Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Anarchism: Revolution or Evolution? How supporting your local co-op is more effective than overthrowing the government.

If you've stumbled across this blog and don't already know that the three main causes of oppression are organised religion, private enterprise and the state, welcome to planet Earth. Please, come in. Can I get you a cup of tea?

Whenever we've had our liberties trampled it's almost certain to have been under the boot of one of these three dodgy looking characters. The only example I can think of that doesn't (always) involve at least one of them is domestic/familial abuse. And if you are being abused by your partner or a family member the answer is simple: Walk the fuck away and never look back. You can give them all the love in the world but they are broken and therefore incapable of loving you back in a healthy way.  Why so few people manage to grasp this is beyond me frankly.

And isn't it the same with these other purveyors of abusive behaviour? Very few of us even try to walk away from religions that oppress women, from private enterprises that oppress the poor, from governments that impede our civil liberties and fundamental human rights. Why? Because like in all controlling and abusive relationships we've been sold a line; we need them, we'd never survive in the big scary world without them, no-one else can provide for us and protect us like they can. Sound familiar?

And the scary part is that we've been under the shadow of these three for so long that we really haven't got the means to support ourselves en masse without them anymore. It's all very well saying it's time to 'man up', pack our bags and walk out of the door. But walk into what? How would we survive?

So revolution is out then. We would be unwise to try for our 'Winter Palace' moment in Britain in the 21st century. As romantic a notion as it is to just overthrow the status quo, we'd simply be left with a vacuum, which would undoubtedly be filled with opportunists, crooks and charlatans.

The only chance we've got then is evolution. A new society that can be built from within the old, and we already have the seeds. Every cooperative and mutual society is already operating along the lines of anarchist principles (although not many people seem to know it) and they now make up a sizable chunk of the insurance and financial services markets. They compete and win in markets dominated by starkly capitalist principles, yet offer a glimpse of a more egalitarian future where the spoils of enterprise can be more equally distributed than would ever be sanctioned by their privately owned counterparts.

And as I wrote in my last post, not only is it possible to build a universal health care system on anarchist principles that's more efficient than a state controlled one like the NHS, but it looks likely that the Americans will adopt such a system in the very near future. The Germans of course have been using a similar system for years.

Becoming attuned to the kinds of anarchist system already in place helps us to counter the out and out lies fed to us from our abusive trio that they are the only ones who can help us. These alternative systems aren't some weirdy beardy communist jibber jabber, these are modern sophisticated business models used in big, grown up countries to do serious stuff like providing universal health care.

So how can you become more 'anarchic' today? Well, I guess you could go into work and overthrow the boss, sharing his company out equally between you and all your work mates like some 1930's Spanish peasant. But what about switching your current account to the Co-op Bank instead? Or swapping your insurance to NFU Mutual? Or doing your shopping at the Co-op rather than Tesco's?

It's your choice. You can choose to take power back from those 'big three' and anarchism at it's core is about just that - people regaining control over their own lives. And this doesn't mean grabbing a gun or a pitchfork like it used to. It's the same principle that attracted us all to democracy and why so many refuse to accept that democracy has failed. We've been lied to for so long that most people actually believe that democracy or guns and pitchforks are our only two options. How many times have you heard people say "democracy might not be perfect, but it's the best we've got?"

Well that might have been true, or at least less demonstrably false in those halcyon days (if indeed they ever really existed at all) of moral (rather than career) politics, or in the days before the supreme influence of the press on public opinion, or before the lies and the cheating and the stealing and the killing that lead to the electorate's wholesale disenfranchisement from the political system. Whatever, it ain't any more.

But I digress, the point here is supposed to be simple and positive one. Namely that by supporting the cooperatives and mutual or 'friendly' societies that already exist and encouraging new ones to fill in the gaps in other areas of society, we start to build a highly organised, egalitarian 21st century community that will simply leave existing autocratic institutions irrelevant and sidelined. We can all be a part of it simply by the choosing the organisational types we support, and those we don't. It might not be as dramatic as a revolution, but it's a pretty exciting glimpse into the near future don't you think?

Monday, 20 December 2010

Part 2. Does having the NHS give the government the right to tell us what to eat, drink and smoke?

