The Service Economy

 

You cram these words into mine ears against the stomach of my sense.

Who amongst us has been called upon – usually by their line of work or by their profession or trade – to go – at their own expense – and obtain a certificate, or a check-up, or a training course – so as for him or her to become eligible to enter into or to continue in a job in one’s chosen sector of work?

More often than not these days these certificates and check-ups and courses are done or offered on the web – for a fee.

In England – now – (in all of the UK in fact) one cannot be a common labourer on a building site without – at your own expense – obtaining a certificate that shows you have attended and passed a Health and Safety basic regime. This is a regulatory requirement; and it is backed by UK government authority.

One cannot bake one’s child’s class a birthday cake for them to share your joy in your child’s birthday at his or her school.  Bought shop cakes are permitted normally; but not home baked ones – the Health and Safety risks are considered too great. By school authorities

Any actor or budding actor who wishes to work on a movie set with minors has to –at his own expense – obtain a clearance certificate regarding the history – if any – of his criminal convictions.  These check-ups are obtainable on the web.  Actors and budding actors also need membership of certain trade organisations – at least one – in order to become eligible for auditioning many of the roles which become available – and at their own expense pay considerable annual fees to retain that membership.

These memberships etc are obtainable on the web.

To go from UK to USA as a visitor – say as a tourist – one is required by the US authorities to undergo online security checks – these checks are mandatory – don’t take them – don’t get in.  Yet the US government charges $25 fo each individual who takes them.  The check is over in a few seconds after one’s name and details have been run through an electronic wringer hosted at some pokey CIA backroom; and hey presto 25 bucks please!!

This of course is what we in the West denominate The Service Economy.

It gets worse. Should you be un-savvy and go to the headline search result on Google to get your Criminal record check and certificate, you will pay twice as much for it than had you gone straight to the low profile official website which doles out these checks.  The headline Google Search result takes you to a private firm which volunteers to get you a certificate from the official website – for a fee that matches that paid for the certificate got directly from the official site. Thus one pays X for the certificate plus X again to the ‘service provider’.

This of course is what we in the West denominate The Service Economy.

In store car parks in the UK are now operators making use of a great deal of electronic gadgetry which all operates remotely and without manpower at the point of use. These operators have been hired by stores to patrol their car parks electronically.  This patrolling means taking a photo shot of every motor vehicle registration plate which enters the car park; and of every registration plate that leaves that car park.

The scam is this: the store places time limits on its shoppers who come in motor vehicles to buy stuff.  Shoppers have to abide by this time limit; or else the electronic Big Brother slaps a huge fine on their vehicle.  This fine is called a ‘recompense’ for the vehicle owner having breached that contract one made when one entered the store car park and so accepted the terms written in the small print on the various signs dotted here and thereabouts.

The fine can be £70 plus for an ‘overstay’. The rationale is to:

  • Turnaround store custom more quickly
  • Deter locals from using the area as ‘overnight’ parking
  • Allow car parks to be smaller than they would otherwise need to be
  • Inject an amount of ‘urgency’ in shoppers visits
  • Make money out of this ‘service’

The firm which applies it electronic gadgetry to photograph and time car entries and exits; charges the store for providing to it these services.  The same firm makes money on those vehicles it ‘catches out’.  Their equipment is expensive to buy and to run.  Hence they claim it as their rationale for charging so much for ‘overstays’.

Thus is created – out of the blue – a new ‘service’ (???) – To the benefit of all parties, but especially to the collecting firm; and excepting violently the shopper him/herself!!  This is a service which is predatory. It is the brainchild of some sly wheeler-dealer with no integrity. It provides no public good. It contributes nothing to the general welfare – it is a non-service service

This of course is what we in the West denominate The Service Economy.

How many times have you downloaded an item ostensibly offered gratis free of charge and found ‘hidden gifts’ within the item you are interested in? How often has there been a remote transfer to a payment page; or a ‘thrown –in’ and irritating browser attached or some ads streaming in every few minutes? Right, we know – there’s no such thing as a free lunch.  Yet there remains the fact that in all these cases I have listed it is hard to tell where the boundary lies between nuisance unsolicited approaches and mails (electronically and via the postal service) offering ‘goods and services’ –  and an approach which is sheer predatory guile and entrapment.

All these items and issues I have raised above here sound like a Litany of complaint from me. Everyone knows what I mean about them and all of us have our own private bad experiences with such persons and their ‘services’.

What stimulated me to write this piece was reading a young girl’s critique on Linked-In about unnecessary goods being made and sold. She (rightly) saw that goods’ manufacturers create demand and supply their rubbish products in response to that demand they artificially create.  The tools of artificial creation of demand are hype, propaganda, branding, and ads – plus some other and generally lower key tricks of their trade.  They simply tell people it’s the latest thing, the best, often enough; and then roll it out. Enough of us are caught up in the web of deceit.

But this hallowed Service Economy, which like the Masque in ‘The Tempest’ is an ‘insubstantial pageant’ is something which might be halted and so ‘vanish into thin air’ and ‘leave not a wrack behind’.  Indeed it is ‘such stuff as dreams are made on’ – bad dreams.

This Service Economy as often as not is commonly a disservice economy. It introduces middle-men factors into areas where none are necessary; and so that they are enabled in essence to become predatory upon ordinary people, by which they make all their sustenance and gain.

This Service Economy has allowed has encouraged has been responsible for large numbers of hurdles being placed in the way of getting gainful employment; of getting qualifications; of getting to the right source; etc etc; and at each hurdle is an altogether superfluous charge made which acts to rake off surreptitiously some of the ordinary guy in the street’s modest income into fat pockets who dream up these nasty snares and sleights.

And of course, our governments sponsor these guys; they give them all support; because these guys are the salt of the earth; they are the new generation get up and go dynamic intrepid service sector creators and entrepreneurs, who are the driving engine of modern Britain and modern USA and so forth. They are championed by the politicians – they are their ‘God damned heroes’ as the villain says as he dies at the end of ‘The Taking of Pelham 123’.

