To Strive, to Seek, to Find, and not to Yield (Tennyson)

I watched ‘Skyfall’ last night and the poetry of Tennyson read by M during the hearing touched me.

I think that Apple’s ‘Here’s to the crazy ones’ is very much related too.

All I can add to this is that I agree whole heatedly. If we will never stop trying to improve, if we will never stop questioning and asking ‘why’ things are as they are, we will grow in freedom and development, and reach unseen heights.

The Slavery of our Generation

Photo Credit: @atoach (Flickr)

Does slavery exist in the modern world? I argue yes. Turn through the pages of history to when British and American wealth was built of the backs of slaves and ask: did they receive anything from their masters? Well they got a roof over the heads and enough food to barely get by. What about the family trying to make ends meet off a minimum wage job? What do they get? I think many will say ‘a roof over their heads and barely enough to get by’.

It may seem like a crass example, and I admit it doesn’t do justice for the appalling conditions with which innocent victims of the slave trade were treated, but the principle here is worth noting.

Considering the 1% that control 80% of the wealth, who rejoice in the use of machinery and the abundance of labourers that drive down the cost of overheads, things really could not have worked out better for big capitalism. Relatively thinking then I think there are many who are esteemed as slaves.

The financial sector is partly to blame for this. The city of London makes a vast contribution to our GDP, through speculative trading; betting on commodities. The costs of production, due to machines and an abundance of available labour force is only a fraction of what goes through the coffers of the bankers.

As a result, it is Mr and Mrs Serf who labour for the minimum permissible wage, for the success of a business, so the fat cat bankers can bet back and forth and live the lavish city life. This is a complete abuse of the workforce.

Even so, many will look and say that this is still not comparable to the conditions faced by some during previous centuries. To you I say that I agree. There is an incredible social mobility in this generation. I am a student, with a variety of Apple products, a car, and a few international stamps in my passport. Motor vehicles are available to the masses, people aren’t really starving, and large screen televisions and broadband internet are found in many homes. We certainly do not live under the task-masters whip.

I think the bulk of this slavery is psychological. It is relative. If the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer then we are moving closer to real slavery, not further away from it. But the real damage is done to the individual who has worked out that society considers them dispensable. The person who is told they don’t need an education, since they are only needed for manual work. The person who only works to be able to afford food, shelter and some short lived entertainment down the pub is the same person who empty’s your bins to keep your street habitable. It’s the person who puts the food on the shelves in your supermarket. It’s the person who answers the phone when your internet access fails, or the person who sewed the sleeves on to your shirt. Are they really worth that little?

Institutionally that is what we have said. We have conditioned some people in our society into a state of learned helplessness. And do you know what the bottom line of it is? As we are now, there is not enough jobs for everyone. If every person did have the zeal and passion to go out and try change their stars, there wouldn’t be enough work to go round. So do we still have slaves? Relatively speaking definitely. Symbolically without doubt. And for those who the economy values at but the smallest pittance, I’m sure they would agree too.

Choosing not to See

I watched a very thought provoking episode of ‘Breaking the Set’ on RT last night. Margaret Heffernan, the author of the recently published book ‘Wilful Blindness’ was interviewed and some very interesting points were covered, which, as a psychologist I find profoundly important.

“Feeding peoples’ established biases and prejudice’s” (9:55)

I don’t care if you’re liberal or conservative, we live in a climate today where for many, opinions are all too shallow. Heffernan described the press to use nothing more than polarised prejudices to rope people in to a very artificial form of debate. I support this statement and I believe that the angry mob who read the headlines either do not think beyond what political ideology is being chased, or they consider it in terms of ‘hunches’ and how it relates to themselves.

People Don’t Think

So many end up tranquilised by the emotive or political talk used by the biased media, however a second key argument that was made in this interview was that the free markets do not always ensure the best will reach the top. The assumption that natural selection will root out the crooks and the bad eggs just doesn’t work. Social psychology tells us why.

When hierarchy ensues, conformity magnifies. That that magnification of conformity takes place means really, the valuable critical thinking and expression of caution are lost. A study by New York University suggests up to 85% of senior executives in large businesses (see interview – 4:47) admit to have withheld expression of critical thought at least once.

Now if that takes place in all our competition regulated businesses and services, that is, our schools, industries, hospitals, military outfits and above all, governments, it need be no surprise that corruption is rife and inequality is at large. This is because often enough we don’t think, and when we do think, we don’t express that thought.

And that might be the solution to many of today’s challenges: getting everybody to think a whole lot more. It is important for people to critique the rationale of opinions and policy in depth, disregarding left and right political swings. Considering each argument upon its merit across social, economic and above all moral dimensions. With improved rational thinking people could more effectively hold politicians to account, or bring about more responsible business practise. People could recognise that educational policy should be based on what we know about how the brain learns, instead of instead of conformity and league table climbing.

A genuinely free market would be better than the current corporatocracy, however if we properly used our heads (and I mean properly), we could achieve a whole lot better than allowing a phenomena to administer our society.

Writing a thesis statement

Recently on my university course, we covered writing thesis statements in relation to writing scientific reports. The purpose of the thesis statement is to present early on the essence of your argument; the point you are trying to carry across, the take home action point for your reader.

For the purposes of practising scientific writing, we were given the topic of whether cats or dogs are better. Here’s how our thesis statement progressed:

1. While cat women may have a soft spot the size of Saturn, the functional capabilities of canine ownership far outweighs the costs associated with it.

 Just a bit silly…

2. Dog owners are supported by a wealth of functional benefits, including assistance to people with blindness, detecting criminal behaviour and raising a warning voice to oncoming medical dangers.

Merely informative, doesn’t invite to take a stand.

3. Because of the wealth of purposeful benefits available to dog owners, including aid to people with blindness and detection of criminal behavour, people receiving job seekers allowance should be expected to volunteer in a puppy pound for eight hours a week.

 Rather vague.

4. Because of the wealth of purposeful benefits not just available to dog owners but to society as a whole, including aid to people with blindness and detection of criminal behaviour, the contribution of dogs is significant, while cats are merely a drain on society’s resources.

 Sort of takes a stand, but still largely merely informative.

5. Both cats and dogs use resources such as food and expense due to vetinary bills, however the dog brings collerateral benefits to society such as detecting criminal behavior, assisting people with blindness and raising the warning voice of oncoming medical dangers, while cats draw valuable resources of owners time and cohesive thoughts, showing that they are a drain to society.

It has a specific argument, with evidential points providing reinforcement.

Now, where to go for lunch?

My Week without Facebook

Facebook, Source: Unknown

We’ve all been in the situation where we’ve been in the que at the supermarket, and there’s an old person in front of us, trying to use the chip and pin machine to pay for their shopping. They put their card in and they type the pin straight away and then think they’ve done it. Then the cashier has to explain that that they need to wait until it’s ready, then push ‘enter’, then type their pin, and then push enter again. Of course, we, the clued up younger generation can manage it fine, because we’ve grown up in this world where everything has a digital display and understand the principle of following instructions from a computer, but to our senior citizens, it’s a totally different ball game. So from that you would say that we, the younger generation, are better and smarter because we understand how these things all work, but is that really so?

There is a distinct difference between the generation of today, and the older generations. There’s even quite a difference between my generation (I’m 21) and that of my dad. Only 2 days ago he was telling me that as he was growing up, kids would go out with their fishing rods, catch a fish, and eat it for dinner. That just doesn’t happen now-a-days. All of our Grandfathers has noble careers like joinery or seafareing and all had great stories to tell. I am yet to meet anyone who’s Grandfather worked in a call centre, and for that reason, I don’t feel inclined to punish them for my wait at the supermarket.

While the great people of Britain now relax, having spent their lives doing all manor of practical and uplifting things, I feel that we, the younger generation, can’t do quite as much. And for this I blame Facebook.

To help me to explain what I am about to tell you, I’m going to tell you about a good friend of mine, who served with me while I was on my mission in Germany. His name is Davis. Now, Davis is probably the most motivated kid I know. He brings fun and excitement to every party. He loves basketball, in addition to many other pass times that could be summed with the phrase ‘getting out and having a life’. And it reflected not just during his leisure time, but also when it came to doing some work. Off he went, no discouragement, no attempts to waste a bit of time before starting work. And if I ever wanted to have a peek in an electronics store, that was not allowed, and for him, you could just see that he wasn’t withering away due to lack of exposure to the internet.

Now though, back to Facebook. Yes, there has been lots of social networks throughout the last 15 years. There was MSN, bebo, Myspace, and so forth, but none of them have really caught on like Facebook has, and none of them have quite the ability to suck away our lives as Facebook does.

What Facebook does is it sits there, in our second tab, and we all loyally check back to it every few minutes to see if someone has written anything, or uploaded anything, or is available to chat. It makes a very passive passtime, where, if you aren’t careful, you will spend hours looking at it and achieving nothing. Three years ago, they were telling us the average user in the UK spends four hours and twenty-three minutes a month on Facebook (Nielson), and that we should worry about that. Now it’s all over our billboards and cereal boxes, and according to some statistics, which I have no problem believing, people spend an average of 22 minutes a day (11 hours a month) on the site.

It stifles creativity, when your thoughts are ‘what shall I do after this? I know, I’ll go on Facebook’, our thoughts are then distracted from thinking of something vaulable and real to do. It suddenly becomes no longer the primary thought to get your house cleaned, or go out for a walk, or read a book, because Facebook is there, and has disguised itself as a quick time filler.

With less fulfilling passtimes, it leads to less satisfaction in life and more materialism, more wanting this and that, stuff usually you can’t fully afford. And, in all honesty, having experienced a bit of that myself, I decided that it was time for me and Facebook to end our relationship.

Now, to clarify, I haven’t left Facebook, I still use it. I have friends across the world, and it is a brilliant means for keeping in contact with them. But I have chosen to stop using chat, and not to have it run in my second tab. And what was the result? One of the most productive weeks since my missionary service in Germany.

It’s been easier to get to bed earlier, and therefore it has been easier to wake up. I found that the quality of my study of the scriptures was improved, it was much easier to concentrate. I got started on a project I’ve been needing to do, but haven’t wanted to start, which was to clear up and get rid of the rust developing on my car. I have also been working on tracing out our family history. On those evenings where I didn’t have a lot to do, I pulled out a book and started reading.

Books are great, they don’t have such a strong pull, and they usually really do improve you academically. They fill you with creative thoughts and inspiration, and bring balance which helps you in other aspects of your life. They also allow time to reflect, to ponder over what is important in life.While we don’t realise it, it is these things that the internet can often rob from us.

The point I want to make here is not that we should all drop Facebook and the internet and live in caves. Everything in moderation is good, it balances our lives, but take it out of moderation, which which Facebook it is very easy to do, and it does become a vice. It really is all about self control. Some of us naturally have more of it than others, but we can all do things that will help us reign over our worldly desires. Our older people didn’t have the internet, and so it was naturally easier for them to find more productive things to do. We do live in a different world to where they lived. One where despite the fact they don’t know how to pay for groceries, they have the last laugh.

Links and Sources

UK Facebook stats March 2011

BBC – Facebook still in fashion (2008)

Playing Grand Theft Auto in Real Life Can be OK

“Yes, you can’t be the biggest tree hugger in the world, without killing something.”

In this, the Nanny State of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the kids of today are deprived of valuable experiences that they need to become capable adults. They’re not allowed to jump on a trampoline without paying a professional trainer to ‘oversee’, in case somebody gets hurt, and every school trip is accompanied by a pine tree of paper work, to make sure nobody gets ill from touching a dirty penny on the floor. Any form of practical work is deemed to be too much hassle or too dangerous to do, leaving our youth to do worksheets and watch videos. The problem is that seeing all these things in theory, makes you long to stretch your legs and go out and do something for real.

We’ve all heard the complaint that the youth of today don’t have enough to do, and that all they ever do do is play Grand Theft Auto, so they end up spray-painting their names on benches and mugging people smaller than them. And it’s true, unfortunately. A few months ago, somebody from our local community was doing something he shouldn’t have been in his car, so the Police went and chased him.

The results weren’t pretty, but it doesn’t need to be this way.

While the manufacturers of Playstations would have you believe that the only way to get satisfaction in life is to take a virtual gun, and virtually riddle someone elses face with virtual bullets, I believe that isnt true. No, I think there’s far more satisfaction in going out and doing it with a real gun. Now please don’t be too alarmed at that statement, because you don’t yet know who my enemy will be.

Prepare to be annihilated, Photo: Chris J. Barker

My Weapon, Photo: Chris J. Barker

Even the most devout of our tree hugging brothers will admit that we simply can’t survive without killing plants. If you want to eat carrots or lettucies for example, you have to kill them first, or if you want a nice garden, you’ll have to kill some weeds, or prune a bush. Yes, you can’t be the biggest tree hugger in the world, without killing something.

Weed killing was the name of the game for me this morning, and it was brilliant. I had a little hand gun, and when I encountered a weed, all I had to do was pull the trigger and a little jet of poison would come out and zap it. I soon got quite in to it, discovering that I could either hold down the trigger for automatic fire, or if I just pulled it in short bursts, my ammo would last longer, and I wouldn’t need to reload as much. Better still, I was clearing our territory of all our uninvited visitors, cleaning it all up and making our garden and driveway look more in line with its suburban setting and less like farmer Giles’ dirt tracks. My mum loved it, I loved it, our neigbours loved it. I got to be outside, doing something worthwhile, finding a good use for my time and achieving something to be proud of.

So there we have it, the solution to dealing with rowdy kids with no hobbies is not to teach them all this liberal ‘here’s the facts, you decide for yourself’ nonsense they teach in school. It’s to arm them with a weed killer gun and teach them who the real enemies are, whilst they’re still mould-able enough to learn.

As for me, my patch is clean. My vegetable patch that is!

My vegetable patch that is.

Lest We Forget Those Who Make Us Laugh

I’m sad to say, but Top Gear isn’t quite as good as it used to be. Infact, I must say that when I watched this weeks episode (Series 17, Episode 2), I actually got a bit bored. This was the one where they bought European hot hatches and did the traditional various challenges. The bottom line is that if I so wanted to load my car with a branch off a cider tree, ice cubes, a photo of as many people as I can getting in to my car, a cd from a service station, a bicycle, a vine and a dog, I could do that my self, in my own car, which is better than all of theirs anyway. These days, the humour feels repeated and unoriginal, as though they’ve got everything that’s worth having out of it, and they’re just trying to scoop out the last bits. For me now, in order to get this Clarksonesque humour, I’ve chosen to buy some of his books. While much of the content is hilariously funny, there’s also quite a lot that just isn’t.

Jeremy Clarkson Presenting Top Gear, Photo: BBC

And it’s a pattern I go through myself too, as a pretty new blog writer. Sometimes the creative juices just flow, the inspiration comes, and I write an article that I’m genuinely proud of. Other times, I sit, and it feels like nothing comes. I write something, and then look back at it and think ‘Ive just written a right load of rubbish’. I find that when I am writing because I have to, or, in other words, if I am attempting to industrialise the process, the creative juices just dry up. I firmly believe you cannot force humour and witt.

The best ideas that I have had haven’t come while I’ve been sat at a desk, thinking of what to write. They come when I’m out and about, at work, or sitting on the toilet. Such is the nature of these ideas, that you have to seize them while they’re there, scribble as much as possible down on a bit of paper, for compilation later. And I think this is what is happerning to Top Gear.

So what’s the solution? Why am I telling you this? Well it casts understanding on the life of a writer, somneone whos job and career is to use a pen and paper to create material to entertain. We see that those we follow are human too, they’ve not suddenly gone down the pan, but they’ve squeezed the creative orange there and got what it had to give. It also applies in a social context too, we all have ‘off days’, it doesn’t mean that those bubbly amusing personalities are gone for good.

We know that it’s a dog eat dog world out there, and if the quality goes, then so will the ratings, but those writers, those journalists, those authors, deserve their place in history as fine gentlemen who could grab our interest and make us laugh.

Top Gear has been a superb TV show for me, for the last 10 years. I still enjoy it, as do countless others. Right now I may well be speaking against the general audience of BBC 2, (at least at 8pm on a Sunday evening), but I do believe it is no longer on the same plane it once was. Is it because the producers and presenters have lost their touch? Not at all, it’s just that there’s only so many times Hammond can argue with Jeremy and it still be funny.

And you may be looking at me, thinking “that’s all rich coming from you, you with your little WordPress blog of 14 posts”, well, maybe so, but that’s for you to decide.

Related Links:

BBC Top Gear