Summer – Wedding and whatnot

I have not posted anything for ages – too busy living. 

An amazing summer for us!

Before too long I will be able to direct family and friends to pictures and video of the best wedding ever. I am not just saying that it actually was. The most delicious combination of love and freedom and ritual and chaos I have ever witnessed. To be frank – you just had to be there.

If perchance you were there, please send any pictures you took to me by e-mail or dropbox or any means whatsoever so the library of congress collection that will soon emerge is as complete as possible.

I will catch up with other posts I have been meaning to write once my first-week-teaching-new-subjects  anxiety has abated.

Ta ra

Oh dear am I losing the argument?

I have been carrying on a discussion with some readers, (who wish to remain anonymous but gave me permission to publish our communications), about my ranting post – you know the anti-authority blurt. Reluctantly (I hate losing arguments) I must admit they have made some pretty good points. I feel like I am being ganged up on as there are two of them and only one of me so if anyone would care to rescue me before I must concede that not everything about capitalism is bad, I would be most obliged.

You can follow the discussion below

  • After our first offline discussion in which I was introduced to the idea that the poor under capitalism were actually better off, I responded with this article

  • and got this response

(A.N.OTHER) Apologies for intruding in your dialogue with *** but she showed me the article from the world wide anarchist’s forum or whatever it was named  and I suffered a degree of outrage. It struck me as falling into the category of serious misleading use  of statistics to promote an agenda, similar but possibly worse than the Brexit £350 million claim.

The World Bank supplies the following data generally regarded as reliable by most economists.

1990 35% of the world in poverty ie living on less than $1.90c a day

2013 10.7%

In the above time-frame  1.1billion have  moved out of poverty  (using the above definition)  with the total falling from 1.85 billion to 737 million.  The fall has been particularly strong in China , India and Indonesia as they have all adopted aspects of the free market   or ‘capitalism’. There has been improvements in Africa  again when the evils of capitalism have been allowed to triumph  but  in some areas war and famine have impeded progress  and in others Marxist dictators like Robert Mugabe have held up improvement. In other areas, as in many under-developed societies, economic growth shows in increased population rather than rapidly rising living standards. 

I am reminded of the old  joke current in the USSR in the late 1920s- 

Food in the cities -No food in the countryside–the left party deviation

Food in the countryside-No food in the cities–the right party deviation

No food in the cities-No food in the countryside–the correct party line

Food in the cities-Food in the countryside—the evils of capitalism.

I attach a brief summary of part of an article in the latest edition of Prospect Magazine. I have read one of her three long books but this summarises her views very effectively


  • to which I responded thus

(CN) I think you will both approve of much of this. I think it reflects your views and poo poos some of mine. 

Fair enough?

Is the world really better than ever?

  • I was on a roll so I followed it with this

(CN) I have been thinking hard about what I really object to about capitalism and why I have an irrational distaste for it (and religion to boot.)

I think it amounts to the same thing. In both cases intellectually I can see that they are not really that bad. Both ideologies have had a mixed record of good and bad outcomes and good and bad followers. I don’t think anyone could reasonably calculate whether overall they have been a force for good or evil. It might be possible to put numbers against improvements in GDP or the number of faith based charitable activities or the number of people who are not as poor as they were but it isn’t possible to put numbers against subtler variables like how we feel about ourselves or each other or our “superiors”. Maybe alternatives could have arisen that would have produced a better result than deference, industrialisation, less peripheral damage to peoples’ mind, body and soul and of course the planet. We will never know. Not is it worthwhile trying to figure it out. But emotionally I don’t have much time for either capitalism or religion (why to the two go so often hand in hand I wonder?) – real question – because both these positions ie that of the capitalist and the religious persons carry with them strong hierarchical resonances – and I sure don’t like being bullied by god or economists.

Only the present and the future matter. Whatever might have been in the past makes no calculable difference to the trajectory of the future = everything that happened in the past makes every difference to the future. Either way the solution to the equation is null. 

Everything changes all the time. This ephemeral, temporary nature that pervades everything makes me very mistrustful of anyone that believes that anything is (even temporarily) permanent (ok hopefully you know what I mean) or sets itself beyond scrutiny. Often these claims of omnipotence are accompanied by a value judgement supported by evidence (miracles, the Bible, GDP statistics, other academics – standing on the shoulders of giants) showing that whatever it is that is being supported is also the best. God has made this claim for millennia and for 200 years so has Capitalism and of course communism, Marxism and all the other isms.