But they are idols with feet of clay; they are not what they are whitewashed up to be by our solicitous governors in parliament and The White House. Our Lord Jesus Christ accused the Pharisees of his day of being ‘whitewashed sepulchres; looking fine outside but within stinking and old rotting bones. So too are these guys and so to is The Service Economy; they proclaim (falsely) to provide to us as being the latest saviours of the nations and their economies.

Again; this Service Economy is in fact a disservice economy.

In the days of Queen Elizabeth I; when the ancient fairs in the cities and boroughs of England were celebrated annually; there were men of letters who observed human nature as it presented itself at these events in its manifold guises. They wrote down their observations; and dramas like ‘Volpone’ or ‘The Alchemist’ or ‘Bartholomew Fair’ were presented on the stage as the fruits of this their observation.

The scorns which these dramatists pour upon the variegated tribes of cheats and thieves who frequented London and other metropolises in those days; and who were that era’s parasites and predators on the commonwealth of citizens; in our day are now the time’s paragons, the exemplars and paradigms of respectable society.  We the ordinary people are asked to and expected to look up to them as benefactors and protectors – of our ways of life and standards of living.

But let me here call a spade a spade and not beat about the bush; they are the mountebanks; the coney-catchers, the bawdy-baskets, the cozeners, and the pickpockets of our age; and as such are neither more nor less than an inverted mirror of the outcast petty-criminal classes of England’s oldentimes.

The fable of ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ applies.  These guys would have us believe that a label adds value; that a service is valid and necessary (although they mean only to their own increase); that they are the people and so we should admire.  When the fact is that they are naked of worth and empty of value and stand in need of a gainful occupation of common benefit to the world.

‘These with a thousand small deliberations 
Protract the profit of their chilled delirium, 
Excite the membrane, when the sense has cooled, 
With pungent sauces, multiply variety 
In a wilderness of mirrors.  What will the spider do 
Suspend its operations, will the weevil
Delay?’


	

Causes and their Baggage

I think it was the philosopher Thomas Hobbes, or maybe it was another named David Hume, who devised an argument which denominated a person’s gift of a coin to a beggar to be a selfishly motivated act. The rationale went something like this: that the giver of the coin was acting so as to relieve his own feelings of distress at seeing a fellow being in penury and begging.

Now this argument is ingenious; but I want to argue that, like many ingenious arguments for or against a point or a position, it is one that has been wrenched by some violence to its prima facie facts, and by ingenuity, into a misshapen thing which aims to support a larger general and often dubious thesis.

Thomas Hobbes and David Hume are both in their various ways iconoclast philosophers; and both coursed nearer to a mundane and flatly empirical view of life and ‘things’ than their idealist predecessors and contemporaries.

Both were very caustic in their views on religion; and this, the argument that it is self-serving in a person to give to beggars, is used by the philosopher so that it fits into and so supports a larger outlook; one which claims all is falsehood as far as go humans’ attribution of ‘finer feelings’ to themselves and to others.

The upshot when one accepts this kind of wrenched argument is that ‘finer feelings’ are delusional and one’s attempts at selflessness in fact are nothing but acting in bad faith. The effect is to establish delusion and bad faith as being inherent in the general character of acts of kindness; and this is perhaps the position and/or the intention of the philosopher concerned?

But let us take the argument as given: that a person gives to beggars selfishly; because he gives so as to alleviate his own pain at seeing another suffering.  There is the fact that the beggar’s pain is also alleviated. He has a coin he did not have before.  The beggar will be glad for this; and feel noticed, and maybe felt-for. He is likely to be grateful; for the coin; and maybe also to the giver of it?

Is this gratefulness also simply and wholly selfish in the beggar as was said of the coin given by the giver?  And the beggar: is his gratefulness towards the giver only and solely a reflection of his own selfish joy in having obtained a coin from that person?

The giver of the coin might detect a ‘thankyou’ in the eye or in the demeanour of the beggar he gave to. This ‘transfer’ of emotion from the beggar to the giver; of a parcel of feeling labelled ‘gratitude’; is it accepted solely and wholly by the giver of the coin as a ‘reward’; and so is wholly and solely a self-referential ‘pat-on-the-back’?  Is this same parcel of emotion being offered by the beggar solely and wholly out of his self-referential satisfaction at the action towards him of the giver of the coin?

There is no need for me to go on unwrapping this affair for you to see how an extrapolation of an interpretation (of this action of giving a coin) is able to mushroom vastly so as in effect to sour and so colour cynically all human transactions which in any way are thought conventionally to involve philanthropy and selflessness. And thus a whole basis for most religions is thoroughly undermined.

I would say that the argument for selfishness in this instance of the beggar and the coin, seems to me to be demolished by the fact that; even when motivated by the giver wanting to alleviate his own pain, the deed of giving the coin, is founded more deeply upon a natural sympathy people in general have with other persons in distress. It is this natural sympathy which produces the pain which is to be alleviated in the giver by him giving of the coin; thus human sympathy is prior to the pain and is its root cause.

One might try to dismiss this human sympathy as being ‘instinctive’ and so not within the control or the freewill to opt out of by the agent who gives the coin. Then again, one might argue just as soundly that likewise the ‘self-preservation’ instinct of seeking to alleviate the pain by offering the coin, is also equally beyond freewill and control.

But all these arguments are psychological and so are not amenable to falsifiability by empirical means. Thus, in the realm of hard science they all remain no more than viable speculation and as historical events they remain not proven. This is not to say that their use as propaganda is not applied; as I said, according to the axe one has to grind

Now let’s move on. Given what I have written previously about my views on a ‘collective mind’ and about the ‘cloud’ in which our minds subsist collectively; then it seems to me that such and argument which attributes selfish motives to those who give to beggars cannot be sustained.

This ‘cloud’ of collective minds subsists; and in doing so acts so as to supply bearings to individual minds.  Thus in this sense each of us is a dependent upon all others. If this is the case, then for a person to alleviate a beggar’s misery is for him to recognise and to acknowledge the plight of the recipient beggar via this inner sense of a shared dependency. As John Donne wrote:

‘No man is an island; each one is part of the Main’ ‘Each man’s death diminishes me.’

