This last week I have had my eyes and ears assaulted every time I suffered accidental exposure to the mainstream media. It’s easy enough to ignore radio and television, but the internet is a different kettle of fish, and it was mostly via this that I learned about two major new consumer events that we are expected to partake in. The first is Black Friday. First came the emails telling me that certain bargains could be had on this auspicious date. Then came the overheard snatches of radio, and finally, last Friday, the internet went into fever pitch talking about this ‘Black Friday’.
But what is it? Neither I nor anyone else I spoke to had heard of it before. You probably already know. It’s when Americans, stuffed to the gills with undigested turkey and various chemical pseudo foods, fight one another to buy cheap Chinese junk on credit. People are often injured and sometimes killed in the melees that ensue - and now our political and media overlords would like us to get involved in the action too - cue a million and one ‘Black Friday’ adverts.
As if that weren’t enough, people barely had time to rip through the semi-impenetrable plastic packaging on their junk before Cyber Monday was upon us! Yesterday was the day when we were being urged not to even bother getting off our backsides to fight other consumers - we could do it all online! Cue a million and one Cyber Monday adverts.
Does this all sound just a little bit desperate? If it does then I’m afraid you’re in the minority because the UK is ‘booming’ don’t you know. Personal credit has now expanded to record levels, manufacturing is ‘on track’, the stock market is thrusting through the upper atmosphere and once again people are treating their houses like giant brick boxes that defecate bundles of cash. “Greed is good,” says the mayor of London and “Greens are evil,” says the “environment minister”. It’s like the 1980s all over again but without the shoulder pads.
What’s more, the season of uber Consumption is upon us. One recent newspaper op-ed I spotted opined “Chistmas is that exciting time when everyone gets to find out which new Apple product has been sitting under the tree for the last month.” It wasn’t even said in mirth - it was a serious article.
Perhaps it’s time for a dose of reality. Here are some random unscientific off-message things I noticed recently:
- UK personal debt is now so high that if it were £10 notes stapled together end to end they would stretch to the Moon and back 26 times
- The Nobel winning economist Nouriel Roubini has noticed that big scary housing bubbles are popping up in all the usual places - two years later than practically everyone else whose blogs are listed down the right hand side of this page
- Our government is selling everything that is not nailed down. To the Chinese. Or anyone with cash, really. They just sold the 500 year-old Royal Mail postal service. Kerching! And the future of our energy supply. Kerching! Today they are selling 40% of their Eurotunnel holding. Kerching! The (amazingly good - for now) National Health Service will be next. Double kerching! They are even selling our pig semen to the Chinese. Kerching!
- Food poverty has reached a ‘public health emergency’ level. In my area alone a woman has set up a soup kitchen and the soup is made from the leftovers of perfectly good food that has been thrown out by supermarkets
- The Royal Bank of Scotland has become a predatory asset stripper and is forcing small companies to go bust so that it can liquidise them and sell the assets to prop up its own ailing balance sheets
- The once-proud Cooperative Bank, admired for its ethics, has been taken over by a couple of US hedge funds. They insist they will still be ‘ethical’ and anyone who believes this is welcome to send me £20 in the (privatised) mail which I promise I will donate to good causes
Just one word floats to the top of my consciousness when I read and hear about these things on a daily basis: cannibalism. Although probably an early non-pc slur on the good character of the Carib people, cannibalism is defined as “The act or practice of other humans eating the flesh or internal organs of other humans.”
Okay, so outside the occasional gruesome story about real-life cannibalism, usually involving mild-mannered basement-owning Belgians, there probably isn’t much actual munching of human flesh going on as we speak. But elements of this human society and economy that we have constructed seem to be doing a very good impression of it. As the ability to make an honest profit out of anything recedes into the rearview mirror, how else can a profit be made? The material limits to growth have been reached and we have done our damnedest to pretend this isn’t so. We have predated upon other continents in the form of invasions and colonisations, predated upon the biosphere of the planet by way of industrialism and consumer culture and various other isms and we have predated upon the next several dozen generations by building up huge financial and ecological debts. Who else is there to predate upon?
Yes, there are still a few resources to plunder that haven’t been converted to cash and toxic waste yet. Just by raising my head I can look out over the bay and see the occasional beam trawler coming back into port after several days at sea catching and killing every life form that happens to have ended up in its nets. And there are still large portions of the rain forests not yet monetised - just as there are still oil wells to exploit and people who have yet to be enslaved by free trade deals.
But the fact of the matter remains, as the tide goes out not all boats fall equally. Those in power - let us call them the core - quite like the position they are in and have no desire to relinquish it. Nothing surprising there given our genetic lineage, you try grabbing a chunk of recently killed meat out of the hands of a wild chimp and see how he reacts. To keep our elite in the manner that they are used to means that, just like the slave traders of yore, they need to figuratively sell us down the river. Which is why the prime minister David Cameron and a bunch of his favourite corporate lobbyists are in China (again).
I don’t know about you but the sight of a bunch of grinning semi-elected toffs, who claim to represent the interests of the British people, shaking hands with Chinese billionaires and gibbering on about nuclear waste and pig spunk has put me right off my breakfast (hold the bacon). And you’d at least think the Chinese would be happy with all this free money and pork juice; maybe they are, but this is what they really think of us, according to the China Global Times:
"The UK is highly replaceable in China's Europe diplomacy. The UK is no longer any so-called 'big country'; it is an old European country suitable for travel and study abroad with a few good football teams.”
Ouch! The truth hurts, doesn’t it? I'm not even sure they are right about the football teams either, because they run on foreign money.
