit restrictions mean that food is rotting before it gets delivered, but the government is trying to spin that into a story about Covid even though there weren’t any problems last year when there wasn’t any Brexit paperwork.
  4. Our crony-driven government still doesn’t have a working track and trace system, which makes even attempting zero Covid almost impossible. It has managed to channel millions to its failed private sector friends, though.
  5. Thousands of jobs in the fishing industry are probably already lost due to Brexit.
  6. The benefits system, in particular the murderous farce that is Universal Credit, pays too little, discriminates against people with larger families, and is designed to trap people in poverty. Who can forget the picture of the former minister exhulting when the former Chancellor announced even greater cuts? UC was temporarily increased to help people during the pandemic, and it has been reduced again even though the pandemic hasn’t gone away.
  7. UC is structured to give the money to the male partner in any relationship. This is because the fruit loop in charge wanted to keep families together, no count has yet been made of the number of women killed or injured because they couldn’t escape abusive partners. It also infantilises women, which is an amusing irony for a man who married money.
  8. There is evidence that 130,000 people may have had their lives shortened by inadequate benefits and benefit sanctions. This is disputed, but what is not disuputed is that it has cost lives, the argument is about how many. The department stopped collecting the figures to make it harder to work out.
  9. Our leaders continue to allow the supply of weapons to the ongoing war in the Yemen, despite being asked to stop and recently being able to vote on the policy. The humanitarian disaster is entirely man made, and our rulers’ bloody hands are all over it, including our arms-dealer queen.

These are merely a few examples of the ongoing murderous catalogue of actions and policies, from the bogus nonsense that they called austerity to the hard-faced attacks on the poor that have resulted in the deaths of thousands, both in the UK and elsewhere in the world. We are losing our jobs, having our health service privatised under our noses. We have been lied to over and over again, about everything, no-one believes a word our leaders say any more.

9/11 caused the death of around 3,000 people. The benefit “reforms” have already cost around 40 times that before we even start adding in the Covid deaths. People at the bottom of the socio-economic pile in this country are dying at an unprecedented rate, particularly if they are BAME people, who tend to be clustered in low-paying, low-status jobs where employers are particularly nasty.

The Western powers wrecked Afganistan over 9/11. So where is the outrage here? Why aren’t we going to war with these killers? Why are they still walking free, their lies unchallenged?

The killer isn’t at the gate. The killer lives in your house and eats at your table. You let them in, and let them lie to you and sing you to sleep.

The Great Reckoning

We need a great reckoning, forget the nonsense about the reset, or the racist crap about the replacement of white people with what is in fact their descendents who may have darker skin.

Every one of the dead should be counted, every politician involved in their deaths should be accountable.

Some people say that you sometimes have to make decisions that may result in resources being allocated in a way that means people will die and it’s unavoidable.

That’s true, but not in this case.

  • There are other places in the world where the UN hasn’t come into a nominally rich country to feed poor children.
  • There are other places in the world that correctly implemented track and trace and zero Covid strategies and have almost no cases now.
  • Others didn’t take the austerity pill and their economies recovered very quickly
  • There are other places where an advisory referendum is advisory
  • A large majority of the population want to see their NHS properly funded, not cut past the bone and sold
  • Other countries haven’t had the number of food banks go from a half dozen to out number the number of McDonalds in 10 years

There is no excuse for this, but at the moment our owners think they won’t face any consequences.

We need to start campaigning to disabuse them of that delusion.

The great reckoning needs to happen, or all of the nonsense about unity and healing is no more than hot air.

Footnote (March 2021) Naomi Klein has a great article on the Great Reset from the perpsective of the Davos group. A group which has itself made just about everything far worse.

Tales of a Brighter Future Volume 1 published

I’ve been working on Tales for a long time. The first book was started in Google Docs in June 2017 I had the last novella Zerø Day in what felt like a finished but not quite ready state for a few months and hadn’t pushed it out as a separate project onto Leanpub because I just wasn’t sure. In the end, just do it. If nobody reads it, fine. If some folks read it and get something out of it, fine. If it makes some reactionaries get all worked up, even better.

