Sunday, 23 April 2017

“I am not your negro”

Last night, we went to watch a documentary movie called “I am not your negro” (Baldwin and Peck, 2016). For me, it clearly emphasised the attitude toward people of black skin that existed and continues to exist in some areas. The film makers are clearly looking back but at the same time, they are commenting on more recent events in the USA that relate to the way people of colour are treated. In an interview sequence in the film, an academic is brought in to join a TV discussion of the race issue and he tries to broaden the issue to say that it isn't a race issue but an attitudinal issue toward people of different status. Like Baldwin, I agree that it is predominately skin colour that determines the position of the black American. It isn't the black person's social status or work status.

However, I want to also emphasis that there is still social class discrimination in existence in a number of places around the world. At this moment in time as the UK faces an election, I want to say to the UK's political elite, “I am not your economic slave”. When I hear many of Britain's political elite talking about making the economy work for the people and I look at the statistics available on wealth or income distribution over the last 70 years (Office of National Statistics, 2017; HM Revenue & Customs, 2017), I have to conclude that by “the people”, they mean the wealthy or what they might call “the wealth generators”. In watching a Murdoch Mystery, I heard one of the actors talking about the impact of automation saying that the people would enjoy the new leisure time and wealth as a result of automation. The political elite and the Murdoch Mystery writer share the belief that somehow the system will distribute the wealth even to those put out of work by new technologies or in labour intensive jobs. The reality is different. Wealth accumulates where wealth already exists.

The clear message from many politicians holding the more conservative framing story of the world is that we have to work to pay our way and if we don't work, we shouldn't expect to receive a living. So who actually gains from automation or improving production. Is it the workers or do we have to create meaningless jobs to ensure the displaced workers still have a way of earning money.

The clear message is that we have to work. That is we have to be economic slaves. So where Baldwin and the film maker want to say “I am not your negro”, I want to cry out, “I am not your economic slave”. Yes, I am willing to work but the elite have to ensure that what I receive for that work enables me and those like me or worse off than me to enjoy the same benefits of the so called economic progress.

On a more personal note, I want to say to many employers and work colleagues, “I am not your 'work position' slave” or “I am not your intellectual inferior”. I want to say this because I see the attitude of eliteness or discrimination as a basic problem in societies. I have heard in discussions comments along the lines of 'person x' should not receive any more since they are not contributing to the new knowledge, new product, new … or 'person y' shouldn't be given the position in field z because they are using the methods of that field and we don't think those methods are appropriate (i.e. are not as good as the methods my field uses). These are attitudes of snobbery and elitism that lead to the problems of slavery and exploitation.

So like Baldwin, I want to say there is no place for giving status based on skin colour but Like Martin Luther King, Jr., I want to recognise the wider problems created by inequality, our current economic thinking, and discriminatory practices.

References:

James Baldwin and Raoul Peck, 2016, I am not your negro. France: Velvet Films.

Office for National Statistics (2016) Equivalised disposable household income (dataset). Available from: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/personalandhouseholdfinances/incomeandwealth/datasets/equivaliseddisposablehouseholdincome.

HM Revenue & Customs (2017) Personal income statistics 2014-15. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/608854/National_Statistics_T3_1_to_T3_11_publication_2014_15_revised.pdf.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Economic Principles

As I reflected on King's (2012) sermon Paul's letter to American Christians” (pp 141-150), I began to reflect on the meaning of the neo-liberal principles and the progressive principles that we have developed with a group of others here in Birmingham, UK.

The principles are:

Neo-Liberal PrinciplesProgressive Principles
Free marketsEnabling potential
Small StateSustainable environment
Low taxEqual society
Individual LibertyParticipatory democracy
Big defenceAn economy for the common good

In this blog, I am going to look at these principles and how I interpret their meaning. On the way, I will look at alternative wordings and the criticisms that I have of these alternatives.

Free Markets

The first neo-liberal principle is free markets. The emphasis of criticism of this principle often focuses on “free” and its interpretation. As a result, people talk of regulated markets as the opposite to free markets. Free markets in my view isn't about equality, equity, or the meeting of needs. Free markets are about the powerful and wealthy being able to exploit the weak and poor for their own gain. Free markets might work if the playing field was even and all were able to compete on equal terms. The reality is that those with the resources or access to the resources have the advantage and can dominate the market.

The alternative proposal of regulated markets is aimed at trying to reduce the exploitation. It is argued if the markets are regulated then you restrict the exploitation and endeavour to balance the economic harm of the markets.

This raises my real concern. The debate shouldn't be about free verses regulated or some other form of market. We should be asking whether markets is the best way to organise our interaction with each other. Markets are not about meeting needs or satisfying needs. Markets are about protecting one's self-interest supposedly while meeting a need (market demand) of society. The market requires that I sell my services or produce in order to meet my needs. What happens when the service or product that I supply becomes redundant. Anyone who has looked at history and especially family histories will come across stories where a family was prosperous because the income earner offered a service that was in high demand. Then as new technologies were developed, their service or skill was no longer required. In a very short time, they went from self sufficient to living in the poor house. The market says they should have retrained and adapted to the needs of the market but is that always possible.

