Friday, December 9, 2016

K is for Kids, and How to Prepare Them for the Future



One topic that is often glossed over by Kollapsniks is the topic of how to talk to children about the future. Perhaps it's because, as humans, we tend to place our hopes for the future in our children, and if all we can see is a bleak future then why bother telling them about it at all?

I have two daughters—aged 11 and 13. They are bright and beautiful, clever and compassionate. I'll admit that sometimes I worry about the world they will inhabit when they become adults. It's likely to be a world that very few people are preparing their kids for—and that's putting it mildly. Given what we know about how climate systems are becoming chaotic, how energy that was once as concentrated as a bottle of whisky is rapidly turning into a glass of shandy, about mass extinctions, overpopulation, the creeping corporate takeover of society, the dumbing down of culture, the pollution and destruction of the biosphere, mass refugee movements, resource wars, nuclear meltdowns and so on and so forth ... is it any wonder that so few of us want to broach the topic?

Despite all of these threats hanging over us what message, if any, is society sending to kids about the future? Are the cultural engineers who shape these young minds preparing them for a world in which the above drawbacks of industrial civilisation are honestly discussed? Or are they, instead, doubling down on the failures of the past and hammering into them the idea that what may kill us will also be our saviour? I think you already know the answer to that.

As a parent, I often get to unwillingly overhear/see children's TV programmes in the form of CBBC (Children's BBC). There are no commercials on CBBC but that doesn't mean it doesn't contain plenty of social programming and, by now, my kids are well used to hearing me howl in disagreement at something that was said—especially when Newsround is on.

Newsround—and pretty much every other programme on CBBC—propagates the narrative that we are heading towards a shiny future living on Mars, and that robots will do all the drudge work. Everything will be solar powered and there will be all sorts of consumer gadgets and devices, such as jetpacks and flying skateboards, and instead of dying we will be able to upload our minds into "the cloud" and live in virtual reality worlds that will be even more awesomer than living on Mars with robots.

The CBBC Newsround gang - getting the kids ready for the future

These little techno utopian skits are punctuated with other "news" items about reality TV shows, sports and the lives of celebrities, and—needless to say—everything is very PC and "right on" with a perfect mix along lines of gender/race/ability.

If this little window onto the cultural programming of infants is in any way reflective of the wider world then I hate to think what will be the effect on the state of mind of our youngsters as they approach maturity and find out what the real world is like. What's a concerned elder to do?

So, reaching over and turning off the mind-warp machine for a moment, what are reality-aware parents supposed to do to prepare their offspring for the future they'll likely get? Well, I can't speak for everyone, but my strategy is revealed in the 18 tips that follow:

1 - Teach them how to be aware of when someone is trying to con them. Adverts are a great place to start. Teach them how to strip an ad down to its basic components: what's it trying to do? Make it funny. My kids can laugh at any ad they see and tell you what emotion/fear/desire they are using to get you to buy their product.

2 - Get them interested in making things that are useful. I'm not very crafty, but my wife is, and she has taught them how to sew and crochet. They can now make their own clothes—and they enjoy doing it immensely. And if you're doing any DIY get them to watch and hand you the tools. There is nothing more lamentable than adults who don't know how to change a lightbulb or fix a leaky tap.

3 - Don't give them everything they want. Being denied something that you really, really want, is good for you. Growing up and getting everything you want all the time creates adults that are selfish and unhappy. They will be forever craving material possessions and will be mentally unable to process not getting what they want. They end up unhappy and have unfulfilled and unfulfilling lives. In the future people will not be able to get what they want—the best time to practice for that is now.

4 - Teach them to cook proper food from an early age. Let them be messy and let them create hideous concoctions, if that's what they want. Kids love preparing food and cooking, and the only way they'll learn about it is doing it for themselves. For your own sanity, also insist they clean up their mess afterwards.

5 - Tell them that school teaches you useful stuff but the real lessons come from life and what you learn yourself. I tell my kids that I don't care what grades they get as long as they do their best: that grading schemas are dreamed up by dull people in London as a way to get our kids to compete with Chinese kids and squeeze every bit of creativity out of the educational system. These days most children are put on a conveyor belt from early infancy which leads them through school and college and turns them into bonded debt slaves working in unfulfilling jobs. Impress upon them that this doesn't have to be the case and that alternative paths are open to them. Encourage them to follow their interests as long as this will likely lead to them being able to make a living for themselves that doesn't rely on massive amounts of fossil fuels or ponzi finance schemes. Guide them, in this respect. Impress upon them that the world doesn't owe them a living and that no job should be below them. To that end, don't give them pocket money unless they've earned it doing chores.

6 - Show them how much fun can be had for free. My fondest memories from childhood involved tobogganing down a snowy hill on a plastic bin bag, building dens in bit of woodland at the edge of town, hunting for fossils for my collection, playing conkers, riding my bike with friends from dawn until dusk and bodyboarding on a cheap polystyrene surfboard. All of these activities were either free or very cheap—and very fun. I also had loads of toys and certainly suffered no lack of anything—but toys were things to be played with when all the other possibilities just mentioned had been exhausted. Today my kids, and many of the other kids in town, go down to the harbour in the summer and jump off the walls into the water, just as kids have done here for centuries. You can hear their cries of joy from afar.

7 - Get them interested in reading, because books open up all sorts of doors in the mind. If you want to be really devious occasionally forbid them from reading certain books. I forbade my 13-year-old daughter from reading 1984 recently ("It's too grown up for you,") and—unsurprisingly—found a copy hidden under her bed with a bookmark placed well into it. There is nothing like forbidding something to make it attractive to curious minds. When they are young read them stories every night. All kids love being read stories and they love their parents to read them stories most of all. From a book. Made of paper.

8 - Teach them to question authority and not to blindly obey whatever instructions are given to them. By this I don't mean encourage them to be mouthy confrontationists, I mean tell them to trust their instincts and, if something doesn't feel right, discuss it openly with people they trust. At the top I mention CBBC—when I was a kid in the 1970s, many of the famous faces on TV (we now discover) were pedophiles, using their status to prey on young kids. We can only guess how extensive this network of kiddie fiddlers was/is (even the Prime Minister at the time, Edward Heath, is under suspicion of running a ring), but we know that the psychic vampires who populate it prey on people's blind obedience and unwillingness to question authority. Give your kids the equivalent of a silver crucifix and some garlic to ward off these monsters.

9 - Tell them about how the future is likely to be, but don't be a doomer. Show them documentaries. Talk to them about problems—and ask them if they have any good ideas about how to tackle them (you'd be surprised). Nobody knows what the future will hold. It will certainly be turbulent, and turbulence means lots of potential and possibilities for those willing to engage with it.

10 - Teach them about growing plants for food. Just as with preparing food, kids love to grow plants—especially if they can eat them afterwards. Tomatoes are great to get started, as are potatoes, peppers and radishes. All are easy to grow. If you have the space, give them their own plot, raised bed or mini greenhouse. If not, then get them to grow some plants of a windowsill. Take them to a farm and show them where eggs and milk and meat comes from. Teach them what grows for free in nature.

11 - Allow them to be bored. Many kids today are over-stimulated and cannot figure out what to do with themselves if the entertainment gadgets are switched off. Periods of boredom allow the brain to slow down and—more importantly—develop a more reflective aspect. In the future there will likely be far fewer opportunities to be over-stimulated, but at the same time there will be a lot of boring drudge work that needs doing. A mind addicted to external stimulation would not be able to cope with—say—working in the fields for hours each day, whereas a mind that is able to be quietly contemplative and reflective will fare far better.

12 - Make sure they are good mannered. Manners are a form of currency that will open doors and make them pleasant to be around. Also teach them how to disagree with someone with an opposing viewpoint without being hostile and reactive. Being good-mannered in a disagreement doesn't mean being a pushover—it simply means that you can reject the other side's BS with good grace and move on without turning into a foamy-mouthed berserker.

