Saturday, 5 November 2011

Organised Religion Vs Neoliberalism

Please note: I make no judgement on any individual, no matter what their beliefs. It is the systems themselves I criticise, as is my right. Not believing in free will (what we have today is a long way from deserving that term), I cannot condemn any individual that has had to live life through these systems.

I want to ask something of all the skeptics out there regarding religion and Neoliberalism. This is a sincere plea; I am a long-time skeptic and would genuinely be thrilled if anyone can spare the time to explain what I hope I am missing. I just want to know peoples thoughts on why I cannot find a single skeptic speaking out specifically on the issue.

See, there are plenty of discussions about religion in the skeptic community, despite it's rather glaring similarities with the political system the majority of skeptics lives are governed by, my own included.

BOTH are doctrinal ideologies conceived by the few and imposed upon the many. Rather than priests etc we have politicians, economists and CEO's. Having "power" to vote politicians into office does not make a difference, morally, in this analogy; would it have made a difference if the Church chose two candidates and asked you to pick? Nor does the fact we have different political parties make a difference; show me which one does not accept Neoliberalism.

BOTH make claims of salvation/prosperity for all those that participate (to the extent they decree), based not on evidence but on outdated books and ideas of human nature. Apparently a "rising tide raises all ships". I think that's the technical terminology anyway for the justification for deregulation in the 70's and 80's. "Trickle-down effect" was another. Yet no one really seems to care that after 30-40 years, not only is there no evidence to show it's true but it has laid the foundation for the ideology to get even more extreme; it has made a virtue out of extreme wealth and managed to convince many people that Greed is Good. I thought extraordinary claims required extraordinary evidence? Corporations are people? Now we are just getting ridiculous...

BOTH believe in trying to attain a utopian fantasy. For Heaven read Free Market, a creed which ignores the role of inheritance, ignores the use of money in securing and retaining power through politics, ignores that for the free market to be theoretically feasible, we would need to start from scratch on a level playing field with complete transparency and a public right to corporate data.

BOTH used their monopolies on cultural production to shape peoples identities. Our culture has become suffused with the messages of Neoliberalism, no less so than religious culture pre-enlightenment. We are assaulted from dawn till dusk, day-in-day-out with aspirational images and messages specifically designed to exploit our lack of free will and to manipulate us into spending money (even when we have none). Live through this culture and the chances are you will not ever question it. That's called indoctrination, same as it ever was.

BOTH are quite capable of inflicting massive amounts of suffering on 'others' not of their ideology. We seem well aware (and happy to remind those who claim religion is needed for morality) of religions involvement in the history of warfare . Well, guess what? Need evidence? Oh Dear... I think the bigger question is why you've not come across any yourself.

BOTH govern with a moral code defined and controlled by those in power, which in turn favours those in power disproportionately. Perhaps if they did a swap, and a CEO of Goldman Sachs turned out to be a child molester and a group of Priests brought down the global economy, then we might see some accountability (at least you would hope so)?

BOTH target heretics who dare question their doctrine or authority. Although, to be fair, the lions share of the violence and power in this regard the last few decades hasn't been Religion. Certainly women have been coming under a fair amount of fire regarding reproductive health issues, but religion isn't the one with an intelligence agency employing millions, a police force brutally targeting peaceful protesters, a CIA agency kidnapping people of the streets and detaining them without charge for years in secret prisons, an army that requires further racial-indoctrination so that the soldiers can do as the rulers bid and a national media establishment under it's direct ownership and control. Funnily enough people also get accused of not speaking out because to do so would make their careers, shall we say, difficult? Something to think about.

BOTH prey on the weak, with all the good intention in the world, in order to spread their power. Religion had missionaries; Neoliberalism had the Chicago School of Economics. Graduates moved into the ranks finance ministries of whichever country that found itself on the IMF's agenda. Once there, often by virtue of Neoliberal-backed dictatorships, they would oversee mass-privitisation of state assets (much to the profit of US companies), rocketing unemployment, slashed public spending, and exploding inequality (with all the misery it brings). Naomi Klein and Joseph Stiglitz, among others, have written extensively on this.

So, like organised religion, Neoliberalism is a all-encompassing doctrinal ideology promising salvation it cannot achieve, one that causes immense suffering to others whilst not tolerating any dissention, without any scientific evidence to back it up.

Let me ask you this. We skeptics want a world based on reason and evidence, correct? Then why should politics be excluded? It is based on questions of human nature, and area of study that while particularly contemporary (pre-MRI? Pfft, forget it) is nonetheless now adequate to dismiss these Neoliberal fantasies. How can it be physically possible that an ideology born decades ago could even be remotely accurate?

The one major difference between religion and Neoliberalism is that, in Western democracies at least, religion is responsible for an ever decreasing amount of suffering comparatively speaking. Neoliberalism is the dominant fundamentalist ideology of today; that is what should be skepticism's top priority were we to honestly apply criteria consistently

Change is coming. I don't want people to look back and ask where we were as a community. Don't we pride ourselves on being objective, being consistent? You know what I see in the Occupy movement? The recognition that individuals dont have the answer, that answers only come from evidence and discussion. I see natural skepticism... this movement has emerged around the world with a shared identity already there and it is not the product of an ideological few. It is a crowd-sourced identity, inspired by people around the globe, who have all come to the same conclusions regarding Neoliberalism based on the evidence. It has gotten so bad that they have spontaneously come together in over 900 cities, giving up their lives temporarily to say enough is enough. How have things gotten this far without the matter being given serious attention by the skeptical community?

Imagine if thousands were occupying against the immorality of religions place in the public sector... we would be all over it. I thought I would find support,yet all I hear is cynicism from my peers when I'm merely trying to be consistent, cynicism largely indeterminable from Neoliberal trolls that pester me for having a conscience.

Skepticism isn't just for hard science. It should be for everything that has impact in our public world. Besides, there is data and evidence out there, there is knowledge about how we have evolved and what is good for the mind. Our relative nature is but one piece of evidence not only ignored by Neoliberalism but actively opposed, all for money. Are concerns about empiricism enough to justify not lending our voice against this dangerous ideology?

