When capitalism hijacks your dreams

The other day I had a dream I was on holiday in India. More specifically, I was wandering around some temples and if I remember correctly- I was having a rather amicable time. The ancient architecture was interesting and the walls were covered with ivy. After a while some mystics invited me into their house and -to my delight- started performing an enjoyable rhythmic piece on their drums. They were playing to me and some other tourists that also had been invited in for this special occasion. All was going well until the point where they stopped. As I tried to leave they started demanding money for their performance from me and the other tourists. It transpired that this ostensibly spontaneous and welcoming performance was in fact just a ruse to make money. So I politely refused, got annoyed and promptly woke up.

Upon my awakening, I groggily pondered about travel, mass tourism and human relationships in a capitalist system. What struck me was that capitalism has created a global society which is so obsessed around monetary exchange as the main driver behind human behavioural dynamics that even in the netherworlds of dreams, it’s now not uncommon for musical mystics to demand cash for their talents.

It seems that nothing is sacred any more. The next step from disingenuous buskers infiltrating rapid-eye movement sleep would probably be something like full-on advertising in our dreams, such as in this Futurama episode. Maybe, one day the ‘Mad-men’ who spend their days tirelessly trying to manipulate us into buying stuff we don’t need will manage to achieve this. It’s really not all that far-fetched seeing as the techniques in modern marketing already attempt to alter or exploit our subconscious feelings, as Adam Curtis demonstrates in his brilliant four-hour long documentary, The Century of the Self.

Perhaps, one day advertising will become so smart that our brains could be programmed to dream about certain products without us even realising- maybe this already happens. Maybe, those Indian mystics were actually paid by the Indian tourism board to try and convince me to visit the country.

We’re heading to a strange place. When the sole underlying basis for our existence is to pursue short-term profit, notions such as generosity or openness quickly dissolve into obsolescence. These ideas become redundant when humanity’s only goal is making money.

It’s a problem which is rarely talked about. Sure, most of us realise that industrial capitalism is rapaciously destroying the world’s ecosystems and creating a class of super-exploited humans. But I think the way that capitalism affects our every-day behaviours is overlooked. When all our actions are underwritten by the words ‘What’s in it for me?’ we have a serious collective problem. After all, why would any musicians spontaneously play strangers a piece when they’ve been brought up their whole lives to make money from everything- yes I’m talking to you, dream-buskers.

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The left and migration. Part 2: extrapolating hypothetical scenarios with Iceland and how writing pretentious titles gives me an inflated sense of self-importance

In ‘part 1’, which currently has a dizzying 32 views clocked up, I argued that a substantial number of leftist-environmentalists are deeply contradictory in that they simultaneously bemoan exponential industrial growth but invoke the ‘It boosts the supply side of the economy!’ argument when defending mass immigration. In ‘part 2’, I am going full-UKIP and will be trying to defend the position that sometimes concerns about mass immigration and its effects on the social and cultural dynamics of a country can be justified. I did say sometimes, so please keep your pitchforks firmly in your sheds for now!

I once adhered to the widely-held leftist mantra that anyone worried about unregulated mass immigration must be a racist, so how did I come round to what is essentially a socially conservative viewpoint? After all, I still consider myself on the far-left on most issues. Well, in short, I played the devil’s advocate for so long that I actually ended up convincing myself that my previous stance was wrong. Also, I’m a bit of an attention seeker and so I sometimes arbitrarily decide on a political viewpoint based on what’s most controversial.

But what exactly is my newfound belief? It’s simply that immigration and/or multiculturalism can be beneficial to societies or parts of societies but also, in some instances, harmful.

Let’s start with some hypocrisy from the left; this Guardian article. It talks about how the authorities in Iceland are worried about the explosion in tourist numbers. There are concerns that the influx of foreigners could impact the native culture and that increased visitor numbers are also affecting house prices. The increasing strain on the infrastructure is also discussed. In this piece, it is clearly implied that these changing dynamics are a negative development.

I remember reading this a while ago and what struck me was that the key concerns expressed in the piece were exactly the same issues people typically have with immigration except that in this case- the concerns weren’t being dismissed as xenophobic or racist but being acknowledged sympathetically. So clearly, most people would agree that in some cases protecting cultures by controlling immigration (or tourists!) is a justifiable cause.