13 - Impress upon them the importance of avoiding debt. Unless they are certain the debt is an investment, make sure they realise how it can trap them. If they want to buy something that is a consumer item they should save up for it.

14 - Teach them how to physically defend themselves from attackers. Getting them enrolled in martial arts classes or boxing will be good for them in many ways. Not only will it give them the ability to fight off an attacker, but it will boost their self-confidence and improve their physical fitness. What's more, many if not most would-be attackers already have some knowledge of their victims, and knowing that they are a black belt in karate or a kick boxing champ will make them think twice. In Europe we are already seeing a huge upsurge in domestic abuse and violent street crimes as law and order breaks down. Young women on the streets of some cities face the prospect of being raped by gangs of men, who can get away with it as observers stand idly by and the police turn a blind eye in the name of community relations. As the father of two girls I want them to be able to fend off an attacker—fighting dirty if need be.

15 - Tell them they ain't gonna live on Mars. No way. Never gonna happen.

16 - Teach them to be open minded but realistic. Get them to think logically and to seek out evidence.  Once they have discovered the harsh truth about the Tooth Fairy and Santa, use this as an example of why you should never trust anything you hear. Being an open minded sceptic is the best way forward.

17 - Show them by example. There's no point in telling them to do stuff if you then go and break all the rules yourself. Admit that you're far from perfect. Tell them all the mistakes you have made along your path, and that you hope they'll avoid the same mistakes. Be ready for them to make the same mistakes.

18 - And finally—loosen up. Don't be one of those joyless parents who only allows their precious snowflakes to eat organic quinoa and listen to non-culturally appropriated fairy tales. Instead, allow them to drink Coca Cola, eat chocolate until they throw up, stay up all night during sleepovers, play with knives, hear rude jokes, encounter bullies, be in the same room as drunken adults talking nonsense, climb trees and run with scissors. Seriously. Because although there may be some minor risk involved in all of these things, there is an almost 100% probability that if you don't allow them this freedom you'll create a delicate little flower who won't be able to survive unless they are cocooned within a safe space and given trigger warnings every time they encounter mild peril. What's more they'll just end up rebelling against you and will turn into exactly the kind of person you didn't want them to be - and it'll all be your fault.

That's pretty much how I'm raising my kids, mindful of the likely future they'll find themselves living in. Oh, I forgot one last thing—make sure you treat your kids well. Look after them, love them and treat them with respect. Foster within them joy, compassion and a sense of fairness. Those kids are not yours—you're just borrowing them. Because one day the boot will be on the other foot and, if you've done your job right, you can only hope the favour will be repaid. And if the future turns out even harsher than all your preparations have allowed for, then at least they might help you to push that shopping trolley down The Road.




***

This blog post is an updated version of an earlier one, including four new points and a few edits for clarity.

Monday, November 28, 2016

J is for Just Out - Seat of Mars



And so, just in time for Christmas, my new book Seat of Mars has been released by Club Orlov Press. Some people will be familiar with the story as I wrote it as a series of blog posts over 2015/2016, but for those who are not, the synopsis is as follows:

"Hell-bent on preserving the privileges of the wealthy in the face of a looming resource crisis, the British government executes a false flag terrorist attack and shuts down the national electricity grid. In the ensuing turmoil a shadowy cabal of globalists watches on with interest from a bunker deep beneath the frozen wastes of Iceland as they ready themselves to roll out the “experiment” across the world. Seat of Mars follows the fortunes of a handful of ordinary people flung into extraordinary times. These include Rose, a teenage Goth, who finds herself pulled into a web of intrigue within a fortified London; Jack and Cat, an ordinary city couple who end up stranded far from home; and the resourceful prepper Art Gwavas who sees the mayhem as a chance to take back what is rightfully his. The story asks the wider question of how well any of us would fare if the safety blanket of industrial civilisation were suddenly pulled from us and whether, from the embers of chaos, something more beautiful could emerge."

This book is an updated, edited and slightly re-jigged version of that story. It's kind of funny how it came about. A couple of years back I wrote a story that featured in John Michael Greer's book After Oil 3 - The Years of Rebirth. That story was set in Greenland in the 25th century and featured a young female archaeologist named Saga—and the story is called Saga and the Bog People. She ventures across the sea to what used to be the Isle of Skye and there she uncovers the corpses of a family buried in a bog inside their Audi. They seemed have died a violent death and the driver was still holding his iPhone in his hand half a millennium on. 

This got me wondering who this family might be and it gave me the idea to write a story set 500 years in her past—i.e. our present. I wanted to write some sort of realistic(ish) collapse story that didn't involve zombies. And then a thought occurred to me: do you ever have those conversations where someone says "Oh yeah, the government knows all about peak oil and everything, but they just don't want to admit it? Well, I reasoned, if they know about it, why is it the only thing they try to do is grow the economy as an answer to everything? Why don't they take some kind of proactive action ... such as kill off 2/3 of the population and preserve the lion's share of the remaining land and wealth for an elite few?

So, with this thought in mind, I wondered how they might be able to achieve this. A false flag eco-terrorist event was what I decided upon, giving them the excuse to shut down the electricity transmission grid and essentially fling most of the population back into the middle ages. And if they did this, how would people survive (if at all)? I settled on the idea of taking a few people from different places on the socioeconomic spectrum and tossing them into the maelstrom. Thus we have Art Gwavas, an anarchist prepper who takes over a farm and raids local stores and houses to ensure the survival of his band of followers. Then we have Rose O'Keefe, a young Goth girl astrophysics blogger who gets sucked into a web of intrigue in a fortified London and ends up with some very special powers. There's also a city couple who get caught up in the chaos, the neurotic Prime Minister with a penchant for pills and the—frankly pure evil—political advisor Ignatius Pope, who just does what the voice in his head tells him to. 

It's quite a fast-paced story, with the action being spread between modern day London, Cornwall and Iceland. We also venture forth into post-apocalyptic Britain as we follow the travails of Rose O'Keefe as she turns from a young internet sensation into an old woman living in a hobbit hole where she spends a desperate night penning her life story in the knowledge that dawn will bring with it something wicked. It's probably not a book for younger readers or for people who are easily shocked, as I've been told variously that certain story elements are 'sick' (not in a cool way) and 'disturbing'. That isn't to say it contains gratuitous violence—far from it—but neither does it shy away from some some of the darker aspects of humanity.

If you want to get hold of a copy you can click on the book cover image to the right, or search it up on your regional Amazon site - or book distributor. It is only available in hard copy format at present, although it's possible that an eBook might come out in a year or so (issues with piracy remain).

Anyway, if you do read it I hope you enjoy it. Those who read this site and others like it will be familiar with many of the issues covered in the narrative of Seat of Mars. If it proves to be a success I'll write the second instalment in 2017.

Monday, November 21, 2016

I is for Interesting Times



"May you live in interesting times," says the old Chinese curse. The election of Donald Trump to president of the United States was the starting pistol for interesting times. From now on, not much will remain the same.

On the night of the election I had tried to stay awake to watch the whole thing unfold. Because of the time difference I knew there would be no clear results until early morning, and so I ended up going to bed at about 1am— at which point all the TV pundits were saying it was 'practically impossible' for Trump to win. So I went to be bed, but barely managed three hours of sleep due to fitful dreams. My phone was on the table next to the bed when I awoke, but I couldn't bring myself to turn it on and see all the "First Woman in the Whitehouse" headlines. I put it off and tried to snooze a while longer. Unable to do so I eventually reached over and turned it on with a 'better get this over with' attitude.

That was when I almost fell out of bed in shock.

It was like Brexit all over again. Brexit on steroids. The impossible had suddenly been proved possible. A spell had been broken and the world had been turned on its head. Donald Trump—a giant ego on legs—had pulled off the impossible. He had taken on the arrayed masses of media, celebrities, pundits, received wisdom and social inertia—and beaten them all. Thrashed them, in fact.