For the record:

  • The Retreat A story set in the South Atlantic on an autonomous ship that is cleaning up the plastic mess. Set about 50 years into an imagined future.
  • Better Way Set slightly earlier. Story of the collapse and how people escaped it with some mayhem added for versimilitude.
  • Zerø Day Set some time around now. How do we get armies to surrender and help rebuild the countries they’re occupying?

I spent most of new year’s eve putting them together and fighting with Leanpub’s new formatting engine. Managed to get it working but was seriously close to losing it with some of the recent changes on Leanpub about their formatting of markdown. After a lot of swearing I discovered I could go back to the original markdown engine and all was well. I’ve started writing using the vim editor, which breaks lines at line column 67. This is easier to read and look at differences than using very long wrapped line per paragraph.

Leanpub’s new wizzy engine was putting line but not paragraph breaks in and it looked awful. This will apparently become some kind of an option in future.

One of the things that surprised me when I was looking at Zero Day is how angry I am at the dangerous stupidity of our masters. I recently launched an independent project called No Mandate that has some articles and things looking at the problem of Empire Socialism and other things that are gonna kill us if we don’t get a grip on them. This is why I’ve been quiet on here for a while: I couldn’t stop myself writing this 17,000 word piece, it came to me over the course of a few days and I was waking up early with it in my head shouting at me to get it written. Then I’ve probably read it through and refined the arguments it uses a hundred times since it first came out of my editor.

Then I wanted to put it into its own site, and as it is a quite long piece also give it a page per section to make it easier to read online. This involved a fair bit of programming and chin stroking that kinda ate my creative energies for about six weeks at least. In amongst being really depressed because lockdown and the world filling up with even more avoidable suffering paralysing me a bit.

Inside Zerø Day there is a chapter called The No Mandate Manifesto that contains many similar ideas but expressed as angry rhetoric asking my fellow slaves to think about the situation they find themselves in. I don’t remember writing it. It must have been part of my drive to write 1000 words a day and I just wrote it almost on automatic. It’s not really a manifesto, it’s a call to action, a docmentation of the rage I feel when confronted with the vicious capitalist machine.

It’s quite shocking to me that I was unaware of how angry I am. On the day to day surface I don’t seem to feel the fury that’s obviously deep in my heart. Recently I have noticed that I’m far more willing to tell people who are too deluded to reach, and who are doing things like running anti-mask groups, or pandering to whatever ridiculous racist, sexist, homo or trans-phobic shite the alt-right trolls are pushing now just to fuck off. Mainly because it’s better to spend your energies on people your love can reach and let others grow until you can actually converse with them sensibly. I don’t engage to be honest, and leave the fucking off to people who try to have a go at me.

This is the hardest part. My world view is based on an intense love for this world and everything in it. Watching people deliberately hurting themselves so they can stick one on the lefties or whatever is fucking hard, and makes me even angrier that some troll has managed to damage them so much they think this is a good way to live. Humans are not stupid, whatever the cynics say, and watching people act in ways that will hurt themselves as much as anyone because of a weird hatred is deeply saddening.

I will probably use the software I developed to turn the Empire Socialism piece into a coherent website on the three novellas and put them up on a TOABF site linked from here. I want people to read stuff and argue and think about it.

The problematic thing is if I turn on comments on this site I get overloaded with spam and I just don’t have the time. I might start up a Discord server where I can converse with people without the overhead of spam. We’ll see.

If you want to read the book and are skint please get in contact. I can send you a link where you can download it for free. I don’t want any barriers in the way, but it would be nice to start getting support for this work as it takes a lot of my energies.

Oh, and

Happy New Year 🙂

Eco-socialism or annihilation

What follows is some notes for discussion. Please read, make some comments, let’s try and make this better. Also, please be kind, I have lost patience with people who criticise when they have nothing to offer. (Note – this is still being written and is in draft)

Covid-19: A better world is not only possible but necessary

In the Left is that there’s a lot of aspirational talk, and one hears phrases like a better world is possible. But seriously, that’s a bit wishy washy. It’s not only possible, but necessary. There is a collection of Rosa Luxemburg’s writings from many years ago that posed the question Socialism or Barbarism. That is where we have always been even during the boom periods, but our owners have been very good at keeping us passive and confused about that reality. One of the things the pandemic has done is tear that mask away. A hundred years later, in the twenty-first century, we now understand that the health of the ecology is paramount, so this needs to be rephrased: Eco-socialism or annihilation, the choice is that stark.

