Sunday, October 31, 2010

Layer 369 . . . The Browne Report, Higher Education, Human Intelligences, Radical Thought and Designing a Better System

.
Yesterday was bright and warm, and a day for walking in woods and forests to enjoy the beginnings of the very best of autumn's colours and beauty; a day to enjoy the best of the fungi season, and its amazing variety of strange and wonderful creations. It was also a day for learning the arts and techniques of photography and the brilliant things that can be done with current digital technology if we take our cameras off 'automatic' and use their capabilities to the full.

Today is dull and overcast and very wet. It's a day for work, and a day for writing. I want to write about the Browne Report on higher education, and what it advocates by way of funding universities in the future. I was going to start by saying that this is a time for all people of intelligence to write letters to our representatives in Parliament to demand that they think about Browne and denounce his findings and recommendations. However, it's obvious that what we really need is for people who are actually more enlightened to stand up and be counted, since "intelligence" in the conventional usage isn't what's meant here. After all, Lord Browne is, by common agreement, an "intelligent" man.

The problem is that enlightened people in our society are in a very small minority, and a powerless one at that. Is there any point, therefore in protesting about anything the government wants to do? Well yes - if only to recognise that any journey starts with a single step, and if enlightened people don't make efforts to spread some enlightenment then there is literally no hope for our children and grandchildren - at least as far as this country is concerned. Not only is this not a country for old people, it's not a country of, or for, enlightened people. What we have here is an appalling shambles of a benighted society.

Take the Browne Report. An article in this week's LRB points out that "much of the initial response to the Browne Report seems to have missed the point". It certainly has. (This is an 'open' article, available to non-subscribers or purchasers of the LRB at http://www.lrb.co.uk/v32/n21/stefan-collini/brownes-gamble )

Browne's basic idea is pretty simple. Let students be fee-paying 'consumers' of degree courses that will give them the meal tickets and fat salaries which will enable them to repay the costs of their courses in future years. Courses that are likely to be related to future employment and useful passports into highly paid occupations will multiply, and those that aren't will start to disappear. If anyone wants to indulge themselves in studying the arts or anything airy fairy then they'll be lucky to find the odd course still functioning, and if they do then they'll have to pay the full cost of it.

What Oxzen wants to propose is something different to both the status quo AND to Browne - something that's centred on a fundamental reappraisal of the very notion of higher education.

Please try to read the full LRB article, but here's a few quotes from it:

The discussion has focused narrowly on the potential financial implications for the individual student.

But the report proposes a far, far more fundamental change to the way universities are financed than is suggested by this concentration on income thresholds and repayment rates.

Essentially, Browne is contending that we should no longer think of higher education as the provision of a public good, articulated through educational judgment and largely financed by public funds (in recent years supplemented by a relatively small fee element). Instead, we should think of it as a lightly regulated market in which consumer demand, in the form of student choice, is sovereign in determining what is offered by service providers (i.e. universities).

What is of greatest significance here is not the detail of the financial arrangements but the character of the reasoning by which they are justified. Britain’s universities, it is proposed, should henceforth operate in accordance with the tenets of perfect competition theory.

The report proposes a huge, almost unimaginable, de facto cut in investment in higher education. It then says that it hopes to see this enormous shortfall made good by the fees students will be willing to pay to those institutions that convince them they are worth it (principally by enabling them to earn a higher salary). It is in reality a disguised voucher scheme. Students will be able to borrow the cost of the fees, on somewhat subsidised terms, and they are then expected to go and spend them on the ‘service provider’ of their choice. The report proposes that what universities teach will henceforth be determined by their anticipation of consumer demand.

This proposition is obviously false. Children may be best placed to judge what they want to get from the sweetshop, but they are not best placed to judge what they should get from their schooling. University students are, of course, no longer children, but nor are they simply rational consumers in a perfect market.

Individuals often need to be told by someone who knows that a particular line of study is worth pursuing whether at the time they want to or not.

The Browne Report, in keeping with the ethos of market populism, shies away from anything that might seem to involve a judgment that one activity is more worthwhile than another: all you can go by are consumer preferences, what people say they think they want. But at certain moments the report is forced to fall back on other criteria which then reveal the hollowness of the central premise.

The only social value the report seems able to think of is economic: [some] subjects contribute directly to the economy, it is alleged, and so we must have them.

Browne implies that other subjects, especially the arts and humanities, are just optional extras. If students are willing to cash in their voucher to study them – perhaps because, for some unexamined reason, they are thought to lead to higher-paid jobs – so be it; but if they’re not, then there’s no public interest in having them. Despite the occasional (very occasional) mention of, say, ‘culture’, the logic of the report’s proposals gives such values no independent standing. Overwhelmingly, the general statements announce, with startling confidence, the real point of higher education: ‘Higher education matters because it drives innovation and economic transformation. Higher education helps to produce economic growth, which in turn contributes to national prosperity.’

This report displays no real interest in universities as places of education; they are conceived of simply as engines of economic prosperity and as agencies for equipping future employees to earn higher salaries.

Only courses that lead to high-paid jobs will survive, so universities will make sure they provide the graduates that high-paying employers want.

It is no good deluding ourselves that simply leaving 18-year-old applicants to cash in their vouchers at a university of their choice will lead to a more intelligently conceived provision of diverse, high-quality institutions. It may just lead to a few private jets and a lot of Ryanairs.

[This is] a calculated attempt to reshape higher education in this country by subjecting it to ‘the discipline of the market’.

What is at stake is whether universities in the future are to be thought of as having a public cultural role partly sustained by public support, or whether we move further towards redefining them in terms of a purely economistic calculation of value and a wholly individualist conception of ‘consumer satisfaction’.

.............................................................

Where to begin with all of this? Take this phrase - "universities will make sure they provide the graduates that high-paying employers want".

Stupid employers may think they want young people who's sole achievement has been to study a narrow range of subject matter for three or four years, and do well in timed examinations.

Smart employers have begun to recognise that these graduates are often people who are self-obsessed and have few contributions to make to their businesses - and hardly any of those will be down to the university course itself. (See previous references to Goleman, emotional intelligence, social intelligence, etc.)

The universities themselves, and the civil service, look for recruits who have first or second class degrees, and Masters degrees, and who can help perpetuate their systems - but smart employers know they need people who are creative, who have good people skills, who are empathetic, who are intuitive, and who can think outside the box.

Our university system is stupid, and based on the idea that for three years of their lives intelligent young people are willing to forget all other interests and developmental needs in order to obsessively study a very narrow range of subject knowledge.

Therefore if you're studying science or technology or history or mathematics you can completely forget about increasing your systematic understanding of human psychology, spiritual enlightenment, politics, art, literature, music, emotional intelligence, human groups or pedagogy. Is this really what we still want?

As for becoming fully three dimensional - higher education doesn't even set out to help people to become the sort of people that Abraham Maslow, for example, or the Buddha, talked about. (See Layer 20 - Fully Evolved Humans)

Other countries are beginning to understand that the revolution we need in every stage of education is for its content to be determined by the curiosity and drive of individual learners, and for learning to be a process that's creative, active, social and stimulating. Digital technology allows learners to progress at incredible rates, providing they're driven by a love of learning for its own sake, a passion for self-development, and a thirst for knowledge and skills.

The fact that our universities are becoming stuffed full of young people who are there for purely instrumental and material reasons, or because it's better than actually working for a living, or because they can't think of anything better to do, or because their parents and teachers thought they should be there, is pathetic.

However, this idea that the purpose of education is to make people fit for future employment and fit to be useful cogs in some sort of national drive towards wealth-creation is by no means confined to higher education. A few years ago I was in a meeting where experienced Primary teachers and Primary headteachers were asked to define the main aims of education. I was appalled to hear the two (male) headteachers in the room both saying that the main point of learning in primary schools was to prepare young people for a life of work.

After all these years of New Labour's trashing of a school system that used to focus on the needs of the learners themselves I guess we now have to be grateful when we sometimes hear some teachers merely saying they're preparing kids to do well in tests and exams, without also banging on about the needs of employers. What if employers just cared about having 'workers' who were trained to be silent automatons - would it still be OK to design education around these sorts of stated aims?

And does anyone really think that the ability to get high grades for essays and the ability to do well in timed tests are in themselves good indicators of someone's fitness for employment? What makes someone a good inventor? What makes someone a good leader? What makes someone a good team player? What makes someone a good problem solver? What makes someone resilient, determined, thoughtful, innovative, persistent, reliable, trustworthy, etc? The list is endless.

What we do know is that thousands of graduates are hopeless egocentrics who think they owe nothing to anyone and have no obligations to anyone, or anything. They often have fucked up materialistic value systems, no caring about the wider world, and no intention of paying taxes if they can possibly avoid it. In other words, moral and ethical vacuums.

...........................................................

Another important point to make is that university academics are, for the most part, no damned good either in this struggle, since they too have vested interests and are incapable of radical thought.

Even the author of this piece in the LRB - Stefan Collini, professor of English at Cambridge - only seems to worry about "a public cultural role" for the universities, rather than a role that allows every student to fully develop all of their intelligences across a broad range of subjects and become fully evolved human beings, capable of creatively enriching their societies and communities in a number of ways.


 ......................................................

Here's another plug for The New Learning Revolution, by Dryden and Vos.

Plus -  Pedagogy of Freedom . . . Ethics, Democracy & Civic Courage by Paulo Freire
.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Layer 368 . . . Bowie, Culture, Keith, The Stones, Rock and Roll Journeys, America, Modern Horror, and a Rally To Restore Sanity

.
The Culture Vulture

In the week that the Cleggster chose a track from Ziggy Stardust to take to his desert island, Sky Arts for some reason put out an old documetary about Bowie - An Earthling At 50.

This film was made to promote the 'Earthling' album, which was released in 1997. Bowie hasn't put out an album since 2003. I hadn't realised he had major heart surgery back then.

Interviewed in a New York recording studio he came across as urbane, amused, amusing,  intelligent and cultured. As for being interesting - has Bowie ever really stood up for a cause, or said anything really interesting?