Thus the transaction of giving to the beggar is not so much an act of the self; as an act born of awareness of a common and general emotional and native connectivity which exists between persons.

Should one want to, one is able to work to break down and destroy such native connectivity in people; and by colouring every action no matter whether of largess or of spite, as originating within a mean-spirit or from self-referential protectionism, is one way to work this mischief.

There’s a kids cartoon my boys used to watch wherein a character was always treated scornfully by his clan – a kind of standing joke. This character asks his people whether they think his painting is good; and a loud resounding unanimous NOOO! arises from them

The character replies limply: ‘King Roger says he likes it’ His clan leader replies to this:

‘Only ‘cos he’s being nice; only ‘cos he knows you can’t paint!’

This kind of response as an act of corrosion of our common sympathies may be comic in a kids cartoon; but in life it is mere bullying and disrespect.  The aim of it is to ostracise, to expel, to cut off from a general sympathetic association with other persons. Create a scapegoat.

It is a blind attribution of all reasons for behaviour to be based on a prejudice; the prejudice being that nothing that the victim is able to do or say is able to alter the foundational view which the prejudiced persons take of the victim.  All that a victim says or does, can say and can do, is ‘evidence’ to the prejudiced persons that they are correct in making him a victim.  In politics strict adherence to an ideology is quite analogous to this kind of tunnel-vision of personal bullying.

Thus it is that in general intense causes, like extremisms, and with also personal idée fixe of analogous kinds, there is everything corrosive which eats at the common collective cloud of natural sympathy.  To an extent, and in these latter days, indeed to a very large extent, all politicians make use of this pointing-the-finger as a ‘divide and rule’ stratagem; or as George Orwell wrote of the animals and the Farmer in his parabolic novel ‘Animal Farm’ ‘Four legs good; two legs bad’.

The meat of this essay has been to give a bit of background to the scourge of biased and manipulative attributions of causes, which many ordinary people often like to manipulate, so as perhaps to show themselves in a good light or maybe to criticise implicitly another. The wily politician knows well this present-day human tendency and is not slow or shy to raise its spectre himself by shoving blame here and there or else accruing credit by the wretchedest means to himself.

It is most important to become aware of this fluidity and flexibility inherent within all ‘events’ and within all ‘actions’; that they are able to be cast in any light within the spectrum of colour; in such a way that an interested person will often make capital out of; or may load down as dudgeon on a targeted opposition; or else might use it to bury an inconvenient fact or person; under a veritable landslide of remiss attributed negligence or responsibility or liability or fault etc.   This perhaps is more than half the game of politics, for most of those who like to call themselves politicians these days.

The nailing of the giver of the coin as one who is selfishly giving it is one such simple and excellent example of how arguments can be ‘fruitfully mismanaged’.

People will tell you that ‘politics is the art of the possible’ and will attempt to justify politicians use of ‘lowball’ tactics by citing this and similar propositions. To say this is as much to say that the end justifies the means; which again tries to exonerate the political mind from its behaviour.  Another favourite maxim which aims to justify what is not justifiable is ‘tell it like it is’. This saying proposes that there is only one way to see a thing or an event or a person; that ‘reality’ has a single plane and a single approach. This too is bunkum.

An old and rather vicious UK politician some years ago pronounced as if it were a foundational law of the universe that; ‘if you give no responsibility to a person; that person will behave irresponsibly.’   Again, it sounds nice; sounds solid; and is catchy and a bit ingenious. But the great Samuel Johnson once said: ‘whenever you feel you have thought or said or written something really snappy and clever – scratch it out’.

Of course and again, this argument about having no responsibility means one acts irresponsibly, is a psychological one, and as such is not amenable to historical, scientific, empirical, investigation or verification. One is unable to know whether it is true. But one might certainly postulate that there are some, possibly many, who bear no responsibilities but who at the same time behave well and act with prudence and with due care?

The great TS Eliot wrote in his play ‘Murder in the Cathedral’ a saying thus:

‘The last temptation is the greatest treason

To do the right deed for the wrong reason’

This is worth thinking about as it is applicable to politicians and to others in their actions.

For instance; how many store checkout – women mostly – praise your choice of goods; and they do so simply because they have been instructed to do so by their managers; who are hoping it is a way of pleasing the customer and so adding to his shopping experience.  Hoping also of course for a return visit from the customer

How often does a politician couch his words so that they are a) inoffensive or pleasing to those demographics in his electorate who elected him and will be electing him in the future; and b) parcelling up and pushing out items of blame and/or ignominy onto those whom his own demographic dislikes or despises; or else he stigmatises those persons or groups which are not his demographic; and who are very unlikely ever to be his demographic.

Believe it. The reasoning, the approaches, the thrusts and directions, the marshalling of arguments; their nuances and upshots – these are all being worked out behind the scenes by politically motivated ‘smart-arses’. All is made ready to go public so that like a shopkeeper lays out his stall; so these politicians arrange their own sophisms and intrigues in the most careful and most cunning of ways: for you to snap the baits dangled before you: no problem.

The public media, those media which most people still heed, and which:

‘Correct our watches by the public clocks’

are complicit.  Their proprietors wish to hold sway; to promote their own views and interests; their newsrooms know on which side their bread is buttered and so go with the flow and make stories to please their bosses and their proprietors. Many newsrooms and media in general I am pretty sure have written or else unwritten guidelines on how to report; on what causes to show sympathy with and what to denigrate. They initiate and force through campaigns by which a public figure’s integrity is ridiculed and soon undermined; and without any substance adhering to their campaigns or to the materials they publish.

Let us go back to:

‘Just ‘cos he’s being nice – Just ‘cos you can’t paint!’

This kind of prejudicial disdain is the level and the substance of many media campaigns against people or organisations whom they ‘pick-upon’ deliberately to destroy.  It borders on, sometimes is, sheer lies and wanton abuse; and sheer insistence and repetition gradually makes this sewage a runner in reader’s minds and their estimations of the targeted persons/organisations  plummet – and then sometimes silly others in other media outlets climb on the bandwagon, simply to try to steal a share some readership figures, or simply because they have begun to believe others’ propaganda.

