Monday, 18 December 2017

Heroes and Peace building

I have never been comfortable with the “Help for Heroes” charity and the constant use of heroes for military personal. The more I read on peace building, the more I object to the use of the term heroes for military personal. The use of this terminology glorifies militarism and war. It also silences any voices that may voice alternative approaches, such as peace building, to militarism.
However, if we are not in favour of calling our military personal heroes then what do we call them. I call them victims of our militaristic framing story and, like all victims, they need our support and help. It should not be through charities. It should, along with helping the civilians impacted by war, be accounted for as part of the cost of going to war. If this was done then I suspect governments would be more reluctant to use militarism as a way of resolving international conflicts. They may also be more reluctant to support an arms industry as a way to increase the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP).
There are numerous problems with trying to change this deep seated cultural perspective. There is the impact on those who have served as soldiers and who have returned from war zones that now feel that they have sacrificed through putting themselves in harms way but are forgotten or their work is not honoured. I recognise this problem and if we are to transition away from a militaristic culture then we need to acknowledge that it is our cultural norms that have promoted this militaristic self-sacrifice. It is we who must accept the guilt of having sent them to cause destruction and not they who should be treated as outcastes. We speak against the action and not the person.
The problem with militarism is that we send out people with weaponry to cause destruction in another nation, and then when the military personal return, we are upset at the destruction caused. We are upset at what appears to be indiscriminate bombing of civilians with weaponry that is unable to pick out individuals. But we are to blame because indirectly we supported the militarist stance that sent them there. Even as a pacifist and peace builder through silence, I have implicitly allowed military action to occur even though I feel we should be pursuing peace building alternatives.
We, the general public, are at fault here and we need to acknowledge that we have sent people out to maim and be maimed. Yes, they may have signed up for service but our implicit acceptance of the militaristic solution is what keeps the current system in place.
What I am arguing for is a change of language around military service. We need the programs to rehabilitate those who have served and this isn’t simply to make them feel they have done us a service. Even more we need a change in language about how to deal with international relationships and terrorism. This may mean acknowledging the harm that we have done in colonising other nations and our attitude of superiority. So often I hear politicians using words that suggest the third world nations should be grateful for our help when it is we who have caused many of the issues that have arisen in their relationship with us.
We need to be humble and willing to listen. To stop demanding what we want and be more willing to meet the need. The capitalist system favours those with the wealth. It never starts or operates with the equal playing field that free markets require. The imbalance exists and until the imbalance is addressed and continually addressed, we will have those who rise in protest.
Peace building starts with listening and understanding the problem. It does not ignore conflict but seeks to deal with it by looking at the underlying causes. It means being prepared to nonviolently stand up to the oppressor and to expose the injustice. Militarism does not do this. Militarism relies on might and coercion. Peace building seeks to put things right and to bring justice.
As I reflect, I recognise that the problem is not simply militarism but that coercion is deeply ingrained into the culture of western society. Our businesses apply coercion to customers. Our education system indoctrinates students. We foster an us versus them culture where we must win and others must lose. To maintain this culture, you have to apply coercion whether through military power or monetary reward. People are required to conform.
If we are serious about seeking to build a peaceful society then we need to focus on meeting needs and not demanding payment. An economy for the common good has to be an equitable economy. That is an economy that ensures all people’s needs are meet regardless of how we value their contribution to society. It also means to enable people to contribute, we need to focus more on their potential and enabling them to develop in ways that allow them to be contented and to feel that they belong. The tensions that we try to repress with militarism are caused by the imbalance of our economic system. If we fail to address the subtle coercion of our economic practices then we will fail to bring a coherent peace.

It is time for a serious rethink so that peace building takes priority and the bulk of our investment. Our use of the term heroes needs to decline.

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:

Saturday, 20 May 2017

When the people lead, leaders will follow

As I have read more of Martin Luther King's writings and speeches, I am reminded of the quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi: “When the people lead, leaders will follow”. I am particularly reminded of this when King (1967) in the third of his Massey lectures for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation talks about the young negroes ceasing to imitate “whites in dress, conduct, and thought in a rigid, middle-class pattern” and “began initiating” (p 46). The result of this change was that the young negroes changed from being followers to being leaders of social change.