The stunned disbelief on social media rapidly turned into white hot anger. I felt a great disturbance in the force—it was as if a million voices cried out in terror; and then there was violence. Protestors rampaging around the streets, setting fire to cars and smashing window. Yes—the great hissy fit had begun.

From my perspective across on the other side of the Atlantic, I had one immediate cause for celebration: my family would not be nuked. Given Clinton's bellicose rhetoric about surrounding China with missiles and 'taking on' Russia, I had every reason to believe that she would willingly start a world war within months of taking office. With Nato forces building up on the border of Russia in numbers not seen since WWII, and the mainstream press squirting out anti-Russian propaganda from every orifice, and with Russia itself drilling its citizens for imminent nuclear war, I felt I had every reason to be concerned—especially as I live close to a couple of likely military targets. But on the morning on October 9th I got my geiger counter, my iodine pills and my copy of US Armed Forces Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Survival Manual, and put them away in my bottom drawer. For now.

But, of course, global nuclear war is a piffling matter for those more concerned with transgender bathrooms and the breaking of glass ceilings for power crazed career politicians. "But what about Pussygate?" scream the angry mob of social justice warriors. To which I would reply that there are plenty of places where presidential fingers don't belong, but frankly I'm more concerned about them being on the big red button.

So, yes, a large bubble has been popped. This is what the apocalypse looks like. The word 'apocalypse' means 'living the veil'. It's a consciousness thing. The apocalypse will happen at the level of human consciousness before it happens (if ever) on the physical plane. The fake doctrine of neoliberalism/neoconservatism/globalisation—that has made the world we see today, has been exposed for what it is. And all of those who happily went along with it feel a deep terror in their bones. They sense, perhaps correctly, that all of the horrors America and the West have unleashed on the world over the last four decades—horrors which they thought were safely locked away in the basement—have been awoken and are starting to walk up the stairs, feet shuffling, hands outstretched. Not even the soothing tones of Barack Obama can convince them to go back down again—they know they are done for.

So who are all these people who are so terrified? They are the ones who have fallen prey to the globalist controlling mindset. For them, it's all a matter of identity politics, victim statuses and the almighty ruling patriarchy. Status is conferred by your relative minority status, delineated along lines of race, gender, sexual orientation etc. By shifting the entire nature of politics into the realm of identity politics the globalist class have quite brilliantly— with the unflinching support of the mainstream media and Hollywood—cast a magic spell that almost succeeded in enslaving the entire world. And because identity politics so enfeebles people, it was easy to divide and conquer them and get them to conform to their idealised state of passive obedience. This idealised state is one where everyone is defined in a very narrow sense, there is no collective grouping outside of one's own little group, and anyone who objects to this state of affairs is called a 'racist' or a 'homophobe' or a whatever. With everyone so caught up in policing one another the globalists have been able to continue their destructive course of war profiteering and handing democratic sovereignty to corporations largely unchallenged.

The power of the spell is broken now, even if the socially-engineered, weak-minded apologists for the power set refuse to believe it. For what they don't realise is that the election of Trump—and Brexit before it—was the anguished howl of a people who had had enough and were unwilling to acquiesce to the madness any longer. In that respect, Brexit and Trump's election will go down as the most important historical events of Western civilisation in the 21st century. If you don't believe me, just wait.

Yet the people still entrapped by this spell believe in maintaining the status quo so vehemently that they are quite unable to function when their overlords are exposed as frauds and fakes. They are fine with their military raining death down on foreign nations so that they can plunder their oil (but don't turn away the refugees), fine with supporting a candidate who takes blood money from a nation that routinely kills gays and stones women for adultery (as long as we have freedom and equality) and fine with starting a nuclear war which would kill millions of innocent people (because Putin said something nasty about gays). They are also the ones who loudly insist that it is racist to be against globalisation, although they always assume that the benefits of globalisation will accrue to themselves, and if you find yourself living in a wasteland of drug addiction, crime and unemployment because of it, well then that's just your own stupid fault and you're probably a racist so there.

These people are all going to be swept away into history's compost bin, and they know it. It would be a good thing if they could be brought round to see reason—after all, some of them are good people and it's not their fault they've been brainwashed. But, alas, in most cases they are too far gone and it is impossible to reason with them. They belong to a superfluous unproductive class for which there will soon be no further need. They are the corporate PR flacks, the media, the overstuffed university faculty members, the fat layers of government who produce nothing but new regulations and rules to penalise everyday people, and the political hangers-on and other assorted medieval court fauna. As the global energy pie shrinks and the very real limits to growth assert themselves, these people will find themselves pushed out of the picture. No longer will they boast on Facebook about not being able to change a lightbulb as though menial, physical, useful skills are for the Untermensch classes—they'll be too busy fighting among themselves about whose fault all this was and forming circular firing squads.

For anyone who thinks they might detect a note of glee here, they'd be right. I would dearly love to see the likes of The Guardian, the Clintons and all the other warmongering, social engineering, psychopathically driven impediments to real human progress tossed into the fiery abyss. But, gratifying as that might be, it doesn't mean everything will then be all sweetness and light. Indeed how do we even know what to expect next? As has become abundantly clear to many people, the world of mass media, talking heads, opinion formers and politicos don't offer us any useful guidelines any longer. That's why the polymathically inclined turn to other areas where they might find better tools for human understanding—and one particularly useful area is the realm of mythology and psychology.


The Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung noted the various archetypes manifest in human consciousness, and explained how we relate to these in our lives (although they exist on a subconscious level so usually we don't realise it). Joseph Campbell took this a stage further in his analysis of myths throughout human history, drawing out these archetypal figures to help make sense of such a widely diverse universe of stories. These archetypes are encoded in our minds and have been there from the time of our earliest ancestors. For the most part they lurk there unseen, only revealing themselves in times of need, when they help us to make sense of the world when everyday logic seems to fail us. This, of course, flies in the face of progress and scientism and the other pseudo-religions we like to insist are useful to us, and so many people choose to ignore the lessons of mythology. So it goes.

The archetype that should concern us today is the one they call the Trickster. The Trickster is a magician—someone who can conjure something seemingly impossible out of nothing. Magic, by the way, is the ability to take something from a non-physical realm and bring it forth into the physical one. It is the ability to change human consciousness through act of will. We all do it, usually without realising it, and politicians try to do it more than most of us (check out the Clinton team's disastrous experiments with Spirit Cooking). The Trickster is adept at this, appearing in times when civilisations have become stale and moribund, and when politics seems dead and insipid. The Trickster strides onto the stage and explodes the neat order of things, creating chaos and mayhem and collapse. Trickster is a disruptive intelligence. He laughs as he brings down elites, chuckles as he tosses political grandees into oblivion and cackles with mischief as he throws entire societies into turmoil.

In Norse mythology, Loki took the main Trickster role. Loki wanted to start Ragnarök—an all-encompassing battle that would destroy much of the world and also kill the gods in the process. Pan was also a Trickster—you've heard of 'pandemonium' and 'panic'—as was Shakespeare's Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream. In Britain we have a real-life Trickster in the form of Nigel Farage, and now in America, we have The Donald. Pretty soon, across much of Europe, each nation will have its very own Trickster running the show.

A note of warning. Those who are tired of the status quo, who are sick of corrupt politicians and exploitative corporations, and who yearn for deep and meaningful change should beware. Because normally we don't get the Trickster we want: we get the Trickster we deserve. It is worth knowing that we ourselves may be tossed into the abyss along all the other detritus: we vanquish our control when we summon forth the Trickster. Because, as Jung once again explains, the type of Trickster we get depends on our own dark Shadow. This Shadow represents our deepest fears: it is everything about us that we have been too afraid to confront. Our Shadow, at a societal level, is represented by all those bodies in the basement I mentioned above. It's all the stuff we have tried to block out, such as the harm we do to the planet, the resource wars our politicians get into on our behalf, factory farming, nuclear weapons technology—all the stuff we chose not to focus on rises up from the collective subconscious and becomes the Trickster beating down our basement door.

