Saturday, 18 November 2017

I am not who you want me to be

I am approaching retirement after forty plus years of working in the computer industry or teaching in higher education or universities. Along the way, I have done a number of interesting things but I find myself saying that I am retiring to pursue the things that I want to do and to be who I want to be. I am revolting against being forced to conform and be someone that I am not.
I often wonder how many others are crying inside saying “let me be who I am and not what you think I should be.” I fear that some of them who resolve to be free turn to violence and become something that they end up loathing more than what they were trying to escape from in the first place. Others simply give up and try and escape in activities away from the daily grind for survival. Is this really what life is all about?
This blog is stimulated by the situation that I find myself in but I was also motivated by some reading that I am currently doing on peacebuilding (Francis, 2010). She was reflecting on people movements and in particular how some people movements started by women with no formal education change when they become funded so that the originators of the movement are no longer involved. This happens because the funding organisation seeks professionals to run the movement and not amateurs. In the process, the movement loses its original focus and becomes what it can obtain funds to achieve.
As I look back over my life, I see a number of recurring patterns related to this theme. I am a problem solver and technician. I enjoy the challenge of making things work or of uncovering the underlying problems. However, I found frequently, I was being pushed to take on managerial roles or in the role that I was in, they have added a whole swag of managerial type tasks. In nearly every case, I have rebelled by moving on or in some cases getting in and doing the technical work that was required rather than the managerial work. Most of my managers never understood and I suspect still don’t. Promotion systems rely on people seeking to move up the ranks into management but not all want to be managers. Quite frankly some of us don’t want management roles at all.
Let me give some examples. In the late 1980s I was working for a company that ran a computer bureau operation. I initially went in as a programmer supporting a bank. The asked me to manage the introduction of IBM’s new AS400 into the bureau. A bureau operation is different to how these machines were used within companies so we needed to ensure that they were configured to match our security requirements. Those who supported these systems contended that we could not achieve what we wanted to achieve because what we wanted wasn’t how they did things with these machines. I was supposed to be the manager but I demanded the manuals and set about verifying whether they were correct. I quickly discovered that they weren’t correct but that the conventions in the use of these machines was to use the super user to maintain all the software on the system. I set about setting up what we wanted partly because the people who were supposed to do it for me flatly refused. The technician in me loved solving the problem. I didn’t enjoy the management issues of getting someone else to get it right.
Later in education, I was asked to prepare a proposal for the introduction of a degree programme. Once we had it through the approval processes and were implementing it, I was asked to manage the programme. Sorry managing the programme isn’t me so I found myself a position that would allow me to return to the technical work and when that migrated back to managerial tasks, I resigned again and moved back to a teaching role.
I look at why I am not getting a large number of research outputs in my current role and I could argue that it is because the role is focused on teaching but there is a deeper problem. Research roles once you get past the original qualifying work (i.e. obtaining a PhD and getting a base research history) are not about doing the research. They are about obtaining research funding, recruiting novice researchers, and managing the research process. Although I have seen a number of things achieved through student final year projects and with a PhD student, I find myself frustrated because the ideas that I have are not being implemented. They are being distorted. I find my knowledge base is secondary knowledge and not primary knowledge (although I admit for teaching preparation, I do experiment with the ideas and technology so I have a practical working knowledge). I love the experimentation that goes with learning new things. I enjoy the challenge of experimentation and implementation. I do not get that as a manager or in the roles that I find a university wants me to be. I can not be a teacher who teaches from someone else’s materials. I have to teach from what I understand and know. This means there is a huge overhead when I am asked to teach something that is not part of my background and it becomes worse when what I am asked to teach is not something that interests me. I teach from my knowledge base which I work to expand and through interaction with the learners. In the process my knowledge and their knowledge grows.
As I watch crowds of people going to and from work, and receive calls from people being paid to pester people with marketing that they don’t want to receive, I am not surprised by the problems that we have in this world. How many of these people are actually finding fulfilment in the work that they are employed to do? They work because the system says that this is the way to earn money. They don’t work for enjoyment or to improve things for others. Each day is the same old drudge just to earn a little more.
I suspect in my retirement that I may need to supplement my income from time to time with work but I am determined that the focus will be on things that I want to do and see as valuable and not things dictated to me by a system that I no longer see as valuable or support.
If you are a manager and reading this then please give your workers space to be themselves and to explore things that they want to do. Let them find out who they are and give them space to develop some of the characteristics that make them who they really are. If you work for a funding agency then give the movement you are funding space to be able to keep those people involved who set the movement going even if they don’t have the qualification and credentials you desire. You will get more from people if they find that what they are doing allows them to be who they are and to find enjoyment in what they are doing.