I can only conclude that were the skeptical community living in the 16th Century, they would ignore the Church and instead focus all their energy on the relatively harmless fortune-teller. A week ago even I would have dismissed this as absurd. I'm not going to go through the possible objections yet because the type of answers I get are integral to the question itself, so I will answer any replies below the line. Also, before you post your reply, just consider 1) what the answer might be were you talking about religion instead of neoliberalism and 2) where the answer comes from and is that the equivilent of taking the Church's word on the matter?. I have found that often sheds light on the matter.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

An open letter to skeptics.

I have been a skeptic for a number of years now. Skeptic's Guide to the Universe hooked me away from any esoteric leanings I might have had in my youth, and since then I've come to see that the rejection of ideology inherent in the community can itself be a uniting factor in a vanguard for evidence-based change. Now however, I am no longer as sure as I once was.

As skeptics, we try to use a set of evidence-based rules to evaluate information. But what do we use to objectively pick which information to evaluate in the first place? I'm sure many would reply that aim of skepticism's public face is to try and educate others and counter some of the many falsehoods that have the potential to cause suffering. Huge amounts of energy have gone into tackling Power Balance bracelets, anti-vaccers, climate-change deniers, homeopaths... any number of people that abuse reason and science. Well, I put it to you that if you really care about miss-information causing suffering on a massive scale, we have one massive elephant in the room.

The Neoliberal capitalist system the majority of us live under is founded upon false premises that have absolutely no evidence to back them up. Where else would we countenance such power on the scientific basis of a couple of slightly intuitive but evidentially lacking phrases (trickle-down, rising boats etc)? It causes misery to billions. We are real, society is real, the economic system is real... surely that's all we need to be skeptical? Where are the guests at TAM speaking out about the falsehoods inherent in the Neoliberal economic model, or their views on human nature? Is politics off the table, and if so why?

Scientific consensus is adequate to assure that the skeptical community trusts scientists regarding climate change. Why then do we patently ignore the consensus regarding the relative nature of the human mind? Both are conclusions born from complex systems. Both have deniers yet we go for the crack-pot and not the powerful. Have we all lost sight of what is most important in life? How else to explain the silence while a psuedo-scientific ideology structures societies in ways that are completely counter to what the consensus suggests makes humans happy.

Any other pseudo-scientific, profit-driven endeavour that caused this much suffering would be brought up all the time, on multiple podcasts and proportionately represented at TAM. Glancing through The Amazing Meeting line-up from London, I see one person, a blogger Greta Christina, who has politics among their interests. This is just wrong.

I have long thought that the skeptical community will grow and usher in a new age of (actual) rational, ideology-free thought. But the ideology-less taking on the BIG skeptical issue of our times are not the skeptics but the people of the Occupy Movement. Their courage to speak truth to power while rejecting ideology has made me question why the skeptical community seem content to tackle the little fish. As a community we have to discuss this glaring blind-spot and ask, honestly, why it is there. I sincerely hope that it is not to avoid controversy. If you don't feel like me, then all I ask is that the next time someone asks why you do what you do, just consider saying "mainly it's because I don't like the direct affront to the science I care about" instead.

Because people ARE suffering, and if we do not challenge this ideology and reverse this explosion of inequality, the science says it's only going to get worse if nothing is done to reverse this trend toward greater inequality.

I'm struggling to reconcile this now I've thought about it. Would sincerely live to hear your thoughts.

Yours sincerely

Ben King

If you would like to read more on why Neoliberalism is the new organised religion, here's my take on it.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Word Cloud of Anger from Comments on Mayor Quans Facebook Page as of midnight GMT 27/10

created at

Thursday, 20 October 2011

My thoughts on Occupy Norwich and Occupy Together

“The world is beginning to fracture, dissonance is building and if nothing is done by those in power the fault-line will snap.  The world may be talking of an Arab revolution, but History will, I believe, see this as the birth of something bigger: the emergence of the first global identity founded on equality and a rejection of power.”

I wrote those words in February 2011, though I can happily say that I wasn't expecting it for a little while yet. To have a common cause shared between people all over the world used to take decades, if indeed it could be said to have happened at all. Occupy Together took just a few weeks; around 1000 protests in nearly 90 countries, simultaneously expressing a collective subjectivity the like of which has never been seen. Occupy Norwich is a part of that, and it does more for soft diplomacy than the government ever could.

Whether in the name of Occupy or not, change is coming. This is because what Anderson called the 'imagined community', our cultural identity, is closely correlated to communication technology which is itself going through a fairly extraordinary exponential growth. Throughout history, it was a rare place that the 1% of the time did not have near complete monopoly in the production of cultural identity, often utilising the 'other' against the 99% for no reason other than it works. Now such technological advances have progressed to beyond national boundaries, beyond language even, we are seeing the first generation in History able to form an identity that was not of their masters' creation.  And what do they see? They see “others” of their generation around the world cheering each other on, helping each other in the face of arrest or even death, connecting with them far more deeply than they do with their own rulers (who themselves share far more in common with each other than they do with their own citizens). It is no longer justifiable to us to kill, exploit and profiteer from millions of our brothers and sisters away from these shores; the social-contract needs re-writing.

For the first time, people can develop through a cultural milieu not created by this ideology or that, but by thousands of regular folk the world over. This democratised identity, of which Occupy is but one emergent property, comes to radically different conclusions about morality than the closed, institutionalised mindset of capitalism or nationalism. It sees human equality as a given, not a PR weapon. It recognises the value of plurality, the danger of any ideology. From all corners of the globe, we are finally starting to produce the hitherto missing context that is necessary for many to even be aware there is a problem. It is a first step, and it will help.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Right Vs Left? That's what they want you to think.

My wife and I were discussing Ron Paul last night, in light of a friend of hers having taken to campaigning for the guy.  I find him really interesting, if only because he really sets things in a light different to that of the orthodox duopoly of U.S. politics.  Personally, I think the guy is a 50/50 mix of way ahead of his time and utterly deluded.  He is bold enough to say that government is corrupt, that central control of national spheres is insufficiently legitimate, yet blind to the inherently anti-social nature of capitalism and the danger of putting money before people.  That got me thinking.