What follows is never pretty. When Shiva dances, worlds crumble. But afterwards, when the Trickster has had his fun, he leaves the scene and a time of renewal can occur. For, even after the mayhem of Ragnarök the land rose up from the sea, cleansed and refreshed. 

I'll let Puck have the last word, with his closing speech in A Midsummer Night's Dream

If we shadows have offended,
 Think but this, and all is mended—
 That you have but slumbered here
 While these visions did appear.
 And this weak and idle theme,
 No more yielding but a dream,
 Gentles, do not reprehend.
 If you pardon, we will mend.
 And, as I am an honest Puck,
 If we have unearnèd luck
 Now to ’scape the serpent’s tongue,
 We will make amends ere long.



***

In other news, the latest issue of the post industrial fiction magazine Into the Ruins has just been released. As ever, it features great stories that help us to imagine what might lie on the other side of Ragnarök, so to speak. I myself have a story in this issue called The Fifth Garden. It's about an old man in a dusty and ravished country who plants gardens and restores life to the land, changing human consciousness in the process. You can get your copy here.








Monday, November 7, 2016

H is for Hydrogen Dreams



I can clearly recall one day in 1997 when I was working for a large company in the UK energy sector and one of heads of the Corporate Strategy department came down to give us a talk. He confidently predicted that inside 10 years "almost every car on the planet" would be powered by hydrogen. This sounded a bit fishy to me, and even though I was a corporate flak at the time, something didn't ring true about his claim. I asked him a question: "But where will the hydrogen come from?"

His eyes boggled at the sheer stupidity of such a question. "Where will it come from?" he repeated, his mouth curling into a smile at the corners as if I had made some kind of joke. "Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe! It's everywhere! You yourself are 10% hydrogen!" There was a ripple of laughter around the room and I felt like the stupidest kid in the class. How could I be such a dumbo!?

Now, almost 20 years later, I have yet to see a car powered by hydrogen. But why?

For a start, hydrogen might be abundant, but it is not a primary fuel. It had to be turned into a useable fuel by employing methods that involve using other fuels. Electrolysis is the main method used to extract hydrogen from water, and most electricity is currently produced using fossil fuels.*

Never mind, let's ignore this energy usage for now and continue making hydrogen. Once we have extracted some pure hydrogen from water (or natural gas, as if often the case - but shhh! don't tell anyone!) we will notice that it is incredibly light and fluffy. To get it into a liquid form we'll have to compress it using a compressor. 10,000psi should do it so that it's usable for a car. Of course, it'll need to be stored in a very thick and heavy high pressure tank.

Okay, so now we've arrived at the stage where we've burned up loads of coal, natural gas or even uranium making water into liquid hydrogen fuel. We have compressed it and stuffed it inside a heavy steel tank ready for using. Can we just store it there until we might need to use it? Well, actually this is also problematic as hydrogen has a boiling point of -253C — which is damned cold by most accounts. Anything above this and it will boil off and evaporate. So forget filling up the tank of your nifty "green" hydrogen car and leaving it sitting on the drive for a few days — you need to use up your fuel before it disappears, which it typically does at a rate of 3-4% a day.

Does it still seem so attractive? Leave you car for a couple of weeks while you go on holiday and you'll likely come back to an empty tank.

Anyway, assuming none of the above really bothers us, what about our good friend the Second Law of Thermodynamics — you know, that old Cassandra party-pooper who endlessly repeats that energy is lost at every stage of conversion, increasing entropy as it does so — does he have anything to say about hydrogen powered motoring? Well yes, quite a lot actually. It turns out that using electrolysis to create hydrogen, compressing it and storing it gives it an energy return (EROEI) of about 0.25. Yep, that means we have to put in four units of energy to get one back.

If anyone still thinks this is a good idea go and grab the nearest six-year old and ask them to explain it to you.

But ... assuming you don't care about the energy loss, the burning of fossil fuels to turn natural gas feedstock — sorry, water — into hydrogen, the compression costs, the storage losses and the fact that your hydrogen car weighs twice as much as a normal one due to the giant onboard tank — assuming none of that matters — where are you going to fill it up? According to the US Department of Energy there are 31 stations nationwide where you can fill up your vehicle. Yes, that's 31 that have hydrogen, compared with about 90,000 that have gasoline. As far as I can tell, there are around two in the UK "with another four planned". Yep, the hydrogen future is already here.**

So, for our hydrogen fuelled cars — which will inevitably also feature lithium ion batteries — to be usable to those people who don't live across the road from a hydrogen fuelling station and who like to travel more than 10 miles from their homes, we'll need to retrofit more or less the entire energy infrastructure.

Need I go on ...?

So, here we are, still waiting for the great hydrogen future ("It's everywhere! The only pollution is water vapour! The fossil fuel industry doesn't want this to take off!") It probably has some industrial application that could be useful but if we think that hydrogen is a straight substitute for petrol we're going to be sorely disappointed.

In the meantime, here's a "zero emissions" train that's just hit the tracks in Germany. Apparently it is entirely pollution free and "runs on water" (like Jesus, but faster?***) Want to play a fun game and lose all you friends in the process? Every time one of them posts a link to the train on Facebook, leave a simple reply saying 'BS' and link to this post. It works wonders — I've already lost several friends as a result, and expect to lose more in the future.

But don't mind me, I'm just a dumbo, and I'm 10% hydrogen.


* Yep, I know you can make electrolysis happen using solar PV or other renewables, but please refer to the bit where I mention the Second Law, and also consider the sheer amount of solar PV that would be needed to do so on a large scale to keep us on a happy motoring course and how it might be better employed.

** In my second career as a journalist/editor, we got invited to meet the late Shimon Peres in a darkened hotel room in Copenhagen during the shambolic COP15 conference. Peres wanted to push his 'Better Place' hydrogen/electric car initiative on us. We were not allowed to ask questions, such as whether it would actually work. "Better Place" went bust a couple of years later due to the unwillingness of the Second Law to negotiate, and the plug was pulled on it — as were several articles that reported on its demise such as this one in The Guardian "Better Place: What went wrong for the electric car startup"

*** As a small footnote, there's a personal irony in this. The Jesus Train was built by the company Alstom, for which my father, gods rest his soul, used to be a purchasing director. In his time he negotiated and purchased all the major parts for the first trains to run through the Channel Tunnel, as well as the French high speed TGVs. I actually spent a summer working in Alstom's French train factory when I was 21. My father would have hated all this BS — he's probably turning in his grave right now.







Tuesday, November 1, 2016

G is for Get the Fuck out of Dodge...?

Homelessness is already spiking in cities across the USA

Should disaster strike, being located in a large city is likely to present a number of problems specific to the urban denizen. Due to their concentrated nature, any large scale and ongoing outage in electricity and/or fuel is likely to put the city dweller at a considerable disadvantage to those living in less heavily populated areas. Urbanites often say they feel safer in cities. It's what they know, and often it is where they grew up. And to a certain extent they may be correct: relief efforts during the initial stages of a cataclysm are usually focused on large metropolitan areas where the largest number of people can be serviced via centrally-located distribution points. The shops may all be empty as just-in-time distribution systems enter a state of paralysis but it's a reasonable expectation that there will be an aid agency on hand to give out some food and bottled water to anyone willing to queue up for hours or days. What's more, cities contain much of the most valuable infrastructure in the country, including government offices and centres of finance, so it is likely that much of this will be secured from chaotic elements by the Army.

That was the good news.

