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.



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.

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

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.)

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

. . . 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.

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