My brand of Anarchism (CN’s libertarian Anarchism) does not make this claim. There are almost no positive historic or anthropological precedents and if there were they would have no value given my statement above. My flavour of libertarian Anarchism proposes an evolutionary democratic approach. It proposes that the greatest gift for any human is freedom, but that we don’t know how to achieve that yet. A transitional government (government is a temporary necessity) should see itself as a part of the process of securing freedom for ALL. Not all socialists are anarchists, but if you like all anarchists are temporary socialists. By that I mean, a temporary socialist ‘flavour’ government (it could call itself liberal, womens equality party, green, conservative – I don’t care) that wishes to encourage opportunities for all is the most likely route toward the goal of universal freedom – namely no government at all. In anarchist philosophy the details of how this comes to pass cannot be set out in stone as this falls into the same trap as any other authorative approach (the dreaded strong government mantra) however the principle of a fair distribution of influence through democratic means remains fundamental to the transition period. The transition period will likely have characteristics that don’t please everyone, including CN,  but the goal of the government remains the same, namely to make itself redundant once the principals of equality are fully ingrained in the culture.

So in the meantime what could we do?  Wait for it to emerge naturally? We could but that seems to waste the notion of human ingenuity and problem solving. In the same way that technology was a catalyst for the industrial revolution, modern technology could be a catalyst for a reappraisal of our values and of our political systems. Accepting that capitalism has done some good work up until now, why should we assume it is fit for purpose in our modern technological society that has just changed significantly in the time it took me to write this sentence? Indeed thanks to all sorts of technology (“thanks capitalism”) aren’t we in a better position than ever to reappraise capitalist achievements and to re-cut the cake more fairly. (“Thank you again capitalism for providing us with this opportunity.”) 

Unfortunately, we lack the political will because one of the primary products of capitalism is an unfair distribution of power that favours an economic elite (“Thank you Donald Trump for providing the perfect example of this.”) I am quite prepared to accept this is an unintended consequence of the Capitalist ideal but even so it is difficult for it to stand up to scrutiny, particularly for those that proffer moral scrutiny as a gold standard (I am not one). Even if we accept the notion that there is a drop down effect can’t we try to make the drop down more of a deluge.

So CN’s anarchism is for a progressive change of culture through temporary alignment with socialism in order to realise the central goal of universal freedom for all without government. Its starting point is to scrutinise (not destroy) the current, norms, traditions, hierarchies and values to see if positive innovation can help bring us toward this central goal. It has nothing whatsoever to do with  communism, Marxism, national socialism, fox hunting or any other of these monstrous failures.

  • This provoked a belated response to my very first blurt

(A.N.OTHER) You give your email the title,’anti authoritarian rant’ but you end by advocating a state grab of at the expense of private ownership. That state would then decide what necessities individuals would require to build a rewarding life, and redistribute accordingly.This all sounds pretty authoritarian to me, Chris. 

You acknowledge that such states have so far ended up with tyrannical regimes but ask why this need always be the case. I would suggest that the answer lies in your opening declaration that you hate authority. If you hate authority why should anyone else not do so?

The forced abolition of private property would meet with some considerable resistance because  most people ,like you, would not like being told what to do. This would lead to an inevitable clamp down, usually involving violence and loss of life, often on a very large scale.The accompanying instability would then lead to economic decline, which affects the poor the most.

Most revolutionaries, of right or left, have justified this period of violence as only a temporary means towards a greater good( in your case it would appear that this stage would teach us all not to like possessions and show us how to share with one another, eventually leading us to a society run on local cooperatives with no government) I would suggest that such periods are never temporary because those organising  such an upheaval ,like the man who doesn’t want to give up his property, do not want to give up their new found power. Such a scenario is being played out today in Venezuela where their experiment in social justice has taken income per head back to the 1950s.

Now what about the mess that you think capitalism has caused. You seem to think that capitalism is only about greed,ownership and power; I would agree that these are not attractive values. But there was something much deeper underpinning its evolution , beginning in 17 century Holland, which in effect amounted to a mental revolution- the freedom to talk,express ideas openly and have them listened to in an environment of respect. 