The bad news is that due to the concentrated and hyperconnected nature of cities a crucible effect will take place and collapse will be a lot speedier and lethal than in non-urban settings. In a recent report the Pentagon states that by 2030 the world's megacities will be ungovernable hothouses of urban decay filled with rioting youths, collapsing infrastructure and chronic levels of crime. Here's a quote from OffGuardian (link):

"According to a startling Pentagon video obtained by The Intercept, the future of global cities will be an amalgam of the settings of “Escape from New York” and “Robocop” — with dashes of the “Warriors” and “Divergent” thrown in. It will be a world of Robert Kaplan-esque urban hellscapes — brutal and anarchic supercities filled with gangs of youth-gone-wild, a restive underclass, criminal syndicates, and bands of malicious hackers."

In large cities, rich and poor live cheek by jowl, meaning the wealthy and even the reasonably well-off are likely to be easy targets for gangs of looters. Should an economic collapse occur at the same time it is likely that the police, ambulance and fire services will not be paid, meaning they will be less willing to risk their lives by entering 'no go' areas—if they even bother to turn up to work at all. Forced acquisition of housing will also likely occur in this scenario as squatters and the dispossessed exploit the lack of law and order.

Even on a very basic level, surviving in a large city in which the power has been shut down is likely to be very difficult—if not impossible—for most. Without access to land to grow or catch food, city dwellers will find themselves unable to feed themselves in short order. Climate will also be an exacerbating factor, with apartment dwellers in cold regions finding it impossible to heat their living spaces, and those living in very hot regions unable to use air conditioning. Without power, water will not run from taps, and toilets will not flush. Backed up sewage systems will spread disease, as will the exploding rodent population feeding off the mounds of uncollected garbage and unburied bodies. People who have not prepared for such eventualities by gathering food and equipment to help them through such a period of turmoil will be at a considerable disadvantage and may find the psychological pressure alone too much to bear under the circumstances. 

With urban dwellers having invested in very little in social capital it's likely to be a case of 'every man for himself' within a matter of days of disaster striking. And disaster could strike in the form of a natural cataclysm, such as a tornado or a flood, or it could be man-made, such as a grid outage caused by computer hackers, or a nuclear or chemical strike. It could even be something as mundane as a sudden currency devaluation, sending the economy into a tailspin. Furthermore, it is worth bearing in mind that large cities present easy targets for state and non-state terrorists.

Of course, escaping to the countryside will also present its own set of challenges, and it would be wishful thinking to assume that the majority of the urban population could easily move out to grow vegetables and raise chickens. A potential half-way house might be the sprawling suburbs that surround many cities (especially in America). It is not beyond the scope of our imagination to see that many of the houses could be retrofitted to provide better protection against the elements, and the extensive lawns surrounding them turned into food producing spaces. Due to their large size many so-called McMansions could house several families at a time, assuming the materials they are made from hold together, and new localities would form in this way.

Monday, October 24, 2016

F is for Frugality

Being frugal, according to dictionary.com, means being:

economical in use or expenditure; prudently saving or sparing; not wasteful.

Living frugally means imposing austerity on yourself in order to have better control over your life. It means wresting control away from the exploitative systems that govern the world we live in. Frugality is not a competitive sport to be boasted about online; it's more of an aspirational art form.

There are endless ways of being frugal without incurring any loss of life quality. In fact, most people report that their lives feel more grounded once they begin practicing frugality.

There are many good reasons for being frugal. In his 1970s book Muddling Towards Frugality, Warren Johnson lays out a whole philosophy regarding living well by focusing on what you need rather than what you want. One of the best reasons, however, is that it might save your life. Living in a state of permanent entitlement is a  psychological achilles heel for many. Watching middle class people lose things they consider themselves entitled to is usually a very sorry spectacle. Frugality, or voluntary simplicity, or voluntary poverty is about jumping off the work-to-consume treadmill and getting onto the (much slower) work-to-live one.

Living frugally does not mean living in poverty. Poverty is a trap that can be impossible to escape from. The systems of our industrialised technocratic psychopathically-designed society are set up to funnel wealth upwards from the masses to a few people at the top. Those caught in the trap often find they have no way of escaping it: they are literally powerless.

Some people have the good fortune to be able to practice frugality before it is thrust upon them by outside forces. If you are one of them you should count your lucky stars. It's no fun going from being comfortably middle class to being without a place to call home and unable to afford even a cup of coffee (as I can attest) but if you get enough practice in you can at least salvage the basics of existence and then fill the upper levels of your hierarchy of needs pyramid with things that are free, or very cheap. These things are free (presently):

- Going for a walk
- Keeping fit
- Singing
- Creating works of art
- Making love
- Meditating
- Talking with friends
- Stroking kittens
- Joining a fight club

We live in a time where, in some ways, it is easy to be frugal. Our societies are awash with cast-off clothes, toys, electronics and materials that nobody wants. 90% of our fossil fuels end up as waste heat, and about half of the all the food we produce ends up in landfill. There is plenty of room for frugality at either end of the scale.

But that window is rapidly closing. Within ten years we're likely to have witnessed the end of industrial civilisation as the EROEI of oil drops below 1. At this point those who do not know how to live very cheaply and simply will be - let's just say - at a considerable disadvantage.

If you want some ideas, have a look at Britain's most frugal pensioner.

Monday, October 3, 2016

E is for EROEI

Understanding EROEI - or Energy Return On Energy Invested - should be on every school curriculum, but isn't. Simply put, it's the amount of energy we as a species can play with. Back in the days when you could poke a hole in the ground and oil would gush out of it skywards, getting hold of plenty of energy was easy. In fact, for every blob of oil you used for locating, drilling and transporting the stuff, you got between 100 and 200 similarly-sized blobs of the same quality back. The way this energy value was expressed was by way of EROEI; thus, sweet onshore crude oil could be said to have an EROEI of 100 to 200. These were the low hanging fruit days that made the 20th century boom.

Once all the low hanging fruit was gone we had to move a bit further up the tree. Oil and coal and natural gas were still abundant but they needed more work to get at. They also needed more processing, transporting and all the rest of it. Because of this, the net energy (i.e. energy return minus energy expenditure) available to us was lower. We invested one blob and got considerably less than 100 back. In other words, the energy we invested in unlocking fossil fuels needed to be higher just to get the same amount back that we were used to, meaning the EROEI was falling.

Of course, fossil fuels aren't the only forms of energy. Nuclear was thought to have a high EROEI, but once you took into consideration the entire process of building the power stations, mining the uranium, decommissioning the plant and storing the waste, the EROEI shrivelled up like dead fish in the sun at Fukushima Beach.

Renewables also have relatively low EROEI values compared to early oil. Note, however, that EROEI has nothing to do with money. Getting EROEI mixed up with EROI (Energy Return on Investment) is a common mistake. One deals with the immutable laws of physics and the other deals with the infinitely manipulable world of finance - and only one of these sets of conditions is negotiable.

So what would be the average EROEI value of oil discovered today? Unfortunately nobody can seem to agree on an exact figure, but you can be sure that it's a lot lower than 200. 20 perhaps. In fact many insist that fracked shale gas and tight oil have such a low EROEI they are only viable as a commercial operation when financed by Wall Street Ponzi schemes. Biofuels, such as ethanol, have disastrously low EROEI numbers - in many cases they are less than 1. When you put more energy into something than you get out of it then it can no longer be regarded as a fuel source. Nevertheless, biofuel volumes are often added to 'total liquids' figures, implying they are an oil substitute when clearly they are not.

People will often say that 'the world is awash with oil' because they see it on the news all the time. They see no reason to think scarcity exists - everywhere they look they see abundance. However, there's a problem with this kind of thinking, and the problem is that our net energy levels are shrinking. Yes, shrinking! We can cover the world in wind turbines, solar panels and fracking wells, and we still can't escape the shrinkage problem. We might be producing, say, ten million barrels of oil per day - which looks great on spreadsheets and in news articles - but what good is that if we are then spending the bulk of it to do more drilling to get at more oil that will have an even lower EROEI value?

