Developing Nations: An Occident Waiting to Happen

I wish I had a fascinating post for you on the subject of developing nations but alas, all I have is a pun which occurred to me this morning, that developing nations are an occident waiting to happen.  If I were so inclined I could deconstruct the whole notion of ‘development’ and the assumption that it is not only necessary and good but inevitable; that underdeveloped nations must be developed as soon as possible (which means their natural resources being seized for the benefit of others and their people being forced to work for the economy) and that ‘developing’ or ’emerging’ nations must be hurried along to join the top table.  Of course, we don’t want them to develop too fast otherwise they’ll be in competition with us: just enough so that we can exploit their resources and sell them lots of stuff.

But there’s a problem with this narrative; a problem which goes to the heart of the question ‘what is the right way to live?’  Very often I come across people on social media advocating a certain lifestyle which harks back to a golden age: the paleo diet, for example, from the pre-agricultural era, or the idea that we are ‘really’ designed to be hunter-gatherers.  So what is the right way to live?  The other day I came across a post about free houses in Wales.  The Welsh government will allow people to build their own houses without paying for the land.  Great.  Ah, but there’s a catch.  You have to be self-sufficient and carbon-neutral within five years.  The carbon-neutral thing might not be such a tall order; after all, there are carbon-neutral houses already in existence.  But self-sufficiency is altogether another order of tallness.  My sister and her husband are semi self-sufficient in Wales, and I’ve seen the amount of unremitting daily work which that involves.  To be fully self-sufficient is a heck of a tall order.  Think about what you eat in a typical day: protein (meat or otherwise: if otherwise you have to grow a ton of pulses) veg, milk, cheese (or their vegan equivalents, again usually made from soy) bread, margarine or butter, tea, coffee… I could go on and on.  The thought of total self-sufficiency totally does my head in.  But maybe I’m looking at it the wrong way: maybe you need to look at what you can produce and focus on living on that.  But I wouldn’t want to.  I can’t post the link at the moment but if you look up sustainable self-build in Wales you should find it.

The trouble with the search for a golden age is that every age has its problems.  There’s no point in history where everything was perfect until some horrible people came along to spoil it.  Negative things have certainly taken place (the enclosures, the first factories, slavery) but things were not perfect before (though I’m sure they were a damn sight better for the slaves).  The industrial revolution led to much misery for workers, but how much better off were they when they worked the land?  None of us is immune from harking back to some golden age: there’s also a feminist utopia (a sort of anti-Gilead) in the concept of a prehistorical matriarchy.  There’s even some evidence for the hypothesis, though it’s not very strong.  Here’s a rather long but excellent analysis:

https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/books/first/e/eller-myth.html

Besides, helpful though it is to think beyond the current paradigm to other possible worlds, there do actually exist some matriarchal societies today.  They are small and tribal but still they survive and some do seem to practise a kind of equality:

http://mentalfloss.com/article/31274/6-modern-societies-where-women-literally-rule

Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

image removed on request

So whether matriarchy was actually prevalent or not in prehistory, the idea helps us to imagine other possibilities, since oppression is usually founded in the dogma that ‘there is no alternative.’  This underpins austerity, and the general idea of economic growth.

Which brings us neatly back to where we started…

Kirk out

PS For some reason the Welsh link has posted below…

 

 

 

 

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There Must Be Dialogue

Sunday viewing in our house is always catching up on ‘Casualty’ (unless we watched it the night before) plus the unmissable ‘Handmaid’s Tale’.  I shall hold off on a review until the end of the series; all I’ll say right now is that its reputation for tense, unpredictable and thrilling drama is by no means exaggerated.  It’s a tribute to the makers that they’ve managed not only to maintain the level of drama of the original story but to build on it and ramp up the tension to an almost unbearable degree.

Meanwhile, since it’s impossible in our house to watch programmes without talking, here’s a smattering of recent conversations.  Incidentally, in my view there’s an optimal level of talking while watching TV: not so much as to interrupt the drama but enough so as not to feel silenced (this level of course varies with the programme: the bar is set quite high with ‘Casualty’ but low with ‘Handmaid’s Tale.’)

So it was that during an outbreak of cystic fibrosis in Holby ED, OH happened to mention, ‘I always think of cystic fibrosis whenever I use our yeast extract.’

