Monday, February 22, 2016

Danger: EU Demolition in Progress

It’s getting harder all the time to distract oneself from how threadbare the fabric of our societies is becoming. No matter how much you avert your eyes it is all but impossible not to notice things unravelling around you. This is happening on every level, from the local to the international, manifesting itself in a multitude of ways.  Just as a fractal pattern has both the macrocosm in the microcosm, and the microcosm in the macrocosm, we are seeing signs of collapse small and large all around us.

At the micro level I could mention the town in which I live. In the past year we’ve seen a couple of big box retailers close down at one end of the scale, and quite a few small independents as well, some of which have been trading for decades. Streets have so many boarded up shop-fronts that the local council has taken to plastering them with posters showing images from happier times. Homelessness has spiked too, as has drug and alcohol abuse. The police station hasn’t officially closed down, but try getting hold of an officer when you need one – as I did when some drunken youth vandalised my car. The building is still there but instead of it being open there is a phone beside the front door that you must use to report a crime.

Aside from the police and the shops closing, public toilets are closed virtually all of the time, and the Post Office too is soon to close down, having been privatised and now asset stripped. The council is being forced to raise its taxation rates by 4% this year to cover the shortfall caused by spiralling costs and diminished funding from central government. Clinics and charities are being squeezed out of existence and the local council tried (and failed) to privatise the town’s midsummer festival.

My wife works in the care sector. The stories I get to hear will make you never want to be dependent on the state in your old age. If you can’t rely on your kids to look after you in your dotage it might be wise to keep a bottle of whisky and a revolver in your bottom drawer. Or maybe you'd rather die of thirst lying in your own mess because the 19-year-old unqualified carer who works for minimum wage is too busy checking Facebook on her phone to hear you pressing the emergency button by the bed.

Food banks are popping up. Schools are cancelling the more costly trips due to a lack of pupils being able to afford them, and local councils are cutting down trees in public places as they are ‘costly to maintain'. Streets are lined with weeds.  

This might sound like a laundry list of woes, but despite it all there is still a reasonably solid façade of normality. Potholes in the road get fixed, people are still buying shiny new cars and householders do up their homes. The county council is still pressing ahead with its plans to install super-fast broadband that will ‘connect us to the world’ as if we weren’t already, and the newspapers continue to repeat that the economy is recovering, that everyone who wants a job now has one, and that generally speaking things are pretty good and getting better all the time. Children’s TV programmes are still talking about us all going off to live on Mars at some point in the future, Richard Branson has unveiled a new spaceship and true believers are still talking earnestly about self-driving robot cars that are fuelled by water.

All well and good if you are not paying attention, but on another level it is also getting harder to ignore the cracks that are appearing around us. And crack-ups don’t get much larger than the EU. The UK prime minister David Cameron recently announced there would be a referendum on whether Britain should remain a part of the EU aka ‘Brexit’. This has had the effect of a starting gun being fired in the race to win votes for the respective ‘In’ and ‘Out’ campaigns. If the ‘ins’ win then the UK will remain within the EU, albeit still on the periphery and with various half-measures in place to ward off unwelcome EU policies. If the ‘outs’ win then the UK will be out of Europe and millions of lawyers can expect to look forward to years of lucrative work as we try to disentangle ourselves from the biggest bureaucratic mess the world will have ever seen.

Even though it is early days, a basic and simplistic narrative has emerged in the debate. It goes something like this:

From the INs: “The EU brings us peace and prosperity. It has eliminated borders, improved the environment and lifted consumer standards. We would be X b/million (insert random number from your favoured think tank) pounds worse off if we left. It protects us from Russia and ISIS and the Brexiters are nothing but a bunch of right-wing racist Neanderthals who want to steal the EU’s (benign) power and use it against us.”

From the OUTs: “The EU is undemocratic and nobody should have the right to decide our national policies – especially immigration. It is run by unelected technocrats who are paid a fortune to make up silly laws. The European Court of Human Rights is the go-to place for Islamic terrorists and paedophiles who should be tried (and hopefully hung) in Britain.”

That might be a bit simplistic, but that’s the kind of level of debate that is going around at the moment. Everybody is talking about whether the EU is a good thing or not to be part of, but nobody is asking whether it can exist at all for much longer. I would argue that it cannot. The EU, at heart, is a vast trading bloc of half a billion people. Its very existence is predicated on capitalism, acquisitive expansion and favourable trade deals at the expense of the third world. It runs on cheap energy – the kind of energy that will not be readily available for much longer, and when the inevitably huge financial unwind picks up pace it will severely curtail European access to capital markets and energy. The EU might be rich but it is only rich because of historically unfair trading conditions that have impoverished half the world. And it has very few viable energy sources that would keep it in the manner to which it is accustomed.

