Monthly Archives: July 2013

The Cave of El Castillo – Short Story


“The Cave of El Castillo
” is my imagining of a prehistoric man creating the first known piece of cave art. 

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A thick carpet of rain falls from darkened clouds that loom ominously overhead. Hidden in the undergrowth, a blurred silhouette weaves through an intricate maze of shrub and oak with gazelle like grace. It breathes heavily and rhythmically, placing each step with a perfected precision.

Suddenly the mysterious creature comes to an abrupt halt, stopping at a small clearing in the undergrowth. A faint slither of moonlight seeps through swelling clouds, revealing the unmistakable shape of a man. He wipes the pouring rain off his disheveled beard and protruding brow. The lines and contours of his muscled body are prominent through the drenched rags he wears, along with scars and abrasions that cover his back and arms. Looking up he scans a cliff face further afield, squinting his eyes thoughtfully, using his large hardened hands to block the heavy rainfall.

He postulates for a moment, then runs back into the thick canopy towards a crumbling mountain of muddied limestone. In the forest once again he moves with relative ease like a shark through water. Upon reaching the cliff face, he stops, and looks upwards at the great wall that now faces him. Slowly he starts to climb the porous white stone, placing each tentative step with caution. His thick muscular arms strain with the weight of his body, and his bare feet struggle to find grip on the slippery slopes.

With one last effort he desperately reaches the top of the cliff edge. His calloused and dirt ridden hands frantically search the floor as he struggles to find anchorage. He chances upon a sturdy ivy vine – pulling hard he lets out a deep groan, lifting his heavy body over the cliff edge. The veins on his arms throb from exhaustion, and he pants vigorously to catch his breath.

He rolls on his back and wearily pushes himself up off the ground. Walking back to the edge of the cliff, he gazes intently at the now wide open view of the forest below. Here he stood on his own secluded paradise, amongst a vast expanse of boundless green ocean. He turns back around and heads to the desolate cave he’d eyed from far down below in the clearing.

A flash of light momentarily distracts him, and a deep roar of thunder follows seconds afterwards. He moves cautiously towards the mouth of the cave. More ivy vines cover the entrance, which he cautiously brushes aside whilst avoiding its stinging nettles. Upon entering, he in confronted by an eery silence and darkness. He hesitates – doubt takes its debilitating hold.

He takes a few steps into the mouth of the cave, using the weak silver moonlight to guide him. The cavern is dry at least, and so he removes the cold and wet tattered rags that cling to his body. Naked now, he begins to clumsily search around the floor of the cavern. After a few moments he stumbles upon a few pieces of dry cider wood. Venturing further inwards he is soon swallowed whole by the darkness of the cave. Now only nothingness remains. Very calmly and patiently he begins to draw forth that miracle of flame. A small spark grows into a beacon of light. In a few moments, it has consumed the darkness that had surrounded him.

Now the fire burns a warm orange hue, and he wearily takes a seat by the crackling flames. It emanates it glorious warmth through his cold and fatigued body. His vision fixates upon the fire, which dances in the reflection of his dark black eyes, twisting and curling with the howling winds pouring in through the caverns entrance. There is little sound apart from the gentle pitter-patter of droplets falling from the vast emptiness above, the distant murmuring of the storm still brewing outside. The walls seemed to almost ebb and flow like great lakes in the dancing glow of the burning torchlight.

He throws another piece of wood on the fire which causes it to swell further. Its enchanting hue’s and elegant ballet seem to ignite something deep within the traveller’s mind. His breathing slows and takes on a rhythmic fashion. In that moment, one that is quite unlike any other before it, a strange excitement begins to rise within him, brimming to the surface, inciting him to do something never quite done before. His breath quickens and his eyes widen. No longer wet and trembling, he takes a piece of glowing cider wood off the fire, and uses it to thoroughly search between the dusty stones that lay hidden on the darkened floor. He finds a crumbling piece of limestone from the litter that surrounds him. With the aid of his luminous flame, he begins to scratch upon the undulating walls.

Within their folds and furrows he draws like a child in play. As the lines begin to take shape, a clear image emerges from between the cracks and crevasses of the caverns wall. The wild beasts that roam sweeping green fields as far as the eye can see. The graceful birds that perch in the tall birch trees, and saunter along on the summer breeze. Below the creatures of the deep, that shimmer like distant stars beneath the rolling waves. Stroke by stroke he paints onto once bare lifeless stone these shadows and reflections of the day. The tundra and the ocean, the forest and the heavens above all come to life by his hand and thought alone.