It’s also brought home how the climate crisis is real, not something twenty years away that we have the luxury of ignoring because right now we have to worry about things like putting food on the table and whatever new crazy is being forced on us, whether that’s declining health services, or whatever benefits we can claim to help us being reduced to nothing, or no pay rises in over ten years. The virus jumped from bats to people because of crowding, and stressing animals in closed, dirty environments. It’s not surprising this happened, just that it took so long. It will happen again and again as conditions worsen, too, unless something is done about it.

You could run around saying that the world is doomed. Indeed, back in the 80’s it was a favourite of occupation of some factions of peace activists to give into the nuclear nightmare and live in a waking dream of death and mayehm. Fortunately they were wrong, but it burned a lot of energy and drove a lot of nihilism. We need to say, very clearly, the world is not doomed, but we have a lot of work to do.

One of the things that has emerged from the pandemic is that we can see the hints of that better world now. Far less traffic on the roads, a lot of unnecessary “work” simply not being done. Also, people are looking very hard at the nature of work – why do you have to sit in an office when you can work from home? Why is the idea of limitless growth a good one? Why do people have to do jobs that have turned out to be unneeded, why should we all not be able to live in comfort without fear? How can we be free when we’re forced to work in what are very dangerous conditions, when we’re hostages to capitalism’s non-choice of risk your life without equipment to protect you or starve?

When we all stop consuming for its own sake our masters start having a breakdown because their billionaire lifestyles depend on it – but where’s the benefit for us?

So, what should we do?

First we need to identify what we need to make sure everybody has, then we need to make sure they have it:

The five things humans need

In order to say we live in a world that is equitable, moral, and worth defending everybody must have unfettered access to these five things:

  1. Decent shelter
  2. Food autonomy
  3. Health care
  4. Education
  5. Meaningful work

Mixed in with this there must also be the democratic ownership and control of resources by the people who need and use them. The nonsense of nationalisation as it was originally done still kept the old structures of hierachical companies. Rethinking how things are organised is a fundamental part of this. Otherwise it’s back to creating systems that can easily be confiscated and sold again. Making it almost impossible to undo this work by organising it so that undoing it cannot be done is paramount. The organisations that provide the things we need must be incredibly democratic and well run, and also incredibly difficult to steal from us again.

We hesitate to use words like “empower” because they imply that some group or person higher up the hierarchy has given their power to you. This means they can take it back if they don’t like it, and no, that’s not going to happen. Instead the people holding the reins of power are the ones directly affected by its use. There is no hierarchy, politics can be almost done by lottery to pick from a list of qualified people, for example. There are many better ways of ensuring things are done by properly qualified people than holding beauty contests every few years.

Decent shelter

Somewhere to live that isn’t a half destroyed slum maintained by sociopaths, where the other people living there aren’t going to make your life a misery, but instead make it better, and your family won’t feel afraid to step out of the front door. It’s not exactly hard, is it?

In the UK, and most of Europe, and the USA there are in fact more empty homes than there are homeless people, by far. In the UK more land is taken up with golf courses than housing. Whenever some fool starts braying about the country being full, it’s as well to remember this. It’s not full at all, the distribution of resources is skewed away from the majority, and has been since the peasants were driven off the land two hundred years ago. They did this to create a class of people who had no choice but to work in their factories and begin the accumulation of wealth.

Driving people off the land also removed food autonomy, the next topic.

Food autonomy

Put simply, enough decent food to eat, preferably grown at the end of your street, that anyone who needs it can access. No more work or starve choices forced on us. So forget money as the only measure of wellbeing. Food autonomy and shelter are the two things we need first.

There are eight billion people on this earth and we make enough food for ten. If there is no profit in it food is thrown away. It suits the capitalist system to waste like this. In the great stock market crash in the 1920’s food was thrown away after hoarding had created scarcity and driven the prices up. Feeding people would have made the price drop and the speculators didn’t want that. We, human beings, must break this. We must be able to literally walk out of our houses and find enough to eat without trouble, and speculation in food and energy brought to an end.