 Francis, D. (2010). From pacification to peacebuilding: A call to global transformation. England: Pluto Press.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

The Path To Retirement

I am beginning the process of preparing to retire but this does not mean doing nothing. What I am looking forward to is being able to pursue some of my dreams and visions that have been bogged down by the daily grind of work. I am not retiring because I wait to finish working. I am retiring because I no longer see the work that I am doing moving in the direction that I believe is desirable. In fact, I have come to the conclusion that I no longer belief in the system that my work is promoting or encouraging others to pursue. One of the possibilities for retirement is that I will have a base income that will allow us to meet our needs but that income will not dictate how I spend my days. It will allow us to fulfil our potential in areas that have been dormant while we have pursued the income that we believed we needed to live.
Earlier this year (25 March), I blogged on a set of progressive principles that I had been working with a group here in Birmingham to develop. The key principle for me from our five principles is enabling potential. I know others argued that this principle was too academic and was the weakest of the principles that we developed. For me, if we recognise the importance of enabling potential then our attitudes will change to the way that we see others and to the way education is developed. It would also change the way that we treat other nations and I believe resolve many of our international relationship issues.
Enabling potential is about understanding the needs of others and the environment to enable them to flourish using the skill set that they have been given. Our current economic and educational system looks at all things from the perspective of the profit that can be made from them. Under the current system, the use of the environment is about maximising production whether in farming or extracting natural resources. Enabling the environment to flourish is something that individuals have to fight for against the system.
In the education, I see it increasingly being about indoctrination of students to become part of the current system and not about helping them to become what they are capable of becoming. We push large numbers through a pipeline for the purposes of enabling them to be employed in a system that is slowly destroying them and the planet. That indoctrination process doesn’t ask them to question the direction of society or to evaluate evidence. That might make them unemployable. The fact that encouraging the questions to question and to develop their potential might lead to a better society is irrelevant.
Two of the other principles are equal society and economy for the common good. I believe neither of these principles will be achieved without creating a needs based economy, that is one that focuses on meeting needs rather than achieving profits. I believe that this was the basis of the original obligation systems (Graeber, 2011; Martin, 2013) and not for the accounting of what was owed as the result of a trade. What was exchanged was what was predominantly what was needed to live.
A needs based economy and enabling potential require a change in focus from what can I make from this exchange to understand others and the environment so that we can meet their needs. This makes it a much more relational attitude and one that encourages understanding. This is how I understand conflict resolution or transformation and particularly peace building. Government peace building often focuses on creating infrastructure and economies (Francis, 2010) but this ignores the relational aspects of peace building. My interest is to promote this more relational approach to peace building, economics, environment, and individual relationships.
So if you are interested in building a different society to the one that we have now. A society that is not competitive but cooperative. One that fosters potential rather than indoctrinates then lets talk.