In my post about whether or not having the NHS gives the government the right to tell us what to eat, drink and smoke, unfortunately in the final reckoning I had to conclude that it did.

This really got to me, because as I said at the time, I am a left-libertarian and I don't like the government telling me what to do. The knowledge that I had written a piece legitimising its presumption to tell me what I can or can't put in my own body disturbed me immensely.

However, in my defence I did include a very important caveat in that conclusion. I said that "faced with the two choices we have in society as it stands" I would rather allow the government to have a say in our lifestyle choices in order to protect the NHS from collapse, than leave the freedom to choose entirely up to the individual and let the free market take over in the ensuing meltdown and price millions of people out of the health care system all together - like what happens in America for example.

I also explained that there was a third option that would mean fundamentally changing the way society is structured and that this blog would be covering it in some detail. This is the first article introducing the topic of social cooperatives and in this case how universal health care doesn't have to go hand in hand with an authoritarian 'nanny state' telling us what to do!

First of all some housekeeping. In the previous article I basically cited America as an example of how to run your health care system if you want people to die prematurely. Although this is an accurate reflection of the American system (which is born out statistically), I should point out that America also has examples of the kind of health care system we should be employing over here.

In 1937 the Farm Security Administration (FSA) was part of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal to provide help for America's poorest farmers who had been thoroughly fucked over in the Great Depression. One of the more innovative policies the FSA oversaw was the implementation of health insurance cooperatives.

The idea is simple. Instead of paying a health insurance premium to a private insurance company who will pay out in the event you need treatment, or paying for a government run scheme like the NHS through taxation, you pay your insurance premium to a health insurance cooperative, which is a kind of mutual insurance company. In other words the cooperative is owned entirely by the policy holders themselves.

Because the cooperative is run as a not for profit organisation and is owned entirely by the policy holders (in other words the patients who use the health care system) it's ultimate concern is patient care; not commercial profit like a private insurance company. This has obvious benefits in terms of keeping premiums low and ensuring it will pay out on the best treatment for the patient, not the cheapest treatment for the insurance company!

Also because the cooperative is owned by the patients it has a vested interest in negotiating the best deals with providers in terms of price AND service. This has advantages over a government run system that draws a steady stream of public money and has no imperative to increase efficiency or get value for money. If anyone is in any doubt about how profligate and inefficient a government run scheme can be because of this have a look at how the NHS spanked £110 billion last year!

So what about cost? At the time of writing this, Bupa's average premium is around £400 a year. As we've already seen though, because a cooperative doesn't have to make a profit, the premiums are likely to be lower than a those of a private company like Bupa.

What about the NHS? As we know in 2009 they spent £110 billion. That's £1174.20 a year each we have to pay for the current scheme through taxation

Ironically although we have long taken the piss out of the American system for being elitist, non egalitarian and generally backward, it is thanks in general to President Obama's health care reform bill and specifically U.S. Senator for Montana, Max Baucus's proposed "America’s Healthy Future Act" that they may well get a system like this before we do.

If only we would implement a similar system here, I wouldn't have to sacrifice my leftism (I still get universal health care) or my libertarianism (no government telling me to eat my bloody greens!!!) by having to choose one of the two thoroughly unsatisfactory health care options we have in this country today.

There are many examples of how taking both government AND private enterprise out of the equation makes society better. Some will throw up their hands in horror and say you can't have anarchy (the absence of government) because it will be chaos. In reality an anarchic society is highly organised as we see in this example. As for the NHS, the government run alternative, I would even go as far as to suggest that it is by far the more chaotic option!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Why Individualism Failed and Woodrow Wilson is a Cunt.

The dust has settled on this year's X Factor and the one with a face like a hobo's shoe has shuffled off for his fifteen minutes of obscurity with a million quid in his back pocket. But it's hard not to see the whole sorry charade as a remnant from the era just past when, in our own British (and ever so slightly shitter) version of the 'american dream' you too could be a pop star and go in 'The Jungle' and eat a kangaroo's penis if you just wanted it it badly enough.

But what did we trade in for this inalienable right? Are we to be the first generation since universal suffrage who's young people genuinely couldn't give a fuck about politics or society - and more importantly how to change politics to make society better?