Which leads us to the crux of the problem. The modern world was set up to run on high EROEI energy. Take a look around. All those roads, airports, microproccesor factories, mechanised agricultural systems, globalised supply chains and space programmes require a huge throughput of energy. But we are running out of high EROEI energy, and will soon have only low EROEI energy to play with. Which begs the question: at what average level of net energy will the modern world cease to be a viable option? In the past, when high energy fossil fuels were abundant, you could always throw more money and energy at problems and expect them to go away - and usually they did. But this option itself is now going away. What will we do?

Here's a chart showing estimated EROEI values for different energy sources (source unknown).



Proponents of renewable energy will say that we can simply swap out the old system for a new 'clean and green' one. We'll all drive electric cars, live in solar cities and our lifestyles will not be much different to what they are today. This vision ignores many of the other limits to the system, and would still permit the continued destruction of the planet's life support systems, albeit in a more 'green' fashion. That's not to say that renewable energy isn't extremely useful - especially in a locally-distributed way - just to recognise some of its limits.

On the other hand, fossil fuel dinosaurs claim that we should just go all-out for oil and gas and coal. If there's such a thing as EROEI or global warming or acidifying oceans then they don't want to hear it. We should be fracking the living daylight out of the planet, building pipelines and fighting wars to get 'our' oil out of the Middle East. These people are a type of modern day cargo cult and as such, are quite dangerous. Many of them are politicians and leading businessmen.

There's a third category, too. The techno cornucopian optimists insist that a new technological breakthrough is just around the corner that will allow us to live like we do with no interruption to service. Haven't you heard there's a government conspiracy to cover up the availability of free energy? Or that if we can send robots up into space to mine comets for uranium we can have endless energy? Selling dreams is a profitable business, and the most successful of these people have MBAs and hire the best PR staffers. I myself once pretended to be one just for fun and have had several requests for an investment prospectus from people with money.

So what is likely to happen as these groups fight it out amongst each other while, all along, the needle on the global EROEI fuel tank moves into the orange zone? Perhaps it will be like the hand of God slowly turning down the dimmer switch on industrial civilisation. Because the more energy we USE simply to GET energy, the less energy is available for the rest of society to use. And this manifests itself in many different ways, but it all comes down to lower available net energy. Already we are seeing demand destruction and lower energy use as the former consumer classes struggle to be able to afford as many goods and the corresponding energy they use. Heavy goods vehicle traffic levels have fallen over 6% across the UK in the last decade, councils are turning off streetlights at night, and homeless levels in the US are spiking. Sweden is encouraging its citizens to refurbish goods instead of buying new ones, malnutrition in children is becoming common in the developed world and 30-something Britons possess half as much as 30-somethings did only 10 years ago [*See links below]. These are just some signs that the big squeeze is on, and it's getting tighter and tighter with each passing year.


Links to articles:

HGV traffic levels falling across UK
Councils turning off streetlights
Number of homeless people over 50 in US spiking
Sweden encourages goods refurbishing
Malnutrition in UK children
30 something Brits have less than half of 40 somethings at same age
UK hits "Peak stuff"
If you're under 30 - bad luck - you're screwed




Monday, September 26, 2016

D is for Degrowth

Or it could also be for Depletion or Dieoff, which are related topics. The human species has been expanding rapidly since the Industrial Revolutions, but really took off in the 20th century. Masses of cheap energy in the form of fossil fuels allowed us to mine and exploit the planet's mineral, animal and plant resources as if they were infinite. We measured all of this activity by giving things a monetary value and measuring the rate at which primary goods (raw materials) were turned into manufactured products, supported by a web of services. We called this system of measurements "the economy".

Because we had an economy we had to have economists. These were the technicians and theoreticians who claimed they knew how to make the system function and grow. If the system was growing then material prosperity - or at least the promise of it - could be made available to more and more people. Banks made loans and lent money, governments issued bonds and initiated works of infrastructure, generals grew their armies and waged wars, and the common person got a credit card and a mortgage to buy a house. All of this economic activity went into the melting pot and was used to calculate a country's GDP (Gross Domestic Product).

This all worked well until the limits of growth were met. However, by that point, the system had evolved into one with no reverse gear. Booming populations, exponentially rising debt and an infrastructure designed and built on the assumption that there would never be any limits to growth had painted us into a corner. The economists, being only concerned with economics and not ecology, failed to recognise that the human economy is merely an artificially created system existing within the wider ecology of planet Earth. As a result of this minor oversight ecological systems are breaking down at an alarming rate. The planet is running out of capacity for dealing with the rising tide of waste from the human species,  just as it is running out of fresh water, fertile topsoil, biodiversity and a climate amenable to continued human civilisation.

This wasn't supposed to happen. Standard neoclassical economics says that when one good becomes scarce the free market will step in and - as if by magic - a substitute good will be found. This hasn't happened in the case of our biological life support systems and represents the ultimate market failure. But this hasn't worried the true believers, and the concept of infinite substitutability has now been taken to its logical conclusion ad absurdum with serious talk about moving to a new (as yet unlocated) planet.

So, given the huge footprint of the human species on a finite planet, there can only be one logical solution to save ourselves: to degrow the economy. This is not a popular option. For an economy geared for growth, and only growth, any backward step to a smaller and less complex state of affairs is calamitous. Financial ponzi schemes collapse, asset bubbles burst, people lose their jobs and governments find themselves unable to supply basic services. All of this tends to lead to riots, revolutions and wars.

And yet we don't have any choice. Given the basic mathematically impossible concept of continued growth in a finite space, it is inevitable that limits will be reached sooner or later. Yet we have engineered a system whereby continued growth is suicidal, and the opposite will be very painful. But given the choice between an outcome that is certainly fatal and one that is likely very painful but not fatal, most rational people would choose the latter, all other things being held equal.

But what would degrowth look like in practice? Imagine, for a moment, the existence of a far-sighted and benign government that wanted to look out for and protect its citizens (I know it's hard to do these days). It might, for example, make cars prohibitively expensive and invest in public transport and cycle lanes instead. It might pour subsidies into researching and developing more benign technologies for generating energy and it might equally focus on energy conservation. Young citizens would be taught at school how to conserve energy and how to decode advertisements. Far fetched? This is exactly what Denmark did in the 1970s following the oil shocks. Alas, being one of only a very small number of countries attempting to unhook themselves from fossil fuel addiction, it was always going to be difficult. Yet its efforts could act in some way as a template for a wider programme.

Is this going to happen? Common sense says it doesn't look like it. Any imposition of degrowth policies by governments would likely be viewed with extreme suspicion - the suspicion being that the brunt of any degrowth would be shouldered by the masses while the rich and powerful minority continued living with wild abandon. This would likely lead to outright rebellion and revolution, or at the very least a new government would be elected on an anti-degrowth platform.

But that doesn't mean individuals, families and groups can't attempt to wriggle free of the economic suicide belt. Sure, it might be difficult to do so, but it has its merits; increased resilience and empowerment being but two. After all, there is no choice in the end. Degrowth is already happening but they just haven't told us yet. All that is left of the world economy is a series of get-rich-quick schemes backed up by asset bubbles, crooked economic figures, a rising tsunami of unpayable debt and ponzi madness. Strip all of that out of the equation and you're left with an economy that is struggling for breath as it sinks beneath the waves, dragged down by falling real energy availability and an increasing complexity that has long since passed the point of positive marginal returns.

The only real question that remains is whether a chaotic and unplanned degrowth scenario will leave the planetary biosphere in an inhabitable state by the time we have returned to a state of sustainability. That, to an unknowable extent, is up to us.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

C is for Control

The future will be about a loss of control in our daily lives. Some of it will be big stuff that will affect you, such as your pension fund going bust or your country experiencing hyperinflation, and frankly there's not much you can do about it. On the other hand there are other things that you can control, and it's best to get a handle on them now while the going is still good(ish).