Graeber, D. (2011). Debt: The first 5,000 years. New York: Melville House.
Martin, F. (2013). Money, The unauthoriesd biography. London: The Bodley Head.
Francis, D. (2010). From pacification to peacebuilding: A call to global transformation. England: Pluto Press.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

The Wider Ecosystem

Being without the MacBook Pro that I have worked on for the last six years has taught me a few things about the way that I am dependent on the computing environment that I have created. Being able to restore my data did allow me to continue work but it lacked the tool set that I was familiar with and I found myself looking to get my environment back. A Ubuntu based system provided my first interim system but it lacked the tools that made my job easier. I am not keen on remember lots of command line commands to get basic tasks completed nor do I favour test editors over proper development environments that tell you when you have a syntax error. I wanted the tool set that I was used to and am familiar with. To compound it LibreOffice which I use for doing these blogs did not edit PowerPoint slides without corrupting the graphics and some of the animations. A Widows system with Microsoft Office helped the editing problem but I was conscious that I was losing a lot of time fighting the systems that were not setup for the way that I work. The computer needs to be a productivity aid and not a handicap to productivity.
I did manage almost seven days ago to get an iMac to boot from the MacBook Pro disk. That gave me all except the network connectivity that I was used to. But having proved that the iMac would run the latest software and talk to the network, our tech support decided it needed to be upgraded to the latest OS X and set up to the current university standard. That meant a change in my user id. Sounds simple but how do you transfer you settings from one user id to another?
Yes, I made some progress by running from the MacBook Pro disk drive but my Time Machine backup is accessible to the iMac (different networks and location and I am not prepared to put my backup on a public network). Still everything is on the MacBook Pro disk so migrate from there. That would have worked fine as long as the user id was not changing or the user id was not already setup. Two days more lost migrating and copying files and I am getting closer to what I used to have but still feels a long way off. This is now two weeks of low productivity and I am conscious that when the replacement MacBook Pro arrives, it will be configured to the latest university standard so taking the time on the iMac may make it easier to migrate. That is at least the hope. I might be able to set it running the migration over a weekend and go in on the Monday to a working system (as the New Zealand Tui beer adds say ‘Yeah Right!’).
This whole episode reminds me of being a systems programmer supporting IBM’s VM/370 and DOS/VSE operating systems. Each new release meant changes in the configurations. The systems programmer spent their time setting the system up and ensuring that migration was possible. Here I am thinking again about system configuration but I am conscious that my current system configuration is based on having access to the Mac OS X environment. Is it possible to have a more portable work environment configuration? A portable environment that would work regardless of the operating system or equipment supplier. Supposedly cloud computing is the solution but do I want all my data and applications out in the cloud?

I am talking here about computer ecosystems and what we get used to but I am also conscious of how dependent we get on modes of transport and wider social environments. Changes in these also influence our productivity and how we respond to the things that are happening around us. Rebuilding a work environment or social environment when it has been uprooted through relocation or disaster is not easy. Yet, the current economic thinking assumes mobility and adaptability. Could it be possible that our workers might be more productive if we provided them with a more stable work environment? I believe that we can and should but then I am just a squeaky door that can be ignored.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Stuck or Locked into an Ecosystem

