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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Capitalism, Socialism & Norway

Any form of extremism is wrong because it creates a state of expectation that can only be realised at someone else’s expense. Extreme atheism on the one side and extreme religion on the other compel the believer to deny the legitimate aspirations of the non-believer. They share a common dysfunction of intolerance.

As pure philosophies, Capitalism and Socialism are the two sides of the same coin; without compassion or respect for the society without which they would not exist.  Capitalism celebrates individual achievement at the expense of the collective; socialism celebrates the collective at the expense of the individual. Both deny us our humanity as they pursue their ends. Capitalism and socialism are self-justifying.  They are reliant on conspiracy and adversity to flourish; both have annihilated the other in the pursuit of power.  They fail to recognise that morality is the public expression of a personal if imperfect belief.

When I look at the collective I see a vision of the master race without a fixed point on the compass – neither left nor right. The masses as automatons, religious & secular fundamentalists wedded to a cause without thought and devoid of empathy.  And as clarity is their greatest strength, it is a paradox that it is also their greatest weakness because they cannot envision compromise.  If society cannot function efficiently without consensus, conflict ultimately debilitates society.

We have prostituted secular culture to the false deity of self abnegation, the indifference to complexity mistaken for diversity but which has created a spiritually impoverished society desperate for the tangible as if a mixture of material delights and sensory experiences negates the need to confront the ethical contradictions in our society. This destitution of the spirit is a product of modern societies desperate for stimulation and possession. The demand for instant gratification and acknowledgement of self worth has left us impatient, dissatisfied and frightened. Instead of creative dissonance we have chaos and fear. 

A return to less complicated simpler times is no more than an illusion for most people because those simpler times, if they did ever exist were times of terror and poverty, without hope and too often with even less purpose. Humanity has lived through centuries of extremism and we have hundreds of millions of human corpses to testify to our failure of compassionate insight.

The capitalist who demands ever greater returns on investment, inbuilt obsolescence that artificially inflates demand and creates privation; the socialist celebrating the social parasite and excusing evil, selectively, to salve his conscience for his intellectual indigence. The Norwegian model with its intellectual Quislings and its celebration of mediocrity is fuelled by hate to keep boredom at bay. The particularity of the individual expressed within the collective is masked as universal values; its facile universalism concealing a particular prejudice.  Without its wealth the Scandinavian nation would be exposed in all of its hypocrisy.

What do I want? Full employment and work for all those who want it. We could begin with a simplified education system that takes the educationally unsuited out of the school yard and into apprenticeship from the start of the teenage years.  A designated non taxable category of industrial non-competitive advantage which recognises that not everyone can be an office worker or an engineer, a scientist or a doctor but that everyone has the right to work even if the same job can be done at a fifth of the cost in a distant country.   Efficiency is not at issue. But in seeking to drive down costs we have sacrificed the labour force to fear and despair; greed and inhumanity.

The social contract, or a version of it states simply that no one is left behind; the state protects the vulnerable and provides an opportunity to everyone seeking it.   The consideration for this contract is that we agree to abide by the rules that govern society. We accept obligations that protect both ourselves and others.  We renounce a degree of freedom for the common good.  The social contract is disintegrating because it is ill-defined and lop sided.   The assumption that responsibility is defined by legality rather than morality has left society without a vision of itself. When a child has money to buy £70 - £100 Nike's but no money for the books he or she needs for his or her education they are simply aping the most visible attributes of our celebrity society.  The solution is to lower our expectations from top to bottom. And that means a return to a more civil society, a more reliable and less materialistic one where we equally respect each others differences and renounce the language of superiority and hate; where expectation is the mother of invention and not the father of fear.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Civil Disorder in England

The riots that tore through England burning down whole blocks of buildings, threatening the lives of its occupants and murdering innocent bystanders came as a shock to social commentators and the chattering classes alike.  Criminal gangs exploited this violence for their own ends – a brilliant move by them.  Why were we surprised?

At the end of the World War II people talked of a new beginning where wealth would cease to be an important predicator of social mobility.  Class would stop positioning people in stratified layers that defined them.  But in the last half century the opposite has been the case.  Income inequality has worsened. The traditional measure of income inequality in society is called the Gini Coefficient (after Corrado Gini, an Italian Statistician who invented the measure in 1912).  While success is the measure of ambition and translates into reward, the theory does not take into account the widening disparity between separate groups based on sex, education, race and other criteria relating to society.  The gap between rich and poor has continued to expand as the lingering perception of what is possible has simultaneously, in our materialistic society, psychically expanded as it has physically receded.

A liberal will see the merits of income equality but put freedom first. But the ultimate test of a person’s personal morality is their pursuit of life’s goals without violating the freedom of others.  A meritocracy without equal opportunity is not a meritocracy but the continuance of Class advantage. Former World Bank chief economist Joseph Stiglitz noted that “markets do not lead to efficient outcomes, let alone outcomes that comport with social justice” but like all things it is because markets are of human design they take on the greed or altruism of the society in which they operate.  And Social Democracy has become inseparable from materialism and the Markets.

