Tag Archives: freedom

Murmurs in Dark Times

Fear and anger, Hate’s Ravens, stalk the street
drown our senses with harsh discordant chords.
We dance to a slow, dissonant back beat
the dark rhythm of the nine of swords.
Poverty is shame. Indifference eats
at the table of compassion.  We move
backwards in a series of small defeats
caught in a twisted and broken groove.

But some small disobediences occur;
a song, a word, a dream, a connection
murmurs of hope and love behind the door.
I will say enough. Another card is drawn.
Poets sing, the dancers break and reform,
light shines through. Hand in hand life spirals on.

 

The old saying it’s an ill wind …. True! I’ve been feeling bleak and sad about where the world is headed but at the end of the day it focussed my mind on the fact that poetry, music and art are the answer to most problems.

 

Antidote

In response to all the crap richoting around the world and pinging into my inbox, news feed and every conversation I seem to have these days we took ourselves for a day out. Mention of the Daily Mail is banned in our house since it hit a new low even by its own gutter standards. David’s blood pressure jumped twenty points (mine only went up ten – an exercise in peace and love of which I am proud) on reading the headline that equated forty two percent of the British population as ‘whingeing’, ‘contemptuous’ and ‘unpatriotic’. He even started muttering things like ‘its time to stand up and be counted’ and ‘we need to blockade their offices’. At the same time our FB feeds have been full of comments from our metropolitan liberal elite friends asking after cabbage picking jobs in France.

Yesterday was a glorious October day. Misty sunrise followed by cloudless blue skies and carnac-7bright, warm sunshine. So off we went with a vow of silence on Brexit, politicians of all shades, capitalism and all things other than the present moment and where we were going to eat lunch. (The highest level of civilisation – Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the  Galaxy)

The alignments at Carnac are ancient. We make intelligent (and not so intelligent guesses) at the place’s original meaning and purpose but since no one involved published an artist’s statement or a funding proposal about its construction we don’t bloody know and probably never will. I like that. I also think my other half’s opinion that it was some kind of prehistoric welfare to work scheme is as likely as any other. Good harvest – lots of underemployed young men – get them hauling stones.

To me what it’s original purpose  might have been matters less than what it has become to us now. The stones have weathered into new forms over the millenia. People relate to carnac-4them in their own individual way, take from them what they need or want in the same way as any work of art might provoke a response. Every time we look at a painting or a statue, listen to a particular piece of music or read a familiar book our response is coloured by our own current mental attitude and mood. We see something new or we like something more, or less, or we have a different understanding. The piece itself is as it was when its creator let it go out into the world, it is us who change and mute.carnac-1

So my response yesterday was seeing the art in the stones. The sculptural forms and  colours. The play of light and shade. The references I noticed to modern art and undoubtedly the inspiration some sculptors found in the ancient connects us in a full circle of shared humanity. Though where in one piece I referenced Klimt’s kiss one of my non-metropolitan, non-elite but very free thinking liberal friends saw Elephant Seals. Ho Hum!

So enjoy a few moments of staring at the images and remembering that for all it’s scary present troubles the world is a beautiful place. That humanity contains not just the worst of emotions and impulses but also the best and that life is short but art is long. David’s day was spent studying the small intricacies of life. Filming the crickets and moths and grasshoppers, the way the blades of grass stirred in the breeze and cast shadows on the stones. A bumble bee feeding on a pine cone. The way life goes on in and around the big, momentous things almost untouched by them. He inspired me to photograph the apples I found around the stone under the tree.

apples-1

 

In Time of Breaking of Nations

Thomas Hardy’s poem was written in 1916 at the height of the Great War and just before  It seems very appropriate to use it as a title in the current circumstances of Brexit.

My Blog has been inactive now for over six months. Two reasons – firstly a complete though very positive upheaval in family circumstances meaning we now are immigrants in France. I refuse to be an Ex-pat. That to me is a word soaked in the dark heart of colonialism and empire and the fact that so many Britons living abroad use that term to describe themselves is probably a clue to the result on 23rd June.