There are many other examples of contradictory beliefs regarding immigration. One commonly expressed opinion goes something like this: ‘It’s so embarrassing that there are large communities of British people living in Spain who can’t really speak the language and stick to themselves’ etc. Well, maybe, but why is that a respectable comment but not if it’s targeting immigrant communities in the UK.

Immigration can be beneficial and but there are instances where by any sober assessment, the overall impact is negative. Let’s imagine a hypothetical scenario to think about how immigration can ‘be done’ badly.

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Time for Reykjavik to embrace mass immigration? Probably not.

Iceland takes in 20,000 migrant workers from a vastly different culture to work in its smoked fish processing factories (not that I’m one to stereotype!). These workers are all housed in a cheap housing development in the outskirts of Reykjavik. The parents see the native -and completely alien- Icelandic culture as a threat to their identity and so try and install the beliefs and values of their native culture into their children- to protect the world view that they know. Consequently, the second and third generations find it equally -or even more difficult- than their parents to integrate. As jobs in the smoked fish processing factories become automated and disappear, unemployment in the housing developments increases and they subsequently turn into ghettos as crime levels begin to gradually increase. This increases resentment of the migrant population and this leads to a vicious circle of rising social tension and increased alienation of the migrant communities.

Then, let’s say, a new anti-immigration party arises in the simplified hypothetical world that I’ve created. They express similar sentiments in the aforementioned Guardian’s Icelandic tourist-explosion article- though with added concerns about crime. Let’s call them Iceland-First. But I wonder this: would the guardian report the new ‘Iceland-First’ party as populist, reactionary and xenophobic? Or would they report them sympathetically?

In case you’re wondering, the above scenario is based on my understanding of some real-life European examples, but I’ll withhold the details of the countries and groups involved to avoid being flamed!

Admittedly, it’s a rather tendentious thought experiment but what I’m trying to get at is the notion that many on the left can approach immigration from a hugely simplified perspective- that immigration can only ever go well. This is obviously a problematic viewpoint. It’s also true that there are many on the political right who have an equally polarised opinion- that any immigration is always going to end in disaster and that migrants are the root of all social ills.

Immigration can be hugely beneficial economically and culturally, but across Europe, there are examples of both success stories and clear failures. You could try and argue that the failures are always a result of issues with government policy, but I would argue that perhaps sometimes issues lie with the inevitable social tensions resulting from certain types of immigration. Incidentally, this freakonomics podcast was one of the things that really changed the way I viewed immigration- I highly recommend it.

I would love to write more but I’m nearly at 900 words and I know most people are too busy to read lengthy blog posts so I’ll stop now!

The left and migration. Part 1: environmentalists or capitalists?

Migration has for a long time been a hugely contentious issue and Brexit was in large part due to widespread fears over uncontrolled migration from the EU. Ferocious arguments often occur -both online and off- about one of the most emotive political subjects today. Increasingly, the public is split between those that faithfully support the EU’s tenet of ‘freedom of movement’ and those who believe that mass migration is posing  a huge social and economic threat to the United Kingdom.

Personally, I have completely changed my views on the issue but I now find myself with a fairly obscure bundle of beliefs  which seems to displease both sides. I used to hold the generic far-left response: “UKIP is racist, deregulated migration is great!” etc, but now I completely oppose it.

Oppose what exactly, though? I am referring here to mass, uncontrolled migration within the EU- i.e. ‘freedom of movement’. I am not talking about refugees here so if you’re preparing to comment on this please don’t mention them!

The main reason I oppose it is on environmental grounds although there are other important factors which I will write about in the next post.

It all started when I was perusing the comments of an opinion piece about migration on the internet. The article itself was focusing on the supposed economic benefits of mass-migration and the comment that got me thinking went something like this:

“I don’t get it, the left is always whinging about how bad exponential economic growth is for the environment yet they always preach about the economic boost countries get from migration!”

In an instant, the anonymous keyboard warrior behind this argument completely shifted my views- because they were correct, and my own hypocrisy suddenly started resonating clearly.

I consider myself an anti-capitalist. This is mainly because I believe the system of indefinite, exponential growth that capitalism needs to sustain itself is rapidly destroying the Earth. Therefore, in the interest of preserving the planet in a habitable state for future generations, this rapacious system needs to be overthrown- no matter how disruptive to current civilisation this may be.

With that in mind, how logical is it for the left (who are often environmentalists) to invoke the arguments that the economic right commonly make for uncontrolled migration? The argument being that migration increases long term economic growth. What’s the goal? To continue the mad rush for year-on-year growth in a finite system? To try and max out our growth rates before energy and food supplies collapse? How environmentally friendly is that?