In Britain the following reasonably decent men have been demolished by slander and innuendo in the press over the past 30 years:

Michael Foot (‘Wurzel Gummage’ he was ridiculed because he dressed ‘funny scruffy’)

Ed Milliband (because he had facial features and expressions that were ‘monetisable’ in ridicule)

Wayne Rooney – footballer – who is a man the press love to humiliate

John Prescott – whom the press like to point at as an inarticulate – Physician, heal thyself!

Whist this attrition and carnage goes on like a circus romp day after day – on TV screens and in print,  – scoundrels who have utterly lied, and have wholly been false; and have said some appalling offensive and sheer terrible things; publicly whilst in their roles in High Office; and who have been seen to have done all these deplorable things in front of the public eye; yet they bear charmed lives and nothing sticks to them; because only token mud is unconvincingly slung.

Once again, they know on which side their bread is buttered; both the outrageous guys with their charmed lives and the media guys and its moguls; who are whom decide what the news is to be; there is perhaps no exact ‘cahoots’ between them – although I would not rule this out as a possibility by any means – but certainly strong shared common interests of money, power, favour, and all of the world, the flesh, and the devil, rolled into one, bind them together in a single cause which is – as Jack Sparrow has it;

‘Take what you can – give nothing back.’

Not Swallowing the Consumer Consommé

This essay aims to be an outline of an alternative means of production and distribution of goods to having what we have now which comprises rapid turnover of goods, built-in obsolescence; overproduction of trash; pell-mell monetising of the world’s resources at the highest rates achievable.

The economic myth goes that we are endebted to consumerism for our high standards of living; at least materially so. It goes on to say that there is no alternative to consumerism if you want to retain and to grow this present level of physical comfort and convenience for yourself.

Thus the arguments put in this form are just like the ‘over-a-barrel’ arguments faced by telephone callers when the electronic voice says to you: ‘By continuing with this phone call you are agreeing to our terms and conditions. If you do not agree with them please end the call now. All calls are recorded for security and training purposes’.

In fact this sort of electronic voice ‘leaning upon you’ with Hobson’s Choices packages up pretty well the strategy of the large companies which they use on their captives, their clientele. Basically it is ‘put up and shut up’. Large companies are able to talk like this to us in the terms and conditions they impose upon us, and so to take this cavalier attitude with their clients, simply because the large companies hold so much economic and political clout vis a vis you and me the average guy on the street.

In the 1980s it was the Trades Unions who were mercilessly atomised and obliterated by the then government because, the government version ran, these Trades Unions held too much political and economic clout.

Now and in our times we have large companies roaming free like giant raptors across the economic and political landscapes of the world; and this, their ‘license to bill’ as a consequence in large part has occurred because of those attritional anti labour policies of a generation ago, definitely so in Britain.

From those violent and anti-labour days of the 1980s comes that much feted (by those whose pockets jingle) trumpeting of The Triumph of Capital. It was in those days that it first found its feet, and its ideological impetus; so as to have become a Global phenomenon whereby ‘thousands post at its word by land and sea’ in pursuit of moneymaking, and they do so untrammelled by ‘regulation’ nor fettered any longer by ‘the unions holding them to ransom’.

And so the boot is now on the other foot; and the other ugly sister has it on; and the animals on the farm have been beaten down and downtrodden, whilst the men have regained the means that drive the engines of wealth.. Cinderella remains yet without a ticket to the ball however.

But to our task.  How might an economy; a society; a political system; run in such a way that it conserves natural resources; minimises pollutants and degradations of ecosystems; and works so that employed persons need labour for less hours; and so that production slows to a sane and sustainable rate and stabilises there; and also, which is to put the fairy on the icing on the cake at the bottom of the garden, with all these great boons in place; yet still the ordinary man and woman and child find themselves well nourished, well housed and decently clothed; and they have yet sufficient, overplus even, home comforts and material contentment.  And possibly, very possibly, ordinary people are thereby more generally satisfied with their lives?

Sounds like Harry Potter or Looney Tunes?  Try this; and think it through.

There is a German electronic household products company whose name is Miele. Miele sells among other items vacuum cleaners. The Miele Company prides itself on the longevity of its wares, and it provides very solicitous after-sales services to its customers.  Customers have approached Miele after twenty or thirty years asking for a repair on or for a part to an appliance; and Miele has obliged. Miele holds in stock spare parts for models which go wayback; deliberately so; it is for this kind of service that the company is renowned and it is a style which the Miele company has chosen and has fostered.

So, instead of Mrs. Brush going out buying a new vacuum cleaner or refrigerator every five years; what if Mrs Brush bought a vacuum cleaner and a refrigerator which lasted her thirty years?  She would have to put up with the same old ‘look’ and ‘feel’ in her kitchen for a generation.  The appliances would cost a great deal more money.

These two adverse considerations are the key supports of consumerist marketing; i. sell as cheaply as you can by manufacturing goods cheaply; ii. make your goods so that their limited lifespans guarantee continued (and growing) company turnover.  Thus turnover becomes a crucial factor for consumerist companies, because turnover is an indicator of the health of a product or a company in the consumerist world, and when using consumerist criteria.

The general hare to chase in consumerism is always: more and bigger; more and bigger; and like our movie industries and our TV industries, the pressure across the consumerist world is ever for producers and providers to ‘up-the-ante’.  So that just as our movies and TV shows gets ever more absurd and violent, more vacuous and facile in thrills and spills as a continuum-without-plot; in the same way our consumer habits are primed by producers and providers, so as for us to expect, and to look forward to, to lionise and to cherish every Next Big Thing. This is usually an ‘upgrade’ or an ‘overplus new model’; or a new fad like ‘Yankee Candles’ or ‘Roulette’ accoutrements.