Unfortunately the new album consisted in large parts of 'jungle' and 'drum n bass' styles, together with 'techno' and 'industrial' styles, whatever they might be. Bowie claimed this so-called 'hardcore' stuff has "as much resonance as soul, reggae and rhythm and blues". Crazy.

Bowie said he's 'a real culture vulture', intensely interested in 'the way we put our societies together'. He's also interested in 'outsiders and looneys' who have a passion for life. He himself is 'full of curiosity and a love of life'. Or at least he was those things, back in the day. It's not clear whether he still is.

He was surprisingly honest - admitting that in the beginning he was 'playful and camp and over the top', but then came the the drugs that messed him up creatively and also as a human being. "By the mid 70's I was out of my gourd and finding it nigh on impossible to function. I found it hard to think at all. I really lost my way in the 80's. I had no belief in my material and no artistic passion." All of which goes a long way towards explaining the loss of creativity and loss of the sort of musical originality he'd shown on Hunky Dory and Ziggy.

He also said he was always looking for 'a religious or spiritual connection'. "Spiritual life has always been a problem for me. I'm normally callous and calculating." Capricorn to the core, perhaps.

A long, long journey from Major Tom and "Changes" to 'hardcore' and 'techno'. Not a happy ending.

...................................................................

The BBC screened a Culture Show documentary this evening on another epic rock journey, publicising Keith Richards' new autobiography - "Life".

Bobby Keys, ace US sax player, said in the film, "The man's got something inside him that's really special and unique - as a musician you just want to get up and jam with him."

To which Keith modestly said, "Yes, but it's the interaction with other people that matters - the guys you play with and give you the feedback through their responses."

Keith pays tribute to his mum for his early musical education. His dad was "A distant figure who spoke very little." Whereas his mum would play jazz and blues records and draw his attention to great artists like Louis Armstrong and Sarah Vaughan.

The real starting point for Keith's adult life and his career as a musician/songwriter was hearing Elvis doing 'Heartbreak Hotel'. "It was like going from black and white into technicolour, and also bringing everything into focus." Such is the power of music.

Keith moved from Dartford in '63, into a 'slumlike' and freezing cold flat in London that he shared with Mick and Brian. Together they literally and obsessively studied R & B and the blues and learned how to play their guitars. Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters and BB King, and their like, were the people they loved and took their inspiration from.

Keith said, "Our desire was to turn people on to the blues - and we didn't want nothing for it!"

Suddenly, in February '64, they released their version of Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away", with its Bo Diddley beat, and it all went crazy. Thankfully, the Stones, in spite of it all, and in spite of the amount of drugs they ended up doing, stayed sane, and creative, and rocking & rolling. Keith is 'fiercely proud' of the Stones and their musical output.

Keith confirmed that his improvisational style of playing is based on self-expression, and not just imitation or plain copying. He says, "It's intuitive - you do it by feel and instinct." His instinct for the blues is amazing. His improvisations with Ronnie and the band are based on Zen-like spontaneity.

The Stones may have had reasonably comfortable upbringings in Dartford, but they lived in genuine poverty whilst they were developing themselves as young musicians. They were broke, and sometimes couldn't even afford to eat. That type of background can make someone pretty fearless, relaxed about stardom and its durability, and give duration to their professionalism when they do become stars. Keith made it clear he really dislikes the adulation and stardom bit. He's really only in it for the music. Arguably the Stones are even now at their peak, which can also be said of people like David Gilmour.

Keith loved touring America, which he found "endlessly fascinating - after Dartford." Ultimately, though, those experiences took in Altamont, and the true madness of America.

..................................................

Modern Horror

A character in 'No Country For Old Men' says, "This country's hard on people. And you can't stop what's coming."

This is actually a film I wish I hadn't seen. The unrelenting nastiness and sheer evil of its psychopathic characters is hard to stomach - all the more so when the decent people in the film are invariably slaughtered for no reason whatever.

It's well made, and very believable, based on a book by Cormac McCarthy, who also wrote "The Road".  America is full of fucked up psychos and semi-psychos, who are inclined towards extreme violence. (As Eddie Izzard once said to a New York audience - "You have all the guns!")

Whether it's drug runners shooting one another with Uzis and shotguns in Texas, or Hell's Angels stabbing and beating innocent concert-goers in far-off Altamont, it's pretty horrific.

Is this the inevitable outcome of any society that refuses to create a welfare state, that glorifies gun culture, that advocates extreme individualism, that pursues extreme materialism, where the gap between rich and poor is stratospheric, and where a decent and intelligent man like Obama is continuously attacked, slandered and vilified in the media?

..............................................

The Daily Show

An amazing coup for Jon Stewart this week - Obama agreed to appear live on the show for the entire 30 minutes. America is fortunate indeed to have incredible human beings like Obama and Stewart. Such a shame they're in such a tiny minority.

Stewart has taken it upon himself to organise a major rally in Washington this coming weekend - "The Rally To Restore Sanity".

Michael Tomasky wrote about it today:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2010/oct/27/jon-stewart-rally-for-sanity-america

See also:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rally_to_Restore_Sanity_and/or_Fear

.................................................

Ali On Obama

Tariq Ali also wrote about Obama in his column today:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/oct/28/obama-hope-all-hype

.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Layer 367 . . . Nick Clegg, Music, Character, and Desert Island Discs

.
Oh yes. Nick Clegg. Desert Island Discs.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00vhdmb#synopsis

What a treat. His first track was some sort of bog standard Chopin piano waltz. Please! Dullness in the extreme.

Next up - Johnny Cash . . . chugga chugga chugga Well I woke up Sunday morning drone drone drone. Country crap he remembered listening to in the family car on their outings. Aaaah! Pure nostalgia.

Nick's dad was a banker. Quelle surprise. Nick had "an extraordinarily happy childhood". He's from a long line of itinerant European bourgeoisie. Which is nice.

Nick's first day in London was his start day at Westminster School. Lucky lad.

Next record. Prince - "The Cross". Christian nonsense, and pure gobbledegook. Pretty weird stuff for an atheist like Nick. And about as musically interesting as plain boiled rice. But it's Prince himself that Nick really goes for - "I think Prince is fantastic". Chaque'un a son gout.

 http://www.metrolyrics.com/the-cross-lyrics-prince.html

Personally I think Prince is, at best, a cute little guy who appeals to people who like cute little guys. According to Wiki, "Prince pioneered the "Minneapolis sound", a hybrid mixture of funk, rock, pop, R&B and New Wave that has influenced many other musicians." In other words, a load of derivative dross. As soon as you start talking about funk, pop and New Wave - whatever that is - you've lost me.

Nick evidently likes his (non-classical) music to be like his politics - funky, new wave, derivative, middle of the road and poptastic.

Next we have Petit Pays by Cesária Évora. I think we can safely say his wife's influence is showing here. Fair enough. Very pleasant. Not great.

Followed by Radiohead. "A great, great band." No they're fucking not. Music for angsty, earnest, vaguely alternative and so-called arty, public schoolboys and girls. The kind of kids who pronounce themselves Liberals in order to shock the more boring of their Conservative friends and family.

Wiki: "The musicians who form Radiohead met while attending Abingdon School, a boys-only public school in Abingdon, Oxfordshire." This is essentially dreary, dull, dross. The top rated Radiohead track on Spotify is "Creep" - and you can't get any creepier and duller than that. Appalling crap, though probably quite relevant for Nick -

But I'm a creep,
I'm a weirdo
What the hell am I doin' here?
I don't belong here

I don't care if it hurts,
I wanna have control
I want a perfect body
I want a perfect soul

I want you to notice
when I'm not around
You're so fuckin' special
I wish I was special

The Radiohead track Nick chose for DID was Street Spirit, whose dopey lyrics you can check out yourself, as if anyone really cares. Let's just say "Cracked eggs, dead birds, Scream as they fight for life, I can feel death, can see its beady eyes" does not a great lyric make. As for any musical merit the thing might have - you must be joking. This is the kind of stuff that public schoolboys who've smoked a few too many spliffs might write and record, and end up wishing they hadn't. As for Nick - he probably went to a gig, bought the CD, smoked a few too many spliffs and thought it was like really, really great. And he still does.

http://www.sing365.com/music/lyric.nsf/Street-Spirit-fade-out-lyrics-Radiohead/839FE0EBB8B9339148256866000F5706

Next! What to say about Life On Mars by David Bowie? - another cute guy who's vaguely "alternative", arty and "interesting"? The song only makes any sense within the context of the Ziggy Stardust album, which was at least some good frivolous fun, and musically original and interesting.

And now - Waka Waka, by Shakira. Perfect lyrics for a politician in Nick's current position. Pretty wacky.

http://www.directlyrics.com/shakira-waka-waka-lyrics.html

Nick's final choice is wasted on . . . Franz Schubert - Impromptu No.3 in G Flat Major. Completely and utterly banal. Bore-RING! Available on Spotify if you fancy some music to slit your wrists to. A nice, safe choice for a working politician. Schubert sucks. But Nick used to listen to many Schubert piano things that his father used to listen to regularly, so . . .

On that basis I'd be a big fan of The Laughing Policeman, Vera Lynn, Alma Cogan, Russ Conway, Val Doonican, Matt Munro and Andy Stewart.

.......................................................................


At this point I was going to go off on a rap about people who don't rate Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and all the true greats of music - people who seem to think that third rate but cute little creeps are more worthwhile than Bob and Jimi, and more worth taking to a desert island, but then I thought - wait! I've been missing something.

Here's the thing. Had the first gigs I went to as a teenager been some great stage shows by the likes of Cliff Richard, Adam Faith, Billy Fury and Helen Shapiro - maybe I'd have remained to this very day convinced that these people were great artists and brilliant music makers. Whatever grabs you as a teenager - in a live show or even on the radio or TV -  tends to stay with you. There's a time in our adolescence when we're wide open to whatever's currently out there and happening, as you might say.