In the fourth lecture, King talks of the laws being in place and commissions having written reports but still no change was happening for those in poverty and segregation was not being broken down. It was not until the people took to nonviolent resistance being willing to go to jail in their masses that the political leaders began to implement what the law and commissions had already said was what should happen. The people caused the change in direction. It was not the elected leaders or the industry decision makers, those in business leadership, those with a stake in keeping the system as it is. These were the people who failed to provide the leadership for change. The leadership for change had to come from the people.

Why do I think this is relevant for now? I see in the British election an attempt of a leader to strengthen her hand for the changes that she wants to make in British Society. She, Theresa May believes that she has a majority backing of the people to take Britain out of the European Union. This is the will of the people she keeps telling the 48% who voted remain. What she is not saying is whether all the other policies that she wants to force through are the will of the people. She would prefer not to talk about those.

However, the key issue here is that she in her so called position of leadership seeks to follow the will of the people as fashioned by an election campaign. If she gets the majority in the forth coming election, it will not just be Brexit that she will claim is the will of the people but the whole package of social reforms tucked into a manifesto that few will actually read. She will swear adamantly that the vote for a Conservative Government means that Conservative policy is the will of the people.

However, there is another element of King's message that is easily overlooked. This is the place of the middle-class. King in the third lecture goes on to say “It is ironic that today so many educators and sociologists are seeking methods to instil middle-class values in Negro youth as ideal in social development. It was precisely when young Negroes threw off their middle-class values that they made an historic social contribution. They abandoned those values when they put careers and wealth in a secondary role. When they cheerfully became jailbirds and troublemakers” (p p 46-47).

Hidden in this message is the power of middle-class thought to control the population and restrict the prospect of change. This message still applies today with the British education system instilling in the youth of today the middle-class values that will hopefully make them followers rather than free thinkers. The problem is that "Education makes a people easy to lead, but difficult to drive; easy to govern, but impossible to enslave." (Lord Henry Brougham). The type of education desired by leaders is the education that encourages conformity to the current middle-class norms but education should encourage critical analysis and when that occurs the people will in time revolt against the indoctrination and attempts to enslave.

However, there is also another way to look at this message and this is how do we encourage the middle-class to seek the changes that are necessary and not simply to go along with the way things are? We have to challenge those middle-class norms and the comfort that the middle-class feel they have obtained. Racial segregation would never have been removed from the US if the middle-class had not felt that their position and status was under threat. It was as their felt sense of security declined that they became willing to change. Lecturing people on the monetary system or inequality will not bring change. Those who want to hear listen to lectures. We need to motivate change by challenging the security of the middle-class so they are motivated by their self interest to support the required changes.

King's fourth lecture to some extent addresses this issue because following the nonviolent resistance that brought down segregation, there were riots in the US that King describes as being against property. King didn't support the riots but understood what motivated the rioters. However, this raises the issue of what is the best approach to expose evil in the system and bring about the changes that are necessary?

Martin Luther nailed his proclamations to the doors of the of the temples of his day. Could we nail our proclamations on the doors of financial services organisations, the temples of modern society? Or should we camp outside these temples as the Occupy movement endeavoured to do without success? Or should we as the civil rights marchers did hold our ground nonviolently in resistance being willing to fill up the jail system for the changes we believe are required? Or do we implement our own solutions that disrupt and expose the corruption of the current system? Or should we like the rioters physically attack the physical buildings (not the people as terrorists tend to do) that these institutions operate from? Or do we use some other invasive attack that destroys the financial infrastructure? I exclude terrorism or attacks against people but I also would argue against destructive attacks against property or systems.

The course to change is motivating the people so that in large numbers they demand the changes required. Ideally, I would contend we achieve this through nonviolent resistance and through working to build the alternative structures required as the current system comes crashing down. The 2008 financial crash was an opportunity for change but no one believed there was an alternative system or way of operating. The wheels need to be in motion for the alternative as the current system begins to crumble under the pressure of the masses rising up in protest against its suicidal path.


