Monday, December 28, 2015

Equanimity about Equity of Inequality

I am moved by the angst of a well-known British right-of-center writer to share my thoughts about inequality as we move towards the New Year. Yes, it’s three o’clock in the morning. And the new biological timetable that attends my current ill health has decided, once again, that my thoughts flow best when everyone else is asleep.

Along with my few ailments, maybe it’s advancing years that make me more settled, or perhaps more blunt, about the whole subject of inequality. Supporters of Donald Trump say he is rational. Detractors say he is a rich whack-job. Take your pick. So. By the numbers.

People are not born equal. We can have a whole metaphysical discussion about this. Which I’ll avoid for now. But, the bottom line is we are not all born with the same gifts. Or the same amount of ‘em.

The only thing that is equal to all of us is the need for us to eat. And pretty much right there are the two factors that have dominated political economy since the time sapiens decided it was better to hit someone with the club, rather than dragging it behind him.

We need to eat. We need to find a way to do it. Some of us use physical strength. Others our developing brains. Some hunt. Some grow. Some just take from others. From this point on, further discussion is really about the finer points.

The finest point being that, as our brains have evolved, not all brains equally by the way, another natural phenomenon, not one we can blame on the 1%, many of us have developed a countervailing influence over the natural order of things – the notion of justice.

So it is that some of us decided that it wasn’t always just that Harry with the club got best pickings of the body carcass. So, we ganged up and stopped him. Or we thought up clever ways of trapping Harry. Or taking sides with him. Or designing stealth drone clubs to attack him when he wasn’t looking. And so on.

Blah, blah, blah. Fast forward a few thousand years. To the end of the cold war. And the advance of globalization. And the points made by Matthew d’Ancona in the article linked to earlier.

It’s really not all that complicated. There is no such thing as freedom. That disappeared the moment Harry hit someone. And that someone retaliated by joining with his fellows to take Harry’s club away. After that, all was legislation and regulation. The balance in society between those with individual strength and those with strength in numbers.

And that has pretty much defined the evolution of the seemingly separate political strands of right-wing individualism and left-wing collectivism. Which definitions are themselves somewhat ironic. Since, certainly in modern times, that right-wing individualism appears to support global corporatism, while the left-wing collectivism has the ambition of protecting less advantaged individuals.

Anyways, my point is, there is no overarching right or wrong. It’s all a question of balance. People are different. They do different things. They give value to different things. They see things differently.

Ambitious people want to get rich. That involves other people. Using them as digits. As units. Whether it is as labor. As a market. As buyers. Whatever. So long as the others get something out of it, they’re happy to go along. Until they feel ripped off. Then, they react. When they get sufficiently upset, they organize, they find strength. And maybe, they get to take the club away from Harry again. Or, they just move way, and do their own thing somewhere else.

And the history of political economy, relative inequality, the supremacy of right or left, individual or collective, at any given moment, is all about where the pendulum is at that point in history. Is Harry in the ascendant? Or those organizing against him?

There is no end of history. No final destination. No ultimate moment. It is all a question of where the pendulum is. No more. No less.

So. Why the long essay about all of this so early in the morning? Hmm. ‘Cos I’m off work awaiting further tests. ‘Cos I’ll have to return to work at some point. And I’m none too happy with my place of work at the moment. And Matt’s article got me thinking about why. And why it is that the unhappiness is causing so much angst. When I’m trying to make my life about magic not angst.

And I realized (not this morning; it’s been building for a while) that, well, different people see things different ways. Because we are different.

Forget the notion of co-operation (you do all know by now that I work in a co-operative food retailer, right?). The fact is, the same human impulses are at work in my co-operative as anywhere else.

There are those with ambition, who do the planning and the overlording. There are those of us who put up with it, so long as we benefit. And there are those of us who do not benefit so much, and we organize and push back.

Those at the top present all sorts of rationale to underpin why the big picture says we need to do x and y in order to ‘succeed.’ While we at the bottom of the pile retort that this ‘success’ looks great on paper, but it still leaves us with sore limbs and a miserable-looking pay raise.

And the epiphany for me, these past few weeks, as I’ve found myself not in the immediate emotional thick of it all, is that, as with most of human endeavor, we are all right. Because we are all attempting to gain different things from the same big picture.

Those at the top want pretty graphs with the lines going up. Those in the middle also want the lines to go up, so that they will be left alone. And that requires that they lay it on those of us below. Who want to be left alone, and to be paid more.

Of course, there is no way we can all be happy. In equal amounts. At the same time. Sometimes the folks at the top win. Sometimes those of us lower down the ladder get our payback. It’s a constant to and fro. And it all ends up being a matter of balance. Over time.

So. What am I saying? None of it matters? Heck no. Well, if you want to be the hermit, on top of the mountain, communing only with the universe. And I’ve thought of that. But I missed Wham. Unless you go for that, then no. Care. Argue. Fight. Rationalize. Every day. Never give in. Keep moving that bloody pendulum. But. Do it all with a pinch of salt.

We are none of us re-inventing the wheel. We’re none of us treading new paths. It’s all been done before. It will never change. We will always be different. Always unequal. Always striving to gain advantage.

