Category Archives: Opinion

The Financial Times: Martin Wolf: Inaction over climate change is shameful

Inaction over climate change is more than shameful, it’s suicidal. But shaming those who can do something about global warming will not work. They have no shame. Because they cannot see the wrong in what they do. I agree with Mr Wolf that “we need to shift the world on to a different investment and growth path right now”. I agree rich countries who caused the problem need to pay. The redistribution of wealth to “countries that matter for the solution” needs to happen. But I don’t think it will.

The wealthiest individuals, in the wealthiest economies, are like the character Sydney Stanton, the hobbled billionaire in 1950’s sci-fi film “When Worlds Collide”. He thinks his wealth buys him a seat on the ark. It does not. It only buys the opportunity to build it. Think about this for a moment. The 1000 richest people in the United Kingdom increased their wealth by 184 per cent in the ten years that have accompanied austerity. They accrued £468 billion on top of the £256 billion they already had, while the rest of the population experienced the worst decline in living standards in a generation. They no doubt accumulated this wealth by working hard, making shrewd investments, and leading successful businesses. They also managed to convince successive neoliberal governments to decreased their tax liability. £468 billion could do a lot of good. Why isn’t it? Because trying to shame the Stanton’s of the world into changing their ways is like eating glass. The only person with a lacerated tongue is you. “You did it to yourself.” Shaming them will not work. They still think they can buy a seat on the ark, and a way out of the apocalypse.

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The Atlantic: What Can People Do to Get Better at Learning?

Key concept for me is that we need to nurture our curiosity, and get “comfortable with struggle in learning”.

Diversity perspective: The power of the divergent species

I recently submitted one of my screenplays to a writing competition. The competition came with this statement of intent.

This initiative is aimed at reflecting the diversity of all of the UK and we encourage talent currently under-represented in TV Drama to apply – including women, disabled talent, BAME talent, and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. With this in mind, please tell us about your unique voice and the diversity of thought that you will bring to the competition.

The application asked for my “diversity perspective”. I enjoy writing most when I am at the edge of my understanding. When I discover something. When a vague idea finds a form. I think that happened while writing this. I started with nothing but a cluster of notions. Writing gave that cluster a form. To be honest I’m not even sure if I answered the question. They probably only wanted a short paragraph.  I ended up writing two pages of single spaced text. I submitted the following.