Pausing only to grab my phone and record the utterance on Facebook, I continued with the drama, but later saw this ‘explanation’:

‘It’s low-salt and not as spready as Marmite. Reminds me of the higher viscosity of mucus caused by the poor transport of chloride ions across membranes in cystic fibrosis because salt includes chloride ions too.’

Yeah, we’ve all had that thought… he followed it up with this little gem:

‘Why do you think they replaced voiced consonants with the glottal stop? I mean, how did that happen?’

Seriously, you couldn’t make this stuff up – unlike ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’; or so we hope, since a defining feature of the drama is that no-one is free to voice their thoughts.  Offred/June has to show her reactions rather than telling them (Elisabeth Moss does this brilliantly) and the wives can no more voice their feelings than the handmaids, being just as much victims in this gruesome drama.  Even the Commander is playing a role and has to indulge any deviant desires in secret: the architects of this hell are in it just as much as its victims.  And unlike ‘Casualty’ where as soon as you see a car you know it’s going to crash, you have absolutely no idea what will happen next.

Three more episodes.  Sunday nights will never be the same…

Oh, and since I haven’t mentioned this before I’ll mention now that I was mentioned in dispatches (ie the Loughborough Echo) along with Baroness Chakrabarti:

No automatic alt text available.

Kirk out

Taking a LEAP: Alternatives to Money

FB-share-whale

As I said yesterday, I’ve just finished reading ‘No is Not Enough’ (actually I have yet to read the end bit, which is the LEAP manifesto pictured above, an alternative manifesto with a number of broad-ranging suggestions to tackle climate change and deal with the excesses of global capitalism.  It refers to Canada but is applicable anywhere and everywhere.)

https://leapmanifesto.org/en/the-leap-manifesto/

Klein hits the nail on the head, as always, by pointing out that attachment to money is at the root of this; and without coming over all biblical manages to say the same thing as the New Testament:

http://biblehub.com/1_timothy/6-10.htm

Money itself, as I have pointed out before, is neither real nor evil in itself.  It is morally neutral since money is a concept we have agreed to treat as if it were real for the purposes of exchanging goods and services.  So it strikes me that the way to destroy global capitalism (which god knows we need to do before it destroys us) is to undermine this attachment to money.  We can do this in any number of ways: by freecycling, by refusing to buy what we are sold, by helping each other out without asking for financial rewards and above all by refusing to regard money as the be-all and end-all of our existence.

For ten years now I have put my money where my mouth is by giving up paid employment in order to do what I love.  I have taken a leap off the cliff and tried to do the impossible – namely, to make money from writing – and I can’t claim to have succeeded yet.  But – and here’s the astonishing point – I have survived.  My health has not gone down the tubes; I haven’t starved, gone without adequate clothing, frozen to death or been homeless.  Whenever disaster has threatened to strike something has always come along: I’ve even managed some luxuries such as holidays, the odd bottle of wine and, in the last year, a car.  Much of this is due to the generosity of friends (and Friends) and family, but I hope those (F)friends and relatives would agree that there has been some kind of exchange here: in that I may not have money but I have time and energy to do things for others.

This is a phenomenon I’ve observed in other people who put their lives on the line to do what they love; that something always turns up.  I don’t even think you need to have some kind of religious faith for this to work; just the faith that comes from taking that leap off the cliff.  Every artist (unless they are born into money) has this same dilemma: how do I make a living and practise my art?  My view is that if you wait until you can afford it you’ll probably wait forever.  Take a leap of faith.

Living without money has taught me a lot.  In some ways it’s been a very hand-to-mouth existence but I think that central to survival is to think only of what you need today, here and now, and let tomorrow take care of itself. It has also brought a certain kind of freedom: an immunity to advertising.  There is no chance whatsoever of any advertising affecting me or tempting me to buy something I don’t need, because I don’t have the money.

At the same time I refuse to allow lack of money to limit my imagination.  I never tell myself ‘I can’t’ when an opportunity comes up, because maybe there’s a way that ‘I can.’  For example I can go to the Labour Party Conference in September because I’m going as a delegate and this will be paid for by the local party; and in the same way I’ve managed to go to lots of things for free because I’ve managed to access funding or because I’ve offered to do something in return.

It’s amazing what can happen when you look beyond the limitations of mere money and take a LEAP.