Or then again, is there really? I'd like to think I'd have run screaming from a Cliff gig no matter what age I was. As I would a Radiohead gig. I might have hung around for a while at a Prince gig when I was a teenager, but only out of curiosity.

On the other hand, it seemed pretty damn obvious to me when I was a sixteen year old that Bob Dylan, whom I never saw playing live till years later, was an absolute genius. So what's stopping the likes of Nick Clegg from also seeing that?

Also - I didn't need to see them play a live gig in order to know that there was greatness in the likes of John Lee Hooker, Chuck Berry, Louis Jordan, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Ray Charles, Cab Calloway, Janis Joplin, alongside all the greats that I have indeed seen playing live. So what's stopping Nick?

Here's another thing. Nick admitted to Kirsty that he'd done a 2.00am shift of actually listening to some music in order to compile his list. How desperate is that? This is clearly a guy - yet another on DID - who never really listens to music, and probably never has. Music has never been seen as important or a priority for Nick, let alone as essential stuff for the soul and spirit. Nick's spent his whole life chasing after achievement and success in one way or another - for example, gaining TWO masters degrees - so he's never had the time, let alone the inclination, to discover and to savour what actually exists in the world of music.

It's either that, or he's indeed listened to the good stuff - Dylan, Cohen, Hendrix, etc - and rated it below Radiohead and Prince. Which really would mean he's a total fuckwit.

So what did Kirsty Young make of young Nick? Not a lot, by my reckoning. It's pretty obvious when Kirsty's enjoying a guest, and their music. She clearly felt very little rapport or empathy with Nick, which is because Kirsty herself has such a lot of soul, spirit . . . . and a sense of humour. Nick has none.

Nick seems to be a decent and intelligent guy, in the sense of intellectually able and astute. Like bank managers used to be decent and intelligent. Unfortunately that's not enough to make him enlightened, original, radical, creative, amusing, and so on.

Interestingly, though, in the following programme on R4 - The Unbelievable Truth - the brilliant David Mitchell admitted that he's a total ignoramus when it comes to music. David Mitchell is one of our most gifted, original and hilarious artist/performers. A real national treasure. Far too good to be in politics. The quickness of his wit is phenominal. How the hell to explain his lack of interest in music?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b007mf4f

..........................................................

Joined Up Thinking

Interesting talk today on The Politics Show. It seems Ken Livingstone has advocated that London should have no more than 5 local authorities. And now 3 of the existing (Tory) LAs - Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster, and Hammersmith & Fulham - have decided to join together in running services, and indeed in decimating them. Is this a Good Thing?

Way back in 1990, when the Inner London Education Authority was abolished by Thatch, Oxzen was loudly advocating that the inner London boroughs should voluntarily join together on a north/south basis to run education and schools. It made no sense at all for a major city like London to have a fragmented education system. There should at least be a West London collaboration, an East London collaboration, a North London collaboration and a South London collaboration.

20 years on, and it seems that there may soon be a joint approach to managing education services by Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham. Finally . . .

Similarly it makes no sense at all for Hackney, Islington, Camden and Tower Hamlets to remain separate.

Other couplings could be an Outer Southeast group, an Outer Southwest group, an Outer Northwest group. an Outer Northeast group, and an Outer North group.

Since Thatch hated ILEA it goes without saying that ILEA was a brilliant education authority. Its very size attracted hundreds of very talented and visionary people to its education services. In arguing against the break-up of ILEA some of us used to emphasise the sheer impossibility of attracting the best talent and the most visionary leaders to the likes of miniscule Southwark, Lewisham and Lambeth. And so it has proved. Merge them together, however, and you'd be in with a chance. Well . . . we shall see.

What a pity New Labour never, ever, had the vision to promote effective collaborations between the pathetically tiny London banana boroughs. That's politicians for you.

....................................................

David Attenborough on TV today was shown ripping off a Moroccan fossil collector by paying only 850 dosheroons for an amazing piece of rock containing several perfect trilobites. Whatever is the world coming to?

.............................................................

Essential reading in the Observer today:

Chris Riddell:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/cartoon/2010/oct/24/david-cameron-spending-cuts-demons

Will Hutton:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/oct/24/will-hutton-spending-review-economy

The coalition is taking a huge gamble with the economy

Unemployment and miserable poverty are about to hit Britain hard. Unstable times lie ahead.

Nick Cohen:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/oct/24/rooney-manchester-united-city-bonuses

Wayne Rooney symbolises the greed that laid us low

The Manchester United striker has negotiated a deal for £10.4m a year. That's small beer to our avaricious financiers

No such critical self-awareness troubles the City. Its managers were worse than irrelevancies, they were calamities. They did not understand the risks their banks were running. Now that we are all suffering the consequences, they continue to throw money away on bonuses, despite the evidence that lavish rewards provide traders with an incentive to maximise risk in the search for short-term profits.
.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Layer 366 . . . Pink Floyd, David Gilmour, Sheer Genius, More Rooney, Zen, Spiritual Intelligence, Stupid Bankers, Regressive Cuts and Hitting the Poorest

.
Michael Mansfield was on Desert Island Discs this week, and chose a Pink Floyd track as his number one record. Someone's like or dislike for the Floyd is a very good indicator of musical taste and intelligence.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00vc504#synopsis

This week on Sky Arts there was another showing of "David Gilmour: Remember That Night - Live at the Royal Albert Hall." I've seen this 90 minute programme several times now, but what struck me this time was the sheer joy that his fellow musicians get from playing alongside the genius of Dave Gilmour. There's a quality to his playing, and a quality to his guitar tones and sounds, as well as the quality of the melodies and his singing, that brings smiles to the faces of the other band members when Dave's in the middle of one of his long solos. And they're not just smiles of enjoyment - there's a kind of disbelief and a delight that someone can be so brilliant, so expressive, so able to command your whole attention and send your soul & spirit soaring into another dimension. Comfortably Numb has arguably the best guitar solo of all time.

From Layer 138 -

Having just listened to an hour and a half of David Gilmour and Rick Wright and co on Sky Arts 1, Remember That Night, performing Pink Floyd classics such as High Hopes and Comfortably Numb, cranked up loud through the hi fi, I’m Zenned and blissed out . . .
See also Layer 45.


..............................................................

Rooney's still in the news. His biographer, Hunter Davies, said on the radio yesterday that he clearly needs "therapy". Not quite, Hunter. As Oxzen was saying a few days ago, he needs to take time out to start working on his soul and his spirit through relaxation, contemplation and meditation. He needs to find his Tao, and a Zen approach to life.

Back in 1961 Alan Watts published a book called 'Psychotherapy East and West'. In it he describes two different approaches to achieving beneficial changes to consciousness and attitudes to self and society.

"The disciplines of Buddhism and Taoism are concerned with changing the consciousness of normal, socially adjusted people. It is increasingly apparent to [Western] psychotherapists that the normal state of consciousness in our culture is both the context and the breeding ground of mental disease. A complex of societies of vast material wealth bent on mutual destruction is anything but a condition of social health.

Buddhism, in common with Taoism in China, is not a culture but a critique of culture, and an enduring non-violent revolution or 'loyal opposition' to the culture with which it is involved. [The aim is] to help the individual to be himself and to go it alone without giving unneccessary offence to his community; to be in the world (of social convention) but not of the world. A Chinese Buddhist text describes the sage in words that strongly suggest Riesman's 'inner-directed' or Maslow's 'self-actualising' personality:

He walks always by himself, goes about always by himself;
Every perfect one saunters along one and the same passage of Nirvana;
His tone is classical, his spirit is transparent, his airs are naturally elevated,
His features are rather gaunt, his bones are firm, he pays no attention to others.

Maybe this is the special magic of Dave Gilmour - 'His tone is classical, his spirit is transparent, his airs are naturally elevated'. To the Nth degree.

...............................................................

There was a discussion about bankers and banking, and about imposing some new special taxes on them, on an R4 Today programme this week in which someone said, "We shouldn't penalise an industry in which we excel". Penalise! Excel!

It's incredible, really. Our 'excellence' in banking has brought this country to the dire state it's in. Our entire banking system was only saved from bankrupting itself and from crashing and smashing our entire financial system thanks to the injection of billions of OUR money into the coffers of the very people whose "excellence" caused the crisis. These people now expect to carry on paying themselves even more billions in bonuses, and they regard any attempt on our part to recoup our 'investment', as it were, as an outrageous interference and an unjustified 'penalty'!

They clearly don't give a shit about any aspect of our society other than what they can get out of it for themselves, and they also have the nerve to threaten to fuck off to Switzerland and take their businesses with them if we even attempt to get them to contribute towards the national wellbeing. Can anybody say why we didn't nationalise the lot of them - at the point where their shares were worth next to nothing? We could have done it so easily.

Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse did a brilliant sketch on their BBC programme this week in which two stupid bankers sell to one another several times over a single worthless piece of paper - eventually raising it's 'value' to several million pounds - before finally finding some other sucker (banker) who can be conned into thinking it's worth what they say it is and who then agrees to buy it. That's the way to do it! Sheer excellence. Investment banking at its very best.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00v36y1
.........................................................................

Spending review: banks appear to have wriggled off the hook

Government accused of 'going soft' on banks with a charge that would raise no more than £2.5bn from the industry

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/oct/22/spending-review-banks-off-hook

The day after George Osborne announced swingeing cuts to public services and welfare benefits, the government was expected to announce payback time for Britain's banks – blamed by many for the country's parlous economic state.

But despite unveiling details of a levy on bank balance sheets, the government was yesterday accused of "going soft" on the banks with a charge that would raise no more than £2.5bn from the industry.

Unions were swift to attack the plans, dismissing it as "a pathetically small amount" to demand from the banks.

Labour MP Chuka Umunna, who sits on the Treasury select committee, criticised the government for "going soft" on the banks and having a lack of ambition on the bank levy. "In the spending review, there were no new measures to ensure that those who caused the crisis pay their fair share towards paying down the deficit and the draft bank levy legislation published today falls far short of the decisive action we need and is an insult to those losing benefits and local services", he said.