The question of unique voice and diversity of thought are really hard questions to answer. The pressures at play are dynamic and constantly shifting. When pitched against women, disabled, or black, Asian and ethnic minority talent, I am part of the over-represented demographic. I am white, British and heterosexual. I certainly haven’t felt the prejudices experienced by a black man, the sexism suffered by women, or the difficulties encountered by a person with disability. The thing is, I don’t feel privileged. I understand this feeling is relative. If I were forced to walk the path of a woman or a black man I would feel differently. I just don’t see myself reflected in the demographic of white heterosexual men. They have an education I never had. They have wealth I have never known. They have a sense of entitlement I have never enjoyed. In many ways they seem to me like a completely divergent species. If you pushed me to describe my background, I’d have to say it was, disadvantaged. I was born in the North East of England. My family tree is populated with a succession of miners who were poor. According to family lore, my paternal great-grandfather pushed a cart, loaded with his family and possessions, eastward across the Northumberland moors, looking for work. To escape the pits and the poverty my father joined the army. He uprooted his family, took us away from the North East, and moved us around the world for more than a decade. Despite this, and having lived in London since the late 1980’s, I still feel the weight of my North Eastern heritage. As the adage goes, you can move the boy out of the council estate, but you can’t get the council estate out of the boy. As flippant as that might sound, it holds kernel of truth. At the core of that kernel is a feeling that can only be described as doubt. The kind of doubt the divergent species seems untroubled by. He approaches the world with a confidence that comes from knowing his mistakes are temporary. Family wealth insulates him from his failures. This is perhaps one of the many reasons why those from disadvantaged backgrounds moderate their aspirations. They have no choice but to mitigate their failures or risk suffering the full consequences of their temerity. But family wealth is not just financial. In his book “Outlieres”, Malcolm Gladwell notes that wealthy parents adopt the active strategy of parenting that “foster and assess a child’s talents, opinions and skills”. While poorer parents adopt the more passive strategy of “accomplishment by natural growth”. The key point is that wealthy parents teach their children to negotiate a world in a way poor parents don’t. The advantages of wealth, in all its forms, give the divergent species a head start. The most pressing example I can give, from my own experience, is writing. I didn’t start writing seriously until I was in my early-thirties. It grew naturally from a frustration. I had worked myself into a cul-de-sac, and writing was a chance to take my career in a different direction. My family has suffered because of my temerity. We survive but do not prosper because I made the choice to risk everything and write. I have the feeling that if I were born to a wealthy family my aspiration would have been found, and nurtured. I would not have had to discover it for myself as part of “accomplishment by natural growth”. But my commitment to the craft of screenwriting is still no guarantee of success. The stories I tell still have to negotiate the institutions that favour a very specific worldview. The problem is, no matter how good my writing becomes, I do not share the divergent species worldview. In 1996 Andrew Marr interviewed Noam Chomsky about power and the media. The key exchange happens when Marr tries to push his view that the news media in this country has a “wide range of opinion” and speaks “truth to power”. Chomsky refutes the claim, instead arguing that through a programme of selection that starts in nursery school, individuals are selected for compliance, and dissenting voices are weeded out. The exchange ends with Chomsky telling Marr that if he didn’t share a very specific worldview he would never have been allowed to become a journalist at the top of his profession. “CARR-10-N” describes a worldview that is at odds with divergent species view on drugs. Drug users are routinely scapegoated as the cause of all the ills of society. Drugs are a threat to the social order. It can be stopped if we unite against this common enemy. We may have to exceed a few individual freedoms but this is a small price to pay to rid society of this scourge. I see the war on drugs as a war on a countries population. Drugs are not about public health; it’s about public control. My unique voice, my worldview, is born from a disadvantaged background. My diversity of thought is deconstructive at its core. I have a way of thinking that is critical of, and hostile to, the power of the divergent species.

Listening to Revisionist History by Malcolm Gladwell: Free Brian Williams

Thatcher’s authoritarian personality

Margaret Thatcher died on Monday. In death, as in life, she divides opinion. Personally I think she was the worst thing that happened to this country since the Second World War. All the problems we currently face have their genesis in her premiership. I think the financial collapse of 2008 was a direct result, not just of the economic strategies she initiated but more importantly a way of thinking she promoted. The senior managers and business brains of the banking sector were the Young Turks of the financial industry when she came to power. The mantra of rampant self-interest she espoused and they took to with such vigour is the same “I’m all-right Jack” attitude that made these big bonused bankers do business the way they have and continue to. Her devotees say she was a strong leader. For me she was a “strong leader” only to those who need that kind of guidance. To the rest of us she was nothing more than a bully. I think there was a callousness in her leadership that was nothing short of sadistic. She had a viciousness about her that I see in the “tough decisions” fiscal policy of George Osborne. No to a plan “B”, “C” or “D” is all-right when your worth £4.3 million, have a Notting Hill property worth £1.8 million and a wife who’s father is a life peer. A life peer who interestingly was also a member of Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet. But I digress from the title of this post. Recent entries about Carrion, specifically those regarding Anthony Reiner, have made me realise something about Margaret Thatcher I didn’t understand before now. Her success was due in no small part to her authoritarian personality. At this point it might be a good idea for you to take a look at Erich Fromm’s 1957 article The Authoritarian Personality. (1) I referenced it in posts that grapple with the totalitarian mindset of prohibition and Reiner’s authoritarian personality. Fromm makes some interesting insights into the nature of the authoritarian personality, notably the symbiotic relationship between the passive and active authoritarian. If I were to characterise Reiner as a passive-authoritarian; the individual who belittles himself so that he can, as part of something greater, become great himself. I would characterise Thatcher as the active-authoritarian; the sadist who feels strong because she has incorporated others. To those who say she encouraged people to be free of the state, to go out there and do it for themselves, I say the free market is not freedom. Ask anyone struggling to pay a utility bill or trying to buy a house or even secure a living wage; how free do they feel? Market freedom is only freedom to those who have. If you already have it you’re free to take it somewhere else. What if you don’t? That argument aside, one of the most interesting thing for me in realising Thatcher had an authoritarian personality, is realising how many people have the emotional need to follower her. The irony of her message of self-reliance and freedom is actually a message of subjugation. You must supplicate yourself at the alter of Thatcher or you’re one of “them” and if you’re one of “them” you’re vilified, blamed for everything that is wrong with society; if we get rid of them, things will be better for us. And that people is the dynamic of totalitarianism. Which is perhaps Thatcher’s real legacy. Personally I do not mourn her passing. Unfortunately I have to live in the world she created.

