Thursday, January 10, 2019

Lurching Towards a Crisis



It’s been more than a while since I last wrote anything here, so it’s high time I corrected that. In the past year I’ve been busy with one thing or another and – well – updating 22 Billion Energy Slaves somehow managed to slip down the list of priorities. It’s not that I’ve been up to anything particularly interesting outside the usual earning a crust, raising kids, fixing up the house, working in the woods etc. so please accept my apologies.

Right, where were we? Well, when I last wrote anything here the UK was in the grip of the so-called ‘Beast from the East’ a high pressure system of cold air that had moved down over the UK from Siberia, that was met head-on with a winter storm that brought snow to most of the country, including down here in Cornwall where I live.

Although this wasn’t a particularly remarkable weather event it still managed to cause its fair share of disruption and destruction, with just-in-time deliver systems fouling up and perhaps reminding a few people how ill-prepared they are for such things in their lives.

Following the ‘Beast’ we had a very long dry spell, as an unusually hot summer saw grassy parks everywhere turn a dun brown colour, with older people reminiscing about 1976, the last time when something similar had happened.

Regular readers, if I have any, might remember that I am custodian of a piece of land that is mostly given over to coppice woodland, orchards and a small forest garden. I’m pleased to report that this suffered almost no damage from the hot, dry weather, other than the loss of a few young saplings (easily replaced) and the water level in my hand-dug pond sinking low enough to worry the resident newts. If anything the land, which I try to leave as ‘natural’ as possible, proved remarkably resilient, and for the first time ever I got a bumper crop of apples from the young trees (well, about 300, but it’s a start).

Summer also afforded myself and my family the chance to get away for a while.  Instead of being sensible and going somewhere to cool off, we opted to go to Greece, which was a bit like stepping out of the frying pan into the fire. Nevertheless, not being one to miss an opportunity to practice simpler living, I booked us a couple of pleasant weeks in a shepherd’s stone hut in isolated rural splendour on the island of Crete – it’s amazing what you can find on Airbnb these days.

With temperatures in the upper 30s (C), and no air conditioning except for one small room where the children slept, it was uncomfortable but bearable. The immense stone walls kept the worst of the sun out during the day, and by shutting all the doors and windows until after sunset it was possible to keep the indoor temperatures within a reasonably tolerable range. This was presumably not the case for the poor wretches in some nearby newly-built modern ‘villas’, who relied on the air-con being constantly on – something that wasn’t possible during the regular power cuts the island seemed to be experiencing.

It had been a few years since I had last travelled in Greece, and things didn’t seem to have improved much, despite the touted ‘recovery’ there. Driving around was a particular problem as the paint markings had been worn off roads and not replaced by the municipal authorities, and road signs were often rusted or vandalised. Away from the finely manicured historic centres in the cities, the conditions were bordering on the third world, with the requisite piles of rotting garbage, abandoned shells of cars and scavenging cats and dogs being strangely absent from any of the holiday brochures I’d seen before arriving. Still, Greece seemed to be hanging together, like it always manages to, and there was plenty of luxury on display amongst the decay.

Speaking of decay, this brings me to what I wanted to write about in this shortish update. Coming back from Greece and travelling through the English countryside on a sleek new train, I was gazing out of the window and marvelling at how lush and wealthy it all looked in comparison. The cows and sheep were healthy and fat – quite unlike the ragged and mangy livestock, mostly goats, we had seen wandering around the barren, litter strewn hills of Crete – the cars were shiny and mostly new, and the landscape was not littered with half-built but abandoned concrete shells covered in graffiti, which had been an all-too common sight in Greece. All in all, my country looked pretty wealthy, fertile and healthy.

This impression was confirmed by a couple of trips to London I took. The first one took me to Knightsbridge and Belgravia, in which I was shocked to find myself walking up a boutique-lined street where handy-looking security men stood just inside each store, only granting entry to those wealthy-looking enough to come in (i.e. certainly not me). And there were plenty of them. Even during my brief foray I saw wealthy Arabs and Chinese women pull up in limousines and enter these boutiques for a spot of exclusive shopping. I was later told that some of them might even have flown over just to buy a single million-pound handbag.