Ask anybody, Left or Right, this simple question: "Should people be able to work freely together to determine their own fate in a community that provides for each other?"  Only severe ideologues would say no, right?  So, let us assume that the vast majority of people, on the Left and the Right, would answer the affirmative.  Now let us break down how Left and Right interpret that question and see where things go wrong...

From the Left, many would argue that America is already there; that democracy represents the rule of the people, that people live freely and that tax revenues, since they are administered by the people's representatives, is synonymous with 'providing for each other'.  The threat, as they see it, are the corporations, those that would impinge on our ability to 'determine our own fate' by administering an economic system which keeps the majority in or near poverty, manipulating us as consumers and acting outside of the law.

The Right could make a good case for saying the same thing, though for very different reasons.  Markets and the private sphere represent the most advanced form of working together, communities providing for each other in the most efficient manner.  It is the Government that threatens this self-determination, it alone hampering the freedom of the private sphere with regulations, federal laws and tax (seen here as an illegitimate form of coerced cooperation).

 If either of these descriptions fit the glove that you, dear reader, wear... please ask yourself this: Have you been lied to?  Both interpretations are theoretically true (as in utopian/dangerous if acted upon/actually false), hence it's perfectly understandable how people can be led to believe them.  Look again at the initial question I posed: both Left and Right want that - the great divide we see is nothing more than hyped-up bullshit jointly fed to us by the supposed leading lights of an apparently divided ruling class .  Look at the differences in the two arguments, see how easy it is to join the dots and meet in the middle.  Say it with me:

The government is corrupt.  They do not work for the public good.

Corporations have corrupted it.  They do not work for the public good.

Now, if one of these statements seems false to you, I am sorry.  Nothing I say here will make the slightest bit of difference and I simply take heart that your views are the memetic equivalent of a genetically inbred evolutionary dead-end.  If both these statements ring true, be you Left or Right, please recognise that you in this you share more in common than either do to politicians or CEOs.  While bi-partisan bile continues to rise, the real irony lies in the closeness of state and corporation, our "leaders", GovCorp; collectively getting filthy rich while fuelling this charade of a battle between two "competing" concepts of freedom (the only difference is the method by which they take your money).  They are not competing!  They swap jobs, share lunch, do rich person stuff and quietly ignore the filthy cultural-wash that trails in their wake, dividing us, conquering us.

Wake up people.  Corruption is what ails us all. Corruption is what that can unite us.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Cablegate highlights that U.S. distain of West Papua is undiminished after 40 years

This disgraceful cable from the U.S. embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, is something I truly hoped I would not see: contemporary documents showing that U.S. indifference to Papua is as strong as ever.  I had to wade through 400 pages of declassified documents for my university dissertation on West Papua; page after page of racist, ignorant, scheming betrayal of an entire people.  To fill people in on the sordid tale, a mere two weeks after gaining independence from the Dutch, West Papua was invaded by Indonesia under the pretext of rescuing them of subversive minorities. It was an invasion sanctioned by a United States desperate to keep hold of a key, non-communist country in a highly volatile area of the world.  The reason? Well, it does kind of look like it's all part of the same place, I mean, it's just one massive archipelago right? Oh, and it has the worlds largest copper mine in the world...

Here are some excerpts from the cable:

"The group's focus on "self-determination" basically makes their efforts a non-starter with the GOI. Moreover, the exiles' almost exclusive focus on Papua's legal status highlights a growing rift with activists inside Papua,who are considerably more moderate."

The Act of Free Choice was the deeply ironic name given to the UN ratified sham election in 1969. 1050 hand-picked (by Indonesia, obviously) Papuans voted unanimously to give up their hard won flag, their fledging independence, and become a province of Indonesia.  The declassified documents make clear that everybody knew this was a sham; that near every Papuan despised the Indonesians that had been subsidised to colonise their land afresh; even that there was a high likelihood of human rights abuses.  Yet they have the temerity to ask for self-determination? Pfff!

"WPNCL spokesperson Paula Makabory asserted to poloff in a recent telephone conversation that numerous Papuans within Indonesia supported the coalition. She added, however, that she could not provide more details out of "fear" for their safety."

Nice quotation marks asshole.

"The new group's grievances are not new."

No shit?

"The WPNCL's approach basically rests on the claim that Indonesia illegally absorbed Papua (then Dutch New Guinea) through the 1969 UN-supervised Act of Free Choice."

Their "claim", as you call it, can be verified by the person you are writing to at the State department if you wish, or you could google it? This though is the killer paragraph...

"WPNCL statements also regurgitate many of the dramatic but vague claims that are the stock in trade of Papuan independence supporters. These include accusations of genocide, gross human rights violations and massive environmental destruction purportedly committed by Indonesians."

Ouch. Don't you just hate hearing the same old stock-in-trade accusations of genocide? It all gets so boring doesn't it? I also like the way that he says, "purportedly committed by Indonesians", as though the companies committing the destruction weren't American and British.

"Ronald Tapilatu, an advisor to Papua Governor Barnabas Suebu,[said] it would... undercut the efforts of both national and provincial leaders to implement Papua's Special Autonomy agreement with Jakarta."

This would be the Special Autonomy Agreement introduced in 2002 that has done next to nothing in nearly 10 years? 

This next I am particularly pissed off about, and not just because it is the Catholic Church standing up for oppressors... again. Here are the thoughts of Budi Hernawan, Director of the Jayapura Diocese Peace and Justice Secretariat (SKP)...

"The WPNCL's activities could hamper the work of human rights advocates in the province. WPNCL public statements combined claims about alleged human rights violations in Papua with demands for political independence. This, according to Hernawan, made it more difficult for human rights defenders to convince Indonesian authorities that they were only concerned with human rights and did not have a position on Papua's political status. "We can only work if we are seen as above politics," he said"

So, Papuans should learn to stop worrying about self-determination, even though it is the only logical response to the human rights abuses, political imprisonment and genocide, just so that the people investigating these crimes can be taken seriously by an oppressive regime that has no interest in listening to them anyway.

These concerns were not for the likes of America back in 1969, and sadly neither are they now.  It has been over 40 years since the Act of Free Choice, 40 years of genocide, abuse, environmental devastation viewable from near space and absolutely no moral evolution for the U.S. government.  They have morally stagnated; no better now than a generation ago, just PR savvy.

