Russell Brand’s Revolution – Book Review

January 10, 2015 in Books, Conspiracy, Economics

“None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.” – Goethe

Russell Brand writing about revolution? Or ‘ReLOVEution’? He has something of a reputation as the ultimate Essex ‘bad boy’ no-brain no-talent rich celebrity who’s swallowed a dictionary, so I have to say I was expecting this book to be just a load of shallow nonsense and fluff. In fact, I was surprised: he spares no cringes with his autobiographical anecdotes; but in truth the book is about two things. First, enlightenment, or his escape from his multiple life-threatening addictions (self-harm, shopping, sex, booze, drugs, and fame – still working on the last one a bit, I think). Secondly, our failing economic and social paradigm, or system – basically the form of Capitalism that works very well for a priveliged few but not well enough for the rest of us, and it’s destroying the ecosystem to boot.

Occupy St Paul's 2011

Occupy St Paul’s 2011

Looking at other reviews of this book online, I am struck by how many criticise him – not too unfairly – for being a rich boy preaching some form of anarchy-cum-socialism, and indeed for his previous irresponsible and shallow behaviour. He does highlight these concerns candidly in the book, however. As he says, “I know too with each word I type I am building a bridge of words that leads me back to the poverty I’ve come from, that by decrying this inequality, I will have to relinquish the benefits this system has given me. I’d be lying if I said that didn’t frighten me.” He is aware of this and other problems and admits he has not fully dealt with them yet. But… he’s clearly getting there, and he’s a much more serious person than even his recent past antics would lead one to expect. And he’s been off the drugs for 11 years now, he says.

Mr Brand writes as he speaks: plenty of long words, plenty of foul-mouthed crudity, plenty of slightly humorous digressions… but give him time and he gets to the point: our system isn’t working and many people are, frankly, living lives of depression, desperately casting about for a solution the way he was – with shopping, drinking, mindless sex and other pointless substitutes for real happiness. He says his intention in writing the book, “is to make you feel better, to offer you a solution to the way you feel.”

Occupy St Paul's 2011 General Strike Poster

Occupy St Paul’s 2011 General Strike Poster

His solution is two-fold, reflecting his not unreasonable (to me) view that the problem is both inner and outer. In the inner realm, we have to understand that happiness does not come from material things and we need to find some connection with the spiritual, whatever that may mean for each of us: God, paganism, whatever. In his case, he does it with Transcendental Meditation – a method that did not work well for me (I prefer the Buddhist Mindfulness of Breathing method), but something like this is always going to be horses for courses (or YMMV, in Internet-speak). He understands the idea of enlightenment in general which is to, at least at first, silence the mind: “My understanding of most yoga is that the exercises connect mind, body and spirit and in so doing alleviate the suffering of incessant thinking. When relieved of this thinking, peace can come.” And then, “to learn to live beyond it, to calmly watch the chattering ego like clouds moving across a perfect sky, to identify with the stillness that is aware of the voice, that hears the voice, not the voice itself.” For those of you still searching, that is the secret of enlightenment in a nutshell.

On the outer level, the prevailing socio-political-economic system needs to be overthrown.  How can it be right, he points out, that the reckless and greedy traders of the financial industry got bailed out – their debts were effectively cancelled by governments and charged to the populations as a whole, or just written off – yet, for example, 13.1 million Americans have had their homes foreclosed since the crisis? As he cynically puts it, “Because their debt, it turns out, was real; it was only the debt within the financial sector that was imaginary. It was only the people who generated the crisis who got three magical wishes from an economic genie. There was no abracadabra for ordinary people, they just got abraca-fucked.”

Occupy St Paul's 2011 Monopoly Pauper

Occupy St Paul’s 2011 Monopoly Pauper

How to overthrow the system? Not through violence, but through non-cooperation, Ghandi-style. Hence his belief that we should not vote. If politicians do not in truth represent us, and in truth they don’t, we should ignore them and get on with our lives. Society can be overthrown if enough people simply withdraw their support and start building their own systems for getting on with life: it is no use ‘The Powers That Be’ declaring a war if nobody turns up.