The onus and effort of the consumerist advocates and surges are all and always upon keeping the ball rolling, keeping all the balls in the air, and so feeding the voracious materially obese consumerist machine.  That hectic Thrash Metal that I have mentioned before now and to be heard backing 5USA TV channel show tasters, its musical garbage is an analogue to the livid energy of the consumerist advertising, its marketing, its production lines; and its industries; all of which feed-up, feed upon, and so sustain The Giant consumerism. Everything has to be presented to a consumer as being vital to have, right now, in order to feel satisfied, and cool, and up to the minute, and in the swim, and so forth. To be and feel included in society means that in so many ways one must, one is forced to, conform to the dictates of consumerist mores and to the designs it has on you.  Otherwise your friends might see you as being non-authentic, nor in-tune with ‘the crowd’.

But it can be different; if we want it to be different; if we are able to ‘see ourselves as others see us’ and break the spell so that ‘the scales fall from our eyes’; and then we might ‘see ourselves for the very first time’, ‘clothed and in our right mind’ .  Like depression and like when hearing constant background muzac in a retail store; often one does not register the terrible interference with one’s mind these things make hay on; not until they stop.  Us being in awe within consumerism’s loops is very like this; we are unable ‘to see the object whole and as it really is’; and we are thus captives to and prisoners within the mindsets modelled by our current crazy means and methods of production and distribution.

Thus these myths of impending disaster should the consumerist music suddenly stop are just that; myths. And they are myths which we for the most part believe wholeheartedly, and by which our minds are bound up; and cornered like rabbits, by the fiction-fears peddled by pundits and prognosticators that we must keep the machine rolling, we must keep buying, or else the lights will go out all over the world.

What if, what if – products were so manufactured to last as long as possible; and sold at a higher price – naturally; of course.  What if one car lasted you twenty-five years; and was to some degree built to be future-proofed, so that as safer components came along, say, they could be added to it. Say its materials were higher quality and better engineered and gave altogether a better drive. What if it cost three times as much as a cheap car?  Over the course of its lifetime it provides you with say a few years ‘free of charge’ motoring because otherwise in the same time span you would have changed a consumerist car three or four times over.  The twenty-five year car takes a more few man hours to manufacture than a consumerist item. It takes little more work too. Etc etc.

Employees building cars would need to work less time in aggregate. They might work 20 or 25 hours a week instead of 35 or 40 and for the same wage?

Extrapolate such a radical change of situation as this car making instance across the consumerist economy and behold: a sea change; a sudden coming to our senses and seeing our entrapped folly of beforehand when we helter-skelter produced, produced, produced, and it had us dazed, fazed, and mentally imprisoned.  All durable goods and products might be built to last longer and to be of a good quality.

Any fears of an inevitable result being sudden downturns and recessions are hooch.  The only downturn and recession will be in the raking off of profits by the Taskmasters of Capital.

At present we consumers in this consumerist setup are their fodder. We are little other than ciphers to the minds of these Barons of Industry; we are to them what the less sensitive Anglicans call new church attenders  ‘bums on seats’; or what Charles Dickens has the Mill Owners in his ‘Hard Times’ call the people who work for them: ‘Hands’. We supply their labour needs; we supply their consumer needs; we are like residents of a battery farm or members of a large dairy herd to these people; by our leave they milk us and steal our eggs; for the proceeds to go into their bursting roomy pockets.

We are being suckered. We are their fall guys. The myths of consumerism are persevered intact by these Captains of Industry, and by our Government Friends, just so that this milking and egg-stealing is able to carry on and to ever-increase.  We are being taken for fools by them.

The environmental upshots of consumerist manias, the increased pollutions and ecological degradations; the steady marginalising of resources and their overuse and over-exploitation; these are perhaps all of the same ilk to us dream weavers, and to our power drunk Masters, as tobacco is to the heavy smoker or alcohol to the heavy drinker; so it is that one day we wake up and find we have a death rattle cough in our throats or we find we have a shattered rotted liver. We never thought it would come to this; but we deceived ourselves and in fact by deceiving ourselves we allowed these things to happen to us. We did them to ourselves.

Our tendency as a race is ever to put of the evil day; to believe blindly the worst won’t happen; especially when things are going well for us; or we are being told and led to believe that all is going well; and then we are nonchalantly, negligently, happy to kid ourselves, to believe ‘all’s right with the world’.  Here to conclude is a thought from an old timer called Richard Hooker, and written down by him 500 years ago:

‘Prosperity in regard to our corrupt inclinations to abuse the blessings of Almighty God, doth prove for the most part dangerous to the souls of men’

 

Amen to that.

The Longitude Prize

The scientific establishment remains today stuck in a loop.  One of the most vaunted and a flagship science ‘project’ of today’s establishment; one funded and encouraged by public funding and by government backing is this The Longitude Prize.

The Longitude Prize competition is founded on presumptuous and elitist attitudes; and these attitudes reflect the narrow sad complacency of many who call themselves scientists.

There are many grounds on which to substantiate these claims of mine; of elitism and complacency and even of ignorance.  Some of the most forceful grounds are as follows:

  • The Longitude Prize exists in the format of a Competition.

Ideologically for the creators and backers of The Longitude Prize to have opted for a competition format for it is a fact open to discussion and worth unpacking.  Science competitions had their heyday back in High Victorian times; times which feature well with persons of who believe themselves of account and place in our present age.

The original Longitude Prize was a competition during the 18th century in Britain which was won by a chronometer maker who was able to construct an instrument accurate enough to be used in assessing longitude at sea on voyages. Thus the problem of assessing longitude accurately for sea voyage navigation was more or less solved.

Both 18th and 19th century science was carried on more or less wholly by ‘gentlemen’; that is, by a class of person, male, educated, well-off, and secure in some position in middle and upper class society; the spiritual grandfathers of the guys (and girls) backing and hosting the present Longitude Prize.

The science of the 18th and 19th century was in its day for the most part groundbreaking stuff.  The agrarian revolution had enabled the industrial revolution and both of these revolutions were fostered by and in turn fostered the endeavours and intensity of science and scientific discovery in that age. Those guys did not ‘look back’ like Lot’s wife; and so their scientific endeavours did not lead to a sudden stasis, and so did not stagnate.