The other reason is that sometimes it is just difficult to find words for how you feel. A feeble excuse and not what a writer should say? The truth is when I wrote my last blog entry ‘Whispering in a Hurricane’ I felt an overwhelming sense of  being a helpless spectator watching a catastrophe unfold but powerless to prevent or stop it.

I cannot in truth determine whether we stand at on the threshold of an unimaginably better or worse world. Our current global capitalist oligarchies are heading toward collapse through overexploitation, climate change and the ever widening gulf of inequality between have and have not. Could Brexit be the act that collapses it quickly before more damage is done and allows a new socially just, non-growth orientated sustainable civilisation to emerge?  Maybe, though on past performance I don’t hold out much hope. I was born at the end of the second world war. I grew up in a society that seemed to have changed irrevocably for the better. Health care, education, decent jobs and homes and not least the shared consensus that the weak and vulnerable needed protection and help. That has vanished. It lasted for about thirty five years which in hindsight was probably remarkable. The subsequent thirty five years have been marked by how remarkably easy it has been to undo all those gains for the ordinary average person.

On Friday when I felt quite desperately depressed and wanted to weep for shame at the sight of Farage triumphant I decided to retreat from the madness and read poetry. I had no particular poem or poet in mind but I turned to Yeats and the book almost of itself opened at the Stare’s nest by my window, a poem which I think speaks even more evocatively than Hardy’s about what it feels like to live in deeply troubling and uncertain times.
starling

The Stare’s Nest by My Window

The bees build in the crevices
Of loosening masonry, and there
The mother birds bring grubs and flies.
My wall is loosening; honey-bees,
Come build in the empty house of the stare.

We are closed in, and the key is turned
On our uncertainty; somewhere
A man is killed, or a house burned.
Yet no clear fact to be discerned:
Come build in the empty house of the stare.

A barricade of stone or of wood;
Some fourteen days of civil war:
Last night they trundled down the road
That dead young soldier in his blood:
Come build in the empty house of the stare.

We had fed the heart on fantasies,
The heart’s grown brutal from the fare,
More substance in our enmities
Than in our love; O honey-bees,
Come build in the empty house of the stare.

Whispering in a hurricane

I haven’t been very active on my blog – nothing since August. Over the past few months from time to time I’ve been tempted to put finger to keyboard and post in response to the various events that have spiked above the median level of my disaffection with the current state of our so called democratic society and it’s drift towards Inverted Totalitarianism. (The name coined by by Sheldon Wolin to describe the place to where it seems we are unerringly headed. A place where you absolutely do not want to be – a dystopian future that promises to combine the worst of 1984 and Brave New World.)

I haven’t been short of material. The refugee crisis and Britain’s disgusting response. The misinformation and sniping that accompanied Corbyn’s unexpected victory in the Labour party leadership contest. Nuclear deals with China, TTIP and other madness. Our purblind response to the accelerating degradation of the planet and its natural resources. The yet more austerity imposed on us by Cameron and Osborne, men who readily understand that The comfort of the rich depends upon an abundant supply of the poor.”*

But each time I’ve sat down I’ve been overcome by the vision that all I’m doing is whispering in a hurricane. After all what can I add that others have not already said much better and more persuasively. Whose reach and audience is so much greater than mine. And I’ve deleted my words and posted a picture of a cat playing the piano on FB instead. I’d almost come to think that words were simply part of the problem and the solution might be to forget prose in favour of doing. Providing help to desperate refugees, marching to protest against the degradation of the environment or closer to home putting food in food banks for the hungry, etc. – pick your cause and get going.