Of course, in real life we have to work to get money to eat… so something like this would require sufficient numbers to do this at the same time, but even so, in conversations with people without a political bone in their bodies, it is commonplace these days to hear them criticise the way things are. People by and large do understand that politics is a sham, that all the main parties represent nobody but wealthy vested interests, and that nothing really changes at our level. A high degree of cynicism is now almost ubiquitous, and The Powers That Be will have to do something soon.

That something will probably be violent or tyrannical, because that is what they have done for thousands of years, and it generally works. These days, rights are being restricted almost at the drop of a hat, typically with fearmongering excuses like ‘terrorism’, which in truth affects hardly anybody directly (if you do the maths). So we can see the route being chosen is tyranny first. How to deal with it? Russell Brand is optimistic. He points out that the police and soldiers who would have to enforce this tyranny are themselves being ‘shafted’ by the system as much as the rest of us. 25% of homeless men in London are ex-servicemen, and the stats are similar in the USA. In the end, he hopes, the state’s forces too will cease to cooperate – this will be easier for them if the opposition are studiously peaceful, of course, and he is very clear that violence must not be considered an option. Violence will not work for the straightforward reason that the existing powers are experts at it, they are fully armed and prepared, and the rest of us are no competition on that level. Simply dismissing them all as irrelevant seems a much more likely method, when the time comes. And this can be done incrementally in the meantime, for example, by not voting (where that is legal). I would add not watching their crap on the TV and elsewhere in the mass media might help too. Spending time reading intellectual books (even Russell Brand’s Revolution!) and learning to focus the mind wouldn’t hurt either. Russell suggests, “Given that the profound can be quite well hidden in the spritz, tits and glitz of the all-encompassing barmy mainstream culture, it is helpful to have stories, rituals and practices that attune us to less obvious but more important aspects of reality. Prayer, meditation and simple altruistic acts are behavioural portals to a neglected dimension.”

What goes in the place of the current system? Well, technically, it is anarchy, as he wants to get rid of, or at a minimum, redefine government. Communities would be self-governing, democratically run by the people living and working in them. Government, insofar as it exists, would be there only to provide admin support to the policies of the people – and not the other way around, as it is at present. When you look at it like this, it is easy to see how anti-democratic the current system actually is.

Similarly, workers would own their businesses, the majority of which would be run as cooperatives. If corporations were allowed to continue, they would be able to do so only on condition that their licence to operate would be taken away and their assets handed to the workers if they failed to conduct their business ethically (for instance, killing people (cigarette manufacturers knowingly selling harmful products, food companies knowingly selling sugary rubbish, and so on), or using built-in obsolescence to produce shoddy goods that will expire shortly and need a replacement).

Occupy St Paul's 2011 Bookshop Sign

Occupy St Paul’s 2011 Bookshop Sign

Could it work? Well, who knows? Russell Brand points out that it worked for the Spanish until the inevitable civil war that comes from violent revolution, plus Hitler’s assistance with military hardware, put paid to it. Mr Brand makes it sound plausible, certainly. He is optimistic that it will happen soon, as I think we can all see that consciousness of these issues is rapidly growing in the world. Personally, though, I think there’s rather a lot of mileage left in the current system. I think it will defend itself from isolated revolutions or reforms in the way it always does – these days, that means the US invading or subverting it so that, like with the recent Egyptian revolution, the people end up with a different group of the same types of sociopaths in charge as before. Unless the people understand from the outset that centralised government itself is the problem, no revolution, peaceful or otherwise, will produce the desired result.

If humanity can survive long enough – and that is a big ‘if’ with the West angling hard for a war in the Middle East or against Russia over Ukraine (or whatever other excuse they can think up) – the current system will also defend itself by extending globalisation. The solution to our problems will be presented as more and more of the same, until we end up with a one-world government. Only then could a planet-wide revolution really work, I think: when Capitalism and Imperialism have reached their logical, hopeless, destructive conclusion. Things move fast these days though. Maybe it is only a couple of generations away, after all.

Overall, then, is it a good book? Surprisingly perhaps, yes, I say it is. I will in fact give it a solid 5 out of 5. Never mind the coarse language: this is how Russell Brand gets his target audience of the most feral and uneducated to even consider the book, and they’re the ones who most need to read it.