The name of The Longitude Prize is given I assume to this current scientific endeavour in homage to the guy who invented the cool chronometer, and to the guys who put up the money and set up the 18th century competition which spurred his invention.  So it looks backwards; unlike the guys to whom this looking backwards is aimed to do homage.

These ages of 18th and 19th century are now history; and as history they are in time ‘fixed’ and so in the general perception ‘established’. Their trends and themes and predilections and causes and energies have been mulled over and descanted on time and again by historians and a general consensus on the main features of those times has been pretty well reached.  Unlike the precariousness of the present and the future they are now ‘safe’ because irrecoverable and so unchangeable.

The stereotypical choice of invoking their spiritual ancestors by their having named this present prize also The Longitude Prize has been an attempt by them to ‘establish’ by association with the original Longitude Prize this present competition as being ‘authoritative; and so it is just another ‘land grab’ attempt by the establishment governors and scientists and publicly funded bodies who like to think they count for more than most.

In the sense that history is ‘dead’ – then so far as this present Longitude Prize goes the allusions to the history of the original Longitude Prize invokes only ennui and dismay in hearts more truly scientific and endeavouring.

The format of both Longitude Prizes was chosen to be a competition.  Again, chosen maybe by the latter in homage to the former?  But also the choice of a competition as a format is a political and an ideological statement.  Let us look at this another way so as to be able to see more clearly what I mean by this.  Let us suppose what it could else have been instead of a competition.

Now instead of pitting ‘teams’ of scientists against one another so that there becomes only one winner as a necessary outcome; could not The Longitude Prize organisers have elected for a cooperative and joint effort to work towards  solving a serious scientific problem of our day?  They reply, I hear; that competition spurs endeavour and it also whets ambition and sets a challenge.

Now, should a scientist by occupation be moved to his or her work primarily by a response to ambition, to winning ahead of his/her colleagues and by the lure of a money prize?  One would like to think that occupational scientists are in the first place vocational and committed to an advancement of general welfare.

In the second place, to place a lure like these of ambition and a money prize in the sight of the types of scientists who are attracted by such things is to lure those scientists off what they have been working on, and into a field wherein they maybe have to start over; and certainly into a place whereabouts their resources are being newly refocused.

In the third place a competition is a vaccuumer-up of vast resources of time thought equipment and money. All competitors are focussed on the prize, maybe involving tens or hundreds of laboratories and untold numbers of persons, equipment and other vital and scarce resources.  Had the approach been instead to have invited cooperation and coordination between bodies and scientists; then a pooled response and sharing of data and of research is likely to have produced a quicker and a better solution to the problem to be solved. As the poet Homer said ‘When two go together; one sees before the other’.

A competition has the tendency to incite its participants to secrecy and to a withholding of data and research from the public domain or even from other colleagues. That is no way to run a railway!

All the above unpacking of this present Longitude Prize and its vectored ideological basis and shallow chutzpah; nails it by way of its format as a competition – and by its backward looking and by the backward looking carried on by the ‘establishment’ cronies who cooked it up- this all states clearly that the event is not vibrant and healthy but instead more of a showcase; a showcase at present with nothing in it to display.

So what does this mean for its backers and its participants, its funders and its political capital-makers; when the time comes in 2019 when the entries date is due to close and a decision has to be made on who has won the cash?

Suppose, and it is entirely possible, that no-one comes up with an adequate answer – no robust scientific solution to the problem set by The Longitude Prize people?  What then?  Do they just not award a prize and call the whole thing off?  Do they then tacitly admit to having absorbed and to having tied up for several years a vast bundle of scarce and valuable resources etc and to no good purpose?  Unthinkable

Will it not likely be instead, and in the event of no good winner emerging, a mere showcase event in which the item on show is window-dressing and smokes and mirrors?  Can it be anything else, under such a disaster?  Could a government or a scientific community or an organiser body whose lifeblood depends on painting pictures of hyped success; could any of these allow the truth to be known, in such a circumstance?

I hear them answer unanimously – It won’t happen – science will prevail and humanity shall win out.  Of course it will; this is the standard rallying call of our day – that one should place ones faith in what science is able to provide to secure our futures.

It is a similar argument to the Nuclear Button argument, which goes; a politician is compelled to say YES she WILL push the Nuclear Button upon constraint to do so. She is compelled to have to say this, she is hemmed in on every side to say it; that she will push the Nuclear button; because several thousand billion £s worth of armaments; a whole nuclear defence industry becomes redundant and impotent by her omission to assent to pressing that button.

Yet it is labelled ‘a deterrent’. So one assumes one does not take a lead in using an item installed as a ‘deterrent’?  In fact a good deterrent ought never need to be used.  But the threat to use it has to remaining place for it to be an effective deterrent.  But if it fails as a deterrent then does one then use it – not as a deterrent but unluckily as a retaliation?

How can one know that it has failed as a deterrent until the Nuclear weapons of an enemy are raining down on our cities? And by then it is no longer a deterrent – so it can no longer be used as a deterrent; only as vengeance.

So what is our Illustrious Leader actually saying when she confirms with affirmation that she WILL press the Nuclear Button?  It appears by what we have unpacked here above that she is saying that our enemies having destroyed our half of the world will in turn have their half of the world destroyed by her in sheer vengeance – when it is too late for considering vengeance, for we are all dead; and it is also in all reason too late for using the Nuclear arsenals we hold. Why destroy the common man and woman and child in half the world in response when we know that in our half the world our common man and woman and child did not deserve their deaths and destruction?  Truly absurd

Back to The Longitude Prize. The Prize will be awarded whatever happens – and to laudations and great acclaim and publicity – a great hype job whatever the weather or menu. It cannot be otherwise – no establishment figure or organisation is going to do otherwise, regardless of the true value of any discoveries made in the course of the competition.