Why aren’t there more riots?

A couple of days ago I flicked past Newsnight and heard the term “feral rich” for the first time. Two words you don’t often hear said together. They were referring to an article in The Telegraph by their chief political reporter Peter Oborne “The moral decay of our society is as bad at the top as the bottom.” I don’t read The Telegraph and hadn’t seen the published article. So I read the online edition. Mr Oborne’s article highlights the “terrifying decline in standards among the British governing elite.” He points to the scandal over politicians expenses. And the governments efficiency adviser Philip Green who sent a billion pound divided off shore. While their actions may well have been within the law. They were not in my opinion moral. Mr Oborne notes that “an almost universal culture of selfishness and greed has grown up” among those at the top. One example is “Rotherham MP Denis MacShane who remarked (in the House Of Commons debate about the riots) “What the looters wanted was for a few minutes to enter the world of Sloane Street consumption.” This from a man who notoriously claimed £5,900 for eight laptops. Of course, as an MP he obtained these laptops legally through his expenses.” While Mr Oborne racks up a steady count of politicians all guilty of hypocrisy. Exposing the “get what you can” mentality that infects our society from top to bottom. And argues “that the criminality in our streets cannot be dissociated from the moral disintegration in the highest ranks of modern British society.” I think you have to go back thirty years. To the government of Margaret Thatcher. To understand the true causes of what happened a couple of weeks ago. Put simply you reap what you sow. And Mrs Thatcher’s period in office set in motion a series of social changes that we are only now starting to pay for. Her premiership brought with it a social shift that positivity promoted an ethos of rampant self-interest. It is my opinion that the recent banking crisis was caused by individuals who began their careers while she was in office. Her ethos rose with them through the industry. It was her brand of greed that ultimately brought the banks down. Prompted the massive bail outs. That has lead to the cuts. Prompted the unrest we saw in May. And ultimately exploded in recent lawlessness. The looters wanted what those at the top of the pyramid have. And got it. The way those at the top get it. By taking it. But I think Mrs Thatcher’s legacy roots deeper still. She changed the nature of our economy. From manufacturing. To service. In doing so she condemned an entire class of people to a life on benefits. Those people who now live the nightmare of joblessness. Are exactly the same people who would have found work in manufacturing. Those failed by the education system. Are now forced to compete in an employment market that is saturated with graduates. But with graduate unemployment now at its highest since the mid nineties. Even the most menial job is hard to get. What’s left for those without a university education? Minimum wage jobs that make befits seem like a pay rise. Cutting benefits is not the solution. Creating jobs is the solution. Jobs that pay enough to give people a decent standard of living. But how can that happen? When the cost of living is rising. And those at the top of the Sunday Times Rich List are able to increase their wealth by eighteen percent. It can’t. Because to create jobs you have to spend money. And this government is intent on deficit reduction. A deficit that should be paid off by those who caused the problem in the first place. The bankers put their interests about everyone else. And we’re paying the price. Not just in cuts. But in the social misery of poverty. Those at the bottom don’t have the luxury of walking away from their debts. Why should the “feral rich” at the top? The question shouldn’t be why did the riots happen? The question should be. Why aren’t their more riots?