“Capitalism is the extraordinary belief that the nastiest of men for the nastiest of motives will somehow work for the benefit of all.” – John Maynard Keynes

London Property Prices December 2014

December 16, 2014 in Economics, Opinion

After looking at the figures for London property prices discussed below, I think it is plain that property prices in London are completely out of control, and the government are failing to do their job when it comes to providing affordable housing for the general population. Why? Incompetence? Selfishness? Do they want us to move out of the capital? Who knows?

You can check the figures for yourself here:

http://www.londonpropertywatch.co.uk/avg_prices.html

Average wages can be found here:

http://data.london.gov.uk/dataset/average-income-tax-payers-borough

London Property Prices (December 2014) [12m 28s]

Is Artificial Intelligence Possible?

May 4, 2014 in Science, Technology

illustration of a robotic cat playing with a computer mouse - by artymind.com

Robopuss – artymind.com

AI researchers have been busy building simple gadgets like clumsy robots and chess-playing computers for, what? 60 years or so? But where is the long-promised truly intelligent machine? Basically, nowhere in sight.

And there’s another confusing element to this: consciousness. People tend to conflate the two, but awareness is quite a different thing from intelligence: the ability to compute does not equate to the awareness of computing, or the experience of computing. My view is we may well be able to build semi-intelligent limited-area-of-expertise machines in the not-too-distant future (20-50 years, maybe), but truly autonomous, thinking, feeling, spiritual machines are not so likely. Indeed, they may require some new physics.

Strange and beautiful lady surrounded by wires - by artymind.com

Robotic Lady – artymind.com


By that I mean that at the moment, most of our AI technology is based upon the physics of electromagnetism, with a little quantum mechanics to make some of the circuitry actually work (e.g., Zener diodes and other such tunnelling devices). But does our brain use only these limited natural forces? There are others, and there are quantum properties that practical technology hasn’t even touched yet: quark, strangeness and charm to name but three. Gravitons could be involved but at the time of writing they haven’t even been detected, let alone put to practical use. Dark matter and dark energy could be involved, and more: there is a whole zoo of particles and forces out there that our technology doesn’t even touch yet, so there’s no knowing at this stage whether any of it would have an impact on how consciousness actually works.

Robot with a Heart - by artymind.com

Robot with a Heart – artymind.com

Clearly it has something to do with our brains, but what, exactly, isn’t at all clear. A complex machine mimicing the brain may not be conscious no matter how smart it is. The same goes for neural networks: just because they can copy some functions doesn’t make them conscious. Some philosophers, like Daniel Dennett, might argue that we aren’t really conscious either, although I’m not sure what sense that makes, since we clearly are something… or I am, anyway! I can’t speak for you, of course, but I at a minimum have an illusion of being aware of what I’m doing and of being autonomous in some ill-defined way.

Here are two sets of videos about the whole idea – for, and against. They have their own arguments, different from mine (above), so see what you think! The first set is by Rob Ager, who thinks AI is not going to happen any time soon.

Rob Ager’s Androids & Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Myth [Playlist, 1h 21m]

Rob Ager’s video channel can be found on YouTube.

Next we have a film suggesting, to the contrary, that we might get some pretty capable machines, very soon indeed.

In Its Image [Playlist, 30m]

The website for the above project is initsimage.org.

So, what do you think? Intelligent machines? Conscious machines? If not, why not, and if so, how quickly?

Independent Media?

October 12, 2013 in Conspiracy

Daily Mirror Headline: Gassing Syrian Children

Daily Mirror Headline: Gassing Syrian Children


Propaganda and Syria

A few weeks ago, it became clear that the governments of the West had decided they were going to attack Syria after years of delay. Unfortunately, the Western public were not keen on the idea, and were particularly sceptical of their governments after the lies that had been told in order to start the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Later, the governments changed their minds again, and decided that a political ‘solution’ was a better bet.

What interests me about this is what happened in the so-called “independent” media – here in the UK, the BBC and Channel 4 as I watch them the most, although the same was going on on Sky and the other channels too (I watched them too occasionally).

When William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, announced that Syria had suddenly gone too far with its (probable) use of chemical weapons, and (coincidentally? I think not) President Obama announced the same thing at much the same time in the USA, it was obvious that the general public were dead against any more foreign interventions.

So what happened? Almost immediately, we started seeing stories in the “news” programmes such as Channel 4 News, Sky News, and on the BBC, at least, about poor Syrian child refugees suffering and homeless, running from bombs and planes. Day after day we had more and more reports about the poor Syrian children, and it was both implied and occasionally clearly stated that they would continue to suffer if we didn’t intervene to prevent it.

The Western public, for a change, didn’t instantly change their minds in response to the propaganda – not because they’re suddenly developing a moral spine or anything, I think, but partly because the Western governments are becoming less and less credible generally, and partly because the propaganda stopped suddenly when the Russians came forward with a reasonable political compromise: Syria would join the UN convention on chemical weapons.

And what happened? The stories about the poor suffering Syrian children all but instantly vanished from our screens.

Independent media? I don’t think so.

And the Syrian children? Apparently nobody cares about them any more.

Open House Day London

September 21, 2013 in Opinion

Or, How to Waste Your Time

Each year, London boasts ‘Open House Day’ in which various public and private buildings open their doors for the general public to go in and have a look around. The ‘Day’ is in fact normally two or three days long, after the sunshine and the peak of the tourist season has finished for the year, in September.

The website sells a brochure (yes, you have to pay: never mind that we pay taxes here, and the extortionate London rents, and that many of the buildings are publicly owned: this is still Rip-Off Britain) detailing the 800 or so places you can get into, ranging from St Paul’s Cathedral, No. 10 Downing Street, the Gherkin (Tower 42), to individual people’s homes of architectural interest.

The Dome of St Paul's Cathedral, London

The Dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, London

So, we thought we’d start out today with a visit to St Paul’s Cathedral and maybe visit one or two other places nearby afterwards as well. While it is possible to go any day, on a normal day you have to pay to enter the house of God (except, presumably, to worship, though I expect they still hand round the collection plate so the priest can buy new socks or a Jacuzzi and save the fabulously wealthy Church of England a few pennies). The prices are currently lower than I remember them, but anything over £5 I think of as exploitative and won’t pay. Especially for a publicly subsidized building which is in part supported by my taxes without my consent anyway.

We headed out early but arrived after 10 am because of ‘scheduled engineering works’ on the tube which we’d forgotten about, and saw a long queue of people outside the cathedral. My wife wanted to join the queue right away but I wanted to go around the front of the cathedral first to see what the queue was for… Big mistake. I saw that the queue was called ‘Open House Day Registration,’ whatever that was all about, and so we went back to join it. By now another dozen or so people had joined it in front of us.

So… we queued for nearly an hour, and with just three people left in the queue in front of us, they closed the registrations for the day. Even though St Paul’s is huge, they won’t just let people in to look around: they were letting people in in groups of 15, to be shepherded around on a guided tour (which we didn’t even want), every 15 minutes.

Of course, we could have let them gouge us for the normal entrance fee, which is probably the whole point of this rationing system, but as I’ve mentioned, I find it exploitative and won’t cooperate with that.

I’m sure the poor staff running the system were trying to do their honest best in their bumbling British way, but really this is no way to run a busy operation. They may argue that it is necessary to devise some system to control the numbers, but I don’t think this system is the right one. A simple queue, with, say, 50 people being let in every 15 minutes, would surely work adequately. There is, after all, no rationing for the paying visitors (except by varying the price from time-to-time). There seems to me to be no need to pre-register for a tour which I don’t want anyway, however nice and interesting it may be. Why not have a simple queue to get in, with an optional tour for an extra… £5? People can be held in the queue or allowed in depending simply on how busy it is inside. Plus, inside, they can sell us some holy coffee and Jesus cheesecake and make some cash on the side for the sake of it anyway. After hanging around outside in the freezing Autumn weather, I would have been – well, not exactly happy – but willing, to pay modest prices for some snacks and souvenirs. Maybe – a big bonus for them – I might even have been converted to their stupid religion! Who knows?

Instead, after being turned away we went to the nearby Bank of England. Unfortunately there was an even longer queue here – easily an hour long – so, cold, annoyed and getting hungry, we went home.

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