Ultimately, having completely open borders is an extremely capitalist dream; for the ruling classes, what could be better than having cheap labour sloshing around the continent, filling up underpaid positions and boosting industry? But somehow, the political left has been duped into thinking that it should be a central tenet of their ideology. What for the capitalist elites is one of the few policies they have left to maintain the impossibility of endless exponential growth has been incorporated into leftwing thinking as a manifestation of classic liberalism; unleashing the floodgates of cheap labour is now equivalent to waving the flag of individual freedom.

Of course, there are many on the left who are just not that concerned about the impending ecological collapse of the Earth- or at least they don’t believe it will actually happen. But for those who claim to be concerned about runaway climate change and the environmental crisis surely it makes sense to oppose policies which boost industrial growth instead of blindly supporting them?

Ultimately, we need to rapidly transition to a zero-growth economy and ideally a negative growth one- if there is to be any chance of averting a cataclysmic shift in the earth’s climatic system. Mass migration and population growth are things that should be opposed as a matter of urgency, surely?

The London property bubble; how mad can things get?

Property prices in London have been at stratospheric levels for a while now. Demand has massively outstripped supply while the government has happily allowed UK property to become ensnared by the speculative gambling of the global financial industry. This catastrophic failure in public policy is most evident in London where it’s now Silly Season in regards to its house prices.

Take this rather shitty little flat as an example. It’s only got one small bedroom, a tiny kitchen and a small living room. Link (correct as of 18/01/2017.

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This spectacular mansion will set you back a whopping £350,000.

To put that into context, at typical rates, to get a suitable mortgage for this property a couple would both have to be earning around £50k a year. Below are the results from the online mortgage calculator I used to calculate this.

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Remember that this is to buy one of the cheapest, smallest types of flats you will be able to find in London!

But what about those couples who want to buy the sort of London house they might have grown up in?

What about, this poky, slightly run-down 3-bedroom house?

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This would set you back £750,000.

Using the same mortgage calculator as before, the picture below shows what sort of mortgage two people (earning at least £100,000 a year each…) would need for this property. This would put them both in the 10% of earners in the country by the way.

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Clearly, this situation is completely crazy and utterly unsustainable.

Something has to give. Currently, almost the entire next generation of Londoners will just not be able to afford to buy a house in the future. Instead, they’ll be stuck in a brutal rental sector where it’s not uncommon for 40% or more of your monthly wage to go into rent.

Even if you’re a rabid capitalist (which I’m not), this situation is dangerous. How is consumer spending (the backbone of the economy) going to increase indefinitely and prevent the economy from collapsing when the bulk of many peoples’ wages instantly evaporates into a totally unproductive part of the economy- landlord’s pockets?

The bubble will have to collapse at some point, the city will simply stop functioning even when just 20-30% of its population become completely priced out of housing. This process of large numbers of people becoming unable to afford housing is already happening.

What’s the solution?

1. Migration needs to be curbed- it’s clearly not sustainable to have net additions of 300k or more people every single year. We need to aim for a sustainable population limit and build the infrastructure accordingly. Currently, there is no consensus as to what the limit should be and it’s not even a mainstream discussion. The current unplanned system is completely bonkers.

2. Somehow stop the global super rich from treating London property as a financial asset.

3. We need to build more houses (but somehow not simultaneously transform southern-England into Coruscant at the same time).

**Marxist bonus**

What should have happened from the start?

The state should have never stopped building social housing. It should never have made home-ownership a country-wide aim for UK citizens.

Take two scenarios.

The British government builds 40,000 quality homes for £120,000 a pop and retains ownership of them. Then it leases these at super low rates to poorer citizens indefinitely- the money going back into the treasury, forever…

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A profit-seeking developer builds 40,000 “luxury flats” aimed at rich investors with a fat subsidy and tax-cut from a heavily bribed local council. These are then bought by filthy rich foreign investors and pension funds at massively inflated prices and sat on as financial assets- while remaining empty of actual residents. The treasury gets no rent money…

Call me Ho Chi Minh, but I know which scenario I’d prefer.

Do Not Resist, a disturbing account of police militarisation in the US

Review of Do Not Resist (2016)

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Police forces across the United States have in recent years become increasingly militarised. Ostensibly, this transition is mainly to boost counter-drug and counter-terrorism capabilities of police forces across the country. It has occurred through various means, such as the ‘1033 program’, whereby excess military equipment gets transferred, typically for free, to civilian law enforcement agencies. Additionally, since 2001 there have been huge grants given to state and local police forces to be spent on military-grade hardware. Do Not Resist examines this pernicious trend and how it is impacting policing in the US.