The EU has always contained the seeds of its own destruction. By regarding monetary union as an inevitability (an inevitability that has steamrollered democracy in the process) it would logically reach a point where the weaker member states would not be able to keep pace with the stronger ones. By flooding the southern periphery nations with cash – and then asking for it back with interest – the EU looks from the outside to be a self-cannibalising monster. Peace in Europe? Let’s see how long that lasts. There are many in Greece, Spain and Portugal who see ‘the EU’ as Germany in disguise.

Pro-EU liberals tend to regard the continent in terms of what consumer benefits they can extract from it. To be ‘pro Europe’ is to retain one’s right to fly to Barcelona for the weekend on Easyjet and enjoy tapas on Las Ramblas. They warn that this kind of easy living won’t be possible if we leave the EU.

If the EU were to quit the EU it probably wouldn’t be a death blow. A far bigger existential threat to the EU comes in the form of the refugee crisis So far, only a relatively small number of refugees have arrived in Europe and yet people are already whipped into a frenzy of fear and anguish. In 2015 around a million beaten-down desperate people fled war, drought and economic collapse, to arrive on the shores of Europe – many of them drowning along the way. A million sounds like a lot of people until you remember that there are already half a billion people living here in an area of 1.7 million square miles. If the refugees were spread out equally they would have nearly two square miles each. Lebanon, by contrast, has some two million refugees – and Lebanon is a country you could lose under a crumb on a world map. A Belgian minster's response to the EU's refugee ‘crisis’; tell Greeks to push them back into the sea. There’s your liberal EU for you.

This is also the same organisation that is trying frantically to get a secret trade deal ratified that would hand over yet more power to trans national corporations and take it away from nation states. If TTIP goes through we can kiss goodbye to basic rights and freedoms, such as being able to choose whether our kids eat genetically modified food or can be told that smoking is bad for them.

By now you’re probably thinking that I’ll be ticking the ‘Out’ box on my voting slip on June 23rd. I will be, but its more or less irrelevant as the EU cannot last much longer anyway. This point of view, alas, will not go down well with many people. To be a ‘Brexiter’ is conflated with being a pig-headed xenophobe who refuses to regard social justice issues as the most important battle in human history. The ‘debate’ is far too tribal in any case. The arguments of the ‘Ins’ are confusing and make no sense to me. They talk about democracy yet want to give it away, and they celebrate diversity but at the same time think a ‘one size fits all’ mindset will deliver that.

The irony of being called anti-European is that I am ardently pro-European. I’ve lived in four different EU countries, travelled all over and am married to an Italian Dane. Europe, to me, is the most diverse place in the world and has an amazing spread of history and culture. My ideal life would involve spending several months each year travelling around Europe in a camper van and getting to know it in an even more intimate manner. The EU is not Europe; it’s an abstract concept masking a faceless undemocratic organisation that funnels wealth from one place to another and keeps its modesty intact behind a fig leaf of supposed liberalism.

It doesn’t have to be that way. We could still have a Europe united around some core values other than money and power and capitalism. How about a Europe focused on an emerging eco consciousness? Or what about remaking it as a loose cooperative of bio-regions? Or perhaps, at the very least, we could all agree on a shared constitution founded on liberty, equality and fraternity. Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has suggested something along those lines, setting up a pan-European umbrella group called DiEM25 that aims to shake things up ‘gently, compassionately but firmly.’ Perhaps there could be more debate about what kind of Europe would be better suited to weathering the coming financial, ecological and energy shocks without causing so much collateral damage to both itself and other nations.

Until that happens we’ll just have to stand back and watch the fireworks. Big institutions like the EU are like skyscrapers; they don’t come crashing down to the ground without taking out plenty of other nearby buildings and the EU is like the leaning tower of Pisa on steroids.  Big things are an artefact of the age of oil – the future is necessarily smaller and more local. The best course of action is to stop arguing over whether it is best to be stood on top of the creaking tower it or beside it, and simply get the hell out of the way before it goes over. 


  1. Hi Jason,

    Nice to see a new post, I always enjoy your thoughts from the UK.

    I see many of the same things going on down here. As a society we’ve lived “high on the hog” and beyond our means for a while now and the bill is coming due – or a readjustment period until we settle back into the expectations of a more normal income (which isn’t much at all).

    Ha! I dream of 4% increases, they’ve been doing 5% to 6% increases year on year for local council rates. It is clearly not a sustainable policy. One year they sent me a letter to let me know that they’d capped the increase to less 5% for that year. It was 4.9% instead. Whoopee for them.