In creating a society where the ideas of ,not just those at the top, but those of the growing urban middle classes( previously much looked down upon) could b,e given respect and freedom to develop, the poor were enriched at a faster rate than ever before. But, as importantly, they were not just enrich ed in monetary terms. Philosophical and ethical ideas were openly discussed and wider freedoms evolved.This model was so successful it has been copied and further developed,firstly in Britain and as we have seen then into north west Europe and America 

Because these societies have been developed on the ides of freedom tempered with respect and dignity for the individual, emancipation has ,over time, extended to those on the fringes society- the poor, women, the disabled. Most importantly all have been given the vote, which means those in power can be thrown out if the people feel the government is not serving their interests.

Governments are answerable to parliament where the notion of a ‘loyal opposition’ allows for free and open debate, now of course televised and available for all to see( even at the committee stage)In precapitalist days money undoubtedly gave you power but it is not true that in a democratic society those who spend the most money always get in; Hilary Clinton spent much more on her campaign than Donald Trump. (SECTION REDACTED BY CN as it will give identity of writer away).

“The great achievement of parliamentary democracy is that it takes potentially violent political conflicts and civilises them” (the economist-July 22nd 2017)

Outside the field of politics people have important freedoms: free speech, freedom to demonstrate, freedom to be different, freedom to write and create the art or music of  their choice. We now have a variety of media which on the whole provides the means for a range of views to be expressed and criticised. We have an open press which represents a full range of opinions which are out in the open and subject to scrutiny( wish the same could be said for social media  which ,yes ,it provides a more direct opportunity for ordinary people to air their views( all the result of capitalist innovation)but it can also be used more blatantly as a tool for propaganda and can provide a platform for nasty threatening behaviour which is really a form of bullying that society has not yet managed to contain.

Of course within any system that espouses freedom there will be those  who will abuse it. That is why strong structures of law have to be in place and enforced independently of government, otherwise those in power can become involved in corruption and cronyism ( as was the case in precapitalist times and now in statist societies. In many ways states that take it upon themselves to grab ownership  and redistribute are operating in the same way as precapitalist rulers).

The degree to which the law can step into the realm of individual freedom has to be constantly adjusted to suit new environments Accountability has to be a crucial part of a free society. Sometimes it fails, as we have seen in the recent banking crisis-interestingly it is in America that the toughest sentencing has been implemented; we in England have been sadly lacking in this area. It is an example of how governments and the law have to keep abreast of innovation so that they can protect the public against those who seek to use their freedom to exploit others. Exploitation was and is not now a way of enriching all. Too great an inequality gap not only holds back economic growth but creates a less cohesive, more unjust, unhappy and ultimately a more unstable society. So narrowing that gap is important. It is interesting that a recent IMF report found that enriching the very top end did not drive the whole economy forward but enriching the lower and middle did (exactly what the early innovative societies between the 17th and 19th centuries did).

It has been the freedom to have open conversations and create ideas, together with a preparedness to believe in and provide the means to back those ideas with financial support( because of course this can involve risk) that has driven innovation and has taken societies forward both in material and ethical ways.The process of innovation has had to be ongoing adapting all the time to change and new ways of thinking. Above all it has to be responsive.

I would suggest that your model of the theatre with its recognition of talent and expertise is the perfect example of innovative creativity and it is no coincidence that it thrives in our free society.

So please let’s not abuse the freedom we have and do a Mao( who also resented his father and hated authority ) in his cultural revolution , constantly throwing everything up in the air in the vague hope that something good will come out of it. We might end up with a bit of excitement but I suspect there would be a lot of sound and fury accompanied by much suffering.

When people are given choice where do they walk? Away from authoritarianism and towards freedom.

  • at which point the BBC World at One broadcast two highly relevant points of view captured below.

(CN) So that is where we are now. I think I am struggling to rationalise my ingrained prejudices against power and authority with a more mature understanding of the pragmatics of economics – I will need to mull some more. I will be back!

Lisa Marini – Main Stage Wilderness Festival – TODAY

If you are in Oxfordshire – don’t miss it! – Except its is sold out so you have.

Although us sad gits are cos we cant be up late and miss our Newsnight and Horlicks.