Here I share something from my own experience. In 1990, after entering the computing industry through studying computer science in the early 1970's, the computing industry began to use smaller equipment. I learnt on machines that were called mainframes although in reality they had less memory, disk capacity, and processing power than any current personal computer and smart phone. I had seen these machines grow in capacity and processing capability over that nearly twenty year period. In the early 1980's, the PC became a viable tool and the mainframe and mini computer (yes, there was another reduction in size from the mainframe before the PC and I had transitioned that change) but in 1990 when I looked to change jobs and move into what I saw as the new direction of computing, I was told categorically by an employment agent that I would never be able to program these new PCs. In his view, I was a mainframe programmer and would never understand the demands of programming a PC. In his view, I was now redundant and should expect to scrape for an existence and never expect to receive the rewards of the new market for programmers that was represented by PCs.

Let me add a little more context. I learnt my programming skills using punch cards on a machine that could only run one program at a time. That moved to a mini-computer system that had a terminal attached (printed output and keyboard input). My first programming job saw me use early terminals and work in an environment where we were implementing the first network of terminals. That saw me develop an early build system to address issues of sharing code with others from a central repository of code. It also saw me working with low level network protocols and moving from networks where each terminal device was connected by its own cable to the computer to networks where the devices shared a cable and had a unique address. I also worked with some of the early network controllers that would manage small networks of terminals and that interacted with the mainframe. We had to understand what happened when a network connection failed and how to restore process as though no network failure had occurred when the network was restored. I had also been involved in the early PC based bulletin board networks called Fidonet and the transition to the initial public release of the Internet. To be told that my personal learning was irrelevant and that only my work history on mainframes was relevant to job seeking showed to me what markets are about. Markets can throw people on the scrap heap. They have no concern for the individual. They are based on supply and demand.

I don't believe that supply and demand is a sound basis for organising the interaction between individuals and ensuring an equitable distribution of resources. However, this is the foundation of a market philosophy. As I write this, we see in the UK, education taking on this market philosophy supposedly as a way of improving education. Schools now advertise their rating as a way of drawing customers (sorry pupils). Universities are now rated so that customers (students) can decide which university provides the best educational opportunities. Educational success is measured in the pay pack and not the ability to solve the real problems of life and society. Research is becoming about what can earn funding and not about what is important to improve life, educational outcomes, etc.

Yes, I am possibly over emphasising the negatives but lets take a look at what markets actually do. The market forces a company to compete but not just to compete. It forces companies to produce new products regardless of the demand because they need to keep selling to survive. Technology companies are not interested in longevity of their products or recycling since that would work against profitability, a key requirement of a market driven economy. Marketing moves form helping people to be aware of the options that are available to meet their needs to generating a demand for something that people really do not need. Waste becomes a necessity and an unwanted byproduct. Industries are developed that deliver nothing of value except meaningless jobs since people must earn an income. Technology wise, the quality of life seems to improve but the real quality of life declines as mental health deteriorates and stress levels increase through dependence on meaningless work.

So why do we want markets? We want markets as a way of meeting needs but we have lost sight of the needs and focused on the return on investment, the personal profit, the personal gain. Satisfying needs has to become the priority and not the market. Education has to focus on quality of life and not conformance to a system that enslaves people to work. So what would be a better principle? Need fulfilment? Gift economy? That is a big shift in thinking.

Small State

The argument for small state comes from the view that a large state infringes on the market and anything that infringes on the market is bad. Markets in theory should be self balancing. The supply and demand curve should ensure that redundant markets vanish and only what is really needed continues to thrive. State is about control and intrusion, It isn't seen as ensuring that there is fairness in the distribution of resources. In my very cynical view, a small state means reducing regulation so that the wealthy and powerful are not restricted in their exploitation of the weak and poor.

I am not particularly keen on regulation and large state but I don't want markets to dominate the interaction between people. If a larger state is what we have to pay for to ensure greater equity in our market operations then I support a big state but are there other options based on local sustainable communities and relationship building? Is it possible that like the market driven economy, we have lost sight of the local relationships that controlled exploitation and ensured equitable distribution of a community's resources? The question shouldn't be about the size of the state. The question should be about how we ensure equitable distribution and how we ensure that we are living a sustainable lifestyle in relation to each other and the environment in which we live.

If small state helps bring about cooperative communities, sustainable communities, and sustainable environment then I vote for small state but if it simply means the increasing of wealth for the few then I vote for large state and regulation. Let us make sure that we have the right focus.

Low Tax

Low tax is a natural outcome of the small state but it is also about maximising the return for self and not the community. There is another element here of small state and low taxes that is not immediately obvious. This is about who controls the money supply. We could have low taxes with a large state if we did not leave the money supply in the hands of private banks (Jackson & Dyson, 2012; Jackson, 2013).

I would go further and argue that money is part of the problem because it is about accounting for our transactions so that I can ensure that I come out of a transaction better off than you. What would happen if our method of accounting for transactions was based on whether needs were satisfied and the environment was cared for? Would we need taxes or would we all be thinking about how we cared for the things that we pay taxes to get the government to care for (i.e. waste disposal, transport infrastructure, …)? If our focus is incorrect then we get the wrong outcomes and at a cost that exceeds what is possible.

So what is my alternative to low tax? Similar to small state, I am thinking in terms of relationship building, local empowering, empowered communities, or maybe as the progressive principles say “participatory democracy” although I see that terminology hiding the underlying principle of relationship building.