The 20th century was defined by wars in which millions died to protect the rights of the individual, but having won those wars have we squandered the winnings on the shiny trinkets of individualism? Do we now have to fight all over again for humanity as a whole?

The dangers of overstating the case for the individual can be illustrated by a little game I like to play called "How Much Stuff Is Woodrow Wilson's Fault?"

It's fun because you can actually trace a direct historical link between the actions of the 28th President of the USA and more or less all the worst moments in history from the end of the First World War right up until today:

Using well documented historical events* you can show that directly or indirectly he is either the instigator of or apologist for; America’s late entry to (and subsequent profiteering from) WW1, the failure of the League of Nations, the start of WW2, the global spread of WW2, the Suez Crisis, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Yugoslav Wars in the 1990’s, the Israeli/Palestinian conflicts, Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, 9/11 and of course racial segregation in America up until 1965. Try it yourself if you don't believe me.

*Most of this can be traced back to his wrecking-ball (albeit well-meaning)
’Fourteen Points’ and his trip to Paris in 1919 to help shape the monumentally ill-conceived 'Treaty of Versailles'. The racial segregation thing is largely down to his failure to repeal the 'Jim Crow Laws' so as not to piss off the wealthy (white) Southerners he was busy filling his administration with.

The point is that yes, the "Schoolmaster of Politics" did have a hand in all those terrible events, but he was by no means alone. Clearly, Hitler, Ho Chi Minh, David Ben Gurian and about 100 million others had parts to play too!!! He was a catalyst which shaped the actions of many generations, across many continents for decades after his death, but it was all these other people - 'humanity' in the widest sense who ultimately perpetrated all these horrific acts. Or "No man is an Island" as John Donne more succinctly put it.

All we can hope for as individuals, is that our actions affect humanity as powerfully as Woodrow Wilson did - although hopefully in a more positive and less bloody manner!!!

In this new age of austerity; post-communism AND post-Thatcherism (in which I include the New Labour era which was essentially Thatcherism Version 2.0) we are undoubtedly also post 'individualism' as a goal in and of itself. Perhaps the time has come to reintegrate the values we won for the individual in the 20th century back into the values we want for society in the 21st.

Part 1.Does having the NHS give the government the right to tell us what to eat, drink and smoke?

We're all used to having universal health care in this country now and although we moan about waiting lists, MRSA, profligacy and inefficiency, there are few who would go back to the pre-Bevan era.

But the population on census day in 1951 (the first one since the NHS was created in 1948) was a little over 40 million. In June last year the Office for National Statistics announced the UK population had risen to almost 62 million.

And the number of patients who are clinically or morbidly obese has gone up tenfold in the last decade alone, and those suffering from alcohol and drug related problems has risen dramatically too. Granted, these are just inevitable symptoms of the nihilistic, self-indulgent age in which we live but nevertheless we must surely ask ourselves a) as the tax payers who pay for this service, are we happy to pay extra to treat these self-inflicted ailments? and b) as the patients who use this service, are we happy to wait longer to been seen by a barely conscious doctor in the 79th hour of his 80 hour working week because of these arguably avoidable afflictions?

Most of us (myself included) consider having the NHS to be a right not a privilege. But don’t all rights come with certain responsibilities?

Hmmm, a few blank faces still. Ok, consider this: Do we accept the premise that universal health care is fundamental to the way we want society to be for its least privileged members? If so, then surely we are also responsible for looking after ourselves so that we don't unnecessarily burden the system, ruining it for those who genuinely need it.

And do we also accept the basic tenet of the Nash Equilibrium that none of us are going to unilaterally decide to live more healthily to save the NHS because although we would all be better off if we all did it, if it's just us making the effort, then we get lumbered with the boring healthy lifestyle and the NHS still goes down the shitter? 

It is therefore, just conceivable that we may need some kind of outside agent giving us a collective nudge in the right direction. And the government, it seems to me is the agency uniquely placed to do this. We belly-ache about the ‘nanny state’ when the government tells us to eat healthily and stop smoking or binge drinking but consider for a moment the alternative:

In America 46.3 million people (around 15.4% of the population) don’t have health insurance. As a consequence life expectancy in the US, the richest, most powerful country on earth is 78.4 years compared to 79.9 in the UK.