King Jr., M. L. (1967). The trumpet of conscience. Boston: Beacon Press.
King Jr., M. L. (1967). Youth and social action The trumpet of conscience (pp. 37-51). Boston: Beacon Press.

King Jr., M. L. (1967). Nonviolence and social change The trumpet of conscience (pp. 55-66). Boston: Beacon Press.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

What drives terrorism?

Martin Luther King Jr. (1967) in one of his Massey Lectures quotes Victor Hugo who said “If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but he who causes the darkness.” King used this quote in the context of talking about riots in the US against segregation and unequal opportunities. King wasn't endeavouring to justify the riots but was showing that he understood why the repressed might accept violence as an option.

For me, what is key in Victor Hugo's comment and in King's talk is that the oppressors or those causing darkness blame the rioters or those rising up against their regimes. In our case, the western world is blaming those rising up to oppose them as being at fault. This blame is revealed in the name that is given to them (i.e. terrorist). There is little consideration given for why they are rising up in opposition to western regimes. That would be to acknowledge that we have done something that caused them to feel downtrodden or neglected or ... and that we are causing the “darkness”. The “terrorists” are “terrorists” because of their attitudes and nothing to do with our actions.

If this sounds a little like blaming the poor for being poor because they are unwilling to work and you don't believe this lie then you are getting my message. The poor are poor because of the nature of the system that we work under. A system that rewards (transfers the wealth to) the rich and enslaves everyone else. Our system relies on some people taking on less skilled essential work at lower rates of pay in order to survive. Because it is seen as low skilled work, it is believed they are easily replaced (i.e. they are just another resource in the system that can be replaced if required).

What I call “economic slavery” is the foundation of western capitalism and free markets. A market requires consumers preferably with artificial needs and in order to be come a consumer, you have to contribute to production. That is we will engender false needs in order to create a need for something that has no value and then force people to work to produce meaningless outcomes.

Despite all the claims of equal opportunities, this just isn't the truth of how the system operates. The market driven economy puts a price on everything including human life and the environment. By insisting that people must work to have an income and then controlling their status in the system and what they are paid based on perceived market value, we are simply enslaving people to the system. A system that is unwilling to pay the price for unskilled essential work to be done. A system which through a education process increasingly aimed at employability and competition squashes people into roles and lifestyles based on their assessed ability. A system that doesn't look at a person's potential but simply looks to fit them into a cog in the system.

Under such a system should we be surprised that there is increasing dissatisfaction with the established elite?


M.L. King Jr. (1967) The Trumpet of Conscience. Boston: Beacon Press.

Is the record stuck? The issue of leadership

Those of us who recall vinyl records for our music can remember when scratches on the surface caused the needle to get stuck and it repeated the same portion of a track over and over again. That is what the UK elections seem to be about. Despite efforts by some politicians to move on, much of the British News media is stuck on BRExit and Corbyn's ability to be Prime Minister. Of course there is the usual themes of the Conservatives are better financial managers (not supported by the economic facts – see but the crunch really should be what type of society do we want.

The issue with Theresa May is that she is stuck in a record of strong economic management and the need to be strong for a 'hard' BRexit. So far, she seems to have shown little willingness to listen and seems dogmatic on an approach to exit that doesn't seem to be taking into account realities. As a leader, she seems to welcome the use of military force and unwilling to hear messages that suggest the economy and society might be racing in the wrong direction. Her message seems to be trust me, I know where I am going but what I see is that she hasn't a clue where she is going or she is totally unable to communicate it.

Is Jeremy Corbyn and Labour the solution? I see Jeremy Corbyn as a leader struggling to maintain his own principles in the face of a parliamentary party that largely disagrees with him and a membership that seemed to back his ideals. The result is policy that is neither what he really wants nor what the parliamentary party desires. As a compromise there is no clear message to the public and for better or worse what appears to be weak leadership. Corbyn seems to be in a no win situation unless the parliamentary Labour Party listens more to its membership and less to its concerns about gaining power.