.......................................................

As for the coalition's claim that they have spread the misery 'fairly' and 'progressively', and that the wealthy will pay more than the less well off - anyone with half a brain can see that this is complete crap.

It's true that the wealthy will pay more - both in total and as a percentage of income - but so what? Someone who's already extremely well off will feel no pain whatsoever from a slightly higher tax bill and a loss of child benefit. We're talking here about people who already have extremely comfortable lives, who own their own homes, have a couple of nice cars, plenty of holidays, possibly own more than one property, etc.

Whereas someone who has no money and no assets, who's possibly trying to live on £65 a week, will feel plenty of pain if they lose even £10 of benefits or tax credits.

It's one thing for the coalition to implement policies which favour the already wealthy - but it's outrageous for them to claim that they've spread the pain of the cutbacks fairly and that everyone is having to share in the pain and the hardships.

Spending review cuts hit poor hardest, says Institute of Fiscal Studies

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/oct/21/ifs-spending-review-cuts-poor-hit-hardest
Britain's leading tax and spending experts today flatly contradicted the key claims made by George Osborne and the coalition over the fairness of its £81bn austerity programme.

In a move that forced the government on to the defensive, the highly respected Institute for Fiscal Studies challenged the chancellor's contention that his plans for four years of belt-tightening would be progressive, safeguard frontline school spending, and require smaller savings for departments than Alistair Darling would have demanded.

Angela Eagle, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, said: "George Osborne's smoke and mirrors have well and truly unravelled. On any measure his plans hit the poorest hardest. And the IFS have all but called him a liar for his ridiculous claim that he is cutting less than Labour planned."

In its detailed analysis of Wednesday's comprehensive spending review, the IFS said the £7bn of fresh welfare cuts, together with public spending reductions, reinforced the regressive nature of the changes introduced by the coalition since it came to power. Families with children would be the hardest hit by the changes and only by including the increase in the top rate of income tax introduced by Labour could the coalition justify the claim that the better-off were being hit more than the poor.

"The tax and benefit changes are regressive rather than progressive across most of the income distribution. And when we add in the new measures announced yesterday this is, unsurprisingly, reinforced," said the acting director of the IFS, Carl Emmerson.

"Our analysis continues to show that, with the notable exception of the richest 2%, the tax and benefit components of the fiscal consolidation are, overall, being implemented in a regressive way."
.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Layer 365 . . . Anger, Protests, Solidarity, Debt, Austerity, Economic Illiteracy and the Defence Review

.
Les Evenements de 2010

There was an excellent comment on CiF on the article by Mark Weisbrot about the events in France:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2010/oct/20/france-protest?

jlresq

Message of Solidarity with the workers and students of France from the exploited masses of the United States

We, in the United States, know better than any people in the world that the neo-liberal model is in equal measure: 1. exploitative 2. an abject failure.

Do not be fooled by The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, and The Financial Times, which for decades have heralded the American economy and free markets as the greatest engine for growth and prosperity. For the wealthiest, perhaps, as their accountants steal all they can - but for the rest it's nothing but a death trap The workers, the poor, and the middle class lead lives of steep decline, unbearable debt loads, isolation. 60 to 80 hour work weeks, wages so low that room and board become a luxury, no health care, no education, starvation by obesity. And no voice for the average man or woman.

And yet we know the score - the bankers and the wealthy broke the rules then stole the wealth - and then you're asked to give them two more years of your life, to cover the costs of their uncontrolled avarice. Two years now, schools for prisons later. Say Never!

Here, we didn't take the streets and were routed - and now the anger of the masses is being directed against themselves - the morbid stench of fascism rising.

The revolt in France, in contrast, represents unified humanity, the hope of a decent world, of prosperity, shared wisdom, true solidarity.

Neo-liberalism cannot tolerate people who demand control over their lives - yet people who do not control their lives are slaves. Do not become pliant and defeated like the American working class, slaving away at Wal Mart for sub-poverty wages. Heed our warning, raising the retirement age is just the beginning. They will take everything they can – your union, pension, education, home, and life.

The streets of France are again the beach-head for humanity's resistance. Here's where we turn the tide against the unrelenting offensive of global capital.

People of France do not give in, you are standing up for 99.9% of the people in the world. We need you to win. Defeat Sarkozy! Defeat Greed!

Please spread the message of solidarity to the workers and students of France from the people of the United States as far and wide as possible!!!

Here's a link to the article:

http://www.indymedia.org/en/2010/10/942460.shtml

...........................................................

Tariq Ali wrote this in G2:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/oct/19/protest-against-cuts-french

Why can't we protest against cuts like the French?

Many thousands have protested in France against cuts; we have a proud history of dissent in Britain, so why aren't we on the streets?

The French – students and workers, men and women, citizens all – are out on the streets again. A rise in the pension age? Impossible. The barricades are up, oil supplies running out, trains and planes on a skeleton schedule and the protests are still escalating. More than three million people a week ago. Hundreds of thousands out this week and more expected this weekend. And what a joyous sight: school students marching in defence of old people's rights. Were there a Michelin Great Protest guide, France would still be top with three stars, with Greece a close second with two stars.

What a contrast with the miserable, measly actions being planned by the lily-livered English trade unions. There is growing anger and bitterness here too, but it is being recuperated by a petrified bureaucracy. A ritual protest has been planned, largely to demonstrate that they are doing something. But is this something better than nothing?

Perhaps. I'm not totally sure. But even these mild attempts to rally support against the austerity measures are too much for dear leader Ed Miliband. He won't be seen at them. The rot of Blairism goes deep in the Labour party. A crushing defeat last year might have produced something a bit better than the shower that constitutes the front bench. Balls the bulldog might have gone for the jugular but he has been neutered. Instead, the new front bench is desperate to prove that it could easily be part of the coalition and not just on Afghanistan.

There is growing bitterness and growing anger in England, too, but not much else so far. It could change. The French epidemic could spread, but nothing will happen from above. Young and old fought against Thatcher and lost. Her New Labour successors made sure that the defeats she inflicted were institutionalised.

This is a country without an official opposition. An extra-parliamentary upheaval is not simply necessary to combat the cuts, but also to enhance democracy that at the moment is designed to further corporate interests and little more. Bailouts for bankers and the rich, an obscene level of defence expenditure to fight Washington's wars, and cuts for the less well off and the poor. A topsy-turvy world produces its own priorities. They need to be contested. These islands have a radical past, after all, that is not being taught in the history modules on offer. Given the inability of the official parliament to meet real needs why not the convocation of regional and national assemblies with a social charter that can be fought for and defended just as Shelley advised just under two centuries ago:

Ye who suffer woes untold

Or to feel or to behold

Your lost country bought and sold

With a price of blood and gold.

[. . .]

Rise like Lions after slumber

In unvanquishable number,

Shake your chains to earth like dew

Which in sleep had fallen on you.

Ye are many, they are few.

........................................................

Jonathan Freedland writes about the root causes of the national debt, and a more enlightened economic strategy for dealing with it:

Osborne will escape public wrath if Labour lets him win the blame game

The myth needs nailing that Brown, not bankers, caused our economic woes. Then the case against cuts can be made

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/oct/19/osborne-public-wrath-labour-blame-game

In France, they are already rioting on the streets. An estimated 3.5 million of them, according to one trade union estimate, from Lyon to Paris to Nanterre, either striking, marching or taking direct action in fury at changes to their pensions. Within hours, they had closed down schools, disrupted the travel network and prompted alarm about the nation's fuel supplies.

Contrast that with the scene that played out in London at the same time. Here, a demonstration against the cuts to be announced in full by George Osborne tomorrow brought a few thousand activists to wave their banners and chant their chants in Parliament Square. The closest they got to a threat was when Unison's Dave Prentis warned: "If the government doesn't listen to us today, they won't have heard the last of us." Storming the Bastille, it wasn't.

Why the difference? You could write a learned thesis on the contrasting political traditions of the two countries, how the French take to the streets at the merest tweak to their welfare arrangements. But there is another explanation that goes beyond British habits of passivity. Right now, even those people who fear and loathe the government's cuts don't blame the government.

If Labour's spending was so wildly out of control, why did the Tories promise to match their plans, pound for pound, all the way until November 2008? Why didn't Osborne and Cameron howl in protest at the time?

Could it be because things were not actually that bad? A quick look at the figures confirms that, until the crash hit in September 2008, the levels of red ink were manageably low. The budget of 2007 estimated Britain's structural deficit – that chunk of the debt that won't be mopped up by growth – at 3% of gross domestic product. At the time, the revered Institute for Fiscal Studies accepted that two-thirds of that sum comprised borrowing for investment, leaving a black hole of just 1% of GDP. If the structural deficit today has rocketed close to 8%, all that proves is that most of it was racked up dealing with the banking crisis and subsequent slump . . .

This is why Ed Balls was right to declare in his summer Bloomberg lecture – which remains Labour's most robust effort yet to redirect the finger of blame away from itself – that "it is a question of fact that we entered this financial crisis with low inflation, low interest rates, low unemployment and the lowest net debt of any large G7 country".

In other words, the position was relatively sound until the crash struck. The coalition would prefer voters forgot about that event; they mention it only rarely. But in this era of collective short-term memory loss, it is worth reminding people that the financial crisis was not limited to those territories ruled by Gordon Brown: it was global, it was systemic and it was caused by the larcenous greed of bankers.

Some will say that Labour, nevertheless, bore some particular responsibility – if not for the crisis itself then for Britain's exposure to it, not least through Brown's indulgence of the City and light-touch regulation of finance. Some can say that – but not the Tories. The only problem they had with Brown's deregulation is that there wasn't more of it.

The real source of the deficit: the colossal borrowing Labour had to undertake in order to prevent the crash of 2008 engulfing the entire economy. It had to pump money into the economy to prevent a recession turning into a depression, to prevent the spiralling unemployment, house repossessions and bankruptcies that had accompanied previous downturns, to stop the banks collapsing.