Now the terrible bombings in Lebanon (hardly reported by our mainstream media) followed by Friday’s events in Paris have prodded me into writing this. It still seems like whispering in a hurricane but I came to the conclusion that the volume and reach of what one says is less important than the fact that one says it. No words can adequately describe the horror of bombing unsuspecting people who are going about the daily business of their lives (and by extension our lives). I lived in London at the height of the IRA bombing campaign. It had the same purpose of shock and horror. The idea of turning the inhabitants of Britain against the Irish who lived among them, their neighbours and work mates. Isolation and division. It didn’t work then because the strands between Britain and Ireland are old and deep and although there was some anti Irish sentiment in the immediate aftermath of each atrocity by and large it faded quickly.

Most of us live in the comfortable middle ground between secular and spiritual, good and evil, eschewing extremes and rubbing along with each other as best we can. The extremists call it the grey zone because it does not belong in their world of absolutes, of black versus white. Daesh want to destroy the grey zone. Daesh – I prefer that term to ISIS or the Caliphate or any other name they choose because it is an Arabic word meaning ‘a group of bigots who impose their will on others’ which perfectly sums up not only Daesh but every other extremist movement in history. They want only polarised extremes not the colourful, chaotic, holistic, tolerant centre where humanity flourishes. Unlike other extremists such as the the UDF and the IRA they won’t sit down and carve up the territory once they’ve removed all the moderates from the equation. What can you say to a man who tells you he prefers obeying God rather than men, and that as a result he’s certain he’ll go to heaven if he cuts your throat?” *

Before we get too complacent we should remember that it isn’t so long ago that we had religious intolerance, bigotry and hatred of that dimension in Europe. The religious conflicts that tore through Europe between 1520 and 1650 were on any interpretation bloody and brutal; every bit as appalling as anything Daesh are serving up in the so called Caliphate and elsewhere. Drawing parallels from history is always a risky business because history does not repeat itself – it would be too easy if it did – but we can look at what happened in the past and ask ourselves some searching questions.

The first must be, what is it about our way of life that makes it worth preserving? What is it that makes us sure that what Daesh stands for; the way it wants to shape society is wrong and abhorrent? The second must be, is the rhetoric of war is the right solution? If not then what is the right response? Each of us may answer these questions differently. I have no easy or complete answers. What is important is that we ask them and consider our answers to them. Then we should ask ourselves what consequences might flow from our action or non-action. Not just the ones we desire but all the ones that might occur.  What those responses say about us as people and about the sort of world we want to inhabit. 

It seems to me that extremism is born out of fear and hatred. Out of poverty and oppression and injustice. It is fed by ignorance. We created a vacuum with our ill judged war in Iraq and Daesh have filled it. Faced now with a force that clearly understands the value in war of shock and awe (videos of beheadings, mass killings) and who want to impose on us their world view rooted in the violent seventh century beginnings of the Muslim faith what should our response be? For me the answers to the questions I posed above lie in the essential difference between tolerance and humanity and their polar opposites. I don’t believe we should bomb Syria or put our troops on the ground there. We have already made enough of a mess in the middle east. That is the easy option that will lead only to Daesh recruiting more eager young people who want to be martyrs. I do think we should support the Kurds and the Iraqis and others who have no option but to fight Daesh because they are defending their homes and loved ones. Perhaps the only justification for war is the need for self defence in the face of an enemy who is hell bent on destroying you and everything you stand for.

In opposing the idea of ever increasing military action I am not saying we should wring our hands and do nothing. We can and should retaliate. Anonymous are taking down Jihadist twitter feeds through hacking. I may defend your right to free speech even though I dislike what you say but when you abuse your right and use it to incite hatred and violence I am entitled to exercise my right to stop you. We also need to cut off their supplies of money and arms. They trade in oil. How? We should concentrate on blocking that source of income rather than bombing Syria. We should above all welcome and help the victims of Daesh. The millions of desperate Syrians who are flooding across the borders into Europe. They are not the people we should be scared of. They are the people who we should help not only out of common humanity but also because they are our greatest allies against the threat posed by Daesh to all of us.

fuck daesh copyA friend of mine lives in the 11th arondissement not far from the Boulevard Voltaire. He took this picture and posted it on FB. A more wholesome and human reaction than that of media and politician’s calls to close borders and hate and blame ‘migrants’. One that neatly encapsulates why living in the ‘grey zone’ is the best place for humans.