There is a point to make here; why did humans start with relatively modern approaches to living like agriculture if it wasn’t to feed everybody in their communities? Why should a small number of people who want to make profits be allowed to starve the rest of us if they deem fit?

Health care

Health care is a right, not a privilege. We need decent, well run health systems, staffed by motivated people who aren’t exhausted or paid badly, and we need them right across the whole world. There is nothing to debate about this.

There is a debate about how the demand for health care could appear to be infinite, and “we” (as in our owners) can’t afford to serve everybody. An agreed minimum standard of care must be met, and developments in health care must be shared as widely as possible. We are far from the infinite demand scenario, at the moment it is a false story being spread to justify cuts, and there are more than enough resources to meet people’s needs, but they are being used instead to line the pockets of the already obscenely rich.

Education

Again, education is a right. Cynically it’s also an investment in people. The better educated they are the more they can help others, and the easier it is to understand and work with democratic systems. It’s hard to understand issues properly without being educated enough to also understand what’s in front of you and understand how things are put together.

The way education is done, with serried ranks of zombified people chained to desks being drilled in the ways of conformity must also change. People need to know that they don’t need to hold back, they don’t need permission to do things. This is a fundamental part of the better world, everyone can and should contribute.

Meaningful work

This is quite simply working enough on the things needed to keep society running, and working on things that help and make the world a better place. Also, art, science, making music, making pottery, anything you can conceive of, and ties back into all the education you might need or want.

There are vast untapped reserves of human intelligence and capability currently being crushed by capitalism. There is an unprecedented number of people, yet the number of outstanding prodigies doesn’t seem to be any greater. Those people are there, and there are a great many of them. Currently the system robs them of what they could be and give, which is a great crime.

Moving forward

The green new deal

Our politicians are still mired in the capitalist reality. The green new deal they push is a last gasp attempt to keep capitalism afloat by growing and greening their way out of the damage caused by capitalism itself. You can’t clean your face with a brick from a falling house.

Any deal needs to also end capitalism, or it will be pointless. A system that still thinks endless growth is possible, or desirable, is no use. The world is finite, and we must stay within the energy and resource budgets to preserve what we have. Again, this isn’t difficult, it just requires the political will.

As soon as one individual can accumulate money and own it they are also accumulating power. The drive is to centralise everything and suck the life out of the things we all need in common, and, indirectly, us. This is why capitalism has to end. At the very least there must be an upper limit on wealth.

Dual power

This means building the alternative institutions and approaches mentioned above. The existing institutions don’t work, if anything they’ve created the situation we find ourselves in now. The only way to do this by doing it, by building services that start with people’s needs. Once those needs have been met then we will know what resources they need and how to improve. Using budgets to decide who gets what is a political decision, and we all know that the needs of actual people tend to come after the needs of the wealthy.

Once we take power back, possibly even by funding schools and hospitals collectively and independently, then there will be the old undemocratic institutions and ones that actually work. There will be two sources of power. We will eventually only need the one that works and doesn’t run on money.

Resilience

The climate has changed. Events that would have been unusual and rare, say happen every hundred years or so, now seem to be happening every ten or so. We have a situation where our governments have been selling off the things we need to cope with these events and not spending what they should. In particular with Covid, we have this demonstrated directly. A study a couple of years ago highlighted how unprepared the NHS was, and it was quietly hidden because of Brexit and the nominal cost. Putting aside a relatively small amount of money every year to be prepared for such contingencies is only common sense, but any spare pennies in this case were lost behind the back of the sofa. You can’t run a society on that basis.

We also have the absolutely ridiculous situation where upland farming practices were changed in order to make it more profitable for grouse shooting. These changes directly made downstream flooding more likely and were paid for with government subsidies.

The concept of once in a century events also needs to be understood. It doesn’t mean they will happen in a century’s time. It means they will happen and you need to be prepared for it. This is where the idea of resilience comes in. It means that steps are taken to preserve things and minimise the damage caused by floods and other events. It can be done, and done well, but people need to think about what might happen and how to cope with it. Our current crop of carpetbagger politicians are simply not up to the job, they’re solely in it to sell things off and enrich their friends.

