Category Archives: Chaos

Light the blue touch paper 2016

cartwheel2016 has brought us Brexit and President elect Trump and a feeling that the wheel of fortune is turning; the world is changing. Already the Infosphere* is awash with explanations, ideas and remedies for these perceived disasters. I say perceived because we don’t yet know the actual trajectory events will take and where we will end up as a result of these votes. An energy of discontent and disillusionment has been building not just since the Bankers plunged the world into turmoil in 2008 but since the philosophy (if one can call it that) of an unrestrained free market capitalism skewed in favour of the rich took hold. The stored potential energy for change that has been building in the system discharged in 2016, converted into the kinetic energy of motion. The ball has started bouncing. Eventually it will run out of energy but the question is what will have happened in the interim?

So we wait like small children on bonfire night full of anticipation and trepidation as the blue touch paper slowly ignites. Hope and fear curling round each other in a finely balanced state of gleeful apprehension. Will the rocket take off and reward us with a glittering spectacle or will it topple over and screech across the garden sending us shrieking and running for safety (and kind of enjoying the danger and excitement of this out of control moment).

Like everyone else who takes even a passing interest in the affairs of the world quite a lot of articles about the how and why of Trump’s victory. I’ve listed a few at the bottom of this blog if anyone wants to go and check them out. I found there to be thoughtful and insightful analysis both from those on the left and right of the political spectrum about the events of 2016. The more I read, however, the more I realised that in my opinion they all missed one small but vital point. The ability of humans to tell stories. Each of these articles represent one person’s story about the events. We make stories because that is how we make sense of the world.

Humans are compulsive story tellers. It is our greatest strength and also our greatest weakness. I think that is the single most important genetic quirk that set us on the path to being different. My dog, clever and sagacious as he is, does not come home from his wander round the village and regale me with the story of his morning. We have been doing it for countless millennia. Our ability to tell stories is inseparably linked to the asking of questions like ‘what if’ and ‘why not’? Science is at its root the story of ‘what if’ questions and history well the name tells us what that is. We make our own individual story as we go through life, we map the world and experience into narrative and we speculate about the future through what if and why. So it is no surprise that all these commentators tell their story. Each of us has a story about 2016. Why we voted or didn’t vote, who we voted for, what we had for breakfast that day, the row with our neighbour over the dustbin, the happy feeling from someone complimenting us etc., etc. Gradually this narrative will solidify and become the history of 2016.

At the moment we’re all trying to guess what will happen and there are some scary scenarios that ty-newydd-etc-118acould well come to pass and justify any amount of anxiety. We are all ‘What iffing’ like mad. The future is uncertain because it is unknown and unknowable but that has always been the case – modern life merely gives us an illusion of security. We know this in our subconscious but our conscious mind wants a plan, wants a map through uncertain geographies. So we ‘normalise’ and therein lies our biggest threat to our species. We try to explain away or rationalise but with some things we mustn’t do that. It happened with fascism in the thirties and ended up in the second world war. We do not live in the thirties the challenges the world faces are very different and though the name fascist is applied to many on the far right this is not fascism as practised by Hitler or Mussolini or Franco. This is something different, less definite. It is born out of a system that is collapsing round our ears.

This desire to rationalise away the uncomfortable is why nothing will be done about the over exploitation of resources until disaster has occurred. Why people hope Trump will turn out to be a reasonable and enlightened President. Why Boris Johnson can say if we don’t sell arms to the Saudis someone else will. Why the Sun, Daily Mail and Express voice ever more vile sentiments about immigration and about the rule of law while politicians make feeble comments about the freedom of the press. It is why the far right deftly use the Overton principle to move humanity along the conveyor belt to the shredder.

ty-newydd-etc-120aOne of the constant questions I hear from my friends and kindred spirits is ‘how could the left have lost the hearts and minds of the dispossessed and disadvantaged to the point where they would support the very people and system that has brought them such misery. My answer? The story told by the left was complicated confusing and boring. Like one of those books where you have to keep going back to check who is who because the plot is unclear. The right on the other hand tell a rattling yarn.’Once upon a time our country was great…’ and so on and people remember the story. Well now we have to invent o new story. One that doesn’t normalise the worst aspects of the human psyche. One that celebrates co-operation and compassion as values to be cherished. Not politics not left or right but just people getting along and living together on a very small planet.

Fears discussed and addressed dissipate like mist when the sun breaks through. Fears closeted and suppressed canker and grow and are fed by those with their own agenda. Brexit happens, Trump happens Shit happens, etc., etc. We need to talk to each other. To admit that we all have a shadow line inside us even though we don’t like to admit it. It is there, those knee jerk reactions, the synaptic pathways laid down in our brains by repeated use. We need to make an effort not to normalise. To stand up against injustice even in the small everyday compass of our lives. Be open, be friendly why not? When a system is collapsing all bets are off and there is a chance this could lead to a much better future for humanity. There is a chance it could lead to another dark era for humanity. No sleepwalking allowed in interesting times otherwise in the words of Tom Leherer

“And we will all go together when we go.
What a comforting fact that is to know.
Universal bereavement,
An inspiring achievement,
Yes, we all will go together when we go.”


*Infosphere = the place where all communication happens – whether media, social media or just talking to each other.