Our politicians on the other hand seem hell bent on war. Those who aren’t are dubbed extremists. Why? Doubt is an uncomfortable condition, but certainty is a ridiculous one.” *

The only way to comprehend what mathematicians mean by Infinity is to contemplate the extent of human stupidity.” *

* Voltaire – it seems appropriate to quote him after last Friday.

Where next for Europe?

greece gets stomped

What we have watched unfold over the last five months goes far beyond the petty inadequacies of European politicians and poses a fundamental question to all of us.

What type of society do we want to live in – what type of world view do we want our children to inherit?

The Greeks have been subject to a harsh lesson. Freedom exists only in so far as you do not test its limits. Stay within the prescribed limits and you can have the illusion that you are free. Attempt to step over the boundary and feel the sting of the lash.

Society is one of those BIG words (as Cameron abused it) but basically society is a structural and functional arrangement that reflects the norms, values and mores of the individuals within it. Democratic society governs this arrangement by way of the will of the majority – imperfect but better than the alternatives. That is why the shifting of values of individuals within the population is of such fundamental importance to those who wish to change the nature of the society in which we live. The triumph of neo-liberal ideology is that it has mastered the art of shifting the baseline of popular opinion so much better than those of us who are merely ineffectually liberal minded and tolerant.

Worms of the world unite and turn.” Maybe lacks something as a rallying cry but it is where we’re at. Further more worms are good, honest and useful creatures.

Aristotle, The Troika and Hubris

Democracy in chains (image © adeg 2009)

Aristotle defined hubris as shaming the victim, not because of anything that had happened to a person or might happen to a person, but merely for that person’s own gratification in the victim’s humiliation. In its modern usage, hubris denotes overconfident pride and arrogance.

The Troika (IMF, ECB and EC*) are guilty of it in both it’s ancient and modern meaning. Their intransigent stance has little or nothing to do with curing the long term problems that bedevil Greece (and Italy, Spain and Portugal) and much more to do with punishing the Greeks for daring to challenge the status quo. No-one with any modicum of intelligence (whatever else I think of them I acquit Merkel, Lagarde, Schäuble, Juncker and Draghi* of stupidity) can really believe that more austerity will do anything to solve the Greek crisis. Many well respected economists and even parts of the IMF itself are protesting ever more loudly at the absurdity and wrongness of continuing to administer poison to a dying patient but are resolutely ignored. The present situation has been brought about by the inequality of power and by the strong being unable to exercise restraint – being unable to resist pushing for that final total capitulation by the weak. Greece must be punished not because it will do them any good but to show them who rules. So the Greeks have been shown the naked power of the money and bankers.

Less than a month after being elected the Greek government was told in no uncertain terms that the will of its people as expressed at the ballot box was irrelevant. The Germans in the person of Schäuble indulged in some distasteful triumphalism; his comment “Being in government is a date with reality, and reality is often not as nice as a dream”, deserves to rank with “Let them eat cake”. The troika have not budged from this stance in all the months of negotiation.

Only a small fraction of the €240bn (£170bn) total bailout money received in 2010 and 2012 found its way into the government’s coffers to soften the blow of the 2008 financial crash and fund reform programmes. Most of the money went to the banks that lent Greece funds before the crash. Unlike most of Europe, which ran up large budget deficits to protect pensioners and welfare recipients, Athens was then forced to dramatically reduce its deficit by squeezing pensions and cutting the minimum wage. In January the social crisis that resulted from the collapse of the Greek economy prompted them to elect a government pledged to end austerity. For the Greeks there really is no alternative. The ‘TINA’ so beloved of neoliberal proponents of austerity was turned on its head and the gloves came off.