This blog is prompted by the failure of my six year old work MacBook Pro. I love the machine and the Mac interface, and I like the way that I can step down to a BSD Unix command line when I need to but what do you do when your faithful computer system fails? I was fortunate because I had used Beyond Compare to update my backup on my home network drive (NAS – Network Accessible Storage) and I had also used the Apple Time Machine backup to place a copy of the critical files on the NAS drive. Just for security, I have two of NAS drives and one backs up to the other on a weekly basis. They also use a four disk RAID disk arrays so that if one drive fails, I can replace it and the system will recover with no lose of data. That makes it sound like I am fairly safe against equipment failure. Right???
But before I describe some of the issues that arose, let me make sure you understand what is meant by an ecosystem. The meaning according to the Oxford dictionary is “Community of interacting organisms and their physical environment.” That meaning is based around the natural environment but a more general use of the term again according to the Oxford dictionary is “a complex network or interconnected system.” So in the context of this blog, I am going to talk about the Apple Ecosystem or the Android Ecosystem or the Windows Ecosystem or the Microsoft Office Ecosystem or your favourite browser ecosystem but I might stray into the economic ecosystem as well. Why? Well the failure of my MacBook Pro taught me a lot about my dependency on the features of these systems and on my assumptions about how economic systems work.
Let me explain: We become used to using the features of our chosen system to manage our work environment. In my case, this wasn’t simply the files and data that I worked with but things like remembering user ids, passwords and URLs. I don’t trust to memory many of the everyday tasks because I like to use my brain for the more challenging thinking so why clutter memory with things that my tool set can remember for me. I wish security experts understood this trait because they might then understand why all their efforts at strengthening the security of systems fail but that is a side issue maybe for a later blog.
I quickly restored my files from the backup that I do with Beyond Compare because this is simply a copy of the files to my backup drives. Accessing the Apple Time Machine backup was a little more difficult. At work, I had access to an iMac except I could not log in because it was no longer recognised by the work network and anyway it couldn’t access my home based NAS drive (I deliberately have not made this accessible via the internet. Attaching to the internet is like making it a public resource so ensuring it can’t be reached is key to security). Option one gone. Option two was to use computers in the university labs but these are dual boot of either Windows or Linux and again don’t have access to my home NAS drive. I was provided with a temporary desktop machine that runs Ubuntu. That is reasonably close to Linux and the BSD core of the Mac operating system so few difficulties with using the machine but what about the software combinations?
I was conscious that my Beyond Compare backup was completed at the weekend and I had two days work that was only captured on the Apple Time Machine backup so how do you access that. I found a piece of software that would give me access from our home Windows computer so latest backed up copies were restored but did I have everything I needed?
The MacBook had Microsoft Office on it and I used Outlook to manage my emails (the Mac Outlook file format isn’t compatible with the Windows version although you can export and import between them provided you have a Mac). Still web access was there for emails that I hadn’t downloaded but the history of emails was gone (and still is). A lot of my lecture materials are based on PowerPoint or Word documents. LibreOffice will solve that (right?). Well not quite. Subtle differences in the way formatting is handled makes even simple documents a potential problem and I have animations in my lecture slides and the lecture theatres all have Windows based lecture machines so compatibility is key.
But it was all those website URLs and passwords that were the real issue. They were locked away in the Keychain on the Mac although shared with Safari and somewhere out there on the cloud. The solution was to install Safari (No longer supported by Apple for Windows nor Ubuntu). At least I have the iPhone and iPad so I can look them up there but you need internet access, right! Fortunately, I do have that but what I am really getting at is our dependence on the ecosystem that includes our chosen operating system, software tool set, and the internet with all its security risks.
Whether we are using the Apple, Microsoft, or some brand of Linux/Unix, we are locked into that ecosystem especially if we use its features for saving critical information such as user ids, passwords and URLs. However, the same applies for browsers. I have already highlighted the Safari issue but it also happens with Firefox, Chrome, … Each use their own file formats for saving critical data. Any tool we use potentially has that problem.
Some of my computer science colleagues would say the solution is easy use what I will call the lowest common denominator (i.e. text files) or files that contain the equivalent of text (i.e. Latex or XML). All you need is a text editor to access them. I explore this some years ago toward the end of WordPerfect. One reason why I was using WordPerfect was that it allowed me to use SGML, the forerunner of XML to produce documents. For a while, this gave me a combination of WYSIWIG (What You See Is What You Get) and a file format that I could access and maintain separate to the WordPefect. The idea never really gained popularity and many of my colleagues in computer science would suggest Latex as a preferred option that gave better typesetting. The thing is using text based files does man that you are not having to find specialist tool sets (software) to access your data when things fail. (I am going to ignore encryption in this discussion because that adds another level of issues and for the average user is possibly beyond their ability to resolve).
However, this whole episode has made me think of other dependencies on the ecosystem. Having just leased an electric car, I am conscious of the dependency on an infrastructure that doesn’t actually have a consistent access. We have to sign up to a number of different schemes to gain access to electricity pumps. Some are RFID card access and others are app on smart phone access. Are we leaving ourselves open to running out of charge in the middle of no where with no electricity pump we can use? Fortunately, we can use a standard power outlet but that is a slower charging process but may give us enough charge to get to a faster charging pump.
All of these are symptoms of our growing dependency on technologies many of which are not standardised but we also have also accepted an economic ecosystem. One that involves credit checks, debts, digital currencies, cash cards, … Few stop to ask where this race is actually heading or whether this economic ecosystem is actually fit for purpose. Theoretically as the UK works toward separation from the EU, it has the opportunity to rethink some of these economic issues but I doubt whether they will be rethought or whether the questions will really be asked about inequality. Why?
We are locked into a growth economic mindset and a belief that as long as the economy keeps growing, there will be access to everything that people need. This is despite the signs that in something like a 200 year period, we have gone from surplus of many natural resources to scarcity. It is tempting to argue that poverty has increased but my family history research tells me that over 500 years or maybe more, society has never dealt with poverty well. We have condemned people to the poor house because they were locked into an old ecosystem that was no longer relevant in technological advance. Employment agent continue to do this when people are made redundant. Our mindset is shuttered by the economic environment in which we work.
What could have been an obligation to meet the needs of others with our skill set has been replaced by an obligation to pay for the goods and services we receive. How many of us received from our parents the resources that we needed to gain an education and to get our first employment. Mine didn’t do it because they were expecting a return on investment and we didn’t do it for our children because we expected them to pay us back. Yet, the basis on which we run our economies is maximising for self and arguing for return on investment. That economic perspective locks us in as much as the technologies we use to write this blog or do many of the other things in life.