Spend each day. Every moment of your life. Believing passionately in what you believe. So long as. At the end of each of those days. You have the good sense to step back and chuckle. We are who we are. We will always be that way. It is a never-ending circle. Enjoy it. Believe it. Honor it. But, don’t let it overwhelm you. Don't let it define you. That’s all.

Life is absurd and purposeful, all at the same time

No. I'm not dying. I'm just having an existential moment. As I prepare for Christmas, with a weather forecast telling me that North Carolina is going to be in the seventies for the next week.

It's taken me some 59 years (not sure if I beat Albert Camus or Leo Tolstoy). But I now realize that the lesson of life. It's true meaning. Is that life is absurd.

Yet, that realization leaves no explanation for the existence of my consciousness. Yours too. Unless, the further step of understanding is that we can only give that consciousness, our lives, true meaning if we use the realization of absurdity as the platform to give ourselves purpose.

In which regard, Norman Mailer is right as well.

Look. Of course life is absurd. How can it be other than absurd to imagine that our incredibly fragile bodies can possibly represent any kind of sustainable or effective vessel for the equally incredible consciousness that possesses it?

It is impossible that some grand series of universal accidents created this ridiculous collection of vulnerable cells, to house an intelligence that has me in awe each and every day I wake up.

This isn't going to be a discussion about creationism, or evolution, or intelligent whatever. It is a post about absurdity. And the first absurdity is ever to make plans on the basis other than that our vibrant consciousness is always hostage to a body that is likely to collapse at any moment.

So. Don't make plans? No. Make 'em up the wazoo. Otherwise, what's the point in being alive? But don't take them too seriously. And don't make them ridiculously extensive. Because, fragility of the body aside, and the next absurdity, why do we think that the eighty to ninety odd years we spend on this planet is really going to make any difference?

We had a Kennedy. Got shot. We had a Clinton. Got undone by a Bush. Who got undone by an Obama. Who most likely will get undone by a Trump. Or a Cruz. Which is worse?

Hitler was terrible. Stalin likely worse. Pol Pot the pits. Yet, they are gone. And yet, we have a Putin and fascism on the rise in the western world.

We had a Mother Teresa. And yet, we still have poverty in India. Alongside the Porsches and Lamborghini's. We still have some 50 million below the poverty line in the US. Yet, we have more billionaires than ever.

We elect Jeremy Corbyn leader of the Labour Party. In the absurd belief he will become Prime Minister. We have absurd expectations of Bernie Sanders. In the almost certain and realistic belief he will never be President.

Too many of us have too many regrets. When we know we could not have done differently. Instead of enjoying the moments that were good, and shrugging at the rest.

And that is the only reaction to the absurdity of life. To shrug.

I have no clue, no-one truly does, about purpose. Why create, evolve, cook, lego-build a consciousness that can produce a Mona Lisa, an Empire State Building, a community garden, a homeless shelter from scratch, if that whatever allows it only to live for eighty years, to leave little lasting legacy, no memory of a before, and no idea of the after?

Maybe the answer is in the question. Maybe the answer is so that we, a few of us, over time, maybe more of us, can realize that life, material consciousness, is not the be all and end all, that there is more, that this life is truly absurd, we are supposed to 'get' that, so that we are able constantly to laugh at it, to chuckle, while doing what we can, before the next, as consequence of a continuous 'before'.

And that what we can do is to eschew the arrogance that says we can change the eternal, the universal, and truly to focus on what is around us. To realize the absurdity of thinking we can control anything. Except what we think and do. Without thinking we can affect the consequences. While, at the same time, always being conscious that we are responsible for the consequences of what we do and say. Dreaming, believing, planning, and believing once more. All the while understanding that we have no control over what will actually happen. While believing (again) that it will happen as we wish.

Truly, truly, truly understanding that the biggest obstacle to joyfully accepting the absurdity of life is fear. The fear that we will not be taken seriously. Who cares? The fear that we will not have enough. Who cares? The fear that what we have will be taken away. Says who?

I never began to have any effect with my advocacy (not to mention my music or my writing), whether Weaver Street, or police, whatever, until I stepped back, and placed it in the context of absurdity, fear and personal experience.

Of course WSM is absurd. It is a concept based upon individuals truly believing that, by putting aside their personal fears, and committing to the collective conscious, that collective conscious, democratically expressed, free of fear, will actually take care of all the personal fears.

How absurd for us to believe that we could get the simple lesson that we conquer fear by simply not being afraid? Instead, we never get past the reality that the collective is no more that the collection of all the unaltered individual fears.

Why on earth do ISIS truly believe that they can overcome the unified fear of the remainder of the nations on earth? Because of their own fears.

Why do small-minded people persist in believing that restricting the freedom of individuals will ever lead to other than violent response? Fear.

So. There it is. Geoff's lesson of the day. Overcome fear to understand absurdity. Embrace absurdity with a chuckle, in order to understand purpose. Restrict purpose to making impact on what is around you. In a benign fashion. Always with the understanding that the purpose is not design or destination, it is the journey, the faith, the good works and the chuckle last thing at night.