The Troika continue to threaten Greece by saying voting ‘No’ means a euro exit (and by implication an EU exit). That is blatant interference in the democratic process. Whatever the outcome of the present crisis whether Greece votes Yes and capitulates or whether it votes No and marches into the unknown is almost irrelevant against the fact that the leaders of Europe in conjunction with the IMF have destroyed its raison d’etre. In the aftermath of the Twentieth Century’s two wars that had wrenched Europe apart and led to untold misery for millions, leaders who were a diverse group but who held the same ideals: a peaceful, united and prosperous Europe, came together to lay the foundations of the European Union in the Treaty of Rome. The ideal of a Europe that created prosperity and stability for all its citizens has been subsumed to the demands of the market.

‘The Market’ and ‘Market Forces’ have come to be invested with the kind of superstitious reverence and belief in their omnipotent capability to solve and rule every aspect of life. This bears much more resemblance to Cargo Cults (the belief that various ritualistic acts will lead to a bestowing of material wealth) than any model of society based on enlightened, humane and consensual (democratic) beliefs. If we are indeed a union then the stronger economies should support the weak (as has always happened within Nation States where governments direct support to poorer areas for example in the UK extra development funds to the North East of England or the Welsh Valleys; though sadly I fear this may also be in danger from austerity fever). What we seem to be witnessing in 2015 is the opposite; the main beneficiaries of the wealth created by Europe pointing the finger of blame at the poor. Malthus* is alive and well and holds the consciences of our leaders in his grasp.

That said I believe the true crisis here is one of democracy not economics. Neoliberal ideology could not let a left wing government demonstrate a viable alternative to the social engineering of society through austerity. In Britain we start from a stronger base but we are the subject of the same wrenching apart of society through ever widening inequality and Malthusian attitudes to the ‘poor’. British exit from EU will not solve our problems but it might just solve Greece’s. There will be a lot of pain but at least there will be some hope of a better and fairer society whereas there is none on offer from the present zeitgeist of Europe. Not what I hoped when I voted enthusiastically for Britain to join Europe – betrayed is the word that sums up my attitude to EU now. How many hundreds of thousands of Europe’s citizens are, like me, sitting in their homes reading about or watching to the unfolding crisis and wondering how the ideals and the vision of those who founded the European project have been so fundamentally betrayed.

The events of this last week would on the surface seem to make Britain’s exit from Europe more likely but no doubt even if the British people were to express the desire to leave the Union their votes would count for nothing if multi national corporations, bankers and billionaire manipulators of politicians want us to remain in the EU. Freedom and democracy are linked as if the one predicates the other; as if freedom implies democracy and vice versa. The generally accepted definition of democracy up to now has been Government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected representatives.” That is rapidly becoming the big lie of the twenty first century. The forms are preserved but the freedom to choose is ever more limited. How ironic that the nation credited with the invention of the democratic ideal is the one where its funeral rites are being held. Where the panegyric delivered by Merkel et al in praise of democracy trumpets this ideal as Government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected representatives except where this conflicts with the interests of banks and multi-national corporations.”

*International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and European Commission
*Agela Merkel German Chancellor, Christine Lagarde head of IMF, Wolfgang Schäuble German Finance Minister, Jean Claude Junker head of the EC and Mario Draghi head of ECB)
*Malthus – Thomas Robert Malthus (1766 – 1834) Malthus developed the theory of demand-supply mismatches that he called gluts. Discounted at the time, this theory foreshadowed later works of an admirer, John Maynard Keynes. He is however best remembered for the views expressed in his 1798 essay on population “That population does invariably increase when the means of subsistence increase, and, that the superior power of population is repressed, and the actual population kept equal to the means of subsistence, by misery and vice.” In it’s most extreme form – being kind to the poor is cruelty and it’s their own fault they are poor so only harshness will prompt them to work to lift themselves out of poverty.