Let us stop and think what is really important and what it would take to survive if and when our economic ecosystem collapses. Historical evidence suggests that we have the intuition to survive without these ecosystems but are we losing these intuitive skills just as we are losing the fertile ground to grow our crops in the local community? It is time for a rethink and to ask what type of ecosystem do we want to be locked into.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Remembering War

In early June, I travelled with some of my in-laws to various sites related to World War I. My in-laws' grandfather served in World War I in Egypt and Mesen, Belgium and my grandfather also served in Egypt (1916) and Mesen (Belgium and France - 1917-1918). Their grandfather was wounded at Mesen (7 June 1917) and shipped out to Brockenhurst, England for medical care and then to relations in Devon to recover. Mine gained a military cross through action in the trenches near the Wulverhgem-Wytschaette Road (1917) and then was sent for officer training in Oxford, UK in early 1918. Both lives may have been saved by being taken away from the conflict. It certainly seems to be a common story of survivors.

The initial part of our journey was to Bulford to find a chalk kiwi on the hill above what was known a Sling Camp where some New Zealand troops were trained and based. We then went on the Brockenhurst where a New Zealand military hospital was based. This was where we first came across a Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery in St Nicholas' Church graveyard. In the church, we learnt more about the history of the hospital, the medical innovations developed, and the presence of the New Zealand troops. In the church car park, we came across a Ngā Tapuwae ( board describing New Zealand's involvement in Brockenhurst during WWI.

After a brief exploration of Devon, where my in-laws family came from, it was off to France and Belgium to attend 100 year ceremonies of New Zealand involvement in WWI at Mesen and visit sites that would give us a picture of what it would have been like. Our Back-Roads Tours driver was very well informed and researched a number of things related to those of us on the trip. This included visiting sites where New Zealand troops would have served including the spot where the action occurred that led to my grand father's military medal.

However, visiting cemetery after cemetery containing the graves of those identified (most under the age of 25) and memorials to those who were never found takes its toll. Also seeing graves marked as containing up to eight unknown soldiers leaves you wondering what this war was really about especially when you realise that although the Western Front stretched from the sea to the Swiss boarder, the battles all took place within a band that was only four miles wide. For a lot of the war, it was a complete stalemate. Looking over the battlefields, even those that still have the trenches and bomb craters visible doesn't portray the hardship that the men on both sides had to endure. You could see the importance of holding the high ground which often the German forces did during this period but there is no sign of the mud and rubble that cluttered the landscape nor any realisation of the live ammunitions still buried under the cultivated fields. The landscape looks peaceful now but in 1917 through 1918, what was this really like?