So at the heart of the issue is the simple matter of left vs. right. We either allow the government to have a say in how we live our lives in order to provide a health care system that allows us to live longer, or we don't; the NHS collapses under the weight of a million WKD Blue related hospital admissions every Friday night and the cost of fork-lifting thousands of housebound doughnut junkies out of first floor windows. The privateers take over allowing us to choose absolute freedom to do what we like to our own bodies. Those that can afford to can pay for the consequences do so and those that can’t (probably around 15.4% of the population or 9.5 million Britons) die prematurely.

As a left-libertarian, I hate the thought of the government interfering with something as personal as what I choose to put in my own body, but because of the implications for human life and faced with the two choices we have in society as it stands* I would rather sacrifice the libertarian bit than the leftist bit on this issue.

*There is a third option which involves a fundamental shift in the way society organises itself. A topic for another time, but rest assured one that will be covered here in some depth!

Editors note. Part 2 explaining that third option is now available to read here.

Confessions of a pisshead

After nearly 17 years of not just drinking, but getting properly wasted at every opportunity I quit drinking a month ago today.

Those who have known me over the years will likely be shocked to hear of my getting on 'the wagon'. There are people I have known for years who have literally never seen me without a drink in my hand.

Drinking was a part of my life for so long and it wove itself into the fabric of my existence so seamlessly that even the thought of giving up was as unlikely as quitting breathing for the rest of my life.

There was never a moment’s doubt as to whether I should go and get a couple of bottles of wine from the shop at night, or head for the pub as soon as I got into town and stay there till closing time, or my money ran out. I used booze to self-medicate when I felt down, angry, insecure, bored or lonely. I used booze to give me the edge in my job. I used booze to give me courage to interact with the world. I used booze as a matter of habit whenever I had access to it or money for it.

I prioritised booze over everything else in my life. No matter how much money I earned in a month I would always struggle to pay rent, buy food, pay bills at the end of it. There was no occasion too important that I wouldn’t go out the night before and get hammered. I sold my photographic equipment, laptop, DVD collection, CD collection, telly, DVD player and two ipods and spent all the money on booze.

I lied to family and friends about the extent of my drinking and how much I spent on it. I lied to my ex about getting pissed and cheating on her. I lied about the nights spent locked up on drunk and disorderly charges.

For the most part I considered myself a ‘high functioning’ alcoholic. I managed to hold down jobs (for a while anyway), mainly because I was good at what I did and my bosses didn’t want to kick me out when I was making them money. But a period of attrition would always follow during which my attendance, attitude, personal appearance etc would slide downhill and eventually I’d get fired, and naturally I lied to everyone about the reasons for that too.

But I wasn’t lying destitute in a gutter, I wasn’t drinking all day and sometimes not even every day. It’s just as I said at the beginning that I would get properly wasted at every opportunity I had.

I figured I could handle it. I figured it wasn’t affecting me. I didn’t want to notice how people around me, even close friends were getting sick of my behaviour. I thought I was being edgy, anarchic, free spirited. It’s a real gut shot when you realise you were really being just another loud, self-opinionated drunk.

A month ago I got sick. It only lasted about a week but I didn’t feel like drinking at all. During that week I started to reflect on all these things and I made the decision then to try not to start drinking again when I got better.

As the weeks have gone by that decision to ‘try not to’ start drinking again has crystallised into 'I can’t afford to ever allow myself to pick up a drink again'.

That decision was a tough one to make, and I had no idea of the implications of it. I had no idea how long it would take before I saw any tangible benefits from taking that first step and I was shocked that within this first month I have already learned two amazing things.

Firstly, I started to remember who I was. By which I mean that for the first time I can remember as an adult I have spent a month in my own company. Not pissed, not stoned, not tripping but me. I’d forgotten how to tell the real me from the wasted me and now I genuinely feel I’ve regained something I thought I had lost forever - and yes, I am aware of how cheesy that sounds, and you know what? I couldn't care less!!!