What is a viable solution? The Labour party seems to have ruled out the possibility of a progressive alliance with other parties who hold some similar views. Labour like the Conservatives seems to want to hold on to a first past the post electoral system even though this clearly favours the Conservatives. The Conservatives seem to be able to support diversity and disunity in their ranks better than the Labour Party. Unless Labour is able to work with a diversity of views on the left, I see the UK continuing with a Conservative government and a race to 'hard' BRexit. The solution has to be in the melding of a stronger opposition grouping, a progressive alliance, to the Conservatives. One that is prepared to allow diversity of views but not allow itself to be disabled by that diversity.

I doubt whether either the Conservatives or Labour could work as a minority government having to negotiate policy with minor parties or each other for the best for the UK. The idea of government and opposition is so ingrained in British politics that they do not know how to arrive at a consensus to deliver government that is the best interests of the nation.

I see neither major party leader as someone I really want as Prime Minister and neither party as the government that I want to see leading during this time of upheaval. I want to see neither party having a majority in the house and I would prefer that none of the minor parties entered into a formal coalition. What I would prefer to see is that the minor parties would pledge to support the highest polling party on any vote that would bring down the government but would have the freedom to vote according to their party policies on any legislation brought before the house. However, this takes a different attitude to those shown at present by the Conservatives and Labour.

In or out of Europe?

Let me say up front that I do not believe Britain is in a state where it can leave Europe without economic consequences. I say this because of the “single”/”global” market mentality. This mentality says we have to export what we produce in order to have a local economy. It argues that we need access to the European common market in order for Britain to survive.

Is there an alternative to dependency on Europe or some other external market? I believe there is and I believe it doesn't mean isolation from the rest of the world. Let me try to explain.

The health of any nations economy tends to depend on the health of the world economy. This is because we have headed toward global markets. As a result, an economic blip in one country tends to vibrate around the world causing economic shocks or blips in other nations.

What would happen if instead of focusing on a global market, we focussed instead on vibrant, sustainable local markets and communities. This isn't to eliminate trade between communities but it is about giving priority to the health of local markets over the larger world market. If local markets are healthy and providing the bulk of the essentials for a local community then there is less likelihood that a local glitch in one economy would rebound through other local economies. This doesn't stop local economies and communities helping each other when times are tough but does remove the effect of global economic impacts.

A local sustainable market would have its own currency and have control over its own currency. The objective of the local currency should be on ensuring that local resources can be interchanged in an equitable manner to meet needs. This means it can be used to facilitate the local economy without concern for wider economic activity. To understand how this might happen, you need to understand monetary systems including the way money is created and how the money supplied is maintained. There should always be enough money in a local economy for it to buy and sell the goods and services that it produces provided there is no over supply of those goods and services. The foundation of money is a promise to supply goods and services to the value of the currency. Just a word of caution, I place the emphasis on meeting needs and not on building artificial markets. The way we construct local markets will influence rates of resource consumption and wastage. Excess goods and services produced by a community is what it uses to exchange with other communities for goods and services which it is unable to produce for itself but again the focus should be on need and not maximising profit or growth. Being sustainable means that it wants to ensure a continued viability in the local market and community and not extract current goods and services for short term gain at the expense of longer term viability.

There are other advantages of local economies and these relate to community spirit and community building. The global economy tends to draw people away from their local community and consequently decrease local dependency and interaction. This also means a decrease in the awareness of need within the local community. Restoring a local economy helps get people interacting on a local basis and builds more awareness of each other's needs.

Interaction between local communities starts at regional level and then a national level finally leading to exchange between nations. At all levels, the focus needs to be on satisfying needs and ensuring sustainability. As soon as it switches to maximising profit or return on services, the community spirit is destroyed and inequality will increase.

So, I could accept BRexit if I saw more vibrant sustainable local economies operating in the UK. Since I don't and I don't see any group advocating BRexit promoting such a strategy, I don't believe BRexit is a good idea.

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.


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:

HM Revenue & Customs (2017) Personal income statistics 2014-15. Available from: