. Control Freaks | London Progressive Journal
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Control Freaks

Mon 27th Aug 2018

Open your hand and breathe into the palm. Now close your fist. What have you caught? It's Schrödinger's Air, because until you open out your hand again, you may have trapped a fistful of air, or it may have all leaked out through infinitesimal flesh cracks.

You can guess and postulate till the cows come home, but like almost every aspect of your life, once a breath leaves your body, it's no longer in your control. In an even wider sense, what appears wholly personal inevitably absorbs the political. Once you clear the path of fake facts and silly stats, even the most uncreative social analyses conclude that the vast majority of people spend their time at the behest of others. I'm talking about you and me... about our grasp of the truth and who controls it.

In his 1980 eponymous essay, the late, great Isaac Asimov declared, “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge'.” Sadly, as American cultural imperialism has tainted the world like a polluted river, it's carried on its tide these suspicions of informed authority.

As we mourn the loss of the potent peacemaker Kofi Annan, there can't be a time more relevant to recall his contention that true democracy only flourishes in an atmosphere of freedom and social equality. It's too easy to regard his soft-spoken, unflappable demeanor and conclude he was unaware of the hideous realities to the contrary.

He knew the importance of assessing all the components of any social situation before rushing to pin the blame. Our common humanity is surely touched by reports of the devastation by multiple earthquakes in Indonesia, and the shock of the Genoa bridge collapse. Along with the recent images of Kerala's monsoon floods, it's tempting to regard such tragedies as "naturally" caused, out of our control.

For example, there are 44 rivers in Kerala, all entirely monsoon-fed. During the dry season many simply dry up. This year's monsoon, the most severe in a century, has witnessed every single river burst its banks, displacing well over 300,000 people into emergency relief camps. The most recent floods have claimed over 400 lives to add to more than a thousand since June's floods and landslides. And even more heavy rains are forecast.

Yet this horrendous human suffering has not just dropped down from the sky unbidden. According both to the local media as well as various environmental scientists, it's the unwise and financially dubious long-standing regional policies by surrounding governments which have contributed to the severity of the flooding.

One of the main causes cited is the deforestation and degradation of ecologically fragile mountain ranges. Kerala's democratically elected chief legislator N. Vijayan Pillai, has tied together the socio-political facts underpinning the meteorological realities. The implications are strong that Mr Pillai's Marxist philosophies motivate his opponents' dismissal of the truth.

In the wake of the collapse of global financial investment companies some ten years ago, the search was on to target new sites of exploitation. Various reports by multinational companies including British Petroleum, Vodafone, Ford Motors, Samsung, Hyundai, Reebok, General Mills and Nestle reveal competitive development alongside Kerala's own steel, oil and gas industries and refineries. Such ruthless and insensitive activity has had a direct effect on the ability of the land to protect itself from the ravages of monsoon season.

And the people, of course, are the losers.

The Fat Controllers

Everywhere governed by the reign of capitalism, we're force fed the notion that acquisition of money and stuff is the only recourse to clawing back some of that control. We expect to trade the fullfilment of the tasks we're assigned for whatever allocation of recompense we're assured is fair in the circumstances. Then we're funnelled into Shopping Palaces, establishments filled with products we're told we want - products which are under the control of the very same corporations we've been working for. And, as a ploy to dull the pain of such loss of control, we accept the role of leisure spectators, relying on others to both engage and dis-engage what's left of our minds.

Even more than marking recent celebrity deaths has been business-led emphasis of mourning our lifeless high streets. If they ain't dead yet, they're surely in intensive care. I keep waiting for even the tiniest sign of questions from interviewers of any political biases to address the obvious, but I wait in vain. I'm talking of course about a re-branding of the ubiquitous high street as a centre of interaction, of community, of creativity, rather than a dedicated path of commerce.

How have we allowed ourselves to be led by that one percent of wealth controllers to squash our imaginations so they can keep stacking up the profits on our spend. There's no doubt about who's in control. The question is, can we claw it back in an ethical way that breaks the cycle of fiscal corruption.

True, there may not be much we can do about the orbit of the planet or the length of each day, but when we have a moment to lift our heads from our proscribed tasks, we can see those social puppeteers outlined on the horizon. And, dammit, even at such a distance, in comparison to our own, their lives just ain't so grim. That makes for societies driven by angst and nagging feelings of hopelessness and impotence.

When a society increasingly values its members by their bank balance, the poor feel less and less connected to the system. They lack self-worth and find ways to escape feeling so under valued. Maybe it's the dulling of drugs and alcohol. Or the perverse pain of self-harm which brings with it vestiges of control. As does obsessive game playing or gambling.

Yes, it's true there are as yet isolated pockets of resistence attempting a non-violent, legal systemic approach. And even some incumbent governments have tried to redress the balance of the overwhelming corporate lobby. Though that doesn't seem to be going too well.

There was a blink-and-you-missed-it moment in a recent BBC Business news bulletin that mysteriously vanished from the rest of the day's reporting. Remember when the Prime Minister announced putative changes in how companies were structured and their public responsibilities? She outlined plans to address the ever-widening gap between full-time workers and employers by suggesting that shareholders monitor executive pay.

Leave aside that the internecine relationship between shareholders and investors grows more tangled by the day, at least one promised clause might have plugged the gap. It specified that the workforce should be given a mandatory seat on any pay-review board. Except that was the one clause removed from the presentation.

And so, UK Executive salaries last year averaged about £4 million, while most people in full-time work are told they're not even worth the rise in inflation. Every day we're surrounded by images and iconography that provides false promises of alleged betterment. And every day we know deep down that we're feeling the force of slop buckets thrown fully and deliberately into our faces.

The controlling elite truly don't care about how their lives affect us. Surely, it's not too late. How do we move on , how do re-take control of our lives.

Taking Back Control

Clearly the elephant in the room of this article is Brexit, one of whose proposals was meant to include taking control of our sovereignty. In the two-year interim since the referendum, there really hasn't been a clear definition from any side to explain exactly what that means, nor how it might be re-taken or protected.

A recent debate on the subject included one of the most cogent observations from the University of Sheffield 's Angie Hobbs, Professor of the public understanding of philosophy. She noted there's a “difference between sovereignty and control ... just because a nation is sovereign doesn't mean it's in control.” And further, that “a nation state can be the best way to deliver democracy... provided the electorate is mature and informed.” Which, she admitted, it wasn't, yet.

Her fellow panellist Rana Dasgupta, Writer in residence at Brown University, added that the sovereignty of a nation state was not a universal panacea. It might well be responsible for controlling, even repressing citizens economically and socially, starting illegal wars etc

But Brexit borders and immigation targets only constitute a small part of reclaiming control over our lives. Within Europe itself and also closer to home, we find examples of hope.

In the wake of the global financial crash, the EU decided to impose punitive debts on Greece to take the heat off France and Germany, and the move was vociferously opposed by its Deputy Finance Minister. One consequence was the country's most successful manufacturers of building materials declared bankruptcy, and stopped paying the workers. But instead of giving up and giving in, the workforce voted by 97% to take control of the factory. Now a viable and profitable cooperative, Thessaloniki's VioMe is a model of self-management, and has re-focused on a range of environmentally friendly cleaning products made from local and natural ingredients, and sold online to minimise overheads.

One of the most worrying aspects of modern government is the short-termism that drives us into policies of chaos. The point was made recently by Nick Hardwicke, former chief inspector of prisons, commenting on the decision to take West Midlands Birmingham prison back into public ownership. Hardwick seemed genuinely distressed that no one employed to monitor the inmates was in control.

He acknowledged that government cuts had a knock-on effect, resulting in staff shortages, but admitted that it's been UK ministerial decisions which have resulted in the appalling conditions inflicted on both prisoners and officers. He was unclear whether removing the service from G4S guaranteed improvement. But it was as recently as 2016 that another G4S facility was proven to have abused young people, prompting Hardwick's admission that “managerial oversight failed to protect young people from harm at the jail.” Records of violence were falsified, but despite criminal charges being brought, no senior managers were held to account.

Creative Control

What about the Arts? Surely this aspect of human endeavour provides the richest and most hopeful way we can feel independent, dignified, and worth more than the pittance tossed at our feet with disdain by crass capitalists.

The Arts in all their glory are perfect models for cooperative ventures in control of their creative output as well as their rewards; and those activities better suited to individual effort such as writing or composition, can be supported by the ancillary groups that bring the art to a wider audience.

Too many centuries of capitalism have usurped the precious process and elevated price above its intrinsic value. That's why there's so much bad art, and why successive generations are learning to denigrate art in favour of fads and mindless celebrity. There really is a difference between Arts and entertainment, between Arts and leisure. And money is never the measure.

When the Arts are in the control of Artists, not only does their intrinsic worth soar, but those who experience it in all its aspects, will be inspired to more creative escapes from the daily grind. Artists don't need to speculate on Schrödinger's Air... control is in their hands.

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