It will require great boldness for Labour to make this case. It amounts to rehabilitating the deficit itself, asking voters not to see it as some evil monster that has to be slayed immediately – but rather as the price that had to be paid to prevent unemployment tripling, interest rates galloping and the economy falling off a cliff. Lots of countries, from the US to Japan, have paid it with deficits of their own – or does the coalition think those are all Labour's fault too?

Only once this case is made can Labour go on to make its wider critique of the coalition: arguing that the government's response to the deficit is panicked and hysterical, that the surest way to enlarge, not reduce, the deficit is to cut in the midst of a downturn, that growth and jobs have to come first, that serious spending cuts are wise only once the economy is back to health.

This is the argument Labour has to win.

......................................................

Joseph Stiglitz, past recipient of the Nobel prize for economics. wrote this:

To choose austerity is to bet it all on the confidence fairy

The mystical belief is that a smaller deficit will lead to an investment boom. What Britain really needs now is another stimulus

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2010/oct/19/no-confidence-fairy-for-austerity-britain

The Keynesian policies in the aftermath of the Lehman brothers bankruptcy were a triumph of economic theory. In Europe, the US and Asia, the stimulus packages worked. Those countries that had the largest (relative to the size of their economy) and best-designed packages did best. China, for instance, maintained growth at a rate in excess of 8%, despite a massive decline in exports.

We should be clear. Most of the increase is not due to the stimulus but to the downturns and the bank bailouts. Those in the financial market are egging on politicians to ask whether we can afford another stimulus. I argue that Britain, and the world, cannot afford not to have another stimulus. We cannot afford austerity. In a better world, we might rightfully debate the size of the public sector. Even now there should be a debate about how government spends its money. But today cutbacks in spending will weaken Britain, and even worsen its long-term fiscal position relative to well-designed government spending.

Thanks to the IMF, multiple experiments have been conducted – for instance, in east Asia in 1997-98 and a little later in Argentina – and almost all come to the same conclusion: the Keynesian prescription works. Austerity converts downturns into recessions, recessions into depressions. The confidence fairy that the austerity advocates claim will appear never does . . .

Austerity is a gamble which Britain can ill afford.

..........................................

Simon Jenkins, as ever, is excellent on excessive defence spending:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/oct/19/raf-target-cybernerds-drones-defence-review

Defence review: So, the RAF is going to target cyber-nerds with drones?

Years of capitulation to the defence industry has led to this absurd review, where 'threats' and solutions do not match

Sit down gently. Read Monday's list of "threats" facing modern Britain, and then read yesterday's list of how the coalition proposes to meet them. Next you should walk to the nearest wall and bang your head against it, hard, until you have counted to £45 billion.

The two lists simply do not match. The first so-called tier one threat is "attacks on cyberspace and cybercrime". The second is "international terrorism". The third is a foreign crisis "drawing in Britain", and the fourth is a natural hazard – "such as severe coastal flooding or an influenza pandemic". None of these constitute a military threat to the security of the realm.
.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Layer 364 . . . Zen, Enlightenment, Sralick, Rooney, Philosophers, Meditation, Shock Doctrine, Spending Cuts and French Uprising

.
Taking a Break

The prodigal has returned, seemingly fortified by tropical sunshine, wonderful food, large amounts of human intercourse, time to reflect, mental stimulation, spiritual refreshment, soul satisfaction, cheap whisky, good (live) music, the Buddha's blessing, and freedom from everyday chores and worries. We'll see how he gets on with the chopping wood and carrying water from now on.

...........................................

Time to turn our attention to Wayne Rooney. This boy's in deep trouble. Letting go of adolescence is seemingly even harder when you have shitloads of money, a cosseted existence, and happen to kick a ball by way of making a living.

Not that he really needs to make a living, as such, any longer. He's already got more money stashed away than several developing countries have in their central reserves.

It seems his 'advisers' are encouraging him to break away from Sralick - Big Daddy Ferguson, His Ferginess - and decamp to somewhere even more delightful and profitable, like . . . Manchester (City). Or possibly Chelsea. Fair enough, you might think. You can't really imagine Wayne's world transferring itself to more exotic places where they don't parliamo Laddish Northern English, let alone Scouse.

Oxzen is going to do the decent thing and contact Wayne in order to advise him to break away from his current advisers. These are the people - his agents and hangers-on - who have their own personal and financial reasons to get Wayne to further feather his already over-feathered nest, to the detriment of all else.

Oxzen is prepared to take Wayne on a sabbatical to Kyoto, and walk in silent meditation with him down the Walk of the Philosophers. Wayne is possibly a decent kid who just needs a decent break, and a chance to reflect on his fucked-up life. He needs to soak in the atmosphere of the autumn and let it work directly on his spirit. He needs to open his eyes to the reds, yellows and oranges of the Japanese maples, gaze at the koi carp swimming lazily in their pools of fresh, clear water, consider the harmony and beauty of the gardens and the temple architecture, completely cleanse his mind, his soul and his spirit - and meditate on what the fuck's it all about anyway.

Does his ego really need all that money, that adoration, that fame, that pressure, that adrenaline, that 'excitement'? Does he really need his enormous ego?

Has his spirit ever touched base with reality, other than the pseudo-reality of football and lad-culture? Does his actually have a spirit?

Has his soul ever found self-expression, apart from kicking balls and scoring goals? One day it will need to. Maybe that day could be now - particularly since he's currently playing like a turkey.

Yes - Wayne needs a break. He needs to get away - and not just from Man U.

.....................................................

Zen
.                               

I had an interesting conversation recently about the 'mysteries' of Zen, and about the apparent difficulties of reaching Zen enlightenment. Do you need to spend years studying Buddhist texts and participating in temple rituals, or being tutored by spiritual masters, as well as meditating and reflecting on koans, etc?

The answer is - of course not.

Or - maybe. It all depends - on the person, their attitude, their history, their minds sets and their approaches to life and to learning.

In fact we're all born as Zen beings. We immediately do things spontaneously and instinctively; we live in the Now. We don't worry about & preoccupy ourselves with the past, or obsess about the future. We don't have rampant egos and we're not mentally, socially and spiritually fucked up. Our spirits are free, pure and untainted. We spend large amounts of our time-rich days in states of relaxation, reflection and meditation. We wake, we look around, we observe, we listen, we eat, we drink, we smile, we laugh, we find the world is full of awesome and wonderful things, and we sleep. All we need is love. Plus nurturing and protection.

Somewhere along the line we lose it. There's plenty of reasons why. There are failures to love, nurture and protect us. We become brainwashed, and we often need to struggle for survival in so-called realities created by those who are powerful, greedy and selfish. Sometimes our own parents are all of those things. In the past our lives were governed by the whims, violence and greed of feudal kings and warlords. Gradually our societies transformed into governance by royal families, elective dictatorships and political parties run by professional politicians who are too lazy, too stupid and too self-interested to change anything for the benefit of the masses instead of the elites. We become frustrated, and bent out of shape.

How, in the face of all of these things, do we return to states of grace, and cultivate the many virtues? How do we shed so much mental and emotional baggage and find Zen enlightenment?

As I say - it all depends on the person. Reading books on Eastern thought and wisdom might help - but then again it might not. Some might find the Tao Te Ching helpful, whilst others won't. Some will enjoy the many books of Alan Watts and D.T. Suzuki, whereas others might not.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D._T._Suzuki
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Watts
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tao_Te_Ching

Some people undoubtedly benefit from joining a community of people who are seeking greater enlightenment. Others prefer to walk the pathway alone.

Some people have a mind that is intuitive and instinctual, and grasp immediately the essentials of Zen and the Tao. Some people find it easy to meditate, and others don't. Some people find it harder to deal with destructive emotions than others. Some try to intellectualise their way towards enlightenment - which is never going to work.

The only certainty is that there's no avoiding the need to develop spiritual intelligence if we aim to become three-dimensional people and live meaningful and purposeful lives.

    Knowing others is wisdom;
    Knowing the self is enlightenment.
    Mastering others requires force;
    Mastering the self requires strength;
    He who knows he has enough is rich.
    Perseverance is a sign of will power.
    He who stays where he is endures.
    To die but not to perish is to be eternally present.

(Tao Te Ching chap. 33, tr. Feng and English)

............................................................

Today's The Day


Today we find out what Osborne, Cameron and the coalition have in mind for us in the way of austerity and cutbacks. We've had the bonfire of the quangos. Now it's the rest of our public services.

For the Conservatives, this is not a financial crisis but a long-awaited opportunity

In a classic example of 'disaster capitalism', the cuts are being used to reshape the economy in the interests of business – and to trash the public sector

by George Monbiot

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/oct/18/conservative-financial-crisis-opportunity

Public bodies whose purpose is to hold corporations to account are being swept away. Public bodies whose purpose is to help boost corporate profits, regardless of the consequences for people and the environment, have sailed through unharmed. What the two lists suggest is that the economic crisis is the disaster the Conservatives have been praying for. The government's programme of cuts looks like a classic example of disaster capitalism: using a crisis to re-shape the economy in the interests of business.

In her book The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein shows how disaster capitalism was conceived by the extreme neoliberals at the University of Chicago. These people believed that the public sphere should be eliminated, that business should be free to do as it wants, and almost all tax and social spending should be stopped. They believed that total personal freedom in a completely free market produces a perfect economy and perfect relationships. It was a utopian system as fanatical as any developed by a religious cult. And it was profoundly unpopular. For a long time its only supporters were the heads of multinational corporations and a few wackos in the US government.

In a democracy under normal conditions, those who were harmed by abandoning public provision would outvote those who gained from it. So the Chicago programme couldn't be imposed in these circumstances. As the Chicago School's guru, Milton Friedman, explained, "only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change". After a crisis has struck, he added later, "a new administration has some six to nine months in which to achieve major changes; if it does not act decisively during that period, it will not have another such opportunity."

The first such opportunity was provided by General Pinochet's coup in Chile. The coup was plotted by two factions: the generals and a group of economists trained at the University of Chicago and funded by the CIA.