Kirk out

A Negative is Insufficient, Captain

A while ago I told you I was reading Naomi Klein’s ‘This Changes Everything’ and promised a review; instead of which I’ve gone on to read ‘No Is Not Enough’, her response to Trumpism.  I shall attempt a sort of mopping-up of both books which I’m afraid will do neither of them justice – but if I don’t do it now some other ideas will come along and demand to be blogged about, because that’s what happens.

So: ‘This Changes Everything’ is a panoramic view of climate change; the science, the deniers, the evidence and most importantly the solutions.  The first section is hard to get through as it includes so many references to articles, speeches, scientific data etc that it’s like reading an academic paper.  This is presumably necessary, at least in the States where climate change deniers are out in force, though in Europe it’s generally accepted as fact, even if we haven’t quite taken it in yet: people are still going around saying how wonderful the weather is but nobody is saying how scary global warming is.

But once you get past that, the second and particularly the third sections are much more readable, and there’s an emphasis on ordinary people coming together to protect the environment; not only The Environment with a capital E but their own little neck of the woods: streams and rivers that are drying up or being polluted; land and houses that are flooded every year, bees and other insects that are dying (we wouldn’t last five minutes without the bees, and the idea that someone could build a tiny drone to do the same job is pure insanity.)  Capitalism is out of control and we need to bring it back.  The good news is – we can.

It’s kind of the same story with ‘No is Not Enough,’ although the book, being more quickly produced, lacks the dense research of the other (this for me was a plus.)  It follows a similar format: first the problem, then the solutions.  The problem is of course unfettered capitalism which means (and has always meant) unfettered greed.  Trump is a symptom rather than the cause of this, and to some extent is the puppet of those who have a much clearer idea of what they’re doing politically (though Trump is quite capable of being greedy and selfish on his own account: in fact there’s not much he isn’t capable of.  His recent visit to our shores filled me with disgust: apparently before he was refused a state visit he demanded a ride in the Queen’s gold carriage!)  The problem is quite simply that of prioritising money above all else: above human rights, above the planet, above the greater good – above everything.  There are people who actually believe they can pollute the planet and then swan off in a spaceship to start a colony somewhere else.  This, too, is pure insanity (I feel a short story coming on).  The solution, once again, lies in people coming together, and the third section of the book outlines the ‘yes’ or many possible ‘yeses’ which are a much more powerful response to greed and destruction.  She cites stories of people opening their doors to refugees, standing with Muslims, rehiring workers sacked for protesting – and many more such acts.  These movements exist both alongside and outside political parties, and although they may ultimately need government (or something like it) to implement policy, the impetus is coming from below.  We need more of this in the UK: we need more of it everywhere.

We’ve had enough of dystopia.  It’s time to try utopia.

Trump out!

Kirk out

Rasputin on Sousaphone, Gorbachev on Tea-Tray…

Sometimes this blog goes a bit whimsical and it seems that today is one of those days.  Pausing only to have an inconclusive conversation with OH about the correct spelling of Gorbachev (there isn’t one because it’s in Cyrillic) we head off into the wardrobe of my soul, in the section labelled ‘shirts’.  Yes, we are in the wonderful country of the Bonzo Dog Doo-dah Band:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonzo_Dog_Doo-Dah_Band

In the original song Adolf Hitler played the sousaphone, but it is entirely in the anarchic spirit of the Bonzo Band to have Rasputin step onto the stage and be accompanied by Gorbachov (or ‘ev’) or anyone else you fancy.  Let’s have Marie Curie on drums, Mother Theresa on bagpipes, Billy Connolly on backing vocals (‘if it wasnae fur yur wellies’)  Let’s have the Vicar of Dibley on pipes and Pope Francis on the tin whistle; Martina Navratilova on keyboards, Boris Johnson on trombone, Jamie Oliver on piano-accordion, Clarissa Dixon-Wright on cymbals, Sue Barker on vocals and John Humhrys on doo-wops.  We can have whoever we want, because it’s our fantasy bonzo-dog doo-dah band.  We’ll have Harrison Ford on the wurlitzer, Theresa May on the mixing desk, Maggie Smith on the hosepipe, Michael Fish on thunderboard, and of course a special appearance by Donald Trump as the wind in the bagpipes.

