I hear tomorrow roaring down at me

I hear tomorrow roaring down at me
Relentless fire
Everything you love will one day be gone
But
So will all you hate

And that’s fine
It’s better
Better than better

So death or just temporary silent sleep
Before some complex chain of circumstance, cause and condition
Throws another pattern up on the beach?

Roaring down
Like wind that shakes the foundations
Wait long enough
It will be gone

So did you bend in the wind
Or did you hold hard
Let those foundations crack?

And that’s fine
It’s better
Better than better

Each life a brick in an infinite wall
The one who knows says
This is the way each relates to the other

And this body
This now
Becomes dust

Something persists,
Can be seen by subtle eye
But really

Nothing lasts
Everything changes
All plaited and pulling

Infinite rope, the strands
The causes and conditions
Just go back, and maybe loop

So there is no beginning

And that’s fine
It’s better
Better than better

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.

Bird by Bird

“If something inside you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write towards vulnerability. Don’t worry about appearing sentimental. Worry about being unavailable; worry abut being absent or fraudulent. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer, you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act – truth is always subversive.”

Anne Lamot, Bird by Bird

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.

Violence

Don’t be fooled. The state imposes its power on you with violence. Whenever someone starts saying they don’t believe in violence they’re either apologising for the state or they haven’t thought it through. The state has become the new religion for a lot of people who don’t even realise it. When we go bomb some poor defenceless soul, when we impose sanctions that kill a quarter of a million kids, it’s not we really. It’s them. It’s the people who actually make the decisions that did this. You join in and talk of we because that’s what’s been sold you. You think what you think matters to any of the people prosecuting whatever war is coming or happening right now? You think your opinion makes any difference? It’s not we but they, and they don’t care about you at all. You think they won’t make war on you and yours if you don’t give them what they want? Don’t be naive.

The fear that makes you send your kids to their schools, that makes you work in their shitty jobs, that makes you afraid to question and push against whatever new nonsense is coming, is violence. The fear of losing the help you get, so your kids go hungry and maybe you find yourself on the street surrounded by you possessions, is violence. If you talk about changing the law and maybe even get enough people together to make it happen it’s not you that changed the law. They did, because they were afraid of you. You need to hold on to that. If someone calls the cops and it’s a choice between you and someone’s property or right to exploit, it probably won’t be the outcome you’d prefer. When you’re told life’s not fair, it means that nothing can be done to make it so you can get what you need without violence.

When the choice is join in or starve, there isn’t any choice. It’s violence. You’re entitled to defend yourself and it doesn’t matter who against. Our owners often change things quietly and then we discover we’ve lost something we always had. Land can’t be walked across any more, you suddenly have to pay to do something you’ve always done for as long as you remember. You have to pay for ketchup and it’s in those silly little wrappers now. The days of a healthy absence of rules, of things just happening without always having to ask permission, those days are gone now. But this is hard to defend against. When there’s just you and they operate relentlessly across all fronts it’s hard to see how.

You’re gonna die if you don’t pay attention. The levers of power are held by idiots who want to drive the rest of us into early graves or just make the air unbreathable so they can carry on making money. The idiocy comes from thinking their way is the only way, and their needs the only needs. They have spent decades systematically taking everything away that stops you resisting, old victory by old victory, while pretending things will still work for everybody and nothing has changed.

The levers are violence. The violence of hunger, of fear. The violence of neglect and cutting away the old safety nets. It’s slow violence but it will still kill you just as dead. When there’s no bed in the hospital you will die, when you can’t keep your electricity on so your insulin goes bad you will die, when they want to charge some kind of insurance excess before they will treat you will die, when the bridge you drive over every day isn’t kept in proper repair and collapses you will die, when you sleep in a doorway and there’s nothing to keep you warm you will die.

You get the picture? They are not your friends. They can’t be appealed to. They don’t care. They can’t help what they are, but nothing means you have to listen to them any more.

So the systems we live with need to be fixed. There needs to be a new way of doing things that lays the tools at our feet. We need a different we. The people who face the same violence you do, in all it’s breadth of forms, those people should be we. We will be violent just like they are. We will be implacable just like they are. We will work together to understand each other, just like they don’t. This is how it changes, they took carefully while you were distracted, you need to take it back.

They only have it because you gave them permission while you weren’t looking.

Privilege holds no water

First

People who attempt to privilege their point of view due to an accident of birth are not people I will engange with.

Magical thinking means their arguments don’t have to hold water, they’re just right because their privilege makes them right.

This is ridiculous.

If the only way you can defend your position is to reach for some magic thing that makes you more special than everyone else then you don’t have a position, you’re expecting me to believe the same stuff you do, at least by proxy. Even when this is stuff I might consider to be self-serving nonsense.

You don’t get a free ride from me.