So how does this prognosis pan out when it is applied to the whole idea, concept, formulation and conduct of this latter day Longitude Prize?  Does it make the whole thing, down to the last jot and tittle pretty pointless because its true value to the world is going to be wholly unassessable; by all except those whose whole vested interest is to cover it over and/or else to hype it as high as it can be got?  We, the little people, will never know, never discover it out  – unless a truly remarkable breakthrough is actually made and put into practice sufficiently to have noticeable and large beneficial results across the world in hospitals and sick bays.

Talking of hospitals and sick bays we come now to our second ground for establishing the vain fatuousness of this latter day Longitude Prize.  Let us take a look at how the challenge was chosen and what challenge was set for the prize money to be won.

  • The goal for The Longitude Prize was set by public election.

There were proposed by the initiators of The Longitude Prize four or six options from which a general response from the wider public was to elect by simple majority vote an aim to pursue; a scientific problem to be solved.

The challenge faced by humans in the light of superbugs and a diminishing effectiveness of antibiotics, a diminution due largely to carelessness in their use and by their overuse; led to the greater public electing the challenge be for the scientists to find a way to use antibiotics so as to enable these to be at their most effective and at the same time for scientists to quell in some way the diminishing effectiveness of antobiotics’ properties to kill infections.

So, the general signifier ‘Antibiotics’ was taken up as the item to be sought in the pursuit by scientists of The Longitude Prize.

I do not well remember all the other problem items which were defeated by the public vote to go for antibiotics; but I do recall one which was in fact and objectively far higher priority than antibiotics; and this one was Clean Water.

Our public in its recent election choices has disgraced itself universally; and in this earlier choice made by it for antibiotics as the aim of The Longitude Prize participant scientists, our public clearly presaged its utter disgrace over the recent EU Referendum result.

Clean Water ought to have been chosen to pursue as a global benefit to the world’s peoples; and not antibiotics.  Not only is clean water prior in logic to antibiotics as a desired item; clean water is a universal essential for life, for human life, whereas however laudable antibiotics might be in themselves; antibiotics as such are not universal essentials to life.  Antibiotics in fact are great blessings but nonetheless for many in our world today unaffordable unobtainable and somewhat irrelevant when the water one is drinking is fouled.

Our great general public, taught as its masters have elected to teach them, chose in their election of antibiotics as the Longitude Prize problem to be solved; a problem which most hit their own personal fears and hopes; and (or but) in them choosing antibiotics they were happy to allow a potential vital and massive help to many many persons, many much less fortunate others, to be relegated by their narrower self-interests. This was shameful; and it is why the choice should not have been put to general election; since our people have learned only to serve themselves, it seems.

Now let us talk about the topic of antibiotics themselves as having been elected to pursue a solution for.  For this we need some history.

  • Is chasing a solution in antibiotics a misplaced, mistaken, act?

The question here simply put is: should antibiotics in fact have made it to the final list of electable choices?  Is their inclusion in this list merely yet another signal of an anachronistic ‘living in the past’ of the organisers and of the participants to the Prize? I tend to think so.

It seems to me like scientists being asked to and seeking to reinvent a cartwheel that has had its day.  At the (largely accidental) discovery of penicillin, the first discovered of the antibiotics, just as large resources have been hoovered into this present Longitude Prize completion; once penicillin became known and its wonderful properties for medicine; massive resources likewise were suddenly switched direction into research on antibiotics.

New antibiotics were found and put into practice.  The old research, like the very promising and valuable research on things called Bacteriophages, died overnight. All the money was placed on 32 Red.  The victors in the antibiotics race held the field and as victors they wrote the time’s medical history and they also governed medical things after their own images.

Just as when nowadays a new Smartphone comes onto the market, many eager must-haves go out and obtain one at almost any cost; often to be hip and to look cool, and to be seen to be so; things work just like this in science and in history and in politics and in any and every study and occupation under the sun – especially in war and in competitions.  (Have we not seen all this demonstrated here by the recent gloved-iron-fist coup takeover in Britain by the for-a-long-time-latent Tory-hawk backwards-seers?)

As with many items of history worth preserving, and for which there is room to subsist in any balanced and reasonable society, so much has been utterly lost to us which is in every way good and profitable; so with research into Bacteriophages, and so with research for good alternatives to antibiotics.

To believe antibiotics are able to be resuscitated and kept alive on life support is for one’s own mental life to be in need of resuscitation and life-support. To have invested so heavily, psychologically and monetarily, in them for so long (as cash cows for the pharmacy industries?) is to have had blinkered vision. It does not take a brilliant mind to figure that in life there are no ‘magic bullets’; that ‘all things must pass’ and that ‘every dog has his day’. Surely the scientists knew this day would come when it is time to move on and to seek other solutions to the antibiotics problem than just chasing after ‘more of the same’.

If not, then truly they are but ‘creatures of a day’.

Ironically, after what I have written about The Longitude Prize and its looking backwards, that an answer to the medical problems infections pose might be found in the past, in history and in looking there for one; might sound hypocrisy on my part.  It is not looking to the past for authority or seeking there for credibility and safety and assurance, and with a bland sentiment; but in looking there in places for the cul-de-sacs and dead-ends which were allowed to happen by – to be frank – by our collective ignorance and by our misplaced and overconfident belief in ourselves – so that we considered we knew best and had the answers but instead left them behind to fade to obscurity.

As a result of these bad collective decisions taken on our parts in the past we have come to this point in the present in which we are making utterly zany and bizarre decisions; being mistakes as a people and as a populace and as a community.  Hence we chose not Clean Water but Antibiotics; we chose not to ‘reclaim the nation’ but in fact we blindly handed the nation over to ‘a bunch of bandits’ – and however much one thinks otherwise right now it will be shown to be the case.

Now: something about the language in which the challenge of The Longitude Prize is presented by its organisers in their publicity. Here is some of their material:

‘The challenge is to create a cost-effective, accurate, rapid, and easy-to-use test for bacterial infections that will allow health professionals worldwide to administer the right antibiotics at the right time.