Local, renewable, global

The systems we suffer under at the moment are all run from far away. They have no knowledge of the wants and needs of the people who suffer under them. The slogan from Brexit was take back control. We need to do this; but we need to take control back from the people who are far away, who give subsidies to people who make the floods worse, who have no idea what our needs are.

This slogan means local control based on people’s needs, using renewable resources, but with a global touch, sharing what is learned across the whole world.

The engine of change

The civil rights leader Martin Luther King met with the president. The president was very sympathetic to King, and agreed with his demands. He also had other people pressuring him not to make it happen. So what did he say to Dr King?

Make me

We need to remember this if we talk to the elected politicians. They are generally cowards and like to run away from things. They like to stand under our banners when we’ve won, but are often hard to see when we’re fighting for our rights or against injustice.

Change comes from organising around things that need to be done, without waiting for permission. Change is legitimised by the people who need it making it happen. No-one will give it to us, we have to take it.

Zero growth

Zero growth after zero unnecessary suffering

Zero growth is the goal of the eco socialist movement. It is the complete opposite of the current craze to dig up everything from the earth and burn it, until there is no way left to expand because it runs out. The goal is to stay within the annual energy budget from the sun everywhere and restabilise the climate. Ultimately this isn’t up for debate. We still have a lot of work to do, though.

We must lift the other six billion of us out of poverty in the medium term. To do otherwise is completely immoral. Of course, this also means those of us in the so-called developed nations must also change our lifestyles too. This isn’t as hard as it may sound, simply changing the way things are made so we stop throwing everything away would go a long way to fixing this, using the technology we’ve already discovered works quite well. It does mean that you may be eating a mostly seasonal vegetarian diet sourced within a few miles of where you live, and that tea and coffee become luxuries again. But if it’s that against burning most people would probably be quite happy with it.

So some development will still have to happen, but a lot of things we do now will have to stop. Balancing and controlling this must be done by the people who are affected by it.

Summary

We must build systems that meet the five human needs, without rationing or equivocation.

Some bad outcomes are on their way anyway so we need to channel resources into creating resilient systems instead of lining the pockets of the rich, need to come up with ways of keeping people healthy and alive when bad weather events happen as they will with greater frequency.

We need to start creating ways of doing and owning things that are run by organisations under our control.

The organisations that provide the things we need must be incredibly democratic and well run, and also incredibly difficult to steal from us again because of the way they are put together.

Note

Some of these things are discussed in more depth in the Tales of Brighter Future series that you can access elsewhere on this website.

Stay safe.

Love, thine enemy

Another seemingly small thing is dignity. We’ve all got to let everyone have their dignity. It was hard coming from a place where controlling other people was a normal and even approved of us all being controlled. A place where a tiny number of people who owned everything got to say what happened to everybody else. The deal was, if you were nobody, and usually a man, you would still have one place that you were in control. Your home. When the original research was done on what was called brain washing, the techniques for breaking people’s will and bending them to what you wanted to happen the researcher came up with a list of about ten things. Breaking the will often didn’t involve physical violence, just undermining, destroying confidence, isolation creating an extremely strong dependence on the breaker.

Do you recognise this, yet?

The entire owning system is built on this and its victims so blinded to it that they can’t see the harm it’s doing to them. Look at the objective world carefully you can see very clearly that the systems are failing, food will soon be expensive and maybe even hard to come by, the mad dependence on fossil fuels is unsustainable. So why was nothing done? The abusers trapped you, convinced you a bunch of trivial nonsense they had manufactured was what actually mattered, and then left you there. You could see there were problems, but you wouldn’t believe in them.

Believing that the world is different from the actual harsh reality is a fool’s game. It’ll kill you and all the things you love eventually. But slowly, ever so slowly, and you won’t see death until its skull face looks back at you from a mirror and you realise whose face it is.

The worst part, the most painful part, is that the trap is made with love. When they break you and stop all the questions, the thinking, they make you love and trust them. You start saying we when it should be they. You think your owners care about you and will help you if you are in trouble. You fool. There are thousands of you, all interchangeable, and they will replace you faster then the time it takes the door to close on you when you leave.

So your love for them is your enemy if you want to survive. They’ve told you not to believe there’s an extinction level event coming, or to welcome it because of some idiot religious fervour they beat into you when you were too young and dependent to realise what it really meant. Your heart, the blood rose, you are hypnotised by its thorns. You can’t lift your head and see what they’ve done to you, the tracery of your own suffering is so fascinating. All the endless trivia they surround you with is designed to keep your neck down, eyes on the floor.