Ferraris tore up and down Sloane Street, racing one another at stoplights, while women with fur coats and dainty little dogs passed me by on the pavement. It was the kind of place where the term ‘obscene wealth’ seemed apt.

My impression, however shallow, of Britain being a very wealthy place was only confirmed by several other trips around the country, most recently to the Midlands town where I spent my teenage years: Solihull.  Now merely part of the urban sprawl of Birmingham, Solihull has changed a lot since I lived there in the 1980s. Back then it was a dull but fairly prosperous place – a good small town in which to bring up a family, perhaps. And now? Now it seems like every building has been turned into a wine bar, a department store, a fancy eatery or a café (just how many hipster cafés does one town need?). Every other car is a BMW or Audi or a pumped-up SUV, and – to my horror – the pub where I misspent much of my youth – where we used to play Motorhead’s The Ace of Spades on the jukebox at Volume 11 – has been turned into an upmarket bistro.

Trips to other places around the country offered me a similar view. So, there is plenty of wealth on display, but how much of it is real and how much of it is a mirage?

I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear me say that the vast majority is a mirage, mostly paid for by debt that can never be returned. Because every glowing jewel of wealth is swamped in a landscape populated with people drowning in debt and finding that every month their wages or benefits seem to buy just a little bit less than the last month. Dilapidated housing estates are filled with food banks and addiction and mental health therapy services, while a ragged and growing army of homeless people populates the streets even in wealthy towns.

Britain really has turned into a ‘tale of two countries’, with the shining metropolitan elite and the wealthy upper middle classes who are able to earn a salary from globalised business on one side of the scales, and everyone else on the other. Unlike in America, it is still theoretically possible in Britain to work a minimum wage job and just about scrape by on the rent, the utilities and the food bill, but only if you have access to some state-provided benefits and don’t have any expensive tastes or addictions. Nevertheless, one unexpected bill or unforeseen expenditure, such as a boiler failure or a car breaking down, can throw you into debt – debt that you may then struggle to break free from. More and more people say they are skating on thin ice.

But then many people don’t even have the luxury of a minimum wage job, and are instead forced to work in the gig economy or an a zero-hour contract where they must make themselves available for work yet perhaps only be allocated one hour or more a day. One only has to join a money savings tips or debt advice group on social media to read daily tales of woe from ordinary people who just can’t figure out how they have fallen through the cracks or haul themselves back out again.

On the subject of cracks, the biggest crack of all is the one that has opened up politically between the haves and the have-nots – being played out in real time in the proxy war of Brexit. Most people don’t recognise Brexit for what it is: a fumbling attempt by the ordinary working people of Britain to plunge a dagger into the dark heart of their own elites. The standard official explanation promulgated by the mainstream is that Brexit was a horrendous error of judgement on the part of former prime minister David Cameron, whereby he allowed the (racist, xenophobic, unwashed) population a chance to exercise their ill-informed judgement on a matter of great importance, namely whether the UK should leave the EU.

Following a period of intense state propaganda to coerce people to vote ‘the right way’ a 52% majority responded that they would vote for the exact opposite of whatever the bunch of celebrities and suits was telling them to do. The fallout from this has been nothing less than spectacular. In some cases, long term friends became overnight enemies, people found themselves ostracised by their families and the liberal (i.e. globalist) media has become a kind of video loop that simply repeats “We’re doomed, you stupid fools” over and over.

What’s more, long-standing political parties are tearing themselves asunder over the issue, with both the Conservatives and Labour endlessly trying to figure out whether to fight one other or amongst themselves, or both. The result is a kind of Bird Box Kabuki theatre of blindfolded politicians wandering around on a stage randomly stabbing one another.

The elected politicians, of course, know that it’s their job to defend the status quo, which at the moment means defending the interests of globe-spanning corporations, over the will of the people ,while spouting fine words and making a show of ‘democracy’. And yet those cussed voters (52% of them) won’t be quiet about demanding that their elected representatives bow to their will.

And while it might be amusing to sit back and watch this absurd display of political theatrics, the fact of the matter is that it is less than three months before the official date when the UK leaves the EU and nobody seems to have the faintest idea of what will happen because they are all too busy arguing.