I cannot talk of how my grandfather felt or in fact of how any of the soldiers in this conflict felt during or after the war. Even of the second world war, I only have the stories of my uncles and those of my father's service in Japan after the war. Would they continue to see war as an option? I have no idea but I know that I don't and that I don't see war as a way to bring peace. Some of the stories our tour guide told us left me feeling that war was little more than legalised murder.

Does that mean that I see my grandfather as a murder? No, I suspect that he felt he was simply doing his duty. I cannot make any judgement on them or those who served with them. I suspect that if I lived through that period, I may have taken on the values that they held. My values now are different and my understanding of events are different. I could never serve in the military forces nor use their training opportunities or research grants for my own advancement. Like many others, I call for the government to invest in peace-building initiatives and not militaristic endeavours. What would happen if we invested as much in peace-building as we do in weapon building?

I recognise that a lot of advancement in medical research and technology research (i.e. the internet) have come about because of military expenditure but I would contend that the insecurity we feel and our distrust of others comes from our militarism. I write this with the backdrop of President Trump and North Korea facing off in a struggle of strength with each threatening even more catastrophic action if the other doesn't back down. Who will blink first and who will really suffer because of the posturing of these two leaders and their leadership teams? Who paid or is paying the price in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and other conflict zones around the globe? Do we even have any idea how to rebuild these countries once conflict is resolved? Do we understand how to help past colonies to settle their internal disputes or do they, as I read somewhere, have to go through the same civil unrest (wars) as we did in order to reach some form of peace?

It has taken me two months to get to a point where I could write this blog. I think that I can understand how my grandfather might have reacted in self defence when faced with a German soldier searching the allied trenches. Trained as he was, I too would probably have attempted to fight him off and force them to retreat. Part of the problem is that that was the wrong environment to start negotiations but I wonder about the truces that enabled a football game to be played between the enemy sides. Could there have been an agreement between those on the front that the killings should stop? That they as individuals held no grudge or personal hatred for each other? I don't know but it seems likely if we had a different understanding of how to resolve conflicts.

Before I embarked on this tour of World War I sites, I was unsure of how I would react. I do not see war as a solution and I have considerable difficulty attending ceremonies where war is remembered for the “freedom” that it brought us. This journey reinforced my feelings about the futility of war and has further reinforced the feeling that we need more effort put into international peace and reconciliation studies. There are plenty of examples where non-violence has brought about change on the national stage of a number of countries through exposing what is wrong with the politics of a nation. Is it possible to apply the same principles of non-violence on the international stage to expose world problems and to bring about a redress of the way we interact internationally? Has it ever really been put to the test?

Western nations supply much of the weaponry and then go to war to defeat those that we have supplied and maybe even trained. Does this make any sense? Is our only form of defence when we get a 'rouge' state to posture that we have more weaponry than them? Should we be surprised that these 'rouge' states want the weaponry that we have at our disposal? Is mutual assured destruction (MAD) or self-assured destruction (SAD) really viable forms of maintaining peace? We need viable alternative and we need them quickly.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Classism and Employment Contracts

The leadership in the UK blindly trundles on believing that there is nothing in the British capitalistic system that would cause a person to pursue an action against the state (i.e. terrorism). I argue that this is blindness to the very structure and organisation of the capitalist system. Martin Luther King Jr. (1968) saw that the civil rights movement had achieved changes in race relationships but the underlying issues of racism, materialism, and militarism remained. The struggle had to continue for the poor of any race and for poor nations. This struggle must continue since colonialism, classism, materialism, and militarism are not dead. They continue to drive our society in subtle ways and are engrained in many of our attitudes.