If you can’t defend your views with facts and reason (and this includes not making things up or only telling part of the story) then I’m not interested. Why should I be? You’re doing something contemptible.

Second

We have a world where certain countries continually claim to be exceptional and above the rules of civilisation. They all have their apologists, but the thing is:

  • Using chemical weapons is a war crime
  • Using weapons like phosphorous is a war crime
  • Shooting children in the back is a war crime
  • Shooting people offering medical assistance is a war crime
  • Taking and colonising other people’s homes is a war crime
  • Hanging people you don’t like is a crime
  • Destroying or diverting civilian sources of water is a war crime
  • Setting dogs on children is a crime
  • Torture is a war crime
  • Summarily executing people by indiscriminately drone bombing is a war crime – they should stand trial if they’ve done anything (and stop killing kids and blowing up weddings for good measure)

Some of these crimes have been committed by the country I live in, some by its allies, some by people who are seen as the enemy du jour. They are all wrong, and at the moment we live in a vile world where people can get away with doing these things.

It makes no difference. These things are indefensible and a source of shame. If you start defending the indefensible, again claiming some kind of privilege, the same contempt applies and I will not engage with you.

I’m not going to engage with your cognitive dissonance, you need to have a long hard think about what you stand for. As the old saying goes if you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything. Maybe you fell. But it’s not my problem.

So if someone tries to engage with me in this manner, in what I consider bad faith, and arrogant bad faith at that, I will withdraw. My own health is more important than a fool’s.

Killing the Empire

I am lucky enough to have been born in a country that is still rich and prosperous. A country that had what we were told was a proud history of Empire and conquest. A country that others looked up to, and led the world in the creation of useful things like democracy and industry.

I started reading Marx in my twenties and realised that there was a lie at the heart of the world I lived in. On paper I was free, but it was the freedom to starve. On paper I could vote for someone, but the way the counting of my vote was done made it meaningless. Every few years someone got elected to represent me, but apart from that it was hard to see what use my vote was. Most of the people who got voted in were powerless too. I owned no land, no thing that could give me some kind of income or feed me if I looked after it. All I owned was what everyone else has: myself.

There were a whole plethora of rights I had. Things like equal treatment before the law, not being imprisoned without being charged with something, the right to privacy, the right to clear your name if slandered or libelled. Lots of them.

But if you can’t afford your rights, you don’t have them. Even if you can afford them, if one of the security agencies gets hold of you you might still find they’re a bit, conditional. There is a cognitive dissonance at the heart of the way we live. On paper we’re so free, in practice we’re all ninety days from being kicked around by the cops for trying to sleep on the street.

This perspective does make you feel like an alien. Like you came from another planet. I was part of a small political group and we only really had each other. We’d also acquired some really crazy beliefs on top of the ones that uncovered normal society lying all the time. Bizarre things like Albania being the only socialist country in the world, which I won’t detail here, but they created an even stronger barrier between us and the rest of the world. Thirty years later I found the party I was a member of online, and they’ve switched their allegiance to the DPRK, because of course they did. Another group I worked with that had more intellectual credibility are now apologists for the very system they wanted to overthrow, and receive large sums of money from very shady people because of course they are, and of course they do.

I came back from that place in my head and went to University, got a degree, and started pretending I believed the lies we were being peddled about things getting better. Of course then, when the deregulation was making things grow so fast, but the reasons for the regulations in the first place hadn’t yet wrecked everything, it seemed that all of us in the rich and prosperous country would carry on getting richer. Even the poorest among us would see their lives improve and the surplus in the economy would mean the good times would continue for everybody.

When you live in a system that’s predicated on growth and the systems you need to survive can’t support growth forever you’ve got a problem. Either there has to periodically be great destruction of resources that resets things back to low levels of activity and destroys the surplus like there was in the twentieth century, or the people who want everything for themselves must do things that make everyone else poorer to keep profits up. They socialise the risk but keep the profits and benefits private.

So inequality has risen through the roof, and the poorer areas of where I live have gone from shit to impossible to live in. My skills have insulated me from the pain. I have no idea how people live on incomes that are so much smaller than mine. I only just get by.

Everywhere I go, everyone I talk to, seems to have Empire coloured goggles. They don’t have a clear understanding of where their own privilege comes from. The favourite word of the political class is we, expecting dumb sheep like us to join in with their latest scheme to hurt other people. So hidden away is this that no-one seems to notice the burden it places on us all. Kipling disingenuously talked about the white man’s burden, it’s farcical and insulting. It is in fact the white man’s blindness that is a problem. You must kill the empire in your heart, where you were born doesn’t make you special or different. There is no special exception because of where your mother was when you fell out of her womb, give up your delusions before they kill the world.

We’re like turkeys voting for christmas, and acting like humans are nice because they feed us. We need to get away from this delusion, and do it fast.

Excerpt from my new Novel B Train