It is definitely worth a watch; there are some absolutely stunning shots in the documentary, some eerily beautiful and many which make you question whether or not the film-makers were actually in America at the time. Perhaps the most memorable segment in the whole film is when we join a SWAT team raiding a suspected drug-house in a poor, predominantly black neighbourhood. Windows are smashed, heavily armed men rush into the house and everyone on the scene is interrogated. All that’s found is a tiny amount of marijuana. America’s pointless and failed war on drugs couldn’t be epitomised more perfectly.

However, I have one mild criticism of the film. I would say that it is perhaps a bit too dense in ‘moody music and shots of military vehicles driving around town scenes’ and too light on interviews with academics and activists who could actually explain the complex and nuanced ways in which militarisation affects policing. One of the main negative effects being, for instance, the way trust between communities and police forces will typically be eroded when cops go from being friendly, approachable guys standing around drinking black-coffee to black-clad soldiers with assault rifles and scary helmets.

When you think about it, it’s not necessarily that obvious why the militarisation of police is a bad idea- indeed, some of the public comments we hear from a town hall meeting are essentially just “We don’t want to see this in the USA!”. Indeed, but why not? I know that ‘experts’ are a derided bunch currently, but here it would have made sense to have included their opinions quite a bit more to help clarify the issues.

Nevertheless, it’s still a slick production and although it could be meatier in the interviewing department, it should be required viewing for any Americans interested in their floundering democracy. The implications really are quite profound; when the police start to see themselves as soldiers, what will be the end result for the country? What happens when even non-violent protests start being responded to by this new generation of warrior cops? Can the trust in police in poor black communities ever be cultured when impoverished, low-level drug dealers get raided by SWAT teams? Is the country now on a highway to fascism? Do Not Resist certainly paints a bleak picture of the future.

Rogue One- Disney plays it safe again

Rogue One. More like Rogue Crap, amiright?! (2/5)

For some reason I’m becoming increasingly disdainful about popular culture. It’s probably because it gives me a false sense of superiority over ‘the masses’. Actually scrap that, it most definitely is because I’ve created a smug sanctimonious cave on a hallucinogenic mountaintop where I stand and shout “Bow low for me, peasants! My tastes in film and music are much better than yours!”.

That being the case, everyone’s entitled to their opinion and I think that Rogue One was really shit.

2D/2-MANY (geddit?!) Characters

Rogue One has a lot of characters and I wasn’t led to care about any of them at all. Jyn, the main protagonist, had about as much character development than one of my weirdo heroes in my 2-page epic stories I wrote in year 6. Cassion Andor was as interesting as yesterday’s shopping list (I included Hot Cross Buns even though Easter is still ages away, take that Jesus). For some inexplicable reason a blind Hare Krishna monk and his red Space-Marine mate were thrown in. Then there were a load of other minor characters that all just stood around and murmured things at each other. Maybe the reason they were so two dimensional was because since they were all going to die at the end the film’s creators didn’t want us to become too attached? That’s my theory anyway.

Things that didn’t make much sense

There was a lot of this.  In the final act of the film, the rebels discuss how weak they are and how they’re not ready for battle. Yet they end up just doing this anyway. But even more confusing is that the rebels land with a stolen transport ship next to the Empire’s data-bank (it’s not as if the Empire would have marked that ship as stolen) with just a small number (we see around 10-15 soldiers) of rebels. Yet this small number seems to grow and shrink in size where necessary. Somehow, an entire garrison is unable to hold them off. Also, where did those shoe-horned AT-AT walkers come from? Also, how come a few ion torpedoes from A-wings can take down an entire star destroyer? Also only like five X-wings made it through the ‘gate’ and yet they caused havoc for ages (and seemed to grow in number?) even though there were endless numbers of tie fighters? Why didn’t the empire disable the transmission antenna (why was that even there?) at the top of the data-bank. Why didn’t they just station like two storm troopers up there? I know it sounds pedantic but hey, a nerd has gotta nerd.

I get that you’re supposed to suspend belief a bit, but there’s a fine line between an against the odds triumph and a battle scene that’s just beyond ridiculous.