He stands back in awe. There now stood in front of him a truly wondrous sight to behold – it was the story of life. As a final act of creation, he takes the limestone chalk and chews ir in into a thick paste. Putting his hand upon the wall, he spits to create a silhouette – the artists signature now completes his great work. And so he returns to the fire to revel in his skill. However, unbeknownst to him as the storm swelled and unfurled on the young tender earth outside, a hidden danger lurked deep in the shadows. There came a thundering bellow that tore above the howls of wind and crackling of thunder. The sound was unlike any other he’d heard before, and so a burning curiosity compels him to investigate.

He approaches the cliff edge from whence he’d came. As he peers through the mouth of the cave, something grabs him by the throat from behind. He clamours for air, and he struggles to loosen its deathly hold. In but a moment, it seems as if time itself stops. Exhausted from his efforts, he cannot break free and collapses in fatigue. A deafening silence surrounds him. There is a faint murmur – and then he hears the gentle and unmistakable voice of another – the words he cannot understand however. He desperately tries to move once again but he is seemingly frozen solid. He gasps for air once more, but each breath he feels takes him closer to death. Despite his panic and unrest, the quiet stillness of the moment begins to melt into itself, unfurling and submerging into nothingness.

Darkness begins to consume the room once again as the flame starts to dwindle. The sounds of the storm, the dripping of raindrops is all that remains. In the shadows of the flame, the limestone chalk lies on the ground and on the walls now dance and play those dreams once dreamt in the darkness of night. Now here is where rests his soul, on this once bare lifeless stone, where for many moons he shall lay waiting, until he will rise once again…

The Enlightenment and Universalism

I am sure many of us have heard or read about the European Enlightenment.

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The Age of Enlightenment was a profound cultural movement of the 17th and 18th centuries. The first inklings of this revolution in thought were shown by early French philosophers around 1670. It was the well mannered Salons which were at  ‘the very heart of the philosophic community’ of France at the time. In these places of dialectical discourse a new school of thought emerged, namely, it was from these academic salons formed by the aristocratic ‘schools of civilité’ that the European Enlightenment was born.

The Church fought these first revolutionary movements until they ultimately suffered a fatal blow during the French Revolution of July 1789. It was during this uprising of the French working class and left leaning intellectuals that the French Republic was formed, thanks largely in part to the aristocracies own centuries of excess and indulgence.

It was only befitting that the Enlightenment should take shape during this time, as the individual became aware of their own power and ability to shape the world. The Enlightenment was considered to be the “spiritual enrichment of Mankind by means of his own inner values and resources”. Apart from the French academic salons, the groundwork for the European Enlightenment was also laid by renowned British intellectuals and philosophers such as David Hume and Francis Bacon, who popularised inductive methodologies for scientific inquiry.  The Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza is also argued to be an important figure in the Age of Enlightenment. These along with many other proponents of empiricism and rationalism helped lay the seeds of the modern scientific method and democracy as we have come to know it.

Whilst the Enlightenment first began in Europe, it later spread to the American colonies through the writings of Thomas Jefferson and other Founding Fathers, although sadly its principles did not initially extend to slaves. Yet this period of history is still so very important for it has shaped much of the political and moral foundations of the modern world.  Rather befittingly the political and moral issues over which eighteenth century thinkers debated remain so often the issues over which we continue to differ today.

As the Enlightenment spread to Britain and throughout Europe, the Scholasticism of the medieval universities that were so prevalent from the 11th century to up until then, was questioned by this new breed of thinker. Philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes and Hume refuted the divine dogma of these established schools that so closely guarded knowledge. For centuries the majority of European society had been resigned to impotent ignorance. Whilst these two thinkers took different and radical approaches to human nature and the individuals place in society, it was ultimately Hume and other ‘moral sense’ philosophers who restored this notion of humans as social beings, freeing the concept from its theological moorings. These sentimentalists began a radical conception of Enlightenment principles compared to Hobbes,  arguing that it is ‘sentiment’ that invokes an innate understanding of our common humanity, and of our instinctive desire to feel empathy with fellow human beings.

No quality of human nature is more remarkable…than that propensity we have to sympathise with others, and to receive by communication their inclinations and sentiments however different from, or even contrary to, our own.