Art sent us a pic of the main stage being set up – works brilliantly as an abstract but I cant make head or tail of it. I think it is from the stage looking out.


Art, cats, drugs

Our lovely Arthur has graduated from Guildhall with a splendiferously high 2.1 – (67) with, as you know, firsts for all his performance exams. We are so proud and delighted not least because his enthusiasm for the academic bits (eg the reading and writing stuff that Universities insist on even on performance courses) was at best patchy and a worst absent. Brilliant Arturo!!

Other good news is the cats have stopped pissing. One can only assume that three eunuchs are temperamentally more collaborative than two eunuchs and a tom… and finally my cancer numbers i got a couple of days ago have actually improved just a bit. This has happened before but it is a rare event when I am not on any drugs, so were the trend to continue, one might be tempted to ascribe it to the daily faddy, herbal, nonsense curcumin supplement. Either way down is definitely better than up and means no drugs for the forthcoming wedding festivities which I am so, so, so, looking forward to!!!!!!


Avani Shah – audio book – BAME Short Story Prize 2017

I am delighted that Avani’s short story shortlisted for the  ‘The Guardian 4th Estate BAME Short Story Prize 2017’ is now available as a free audio book from Audible. Some really good stuff – Avani’s story ‘Greed’ is Chapter 4.

If you are viewing on a mobile device go here 

If you are viewing on a laptop go here  


Oh dear an anti authoritarian blurt again!

This essay – yes its long-  constitutes my Ladybird book on naïve politics as well as an anti-authoritarian blurt. It is also my way of working through my own ideas. I could have written it for myself and left it at that – but I would never have done that. The fact that I know twenty odd people will get it in their inbox and one or two might read a paragraph or two is enough to spur me on. Anyone who actually understands or has studied the subject will be annoyed by its foolishness – so don’t read it. To those of you that are more accepting of views based on ignorance and Utopian stupidity – read on and respond if you wish. I miss the opportunity for these kind of debates because our house, thank goodness is essentially an echo chamber. As always it is written in one long sitting that started at 4:00 am so it is no doupbt full of toypos.

My readers will know I am not a fan of authority. I hate authority of any kind (caveats to come). I admit this is childish, unreasonable and dumb. The reasons are probably historic. I think growing up in the 50 and 60’s when family and social life were confused by conflicting agendas – those who yearned for the pre war status quo and those who wanted change, had a significant part to play. I ended up caught in the middle. Now days I can actually feel my heart beating more rapidly if I find myself in a situation when someone tells me that I MUST do something. The something can be entirely reasonable but my first instinct is always to say ‘why?’ followed frequently by ‘no.’ This is not an exhibition of courage or individualism or self belief it about childish defiance. This trait is balanced by rampant cowardice. If the chips are high enough I will concur without complaint but while I am doing it I can taste sick rising in my mouth and afterwards I will fantasise about heroic defiance until I have persuaded myself that somehow or other I exhibited it.

The unimaginable Grenfell Tower tragedy has made me think about authority anew.

I once had to fill out a risk assessment detailing the risk of group of twenty year olds crossing the road. Needless to say they survived and needless to say I have dined out on this tale of excessive regulation ever since. Excessive regulation means nobody dares do anything that incurs even the slightest risk while deregulation can put people’s lives at risk. It a lose lose situation. My early career was in theatre. The theatre is quite a dangerous place I have seen fires, people fall of ladders, fall into orchestra pits and be pierced by stage swords.  There are lots of rules imposed by a rigid hierarchy of managers yet I cannot remember any sick rising or questioning any of them. Stage managers were obeyed because they cared about you and they cared about the show. They weren’t acting as anonymous guardians against litigation (the primary goal of much Health and Safety legislation in other organisations I have worked in) they were ensuring no one got hurt and the curtain stayed up. They were always there on the spot to intelligently apply and relax the rules as required. Did you know that in theatre if there is a fire risk in a show a fire officer may have to be present or someone hides behind a piece of scenery with a fire extinguisher? Many a time a fire extinguisher is hidden in Jesus’s straw lined manger. The relationship between the culture of the institution, the objectives of the people involved and the purpose of the rules is glaringly obvious and we all fell into line uncomplainingly.