I can’t help you. If you can’t see I can’t help you. If your feelings have been numbed I can’t help you. If you don’t understand what empathy is because everything’s been turned into a spectacle I can’t help you.

I want to, but I can’t.

Winners means losers – work in progress

Rewarding people is always a bit fraught. Several things can happen, sometimes at the same time. First the rewards can come to be expected, so they aren’t rewards any more, then people get very pissed off when they don’t happen for whatever reason. Then you could be the kind of idiot who rewards some and not others, makes them compete for your largesse. That’s even sillier. If there are winners then there will be losers. No-one likes to do their job and be a loser. Everyone expects to be rewarded, and given a gold start a plus rating. But the thing is, who created the environment they have to work with?

You did. You unwittingly set the limits on what they can do because it’s a straight jacket that will hold them and forever limit what they can achieve. If you’re lucky, maybe ten per cent of the time they will make a difference, the ten per cent you can’t control. The bigger the organisation the bigger the anomaly. Big organisations need consistency before they need great performance or they can’t plan, don’t know what to do with the extraordinary, and can’t deal with it. The extraordinary doesn’t scale. Everything is very fair, and nobody gets what they need. While all this nonsense is going on you’re losing out to much smaller organisations that aren’t limited by the drive for normal.

Some idiots think they have understood the dance of numbers and say you must always lop off your worse performing people every few months. This would be funny if it wasn’t so mad. If they perform badly it’s your fault. No amount of bullying and threatening will make them any better. The human cost of this stupidity is also astonishingly high, you will never get the best out of folks who are always worried they’re going to be fired for things that are completely out of their control. This is because your system prevents them from doing so. You’re punishing, and getting rid of people who are perfectly good at what they do. It also means that the only evaluation score anyone should have is adequate – most things are out of their control, so adequate is all they can be.

Think about it.

So, assuming you believe that humans can do truly amazing things, and indeed don’t have to just be some hideous version of a corporate adequate how do you square this circle? How do you even recognise that it is a circle?

You must start from three things. First, recognise that what you do is part of a system of things that you can’t always control. Second, you must be brave enough to let the system belong to everybody who is affected by it. Third, you must start with people’s needs. The needs of the people you’re serving come first. The cheapest, most effective, blah di fucking blah system you can build starts with the needs of the people who are served by it.

When you know the needs you know what to do, and you also know what a true version of adequate is. This means that an idiot politician can’t just announce services will be cut (or even given more resources). First you must identify the needs, identify what the bare minimum is and codify it in some measurable way. Not targets, just knowing that the right things are happening.

Only then can a system be built to meet those needs, and only then can it be improved upon.

It isn’t hard, but it’s also not the trivial task people pretend it is.

Despise all the gifts of chance

The old Stoic writer Seneca was very concerned with making sure noble young men (well it was men in that society) understood that the best thing you could do was accept whatever happens. He also pointed out that everything comes to an end, and if you were to die before the end of everything, well so what? You’ve only stolen a march on the inevitable death of everything by a small measure.

Your privilege and power, such as it is, comes from chance. You may have been awake enough to grasp opportunities, or work to get entrance to places where there were such opportunities, but a slightly different fall of the dice could have changed things a great deal. This is one of the reasons the massively rich were so keen to pretend they’d earned their wealth. The internet billionaire who had the funds to create something obvious right at the beginning of buying and selling sold his company and became fabulously rich. But what was special about him? There could have been, indeed there were, several companies doing the same thing. It just happened that his organisation was picked to be bought by the people with deep pockets because of the series of accidents that led to it being in the right place at the right time.

Being in the right place at the right time is pure luck. You might have worked extremely hard to create something that was viable, but being at the forefront of whatever zeitgeist was compelling is luck. You might be clever, but lots of people are clever, you might have built something that was really effective, but lots of people have done that and failed to catch the wave and been wiped out by change. The truly grounded person understands this and shares what they can whenever they can. A truly compassionate person knows how little they have was under their control. The idea of a grand narrative that is tied to some quasi-religious destiny is so much horse shit. As one of the more humble billionaires said, there’s only a story when you look backwards.

The person in the wheelchair that can’t get up the stairs. The person who needs state assistance just to have any kind of a decent life. The person with the mental health problem that stops them doing as much as they could. You are all these people, and they are you. These are the other gifts of chance, conditions that blind you with pain and put you in need of care and love. Without compassion, without this understanding, we are all lost.

There is no they, there is only us.

Kill your empire

Kill your empire

A good thing?

Here in the UK we’ve been sold the idea that the Empire that this country used to have was a force for good in the world, and the bad things done in its name are only a few aberrations that mar an otherwise blameless, more innocent time. This feeling of edgy superiority, and the time your grandparents talk of where (most of the map was coloured pink)[http://manchesterhistorian.com/2013/painting-the-world-pink/], is utterly bogus. They also used to say that it was an empire where the sun never set because it spread right across the world.

A remnant of this could be seen at the recent royal wedding, where thousands of people who should have known better queued up to wave union jacks at some very rich, privileged people they had no connection with. We also perpetuate the myth that Churchill was somehow a good man, while ignoring his antisemitism and hatred of people with brown skins. He even suggested campaigning under the slogan keep Englad white in the 1950s. His role in various famines in India that cost millions of lives is also never mentioned.

The story of slavery, the foundation of Israel and the apartheid regime in South Africa, the invention of the concentration camp. All of these things are part of our proud heritage and we shouldn’t deny them. Neither should we forget that when Britain abolished slavery compensation wasn’t paid to the slaves but to their former owners.

This is one of the reasons decedents of former slaves are still at an economic disadvantage after hundreds of years. As Martin Luther King pointed out it’s hard to pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you have no boots.

Ireland

Then there is the problem of Northern Ireland. Towards the end of the 1960s the Nationalist community wanted a fair deal over access to jobs and housing. You could only vote if you were a householder, and the loyalists who controlled the local councils made sure that their community got what housing was available first. There were also some better paid workplaces that were effectively barred to the nationalist community, in that taking a job there could put you in danger of physical harm or death.

So a movement around fair access to housing and jobs grew up and did some marching. They were not asking for anything particularly out of line. This was just after the Summer of Love. They got shot for their pains by the British army and loyalist paramilitaries started spreading fear and intimidation driving through republican estates shooting off weapons. Republicans started fighting back and the whole multi decade mess of the Irish war started.

This is also why one of the abiding images of that period is houses burning. Loyalists left certain streets and then burned them to make sure that nationalists wouldn’t have the housing. Charming people.

In other parts of the UK the Republicans are portrayed as something fearful and evil, which goes with the useful hatred of catholics that goes back many centuries and is used to keep people loyal to the interests of the British ruling class. Don’t forget, catholics weren’t included in the white populations until fairly late in the 20th century. Initially all they were doing was shooting back at the loyalist paramilitaries and the army. There’s an old republican song from the original partitioning of Ireland in the 1920’s mocking the British army and the Black and Tan paramilitaries who did a lot of murder and intimidation. The song says they weren’t very good fighting colonial wars against people who were also armed, but very good at murdering folks armed with bows and arrows. This is also referenced in Blackadder goes Forth, where he rescues a general from a native armed with a particularly sharp piece of guava.

All joking and cynicism aside, the situation in Northern Ireland was dire. Nationalist estates had watch towers built around them where the British army could see where people were at all times and spy on them. An entire community was effectively put into a prison camp. The threat of people in part of the actual UK rejecting the way they were governed and attempting to remove the unwanted colonial boot from their necks was terrifying for our lords and masters.

So we have violent repression of dissent on one side, and a propaganda machine pretending all was well on the other. This is why the actions of the IRA seemed so shocking to people in the rest of the UK. They simply didn’t know that their government was waging a war on its own citizens and those citizens were doing their best to fight back and defend their families. The arbitrary shootings and raids on houses, plus abuse of human rights was never dealt with, and no-one ever faced a criminal court over it. It simply wasn’t reported in the UK media outside of the six counties, and the story was recast as one of good and evil. The role of evil was, as usual, placed onto the people who didn’t want to be ruled in the same discriminatory way. It wasn’t about an independent Ireland or any of those other republican wants initially. People were tired of discrimination and poor housing, the British state’s inability to remedy those things made it escalate into a war.