From the Enlightenment then was this sense of Universalism born. All sentient life has universality in experience – this very idea could only flourish with this notion of sympathy, which allowed philosophers to give humankind an identity independent of God. These new Universalist’s would be attracted to the logic of universally applicable principles, rather than any belief or dogma ordained by supposed divine mandate. Human unity, solidarity, and the perceived need for a sustainable and socially conscious global order, were among the tendencies of this new non-religious Universalist thought. It provided a means of

…Recognising all peoples as of equal worth, and of embracing some kind of common good, without endowing them with immortal souls.

This period in history is very important for it has lead to a huge upheaval in the manner in which we treat another and how we come to learn about and understand the world. No longer are we shackled by blind dogma, no longer a slave to the power of religious and political institutions as we once were. The Age of Reason gave birth to human rights, modern democracy and the scientific method. Many argue that the roots of this enlightenment lay in Eastern thought, and hence the importance of this period is thereby diminished. I do not disagree with this fact, for Far Eastern philosophers dealt with the questions of ethics, morality and justice far before their western counterparts. Even the rise of classic Greek philosophy is in part due to the inspiring influences of its neighbours across the Mediterranean Sea. Still I maintain this is rather besides the point however, for all new thoughts are formed by a synthesis of old. Hence, we must not concern ourselves with the originality of such ideas.

Once we realise that we are the presiding force behind all laws of society, that we give all of societies conventions their governing power, and not a divine entity, then it is important for us to be concerned by how fair and just these regulating rules are. This notion which came from the European Enlightenment, means we must now also consider how we might continue to shape these laws for the betterment of all persons.

 

My Open Letter archive launched!

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So those few of you who regularly follow my blog posts might of noticed a lack of activity these last few days. That’s because I’ve been hard at work on the MyOpenLetter project.

Recently I launched the archive section, and while it’s rather lacking with only two entries atm, I’m optimistic it’ll be filled up in no time with interesting posts. For now though, check out my letter or Anonymous Girlfriends story of overcoming odds

I’ve also posted my letter below, so please read and tell me your thoughts. Also I hope this inspires you to get thinking about what you might right about. You can email submissions to submit@myopenletter.info. Hope to read your letter soon!

Dear Reader,

I look in the mirror, and I see a face. It is a face I could describe to you in quite exquisite detail. From its dark brown eyes and faintly tanned skin, to its slightly crooked nose, its cherub cheeks and accompanying mischievous smile. This face has one very prominent dimple only on the right side, and has thick red lips surrounded by a dishevelled beard. Indeed, this is a face I have grown quite accustomed to. But whilst I could continue to go on describing this face in great intricacy and detail, I couldn’t tell you if it would be considered a beautiful one or not. I could not tell you what others thought about my face, for I am quite certain, some may dislike its roundness and plumpness, whilst some may feel otherwise. But I like this face, because this face mine, and this face is mine alone.

So I have no problems in admitting that sometimes I find myself wondering what other people think about me. I’m sure you have probably felt like this at one time or another dear reader. Who you are I am not sure, and perhaps my message has reached you after a thousand years, hidden like a Dead Sea scroll through a vast expanse of time. Dear reader whom is unbeknownst to me, I ask you this question, irrespective of whom you are when you are living, are these really important things to think about? For they are, when we look upon them objectively, only differences of mere millimetres. These are but slight disparities in the angles of bone and variations in skin tone. These are nothing but cosmetic, superficial vanities that seem to be so important to so many of us in this world today, myself included.

I put it to you dear reader that we as human beings ought to value something more substantial. For us to understand what I mean by this, you must understand what it means to be a human being first.

Throughout the eons, ever since the first tentative words were spoken by man, the very first inkling of thought expressed by our distant ancestors, we have always struggled to find absolute truth in this rather puzzling world. And ever since we became aware of our own mortality, many subsequent philosophical questions have been raised about our existence. Why are we here? How did we come to be? What is our inevitable fate? How should we treat one other? All profound questions that to date we have still not managed to answer with any degree of certainty.

But despite any criticisms I have of human beings, I am a firm believer in the capacity of us to be quite marvellous creatures. From the incredible lasting legacies of the great thinkers past, I cannot deny that we have come a remarkably long way since those inklings of consciousness were first exhibited by human beings. From those hesitant scrapings upon once bare lifeless stone, the seeds of destiny were firmly sown, and a great tree of knowledge has flourished in its wake. The full force of causality took hold, and here we find ourselves today in this moment of time, wondering what lies in wait for humanity in the centuries to come.