Pinochet used the crisis he had created to imprison, torture or kill anyone who dissented. The Chicago School policies – privatisation, deregulation, massive tax and spending cuts – were catastrophic.

The result was a massive increase in unemployment and the near-eradication of the middle class. But the very rich became much richer, and the corporations, scarcely taxed, deregulated and fattened on privatised assets, became much more powerful.

By 1982, Friedman's prescriptions had caused a spectacular economic crash. Unemployment hit 30%; debt exploded. Pinochet sacked the Chicago economists and started re-nationalising stricken companies, whereupon the economy began to recover. Chile's so-called economic miracle began only after Friedman's doctrines were abandoned. The Chicago School's catastrophic programme pushed almost half the population below the poverty line and left Chile with one of the world's highest rates of inequality.

But all this was spun by the corporate media as a great success. With the help of successive US governments, similar programmes were imposed on dozens of countries in which crises ensured that the population was unable to resist. Other Latin American dictators copied Pinochet's economic policies, with the help of mass disappearances, torture and killings. The poor world's debt crisis was used by the IMF and the World Bank to impose Chicago School programmes on countries that had no option but to accept their help. The US hit Iraq with economic shock and awe – privatisation, a flat tax, massive deregulation – even as the bombs were still falling. After Hurricane Katrina wrecked New Orleans, Friedman described it as "an opportunity to radically reform the educational system". His disciples immediately moved in, sweeping away public schools while the residents were picking up the pieces of their lives, replacing them with private charter schools.

Our crisis is less extreme, so, in the UK, the shock doctrine cannot be so widely applied. But, as David Blanchflower warned yesterday, there's a strong possibility that the cuts programme will precipitate a bigger crisis: "it's a terrible, terrible mistake. The sensible thing to do is to spread [the cuts] over a long time." That's another feature of disaster capitalism: it exacerbates the crises on which it thrives, creating its own opportunities.

So we shouldn't wonder that 35 corporate executives wrote to the Telegraph yesterday, arguing, just as Milton Friedman used to do, for a short, sharp shock, before the window of opportunity closes. The policy might hit their profits for a while, but when we stagger out of our shelters to assess the damage, we'll discover that we have emerged into a different world, run for their benefit, not ours.

See also Oxzen Layers 299, 285, 280, 202, 197, 188, 187, 169, 168, 167, 165, 137, 130, 129, 112, 109, etc.

.....................................................

Vive La France - Liberte, Egalite & Fraternite

Thank goodness there's at least one country in the world where there's a tradition of chopping the heads off arrogant fat cats and would-be rulers who tell the people to eat cake if there's no bread available.

France's future is fighting back

Teenagers' involvement in the strikes may prove to be a tipping point for Sarkozy, and for France

by Philippe Marliere (and see also his other articles in the Guardian for reality checks.)

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/oct/19/france-future-fighting-back

Nicolas Sarkozy dreamed of a glorious destiny. His Gallic brand of neoliberal policies would sell the "American dream" to a mistrustful population. Things have not gone according to plan. Sarkozy wanted to be the French JFK; today he looks more like Louis XVI awaiting trial in 1793. He may escape the guillotine, but his presidency is now under siege.

The French are deeply unhappy with the way they have been governed, but their main grievance is about pension reform, which is seen as a cynical ploy to make ordinary people work more for inferior entitlements, while bailed-out bankers and the rich get tax rebates and continue to enjoy the high life. Over the past month, five national demonstrations have gathered together an estimated average of 3.5 million people per action day. The latest, on Saturday, was a big success and another is scheduled for today.

The movement is popular: 69% of the nation back the strikes and demonstrations; 73% want the government to withdraw the reform. And high school pupils have now joined the fray. Over 1,000 high schools are on strike as the youngsters take to the streets to protest against mass unemployment and the raising of the retirement age. The government has patronisingly labelled them as "manipulated kids", but these comments have backfired and served only to galvanise the young, who have hardened their resistance and taken further interest in the reform. When interviewed by the media, pupils come across as articulate and knowledgable. Parents worry about their children's future, so they will not stop them from striking.

In France, strikes and demonstrations are seen as a civilised and effective way to enact one's citizenship. Students are expected to join marches from an early age, receiving by the same token a "political education". France's youth have always scared governments because of their radical potential. Student demonstrations of late have been invariably popular because people know that the young have been badly hit by unemployment over the past 30 years.

University students are preparing to strike as well. Sarkozy, like Louis XVI in 1789, does not seem to have grasped how volatile the situation has become. He should know better. Since May 1968, all governments have been forced on the ropes every time youngsters have entered a social movement. This time it could prove crucial in helping to reach a tipping point; a stage in the conflict where the balance of power switches from the government toward those opposing the pension reform.

Lorry and train drivers are also starting strike actions.

How can the current situation be interpreted? Undoubtedly, the rebellion seems durable and runs deeper than the question of pensions. The reform has triggered a web of collective actions that are now spreading fast. Discontent is fuelled by low incomes and unemployment, but also by the impact of the crisis on people's daily life, the arrogance of the Sarkozy presidency, corruption cases and police brutality.

There is a sense of moral outrage at the imposition of a neoliberal medicine to cure an illness caused by the same neoliberal policies. The French are not hostile to reforms: they just demand those that redistribute wealth and allocate resources to those who need it the most. Any comparison with May '68, however, may be hasty. Then, France was experiencing a period of economic prosperity. Today, events occur in the context of a deep economic depression. This is why the political situation is potentially explosive. Radicalised workers and youngsters are forcing the unions to up their game. The normally toothless Socialist party has pledged to return the retirement age to 60, should it come back to power in 2012.

One can envisage two possible scenarios. Opposition to the reform hardens, in which case Sarkozy may have to water it down or even withdraw it. This would mark the first major popular victory in Europe against the post-2008 neoliberal order. Alternatively, Sarkozy stays put and imposes a deeply unpopular reform, in which case the political price to pay for the incumbent president would be very high, should he decide to run again in 2012.

.................................................................

Spending review: Ya-boo won't work.

Alan Johnson has laid out the basics of an alternative to cuts. It's a solid enough start – but now the real fight begins

by Polly Toynbee

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/oct/19/yaboo-wont-work-labour-response-forensic

. . . here begins a lost decade of low growth and high unemployment, bequeathing the next generation public squalor and irreparable social problems.

His plan expects exports to grow twice as fast as imports fall. So far, as these 35 captains of industry know well, despite a 25% devaluation in the pound, exports stubbornly flatline as every country cuts its own consumer demand while dreaming that beggar-my-neighbour exports will help them escape.

If this famous 35 sincerely expect that brilliant outcome, these chief executives from M&S to Carphone Warehouse, from Asda to BT, could prove their faith by pledging between them to arrange the employment of a million people about to be thrown out of work in both public and private sectors next year. That could be their contribution to saving a fortune from the rising Department for Work and Pensions budget. They could also sign a promise to invest in growth, starting tomorrow, all the considerable sums they have hoarded – to the despair of economists. Why are they hoarding so much instead of investing? Because they fear the coming cuts, along with the VAT rise, are about to send consumer demand, jobs and house prices plummeting further in a downward spiral, causing the deficit to rise, not fall.
.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Layer 363 . . . Creativity, Workshops, Philosophy, Malmesbury, Enlightenment, Meditation, Spiritual Intelligence, Shock and Awe Finances

.
Workshops and Beyond

I was looking in this guy's workshop the other day. He had a lot of stuff in there. Workbenches, tools galore; wood, saws, metal sheets, lathes, screws, nails, brackets, wire, socket sets, paints, brushes, electric drills, tins and bottles of chemicals, reference books - the whole of the kit any working man or practical man would use for making, mending, repairing and generally creating.

In certain communities and families it's just a given that a man needs a workshop or a shed in order to do his man things - a place and a space where he can lose himself in peace, organise his stuff to suit himself, and have his thoughts to himself.

I sometimes wonder whether I did my son a big disservice by never having a proper workshop. It turns out he's a practical guy, and potentially a creative guy - someone who enjoys using his hands as well as his imagination. By not offering him an 'apprenticeship' of time messing about in a workshop he never got into the habit of being creative with various tools and materials. He can apply himself to it if he has to, but it's not like a habit or a way of living.

The fact that my own dad didn't have a proper workshop until after I'd left home probably meant that I didn't have a grounding in using tools in a creative way either. And there was no way that this was ever going to happen at school. Though we did have token woodwork and metalwork 'lessons', it was always a question of following specific instructions given by the teacher - never an opportunity to work in any creative or self-directed way. It was only in the 5th form that we could develop our own projects, which in my case resulted in very fine backrest for my Modded-up Lambretta.

Considering didatic teaching methods in subjects like metalwork and woodwork might help to understand the effects of didactic teaching right across the curriculum. How does anyone get into the habit of thinking and doing things creatively unless we have daily practice of thinking and working creatively? Is it any wonder that so few of us habitually think creatively, or live life creatively? Is it any wonder so few acquire the habit of lifelong learning and a love of learning for its own sake?

Maybe it used to be different for girls, assuming they had a mother, at least, who was able to teach various sorts of creative skills with fabrics and wools, needles, scissors and pins. In a sense, too, kitchens have always been creative workshops for families who cook with basic ingredients, and approach food and eating with imagination and enjoyment. Unfortunately this didn't happen for me and my sister - family meals were matters of meat and two veg, simply and unimaginatively boiled, roasted and fried. Not that my mum was to blame for that - having grown up in a household where food was limited in availability in the shops, and the family was too big for the kitchen to function as a creative workshop.

What we should really be doing with our kids is letting them loose with piles of wood, metals, paper, paints, vegetables and meats and allowing them to experiment and invent to their hearts' content. Apart from being somewhat messier, wouldn't that be better than letting them fill their time with TV and computer games? These things have their place in modern life, but the place ought to be a lot smaller.