Health is one of the most precious things that you can have. To remain in good health for as long as you can without the need for hospitals and drugs and doctors is a worthy aim. For the average person, a healthy diet, a moderate amount of exercise and the avoidance of too much stress will suffice. A scary proportion of people are hooked on medicines dished out by doctors, as well as any number of other harmful substances. Try to get rid of any harmful addictions while help is still available. Likewise, get dental procedures and the like out of the way while the health systems are not collapsing. Assuming you are able bodied and of sound mind, nobody is responsible for your health except you.

Finances are another area where you can take control. Avoid all debt, if possible, and at least avoid all unpayable debt. Being in debt means that other people and entities have control over you. Downsize as much as you can in the expectation that if you don't voluntarily downsize you will be downsized involuntarily at some point. Live within your means - it's good practice for the future. Stop wasting money of takeaway food - learn to cook instead.

Make your home as resilient as possible. Insulate it, fix the roof, get rid of unnecessary energy wasting appliances and do what you can to cut down on its running costs. Have an energy holiday one weekend (i.e. no electricity or gas) and see how you get on. Get rid of any unnecessary clutter in your home by selling it or giving it away - it'll make you feel better. If you wish to hoard food and other dry goods at least put them somewhere out of your immediate living zone.

Try and get control over the essentials of life. This means water, food, warmth (or cooling, depending where you live) and shelter. Play what if games. What if the electricity went off for a month? What if the taps stopped running? What if the heating breaks down and it's minus 30C outside? In this way you will be prepared. If you don't do it already, learn how to grow food. If you have no space for growing food then volunteer at your local organic farm. Make friends with them and help them out so that they'll help you out one day. If you are well prepared for hard times then put aside a little extra to help others.

Taking back control is empowering, but try not to get too carried away with it as nobody has total control over their life. If and when a major disaster or shortage occurs one of your greatest resources will be your friends, family and neighbours. Make yourself indispensable to them and they'll do their best to look after you.


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

B is for Brexit

Brexit [a contraction of British Exit (from the EU)] is the 'cat among the pigeons' event that future historians may see marked the end of our love affair with globalisation. When, in June 2016, people in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland were given the chance to vote in a referendum on whether to stay in the European Union, or to leave it, the majority chose the latter. The 'Leave' camp won in spite of a media campaign of epic proportions to convince people to stay.

Discourse, if one could call it that, was heated and often venomous, with 'Leave' voters subjected to much ridicule and accusations of being fascists. On the other hand, 'Remain' voters were framed as clueless metropolitan liberals - the kind of people who would willingly have rolled over for Hitler and his Third Reich.

In the aftermath of the vote there was much fallout. Many high ranking politicians, including the prime minister David Cameron, found themselves at the end of their political careers. Such had been the level of fear whipped up over what was likely to happen in the event 'Leave' won - including Cameron and his chancellor warning of a market crash and a Third World War - the aftermath felt like something of a damp squib. To date, the only measurable effect has been a smallish downward correction in the value of the pound, and better than expected GDP growth figures.

Media organisations who backed the 'Remain' camp are still in a state of denial. The Guardian, for example, immediately chose to run with the narrative of a wave of hate crime being unleashed across the country - a phenomenon of which there is scant proof. Brexit supporters are routinely labelled as 'misguided', foolish' or 'racist', and are compared to supporters of Donald Trump in the US. Yet the majority of Leavers, when questioned, cited concerns with globalisation as the main reason they chose to vote the way they did. Globalisation, for them, had become something of a disaster in which their jobs were exported overseas and, in return, waves of immigrants moved into their communities and put further strain on the already over-subscribed public services and infrastructure. Put bluntly, as one interviewee stated, "If you've got money you vote 'Remain', and if you've got nothing you vote 'Leave'.

The referendum revealed a split in the nation that ran between social classes, right through the middle of communities and even between friends and family members. For some, voting Leave had little to do with politics and was merely a chance to spit in the eye of the powers that be. Likewise, for some voting Remain, it was like casting a penny into a well and making a wish for a better, fluffier world (albeit a world backed up by punitive EU trade deals, turbo capitalism, non-democratic supra states using NATO's firepower to keep the dispossessed from their borders). There was very little common ground on which anyone from the two sides could agree.

However, some have pointed out that despite the furore the UK has not so far left the EU and may never do so. They assume the EU will continue to grow in power and size and that no prime minister will ever dare trigger the article needed to exit the EU club. But perhaps that misses the point. The world of business and politics runs on sentiment. The one thing they hate, we are told, is uncertainty. The UK has stated its intention to leave - an unutterably offensive thing to do - and thus shattered the looking glass. All bets are off as to how this will play out, although other states will likely follow in the UK's footsteps as the internal and external pressures on the debt-burdened EU continue to mount.

So if there's one lesson to be learned by the globalists from the Brexit debacle it's that the disenfranchised and angry should not be allowed to vote.




Monday, September 19, 2016

A is for Alternative Media

The alternative media has exhibited an exponential growth pattern in recent years due to the digital revolution and the unsatisfactory narrative offered by traditional media. The ease with which new media ventures can be incubated and by which information is distributed has broken the stranglehold the mainstream media (MSM) has enjoyed in terms of setting the narrative agenda in society. In a recent survey it was found only 6% of Americans have a lot of trust in the MSM, and that figure is likely to be repeated, to a greater or lesser extent, across the industrialised world.

This rapid growth of the alternative media has occurred in parallel with the diminution of trust in the MSM. Since the early 1970s - when the rich economies of the West began to depart from a reality based upon physical productivity and currencies backed by precious metals - the MSM has caused ever-growing levels of cognitive dissonance in its consumers. However, the widespread ownership of computer technology which has occurred in recent years has allowed the vacuum to be quickly filled by thousands of YouTube videos, blogs and alt news sites, all distributed at lightning speed via social media, email lists and RSS feeds. The cumbersome business model of the conventional media has found itself unable to compete with this networked and distributed onslaught and faces a lingering death as its cash reserves and lines of credit deplete. All it can do is dig itself into an ever deeper hole as it desperately tries to rescue its own credibility, but finds it is unable to do so without compromising the power structures behind it.

One way in which the MSM and its supporters are attempting to fight back is by discrediting all alternative media. Due to the anarchic nature of the alternative media arena a wide range of controversial topics are addressed in a range of tones. Some of these are singled out as conspiracy theories in an attempt to discredit the entire phenomenon of non-hierarchical information disbursement and the old maxim of slinging mud at a wall in the hope that some of it sticks applies here. This tactic in itself seems to be backfiring as one 'conspiracy theory' after another is proved to be reality; a phenomenon that has turned the tables and appears to be inducing cognitive dissonance in the MSM itself. A prime example of this is the Washington Post's simultaneous championing of the ex-NSA computer analyst turned whistleblower Edward Snowden, whom the paper simultaneously supported to earn industry plaudits, whilst subsequently calling for his arrest due to the existential threat he posed to the establishment.

The MSM is acutely concerned by its shrinking power but does not appear to be able to repel the swarm attack. If it mimics the alt media it shoots itself in the foot, but if it ignores it it further erodes its own self-defined relevance. Instead it repeatedly doubles down on failed strategies and expects them to succeed. With so much capital invested in their enterprises the controllers of the old media have yet to figure out a way to compete with alternative media sources. The new media is unbound by any editorial and political constraints and willing to offer up their services for free, whereas the old media must play by the old rules and is forbidden from 'rocking the boat'. Thus, in the face of this existential threat they are churning out more and more 'news' in the form of entertainment, mixing commercials with supposed reality in the form of sponsored content and retreating behind paywalls that nobody wants to pay for. This has created a negative feedback loop for them and, in fact, without the help of generous benefactors or cash engines strapped onto their media enterprises, we could see the death of the MSM within a few short years. Reports of social media sites censoring alternative media material are only likely to quicken the erosion of whatever trust remains in the MSM.