Papuans deserve freedom. Someday they shall have it.

Monday, 22 August 2011

A Manifesto for Social Evolution in the UK: Part 2

Welcome to part two of my sociocultural evolutionary manifesto for reforming the UK's institutions.  Today it is the turn of education and housing...


If there were one sector of society that should evolve alongside communication technology it is education.  Knowledge is information, whose transfer directly benefits from technological advance.  Yet here we are in the 21st century with what appear to be factories attempting to force children of all shapes and sizes through the exact same hole, metaphorically speaking.  Education has a duty to embrace the tenets of cultural evolution mainly because they are also the basic tenets of a good education; communication, synthesis of ideas, progression of discourse, adding to human understanding.  They are thus because education as an ideal transcends identity, serving our basic, inherent desire to rationalise the world.  What we need to do is ensure it goes back to these ideals, out of the grip of Government Inc ideology.

First of all, exams are the most pathetic way of making or breaking years of hard graft; they utterly misrepresent any likely future scenario for utilizing these skills. We don't lock ourselves in the bathroom with naught but a pad and pen to complete a report due in 90 minutes, do we? The whole point of the system as it is is to ensure standardisation in evaluation so that grades actually mean something in the context of everyone else's grades.  Yet one person (me, for example) can study tactically and another person can work day and night on the entire course and they often  still come out with the same grade.   Perhaps it was because I am lucky in that I personally don't mind taking exams, but here again is another problem.  We are condemning the unlucky, those that for whatever reason can't handle pressure that is in no way necessary, to potential lifelong negative consequences. Such a simplified, artificial, irrational system as this cannot hold legitimacy in such interconnected, fibre-optic times.  We need virtual systems to track, accumulate and share knowledge we gain through education, borrowing ideas from RPG's.  Teach kids in ways that they understand; the benefits could be far greater than we know).  

Why do we still have textbooks?  They can't move, can't play sound, can only provide maybe a couple of gigs of pre-defined information, cannot join you in learning with kids all over the country, nay, the world.  They can't even be updated for crying out loud, you actually have to buy a whole new set!  Being centrally  controlled by the folks in Westminster, our education system is held hostage, condemned to evolutionary stagnation for all but a few schools, sorry, academies, that were lucky enough to be expensive political photo-ops.  We also need to accept that children come in all varieties, with different skills and interests.  We must find a way to vary methods of learning to fit each child; forcing all the children to fit the same antiquated and counter-intuitive system is absurd, something that particularly impacts boys.  Talking about fitting education to the needs of the child, any child in this case, why don't we start feeding them properly?  Complicated stuff I know. 

Not only do we need radical ideas, cultural evolution always works best when experimentation can happen in multiple, interlinked locations and knowledge shared and synthesised. For this reason we must decentralise power, preferably down to individual school levels, so that teachers are free to teach in ways that suit their students.  Give them the freedom to borrow from other teachers around the world ideas, games and techniques that might actually work; or else continue to do nothing in a system that is cracking at the seams. 

For higher education, I suggest we stop talking about how wonderful interdisciplinary work is and actually take the plunge.  I had to beg to be allowed to take the Philosophical Foundations of Cognitive Science course, a course that changed my life, simply because it wasn't in the school of humanities.  Putting these artificial walls up helps nobody.  What we need instead is a format whereby students are free to go to any lectures they wish during the first two years, perhaps with a minimum figure per week.  Lectures should be recorded and made available online with forums and chatrooms.  A weekly seminar allows you to present on the best/most interesting lecture you saw last week, or alternately respond to a previous presentation by another student.  The first two years should be about allowing students to take their own path, with the freedom to learn different subjects depending on where their thinking takes them i.e. no exams, no marking.  Come the third year, students would pick two dissertation questions, entirely of their choosing.  For each work, the student chooses three types of professor (e.g, historian, social scientist, cognitive scientist) to convene and mark it as a group.  This way, students are free to go beyond the knowledge of their teachers, force established professors to consider alternative views and break the closed structures of defined disciplines.  

Just because capitalism doesn't care much for History doesn't mean it isn't important, perhaps if they realised that they'd have a better idea of their own intransigence.  Universities must be about knowledge and only knowledge; enough with the GovCorp subversion.  They must be independent, affordable and seek to expand virtually to greater numbers of people.  Which brings me to my last point...

Most importantly of all, particularly in light of the fees hike, is the need for recognition of people's ability to educate themselves.  I resent the fact that in order to get jobs for which I am perfectly capable, I am required to get massively in debt so that I can own a piece of paper from someone assuring employers that I do actually hold information in my head.  Almost every person in this country now has access to a previously unimaginable wealth of knowledge and educational resources, factors greater than the entire education system could have provided just 20 years ago.  We cannot continue as if the only education that matters is the one granted official status by the state.  Not only does it mean a reliance an out-dated, nationalist-centred syllabus, but it also discriminates against those who cannot afford to go to university.  Giving individuals direct access to nationally recognised qualifications, to be completed in their own way, at their own pace, is long overdue and could radically empower those who feel excluded.    

Well, this is a pretty simple one.  Not much cultural evolution has to say on this one, unless you want to talk about architectural styles.  Or we could take about historical accidents?

Apparently, because I was unlucky enough to have come of age after the housing boom, I am now forced to pay one of the thousands of already wealthy people who bought up every cheap house going, split them in half, and rented them out. As with every other under-30 who doesn't have rich elders, my wife and I have absolutely no hope of owning our own home despite both having jobs.  Norfolk, where I live, has seen house prices treble and quadruple in the last 15 years, mainly as second (or third, or fourth) homes for greedy people.  The UK has one of the smallest average house sizes of the developed world, with rent accounting for an ever increasing portion of people's salaries. How can we as a generation take authority seriously when we see them doing nothing to tackle this gross injustice, while they sit on multiple homes, often paid for at our expense, earning inordinate amounts of money for doing absolutely nothing?!

Where are the new builds? Where is the investment in new home technology?  Where is the protection for those priced out of living near their family because of the artificial prices created by self-imposed mega-salaries of financial industries gone mad?  Is our construction industry so healthy that they don't need the work?