Make no mistake, it was a war. A war waged against people just like you by an armed military power for the most selfish of reasons. The loyalists were armed and encouraged to keep down the dissent. Also make no mistake, when the chips are down the British state defends the interests of the people who want to treat us like cattle. You can’t appeal to a murder machine to stop murdering, that’s what it’s for. It defends the interests of the ruling class, it defends the creation of profit, and it will back people who make it easier to keep us divided.

We have all these laws and concessions that our militant ancestors forced out of the state to keep us quiet. Putting aside them funding these concessions by ripping off brown people in far away lands, they are still worth defending. If they choose these laws are meaningless. It’s only fear of us that keeps them in line. If you look at what’s happened since the Thatcher period you can see this very clearly. Once the consensus was broken and the selfish ideology took hold it was only a matter of time before we ended up in our present, privatised mess.

I was politically active during this period and the number of people who called themselves socialists and revolutionaries who bought the British state’s propaganda was truly amazing. Of course, it meant they didn’t have to stick their heads up and say things that were difficult to say, or defend the rights of the nationalist population. It also meant they could advocate for impossible pipe dreams like all of the working class in Northern Ireland must unite, which meant they didn’t have to do anything to oppose the British state’s warring in the rest of the country. There is an embarrassing thread in the British left who are happy to have benefits and rights in the UK and are very poor at noticing those things are being paid for by diverting a small amount from the rape of the planet somewhere conveniently far away and populated by brown-skinned people. For example, it’s been said that the NHS was paid for by deep exploitation of the remains of the empire, but no-one is willing to look into this because it tarnishes the reputation of the people who founded it.

The bitter harvest

So what legacy has at least two hundred and fifty years of hypocrisy and double think about Empire given us? It’s wrecked our minds.

Laughter

The one thing they cannot stand is laughter. Their whole being is based on being taken seriously, instead of being being seen as the children they are. Who but a child would stamp their foot and demand attention? Who but a child would take a narrow solipsism to such a ridiculous conclusion? Nobody’s that important. We live in a society that values ownership before it values anything else. But why should some ridiculous accident of birth make you special?

So, the privileged, the posh who can get away with anything, are just people. They may be able to trace their ancestors back a few generations and the rest of us weren’t important enough to end up in a book or record, but so what? Our ancestors survived too, or we wouldn’t be here. Every creature that has survived this far is descended from the survivors of the battle of tooth and claw. We’re all descended from a several billion year struggle to survive. If pushed we can be as vicious as anyone could be, but now we have drawn the teeth of history and necessity we can choose not to be. It’s been like this for a long time now, hundreds of years, for at least some of us.

Humans have managed to gentle the difficult, at least in the developed countries we don’t die of simple things and more. Most of us live long enough to get some kind of education; women have been released from the biological imperative. We’re on the cusp of a better world that everyone who is born can live in and be happy and productive, where brute evolution doesn’t break us straight away.

So, now you can look at the simpering, entitled ones. They have less than nothing that the rest of us should care about. I mean, who the fuck are they? Most of them are descended from the types who, by accident of birth or perhaps just arrogance, managed to be the ones holding the swords rather than the fools being stabbed by them. For some reason, we’re supposed to respect these gangsters, these armed gangs and thugs from history and their descendants. For some reason their putative race (now there’s a very slippery idea) is better than that of others. Which part of the fraction of a percent of what’s left when you take out the 95% common ancestor with the chimp makes some entitled idiot better than you?

Are they serious?

All these people we’re supposed to respect because of their breeding, race or whatever rubbish they see fit to promote their values, are essentially our cousins. Their ancestors might have been luckier than ours were, but so what? The rest of us are still here too. All your privilege is based on luck. The way populations work we all have several common ancestors, and not that long ago. Privilege makes you lazy. You don’t have to work. Privilege makes you stupid and laughable.

So laugh. They couldn’t survive in your world. You could survive in theirs with very little effort beyond learning the names of a few other privileged idiots. Your laughter robs them of their power. If you can’t, and won’t, give them their privilege because it’s what they think they deserve without working for it, they’re lost.

Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.