It’s that sort of day…

Kirk out

 

Are We Diverse? And If Not, Why Not?

From time to time white, middle-class organisations (like Quakers) ask themselves why they are white and middle-class.  They bemoan the lack of BME and working-class members (though they are perhaps not so keen on attracting the aristocracy).  It seems to be the sole preserve of the middle-classes to deprecate themselves: I never went to a majority working-class event where people were wringing their hands and saying ‘we’re so working-class!’

But in the world of publishing it’s worse, because a row has blown up over Penguin Random House’s diversity statement which commits the organisation to ‘reflect the UK population taking into account ethnicity, gender, sexuality, social mobility and disability.’  It all sounds highly laudable, particularly in an industry that is presumably dominated by white middle-class males.  But is it?  Should publishers try to ‘reflect’ society or should they just publish the best, regardless of where it comes from?

There’s an issue here, which is that of unconscious bias.  An editor may think they are unbiassed but research has shown that women get published more easily if they use either a male pseudonym or initials.  You are probably more likely to be published if you have a Western name rather than an African or Asian name: Hanif Kureishi (who as I never cease to remind you started me off with this blog) was told that ‘The Buddha of Suburbia’ would have had no problem being produced if the characters had been white.  Surely it’s a laudable thing to try to address all these unconscious prejudices?

Well, yes.  But the danger is that you get involved in quotas and box-ticking, which as a short-term measure can perhaps have some value but only as a stepping-stone to genuine open-mindedness and lack of bias.  And this is a hard goal to achieve.  Much easier to get some quotas and issue a press release telling everyone how diverse you are.

Enter Lionel Shriver who, in an article for the Spectator lambasts this policy of Penguin/Random in several hundred sneering words.  Shriver may have a point – that excellence is found with an open mind, not with tick-boxes – but the tone of the piece is snide and sarcastic and the argument lost in rhetoric:

‘We can safely infer… that if an agent submits a manuscript written by a gay transgender Caribbean who dropped out of school at seven and powers around town on a mobility scooter, it will be published, whether or not said manuscript is an incoherent, tedious, meandering and insensible pile of mixed-paper recycling.’

Surely she can do better than this?  I would put it another way; that talent should be recognised and acknowledged no matter where it comes from; that we all have unconscious biases in terms of which groups we are likely to regard as talented, and that we all need to open our minds and keep them open.  I know it’s the Spectator but she could have done the job so much better.

Here’s the article anyway:

https://www.spectator.co.uk/2018/06/when-diversity-means-uniformity/

and here’s the Penguin statement:

https://www.penguinrandomhouse.co.uk/creative-responsibility/inclusion/

Kirk out

28 Degrees and Counting…

It’s Hot here in the UK: nearly 30 degrees in some places which counts as Hot with a capital H.  I’m finding myself adjusting to Spanish rhythm, by which I don’t mean a salsa or a rumba but a slower, more leisurely approach to the day.  No rushing, no running, no stress; plenty of rest and plenty of fluids.  I am only thankful on days like these that I don’t live in Hounslow any more: being four miles from Heathrow the noise and pollution were intolerable and now they are set to get worse as the Commons approves a third runway.  Not only is the village of Harmondsworth set to be demolished but the traffic, both terrestrial and airborne, will increase hugely.  All this when London traffic is already largely at a standstill and when we have regions crying out for development.  A bad, bad decision.

But far worse was the utterly despicable cowardice of Boris Johnson.  Following his triumph with the infamous £350 million bus:

Image result for £350 million a week bus

he followed this up by saying that if the third runway were approved he would ‘lie down in front of the bulldozers’ (a sight we were all looking forward to).  Instead, what did he do?  He avoided the vote by skipping out of the country – to Afghanistan, of all places! *

He is now facing calls to resign:

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/heathrow-boris-johnson-third-runway-vote-aiport-parliament-afghanistan-kabul-foreign-secretary-a8416471.html

To be fair the first part of his statement was accurate: he would lie.  He would lie about his intentions, he would lie about his loyalties and he would lie about having a prior commitment.  It’s very clear where Boris Johnson’s loyalties – erm, lie – they lie with Boris Johnson.  The man is a weasel and he should resign.  The sooner the better.

Kirk out 

*not that I’m suggesting Afghanistan is a place unworthy of a visit under normal circumstances