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Archive for August, 2010

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I was along at a writers workshop a couple of weeks ago. We had a very interesting speaker there, who had worked extensively in Hollywood, across the whole spectrum of writing and producing movies. So as you can imagine he had a lot of stories to tell.

However, one thing that he said that really struck me was about how the human mind works. With a story, you need to be able to connect emotionally with your audience, and we can all instinctively understand that. However he then went on to expand on that idea a little more and added this pertinant observation:

People who have suffered some head trauma or injury, that has resulted in their emotional responses being blocked or or otherwise eliminated, do not become like Spock and get all logical and terribly rational.  Instead what happen is that they can’t make decisions.  If they are presented with a choice, they are thrown into confusion, and can’t pick one option over another. They just go round and round in circles, going – maybe that one, or that one, or that…

For whatever reason, we need to have some sort of emotional investment in the choices and decisions we make. Otherwise we can’t make a decision.

Now isn’t that interesting – and aren’t the consequences fascinating.

The squigee mass of tissues and hormones and chemistry that is sloshing around inside our skulls, in some respects isn’t that intelligent at all. We aren’t so different afterall from a sea-slug, or a lizard …or whatever.

We are less “rational creatures”, as we are “rationalising creatures”.

The implications of that are a bit depressing really. It means we are going to make decisions on the basis of how we feel, not on whatever the objective merits are. And if our emotions can be manipulated, so can our decisions. Although I suppose any salesman and marketer could have told you that.

But it also means we make political decisions on the basis of “the Team”.

If you feel a connection to the Blue team then you vote for the blue team, and if you are with the Red team, you vote red. Right or wrong you vote where your heart lies: because you want to, because you want to believe.

And so things continue to go around in circles, just as before. Our political dynamic maintains the status quo – and continues to spin on the spot.

What happens in elections at the moment, is that 90% of the vote goes to the Red or Blue teams. The margin vote, that unattached 10%, either votes for some fringe party (that is doomed to be irrelevant), or it is the swing vote that simply pushes the result one way or the other. In general, the two major block simply cancel each other out and the decision is made between them by an essentially unaligned minority at the fringes. All good bell curve stuff. But it also means there is zero chance that a third option might be taken. It is either Red or Blue, because the vast bulk of the population are locked into their emotional connection and investment.

Standing up and saying “Orange” will result in you being at best ignored, or at worst Stoned (in the Biblical sense, not the Californian sense).

Pretty much the only way out of that cul-de-sac is some form of co-opting of one of the sides. That can happen when just the right alignment of forces swings the philosophical ideology of a major party into a different orientation. Or what is more usual – a political party and philosophy becomes so moribund and senescent that it has slid into irrelevance, and the opposition is left ascendant with no real competition. That also is an unstable configuration and ripe for exploitation and corruption, so all the opposition elements will gradually coalesce around any viable parts of the opposition party and transform it into something new. That is the essence of a revolution incidentally.

It still leaves it a two party system in the end though, so really, nothing changes does it. It is all just ebbs and flows. Some tides are bigger than others, but it is just the same slop, backwards and forwards.

I might hope and dream of something a bit more clever and rational than that.

But that would probably require an incredible genetic engineering project to change humans into something other than what we are. In the end we are the products and prisoners of our own biology – and we have to work with what we’ve got.

Roll on the revolution… one day…

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Real Life 3

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Talking about democracy and voting… I said in the first “Real Life” essay that I wouldn’t be voting in the upcoming local body elections.
Why not?
Because it is a pointless exercise, whatever the Radio ads may say.
In real life, the system is a lock. Meaning it is all locked up comprehensively.

And here is why – Because there are barriers, or hurdles to participation.

In theory that is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact a decent argument can be made that it is even a necessary thing. It suppresses the lunatic fringe. And anyone who has had even a passing connection with politics will know that there is most definitely a lunatic fringe. Who let them out of their padded cells one shudders to think, but they turn up with distressing regularity at political events. Some of them are even in the crowd.

However, leaving that issue to the side, lets take a look at the practical real world effects of the hurdles that exist in politics. And the real, actual, on the ground effect is that the people and organisations that already exist and are part of the food chain and ecosystem of the whole body-politic are the only ones that get a look in.

Whether it was designed that way, or has been consciously manipulated that way, or has just evolved over time that way, it is all now a closed shop that serves the purposes of those on the inside. It is systems capture and status quo maintenance for The-Powers-That-Be (TPTB).

In a purely mathematical sense, you can have a spectrum that spans from completely open to completely close. Therefore if you had a half open system, half the aspirants can enter.

But not in real life.

In real life, the bar just needs to be set high enough. (ohh and it so is)

As it happens that isn’t really that high at all in generally. In order to win an election there are some pretty basic and simple rules to follow. If you do X, Y and Z, then you are pretty well home. That is in fact what the various political parties do with their candidates all the time. But it is also trickier than it looks.

The typical democratic scenario is you have two parties competing for Office. They(x) stick up bill boards. They(y) put letters in your mailbox. And they(z) have a few public meetings. Depending on where the electoral cycle is at the time, you then either get Tweedle-dum or Tweedle-dee elected.

So what is to stop an exciting and brand new face popping up and taking this tired old game by the scruff of its neck and injecting some much needed vim and vigour, some radical new ideas, and changing things for the better?

…REALITY!!!

So don’t even start to deceive yourself that it can be anything different.

Look at the whole Barak Obama situation if you want a for-instance: “Change you can believe in” …Riiight.

The real life answer to why it always works out this way is this:

1.)   Whatever the level that the hurdle is set at, it is definitely too high for one person to do alone.

2.)   Talking a bunch of people into being your election team is super difficult – unless you co-opt or otherwise utilise an existing team and structure.

3.)   That is why people join political parties, because the team is already in place.

4.)   But once you join the team, you are instantly constrained by the dynamics and imperatives of that team. You become a functionary of that team, not a force for change.

5.)   99.9 percent of the population has Zero interest is politics. And by that I mean they either tune out the instant it is mentioned, or they tune out the instant you ask them to get involved.

6.)   For all the sound and fury that you might hear around the water cooler or on talkback radio, pretty much nobody will actually get off their arse and do something practical and active in pursuit of a political objective.

7.)   It costs – in time, energy and money to be involved in politics. And there is always that certain random element involved which means there are no guarantees. If you do actually put in the time and money, that is the minimum requirement, you can still lose the election and then you have done your dough. Most people are simply not willing to gamble on that sort of investment.

8.)   The random element comes from the human element. You stand up on your soap box and proclaim your agenda and platform. And then you get to see it ripped to shreds, misrepresented, and ignored. The electorate you are talking to is asleep, braindead, or deranged apparently.

9.)   Which is why the old parties know that none of that stuff matters and they actually only pay lip service to it.

10.)  What they do is that good old Public-Relations and propaganda stuff that has been around since, well probably forever, but definitely since Goebbles.  On that note, it is enlightening to see what his guiding principles were: http://www.quotesdaddy.com/author/Joseph+Goebbels

11.)  There is no vital exchange and competition between contestants in an election, there is only the same old trite and meaningless pap wheeled out time after time

12.)  Why? Because it works. It manages to offend no-one and it sounds like a reasonable facsimilie of intelligent conversation and debate.

13.)  Actually – the electorate doesn’t want change. It wants things not to change. It doesn’t want bold new ideas, it wants to be confirmed in its habits and prejudices.

14.)  If some-one actually came along with a radical agenda, they would certainly never make it passed the candidate selection process in an established party.

15.)  And if some-one did have the money and wherewithal to come in as an outsider and buy their way into a position of being a serious contender, then one Party or another would proceed to cuddle up close and welcome them as the epitome of everything they believe too. Once that lethal embrace happens, it is only a matter of time before they are neutralised.

16.)  More to the point, to be elected into the system is to become part of the system. You become obliged to work within its norms and conventions.

17.)  What many a radical has found, is that to get elected as a bolter, is to find yourself in a committee structure of governance that is completely under the domination of the established parties. They hold every other vote at the table and your lonely one is completely irrelevant.

18.)  In order to have power in the committees means to have a team of your own all dedicated to the same objective. In theory, the structures of democratic politics limit the potential for abuse of power by diluting the power of individuals. But in fact it just means that a clique or cabal ends up dominating the power instead.