How does government, or the public for that matter, expect the young to have an inherent respect for property when they themselves blindly hoard it to the exclusion of a whole generation?  Where is the sense of shame or duty to rectify this betrayal?  It is the same place it has always been, throughout History, for property owning classes: nowhere.  It has ever been thus that ownership of land and property has acted as a barrier to sharing identity and moral concern; it shouldn't surprise us that by merely increasing that number to a large part of the older generation shouldn't change that dynamic.  Now it's become a generational divide, wonderfully illustrated in the book Jilted Generation, rather than serf and lord.  By denying us this opportunity, authority is satisfied to see us as cash-cows for the already wealthy, accepting huge chunks of our meagre minimum wages each month because we have no other choice. 

In the long run, I expect such greed to be seen as deeply immoral.  But, since evolution is a step-by-step process, reform must first come through affirmative government action: investment in new builds and investment in providing affordable mortgages to first time buyers.  Eventually, the issue of hoarding property will have to be tackled, perhaps through having upper limits on the number of properties you may own with the excess being offered to tenants with rent, back-dated, going toward payment of ownership.  The owner gets paid, the tenant feels they are not being fleeced, house ownership goes up and society gets a bit more equal.

Coming soon: The Media and the Internet.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

A Manifesto for Social Evolution in the UK: Part 1.

"Those who make peaceful evolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."
What Kennedy meant to say...

I had wanted to write about the punitive sentencing that occurred in the wake of the riots, yet the more I thought about it, the more depressed I became.  The issues were so clear to the non-ideologically bound that they had already all been said.  So, in an attempt to get ahead of the curve, I figured someone had better make a start putting forward some solutions...  

This is not about left and right. This is not about socialist or capitalist.  This, a manifesto for reform for the institutions of the UK, is an attempt to derive solutions to our growing malaise from the philosophy of cultural evolution and complex systems.  Over the coming two weeks I will review, using a framework derived from cultural evolution, each of our public institutions and sectors of society that I see as being in need of urgent evolution, lest they lose all significance and authority to the new generation: the police, the justice system, education, housing, employment, the economy, foreign policy and state governance.  Often the foundations upon which they are based centuries old, using misguided concepts often much older still.  In a time of globalisation and exponentially growing communication technology, we must bring them up to date if we are to expect them to remain relevant to 21st century identities.  If they are not, they risk losing all authority and right of representation, with potentially disastrous consequences if resisted.  

I just want to finish my introduction with this:  I do not see it as my job to describe a utopia before demanding people adhere to it.  If that's your impression, then you've misunderstood.  Evolution happens a step at a time, by definition.  I'm just aiming to point out the bleeding obvious to those that are blinded by walled identities in the here and now... it's for tomorrows generation to pick up the ball and keep heading in the right direction.  All we have to do is leave the world slightly better than we found it.

First up, law and order.

The Police

Firstly, I'd just like to say that I once seriously considered becoming a police officer (and still would, should they significantly change).  There is something noble in principle about protecting people... so long as by 'people' you mean 'everyone', equally.  The list of grievances justifiably held against the police grows by the day; deaths, cover-ups, obfuscation, lie after lie.  The fact that most coppers are probably honest, hard-working people is simply not a satisfactory defence.

The police represent one of the most closed institutional systems in the country.  Their shared language, uniform, privileged position of power, procedures etc, combine with the situational pressures of conflict to bond the group together (much like the army).   As such, it has always been seen as a virtue to stick up for your colleagues no matter what; conversely, the conflict inherent in grassing on a fellow cop has been staple diet for cops shows to the point of cliche.   This level of tribalism might have been sustainable once, but no longer.  It is simply not possible to maintain that level of corruption, that many deaths in custody with seeming immunity, the brazen politicisation... not when every citizen has a camera in their pocket.  Such a closed system evolves slowly, if at all.  The police may be independent in name, but their remit is determined by government, not the people*.  As such, it is the poor who represent the police's 'other', those who transgress capitalism's norms, be it in their dress, their disdain for greed or their misfortune to have been born into a class forgot.  While it remains this way, there will always be incidents that continue to decay what little remains of a reputation they have

In such a situation, assuming the majority of police officers are honest people, we should expect to see officers speaking up, denouncing those shown to have defiled their position in the name of the people.  I'd certainly like to think that at least one of them had got to know some of these youths to the point of empathy, and then on to questioning their own actions publicly.  That this hasn't happened is telling, and in a large way makes each and every one of them an enabler.  This is why I couldn't be a police officer; at the very best I would never get promoted, at worst who knows?

They need opening up.  All data must be on-line.  Civil rights groups, lawyers and the public should be the ones to hold the police to account, people whose identity allows them to do the job that needs to be done.  Clearly the IPCC is far too close to be considered impartial; certainly their record is pretty pathetic.  The anger felt by thousands when they think of the name Ian Tomlinson, to cite but one person, simply cannot be undone.  It is there in the cynicism greeting each report of a new death at the hands of the police, in the resigned sorrow for the latest family to get lied to and dicked about after losing a loved one.  The public must be allowed to video police actions and record conversations if they so wish (not least because technology will soon be doing that for some 24/7 anyway).  I would go further and consider helmet-cams for armed response units that upload to independent servers... the first public inquiry avoided would ensure they pay for themselves pretty quick.  If the police don't like the idea, perhaps they should stop routinely covering shit up?

The police must be seen to be about more than simply stopping criminality.  Combine probation and front-line duties, let those on the street get to know these kids in deeper and more constructive contexts than stop-and-searches.  Government must give police greater support by increasing investment in youth clubs and groups who do great work like Connexions instead of seeing youth related services as an easy target for slashing budgets.

And the most painful thing?  When officers and politicians admit the police were corrupt once and yet insist that things have changed.  As if they would even know.

The Justice System

An activist awaits trial.  They know, their friends know and their lawyers know that whether they get off or get sent down depends largely on whether Judge A or Judge B is appointed to the case.  If you think this is an exaggeration then congratulations to you; you are lucky (or submissive) enough to have not experienced the pleasure of finding out the limitations of 'universal' law.  This alone says all that needs to be said about the problem inherent in our justice system: that power is too  to ensure objective, consistent application of law.  It is also too concentrated in it's identity (rich, largely male, largely white); an identity far too exclusively intertwined with other rich white guys in the police, the government and business boardrooms to ensure equal representation for the whole population. 