What emerges from the wreckage is unclear but the issue of trust has been thrust to the fore. In the same way that not all MSM content is 'bad', conversely, not all alternative media is 'good'. The same shady array of forces harbouring murky intentions and blatant attempts at propaganda remains, and we can be sure it is desperately attempting to reconfigure itself in new ways for it to continue to control the narrative and perpetuate the status quo. Perhaps, as the collapse of industrial society intensifies more local forms of media will rise in relevance and importance. This would be one way the trust horizon of information providers could be verified. At the same time, in a deglobalising world, people may find they do not have as much time to follow world events from their own home. Instead, they may be too busy raising chickens and growing vegetables. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Great Divide



Well, that went well didn't it? I stayed up all night watching the results of the EU referendum come in. I hadn't meant to, because we had been told there was almost no chance 'Leave' would win it. But win it they did. It was around 1:30am when the result from Sunderland came in, showing a shock 61% in favour of leaving the EU. The BBC - that turgid voice of the senile elites - seemed unsure what to make of it. Surely this is just an aberration? I decided I'd better make some coffee for what promised to be a long night.

The birds had already been chirping for a couple of hours when the stunning result was finally announced. 48% had voted Remain and 52% had voted Leave. Hardly a huge victory, but a victory nevertheless in the teeth of the biggest domestic propaganda campaign in living memory.

And then the fallout began.

It's fair to sat that the reaction from those who didn't like the result has been somewhat disappointing and doesn't bode well for future crises. Now, 10 days later, with the rubble from the initial collapse is just beginning to stop bouncing, it appears that a huge chasm has opened up in Britain and the people are left standing on either side of it. The quiet hopeful dignity of most of the Leavers is in stark contrast to the shrill anger of the more vocal Remainers, for whom the sky has fallen in. There are demands for a second referendum, demands that the result be overturned and demands that the legal system be used to prevent the status quo being upset.

People are gnashing their teeth and wailing. I've heard of some holding grief parties, and others proclaiming that we now live in a fascist state. There is a frantic scramble to move to Scotland or Canada or some other state that is perceived to be 'tolerant and open'.

More sinisterly, in the immediate aftermath a media narrative has been allowed to flourish that a wave of race hatred has been unleashed by the vote. I don't buy it. Of course, you will get some racist idiots in any situation, and the videos of them I have seen tend to show drunk young men on public transport mouthing off. Does it make a difference to the statistics when newspapers such as The Guardian exhort their readers to send in their clips of racist/xenophobic attitudes and an app has been developed to capture such taunts? Would it make any difference if I said I had a friend who had openly talked on Facebook about travelling in a group to meet the returning England football fans from the ferry and provoke them into doing or saying something nasty for the benefit of the cameras. The temptation to be agent provocateur seems too tempting to some people.

To get an idea of the size of the gulf that's opened up it is instructive to watch these two short videos, one after the other. In the first one, Leave voters - who are more or less characterised as universally racist and/or stupid by Remainers - explain their reasons for doing so. The second video shows a woman in London explaining her fears following the referendum.

Video 1: Why we Voted Leave: Voices from Northern England

Video 2: Woman breaks down following Brexit vote

I'm not exactly a huge admirer of ex-London Mayor Boris Johnson - who spearheaded the Leave campaign (seemingly without much of a plan of what to do if victory ensued) and then quit when he won - but I'll finish off this short post by quoting what he wrote yesterday about the kind of feeling this referendum has unleashed in young people. Of course, Johnson is a buffoon and a joker and he revels in being offensive, but then jokers can say what they want and get away with it, so perhaps they deserve to be listened to sometimes.

"On Friday I heard a new dawn chorus outside my house. There was a rustling and twittering, as though of starlings assembling on a branch. Then I heard a collective clearing of the throat, and they started yodelling my name – followed by various expletives. “Oi Boris – c---!” they shouted. Or “Boris – w-----!” I looked out to see some otherwise charming-looking young people, the sort who might fast to raise money for a Third World leprosy project.

They had the air of idealists – Corbynistas; Lefties; people who might go on a march to stop a war. And so when they started on their protest song, I found myself a bit taken aback. “EU – we love YOU! EU – we love YOU!” they began to croon. Curious, I thought. What exactly is it about the EU that attracts the fervent admiration of north London radicals? It was the first time I had ever heard of trendy socialists demonstrating in favour of an unelected supranational bureaucracy.

In the old days, the Lefties used to dismiss the EU as a bankers’ ramp. Tony Benn thought it was unacceptably anti-democratic. Jeremy Corbyn used to vote against it in every division. Why has it suddenly become so fashionable among our nose-ringed friends? I tried to think which of the EU’s signature policies they were so keen on. Surely not the agricultural subsidies that make up most of the budget, and that have done so much to retard development in the Third World. They can’t – for heaven’s sake – support the peak tariffs that discriminate against value added goods from Sub-Saharan Africa. Nor can they possibly enjoy the sheer opacity of the system – the fact that there are 10,000 officials who are paid more than the Prime Minister, and whose names and functions we don’t know.

They can’t really be defending the waste, the fraud – or the endless expensive caravan of crémant-swilling members of the European Parliament between Brussels and Luxembourg and Strasbourg. Are they really demonstrating in favour of the torrent of red tape that has done so much to hold back growth in the EU? It seems an odd sort of campaign theme: what do we want? More Brussels law-making! When do we want it? Now!

Naturally, Lefties might want laws to protect the workforce – but they would surely want those laws to be made by politicians that the people could remove at elections. No: the more I thought about it, the odder it seemed. It was incredible that these young and idealistic people should be making a rumpus about the euro – the key policy of the modern EU – when that project has so gravely intensified suffering in many southern EU countries, and deprived a generation of young people of employment.

Perhaps, I mused, it was a general feeling that the EU was about openness, tolerance and diversity. But they must surely know that the EU’s rules on free movement mean a highly discriminatory regime, one that makes it much more difficult for people from outside the EU to get into Britain – even though we need their skills.

So what was it about? People’s emotions matter, even when they do not seem to be wholly rational. The feelings being manifested outside my house are shared by the large numbers of people – 30,000, they say – who at the weekend came together in Trafalgar Square to hear pro-EU speeches by Sir Bob Geldof. There is, among a section of the population, a kind of hysteria, a contagious mourning of the kind that I remember in 1997 after the death of the Princess of Wales. It is not about the EU, of course; or not solely. A great many of these protesters – like dear old Geldof – are in a state of some confusion about the EU and what it does.

It is not, as he says, a “free trade area”; if only it were. It is a vast and convoluted exercise in trying to create a federal union – a new political construction based in Brussels. But, as I say, I don’t believe that it is psychologically credible to imagine young people chanting hysterically in favour of Brussels bureaucrats. The whole protest is not about the EU project, per se; it is about them – their own fears and anxieties that are now being projected on to Brexit.

These fears are wildly overdone. The reality is that the stock market has not plunged, as some said it would – far from it. The FTSE is higher than when the vote took place. There has been no emergency budget, and nor will there be. But the crowds of young people are experiencing the last psychological tremors of Project Fear – perhaps the most thoroughgoing government attempt to manipulate public opinion since the run-up to the Iraq War.


When Geldof tells them that the older generation has “stolen your future” by voting to Leave the EU, I am afraid there are too many who still believe it. It is time for this nonsense to end. It was wrong of the Government to offer the public a binary choice on the EU without being willing – in the event that people voted Leave – to explain how this can be made to work in the interests of the UK and Europe. We cannot wait until mid-September, and a new PM."