In some ways my favourite creative machine when I was a kid was my bike. My parents clearly trusted me to ride it safely because they did me the enormous favour of allowing me the freedom to roam far and wide, in town and country. What better way to investigate the wider world beyond your own backyard, street, estate and town? Cycling used to be, and it still is, the best way to discover new places and to experience them to the full.

In terms of home workshops, there are so few people who still work creatively with their hands that it's not surprising that they're ceasing to exist - at least as a separate basement, loft, attic, outbuilding or shed. These days people would rather invest in a so-called summerhouse or a basic storage shed than build a workshop. The nearest we tend to get at home to spending time in a workshop or a studio is to surround ourselves with computers, creative software, routers, webcams, printers, hard drives, amplifiers, speakers, books, paper, post-its, newspapers, magazines, notebooks, pinboards, file boxes, scissors, paper cutters, pens and pencils.

Careful though - if you don't have the space for a separate 'office' you could easily create quite a lot of mess and untidyness, and find yourself living in a workshop or studio rather than a 'home'.

..........................................................................

Moving to Malmesbury

As readers will have noticed on the label, Oxzen is concerned with "Enquiries into philosophy . . . "

Malmesbury bids to become UK's first 'philosophy town'

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/oct/18/malmesbury-philosophy-town

The quiet Wiltshire market town of Malmesbury is hoping to capitalise on an increasing interest in thinking and become known as the UK's first "philosophy town".

Planned "philosophy town" events include a festival of history, ideas and philosophy and an all-night examination of enlightenment.

Philosopher Angie Hobbs believes the time is right for a "philosophy" town.

"I think people are hungry for this stuff," she said. "We've got ourselves in such as mess in the world – the environment, the banking crisis, the whole issue of fairness.

"Philosophy may be able to help a bit. We don't have all the answers but we can help the debate."

"It's OK to dabble. Don't be scared. There are a lot of people thinking we really need this because we've got into such a mess not using human reason to its full potential."

Michael Cuthbert, head of the philosophy town project, believes that radio programmes such as Radio 4's In Our Time and Moral Maze, and the rise in popularity of the work of thinkers such as Alain de Botton, showed the time was ripe for a philosophy destination.

"People are more loose in their loyalties and more questioning. They want to grapple with big ideas," he said.

He enthuses about initiatives such as the walking route – professional philosophers will walk alongside participants or meet them in the pub for a debate at the end of the day.

"There's a link between philosophy and walking – from the professor pacing up and down to the great pilgrimages."

Finn Spicer, a Malmesbury resident and part of Bristol University's philosophy department, agreed there was a growing hunger for philosophy.

"And why shouldn't Malmesbury be a centre for that?" he said. Spicer believes it is a thoughtful kind of town where people care about ideas.

"In cafes you do overhear conversations about serious matters and want to chip in."

Fortifying himself with a pint of Pigswill ale in the Whole Hog pub before heading off for a Hobbes lecture was business consultant Jon Gundry.

"You don't have to be a full-time philosopher to like hearing ideas and experiencing argument," he said.

Catherine Doody, the Malmesbury councillor who holds the tourism brief, said: "It would be amazing if we could become another St Ives or Stratford. This is a vibrant community interested in what happening here and elsewhere."

Did she have any personal philosophical thoughts? "You live the best way you can and look after others and enjoy life."

.................................................

The Philosopher's Walk in Kyoto is the name given to a 2km-long path through north-eastern Kyoto which covers five significant temples and two shrines.

http://www.japaneselifestyle.com.au/travel/kyoto_philosophers_walk.htm

http://www.cyclekyoto.com/philosophers-walk

"Walking Meditation" is a traditional method of calming the mind and bringing stillness to its ceaseless and often non-productive thinking. We all experience this when we walk alone or with a silent companion, especially in peaceful and beautiful places where we can re-connect with nature.

Meditation is concerned with the personal, the spiritual and the metaphysical. Philosophy, on the other hand, is concerned with ideas, the intellect, politics, government, ethics, morality and so on.

Meditation is concerned with the transcendental and the spiritual. Philosophy addresses practical issues of how we live as individuals and as societies.

The European Enlightenment was a movement which embraced science and rational thought as a means building a better world. Reason was advocated as the primary source and legitimacy for authority, instead of blind faith or obedience to the church, the monarchy, the Pope, God, custom & tradition, etc.

To Buddhists and Hindus, however, 'enlightenment' refers to a unique and personal experience which wholly transforms the individual. It is a spiritual state in which the individual transcends desire and suffering and attains Satori or Nirvana. Bodhi is achieved through individual meditation by ridding oneself of false beliefs and the hindrance of passions.

What we need is for every town and community to transform itself into both a place of philosophy and of enlightenment. I'll happily live in the first place that achieves this.

See Layers 223, 39, 178, etc.

...........................................

Meanwhile, here in Dumb Britain, we stumble on in states of ignorance, fear, greed, cupidity and stupidity.

Shock and awe finances

No public service cuts are needed. Our plan to deal with the deficit is all about jobs, revenue and growth

by Mark Serwotka
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/oct/17/finances-cuts-public-services-welfare

When George Osborne  sits down in the Commons on Wednesday after announcing the comprehensive spending review, he will have set out a package of cuts that will fundamentally undermine the welfare state. Yet there does not need to be a single penny cut from public services – or a single job lost.

These cuts are unavoidable, we are constantly told. Our economy is in a mess. Public spending has been running out of control. The country has "record debts". In what amounts to the political equivalent of shock and awe, the government has drilled this narrative into us so we simply accept our fate. But none of this is true. Our situation has nothing to do with public spending. The collapse in the finance sector, due to greed, caused a sharp recession and higher unemployment, tax revenues shrank dramatically, and the welfare bill increased.

In making cuts, the government is making a political choice, not responding to "record" debt. Research by my union shows that, between 1918 and 1961, the debt was more than 100% of GDP. Osborne's budget papers put the current debt at 53%. Between 1918 and 1961 different choices were made. We established the NHS and welfare services, built council houses, developed state education and pensions, and invested in industry.

Instead, Osborne is choosing to realise a long-held ambition to rid the rich and powerful of the burden of the welfare state. The way we pay benefits to those in need, how we get people back to work, our ability to collect the tax that funds healthcare, education and other vital services for millions of people – no corner of government will be spared the axe.

The cuts threaten to reintroduce Victorian levels of poverty and inequality. The coalition has used the notion of "fairness" as cover for a new division of people into the deserving and undeserving poor, and a demonisation of those receiving welfare.

Our pamphlet, There Is an Alternative: The Case Against Cuts in Public Spending, sets out what could be done instead. We outline a strategy to deal with the deficit by investing to create jobs, raise revenues and generate economic growth. We can also tackle the £120bn a year in tax that is evaded, avoided or not collected, and use the £850bn we hold in nationalised banking assets to work in our interests.

The government is attempting to make us choose who should suffer the most as it tries to generate a sense of inevitability about its draconian cuts. We must not allow ourselves to be divided: the public from the private sector; those in work from those out of work; British nationals from migrants. Unity can be built if we grasp that there does not need to be a single cut in anyone's public services, jobs or benefits.

Trade unions have often worked alone to defend their members from cuts. Now we are building new alliances – nationally and locally – with other unions, pensioners, charities and others to defend jobs and the services our members take pride in delivering. We are planning the most widespread popular movement for many years.
.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Layer 362 . . . Jabobson, Finkler, Great Novels, TED, Brain Science, Better Worlds, Meditation, Spiritual Intelligence, Extrinsic and Intrinsic Values, Mental Illness, and Inequality

.
Howard Jacobson has won the Man Booker Prize for his latest novel - "The Finkler Question". Brilliant news. From the reviews I've read it's a superb must-read book.

http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2010/10/14/howard-jacobson-man-booker-prize-winner-on-receiving-the-award/

There was discussion on the Today programme last week about the state of contemporary novels. "Freedom" - Jonathan Frantzen's new novel, for example - has been widely acclaimed as a Great American Novel - in the tradition of Steinbeck, Salinger, Bellow, Faulkner, etc.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_American_Novel

What does it take to write a novel about the zeitgeist and about contemporary issues which also manages to be gripping, grand, profound, funny, intense, serious, etc? For example - who's writing about the "gigantic con-trick of investment banking" and its effect on the world? Who's able to write dramatised lives of "realistically rendered individuals"?

Satire alone is not enough to overcome powerlessness. Where are the signs of real rebellion? Where are the writers that can really enlighten and enliven?

......................................................

At the other extreme, on the spectrum of the uses of writing, there was an item on the Today programme which mentioned a piece of written evidence used in court - a reminder note in the defendant's own handwriting which simply said:

1) Go on the rob
2) Sell weed

The defendant's solicitor said he'd written it because he needed to 'structure his day'.

...........................................................

Brain Science and a Better World

A friend sent me this reference - to explain an illness and its effects.

Jill Bolte Taylor - An Idea Worth Spreading


http://www.ted.com/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html

The annual TED conferences, (Technology, Entertainment, Design) held in Long Beach/Palm Springs and Oxford, bring together the world's most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives

Jill Bolte Taylor got a research opportunity few brain scientists would wish for: She had a massive stroke, and watched as her brain functions -- motion, speech, self-awareness -- shut down one by one. An astonishing story.

Jill began her TED lecture with some thoughts about schitzophrenia - an illness and a brain malfunction that often results in delusion and aggression. .

Jill's scientific career has involved her in mapping the microcircuitry of the brain - and its chemicals transmitters.

In summary, Jill says:

We still don't know a great deal about the biological differences in the brains of schitzophrenics.

Having had what turned out to be a stroke Jill discovered that it immediately affected her  ability to process information.

"I became an infant in 4 hours".

Our cerebral cortices are completely separate - but able to communicate with each other.

They process information differently.

Therefore they think about different things, care about different things, and have very different personalities.

The right hemisphere is a "parallel processor" - and has a consciousness about the present moment. It thinks in pictures. It processes sensory information. We're all connected as a human family thanks to our right hemispheres - "perfect, whole and beautiful".

The left hemisphere is a "serial processor" - it thinks in a methodical and linear fashion. It deals with the past and the future. It categorises and organises the information it currently takes in and associates it with things from the past, plus it projects into the future and assesses possibilities. It thinks in language - not pictures. It calculates, and it tracks time and commitments. It reminds us of things we need to deal with.

The left brain also says, "I am". It sees me as separate from the energy flow around me, and separate from other people. If the brain chatter in the left brain goes silent then we can more easily perceive the energy flow surrounding us.

It can be a euphoric feeling - dropping decades of emotional baggage.

Accessing fully the right cortex can be like finding 'nirvana' - and a world filled with beautiful, peaceful, compassionate, loving people.

Is it possible to choose to bring silence to the left brain hemisphere and find the peace that's then possible? Is this a 'stroke' of insight as to how we could live our lives?

Who are we? The 'light-force power of the universe'? With two cognitive minds we have the power to choose from moment to moment how we want to be in the world. To BE in the world.

We can be 'at one' with 'all that there is'. Or we can be a single individual, separate from 'the flow', and from other people. I can be merely an intellectual and a scientist - " simply the 'we's' inside of 'me' ".

We can choose to become part of the greater "we", through allowing our right brains to have more power in our lives, by using the deep inner peace circuitry, and we can project more peace into the world, and make our planet a more peaceful place.

Which do we choose - and when?

..................................................

All of this is a good starting point for many different reflections. For example - on the role of meditation in achieving a state of nirvana or satori - by calming and reducing the activity taking place in the brain. BUT - in order to achieve a transcendental state of spiritual 'intelligence' surely BOTH hemispheres have to be calmed or emptied, rather than only the left hemisphere? In order for intuition and insight to emerge from our deep consciousness then activity needs to slow down in both hemispheres.

Isn't it bound to be the case that if we mainly calm and silence the left hemisphere and leave the right hemishere active then what we achieve is greater empathy and higher levels of social/personal/emotional intelligence? Which is all very well, and very desirable - but what we are talking about then is not metaphysical/spiritual intelligence as such - ie not satori or nirvana. We may then feel more connectedness with other people and with nature - but that in itself is by way of a social/emotional/personal intelligence, not a spiritual intelligence.

Surely Jill is wrong to say we have TWO cognitive minds? Isn't the right hemisphere more of an affective (rather than a cognitive) processor? Surely it's the WE rather than the ME processor - which is based more on feelings and empathy rather than actual cognition?

I'm sure Jill is a brilliant scientist and an amazing person, but it seems to me she is still lacking some key insights into the functioning of the brain, into the locus of our various intelligences, and into how they operate and interact.

.........................................................

Extrinsic and Intrinsic Values - and Human Intelligence

In Monday's Guardian George Monbiot published one of his really important columns.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cif-green/2010/oct/11/left-values-progressive-self-interest

The whole of this piece is essential reading, but here is the essence of it:

The left has to start asserting its own values

The progressive attempt to appeal to self-interest has been a catastrophe. Empathy, not expediency, must drive our campaigns

The punishment of the poor for the errors of the rich, the abandonment of universalism, the dismantling of the shelter the state provides: apart from a few small protests, none of this has yet brought us out fighting.

The acceptance of policies that counteract our interests is the pervasive mystery of the 21st century. In the US blue-collar workers angrily demand that they be left without healthcare, and insist that millionaires pay less tax. In the UK we appear ready to abandon the social progress for which our ancestors risked their lives with barely a mutter of protest. What has happened to us?

The answer, I think, is provided by the most interesting report I have read this year. Common Cause, written by Tom Crompton of the environment group WWF, examines a series of fascinating recent advances in the field of psychology. It offers, I believe, a remedy to the blight that now afflicts every good cause from welfare to climate change.

Progressives, he shows, have been suckers for a myth of human cognition he labels the enlightenment model. This holds that people make rational decisions by assessing facts. All that has to be done to persuade people is to lay out the data: they will then use it to decide which options best support their interests and desires.

A host of psychological experiments demonstrate that it doesn't work like this. Instead of performing a rational cost-benefit analysis, we accept information that confirms our identity and values, and reject information that conflicts with them. We mould our thinking around our social identity, protecting it from serious challenge. Confronting people with inconvenient facts is likely only to harden their resistance to change.

Our social identity is shaped by values that psychologists classify as extrinsic or intrinsic. Extrinsic values concern status and self-advancement. People with a strong set of extrinsic values fixate on how others see them. They cherish financial success, image and fame.

Intrinsic values concern relationships with friends, family and community, and self-acceptance. Those who have a strong set of intrinsic values are not dependent on praise or rewards from other people. They have beliefs that transcend their self-interest.

Few people are all-extrinsic or all-intrinsic. Our social identity is formed by a mixture of values. But psychological tests in nearly 70 countries show that values cluster in remarkably consistent patterns. Those who strongly value financial success, for example, have less empathy, stronger manipulative tendencies, a stronger attraction to hierarchy and inequality, stronger prejudices towards strangers and less concern about human rights and the environment. Those with a strong sense of self-acceptance have more empathy and greater concern for human rights, social justice and the environment. These values suppress each other: the stronger someone's extrinsic aspirations, the weaker his or her intrinsic goals.

We are not born with our values. They are shaped by the social environment. By changing our perception of what is normal and acceptable, politics alters our minds as much as our circumstances. Free, universal healthcare, for example, tends to reinforce intrinsic values. Shutting the poor out of it normalises inequality, reinforcing extrinsic values.

The rightward shift that began with Thatcher and persisted under Blair and Brown, whose governments emphasised the virtues of competition, the market and financial success, has changed our values. The British Social Attitudes survey shows a sharp fall over this period in public support for policies that redistribute wealth and opportunity.

This shift has been reinforced by advertising and the media. Their fascination with power politics, their rich lists, their catalogues of the 100 most powerful, influential, intelligent or beautiful people, their obsessive promotion of celebrity, fashion, fast cars, expensive holidays: all inculcate extrinsic values. By generating feelings of insecurity and inadequacy – which means reducing self-acceptance – they also suppress intrinsic goals.

Conservatives in the US generally avoid debating facts and figures. Instead they frame issues in ways that appeal to and reinforce extrinsic values. Every year, through mechanisms that are rarely visible and seldom discussed, the space in which progressive ideas can flourish shrinks a little more. The progressive response has been disastrous.

Instead of confronting the shift in values, we have sought to adapt to it. Once progressive parties have tried to appease altered public attitudes: think of all those New Labour appeals to middle England, often just a code for self-interest. In doing so they endorse and legitimise extrinsic values.

Many greens and social justice campaigners have also tried to reach people by appealing to self-interest: explaining how, for example, relieving poverty in the developing world will build a market for British products, or suggesting that, by buying a hybrid car, you can impress your friends and enhance your social status. This tactic also strengthens extrinsic values, making future campaigns even less likely to succeed. Green consumerism has been a catastrophic mistake.

Common Cause proposes a simple remedy: that we stop seeking to bury our values and instead explain and champion them. Progressive campaigners, it suggests, should help to foster an understanding of the psychology that informs political change and show how it has been manipulated. They should also come together to challenge forces – particularly the advertising industry – that make us insecure and selfish.

Ed Miliband appears to understand this need. He told the Labour conference that he "wants to change our society so that it values community and family, not just work" and "wants to change our foreign policy so that it's always based on values, not just alliances … We must shed old thinking and stand up for those who believe there is more to life than the bottom line".

But there's a paradox here, which means that we cannot rely on politicians to drive these changes. Those who succeed in politics are, by definition, people who prioritise extrinsic values. Their ambition must supplant peace of mind, family life, friendship – even brotherly love.

So we must lead this shift ourselves. People with strong intrinsic values must cease to be embarrassed by them. We should argue for the policies we want not on the grounds of expediency but on the grounds that they are empathetic and kind; and against others on the grounds that they are selfish and cruel. In asserting our values we become the change we want to see.

It's good to seee George Monbiot engaging with some of the 1200 responses to this piece on CiF. Excellent, George. What we're actually talking about, of course - apart from 'values' - is social and spiritual intelligence.

..............................

Oliver James is another excellent writer - the author of 'Affluenza'. He had this piece in the paper this week:

Why genes are leftwing

The right loves genetic explanations for poverty or mental illness. But science fingers society

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2010/oct/12/why-genes-are-leftwing

When the map of the human genome was presented to the world in 2001, psychiatrists had high hopes for it. Itemising all our genes would surely provide molecular evidence that the main cause of mental illness was genetic – something psychiatrists had long believed. Drug companies were wetting their lips at the prospect of massive profits from unique potions for every idiosyncrasy.

But a decade later, unnoticed by the media, the human genome project has not delivered what the psychiatrists hoped: we now know that genes play little part in why one sibling, social class or ethnic group is more likely to suffer mental health problems than another.

This result had been predicted by Craig Venter, one of the key researchers on the project. When the map was published, he said that because we only have about 25,000 genes psychological differences could not be much determined by them. "Our environments are critical," he concluded.

Politics may be the reason why the media has so far failed to report the small role of genes. The political right believes that genes largely explain why the poor are poor, as well as twice as likely as the rich to be mentally ill. To them, the poor are genetic mud, sinking to the bottom of the genetic pool.

Instead, the Human Genome Project is rapidly providing a scientific basis for the political left. Childhood maltreatment, economic inequality and excessive materialism seem the main determinants of mental illness. State-sponsored interventions, like reduced inequality, are the most likely solutions.

...................................................

Another interesting Desert Island Discs -

Kirsty Young's castaway is the founder of Storm model agency, Sarah Doukas. "I'm a terrible old rocker" she says, "I always knew my life would be unconventional."

Sarah hated school, and dropped out before A levels, in spite of ( or because of ) being sent to expensive private schools.

Excellent choice of music too. Especially Cohen, and Caetano Veloso   — Cucurrucucu Paloma (Alberto Iglesias & Vicente Amigo - Hable Con Ella)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00v6dnq


http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/article841790.ece
.