These are some articles that resonated with me so no surprises that they are from the liberal left wing area of the Infosphere. There are several from the Guardian which these days is a toothless old dog but one of the few bits of the mainstream media that I still read. (Yanis Varoufakis) send your love to Donald Trump

Aditya Chakrabortty – Rust-belt romantics don’t get it: the middle class is being wiped out too

Owen Jones – A win for Trump was a win for bigotry. Here’s how we resist him

George Monbiot –Neoliberalism: the deep story that lies beneath Donald Trump’s triumph

Jaqueline Rose – Donald Trump’s victory is a disaster for modern masculinity

Suzanne Moore – So much has been broken by this election, but we can’t collapse in on ourselves


On keeping Diaries, Blogging and Moving

I haven’t been very active on my blog lately not because of running out of things to say; the world at the moment provides far too many topics worthy of a good rant.  No, my silence is due to the annoying habit of the non cyberspace reality poking its nose in!  Family ponderings have produced the decision to up sticks and move away from Britain.   The forthcoming election and the prospect of UKIP in any kind of coalition with the Tories has reduced my other half to a combination of quivering terror and stirrings of a  desire for violent direct action which since he is a Budhist has caused much internal debate and angst.    So we are plunged yet again into the process of sorting our stuff – for people who practice non-attachment we seem to have a hell of a lot!
Trawling through one of our many boxes of things that come under the heading of ‘too useful to throw away but haven’t been used in thirty years’ I came across an old diary from 1976 – I’m not good with diaries.   I used to want to keep them and I’d start in January with every intention this would be the year I actually was still writing it come November – I never got much beyond March;  entries in April were a rarity!  I eventually recognised my limitations in my mid thirties and gave up the whole enterprise – I can honestly say I never missed it – this diary must have been one of the last I kept.  One of the last entries  was in March and I thought I would share it – just because…

“I got very drunk last night so I went to a Turkish bath and this morning I felt better. Then I found someone had stolen my socks. That’s a mean thing to do. I had to be in Court and had no time to go and get replacement socks. It’s very hard to concentrate on making a good case when you know you have to be careful how you sit and stand so no-one will know you are not wearing any socks.”

The only other entry after that was one line written during June when Britain was in the grip of the heat wave “whole City reeks of dog shit”

The knowledge sponge – chaos and order and why does a banana have two ends?

For me, one of the best things about being human is having an enquiring mind.   I have the sort of brain that reacts to knowledge as a sponge does to water, that is to say it sucks it up with enthusiasm. Of course to get at it you need an extraction system and the brain doesn’t necessarily take kindly to being wrung out over a bucket.   I imagine the inside of my head as an infinite library system in which is stored all the knowledge I’ve come across in my lifetime (and maybe in several previous ones for all I know – consciousness as a quantum state?).  When I want to remember something I picture the librarian dispatching a functionary on roller skates into the labyrinthine caves of racked information to find the bit I want and bring it back.  It works for me!   I learnt about the central nervous system at school and the names of the two types of receptors stuck – nicotinic and muscarinic – classified by me as the tobacco and wine responses, at the time I learnt this stuff at school my extracurricular activities were focussed around experimenting with these particular substances (I told you it works for me I didn’t say it works normally).

So my brain is a complex dynamics system within which small perturbations (thoughts, ideas, experiences) cause changes in the sequence of iterated functions (firing up of neurons) resulting in a state of chaos resulting in unlikely connections being made.   We’re back looking through the other side of the eye of the needle.

I believe we need to cultivate this chaos, however, we also need to control and categorise the results in order to make sense of them; to reduce them to something useful.  No good leaping out of the bath shouting ‘Eureka’ if by the time you’ve got to your desk you’ve forgotten what it was that was so brilliant.   I once woke up in the night with the realisation that I had had the most profound insight and quickly scribbled a few words so that I would not forget it.  In the morning I picked up my notepad and read ‘a banana has two ends’.   I raised this with my friend as we cycled to work and he gave me the sort of look that is the preserve of those who have known you a very long time and still like you and simply said ‘what were you smoking last night?’  That was the point in my life when I realised I was not Nobel Prize material, more Cheech and Chong than Einstein or Archimedes, they’d have written it down and it would still have been brilliant at breakfast time (actually that also goes for Cheech and Chong it would just have been a different kind of brilliant).

Any way the perturbation that sparked off this random scribbling was reading an insightful blog by Frausto about being labelled as a ‘Latino’ how that label is used to define him and at the same time limit him.    It struck me that this sad and limiting not only for the person being labelled but also for those doing the labelling.  We all do it to some degree and it must arise from the function of the left hemisphere of our brain to categorise the world.  Now that is a necessary part of being human and if it doesn’t get in the way of the bigger picture it does no harm and potentially quite a lot of good.  Categorising is an essential part of understanding the world.  What is wrong here is that the labelling has got in the way of the bigger picture.

I worry that this seems to be an increasing phenomenon not only in respect of the idiocy of defining people simply by their ethnic origin (if it’s even that rational) but also by an increasing dominance of classification as the driver of our civilisation.  We are making the component bits more important than the whole; Latino or Anglo more important than human.   This has profound implications for all of us; already the acquisition of knowledge by experience is being downgraded in value in favour of knowledge by description.  Skills are broken down into a series of tasks and systems replace judgment, people are regarded as resources and society becomes more fragmented, social mobility slows and reverses and the gap between rich and poor steadily widens.  Somehow we are becoming unable to embrace the bigger picture.  To reduce the world to mere order is to lose something essential that makes us fully human.  A society where there is no room for chaos thinking or appreciation of the bigger picture will not help humanity.

So equip your Glia’s with roller skates and get them busy in your brain there’s at least a 1,000 terabytes of data storage in there (the US library of Congress has about 10 terabytes) – make random connections and don’t accept the world is anything other than a place of unlimited possibilities.  It doesn’t matter what the box is labelled, look inside – you don’t know what you might find.

Also why does a banana have two ends?