Because we now operate under the control of globalised, many tentacled, dehumanised corporations that are not like theatre at all, (if only they were), that relationship has been lost. Being a Health and Safety officer is a distinct profession with a set of abstract principles and rules that have to be applied. (I have a qualification in it apparently.) The manager rather than practitioner mind-set takes over and rules emerge that are at best impractical and at worst absurd. Making a decision about fire retardant cladding is more an exercise in doing what the regulations say, whether they make sense or not, rather than experiencing and empathising with the consequences of getting it wrong. Thus it goes wrong.

Which brings me to some broader points about how society should be organised and why it goes wrong.

Some sensible anarchists, (I am not one) – those that believe in the necessity for some sort of governing structure, posit that we need small groups of decision makers, that know from personal experience what they are talking about. They are invested directly in the outcomes so they will not bullshit.  This structure is like the hierarchy in theatre where the crew, cast orchestra, costume makers etc as well as conductor, director and company manager are all listened to. Everybody shares a common goal because failure at any level will lead to the failure for all and the show will close. Basic bottom up collaborative governance. Authority is not distributed according to status based on power it is distributed according to expertise. Groups of democratically run councils that direct communal policies for the benefit of all is what we should aim for, so say the sensible anarchists. To achieve something like this we also need a government whose primary purpose is to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to acquire influence according to their expertise thus maintaining a level playing field.

Actually I doubt whether many decent people would disagree with this. In fact some might say that our system of democracy, never mind this anarchy crap, is structured to achieve this goal. So why isn’t it working?

Well first of all (1) democracy relies on everyone having the same capacity to persuade the electorate which way to vote. Clearly this is not the case in America because of the enormous financial obligations required of anyone wishing to stand, and we are moving in the same direction in the UK. (2) Democracy relies on people telling something like the truth. I dispute the existence of indisputable truth or facts but I agree that some things at certain times and in certain places are more truthful than others. The Brexit NHS lie was an example of not telling the truth. (3) Democracy also relies on an electorate caring enough to bother to vote. People don’t vote for lots of reasons, some of which are far from noble but blaming them for not voting is like blaming those of us who cannot figure out how to hire a car without being ripped off with extra charges (yes I have been there), rather than blaming the people who run Hertz and design the contracts to be impenetrably complicated and ultimately fraudulent. Our electoral system is badly designed. People would vote if they felt it would make a difference for them and their neighbours. If they felt that a vote would mean fire resistant cladding would be fitted.

Trouble is the Establishment, and yes there still is one, doesn’t want the less powerful becoming powerful enough to start demanding their legitimate share. Their argument (aside from blatant greed and selfishness they rarely admit too) is the monetarist argument that we need vibrant entrepreneurialism and business activities in order to pay for all the benefits the populace expect. E.g. fire resistant cladding, free at the point of delivery health care and roads. They neglect however to admit that they also benefit from those services in sustaining a healthy workforce and a viable infrastructure in order to generate profit for them and their shareholders. Thus they get two bites of the cherry. Generous tax allowances that encourage the growth of their business and profits and the exploitation of the benefits of the tax paid by their workers. They can work harder and longer because they are fit enough to do so (thanks to the NHS.) On the way they can enrich their buddies working for accountancy and legal firms by paying vast consultancy fees to avoid paying the tax they rightfully owe. The Establishment wins all round.

In addition the Establishment rarely comes clean about how their profits are made. Overpriced drugs, arms sales to dodgy governments, financial scams, inducements for people to buy things they don’t need, zero hour contracts, the gig economy, bribes, corrupt deals, market manipulation the list goes on. So we have every right from both a moral and theoretical standpoint to be sceptical about the capitalist principles that inform the Establishment.

People have problems with terms like the establishment. They imagine it’s a collective term for the people who go to Glyndebourne (or worse have worked there [confession time]) or attended Eton and know which way to pass the port at the dinner table. Yes they are the establishment but it has clevery adapted (modernised) and is much broader based than that.

I like to think of it as ‘the people who own things, that other people have an equal right to own.’ So let’s face it that’s most of my readership, bar the odd hippy.  Let’s forget money they own for now, which, after all is a transitory affair, let’s think about things that have always had value.

This is the Utopian bit.