    Oh, the care sector. Well, I have no expectations of being able to retire now, and neither should you given we are about the same age. But I may well be retired by someone else (down the back paddock presumably) in a perfunctory manner. So much for the future of the care sector, I'm sure they'll feel bad about it, at least for a little while. Like everything else the care sector will carry on in a more or less functional manner, but the stories I hear from people working in it are not ones that I want personal experience with.

    Exactly, if you have an income during a downturn, you can sit around and wonder what all the fuss is about. The problem is with that sort of thinking is that the Golden Rule of “Do Unto Others” applies quite readily because if you benefit from a system that is sticking to other people within the system then sooner or later your lucky numbers will turn up – and then you’ll understand the pointy end of the system in detail.

    Europe has always had a brutal history. Why would a façade like the EU make any difference? I mean it is not as if the core problems actually went away. Vast centralised bureaucratic governments are usually a sign of the end game before something new and simpler rolls back into existence. As I’ve read previously, a difference in size is not a difference in kind.

    If you enjoy perquisites based on exploitation of people and third world countries, why would you not expect them to also want those perquisites? My gut feeling is that the only way forward out of the mess that we are in is to give up and let go of some of those perquisites. The whole immigration mess in Europe is to my mind an act of war. I mean what better way to overwhelm the EU and its allies and remove support for what is basically a proxy war in Syria. You can’t claim culture and niceness and all that stuff and have your proxy wars too – it is just not a good look. I’m an outsider to that mess, but that is more or less what I’m seeing.

    Oh, I enjoyed your book too. It was a deeply personal perspective and a thoroughly entertaining story. I saw shades of the dirty underside of the EU during that journey too.



    1. Hi Chris,

      I must admit that I feel puzzled by this whole EU argument we are having over here. People seem to approach it from such simplistic angles that whatever they say offers little, if any, insight. There are lists going around social media at present claiming all the benefits the EU has given Britain. It has things like 'cheap flights' and 'no smoking at work' on it.

      I am baffled by progressive and left-wing people passionately arguing that we should be ruled by a faceless anti-democratic meta-entity ruled by bankers ... just because 'the alternative would be worse'. They seem to be genuinely afraid of something ... perhaps the whole notion that being a part of the EU is to progressives what - say - being a member of a Christian denomination is to churchgoers.

      Puzzling times indeed. Anyway, glad you enjoyed the book :-)



  2. Hi Jason,

    You know it is very strange, but yours is the second blog entry that I came across with this sort of vibe and I don't visit many places at all on the Internet.

    The question I have for you to consider - and it is the same one I proposed to them is: How do you know that the thoughts that you are expressing are yours? I fail to believe that it is coincidence in the timing of the two blogs. Maybe it is, but maybe it isn't. I gave them one further bit of advice which I’ll also give you: The word "media" derives from the word "mediate". Just sayin...

    It is the mage that believes that they are somehow immune to magic that is easily ensnared in the trap of magic.



    1. "How do I know the thoughts I am experiencing are my own"?

      That's an interesting question, Chris. The short answer is: I don't. I consider thoughts and views etc. to be merely a kind of expressive energy that runs through both an individual's consciousness, as well as the collective consciousness. Naturally, our own egos want to claim these thoughts to be all their own work, but I suspect that this would merely be a case of fooling oneself.

      Nevertheless, if one has taken the time and effort to use one's intellect to gain an understanding of a certain situation - however limited that understanding might be in reality - one might claim to have a better quality of opinion on the matter compared to someone who has never thought about it.

      I think that's how propaganda works; you convince people that they have arrived at a certain opinion using their intellectual powers (whereas the opposite is true). This is very much the case at the moment in Europe with the anti-Muslim vibe. People claim that they "know" many refugees are rapists and jihadis - even if the evidence for such "knowing" is flimsy or non-existent. IMO it is their own fear and deep-seated insecurity (an ego trait) that is being exploited by the thaumaturgists in the media and politics to achieve nefarious ends.

      So, I think that intent is everything. Everything I ever write is done from a base intention of making the world a better place somehow (even if I can occasionally start to sound like I'm ranting). If my mind acts as a medium for the flow of ideas that are somewhat different to the mainstream view of reality then I can rest happy. Not that I actually believe there is an "I" when all is said and done, but you know what I mean.


  3. Hi Jason,

    Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I don't know either, but it is a question that should be asked and few people seem to want to ask that question. Of course, thaumaturgy at that level works on the most simple and base emotions and fear is certainly one of those. Plenty of that gear gets pedaled down here too. I largely ignore it and instead focus on what the environment is telling me and it isn't good.