Up to my neck in it

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about not being on Facebook. A couple of days ago I created a profile. Not sure why I took the plunge. But I’m still not one hundred percent sold on it. I think I like my privacy too much. And Facebook ultimately seems a little too intimate. I think it might actually end up being a bit like my encounters with both LoveFilm and Blockbuster’s DVD postal services. Their business model is built on the premise that they offer a more flexible renting solution. The reality is that you let some monkey in a warehouse choose the films you watch over the weekend. Just as the LoveFilm’s of the world have found a way of providing a poorer service and making it seem like a benefit. Facebook promises the ability to connect to lots of people. Some of them you might actually know. In return you are prompted to give away a massive chunk of your privacy. Ultimately that makes me think “the entry fee might not be worth it”. You’ll know for sure what side of the line I fall if my Facebook profile suddenly disappears.

Fear of facebook

I’m not on facebook. People keep telling me I should create a profile. But I’ve resisted. There is something about the whole thing that makes me very uncomfortable. I know it’s a completely irrational prejudice. Fuelled by something I read a long time ago. The articular stated that among other things an investment company set up by the CIA owns shares. As do a bunch of multinationals like Coca Cola. And that facebook is essentially a massive marketing tool. Allowing companies harvest information about it’s patrons. And target them with direct marketing. Or use the information as free market research. Or keep tabs on them in some Big Brother kind of way. Putting the paranoid conspiracy theory away for a second. What company doesn’t farm information about individuals likes and dislikes from the internet. I posted on twitter recently about my frustrations with edf energy. They hand’t read the meter for over a year so I had been overcharged. I wanted a refund. It took several very long phone calls over the period of a month. But I got some money back. Anyway edf contacted me through twitter offering to help. I didn’t reply. I didn’t trust that it was edf. So ignored their repeated advances. But that highlighted something for me. While Twitter is a very public arena it feels very private. I hadn’t given much thought to the notion that a company like edf would be monitoring the twitter timeline. Truthfully I felt a little stalked. And I think that’s another of the things that makes me feel uncomfortable with facebook. While facebook is a great tool for connecting people. It can also gives access to those who you would rather not have in your life. We all have them. That work colleague who you would rather not talk to. Or the long lost friend who is better staying lost. Social networking sites like facebook allow the kind of personal access I am reluctant to give to anyone but those closest to me. At some point I know I am going to have to hand them my details. Join the club. For professional reasons as much as anything. But for now I think I will stay clear of the microscopic spotlight that facebook exposes you to.

Why they won’t stop the war on drugs

I read a headline in the Metro last week. “The war on drugs ‘just isn’t working’.” Apparently the Global Commission on Drug Policy has called for the legalisation of drugs. Noted elders argue that “the war on drugs has failed to cut drug usage.” Adding that it has filled jails. Cost millions. Fuelled organised crime. And caused thousands of deaths. Despite evidence from Portugal. That problematic drug use and drug related deaths fall when drugs are decriminalize. They decriminalized drugs in 2001. A Home Office spokesman said they were going to ignore the report. “We have no intention of liberalising our drugs laws. Drugs are illegal because they are harmful. They destroy lives.” I am not surprised by the Home Office’s attitude. It’s the patronising parental attitude always displayed. The blinkered vision that completely ignores the reality of drug use in the country. DrugScope.  The UK’s leading independent centre of expertise on drugs. “Estimated that over 11 million people aged 16 to 59 in England and Wales have used illicit drugs in their lifetime.” That’s about 6% of the population. They estimate there 6408 drug related deaths between 2000 and 2004. In that same period there were anywhere between 25,000 and 200,000 alcohol related deaths. The “drugs are harmful” mantra is repeated at infinitum. As if repeating it. Makes it more true. It doesn’t. And not because drugs can’t cause harm. They plainly can. It’s because the “drugs are harmful” mantra masks the real reason drugs are illegal. Drug prohibition isn’t about public health. Drug prohibition is about public control. I’ll say it again. It’s not about public health. It’s about public control. Think back to the first world war. The government imposed closing times on the public houses. So munitions workers would go back to work in the afternoon. The government imposed limited prohibition to control its workers. Not because of fears for their health. But to get them back to work. What’s the difference between that? And the laws that stop people dropping an “E” at the weekend? Ecstasy is a Class A drug. Because dropping an “E” at the weekend might interfere with your work on Monday. If prohibition was about public health. They would ban tobacco. Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances known to man. Its use causes no end of health problems. From heart disease. To strokes. Lung cancer. To tumours. Ash. The anti-smoking charity. Estimate there are 12 million smokers in the UK. That’s about 7% of the population. DrugScope estimate “that each year in the UK around 114,000 people die from tobacco-related diseases.” Yet you can walk into any corner shop. Buy a packet. Light up. And get high. Cigarettes are proof. If proof were needed. That prohibition is not about public health. It’s about public control. Prohibition is a panacea of public control for governments around the world. It is a device nations use to endo-colonize their population. Endo-colonization is a term coined by French cultural theorist Paul Virilio. In the text of Pure War he describes the general militarization of society. In which economies. Unable to expand by colonizing other countries. Start to colonize their own population. The state. In the form of a civilian military. That’s the police. Have “come to settle among and establish political control over (the indigenous people of an area).” Drugs is not a public health issue. Drugs is a civil liberties issue. And we should demand our freedom to take drugs if we so wish. I say legalise the lot. Regulate drugs the way we regulate cigarettes. From cocaine. To tobacco. You should be able to walk into a chemist. Order your desired brand of drug. At your preferred strength. And go enjoy yourself for a few hours. Without fear of retribution from the state. The war on drugs is a war on freedom. And should be condemned as antithetical to an individual’s human rights.