Competition can be rationalised and socially engineered to the point of delusion.  Competition without control and ethical guidelines is subject to a free market of ideas that can lead to totalitarianism.  No market can be truly free because absolute freedom becomes the antithesis of respect.

It would be a neat generalisation to condemn News Corp for the climate of aggressive individuality that created the News of the World scandal. The outraged cries for justice fuelled by a lynch mob mentality neatly disguised the partisan commercial considerations that accompanied the toppling of the news print behemoth.  Realistically News Corp is the fall guy that ultimately facilitated a bloodless coup by the BBC.  It allows global and hegemonic conglomerates such as the BBC to exercise control over news and entertainment. I find this even more frightening than mercantile exploitation by Rupert Murdoch’s capitalist empire. The BBC has the political ‘faith’ and unrestricted global power without even the limitations of commerce to restrain it. It is hardwired into the British establishment, into her government, her Foreign office and into the system of Royal patronage.  It is the propaganda arm of the British Treasury.

As I wrote in an earlier blog (“News of the World - a Peculiarly British Conspiracy”): “An unregulated press has dominated our lives and informed our intelligence since the dawn of the electronic age.  The internet and mobile phones have made the dissemination of information ubiquitous as it has prostituted knowledge to fashion and convenience, gratuitously bestowing sanitised nonsense on the believer.”   After the civil disorder in England much has been spoken about respect.  Respect is an idea, not just a word. Our respect is conditional on what we may gain from it.  And because immediacy of gratification is an affliction of our age we have little or no time for respecting that which does not bring an obvious or instant return.

The principle that legitimised intrusion into the private lives of individuals remains wholly supported across the media which in the electronic age has failed to address the issue of responsibility as it has enjoyed unprecedented power to influence society. The ends justifying the means precludes respecting the Individual and the Group.

There are those now arguing for national service as a sop to solving Britain’s social problems.  But in societies that need it, it is argued that the Army can never replace the social worker and those that committed much of the violence are likely to be excluded from national service.  So this is not the answer.

Respect is a contract that defines us at every level of our society but we as a society do not appreciate that it is intrinsic to every thing we do as individuals and as a group.  John McEnroe screaming at the umpire or the UK Guardian Newspaper columnist on a recent TV program constantly interrupting the other speakers are both of them equally guilty in instructing our bad behaviour.  The corrupt politician and the rap artist swearing are both delivering the same message that what is acceptable is defined by the individual and not by rules of behaviour; not by what society calls ‘ethics’.

Calling for a national commission of enquiry is also without purpose because it will be political and therefore unable to look at what society is, let alone what ails it.  Brutality has always been a hallmark of human society, it is not imagination or more money that we need. Until we recognise that it is society that is at fault at every level, we cannot expect respect to be a solution. Perhaps then, we are returning to darker times where respect is fear and control is the Establishment pulling our strings as perhaps it always has.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The USA & China

"If the USA, Europe and other advanced economies fail to shoulder their responsibility and continue their incessant messing around over selfish interests, this will impede stable development of the global economy," the People's Daily, the official Communist party newspaper, warned in a commentary.  This was reported in The Guardian Newspaper today, the 9th of August 2011.

Triumphalism is perhaps the greatest impediment to any nation’s vigor and it is not restricted to superpower states which just fail with greater consequences for the world order. China should lecture the USA less in case its calls for greater responsibility are heeded.

Historically China has been better at exploiting the West than the West has been at exploiting China.  The Opium Wars of the 19th Century were an early attempt at regaining the financial initiative from China.

Unlike China, America does not need greater domestic spending. However the USA does have some 200 foreign bases that it pays for – some, like the Philippines, cost billions of dollars every year to maintain them and even more billions of dollars in rent that is paid into The Philippines government coffers.  It is the calculation that Israel’s critics never fail to forget to make when criticizing the State of Israel for the aid as opposed to the loans that it receives but must spend in the USA.

If the USA withdrew from some of its foreign bases the benefit to its economy would be not insignificant while the commensurate loss to many of those nations would be potentially catastrophic for their local economies.  China has the current cash reserves to step in and the Arab world may exploit its oil revenues for interference but superpower commitment has its price and it is rarely in virtue paid and even more rarely in gratitude repaid.

The USA could begin by encouraging investment in its own economy and not just in infrastructure but crucially in jobs. Every job gained will be a job that China will almost certainly lose and that $3.2 trillion dollars worth of foreign reserves China currently holds may finally begin to be depleted.

The solution is simple. Bring the jobs home and eliminate the tax on companies that do this.  The saving in unemployment benefits alone will more than make up for the loss of taxation income to the government and the social benefit will be qualitatively measurable.

America must look inward to salvation not just ethically but economically. The era of massive profits and obscene wages have fueled false hopes and illogical expectations for almost perpetual growth. Fiscal responsibility in government means managing the public and that in turn means the perception within society at the top has to change. Modesty does not mean that we cannot strive or seek to excel above all others. But while a caring society cannot justify the pain it causes to others the demonstration of this care begins, like charity, at home.