Changes in the way we pronounce certain sounds tell us a lot about our changing values

Damien Hall’s article in The Conversation got me thinking about language as a virus.

William S. Burroughs once wrote that “language is a virus from outer space”. Hall’s insights might go some way to understand how the virus mutates and spreads power.

The article argues that regional variations of language spoken in Normandy reflect changes in the language spoken in Paris. The people of Normandy look to Paris for the “best way” to speak French. When the language in Paris mutates, the Parisian strain spreads to Normandy, taking with it the power of Paris.

We all learn to talk by listening to those around us. The way we speak organises the way we think. How words are spoken, and sentences structured, communicates a logic. That logic organises a specific way of understanding the world. Regional accents not only connect people to a specific area, but also to unique way of life.

Take for example the different ways English is spoken throughout the United Kingdom. The dominant culture in the UK is centred in the South. The way people think in the South is not the same as people in the North. The culture is different, because the logic is different, because the language is different. We may all speak English, but Northern English is not the same as Southern English. It’s more than just an accent, it’s a set of values.

I think there’s a strong argument to be made, that the media spreads the Londoncentric virus, allowing it to dominate the furthest reaches of the country. It changes the way people speak, and think, and understand the world.

Burroughs’ “cut up” technique may offer a way of immunising ourselves against this homogenising virus. By cutting into his text Burroughs was able to create new words, new sentence structures, new logics, and releases his own mutations into the culture.

We should all think seriously about how to do the same.


Degrowth is the radical post-Brexit future the UK needs

I find the ideas at the core of Joe Herbert’s article in The Conversation interesting.

The Conversation

The notion of “degrowth” is compelling, especially when you consider the predictions of Polly Toynbee’s hard-right revolution in my previous post.

What I find difficult to conceptualise, is the how?

Yes “the logic of infinite growth is driving ecosystem collapse and climate breakdown”. Yes the “heavily polluting countries of the global north – such as the UK – must undergo a phase of managed and socially equitable economic contraction”. Yes endless economic growth has “left our society overworked, over-stressed and plagued by extreme levels of inequality”. I agree “poverty and inequality could be tackled by implementing a universal basic income”.

The intellectual arguments are there, but as I said, what I don’t understand, is the how?

Those at the top of the pyramid will not give up their privilege, and will react with hostility at any attempt to redistribute wealth through taxation. Any attempt to seize their assets will be met with violence. The strengthening of right-wing economic policies has come with boots on the ground. Those soldiers will be mobilised, and will have to be fought.

The problem is wars are great for growth, so how do you degrow society without going to war?

Mystery particle spotted

I understand very little, if any, of the science in this article. What intrigues me is the idea that they may have discovered a particle that “is not just outside the standard model but outside it in a way that nobody anticipated”.

The Conversation

To me that is the stuff of science fiction. New particle leads to who know what? Some might find this distressing. I say keep looking. It may be the particle that lets us hit the reset button on the mess we are currently in.

Knife crime and homicide figures reveal the violence of austerity

James Treadwell’s article in The Conversation make for grim reading. I see the latest crime statistics are confirmation in reverse of arguments put forward by the “rogue economist” Steven Levitt in Freakanomic.

The Conversation

In Freakanomics Levitt researched the statistics on crime in the 1990’s. He realised that the legalisation around abortion in the United States in the 1970’s was the reason crime came down in the 1990’s. Put simply, the unwanted children of the 1970’s were not born. Twenty years later, these children were not there to be the criminals of the 1990’s.

The Tories can only see the world from their position of privilege. They are wilfully blind to the pressures on the most vulnerable, because they have never been venerable. Austerity removed services that helped the most in need. No services there to intervene, to help, vulnerable individuals can easily become involved in things like crime.

The Tories presume it’s a choice to become involved in crime, as if the most vulnerable can choose to hide huge sums of money in off-shore accounts to avoid paying tax. Crime for the vulnerable is not a choice, it is a consequence. No money, poor housing, disrupted education, this list could go on, and on, and on. Show me a circumstance and I’ll give you a reason why someone might end up getting involved in crime.

It’s not as simple as the Tory narrative would have us believe. What they’re doing is blaming the victim for the crime, without seeing the cause.

There are no easy fixes for the problems caused by austerity. It’s taken ten years for austerity to get us where we are now. It may take ten years after it’s ended, if it ever does, to see crime figures decline. 

What if austerity continues? What will Britain look like with ten more years of rising crime figures? If it’s a “war zone” now, what will ten more years of austerity bring, an apocalypse?

People need to join the dots

I agree with the key points in Iain Brennan’s article, weapon-carrying is a complex behaviour. It is not driven by “social media, drill music, and middle-class drug use” as the mainstream media would have you believe.

The Conversation

Knife crime is driven by “individual factors like a history of violence, interpersonal factors like peer offending and community factors like neighbourhood disorder”. Brennan can only suggest as plausible, what I will say emphatically, “austerity, which has resulted in dramatic cutbacks to public and charitable services for young people” is a key contributor in the rise of weapons carrying. The services that could’ve helped, by “working with peer groups of at-risk young people” have all been cut. Blaming the evils of youth culture is a distraction, drawing attention away from the real causes, and the policy makers responsible for this tragedy. People need to join the dots.

No funding, no services. No services, no interventions. No interventions, a rise in violence.

Perhaps apocalyptic images are the only way to understand what’s at stake

The discourse around global warming is mired in an increasingly faith-based rhetoric. You either understand global warming as a fact, or you have faith it’s only weather.

The Conversation

The problem is, faith stifles debate. There needs to be a way to discuss global warming, one that cuts through the faith everything will work out. Perhaps apocalyptic images of the world burning is the only way to make some understand what’s at stake.

Thousands of Swedes are inserting microchips into themselves

The Conversation

While I find the Swedes optimism towards this kind of technology refreshing, recent scandals around Facebook and Cambridge Analytica give me serious concerns about how this technology is used, or more specifically used against us.

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