19.)  If you wanted to sweep into power as a brand new cohesive team, then the cost and organisational power needed increases exponentially. Suddenly the apparent hurdle to entry is revealed to be orders of magnitude harder and higher than is commonly imagined. It isn’t just one person that needs to get elected, it is 10, or twenty, or more. Just for the hell of it, join a political campaign sometime and see what is involved. The scale of it even for a small election is impressive. Now multiply that for a whole region and add the complication that for every new person you want to have elected from your Ticket, the job gets exponentially harder.

20.)  It is not just a minor foible that in national elections the two main parties are so evenly balanced. Even when one party is swept out of power in a “Landslide”, when the dusts has all settled what you find is that around 90 percent of the incumbent go straight back to their regular seats, save for a little bit of minor shuffling about. The new faces wouldn’t push past about the 10% mark. Unsurprisingly, they aren’t going to be changing anything.

21.)  Getting more than 50% of the electorate to vote for you is staggeringly difficult, even with an experienced and dedicated party machine behind you.

22.)  Probably that just comes down to Norm Curve sorts of things. You can’t beat the maths. If you stand up and say X, there will be just as many people stand up and say Y. So… people are ornery and contrary and fill the spectrum in all directions. So regardless of how brilliant your position is and how stupid theirs is, you are only ever going to win by a slim margin even in the best of circumstances.

So. Add it all up and what do you get?   (besides 253)

You can’t beat the maths. You can’t beat the establishment. And you can’t reform it from the inside, because the inside is a firmly established network of interlocking interests and obligations. It has huge mass and momentum dedicated to maintaining the status quo, because that is what all the players involved want it to do. Changing anything would threaten existing privileges and perquisites – there WILL be pushback.

As Sharon O’Neill sang – “nobody has ever taken the whole world on and won”.  (0:55)

You may not be taking the whole world on by trying to enter politics to change things, but the whole machine is a lot, lot bigger than you think it is – and you really are just one small little person.

Even big rich people aren’t rich and big enough to change the system. If you enter into the system you are already lost, you will be co-opted and compromised. The system is fixed and locked, and has been for a long, long time. Far longer than you have been around.

If the system is the problem, then the only solution is to break it. You wont change it any other way.

And voting certainly won’t change anything.

If anyone comes along and tells you to vote for “change”, or that they will be “an agent of change”, throw rotten eggs at them. They are either a liar or a fool – and someone, either them or you, is being conned.

My vote is to break and destroy the system. Yes, that would be a seriously painful process.  But I also believe that to leave things as they are, to continue on as usual, will turn out to be even more painful and destructive.

The status quo must go – or it will destroy us.

It is destroying us.

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More Charles

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Here is another link to  a Charles H. Smith essay.

http://www.oftwominds.com/blogaug10/pragmatic-technology08-10.html

He keeps coming up with gems.

Extract:

There are always two “fixes” to all our problems: large-scale “fixes” over which we[the little peoplehave little control, and small-scale fixes over which we have near-total control.

Large-scale “fixes” (in parentheses because they often exacerbate the problem) are inherently appealing to humanity’s sense of grandeur and self-importance: we’re going to reshape the world, etc.

Their basic simplicity is also inherently appealing: too many poor people in coastal cities? Cut down the rainforest and build a new capital. Poor African country is short of electrical power? Build a gargantuan dam. And so on. The large-scale “fix” is attractive because it offers a big, one-time fix that is controlled by the State or other central power. It also offers a concentration of money which is ripe for exploitation…

Small-scale fixes are intrinsically messy, uncertain and difficult to quantify. Water purification is a key technology in Third World countries with no centralized system of distributing purified water.

The large-scale technologically appealing “fix” is to construct large Western-style water purification plants, at enormous expense…

The pragmatic “fix” to purify water is decentralized, outside the control of Empires and Power Elites, extremely cheap and thus extremely unprofitable. It turns out that filling thin clear-plastic bottles with tainted water and leaving them in direct sunlight for half a day purifies the water for zero cost. Sunlight includes some very energetic photons, and these tiny packets of energy disrupt the cell walls of bacteria, viruses and other biological contaminants, killing them. (There are limits to this “technology;” sunlight does not extract heavy metals like lead from water)…

This “fix” has no technological appeal and no profit margin to exploit, hence it is marginalized both politically and financially…

And as always, the most important question is: cui bono? To whose benefit?

A truthful answer illuminates all that those who benefit disproportionately seek to hide, misrepresent or sell as beneficial to all.