It’s ‘cause you’re psychopaths!

I see the MiddleClass as psychopaths. When you say the word psychopath. Images of axe wielding homicidal maniacs come to mind. But the truth is considerably less histrionic. And comes in the form of the compulsive liar who always gets what they want. The social butterfly who leaves a whirlwind of destruction in their wake. Or the “interspecies predator” who controls others to satisfy their own selfish needs.

I have always been suspicious of the MiddleClass. Never really able to understand their demeanor. But when I came across Dr. Robert Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist. While researching on my first screenplay. It all fell into place.

The checklist is the psycho-diagnostic tool most commonly used to assess psychopaths. It is a clinical rating scale of twenty items.

  • Glibness/superficial charm
  • Grandiose sense of self-worth
  • Pathological lying
  • Cunning/manipulative
  • Lack of remorse or guilt
  • Shallow affect
  • Callous/lack of empathy
  • Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
  • Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
  • Parasitic lifestyle
  • Poor behavioural control
  • Promiscuous sexual behaviour
  • Lack of realistic long-term goals
  • Impulsivity
  • Irresponsibility
  • Juvenile delinquency
  • Early behaviour problems
  • Revocation of conditional release
  • Many short-term marital relationships
  • Criminal versatility

When completed. The test subject is scored anywhere between “0” and “40”. The prototypical psychopath scores the maximum “40”. A score above “30” diagnoses the subject as psychopathic. I see scores above “30” manifest all the time in the attitudes and behavior of the MiddleClass. Individual members may not be psychopathic. But as a class it’s a different story. Take that core member of the MiddleClass. Bankers. I’d score their behavior as follows.

  • Glibness/superficial charm (2)
  • Grandiose sense of self-worth (2)
  • Pathological lying (2)
  • Cunning/manipulative (2)
  • Lack of remorse or guilt (2)
  • Shallow affect (2)
  • Callous/lack of empathy (2)
  • Failure to accept responsibility for own actions (2)
  • Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom (2)
  • Parasitic lifestyle (2)
  • Poor behavioural control (2)
  • Promiscuous sexual behaviour (2)
  • Lack of realistic long-term goals (2)
  • Impulsivity (2)
  • Irresponsibility (2)
  • Juvenile delinquency (1)
  • Early behaviour problems (1)
  • Revocation of conditional release (2)
  • Many short-term marital relationships (0)
  • Criminal versatility (2)

That’s a Checklist score of “36”. They should be banged up. But they’re not. They’re allowed go about their business. In the name of the free market. And a profit.

I see scores above “30” in the well dressed politician who demonstrates a complete lack of empathy by admonishing the long term unemployed. There in the grandiose sense of self-worth innate in parents who set up a school for their children. And there in the bankers who fail to accept responsibility for the whirlwind of destruction they left in their wake.

I have no idea what to do with this insight. But there is some small satisfaction in being able to j’accuse. “It’s ‘cause you’re psychopaths!”

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