Which is not to say we minimize purpose. Far from it. We energize it with faith. Not religious faith. Faith in people. Faith in ourselves. Faith in the concept that opening our eyes to the immediate, the possible and the realistic allows for the collective to be achieved by the combination of the many realities.

For universal ambition is an arrogance that serves only the self. Helping those around us, understanding the power of our immediate limitations, is the means truly to serve those we know, ourselves and life purpose. That is the lesson of life. That is the power of life. It's magic. Along with a good chuckle.

I believe in St. Peter. Not the guy in the white robe. But some sort of higher power, collective enlightenment, continuing universal consciousness. Some sort of meter that will affect what happens next. But I like St. Peter.

And I look forward to saying to St. Peter. Sorry, mate. I ain't Barack, or Bill, or Steve, or Dave, or Angela. I did nothing big. Nothing lasting. No legacy. Not even a footnote. I'm the guy who laughed. Who realized it was all a cosmic joke. And spent a few years trying to help a co-worker not to cry. Gave a bike to an unknown little girl. Wrote a song that made people laugh. Got to the bottom of a twenty-seven mystery. And sold 270 books to the only folks who cared. And yet. I feel good. And don't give a toss what you think. What's next?

Only to hear him say. Huh. Barack and the rest are back in kindergarten. Big Fella wants to see you. Or some such. Yup. Time for one of the purple ones ...

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The US/UK Middle Class Is Dead

The [Manchester/London] Guardian writes about the disappearance of the US and UK middle class. I see it more simply than they do.

Beginning with the Industrial Revolution, the rich in the US and the UK needed a middle class to provide them with middle management to run their industries.

The payoff was that middle management, unable to earn enough to buy the goodies necessary to ape their rich masters, were granted private and public subsidy by the rich, in order to allow the middle class to afford some facsimile of rich life.

Both the US and the UK are now in post-industrial mode. Emerging and developing countries provide the industry the world needs. What industry remains in the US and the UK no longer needs so many middle managers. Technology has seen to that.

In the meantime, the rich in the US and the UK have switched their money-making ambitions from US and UK industry to speculation and other countries. Further reason to abandon the middle class, who no longer provide either a market or a labor source for US and UK rich folk.

No need for US or UK middle managers = no need for middle class = no need for all the subsidies, both private and public, which the rich made available to the middle class, to keep them happy.

The rich now use a whole new under-rich class to provide them with the services they need: stock market advice, computer services, pilots, whatever. Middle management have been demoted to working class. Or even worse, just left to rot.

The former middle class don't like it. They don't like being lumped with the workers. They don't like being left behind. They don't like their jobs being outsourced. Their unions castrated. Their private perks and public benefits dissipated.

They take it out on anyone different, who is an easy target for blame: immigrants, refugees, gays, minorities. They blame anyone and everyone else. And they are prime fodder for Trump, Farage and Le Pen.

I wrote about all of this at greater length just before the Second Inauguration of President Obama, back in 2013.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Citizen Design of Policing (US) - Update

On an aside. And because I know you want to know. The medical problems persist. More tests today. Sigh. But the brain is still working. And I wanted to get this up.

I had earlier heard from Carrboro, NC Alderman Damon Seils that the Third Carrboro Community Forum on Policing had been postponed until December. I have now heard that it is being further postponed, while the Carrboro Police hold a number of smaller neighborhood forums, in an attempt to make contact directly with neighborhoods with which they feel it is most necessary to be making progress.

The Carrboro Police Chief reported to the Carrboro Board of Aldermen on this and other matters at their meeting on November 24. You can read and view here (agenda item near the bottom of the list; 'Update on Policing in Carrboro').

In the meantime, I attended the pilot one-day Citizen's Police Academy on Saturday, October 24, which was extraordinarily useful. I would recommend it to all who are truly interested in improving the relationship between police and citizens.

All in all, where I am at the moment, with respect to my own learning curve, the issues being addressed, what is still happening in the country, where I am is that I am of the opinion that this matter is way more complex than originally I thought. Plus, I have no certainty what exactly are my own plans this next year.

So. I thought I would get my thoughts down in writing and share them. I have done this by producing a little document, which you can read for free on the Lulu publishing platform.

Let me know if you have difficulty reading that document for free, which you do by reading the Preview. I was having a little difficulty myself. But I did eventually work out how to do it!

Essentially, I am now taking the view that improving the relationship between police and citizens (not so much in Carrboro, where we can experiment, but certainly nationally, where matters are toxic) boils down to changing police training.

The problem with police/citizen interaction is not so much the occasional bad apple, as it is the whole approach taught in police training. One of command presence, demanding commands be followed, and then escalating police response when commands are not complied with - not when threat is necessarily present, but when commands are not complied with.

If we are to de-escalate interaction, and reduce the possibility of misunderstanding and over-reaction, I think we need completely to redesign training and to make provision for the necessary extra personnel, equipment and resources required in support.

What I express in more detail in my document is whether or not I feel that we can actually address that process all on our own in Carrboro.

If I am still available, it is certainly my intention to address the issues I raise in my document when the Third General Community Forum is held. If not, it may well be for others who feel the same way to take this forward. Good luck to us all!!