Is this the sign of a stable country that is confident about its place in the world, unified as a whole and willing to make short-term sacrifices for a longer-term common goal? I think not. One could only imagine if someone of the calibre of, say, Winston Churchill was still prime minister.  He would no doubt go to Brussels blow cigar smoke in the faces of Donald Tusk and Jean Claude Juncker, slam his fist down on the desk and lay down the law to the snivelling bureaucrats. He’s then walk outside the European Parliament, give his famous victory sign and make a speech about all the glories that will lie ahead, without neglecting to mention the shared hardships we’d have to go through first.

Instead, we have Theresa May; a vacillating, automaton-like career politician with no discernable moral credo; someone who actually campaigned against Brexit in the first place but now, unconvincingly, claims to own it. The suspicion, of course, is that she stitching the nation up, selling out its interests and handing over sovereign power instead of retaining it.

I’m no fan of Churchill, but you get the point, I hope.

Anyway, the idea I’m trying to convey here as I get back on track with this blog, is that we are reaching limits, both nationally and internationally. The bad choices made over the last 50 or 60 years are coming back to haunt us, and they are playing out through the systems of society and economy in complex and unexpected ways.

In the UK we’ve got ‘Brexit’, in France it’s the ‘Yellow Vests’ and in the US it’s Donald Trump. All of these so-called populist uprisings represent dissatisfaction with the status quo – a cohort of people in each place who have seen themselves and their families and towns become ever more disenfranchised, broken and dispirited, while all the time the media cheerleaders insist that they are mistaken.

For the most part, the people don’t yet recognise the tectonic shifts that have taken place in the realm of energy availability that has led them up this blind alley, or the over-financialisation of their economies that has got them to this point, instead they still think political and technological solutions exist that will allow the problems of our age to be dealt with.

Unfortunately, unless the Chinese discover the dark side of the Moon is covered in a vast black sea of crude oil, they are in for a rude awakening. Alas, it will be a messy and confused time if and when this realisation kicks in. Interesting times indeed. 

11 comments:

  1. I look forward to your eye witness account of the unfolding Brexit predicament. Here in Canada, we get swamped with US news or the latest Trudeau folly. Welcome back.

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    1. Brexit is currently playing out as a psychic battle. If things get physical I'll be sure to mention it as we proceed.

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  2. Delighted to see a new post from you today! I've followed your blog for quite a while and am enthused to hear you're planning to 'get back on track with this blog'. As we plunge headlong into this era of rude awakenings, I look forward to your insights and commentary.

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    1. Thanks Jim. Yes, I've had the best part of a year off from doom, and have been pursuing other 'interests' instead. Now seems as good a time as any to plunge back in.

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  3. So good to see you back. And to see that not everyone thinks it's all going utterly brilliantly... where we are, there's a kind of "We've never had it so good!" meme as another small local shop or business folds & yet another patisserie or gin bar takes its place. No-one wants to notice the food bank bin in W8rose; that kind of thing just doesn't happen here after all, and none of them would have voted for Brexit if they'd realised the NHS wasn't really going to get an extra £350m a week, honest! But it's all so very shiny on the surface...

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    1. Good to be back! I suppose it's easy for a lot of people who can surround themselves in a bubble of prosperity to not notice things outside their safe zone. We've had 10 unexpected years of record breaking central bank money printing to paper over the cracks since the last financial crisis. This has given the appearance of prosperity, but it's really just a debt based blowout. I think a lot of people recognise this beneath the surface.

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  4. Hi Jason good to see you back! Keep posting. I enjoy following your blog and your insightful take on the world. It will be interesting to follow your views on Brexit as it unfolds. I am still teaching in Manchester, now have a second child, a son, and remember fondly our shared days in Solihull although not working at M@S. Happy new year!

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  5. "the idea I’m trying to convey here ... is that we are 'reaching' limits, both nationally and internationally".

    Reaching, reached, passed - I'm thinking the latter. Just like someone that lost their job and continues to appear to live a normal life, relying on their credit cards - society just builds up enormous debt. Until we collide with the inevitable.