What I believe King was seeing is the impact of a framing story, a story that we live by. Our framing stories do not change overnight or simply because there is a law change. A framing story requires conceptual change. A change in the way we think and the assumptions that we use on a daily basis. The old colonies may have been given their independence but if we are continuing to try a dictate how they develop then we still have a colonial attitude. The class system may be dismantled but if we endeavour to keep someone in a particular state of employment then we still have classism.

I see the problems of framing stories on a daily basis. They come across in the way news is presented and in the reactions to disasters or acts of violence but they also come across in daily workplace interactions. This became clear again to me through the process of discussing workloads and contractual status for the next academic year. What do I mean?

I have touched on the ideas of economic slavery in previous posts (21 February 201523April 2017, 14 May 2017). In those, I have argued that the type of work or the employment position dictates someone's status in the economic order. However, I want to take this idea further in this post. I am going to contend that employment contracts can and are used as a way of keeping people in their place. It was clear in discussions that I have had this week that what my employment contract says is more important than what I am capable of doing or even might be interested in doing. The discussion wasn't simply about my work for the next academic year, it was also about the lack of prospects for those on similar contracts. I was left in no doubt that those on contracts like mine should not expect to do anything else but be a teaching slave (my terminology) and they should accept that as the basis of their employment contract.

This isn't about promotion since promotion is possible within my contract. This is about the nature of the work and the expectations that people on my type of contract should have. It assumes that a person accepting my type of contract, accepted it because all they wanted to do was teach and not to explore the subject or how to communicate the subject. Most of those that I have talked to took the contract because they wanted to pursue an academic career. Many like myself found it difficult to obtain lecturer status because they didn't yet have the research background or because their field of research isn't widely supported or encouraged, or there were family reasons for not moving from their current location. Mobility is assumed when it comes to career paths but mobility isn't always possible.

Having grown up in a society where stepping outside the bounds of contractual agreements was encouraged and working to change things for the better was fostered, this attitude of contractual containment irritates and frustrates. What I see in contractual enforcement is simply another form of classism. The original class structure seemed to be about who your parents were or the class into which you were born (I still see this existing even in more liberal societies). This modern form of classism seems to be about what your employment contract is or says. There is no understanding of individual potential (25 March 2017) and definitely no encouragement to pursue creativity outside the limited sphere of your contract.

As the civil rights movement saw changes in the law to end segregation and to achieve voter registration for all, they also saw an increase in riots primarily initiated by the poor or disadvantaged. This I believe is what we see now with the acts of violence in our society. Some who feel trapped in the system of poverty or employment contracts or conformity to western capitalistic attitudes find their escape through attacking the very culture that makes them feel trapped. The riots of the 1960s tended to be against property but what we are seeing in the current wave of violence is that it is against people. Maybe this says something about the current feelings of entrapment within the system. The poverty or lack of status isn't about ownership or access to ownership (i.e. property or possessions). It is about the way they are treated or respected. An employment contract or the enforcement of an employment contract can be a catalyst for feeling mistreated and disrespected. It can be a way of keeping a person in their place. The difficulty is that this attitude is implicit in the way they are enforced and upheld and many who express this attitude do not realise what they are saying to those who feel entrapped by the contract and system.

One place where we can start to address this particular issue is through the focus of education and shifting the focus to enabling potential and away from employability but this same attitude can apply to employment contracts. A employment contract can seen as tool to keep someone in their place, just as the class system did, or we can see the employment contract as giving space to develop and grow according to a person's potential. This is about respecting the individual for who they are and not simply treating them as part of the system.