Individual Liberty

This is about me being able to do as I want without interference from you. From the perspective of neo-liberalism, it is about ensuring that nothing blocks my ability to profit and store up treasures for myself at the expense of all others. This completely contradicts any concept of recognising the relational nature of communities and the strengths of working together.

We used to use an idea about privileges and responsibilities, and actions and consequences when doing inductions at an educational institute that I worked for.

PrivilegesResponsibilities
ActionsConsequences

We purposely talked of privileges rather than rights. To claim a right is to claim something for self. To claim a privilege is to recognise what society has made available to me. However, claiming a privilege carried with responsibilities back to the community that provided the privilege. This helped us recognise our responsibility to others and that we are part of a community and not simply individuals seeking our own survival. The second part simply recognised that out actions carried consequences not simply for ourselves but for the community that we were a part of.

Individual liberty degrades this understanding of being part of a wider community, of sharing in the benefits that the community offers, taking on the responsibilities to maintain that community, to act responsibly with the community in mind recognising the consequences of our actions.

However, I want to go further. Our responsibility includes helping others fulfil their potential. Our lives are not solely about us. Our lives are about others and what they can achieve. There has to be a balance between our own privileges and the privileges or opportunities that we help make available to others.

Big Defence

To me, it is a contradiction to talk about small state and big defence but big defence is the consequence of the keeping for self that these neo-liberal principles promote. Big defence is about security and in particular that element of security that focuses on keeping what I have for myself. If you lack equality then you need defence to ensure that you keep that advantage. Defence is about giving some the feeling of being a part of something bigger while using them to protect something that they have no access to.

In a military campaign, it isn't the politicians or the military strategists that are putting themselves at risk. It is the lowly soldier who we claim as heroes that put themselves at risk at the command of people who to a large extent are focused on maintaining their position of superiority.

Peace is not achieved and never has been achieved by military force. Peace is achieved by understanding the issues that separate us and the wrongs that we have done to each other. It is about being willing to repent of the things that we have done against others and the environment and work toward restoring a positive relationship. It is my belief that if we were to focus on peace-building rather than defence, we would require smaller defence and we would have stronger relationships. As long as we are focused on keeping out and maintaining our advantage then we will need big defence.

Again, I am arguing for a paradigm shift in our focus. Security doesn't come through big defence or walls and partitions. Security comes through building relationships and breaking down the barriers. Security comes through building a more equal society, by working to help others achieve what they are capable of, by focusing on the common good, and not what we can achieve for ourselves.

Enabling potential

For me, this is about seeing what others are capable of and helping them to reach that potential. It isn't about conforming them to society but helping them see how the gifts they have been given benefit society and how in the process of working with others, their gifts are maximised and they can help others maximise their gifts.

From an educational perspective, this is a moving away from regimented, over assessed learning, to a focus on building the individual strengths and overcome weaknesses. Enabling potential is relational and not individual. It is recognising that we are part of a whole.

Sustainable environment

Enabling potential also is about enabling our environment to be what it should be and not about extracting all that we can from it. However, enabling potential isn't enough. We must learn to live in sustainable ways and not by maximum exploitation. For free markets, everything is there to be exploited. For sustainability, needs become important and the focus shift from what we can extract to what we need and what others and the environment need.

Equal society

Evidence suggest that more equal societies have less crime, require less defence, and are healthier environments in which to live.

Participatory democracy

To some extent, I have some negative feelings about this principle. Democracy is a decision making process but it is one that favours the majority over the minority. Often however, in a democracy, the so called majority is the majority of a minority that bothered to participate in the process. Participation can only be guaranteed where people feel part of the decision making process, where they feel they are being heard and that their concerns are being meet. This comes through relationship building and not voting processes. I would prefer consensus rather than democracy and relationship building rather than participation. However, we need a start in a process of moving away from the individualism of neo-liberal principles and participatory democracy provides a starting point. I simply hope that it isn't the end point.

An economy for the common good

I have no problems with the idea of working for the common good and see that as a key part of relationship building. However, economy is a throw back to concepts of markets and accounting for exchanges. If you follow some of my critique of the neo-liberal principles then you will realise that I am not in favour of balancing transaction but I am interested in balancing outcomes (i.e. equality or equity). If economy for the common good means equality and equitable transactions then I am in favour but if the accounting processes remain as they are favour maximisation of return for the individual or corporate then I am not in favour.

Peace-building principles

One of the difficulties for me in the process of developing the “positive principles” was and is our long held perspectives or views, what some would call framing stories. We strongly believe in economic transactions, of paying our way, of contributing to society, of being secure, etc. These deep seated convictions influenced the outcome of our process but I am not feeling disenfranchised simply because the wording isn't what I would desire. The principles give me a framework for challenging the current neo-liberal framework with an alternative that to a large extent, I know others support. That doesn't stop me pushing further toward what I call peace-building or relational principles. I hope that you have see these as I have critiqued the neo-liberal and progressive principles.

How would I word what I see as peace-building principles. At the top of my list is relationship building. King's (2012) book and I believe the Christian bible would place this emphasis on peace-building through brotherly love. The second principle is helping people understand alternative perspectives. This doesn't start by stating our views but starts by understanding where we are in our journey and where others are in their journey, and through sharing openly with each other seeking to understand our different perspectives. I believe that it is a gradual process to change our framing story. Vygotsky (1978, 1986) called it a zone of proximal development. We are open to accept ideas that are within a zone of our current understanding. As our understanding broadens so does that zone. Education has to work with that zone for each learner as an individual but not to indoctrinate them as a lot of current education tends to do but to open them up to other alternatives and to be able to reason about those alternatives.