So, selling as much as we can for short term gain but very long-term misery to the currently cash-rich Chinese for a fistful of remninbi is now government policy. But the real pot boiling comes in the form of what they are doing on the three fronts that matter most: energy, food and health. This can be summarised as follows:
Backing the wrong energy horses and hobbling the right ones. The guvmint will only consider energy projects if large sums of money can be made out of them by corporations. The more technical, complex and centralised the better. Hence our ‘new nuclear century’. We will apparently need 30 new nuclear power stations in the next seven years if we are to avoid the lights going off. Of course, this is never going to happen, and given that the prime minister has said he wants to ‘get rid of the green crap’ it’s unlikely that renewable energy is going to be anything other than a punch bag.
Meanwhile, healthcare is being gutted. The NHS is a remarkable system and whenever I encounter it I am always impressed by the dedication of the doctors and nurses - but it’s also a product of the oil age. It’s already creaking and groaning like a geriatric lady who has fallen out of her hospital bed and the last thing it needs is a bunch of idealogical bovver boys putting the boot in as it writhes on the ward floor. What’s more, the NHS is infected with superbugs who suck off the system in the form of huge consultancy fees like some kind of blood sucking parasite. Given a bit more time we might indeed be returning to an earlier form of blood-sucking medicinal practice: leeches.
And food. The conquest of the supermarkets is complete and they have managed to obliterate every last high street (the few shops that survive only do so because of the diehard group of prescient people who refuse to shop in supermarkets) and given everyone the impression that the only way food can be delivered to your plate is in a vast truck that has travelled hundreds if not thousand of miles. The supermarkets are now thankfully cannibalising one another - my local (smallish) town of Penzance now has nine of the beasts. Something’s gotta give.
So what do you do if your government is selling off the state’s assets, building a future famine machine and placing explosive nuclear detonators around your homeland? One option is just to give in. Abandon modern life as a bad idea, take off all your clothes and walk back into the sea like Reginald Perrin (see picture above which Blogger refuses to place in the correct narrative spot).
Admittedly this does hold some appeal, but a far more practical action would be to stop allowing negativity to overwhelm you and get on with creating an alternative reality. I’m a believer that actions speak louder than words. Words, of course, speak louder than thoughts, and thoughts have their uses too - so an ideal approach would involve all three: actions, words and thought.
Angels and Demons
All of us have some control over our lives. Sometimes it may not feel like it, but it is, in fact, true. Here’s an exercise. Turn off the TV, radio, computer and the microchip implanted in your brain by Google and get a piece of paper and a pencil. At the centre of the piece of paper draw a circle that represents yourself (or a square, if you’re a technologist). Down one side of the page write up a list of Demons. These are the things that want to put you in their cannibal pot, broil the flesh off your bones and eat you up with a helping of barbecue sauce. They are the negative things in your life and the things that hold you back from the goal of having a positive effect on the world (a goal which also tends to make you a happy, balanced person too). You can be inventive here and your list might look something like this - although it can be as long as you like:
- The Job Centre staff are always insulting my intelligence
- I can’t stop smoking
- I get migraines
- I have negative thoughts that keep me awake at night
- The government is trying to destroy everything and it depresses me
- My unscrupulous landlord is like a toad squatting on my life - he stores broken down washing machines in the bathroom because he can’t be bothered to move them
When you have made a list of Demons, make a list of Angels i.e. things that you are grateful for. This can go down the other side of the page and might include:
- I love walking in the local woods
- I’m fascinated by taking things to bits to see how they work
- My parents are very supportive of me
- The memory of watching the sunset in Spain with my ex-girlfriend, drinking a glass of delicious red wine eating some amazing smoked ham still inspires me
To start with you might not have a very long list, but write down the factors and objects you have control over and draw a line from the circle at the middle of the page to each one. Here are some examples of things you might have control over:
- Your health
- Plenty of free time (you are unemployed because your degree turned out to be worthless)
- A battered 1986 Ford Fiesta
- Your desire to lead a better life
- A box of tools someone is giving away on Freecycle
- A rented flat in a poor part of Birmingham
- An Amazon gift voucher from your aunt
Or, viewed another way, perhaps it is a chance to buy a book on washing machine mechanics, learn how to gut them of electronics and re-tool them to run on lower tech for a salvage industrial future and in the process create a niche career (with great prospects) that will no doubt launch you on a path that may well end up in 20 years’ time with you owning a piece of forest land with a straw bale-built workshop on it where you and your two grateful apprentices, who happen to be your own teenage children, fix up broken consumer era products as large spotted pigs roam around outside (quality, acorn fed smoked ham, produced in mini-smoke houses bodged from some scrap office filing cabinets is one of your several other lines of income) and a small hand-carved wind turbine sits on the roof trickle feeding a battery that you and your lovely wife (who was attracted to you because of your positive attitude to life) use for lights and music in the evenings as you both enjoy a glass of home-brewed elderberry wine and a morsel of your choicest smoked ham.
Which situation would you prefer?
The point of exercises like these are to focus the mind on what, realistically, we are able to control, and what we can do with that to achieve a better life. Anyone who begins to think in this manner stands a much better chance of weathering the substantial chaos heading our way as the financial and ecological screws tighten more and more. At its essence is the recognition that the industrial system that delivers shiny new products to us as if by magic every Black Friday is not going to continue forever. And when it winds down completely the majority of people are going to realise that they have a very long list of Demons down one side of their page, scant few Angels (except, perhaps, fond memories of Cyber Monday 2013) and very few things that they can realistically claim to have control over.
Translate thoughts into actions and take back the control before it is too late. Don’t put it off - the clock is ticking!