A dangerous number of people now view the justice system, correctly as it happens, as representing the power of wealth; a number that is only going to rise as communication technologies advance.  This is because of the inherent contradiction between the underlying capitalist assumptions of national courts and the multinational, globalised culture we now inhabit.  Do not preach to us about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights only to throw those who embody it's spirit in jail for having the temerity to disrupt a British company turning a profit.  

What I wouldn't encourage is a radical overhaul.  For all it's faults, our system in the UK has built within it mechanisms that allow for evolution of law.  It may be slow to do so, often to the point of exasperation (see: Drug Reform), but there is much that can be done without risk of evolutionary over-reach (otherwise known as revolution).  As with all institutions, transparency, open data and an acceptance of new communication technologies must be a basic starting point, including easily searchable and mashable data records from individual judges to national statistics.  Law cannot remain cloaked in legalese and expect people to feel represented.  Activists must be allowed to speak their cause when in court for non-violent direct action and, if shown to adhere to international humanitarian law, they must trump issues of purely economic or political interest.  How else do we avoid another Diego Garcia or West Papua?

Finally, the one thing you absolutely must not do, under any circumstances, is allow criminal minds to congregate in a culturally closed system, away from society, for any length of time.


Seriously, of all the flaws in our institutions, none compare to the prison system for sheer misguidedness.  If you were to look at humans as they truly are, a complex system governed by cultural evolution, then prison is the complete opposite of what is needed.  At the heart of this misunderstanding is an immature concept of justice as retribution, of responsibility lying absolutely in Judeo-Christian notions of the soul and free will.  Instead, it is simply a mechanism for providing feedback to the system, issuing formalised judgements of  collective will in order to influence the community as a whole.  By shutting these people away, we are merely hiding from ourselves evidence of our collective failure, or, more likely given its power, the failure of authority.  
Restorative justice is exactly what cultural evolution demands, offenders being made to see the damage they have done and, where possible, meet the victims themselves.  It would take a much bigger budget than such measures have now, but it must be considerably cheaper than housing them in criminal finishing schools and tarring them with further non-constructive social stigma? We need a serious reappraisal of the fundamental nature of law and justice; who it represents, it's necessary limitations and most importantly of all its need to be grounded in universality and objective fact.  Do not hope for progress while bankers, arms dealers and corrupt officials act with seeming impunity while thousands are criminalised for smoking a natural substance often less harmful (certainly to others) than the champagne they so lovingly hold as a mark of sophistication.

On Monday: Education and Housing...

* No, they are not the same thing. See: Government, coming soon

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

So many long words to say such a stupid thing...

I accidentally 'liked' someone's comment on Anne-Marie Slaughter's post on the UK riots in The Atlantic (disclaimer: yes, she mentioned my post, and yes, I'm happy for that, but no, this isn't an excuse to link to it) because, were you to switch the first 'homogeneous' for 'diverse', I could totally see it as a valid point of view that is seldom mentioned... 

Jean c Rien:

"I grew up in an ethnically homogenous, economically diverse neighborhood. It was crime free, and there was great community. I now live in an ethnically diverse, economically homogenous neighborhood. People are rude and/or hostile to each other. I'm going back to the 'hood."

Artist impression of Jean c Rien

Pissed about the liking of the comment that I couldn't undo, I spent the next half hour writing a a slightly pissy reply, hence why I thought I'd post it on here to compensate for the dirty of having fed a troll.... again.

"I used to live in an ethnically diverse, economically homogeneous area, and it was the best place I've ever lived, never known so many people in one place.

Instead of falling back on your own circumstance as being representative of the greater whole (which, when you think about it, is pretty arrogant), why don't you look at the stats, the actual data, that show a clear correlation between wealth inequality and quality of life.

If you did manage to find an area that was ethnically homogeneous and yet had wealthy people kicking it with the poor folks, please don't hesitate to tell us where... seriously, it could hold the key to you..., what? Proving racism is good? It's natural?

Our identity is not determined solely by our genes; cultural identity acquired through one's life has slowly come to dominate in humankind, as civilisation accumulated and thought evolved. That is to say it is malleable, evolving through the interaction of billions of minds in a complex system... if all races have equal access to cultural production, then within a couple of generations only hardcore fundamentalists would be left. Will your kids be one of those?"

Or we could learn from old Jean here how rich and poor can live in unequal harmony together... so long as they have the same amount of melatonin in their skin organ.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

And another thing on the riots...

I just wanted to speculate a little on my previous blog regarding the looters and the elite being more alike than they care to admit, and on where this may stand in terms of the very big picture...

A lot of interesting dissonance is being created as Cameron, mistaking the one portion of civil society he can relate to (Daily Mail readers, aka shareholders) as being representative of public opinion, seeks to make political hay with collective punishment and vengeful justice.  Quotes abound regarding the naked greed of these feral youth, quotes from people who own rather nice kitchens at the taxpayers expense.  Talking heads and hesitant journalists vie with each other to see who can get the analysis wrong in the simplest possible way, decrying communication technology with such imprecision as to make 8 year olds wince with embarrassment.

A woman accepts a pair of shorts the day after the riots, having slept through them, and gets five and a half months in prison, separated from her two children.  David Cameron hires someone he simply must have known to be a criminal in Andy Coulson and he wont even apologise for his judgement. Where is this woman's second chance Dave?  So many people are contrasting this response to the aftermath of the financial crisis, comparing the damage caused and the retribution dealt out.  How many bankers are in jail? Just how far does the hypocrisy have to go before the entire system loses all credibility?

I have written previously about how cycles of forms of identity, driven by technological evolution, are also revolving at an exponentially growing rate. We are reaching a new stage whereby identity creation is once again monopolised by a narrow point of view, only now that of money.  We know the dangers of religious fundamentalism and extreme nationalism; we have yet to see what forms of extreme manifestations will arise from fundamentalist free-market ideology.   