My third principle is to empower and support nonviolent organisations. This means working for unity and shared understanding. It also means work for equitable outcomes. Equality often isn't what is required. What is need is to support each individual according to their needs and to where they are right now. We don't treat a child as an adult and we shouldn't treat all individuals as though they were identical with identical needs and requirements.

My final principle is building nonviolent solutions. A nonviolent solution will be based on relationship building and greater equality.

When I reflect on society, I want to see a change in the way that we interact with each other but I also want the tools and environment to be able to show others ways of thinking and doing things that bring greater empowering and enabling. My principles don't talk about enabling potential but if I am building a relationship with you then I want you to feel positive about your contribution and what you are achieving. I can only do that if I am giving you space to use the talents and skills that you have been given. Sustainability and equality flow from relationship. Participation in decision making occurs when you feel that you have a voice, and the common good becomes our focus when we are focused on relationship and not our individual needs.

For me, our path forward is through relationship building.

References

King Jr., M. L. (2012). Paul's letter to American Christians A gift of love: Sermons from Strength to Love (1963) and other preachings (pp. 141-150). Boston, Massachusetts: Beacon Press.

Jackson, A. (2013). Sovereign Money: Paving the way for a sustainable recovery. London: Positive Money.

Jackson, A., & Dyson, B. (2012). Modernising money: Why our monetary system is broken and how it can be fixed. London: Positive Money.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. In M. Cole, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner, & E. Soberman (Eds.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1986). Thought and language (A. Kozulin, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Seeking Effective Change

From my perspective, our world is on another downward spiral and has been for sometime. The current solutions of branding people who object to the current direction of political leaders as extremists, radicals, or terrorists simply doesn't help, and neither do policies that withdraw support from those who are already the most disadvantaged.

If I look at the education system, I see it as being about confirming people to the dominant framing story and not about encouraging reasoned thought, fostering the development of legitimate alternatives, nor fostering the potential of the learner. Increasingly a small set of skills are valued and the rest discarded. The process of knowledge and skill acquisition is increasingly focused on lower level cognitive skills rather than the higher level cognitive skills of critique, and synthesis. Should we be surprised that there are numbers of people who are disillusioned with the educational system and seek other alternatives to have their voice heard.

If I look at the commercial system, it provides a little bit of carrot to entrepreneurship but the end result is increasing the wealth of the few at the expense of the masses. There was and is no will on the part of governments to deal with the underlying causes of the last economic crash and I suspect the next. Those who suffered in the supposed cure where not those who caused the crash but those who had no say in the financial structures that dominate the western world. Should we be surprised that there are people who want to opt out and find alternative ways to have their voices heard.

If I look at international relationships, I don't see a willingness to address the real issues. We support rebels with military weapons while condemning radicals or terrorists when they bomb, maim, and kill for their beliefs. We then supply repressive governments with weapons which they then use against their own people. It seems that international relations is dictated by might and not right or is it the power of money. Our sales of weapons is more important than the moral and ethical issues involved.

If I look at the way that we treat the environment, I see that despite the clear warnings of climate change and the obvious signs of the destruction of wildlife and ecological environments for our monetary gain, we are reluctant to consider changing our ways. Economic gain is more important than ensuring the planet has a future yet without our ecological home, do we really have a future? Is it possible that humanity through the exploitation of the environment for economical gains is actually destroying what humanity needs to survive?

If I look at sport, I see that the winning is more important than the enjoyment of participation and that in reality sport is just another money spinner for an elite few. Personally, I am stepping down from being a volunteer official because I no longer believe in what I see happening in sport. Officiating seems to be more about insurance and legalism rather than providing a safe environment for people to enjoy and participate in a sport that they might love and enjoy.

Yet, I also read about reformers and their efforts to help the suppressed and disadvantaged. It seems that lasting reform doesn't come through violent opposition to the current regime. It is more likely to come when the current regime is embarrassed into admitting the faults in its framing story and approach to resolving problems or simply doing business as usual.

Increasingly, I am agreeing with Martin Luther King's statement

"Lamentably, it is a historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

"We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed" (1963, pp 90-91).

Why is this an historical fact? The oppressor or dominant system has difficulty seeing their or its own faults. It is not until the oppression is exposed more often by the oppressed that the oppressor or system will even consider change. When non-violence challenges a violent oppressor, the violent oppressor is exposed through their violence.

UK law is increasingly relying on repression of opposition views in order to halt radicalisation without realising that the oppression causes radicalisation; that the oppressed will rise up to expose the repressive regime. What is worse with UK law is that it endeavours to coerce those who can see the faults in the regime to become informers and oppressors.

If we really want to bring about change then we must expose the law for the repression that it causes, we must expose corporates for the oppression that they create, and we must expose globalisation for the favouritism it shows to large corporates and wealthy nations. However, exposure isn't enough. We must have an alternative plan that can be put in place and that alternative cannot be built on the same assumptions or framing story of the failing regimes. We need a radical rethink and a radical rebuilding of society. I see that alternative being built on relationship building and ensuring equitable distribution of resources and the benefits of progress but within that it needs to ensure that we are not exploiting our environment or those who are more vulnerable to exploitation.