The second monumental thing I realised is that all I care about is my creativity and the relationships I have with the people I care about. Fuck the money and fuck a career in 'media-twatting-sales’ I want nothing more to do with your soulless, heartless, brainless, morally bankrupt enterprises. You contribute nothing good to the world we live in. Fuck you, and the horse you rode in on.
 So I am truly sorry for the fucked up way I treated a lot of you over the years and I hope to be able to atone for some of my mistakes by being a better, kinder, wiser and all together less flaky friend.

I know it will only be on my death bed that I will be able to say for certain whether I was successful in permanently quitting the booze. I know the clich├ęd truism that I have to take things one day at a time. But I know too, what’s at stake.

When is a bigot not a bigot? When he's a Black Squirrel?

So I've had a few decent conversations with some atheist friends on here and figured I'd see what FB could offer in the way of atheist interest groups to join.

Kushdi, I thought; a bit of enlightened debate about empiricism, freethinking, humanism etc will be intellectually stimulating and an excellent diversion from writing ever weirder comments on friends statuses to sate the boredom of being stuck indoors. I'm not kidding either, in the last one I wrote that Donald Sutherland has been entirely animatronic since Kelly's Heroes and was operated by Jim Henson until the whole dying of pneumonia thing in 1990 when Nick Park took over. It's OK. I know I need help.

Anyway, I stumbled across this (what is the collective noun for numb nuts anyway?) group called the Black Squirrel Society apparently run by a Californian who goes by the name of 'Steppin Wolf'.

Instead of discussions about philosophy, politics, science, history and all the stuff I associate with my own search for answers to 'The Biggies' I was confronted with the kind of views usually reserved for hardcore English Defence League and BNP supporters. The hatred was 80-90% directed at Islam, the rest Christianity and was the predictable, monocular hand-wringing about sexual oppression, conversion at gunpoint, the death penalty for apostasy and the notion that all of this is coming to a doorstep near you if we (or more specifically you) don't do something like, know, big... right?

After most of the exhaustingly dumb and vile nimbyisms was the inevitable suffix, "and when I say this to people they think I'm being racist"

Well, you are. So there. Or bigoted at the very least and xenophobic to boot.

And I want to make this absolutely clear for those not paying attention at the back: The rise in atheism, secularism, humanism and freethinking is a very, very good thing indeed. Just not the militant fundamentalist bullshit propagated by Steppin Wolf and his dribble-witted ilk.

I'm all for a sensible debate about how we can persuade countries like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United Kingdom to fully devolve theism and state. Especially to ensure secular penal law is universal.

Of course I think it's wrong for anyone to be put to death for insulting Mohamed, or for a woman to be beaten because she doesn't wear 'modest enough' clothing, or for some wackafuck redneck preacher to go bragging about all the Qur'ans he's gonna burn, or for the leader of the most powerful country in the world to invade Iraq because 'God told him to'.

And when we devolve religion and state in every country on Earth we remove the power of religion to do this kind of harm. With a secular penal system in place you can't oppress, hurt, or kill anyone for any reason; faith or no faith without expecting to get nicked for it. (So look out Bush there's a war crimes tribunal with your name on it hombre).

I don't care if people believe in Jesus or Jedis. All that matters is that no-one else is harmed or hindered by your particular brand of crazy.

So please, if like me the supernatural ramblings of centuries old control freaks interest you less than scientific enquiry, empirical truth, logic and reason don't fall into the trap of thinking the Black Squirrel Society feel the same way you do. They don't.

The Death of Heroism - The Final Taboo

Iraqi child killed in white phosphorous attack in Fallujah by American soldiers.

Is it time to re-evaluate the relationship the public has with members of the armed forces? As heroic and brave as some of them are, why does it feel like the ultimate taboo to question the heroism of the rest?

Earlier this year Pte. Johnson Beharry of the Princess of Wales' Royal Regiment was the first person to be awarded the Victoria Cross since 1982 and the first living recipient since 1965. He twice saved his crew from ambush in Iraq – The second time, due to damage to the periscope on his Warrior armoured vehicle, he was forced to open the hatch to see where to steer, exposing his face and head to withering small arms fire. He would later require brain surgery, but he got his crew to safety first. He then refused to shake Gordon Brown's hand at the presentation ceremony. Both actions making him unquestionably a hero in my book!