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  6. Hi Jason,

    Nice to see you back and writing again! It’s been a while slacker!!! Hehe! Well, you are most certainly in for an interesting few months. I must say, from down here, every time I hear a clamouring in the media for a second vote on the matter, my mind hears a child chanting: "Best two out of three!"

    If it looks like a banshee, screams like a banshee, and will happily devour you like a banshee would, it probably is a banshee - and the banshee you wrote about is increasing wealth inequality. We've got our fair share of that down here too, but you know, the expansionary money supply policies are subject to diminishing returns - like all other options so it will sort itself out in time, but not without a lot of hardship. From my perspective, you lot may be jumping ship at a rather opportune time? And it seems to me that you have forgotten where your winter heating fuel comes from – or you act like you don’t care, and I’m frankly not sure which it is. Your Prince Harry visited down under recently with his lovely wife, and they made quite the splash. Have you lot already forgotten your old allies, or have you become beholden to your bedizened and frankly more exotic European playmates?

    Incidentally, I don't know whether you drop by the blog from time to time, but I set up my own domain for it – hint hint – your website points to the old blog URL address! You can find it here at the following URL: http://ferngladefarm.com.au

    I had to jump ship from the blogger platform as it was giving me some administrative headaches just started doing weird things, and my own domain just works better and looks better. If you ever decide to move across to your won domain, as a goodwill gesture I can give you lend you some experience and assistance?

    Nice to hear from you again. Honestly, I thought that the zombies had gotten you! Watch out for those zombies…

    Cheers

    Chris

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    1. Hi Chris - fact is I have a job where I have to edit or write up to 15,000 words a day, so my poor frazzled eyeballs couldn't face more of the same in the evening!

      I've checked in on your blog a few times in the interim - it's great to keep up with your progress. You'll be please to hear that I have followed your example and began making my own bioactive yogurt last week. The results so far are ... unspectacular, but not bad. It's surprising how you can get used to eating such things and enjoy it.

      Brexit is driving everyone nuts here. The level of gaslighting is off the scale, and it's impossible to talk about it with anyone without taking up some kind of narrow stance (usually part political) - I don't think many people have read Toynbee's 'A Study of History', more's the pity.

      I'll resolve the blogger issue shortly. From experience, Blogger doesn't appreciate people moving onto their own platforms, and the links tend not to work. But I'll have a go.

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  7. Welcome back.

    Yes, that's spot on about the Brexit vote: directed at Westminster, just as much as at Brussels.

    Although I would also say race and resentment at the scale of immigration over the last few decades played a very great part, particularly in those areas where immigrants from the EU have settled in large numbers: Peterborough, for instance, where, to long-standing, tension between Asians and locals, there has been added a third element of Eastern European farm and factory workers; and in several cities where Roumanian gypsies have established colonies, with the corresponding rise in crime and squalor.

    In the North, as the oh-so-PC Guardian reported, Pakistanis are upset that house values have fallen in these areas,quite dramatically, say from £59k to £36k.

    And then there is the Goan Christian wife of a friend who voted Brexit so as to get rid of muslims, who simply terrify her......

    None of this, of course, reflects the patronising (Guardian, anyone?) media narrative that it was only the dumb, poor, 'left-behind', homophobic, rural, xenophobic whites who voted Brexit.

    No: proper,successful capitalistic immigrants did so too!

    At the same time there is an ugly racist edge to it: as experienced by an Iranian friend (not a muslim) who works in an art shop, and has been insulted several times by mostly elderly people complaining that they 'can't understand her accent' and that she should 'go home, there are too many foreigners here'.

    For many,'taking back control' was understood to be meant quite literally - which of course does not represent the intentions of the wealthy corporatist Free Traders who seem to be behind Brexit. They don't give a fig about what is going on at street level and are very happy indeed with the cheap labour pool built up recently.

    (The Iranian speaks, by the way, excellent,clear,English and as for going home, she has escaped an arranged marriage and might be killed....)

    But I fear we shall look back on these credit bubble, disturbed and anxious times as simply Golden, compared to what is clearly to come....

    All the best

    Xabier

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I'll try to reply to comments as time permits.