We should also keep in mind this bit of wisdom: “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” (Leo Tolstoy)

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Speaking of what really happens in real life. This was another little piece of musing that occurred to me this afternoon.

I happened to be in the local Mall this afternoon. As I enter it there is a hair salon to my right, then another one a couple of shops in to my left. Both doing OK business apparently.

As the Mall branches out, there is a couple of jewellery shops.

Then a bit further on is an island display outlet selling premium sunglasses, Oakley and the like. They even had the temerity to have a sign up saying “Sale – $75 off”. Good grief, how much were they selling them for anyway. And why on gods green earth would anyone have even considered paying that much for them in the first place?

Lastly, as I walked into the Chemist’s shop where I was going, the whole front of the shop is given over to cosmetics displays.

Hmmm….!!!

Well clearly we are not in a depression – or a recession either now are we. If there is that much discretionary money still flying around to spend on this sort of crap, we can’t be hurting too badly.

When I start to see the nail salons closing down and all the rest of these waste of space retailers disappearing, then I will know that there is a genuine crunch hitting home hard enough to reform the economy and attitudes.

Until then, all the talk about the economy is just petulant whining.

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PS

Interesting that most of this is female oriented.

I wonder where the male discretionary spending is going?

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PPS.

Since we are talking about what actually happens in real life, then I shouldn’t hold my breath waiting for the hair salons to close.  Hell will freeze over before women stop going to get their hair done.

Whatever the deep psychological motivator for it all is, there is precious little that comes higher on the discretionary spending priority list for the vast majority of women.

So while they will say they do it to look pretty – and I am thinking: too late.  In the real world it is much,much better if you don’t say that out loud.

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Real Life

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The thing about real life is that it seldom actually works out the way we would like it to. We have to conform to it rather than the other way around.

Even if I might be keen on a revolution, the rest of the world is happy going along doing its own thing, which mostly involves not having a revolution.

And from the point of view of everyone else, that fair enough and perfectly rational too. What point is there in a revolution for anybody else? The way they see it that wouldn’t particularly advance their interests, that would just advance mine.

For anybody else, for one perceived reason or another, their interests lie in maintaining the status quo. I wont bother expounding on the psychology of the common herd cleaving to their chains because it is the only thing they know. But for those with some sort of wealth and power to protect, their interests are obvious.

Why would they want to change anything. Their position and privileges have come from circumstances being the way they are. They don’t want to launch into radical reforms that would or could threaten that. They want things to stay the same – or more specifically; they want them to go back to the way they were.  They are just as aware as everyone else that we are in a financial crunch, they have more to lose after all. But for them the solution is to try and engineer a “recovery” by any means possible.  So it is “back to the future” as fast as they can go.

The whining and grizzling is always about when the “Recovery” comes, and when it gets back to “Normal”. Never realising that what has just gone away was never “Normal”, it was only ever just a bubble blown economy that was unsustainable. That which is unsustainable will inevitably fail. And even more to the point, it was the very actions of the rich and powerful that helped created the unsustainable situation in the first place. So their plan for recovery (of their position) is to work harder to prop up the unsustainable. Or – in real life – to use your money and work to prop up their position. Utilise the government resources to borrow and spend. Stimulus spending they call it.

Giving it fancy names doesn’t change reality. It is exactly the same thing as using your credit card to pay for the rent and the groceries. Using debt to finance your lifestyle or to pay off other debts is not a solution and cannot work: whatever any fancy economist would like to tell you – and remember who is paying them by the way.

People will change what they are doing when they don’t have any other choices anymore. They will move forward into a new paradigm only when they can no longer find any way to return back to the old one.

When does that happen, when will things get to a point where reforms can happen?

Not for a long time I am afraid. Things will have to get really, really bleak before the only route out is to give up on all that went before and strike a new pathway.

As an interesting addendum to the Paul Homes post: there were a number of the usual shills popping out of the woodwork to talk it up and say that things really weren’t as bad as all that, and that it would all turn around soon. They were all “chambers of commerce” this, and “professional association” of that – Tossers.

So, what are we left with?

Well, pretty much nothing. Nothing will change at this point. We will keep trying to scrabble backwards a fast as we can, trying to maintain our position and avoid sliding into the poo. Or we will keep spinning on the spot, not knowing which way is forward. Much the same thing really.