    Of course, ranting is a fair response sometimes. The point of view I come at with these sorts of problems is: carrying capacity because if we've had too much, how then would we know it? And I reckon we're way past that point down here. The long moth balled desalination plant is expected to be turned on soon...

    It has been a very weird and long summer down here and things are looking very baked across a lot of the landscape now - and no one seems to notice or question it, which seems rather odd to me.

    As to the I, I'm not really sure, because my view is that we are some sort of a continuum of a story. That seems to fit my lived experience and understanding of how people look at the world. Dunno, it is an interesting question.



    1. Hi Chris,

      My take on the 'I' is that all life, as well as the observable universe and the many, many other non-physical universes, are all part of a great continuum of which we are a part. I heard it elegantly stated once (not sure who - probably some kind of native American tribal leader) that life is like a river that goes over a waterfall. On the way down, the water separates into billions of individual droplets, who shimmer and shine in their individuality, before hitting the bottom, whereupon they once again become part of the whole.

      I have also recently read (well, actually I'm still reading it) Tom Campbell's book "My Big TOE (Theory of Everything)" - which sets out to describe life, the universe and everything using the tools of science and logic. It's quite the mind feast, and very enjoyable too. Not to mention mind-expanding. Greg Moffit interviewed him about the book on his podcast Legalise Freedom (which, IMO, is one of the best podcasts on the internet) if you are interested.

      Carrying capacity? I guess it will assert its presence in ever greater ways like an unwelcome guest at a dinner party soon enough. Hardly anyone seems to be aware of it, and if they are then they are usually vociferously protesting that we need to pack up our bags and move to outer space. Not exactly a great plan.

      My own response is to throw my lot in with permaculture and forest gardening. I'm doing a PDC devised by Patrick Whitefield, who is a temperate climate permit guru who sadly died last year. Weirdly, I get automated emails from him regarding the course with invitations to contact him if I have any queries ... the mind boggles.


  4. Jason,

    Wow, your post office was privatized? What does that mean for mail? Our post office has half hours now, closing at noon, but we are very rural so it might be reasonable. I'd like to know how the EU takes advantage of the 3rd world? It is eery how similar some of the politics are around the first world, but then, I think it is more or less the same cabal behind it all, so no wonder the patterns are in lock step.

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  6. All
    Onething. We still call it Royal Mail, so that is alright then, really, isn’t it?

    I have valued you particular guys for a good while now.

    Well … for both good and not so good, Britain is European, period. I happen to think Russia is also European, and that 'we' have fumbled it badly. I don't do the anti-Putin bit. I have remarked before somewhere else that NG pipelines and a good number of other things would be best kept working for the time being.

    It would be good though if we could up the preparations in advance for the next phase. It is industrial civilisation beginning decline we are talking about not just a dysfunctional EU. But you guys know this stuff already.

    Yes the EU is dysfunctional, but I don't think we are 'ruled by it', rather mostly just by 'market rules'. We are stuck with global corporate structures and lobbyists and finance which has come unstuck. Collective government EU policies for both Greece and refugees of course are damnable, and deliberately so it seems. The lack of employment for millions of young people is not sustainable. But ... we could remember the dysfunction of l'Ancien Regime that made the Revolution seem a great idea at the time. I am careful what I wish for. Can Yanis et al stop the final hijack – whether Brits are in or out - of what social and economic solidarity remains to us without the whole caboodle coming down on top?

    I voted 'out' back in 1970s because I was dimly aware of what we would get. However this year I guess I follow Corbyn. Swallow hard; take it. In my opinion take care of those refugees. I know the last 30 years have created many ‘modernised’ social wastelands across much of Britain because of so-called de-industrialisation. People have had a hard job remembering who they are anymore, and we always needed the solidarity of the Labour Movement to subsume working class differences and differentials. The Scots working class seems finally to have woken up to the reality that they have been 'disappeared'. The Scot Nat alternative seems rational for the time being, perhaps including EU membership? Much of England does not have such an obvious rational choice.

    There is still some social glue: let’s stick with it. My stories of NHS and care sector go back to the 50s. I worked in a hospital for a few months when I was 22 in a very bad long winter: I met or saw some heroic people both at the giving and receiving end. Admin and funding limitation and poor knowledge in key areas could be damnable. All life and death was there! ... to paraphrase a popular Sunday Newspaper slogan of the day.

    It’s largely, IMHO, the still inadequate NHS and allied trades nevertheless that still keep us together, and the NHS has done so for a long time, despite our GPs always having been self-employed, and needing their ‘gold back in the day, as Nye Bevan put it, to persuade them into the NHS in the first place.

    Very best whatever


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