For possibly the first time in human history, the state and religion bare absolutely no relevance to a large portion of the new generation.  What has replaced them is an orgy of commercial culture, aspirational, shallow, meaningless, irresistible... created by the scientists of human manipulation and unleashed upon a public largely unaware of what they are up against.  Dark shit happens when you view the world through fundamentalist eyes; it doesn't matter if you see God, honour or money, the important thing is what you don't see: moral concern for those that don't share your views.  And when these people are in power... well, we've already seen enough of that haven't we, now that we are free to watch the suffering 24 hours a day?

It is a sick joke that I am 'represented' by those who have never known poverty simply by virtue of exiting through the right vagina.  Those protestors in Tahrir Square represent me more than you hypocritical fools. They want respect? They can bloody well earn it.  If the Neo-liberal agenda continues to push to, ironically, possibly the most fantastically self-deluded utopian ideal out there, I have no doubt the complete subjugation of state and religion that that would entail would see us on the road to all-out corporate fascism. Will corporations be brought to heel, or will they continue to blackmail nations, make social destruction in the name of efficiency a virtue and destroy foreign lands? One thing is for certain... the next ten years will almost certainly be the most explosive and significant decade in the history of humanity. 

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Let's cut the bullshit and start some serious debate shall we?

I'm sick to death of the partisan bollocks spewing forth from the usual cabal of out-of-touch opinion creators, both left and right, regarding the causes of the riots.  Actual reasoned analysis is thin on the ground, little diamonds in a sea of bile, ignorance and cliche.

This is a question of morality.

I have yet to see a philosopher interviewed on the subject.

Moral regard is determined by who and what you identify with, which is itself comprised of the culture through which one grows up. A large number of youths clearly have no moral regard for the police or for their communities.  Ergo, we can deduce that a situation has developed whereby large numbers of youths are growing up devoid of the kind of influences that generate shared cultural identity.  This is clearly evident; conforming cultural appearance (as suits are to businessmen), a shared dialect (much like that shared between politicians and the business world, not a coincidence and yes, the same applies regarding the moral concern...) etc; natural examples of divergent cultural evolution of separated groups (just like genetic evolution does).  This has made them so alien to the rich and powerful that they have zero chance of making it, no point in aspiration and through no fault of their own.  It is a mighty rare person who can buck the human instinct to conform in groups... do we then demand it of those who have the least instead of addressing the real causes?  Who has created the walls? Who has caused the segregation in the first place? Why is there such a huge gulf of worlds between the haves and have-nots?

There are no jobs. That's where most of us are forced to mix, forced to expand our moral concern by taking in structure, responsibility, exposure to people you would never normally mix with. What jobs there are do not pay enough, not to deal with the sheer volume of advertising generating needs and desires through a process of saturation (and now smart) bombing.  Whereas before one person could work and still happily sustain a family, now both parents (where there are two...) have to work just to survive, members of the ever growing working poor. There are no pools, there are no clubs, there is no chance of ever buying a house, ever going to university. There is nothing but corruption in their eyes, foolishly looking directly at the Sun much too often; the greed and dishonesty of the haves (politician's expenses, Ian Tomlinson, phone tapping, bailouts) acting as convincing rationales for simply doing whatever they want to do.  And why shouldn't they?  They have no moral concern for us. Imagine if the Right's dreams came true, and all the people on benefits suddenly worked really hard, doing everything they possibly could to get ahead. What would change? Nothing, except they'd look like chumps instead of scroungers.

Yet despite this, they still have to be seen to be responsible even if they are victims of the system (in the same way that we have to assume free will, even if science tells us it aint so).  Those kids have had little choice over their lives - that responsibility falls on the parents.  Unfortunately they may be just as excluded has the youth. Either way, society progresses with the aid of law and justice, and in this case restorative justice HAS to be the way to go. Until these youth are forced to face their victims, until they are forced to spend time working in the communities they trashed, how will they gain the experiences to help them break out of this limited group identity?

It isn't a choice between "It's poverty, leave them alone!" and "use live ammunition, that'll teach the bastards!". Criminality isn't some ontological entity, some insidious cloud that infects people... it has a cause like everything else in existence.  Neither is it a question of a bad soul which can be redeemed if broken first.  It is a reaction; a reflection of parts of society that our leaders are blind to; a warning sign of severe cognitive dissonance.  These youths and Politicians Inc are more alike than they realise:  both are closed systems and both have moral regard for their own groups first and foremost.  Society at large needs to realise this, because I fear the former will not be saved until we deal with the latter.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

An analogy for our body politic

More great stuff as I read my way through The Multitude has inspired this seed of an analogy I'd like to share. I'll make it short and sweet because I have lots to do...

We, society, are one system. Some now regard its borders as having disappeared, but most of us are still partitioned politically according largely to centuries old borders. Either way, the analogy can work at any level due to the self-similar nature of complex systems.

Imagine our system, the political body, as a literal body. Society is broken-down into parts according to people's skills and specialisations, forming the bodies organs and tissue and limbs (armies for its, well, armies). I think it would be fairly bi-partisan of me to say that money is now the lifeblood of society, hence blood for me represents its place in the body.

Unfortunately, in this particular body, the blood seems to be ganging up on the rest, subjugating the brain (politicians) into creating ever more blood that then stubbornly refuses to go anywhere except around and around the main arteries and to two highly-pumped arms whose job it is to beat up on its own legs (the exploited masses). Meanwhile, the rest of the body is suffering, unable to do anything against a brain gone rogue and poisonous blood.

If you are rich, tell me, is this rational? You are part of this body. If we get sick, trust me, you'll get sick too.

So what would be rational? Well, it wouldn't be too radical to suggest that the blood needs to circulate to all parts of the body, in sufficient amounts, to ensure that the whole body can work in unity. The brain needs to attend to those areas that require it, and not to just one organ or function. The arms need to be told to stop beating itself up, and perhaps reach for some painkillers, or else try a bit of massage to ease the pain its been causing. This is a minimum standard, sufficiently rational to be understood by everyone; an idea whose time has come now.

But we can do better than that.