And surprise, surprise, it will keep on like this for long, long time and more and more people will get ground into the dirt under the spinning tracks of our bogged economy. It is going to hurt a lot of people for a long time. I might be surprised by events, but I expect we will still be in much the same position five years from now, except that we will have managed to have dug ourselves in deeper.

There are local body elections coming up shortly here in Auckland. I wont be voting. There seriously is no point. The only people who will win are the politicians. And guess what, they are the problem. We treat our democratic system as some sort of sacred cow. It is not. It is pretty much the source of our problems. Whatever the high ideals of it might have been when it was instituted, it is now a thoroughly corrupt and gamed system.

To join it in the hopes that you could reform it is to be deeply deluded. The system is the problem. When Paul Holmes said there is nothing the politicians can do, he was spot on. Although not for the reasons he was thinking of I suspect.

The political economy is a vast system of interrelated dependencies and its continued survival is its first priority. To work within it, is to work to sustain it. I am not going to do that. I want to break it.

Breaking it would unquestionably hurt a serious lot of people. The only question is; would maintaining it hurt even more people?

That is going to have to be up to every individual to answer for themselves as to how they would be affected. And to where their hopes for the future lie.

And that comes down to belief.

That’s where is all gets rather interesting. Everyone will know very well that times are bad. The question becomes then, what will they believe is the solution to their problems.

There you fall into the domain and realm of propaganda and proselytizing. People lying and spinning their version of Truth. Look out for the Crusades when prophets find fertile soil to till.  (even me)

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Have we reached a tipping point?

Paul Holmes wrote an interesting Op-ed in the Herald over the weekend

Does it mean something especially? Maybe, maybe not.

But it is most interesting to see this put so bluntly in a major paper and by a major media figure.

Here are a couple of extracts:

Our worst fears are being realised

~ By Paul Holmes 6:00 PM Sunday Aug 8, 2010

The economy is tanking.

Let us push away all the pink fluff and the political talk and the fine words and face it.

The economy is heading south very deeply and very sharply. It is happening now. What we all dreaded is happening.

We all have the numbers that show it and, if you are the kind of person who keeps any eye out, you will know it instinctively.

What makes it a really lonely feeling is that we all know – those of us who watch these things and have been round for awhile – that neither the politicians nor their officials have an idea in hell about what to do.

It is a worldwide thing and there is no answer except the economic cycle itself.

But Bill English has not one idea what to do apart from maintaining his innate common sense and thrift and Labour and David Cunliffe have no idea either.

Mr Cunliffe may rage about the economy and the unemployment numbers in the House and that is fine because it is his job to do so.

But neither David nor Bill, nor any of them, has any answer to the hopelessness of our economy whatsoever.

This is because, while governments can re-arrange spending and figures and the chairs on Titanic, they cannot invent money. Government in this situation is the Wizard of Oz and may as well not exist. In fact, it doesn’t.

Bill and David are not to be blamed. When the shit hits the fan, they can do nothing.

We allow them to play the political game and we participate in it because this is a democracy and, with it, we get relative freedom of action and speech, but we know there ain’t no answers when things are falling out the bottom of a money bucket that is already deep down an empty well.

Here’s the link to the whole article. (let me know if this link dies)

Paul finished up by saying:

But, most importantly, people were not spending. Believe me, it took a lot of work to get people to do so. And where, last year, people bought gaily on their Eftpos cards, this year more of them wanted to put their purchase on the credit card. Eftpos, after all, is a brutal, cash-out way to buy. People simply did not have the cash.

There was something else. It was a shock. I picked it up quickly because, well, I am attuned to this kind of thing because it is what my job and my life are all about, but suddenly my Recession Deal joke wasn’t funny. Suddenly, the very word “recession” was not funny and I stopped using it. It no longer worked and I did not want to humiliate.

Suddenly, last weekend, I came to understand something of how bad things are with us. The figures released this week just confirm it. I don’t know what to do about it but in the last six weeks the economy ground to a halt.

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Leaving aside for the moment any commentary on how “Shocked” Paulie was…

Whether or not you credit his analysis at all, it is interesting that at the very least people finally seem to be believing we are infact in a Recession.

Do they realise that it could go on for a very long time and get a lot worse yet?

I have written previously about “Sufficient Conditions”, this is the first step towards that.

First you have to believe that it is possible – and then that it is really happening.

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