Is the list of criteria a prioritised list here?  Is ‘cost-effective’ top of the tree of life?  Seems so – in our times – in our times all things are governed by their costs to the economy, to our pockets. ‘Accurate, rapid,’? – Good, good.  ‘Easy-to-use’ is odd? Why easy to use?  Are ‘health professionals’ baffled by more complicated procedures?  A ‘test’ singular – well we know of One Ring To Rule Them All, but one single test which is capable of allowing ‘ health professionals worldwide to administer the right antibiotics at the right time’. 

This surely is asking for The Magic Bullet?  Can any person even conceive of such a test being possible, which is able to pinpoint what infection is present and so indicate what specific treatment is most desirable?  This is pie in the sky talk.  It’s the ‘give us the tool and we’ll finish the job’ kind of sentiment; words styled and chosen and formulated to offer more hope than sense.  In short: hype.

How is it that organisers of these events like The Longitude Prize; on the one hand give over to a general public a choice of election for a scientific task to be solved, and so ends up with Antibiotics and not Clean Water; and on the other hand writes copy like this in their publicity material which talks to that same general public in Pinocchio and Snow White terms and manner?

One suspects that the whole exercise of The Longitude Prize is merely a Bad Dream troubling some Civil Servant’s head; and aimed at keeping us all enamoured of a ruling class out to exploit its position and to please itself.

And this haute condescension; whereabouts might it have been seen before and recently – today?  Let’s look at BBC Radio 4 today at 18.30 with the programme series called ‘The Museum of Curiosity’.  A guy was a guest panellist who was in Holy Orders as an ecologist conservationist. I say this sarcastically – but also to make a point.

In the days of The British Empire we great and glorious nation as we are; went overseas to bring civilisation to the world’s unfortunate benighted-without-us peoples. This was the general Party Line of the day. Clergy went all over the world from Britain bringing the Lord Jesus to benighted peoples; and to be frank many peoples found The Lord Jesus because of their endeavours; and in despite of the colonial exploitation of these peoples by the secular British governors.  Some British believed The Party Line and some just peddled it to extort whatever they could from their situation. Same as today much-wise

The conservationist guy on ’The Museum of Curiosity’ was in Borneo onetime recently; commissioned by who-knows? – and he was there in pursuit of evidence of unlawful trading in animals, some in danger of dwindling numbers – and one of his pursuit was an illegal bear farm.  He has been trained here in UK to doctorate level.

The question never arose about why he a Briton was chosen to go to Borneo and to do these evangelical conservation duties – how did the Borneo authorities view it, was it part of ‘tied-aid’ to Borneo etc, etc?  The parallel with The British Empire missionary is apposite here. It seems very much an affront to my mind to think to send over an educated Briton to Borneo to gather evidence in this way?  Why not train up a Borneo person; and give the work to that person?  The condescension in the act is appalling, and unlike the authentic missionaries’ efforts, lacking in all grace.

Who might we be in Britain to go abroad hawking our conservation values (which like prophets are not heeded in their own countries) and take the high moral ground in faraway places and so forth when guys in Borneo like guys here are for the most part making ends meet as best they can?  The conservationist was pretty blasé and easy about his treks as if he accepted, or perhaps he had not thought through, all the implications of his industry.

We here in Britain are yearly the cause of far greater and far more general environmental harm and degradation in the world than perhaps the whole of such harms contributed by Borneo over the past two or three decades. As we export our conservation and our conservationists so we export a great deal more pollution and degradation of nature.  Get one’s own house in order first.

It is all as wicked and absurd as the ‘cease fire’ called for in Aleppo this week. Armies there face one another bombing, shooting, going all out to kill and defeat the other; and aid agencies are seeking to bring humanitarian aid into the city for those trapped in it. Like the competition of The Longitude Prize the war in Aleppo is for victory and for the spoils of victory; whereas the aid agencies are for a cooperative effort to feed and succour those in need there.

Absurd that one set of humans who subsist almost beside another set of humans; one set hell-bent on death destruction acquisition and consolidation of power; the other similarly dead set and in earnest, but about keeping alive and well and safe from harm people situated  in the same place, some maybe the same people.  How crazy is human behaviour?  What a waste of all good things war is – and the persons responsible for waging wars likewise are a waste – a waste of time – their wills being imposed by use of violent force by their armed forces – who themselves are stupid or plain nasty for doing this dirty work.

I will round-up now. I want to add that in the present the victors in science hold up the fasces of the Legion of quantum physics and the Legion of mathematics as they go to battle – these are the powers and theirs the victory which took the spoils.

A TV programme this evening which my wife was watching laid out how life was achieved before computerisation; and specifically on the railways of Britain. Fascinating facts like the one that at one time some Victorian cities could expect up to 12 deliveries of post by postmen (and by train) every day at their dwellings – incredible in today’s world!   A few years back I was given a tour at a Railway Museum of a Signal box – a thing of the past – and shown the principles on how a signalman worked so as to keep safe the various trains and tracks which were his job to manage at his point of the line.

The sheer elegance and beauty of the machinery and its operations was something to behold.  Watertight safety of journeys by use of gear all controlled by hand – and unable to lead to a collision or derailment – even when a signalman should have collapsed or feinted

Likewise on the singe track railways a single baton was used and passed on to the train guard whose train was travelling the single track at any given time – in one direction or the other.  No train allowed on the single track sections of the line without the guard for that train having in his possession, in his hand, the single baton which governed who was to be on that stretch of single track line and at what time and for how long.

For us in the present the final irony is in this – that in that bygone age of trains and signal boxes and batons; when labouring by hand and manual work was the norm; an age in which plain people in manual work learned and saw for themselves the necessity and the effects of doing things right and in good order; and realised graphically the vital importance of this punctiliousness in all things; in such an age awareness of, maybe even respect for, the value and the importance of those things one cannot see and touch; such as another’s rights and liberties, or a person’s beliefs; seem to have been greater and more ingrained than in this present age of ‘virtual’ things and ‘cloud’ servers and of ‘digital’ appliances; and of unbalanced emphases on non-industrial, non-arduous lives, all of which rely so fully and so abjectly on these fantastic non-material things for continuation in the shape of coherent societies.

            ‘Sweet are the uses of adversity.’