Annoying things

CGI Tarkin- it looked awful. Why not just have a short sequence where he appears on a hologram- it would have been easier to have forged?

The cheesy Rebel-council meeting where they decided not to fight but they just went along with Cassion’s plan anyway. It was just so horrendously nauseatingly cheesy, “Hope hope hope!” bleughh.

Lack of moral ambiguity and darkness. Darkness is what makes good films great- it’s why The Empire Strikes Back is widely considered the best one. Don’t tease us with ‘oh the rebels aren’t that nice’ and then not show it! The character who I think would have been really interesting to explore, the rebel extremist Saw Gerrera, died pretty early on.  Why mention that he’s using extremist tactics but not deliver on that claim? A scene where he attacks some storm troopers but also causes large numbers of civilian deaths wouldn’t have gone amiss. Sanctimonious snobs like myself need some moral ambiguity!

Conclusion

Disney, unsurprisingly, played it safe again. We got safe characters, safe levels of violence, safe levels of darkness, safe plot twists, safe baddies and safe goodies. The plot was very safe as well. It was all packaged in a nice safe space-fantasy-romp suitable for the whole family and for the toys that they want to sell from it. Playing it safe is a disease that has infected all of the major studios, why take risks on a film when you can produce a generic action film that’s going to draw in the crowds and wow them with mediocrity. It’s an issue that is leading to an era of extremely forgettable films.

Rachmaninoff’s first- the story of a disastrous premier

Rachmaninoff composed his first symphony in 1895, when he was just twenty two years old although the premier took place on March the 28th, 1897. By this time, Rachmaninoff had already established himself as a virtuoso pianist and a promising composer. He had won the highest ever rating awarded by the Moscow Conservatory to one of its graduates and several of his compositions were being played regularly by leading pianists and orchestras alike.

It took Rachmaninoff well over half a year to compose the symphony. He began in January 1895, where the young composer had been inspired by religious chants at a Russian Orthodox church service.

Despite his arduous toiling on the work, the initial feedback about the score by his then composition teacher Sergei Taneyev was critical; Taneyev suggested that it needed some substantial revision to improve it. However, Rachmaninoff was unable to make any major changes before its first public performance  at a concert in St. Petersburg.

The circumstances in the lead-up to the concert was a foreboding prelude to what would be an absolutely catastrophic premier. The renowned composer Rimsky-Korsakov had remarked at one of the rehearsals that he did not find the piece “at all agreeable”,  a comment that must have deeply affected Rachmaninoff. However, the main issue would be due to the conductor,  Alexander Glazunov; he suffered from severe alcoholism, had questionable conducting skills and had admitted that he was unimpressed by Rachmaninoff’s published works. Before the performance Glazunov had made significant changes to the orchestration of the piece without consulting Rachmaninoff. Additionally, his rehearsals were far too rushed for a concert which would include the premier of two other new works.

Glazunov was said to have been drunk for the infamous premier, where the young Rachaninoff sat in complete despair on the auditorium’s fire-escape listening to an inebriated Glazunov conduct an under-rehearsed and dreadfully interpreted performance of his symphony. The critical reaction to the piece was excruciatingly harsh; it was completely panned by the critics who had attended the concert.  Perhaps the worst piece of criticism levelled at the piece was that “If there is a conservatory competition in Hell, this Symphony would gain first prize“. The symphony was not ever publically performed again in Rachmaninoff’s lifetime.

The apocalyptically negative reaction to the symphony sent Rachmaninoff into a long period of depression. He composed barely anything for three years and his mental and physical health plummeted. It was only in 1900 that Rachmaninoff started to recover. An intensive course of hypnotherapy somehow managed to help him recover from his despondency. The first major work after his convalescence was his Piano Concerto No. 2, which received critical acclaim and is now considered one of the greatest pieces of classical music ever.

With hindsight, the consensus today is that the symphony is actually rather good- just that its disastrous premier burdened it with an unjustified reputation. The symphony has a conventional structure as it consists of four movements. The short motif that is heard at the very beginning is a unifying feature throughout the symphony and a variation of it opens each movement. The first movement is fierce and assured. The second movement is a light-footed scherzo with wonderfully colourful lyricism. Following this is the brooding larghetto which has a recogniseable, late-romantic feel to it. The finale brings together thematic elements heard in previous movements in a dramatic and powerful manner. Throughout the symphony one can hear elements of the distinctive style that Rachmaninoff was developing; powerful Russian romanticism, rich harmonies and haunting melodies.