(1)Land for example. Everyone has a right to occupy some space on the planet. (2) A home – somewhere you can store people. (3) Basic resources –  food, water, electricity, oil and whatnot.  From these absolute necessities spring additional necessities such as free education, healthcare and legal support but let us set those aside for now. So I would propose that the first job of any legitimate state, IE not one made up of vested interests, is to ensure that everyone has a fair share of these basics. The only way to do that is for the state to have ownership of these basics. But don’t freak out -of course in a world in which private ownership of fundamental necessities has gone you can go on owning private things, doing private things, thinking private thoughts, being a conservative or a socialist a Catholic or a Hindu an artist or a scientist but your influence is not modulated by your power over the basic necessities everyone needs. Variables will still exist, as every human being is unique but they will be legitimate, if you like natural, variables, not the product of geopolitics, arbitrary rules or chance. Variables resulting from natural resources will hopefully be eroded by technology. Health, age, energy, intellect, strength, personality are variables that are very difficult to mitigate against however the task of good government will be to do their best to do so.

Now none of this is new, in fact it is very old hat. Just as old hat as the traditional objections.

The first objection is that so far such a system has not worked, in fact it has led to governments of the exact opposite flavour. Despotic, cruel and corrupt. This is undoubtedly true, certainly in terms of the significant well known examples in Russia, China and North Korea, however the assumption that it will never work and therefore we should give up trying is a bit more of a stretch.

The human race has been around for about 200,000 years about 6 million if you include all our ancestors. Civilisations are known to have existed for about 6,000 years. So a history of about 100 years of experiments in giving the state control of basic necessities represents a very short amount of time in which to get things right. Given that these experiments tend to have emerged against a background of a very angry global establishment is it really unsurprising that they have gone disastrously wrong. Of course there are many examples of things going disastrously wrong under market led economies but it is undeniable that control economies have tended to lead to the rise of a corrupt controlling elite and terrible consequences for the poulace.

According to the sceptics this is due to human nature. Apparently unfettered humanity will give rise to unfettered greed and violence. Take away the kings and queens, the police and the banks and everything goes tits up until new versions of these entities arise. Where I ask is the evidence for this? Show me an example where a human society has been unfettered from which we can infer this conclusion? We are born in chains as the cliché goes.  This is a cyclic argument on both sides. Without an unfettered society to experiment upon we cannot say whether a non property owning society will work, equally can an unfettered society ever arise upon which we may conduct the experiment. Thus the notion of the inhibiting properties of ‘human nature’ is mere speculation. We might get lucky and find that all the pessimistic predictions are based on flawed models. We have no way of knowing if left to our own resources we would settle down to some sort of social equilibrium, where everyone manages, imperfectly probably, to get on with everybody else and share their stuff. Of course the opposite might apply.

But let’s examine our track record. In the era of capitalism and individualism we have done many great things; controlling disease, raising GDP, sometimes avoiding wars, liberating women etc but in each case we need to add a footnote. In each case these things have been done for the benefit of some and not for others. Principally they have been done for those nations that for geopolitical reasons are fortunate. They have resources, they have influence, they have territory. For those that have none of those things then the best they can do is wait for the trickle down effect, the mantra of capitalism, that as I have said, may never come for some.

So let’s play a mind game, be optimistic and assume for a moment that unfettered humanity does not self destruct.  We could even assume that government may be unnecessary in the future and pursue that as a long term goal. In the meantime we would ensure that everyone is empowered to take on the responsibilities of self-government, when it comes, by providing everybody with a fair share of critical resources. To do so we need to redistribute wealth globally and for the state to own land, homes and critical resources . By giving every one the necessities upon which to build a rewarding life we would hope to remove the compulsion to own stuff and encourage a desire to share stuff. This seems no more Utopian than the capitalist philosophy that you can buy, own and hustle your way out of the current, far from utopian, mess.

Vince’s knackers

Vinny  got cocky –  his usual technique of judicious weight displacement failed and we finally caught him in the cat trap. Now his knackers have gone and so has he. No sign of him since returning from the vet. Mitch and Bobby were concerned at first but then, just like us humans, they forgot their friends plight and got on with the school run, organising charitable  coffee mornings and catching mice. We really hope Vince chooses to return but given the association he must have with, fear, indignity, pain and loss, we cannot blame him if he seeks pastures new. I will let you know if he pops by.

Nice picture of the Lisa Marini Trio who just played a sold out gig in Brixton.