Our collective endeavour in accumulating knowledge is delivering to us an escape, a hand up from the gutter of having to be a rectal muscle your entire life. Every one of us has a brain of our own. We are all qualified to be part of the brain, indeed, a brain only works because of the sheer number of neurons in the system.  Soon, if we can just stop the blood from killing us through our currently tiny brain, we will have the chance to all be part of the brain, infinitely malleable, pure subjectivity giving rise to optimised emergent properties, a global consciousness that does not seek to destroy what has become itself.  The body can be mechanized, automated, intimately controlled by the multitude of the brain for the rational end of optimised sustainability and quality of life. This is what the Venus Project envisions.  People take the piss, but philosophically, historically, sociologically, cognitively, physically... I can see no reason why it cannot come to pass... indeed the opposite: I see it as an inevitability that only the rulers of the top-down identities stand in the way of.

Better that than dying in a puddle of blood, no?

Thursday, 31 March 2011

What we need to learn from future robots on Mars... and Bees

On this weeks ever-excellent Skeptics Guide to the Universe, I heard tell of a possible future plan for exploring the surface of Mars. Rather than use a single rover, the idea is to use a swarm of robots that will spread out from the landing spot, search a wide area and then return to upload and share data and presumably recharge. Each robot would have searched for the same list of pre-defined information and used common measuring techniques so that when the data is shared, a consensus can be reached as to the value of each robots findings.  Should a particularly interesting spot have been found, a larger group could go to analyse in more depth, or perhaps nothing of interest was found and the search could continued elsewhere.

The inspiration for the idea came from bees. It is the same process that is involved in looking for a new place to start a hive.  Each bee will scout before reporting its findings back to the hive, which will then come to a collective decision.  In each case, consensus is possible because each individual is part of the same shared reality, which is in turn interpreted the same way, according to the same rules. So what the hell is it that robots and bees have that humans don't?! Well, the question actually needs to read, "What do we humans have that these bees and robots don't?"

Here's a thought experiment (I will use the robots for the comparison, since the concepts are more familiar to us, being tools of our creation, than the inner-workings of a bees brain): Clearly the robots represent a highly simplified model of what our society actually represents.  To make analogy true therefore, we would need robots that were looking for different things, with different measuring devices, and different concepts of what information was of most importance. Furthermore, instead of each robots having an equal voice, a small percentage of the robots spoke for all the others, thereby ensuring that all but a few of the observations were ignored and consensus remains an impossibility.

We humans do not all share the same software; we are not the Borg. Indeed, geographical separation alone has ensured radically different coneptions of what has value and how to measure that value, simply by virtue of the natural environment one inhabits. On top of that, more abstract separations have further undermined the unity of our judgement: Religion, race, sex, gender, wealth, even being ginger for crying out loud; All of these things and a thousand more have ensured that we are far from the robot ideal in terms of reaching consensus. All of these things I have mentioned, together they form culture, the software, our imagined community, our political identity.  It is thousands of years of top-down cultural (bio-political as Micahel Hardt and Antonio Negri call it) production, shaping our identities, passing from generation to generation; religious, nationalistic, commercial. It is what we believe, where we live, what we do... that is what we have that bees and robots do not.  That is what gets in the way of us sharing an understanding our reality, the same shared reality that makes consensus possible in bees and robots. 

Notice above that I blame top-down cultural production for our woes? Top-down production of our identities is, by definition, synonymous with political power, not in the strict 'state' defintion but political in terms of the power to govern peoples lives in any form. This includes the religious and commercial as well. Each time communication structures have progressed, the political structure has been forced to evolve, open-up, in a constant struggle between the oppressors and the oppressed. Yet always the oppressors had the power of identity creation, thereby ensuring that whenever the tension did finally break, the oppressed would, like an abused child, know nothing other than retribution-in-kind.  This no longer holds.  The internet is ushering in a new dawn of democratised cultural production, horizontally-derived identity that can, in all but a few countries, ignore all of the boundaries that stop us from reaching consensus (Anonyminity being the extreme conclusion).  Note here the I'm not saying that the Web is some sort of ready-made utpoia; all I am saying is that is can allow you to ignore those boundaries and that, since kids enjoying the internet have in many cases not yet internalised prejudice and ignorance quite yet, it can innoculate the young from the prejudice filled fear-politics used by their apparent elders.  Unfortunately, evolution is slow, condemning the Internets early years to cultural production whose authors were still very much of the top-down identity.

Another criticism would be that I am arguing for us to literally become the Borg, something that is further reinforced by the fact that I'm totally up for transhumanism. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Robots and bees have one primary function.  We do not; we have and should cherish our subjectivity. Consensus need only be reached in political arenas, in areas of societal organisation that has the power to impose identity upon us. We must work toward a complete split of past culture and politics, a counterintuitive notion yet only so to that part of us that has been directly formed from hundreds of years of top-down political identity.  To put it a less counterintuitive way: Do we want the fundamentalist religious, nationalistic or capitalistic ideologies of the few to determine the organisation of all of society? For all of past identity is the creation of the few, ensuring that public policy is determined by religious ideas thousand of years old, 18th Century political philosophy and institutions or wealth grabbing corporations fresh from the 19th century.  The alternative is to allow reality, evidence, to guide us, to recognise our own flaws and the insignificance of the individual, to harness, trust and give equal voice to all of the swarm.  If we were to work toward that then, far from becoming a mindless bee, you would become free in all the other areas of your life to be more than simply an indictrinated robot.  All that is being asked is that in political arenas, where people make decisions that are imposed upon others (whether willingly or not), that those decision makers leave their personal past, their personal judgement, their concept of right or wrong at the door, and allow the evidence to dictate the end results.  This could not fail to be more humanitarian, since all of the evidence points to us all being one system.

None of us should trust our own judgement.  We must all recognise our own pejudices, reflect on the perhaps instinctive rejection of the idea of splitting our known-culture and politics. Even our physiology works against us, showing patterns that aren't there, showing us a limited confabulation of reality. Slowly we are coming to realise these things, something epitomised by the exploding growth of the skeptic movement. Consensus is possible in science, precisely because it understood very early on that culture was an impediment to truth and thus attempted to filter out its effects. It has advanced tremendously, a testament to our ability to work together toward understanding ourselves and our environment. It is by defintion a step-by-step process evolution; but we are beginning to walk the right way.