But are all serving military personnel heroes?

Many people find even the question deeply offensive, and I can understand why; especially if they have friends or relatives either serving overseas or worse know people who have lost their lives in action.

But I just don't think they are all heroes. Some, like Pte. Beharry undoubtedly are, but definitely not the majority. And this may seem shocking but I don’t even  think all the dead ones that come back to Wootton Bassett in boxes are heroes. Moreover, the sooner we recognise this, the sooner we stop encouraging our young people to sign up to a military that has in recent years invaded other people's countries under some very dubious pretexts and is arguably therefore getting them killed for no good reason.

Anyone who knows (or has bothered to look up) their history will know that as always British and American imperialism (the grab for valuable natural resources in other people’s countries) was the reason we sent troops into Iraq and Afghanistan. Our sons and daughters are out there bombing the crap out of poor people so we can keep hold of their oil which ought to be helping them out of poverty!

And I know that western imperialism isn't the fault of the soldiers on the ground, but all the facts about why we started these wars are in the public domain. If you plan on joining the military where you'll likely be asked  to go to one of these places and start killing people, don't you think you ought at least to know why you're killing them? If you don't even bother to look this stuff up then on what moral basis are you involved in their slaughter?

But soldiers just get ordered to go and fight, it's not their moral decision to make. Surely you can't blame the soldiers on the ground for simply following orders?

Well, actually since 1948 of course you can.

"Superior Orders" or the "Nuremberg Defence" as it's more commonly known was banned under the London Charter which set down the terms by which the Nuremberg Trials and all subsequent war crimes tribunals were to be conducted. For the last 62 years no military personnel, regardless of rank can follow an order that contravenes international law (like the Geneva Convention for example).

But the Nuremberg Trials were about the Nazi's. They committed war crimes. You're not suggesting that our soldiers are committing war crimes are you? Where's your evidence?

Mainly the hundreds of mass graves marking the places where women and children have been killed by British and American troops in Fallujah, Aaytha, Khataba, Bagdhad, Shibarghan, Kunar province, Khost Province, Marja, Basra and al-'Amara' and so on. I urge you, by the way to follow each of these links to learn more about these atrocities. In each case the military have claimed the civilian body count was ‘accidental’ but that’s an awful lot of ’accidents’ don’t you think?

During the first wave of "Shock and Awe" in 2003 the Americans used BLU-82 "daisy cutter” bombs in down town Baghdad. Each one capable of 'clearing' 3 square miles. White Phosphorus bombs were deliberately used in urban areas during the Fallujah Massacre, and the persistent use of depleted uranium and cluster bombs has lead to untold civilian casualties and death. Untold in some of the smaller villages because no-one survived to count the bodies.

The Geneva Convention (IV, 1949) specifically outlaws "the wanton destruction of cities, towns and villages, and any devastation not justified by military, or civilian necessity"

Is dropping bombs carrying 6,800 kg of explosives each into a crowded city against a few of Saddam's Republican Guard armed only with rifles and pistols “justified by military, or civilian necessity?”

Is the use of White Phosphorus bombs against unarmed civilians “justified by military, or civilian necessity?”

If the answer to these questions is no, and these acts are, therefore in contravention of the Geneva Convention, then I ask again; are all serving military personnel heroes?

But, not all soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan are involved with the fighting. Some are involved with reconstruction. They build schools, dig wells, train local police and army personnel to take over when they’re gone. Surely that’s a bit heroic?

Really? The same soldiers who blasted Iraq and Afghanistan to pieces in the first place are now putting some small bits of it back together again are they? That doesn't sound like heroism to me, that sounds like a tiny down payment on the enormous mountain of reparations we owe to these people.

So yes, a few real heroes, like Pte. Beharry are born in battle. But many more ordinary men and women are burdened with this often unwanted and yes sometimes unwarranted moniker that seeks to justify the blood we have all collectively placed on their hands by supporting them.

Stop it today and save the life of a young person tomorrow who instead of hearing yo
u call the Wootton Bassett fallen 'heroes' and joining the army, becomes a doctor or a teacher instead.

Anyone interested in learning more about the Fallujah Massacre can do so by watching the Sigfrido Ranucci and Maurizio Torrealta film here