King Jr., M. L. (1968). Where do we go from here: Chaos or community? Boston: Beacon Press.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

A Call for Peace Building Programmes

This week has seen a suicide bomber kill people in Manchester, Jeremy Corbyn state that UK foreign policy is implicit in and part of creating terrorists, Theresa May condemn Corbyn for excusing terrorists actions even though he never did, receiving an announcement about a peace and conflict studies MA at Coventry University, and this morning reading a story about an American soldier in the Iraq war's struggle with despair and loneliness (Arnold, 2002). My conclusion is that all who pursue the course of violence as a solution to conflict or who build weapons to enable violence are equally at fault. No government that has entered into a war is innocent of killing and maiming innocent people who live in these territories. They also send their young people to be killed in wars that have little meaning other than in the power struggles of the leaders.

A quick search for possible statistics on the arms trade reveals the following headlines: “Britain is now the second biggest arms dealer in the world” (Stone, 5 September 2016), “UK weapons sales to oppressive regimes to £3bn a year” (Doward, 28 May 2016), and “America's arms exports dominate despite global competition” (Soergel, 27 December 2016). The list of articles goes on but are these based on accurate statistics? Few, look at the consequences of this trade on world peace or the nations to which this weaponry is sent.

The search also uncovered the following statistical sources: The UK government statistics on defence and security export for 2015, and UK trade statistical bulletins. The trade statistics may hide some of the military exports in other classifications such as the sales of aircraft but for 2016, the sales of arms and ammunition was £884 million pounds out of a total export of £160 billion. Aircraft sales was over £8 billion and I am assuming some of that is military aircraft. The March 2017 statistics show similar trends. UK defence and security export figures are available separately (see references).

What left me horrified was the apparent openness to accepting these military sales as just another part of the export trade. Like all trade, increased trade in defence and security is seen as good and decline in trade is seen as bad despite the evidence of the misuse of this equipment. It seems growth in the arms trade is desirable regardless of the consequences.

If I come back to the debate, I see the UK having a vested interest in fostering violence in other parts of the world. It is good for UK exports. The problem is the complete disconnect between this fostering of violence elsewhere and the increase in violence at home. It seems that it is alright for us to commit acts of violence on foreign soil but not alright for those people to react back in violence. That sounds like parents hitting their children to apply discipline.

Our acts of violence are not the only way that we show that violence is the way to deal with international problems or that drive individuals to feel not wanted or enabled in society. The government attitude of penalising those already suffering (i.e. the unemployed, homeless, and poor) also adds to alienation and not feeling part of society. The message that we portray is that if you are disadvantaged or suffering then expect to be accused of it being your fault. There is no understanding of the implications of the reactions of people when they are trapped and depressed. There is even less awareness of the consequences of inequality on the quality of life and cost structures of society.

We need new ways of looking at international conflict and dealing with inequality. Continually seeing it as the fault of the other person doesn't heal the wounds and bring peace. This is where I see the value of more emphasis on peace and conflict studies. Shouldn't we spend as much or more in peace studies and peace-building as we do in research on armaments. ways to destroy each other, and armament construction?

As I write this, I am wondering about whether I am prepared to take the risk of losing my current income in order to learn more about peace-building and how to apply it internationally and locally. This seems to me were solutions to our current world crisis can be found and not in the weapons of war.

Not directly related but I don't see the current education system with its focus on grades and employability delivering solutions to the current crisis. Shouldn't education be working alongside people so they develop the skills, thinking ability, and critical assessment skills so that they can search out the evidence rather than simply pull what someone else has said as a solution to the problem? Doesn't this also start with relationship building or peace building and not a judgemental system that is sole destroying to the participants.


Johann Christoph Arnold (2002) Escape Routes for people who feel trapped in life's hells. Plough Publishing House.

Jon Stone (5 September 2016) Britain is now the second biggest arms dealer in the world. Independent, Available from:

Jamie Doward (28 May 2016) UK weapons sales to oppressive regimes to £3bn a year. The Guarden, Available from:

Andrew Soergel (27 December 2016) America's arms exports dominate despite global competition. U.S. News, Available from:

Department of International Trade Defence and Security Organisation (26 July 2016) UK defence and security export figures. Available from: