. The Devil’s Playground | London Progressive Journal
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The Devil’s Playground

Wed 28th Mar 2012

Back in the 1380s, Chaucer claimed in his Tale of Melibee, "Idleness is the root of mischief." An apt observation in a parable about a brutal and unprovoked attack by strangers upon a woman and her children during her husband's absence.

I mention this in the context of the UK's recent budget fairytale, the statistical obscenity of 1.5m unemployed British youth, and further from home, the case of NATO deployed Staff Sergeant Robert Bales. He, you'll recall, is currently being held in Leavenworth, charged with the unprovoked slaughter of 16 sleeping Afghani villagers, including nine children.

Contrary to the knee-jerk reaction from the PR machine that has tried to paint Bales as some kind of disturbed but dedicated military minion, it turns out that he only enlisted lickety-split after a court judgment to repay nearly $1.5m (£.95m/E1.13m) to an elderly couple he'd defrauded when he worked as a stockbroker. Not, as he told his pals, out of a sense of civic duty.

And that don't exactly sound like he was an officer of fair trading!

Yet, as reported by Michael Evans of the Australian Times on 21 March, Bales was described by friends and family as "a gentle, mild-mannered local hero." Not quite the image conjured up by someone previously in the dock for assault against a woman, mandated with compulsory anger-management therapy, and arrested for driving under the influence.

All of which was only compounded by the treatment of his own family, plunging them further into debt after his enlistment. The task of Bales, as allegedly for all NATO occupiers of Afghanistan, is supposed to be to win hearts and minds in the transition to self-government.

That is their job.

Perhaps another time I'll fume about dubious American foreign policy, perpetrated on the world cloaked in NATO dress blues. But today's rant deals with the con that capitalism calls employment.

Because You're [Not] Worth It

The very concept of work, and its application in society, is controlled by those whose policies have been sent straight from hell. The status quo, excepting the odd name change on the door, is kept in the firm grip of the rich elite at the expense of the impotent poor.

We always assume that employment presupposes workers serving the needs and demands of a boss, whether individual or corporate. But, of course, employment is also just something we do.

When what we do serves our own needs, material and more especially emotional and intellectual, capitalist societies tend either to denigrate, dismiss, or even demonise those activities. Unless you commodify what you do, it's deemed valueless.

The message is that you're only worth what you're worth to someone else. Someone who's worth more than you.

There is, of course, another model for occupation: the DIY solution. This is different from the Entrepreneur Solution, about which more later.

Capitalism is crumbling around us. Even as our economy tanks along with the rest of our cronies - for whom saving the corrupted system has become a mission akin to saving Private Ryan – we could be more actively laying the groundwork for a more collective approach.

Instead of the unethical, brutal and failing methods of Bosses, we could be exploring models of cooperation, of group ownership, of taking control of our own lives.

As well as addressing unfair pay and conditions, of whether or not regional or centralized pay structures is the way to go, Britain’s unions should be offering daily or weekly role-play sessions in democratising a self-contained workforce.

Employees have the expertise of the nitty-gritty of work. They should owe nothing to anyone. They should reject the patronising structures of employment that turn them into someone else’s infantilized servants.

Unions should take the focus off confrontation actions. They may bind communities together, but they’ll never best those with political and monetary clout. If unions can collectivise strikes, why can’t they encourage solidarity to risk group control. Unions should unite.

Don’t rely on someone else. They’ll throw you on the dole as soon as look as you. The days of mutual loyalty are gone, mate. If they ever existed in the first place. And once you’re out, you’re despised and stigmatised. There are plenty of jobs out there, say those smug bastards; it’s your fault if you can’t find work. And, by the way, echoing Chaucer, idle hands are the devil's playground.

Which really means, make it on your own or they’ll feel more or less obliged to take care of you. Except more and more, it's less obliged!

Words are funny things; they can imply so much. That phrase, "to take care of," via gangsta culture, has come to mean to kill or obliterate. You can just hear Joe Pesci saying, "Is he bothering youse? Don't worry, we're gonna take care of him."

And, in the original Hebrew, the word for Satan meant simply an adversary, or someone who opposed you in deed or thought. For the Greeks it was a slanderer or accuser. Policy makers, elected representatives, modern tyrants, and corporate honchos want you to believe that as well as entrenching their own power, they're civilised enough to look after the defenseless. But the truth is they'll do anything and crush anyone who gets in their way.

Contemporary life increasingly entwines the realms of politics and economics. Of course it's been going on for centuries, but this social double helix was probably most blatant during the unelected influence of former Goldman Sachs fat-cats within the Bush government. Paulson, Fowler, Corzine, Zoellick, Bolten et al - the list who wound up advising the White House grew and grew. Even if you knew about it, you could hardly see the join.

They winkled their way into Europe, too. Italy's Romano Prodi worked for Goldman in the 1990s, giving rise to speculation that GS actually controls Italy's fiscal policy. Considering that both the Bank of Italy's governor Mario Draghi and erstwhile Deputy Treasury Chief Massimo Tononi were associated with Goldman, it's not so wild an assumption. The Bank of Canada and Deutsche Bank were led by former Goldman associates, and Australia's Malcolm Turnbull was a former chair of Goldman Australia.

Even the Obama regime has not escaped the economic partnering with Goldman high fliers including Timothy Geithner and Gene Sperling among many others. Both David Cameron and George Osborne have snuggled up to Goldman, resulting in who knows what tweaks to the Con-Dem determination to privatise the country under the guise of bashing the deficit.

So, for those who naively assume that The State's duty is to be guardians to all the people, think again.

Nowadays such abuses may make headlines when they're discovered, but it's clear these twin drivers power both government and corporate policies. Even more so on a global scale.

The Art of Deconstruction

What the Con-Dem budget has yet again confirmed is the political assumption that your life is in their hands. As a play-by-their-rules employee, your options are curtailed at every corner in order to serve the agenda of policy setters. Accountability counts for nought.

And yet we crawl on, and cling on, and soldier on - believing the lies and accepting life's lot. What a lot of no-count crap!

Let's deconstruct what employment and, more pertinent, unemployment means in our Us Versus Them society.

When you strip away the Mask of Deception, governments of any persuasion, have rapidly evolved to become the Board of Directors of Neverland plc. Their job is to enrich Neverland by fair means and foul. They run the nation with all the perks and smarminess of a trade delegation. And they're most loathsome when they pimp weapons as arms dealers.

The game they play is neither so far-thinking nor strategic as chess; rather it is as simplistic and opportunistic as draughts [that's checkers to us Yanks!]. For a government's greatest challenge while in office, is to cram in the implementation of policies that will benefit cronies in the short term, while hedging bets to leave an unflushed toilet just in case their opponents get in next time.

I was listening to that King of Smug - Paymaster General Francis Maude, MP, on Radio 4's Any Questions this weekend. A multi-millionaire, as are so many in Cameron's cabinet, he decried yet again the concept of The Nanny State.

It seems to me that's code for letting the privileged get away with whatever while assuring that the hoi polloi are shackled into submission. Twinned with many American Tea Party-goers, these small state Tories want to chuck the impotent out of the comfy seats in First Class to fend for themselves. And if they wind up falling onto the tracks -- oh, well, that's life, chaps.

Confession time! It must have something to do with my upbringing - in a lefter-than-lefty family, I hasten to add - but I have always had a problem with authority. I really hate anyone telling me what I must do. I don't mind at all a discussion of options. But I cannot just defer. That said, I tend not to break laws, or rules. I'm disgustingly honest. And believe me, over the years, I've learned that people are highly suspicious of honesty.

So when I hear that phrase Nanny State, something in me shouts - yeah, right on, dude. If it doesn't hurt anyone or impinge on anyone else's rights, fuck off and leave me alone. Which sounds as though I'm in the same so-called libertarian throne room as King Smug.

The difference [at least I hope it's a difference] is that I don't expect to benefit from my challenge of arbitrary, unquestioned authority at the expense of others. I believe we're all the same at a fundamental level. Whereas I think the Nanny bashers want to use the State as a weapon of control, while they skive off on hols when the punishments are dished out.

So there’s that more draconian alternative I mentioned. The Entrepreneur Solution. And I just can’t resist quoting Bush, who wasn’t joking when indulging in a bit of French bashing when they resisted the coalition of the willing to nuke Iraq. He declared those cheese eating surrender monkeys didn’t even have a word for entrepreneur. Oh, you couldn’t make it up! N’est-ce pas?!

Okay, so here comes gazillionaire Richard Branson, whose knighthood was awarded for services to entrepreneurship. He at least has seen the flaw in Cameron’s misplaced faith that the corporate world will rush to plug the job gap left after the decimation of the public sector. He’s also publicly declared that in an economic sense there’s not a sliver of difference between Labour and the Tories.

He’s right, more’s the pity. Branson, who doesn’t sport an old school tie, is hard to condemn. Not because of but possibly despite his calculated worth of some £4bn. He’s not quite a self-made man, having come from a very well connected family. Perhaps it was his dyslexia which spurred him on to the heights of business success. But it’s undeniable that along with a self-selected group of global influence called The Elders, his work to eradicate nuclear weapons, to resolve conflicts around the world without resort to military solutions, and other noble goals, puts him in a different category from the Goldman brigade.

Mindful of his own poor academic record, he’s mooted a different kind of incentive from the university scholarship model. Having founded the Branson School of Entrepreneurship in South Africa, Branson’s initiative would provide grants for start-up companies headed by young people.

But while there’s certainly something refreshing in what seems like a far less self-interested approach from the Dragon’s Den, it’s still a perpetuation of an economic structure that can only prosper by the exploitation of others.

There is no reason why the workers of the world can’t truly unite. Yes, it’s a risky option. But honestly – who truly likes feeling worthless as they are browbeaten into a life of dependence and disappointment. Take pride in yourself, not your bank balance.

Work with, not work for.
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