References

King Jr. M.L. (1963) Why we can't wait. Boston: Beacon Press.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Seeking Justice

We are in the lead up to Christmas with its mixed meanings and messages in our society. Is Christmas about what we give or what we get or is it simply a time to forget the struggles? There are those out enjoying the Christmas markets while others struggle in poverty. Is there justice in a system that throws people out on the streets or employs people on uncertain employment contracts. Shouldn't a worker have the right to expect from their employment to earn enough on which to live? Is that how our economic system is running or is it focussed on the profits for the shareholders?

King (1968) was preparing for a march on Washington to demand peace and justice. He had no timidity about their demands. If the demand for justice is not responded to by the political leaders, he says that is not a failure of the protest movement. It is a failure of the political leaders (p 241). If there were to be a failure by the protest movement, it would be in their silence and inactivity. Our failure is our willingness to accept arguments for the status quo and not to stand up for truth and justice. There is no failure if we expose injustice and the failure of war. The failure is on the part of those who have the power to act but refuse to take action to address these issues, who use the excuses of a failed and failing system to maintain the status quo, who seek to silence the voices of discontent by arguing that it is not the way to gain justice in the system that has no intent of delivering justice.

This is clear to me but I know that in the face of the workplace, I will struggle with the arguments that are put forward when I challenge the unjust practices. My history is working within the system and like so many others, we have ingrained into our thinking the ways of this failing system. We struggle to shake the ways of thinking off and we fail to see the flaws in the arguments that keep the system going. This is our failure. Our failure is not the failure to conform. We conform too easily and fail to standup for justice and peace.

King talks of the promise of equality in the American constitution and that they are going to demand that equality (p 241). There may be no such declaration or promise in many countries but this shouldn't stop us standing up for equality and justice, and pointing out the contradictions in the claims of political and religious leaders. The current British prime minister claims her Christian faith drives her but she clearly shows that she doesn't understand its call for justice. She will pass blame rather than solve problems. She tries to place baggage of guilt on those who raise failures in policies that she promotes rather than address the failures in those policies. Our political system is based on points scoring and not on solving problems. I doubt whether we will ever see our political system resolve the problems as long as our elected representatives see themselves as competing with each other rather than working collaboratively to solve the problems and issues.

We can learn from our past, accept past failure, and work to correct those failures, or we can use those past failures to justify our current failures and inaction. What our system encourages is justification of our current failures and inaction based on our past failures and inaction. Is it time for us to change and to accept our failures with the goal of not repeating them?

King argues that the resources are there to solve injustice, poverty, and the lack of truth and peace. What is missing is the will to address the issues (p 244). Do we and our nation or institutions have the will to seek justice and equality? I don't believe that we have. The investment in a corrupt and unjust system is too high and we are unwilling to upset those who have and are benefiting from it. Change will only come when we stop propping up our system of injustice and accepting as truths lies that have become ingrained in the system.

Groups point out some of the kinks or lies in the system but few are willing to condemn the system outright. Many seek minor changes without changing the underlying ways of thinking, the framing story, that enabled those flaws and kinks to become the ingrained way of doing things.

King ends by talking about being asked to stick to civil rights, His response is “that [he] had been fighting too long and too hard now against segregated public accommodations to end up segregating [his] moral concerns. And the fact that justice is indivisible, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” (p 244).

This is the heart of our problem. We have segregated or at least tried to segregate justice but justice cannot be segregated. If we attempt to segregate justice, we fail to deliver justice. If we fail to deliver justice, we fail to deliver peace. If peace and justice is our driving force then like King, we have no choice but to rise up against injustice and war no matter where it occurs.

References

King Jr. M.L. (1968) The other America. In West, C. (Ed.) (2015). The radical king: Martin Luther King, Jr. Boston: Beacon Press. Chapter 20, pp 235-245).

Sunday, 11 December 2016

The path to change: The need to act

I have struggled to write this blog as I feel that I need to be critical of myself, my generation, and my children's generation. Despite hearing some promising words for change, I find we are so caught up in the current framing story with its origins in neoliberalism that we have difficulty seeing the real problems that face us and the continued existence of this world.

How long does humanity have left before our activity causes our own extinction? With increasing reports of damage done by humanity on the planet, it is becoming easier to believe the claims of claims of humanities extinction within my own lifetime (Attenborough, 2013; McPherson, 2016). But is climate change the only danger to this planet's existence?

Over the last year, I have been part of a group looking at some alternatives to the neoliberal principles. Although we now have a set of principles, I am concerned that in our discussions, we had difficulty freeing ourselves from some of the foundational concepts that underpin the neoliberal principles. There is so much that is ingrained in our culture that works against our survival. What shocks me is that the warning messages have been there for a long time.

As we have been reading some of the writings and speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. (West (ed), 2015), I have been increasingly challenged about the way that I have allowed myself to be pressured by society rather than standing up for my beliefs. There are subtle pressures every day to confirm to the way that society is organised and to the dominant framing story of our day. At times, I feel silenced by the dominant framing story and machinery by which UK society is organised. Martin Luther King Jr. (1967) words begin to make sense.

“As I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart . . . many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path” (West (ed) 2015, p vi).

On 19 November, I joint the “United for education” march in London. I was inspired by the courageous attitude of the speakers. If they can mobilise students to disrupt government policy such as the Teaching Evaluation Framework (TEF) by encouraging student to boycott the National Student Survey (NSS) then we may see some rethinking of the direction being taken in education. The students had the courage to acknowledge that they are not customers and that the market mentality shouldn't apply to education. To some extent, the power for change lies in their hands although the cost may be high for those students that participate.

But to some extent even more disappointing was the limited coverage of the march. This may have been the largest march (> 15,000) in London for some time but there was little coverage in the media. It really came across as a non-event. We had a very small contingent from Birmingham present and I suspect most of my colleagues didn't even know it was happening.

Despite these encouraging signs, I am still concerned that the key speakers still supported the dominant framing story. If we are to see real change then we need to have leaders who really understand the alternative framing stories and how they work.

If we are to challenge the dominant framing story, then we have to be able to motivate the masses but not to violent revolt but to non-violent resistance. This is where we can learn a lot from the civil rights movement and their non-violent resistance.

Today, as we again read a speech delivered by Martin Luther King Jr. (1967), I wrote in my personal journal this reflection. Although Kin is referring to the war in Vietnam, something which many people now alive will have little recollection of, I found much of the underlying issues still appropriate for today. The capitalist west and economically rich nations still seeking to protect their investments around the world and extract profits for themselves. The new backlash hasn't fully gained momentum but the nations in turmoil or exporting refugees or poverty stricken is huge. King sees that the role taken by America makes “peaceful revolution impossible” since America refuses “to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investment” (p 214). Although it is possible to argue that this still holds true in the national psyche of some nations, this distinction is becoming the divide between the wealthy corporates, the wealthy few (the 1%), and the rest of the people around the world. The poor and middle class remain exploited by the wealth generation barons who seek to maintain their privileged status.

We have not changed focus in the last nearly forty years. King's call for us to “rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society” (p 214) remains true. The focus on “machines and computers, profit motives and property rights” are still “considered more important than people” (p 214). As a consequence, we haven't conquered racism, materialism, and militarism. Racism has possibly been replaced by other forms of discrimination but at the heart of many of our problems is the attitude of “I am better than you” or “I am worth more than you.” Unless this basic attitude is addressed, humanity has a very bleak future.

King talks of the need to be “the Good Samaritan on life's roadside.” However, he sees past that calling for “the whole Jericho Road to be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on Life's highway” (p 214). We must come to see the injustice of our systems and the need to transform them to bring a new society into being.

As I read King's words and write these reflections, I am aware of predictions for humanity's self-destruction. At the time when King delivered his message the fear was annihilation through nuclear war. That threat has not been removed although nations have moved away from some of the most destructive weapons although the UK has decided to renew its nuclear submarine arsenal. The threat of annihilation or extinction is from our exploitation of the planet's resources (Thompson, 2015). Humanity is killing the planet and in doing so is destroying the ecosystem upon which life depends for survival. A nuclear war or all out international war may simply speed up the inevitable demise of all life on this planet. We are still too dependent on limited natural resources that depletion will occur before we have removed our dependence on them. We live in ignorance of our own demise.

King's call for radical love as the framing story for building a “non-violent co-existence” (p 217). Although radical love is a key ingredient, I feel we need a radical rethinking of our framing story but I wonder whether we are already “too late” to save our planet and humanity.

The struggle for justice and change has many difficulties. One of these is whether the privileged will resist giving up their privilege (King, 1963). He says “Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily” (p 131). He contends that the oppressed must demand justice. He also discusses how to determine whether a law is just or unjust, saying “An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal” (p 133).

As I write this, I think of the treatment of teaching fellows who I refer to as teaching slaves. The academic elite, the research oriented lecturers, have no problem with teaching fellows being overloaded with teaching and having no path for promotion. It is the academic elites privilege to take the spoils of what is achieved by teaching fellows. If I understood the position of administrators, I think there position would be worse than the position of teaching fellows. What we have is a class stratified society based on job role. Academic institutes should be role models on what equality means but instead are places where inequality is implemented and enforced. We shouldn't be surprised that wealthy elites in government will willingly legislate against the most vulnerable while extending their own privilege. The wealthy powerful elite is a minority. The poor are a growing minority although possibly rapidly becoming a majority. The majority is a middle class that ignores the inequality by believing that they could also achieve the heights of the wealthy elite but never really making progress.

If we are to oppose the injustice in society, we need to motivate the oppressed to resist and for the middle class to actually see the injustice of the system. We need a new “civil rights” movement that shakes the foundations of complacency and shows up the hypocrisy within societal organisations and work places. We have a lot to do.

We can be negative about our future or we can begin to explore what would be a better base for structuring our world. The group that I have been part of has agreed on five principles. These are:

  1. Enabling Potential: Every one has an equal opportunity to develop their full potential.
  2. Equal Society: Everyone is included and our basic human needs are provided for.
  3. Participatory Democracy: Everyone's voice is heard and every vote counts equally.
  4. Environmental Sustainability: Everyone feels our local environment is our home, and the planet is preserved for our children and grandchildren.
  5. An Economy for the Common Good: Everyone's needs are supported through regulated and responsible markets with mixed ownership models and by fostering local economies.

These principles are challenging in their own right and I can see many that I interact with agreeing to the principles even if we have different practical ways of bringing these into place. However, I want to go further.

King called for radical love and I agree but the core of that radical love has to be a process of peace-building. Peace-building is about rebuilding relationships by facing up to what we have done to others and looking for ways to correct our mistreatment of others. When we move from an attitude of exploiting for our own benefit to an attitude of building relationships that address the inequalities and issues that separate us. It is not about agreeing on our beliefs but it is about reconciling conflict and differences in a positive manner and not by the destructive means of enforcing our views on others.

I see the above principles as a starting point but I see that unless we are willing to face up to how we impact the lives of others by our attitudes and practices, and are willing to give up some of our privileges then we are doomed to the self destruction of humanity as we fight of an ever decreasing set of natural resources. To me, Brexit is the result of many in the UK seeking to preserve their way of life. It is a failure to see the consequences of our actions and the damage that we have caused and are causing to our planet. It is not until we face the damage that we are doing to others and our planet and to repent of the damage that we have done and seek to restore positive and sustainable relationships.

As I write, this, I am listening to a lecture where the speaker (McPherson, 2016) is saying that we are past the point where sustainability is a possibility. We might be able to slow down our rush to annihilation a little but it is too late to stop extinction of life on earth.

We can simply accept his message and continue the exploitation of the natural resources and our fellow humans or we can take seriously the need for a new lifestyle and a new way of interacting with each other. For me, part of motivating this change is rethinking education and our goals in life. As long as we are constantly seeking more resources and status for self, I believe we are doomed for self-destruction. Yet, the principles by which our society current lives is driving us to destroy all that we need to live.

Will you take the call for change seriously?

References

Attenborough, D (2013, 7 December) David Attenborough: 'Climate change – Britain under threat'. YouTube. From: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cq1oFhTINXE (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

King Jr. M.L. (1963) Letter from Birmingham jail. In West, C. (Ed.) (2015). The radical king: Martin Luther King, Jr. Boston: Beacon Press. Chapter 12, pp 127-145).

King Jr. M.L. (1967) Beyond Vietnam: A time to break silence. In West, C. (Ed.) (2015). The radical king: Martin Luther King, Jr. Boston: Beacon Press. Chapter 18, pp 201-217.

McPherson, G. (2016, 2 December) Global threat: Climate change – Guy McPherson – Episode 2. YouTube. From: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H1Kc-87Vyus&t=32s. (Accessed 11 December 2016).

Thompson, E. (2015) Economic growth implications. From: http://kiwi-et.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/economic-growth-implications.html. (Accessed 11 December 2016).

West, C. (Ed.) (2015). The radical king: Martin Luther King, Jr. Boston: Beacon Press.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

The Sacrificial Victim

I have considerable difficulty separating events that are happening in our society from the philosophical material that I am reading. We are in the middle of some major upheavals in UK society but the public commentators seem to miss the significance. The backdrop to this blog is the continuing wars supposedly against terror, acts of terrorism by suicide attackers, the vote for the British exit from the European Union, and the Labour party deviation that could lead to its demise. On a more personal note, I am endeavouring to gain promotion in a system that is heavily weighted against teaching fellows and our reading on peace and peace building. Our most recent reading is Bailie's (1995) Violence Unveiled. It is drawing on some of his anthropological thinking that I am endeavouring to write this piece. From a promotion perspective, I have made my first failure because I have used “endeavouring” rather than implying a more positive outcome for my activities but we will come back to this later.

What has impressed me with Bailie's book is the insights that he brings to cultural events by recognising the sacrificial violence in society and how approved violence from police or military is used to keep a lid on wider societal violence. So far, Bailie hasn't talked about war as sacrificial violence but certainly the rapid murdering of suspects of possible terrorist acts would fall within Bailie's framework. It is better that the suspected terrorist should die than that more should die at the hands of terrorists or maybe more accurately than that our culture should be challenged and we be forced to rethink our priorities.

Bailie talks about Christ's crucifixion opening up a sympathy for victims that now dominates in western society. However, our solution when we attack the victimiser is to turn the victimiser into the new victim. The death penalty was murder at the hands of the judicial system in order to appease the murder in society. The killing of suicide bombers is legitimised violence by the state in order to protect its citizens. Is the going to war against dictators or suspected terrorists, the same attitude that in order to protect our culture and way of life, we need to destroy a culture and way of life that would bring our culture into question? What about the new British Prime Minister's response to the question on firing nuclear weapons? Is it better that a million of their people die despite their innocence than for our culture to come under attack from their ideologies or threats to our cultural survival? A deterrent is not a deterrent unless you are prepared to use it even when that deterrent is likely to bring mutual assured destruction.

All of these sacrificial victims, the victimisers, are in theory perpetrators of violence against our culture or individuals in our culture but is there a more subtle sacrificial victimisation happening in society?

One of the most obvious to me is the struggle for leadership of the Labour party. Jeremy Corbyn is a threat to the sacrificial system since he advocates peaceful alternatives. The forces of authority gang up on him because he sides with the repressed and those who abhor our dependence on authorised violence. He is unelectable because he challenges our cultural identity and the way that we believe things should be done. Even his own parliamentary colleagues believe it is better that one be sacrificed for the good of the party or culture than that the one should be allowed to cause an historical shift in our thinking about war, peace, and social justice. The news media join this sacrificial victimisation of a voice that challenges cultural norms. Is it possible that Jeremy Corbyn could be another Martin Luther King? A challenger to the cultural norms that must be silenced before it infects the culture and causes the culture to change forever? I don't expect Jeremy Corbyn to be assassinated (i.e. murdered) but I do see his ideologies being assassinated in an attempt to block the inevitable societal change. It is better that one person and their ideologies be sacrificed for the good of all than that our cultural norms be challenged and transformed by the actions and philosophies of the one.

All these are about obvious violence or political leaders, it wouldn't happen in the workplace or society in general? On 17 July, I asked the question whether serfdom was a social norm? If it is a social norm then maybe we should expect the same sacrificial victimisation to be occurring in the workplace in order to maintain that cultural system. Is this what we have seen in the junior doctor's dispute? The junior doctor's are the serfs who keep the British health system (NHS) in operation. It is better to quieten their voices than to allow their fears to be heard regardless of the validity of their claims and for the system to be changed forever.

What about promotion systems with their certification of practice? Is there a possibility that the promotional systems are designed to ensure that promotion does not occur for the worker who might challenge the system despite their effectiveness in the job because they do not conform to its promotional requirements? To voice discontent or propose fundamental changes is to invite failure in the cultural norms of the organisation. When that cultural norm frowns on failure, you should not admit that there is a possibility that something did not work or that you are in the process of trying to change. You have to show that you are successful and that you are conforming to those norms even when you seek to challenge them. Pointing out the shortcomings based on past experience is in adequate. You must show that you have implemented your proposal despite being at the bottom of the status heap. Management express confusion as to why the serfs in an organisation are the most unhappy when the systems that management have put in place are designed to keep the serfs in their place. Those who raise their heads above the parapet must be shot down before their infectious message damage the culture of the workplace. It is better to sacrifice the one than allow the serfs to rise up an expose our system for what it is.

Sympathy for the victim only goes so far before those who really stand up for the victims in society are turned into sacrificial victims in order to retain the status quo. These sacrificial victims may not be put to death but there will be every attempt to murder their ideologies so that they do not impact the current culture and bring the much needed change. However, the destruction of the messenger doesn't lead to the destruction of the message. Rather the sympathy for the victim or messenger has the potential to ignite a new storm of reform that changes society forever.

The fact that it requires the sacrificial victim for change to occur seems to be fundamental to our culture and this may be the real message of Bailie's book.

References

Bailie, G. (1995). Violence unveiled: Humanity at the crossroads. New York: The Crossroads Publishing Company.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Is Serfdom a Social Norm?

We are reading Bailie's (1995) book in which he argues from an anthropological perspective that sacrificial violence was a norm in controlling violence and possibly initiating societal transform. Sacrificial violence relies on the argument that it is better for one to die for all that for all to suffer. As we read this morning, I wondered whether serfdom is also a social norm and if we were to look at economics from an anthropological perspective that we would see that despite attempts to abandon serfdom and slavery, society continues to revert to such practices although in a revised form.

Serfdom is defined as “the state of being under the control of another person” (Free Dictionary). A serf defined as “a person in a condition of servitude, required to render services to a lord, commonly attached to the lord's land and transferred with it from one owner to another” (dictionary.com).

This is not the result of an anthropological study but rather a personal reflection and observation based on forty years of work experience and strongly reinforced by my current employment. To some extent, it is the last few years of working in the UK that has made me a lot more conscious of the serfdom assumptions of capitalist economics.

What I observe is that there is an increased emphasis on certification of workers and if you are not certified then you don't receive the rewards even if you are already doing the job. However, that doesn't necessarily lead to serfdom. What I see as leading to serfdom is when the certification process is in the control of the management of the worker's organisation have control and are making the decisions in the certification process. In this situation, the management can refuse to certify a worker and then demand more work in order to become certified and gain promotion and the rewards for the work done.

In the definition of serfdom, there is the attachment “to the lord's land” and being “transferred with” with the land in a sale. I would contend that this is the case with employees in any company. The workers are attached to the company or organisation of their employers and if the company or organisation is sold then the employees are transferred with the sale.

If these are the conditions for serfdom then our modern economic environment seems to have the characteristics of a serfdom. The question is whether the transforms that occur in society see society repeatedly return to the key characteristics of serfdom? To be able to argue that this is so it is necessary to review the transforms that have occurred and in society and see whether the characteristics of serfdom have constantly been reestablished. Serfdom is most often linked with the period of feudalism but I believe that there are obvious cases where we could argue that it has been reestablished such as the period where slavery dominated. However, serfdom doesn't require slavery in the sense of unpaid slaves. It simply needs the workers to feel that they are locked in to the organisation and that they have few choices. As I talk to many of the lower paid colleagues in my current organisation, I sense that these conditions are in place. They have no confidence in the promotion process and feel obliged to do all that is asked of them. Occasionally there is resistance but this resistance doesn't cause cultural change within the organisation.

I would contend that serfdom has been reestablished whether governments recognise it or not.

References

Bailie, G. (1995). Violence unveiled: Humanity at the crossroads. New York: The Crossroads Publishing Company.

Free Dictionary at http://www.thefreedictionary.com/serfdom.