Once many moons ago, before I had eyes to see and a mind to think, I was a collection of particles wandering aimlessly through a vast expanse of emptiness. This potent soup of subatomic particles slowly took shape, and through the heavy hand of microscopic forces, you and I ware formed in the furnaces of time and space. We owe our existence to an incessant churning of masses, started by a miraculous mix spontaneity and improbability. And here we are now, living on the frontier humanity, forging a path that has not yet been walked by any living being before us. Yes, we have come a remarkably long way indeed, despite having still a great distance to travel. We have learnt some incredible things already about the nature of the universe and our place within it. Objectively speaking, this is quite an astonishing achievement for a mere primate, first emerging from the dishevelled canopies of prehistory countless millennia ago. The ascent of man has been a arduous and improbable journey.

One of the profoundest things we have come to learn in recent decades, something that has never been known before, is that the reality in which we reside is governed by chaos. Even in this new age of empiricism, there is no such thing as certainty. Life is fickle for the very laws that form the basis of nature, the cosmos, and everything in between are firmly rooted in anarchy. How do we find order in a naturally disordered universe?

Human rights were first formally brought into law internationally only in 1948. While at first this may seem a like an irrelevant detail, it is in actuality quite an incredible milestone in human history. We creatures who live in this world of uncertainty, have begun to formulate certain universal laws of our own, particular moral beliefs that apply to all human beings. And whilst 1948 may seem a long time ago, half a century is but a mere grain of sand in a great desert of time. Yes, we have come a remarkably long way it seems, but it is my belief that we now rest at a pivotal point in the story of humanity and the cosmos itself. A prestigious and self appointed promotion, if you will, to the narrator of its tale, the story of its existence and inevitable demise. With the gift of consciousness, comes the burden of being the bearer of your own destiny. The future is in our own hands.

With this realisation, my message to you is simply this – think. I know it is probably unwise of me to worry about how my face looks to others, because at the end of the day, it is just a face. But I also know that I should take an interest in Human Rights, because we need to bring order to the natural chaos of nature. In the long run, the latter benefits us all and also our descendants. The shape of my face however, brings very little long lasting joy and happiness to collective society. I had to think to realise that. We all have this rather wonderful set of abilities unique to human beings. We can look forward in time and plan ahead. We can ponder upon life and our place within the cosmos. But most importantly, we can also empathise with other human beings, and feel pain through their suffering. We can feel joy through the happiness of others.These are the qualities that I maintain, have gotten us here today, and are important to the future of humanity.

So I claimed that we are the bearers of our own destiny, and so my final question to you is this – what do we want for the destiny of humanity? It is a question I cannot answer alone, simply because, I am just one human being. I do not speak for the whole of humanity, but I am entitled to my say as everyone else is. So think with me, friends one and all, regardless of your race, irrespective of the colour of your skin or the nature of your beliefs, let’s think and try to answer all these profound questions together. Let’s try to understand the universe and our place within it, and let’s try to make this world just a little bit better for when that inevitable time comes for us to leave it.

Peace and Love,

From
Suhail H. Patel

Common Misconceptions in Society

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It’s not exactly news that people have blatant misconceptions about the workings of society. I was reading a New Statesman article highlighting the fallacies in the public’s beliefs on political issues. It was really quite harrowing to see the common misperceptions in our society. As Bobby Duffy and Hetan Shah report;

On average, we think 24% of the population are Muslims – when the real figure is around 5%; we think 31% are immigrants – when the official figure is 13%; and we think 36% are aged 65+ – when in fact only 16% are.

People grossly overestimate the amount that is spent on foreign aid: a quarter of us think it is one of the 2-3 things government spends the most money on, when it is actually only around 1% of expenditure.

The biggest single error in our survey is on the scale of benefit fraud: people think that out of every £100 spend on benefits, £24 is claimed fraudulently, when the best government estimate is that it’s actually only around 70p.”

I have some further examples to add to this superb analysis. Tax avoidance and evasion costs the taxpayer almost £120 billion a year. We collectively spend over £60 billion a year waging war in distant lands. The British government spends almost £2 billion on intelligence agencies, that spy on us and the world in its entirety.

The much disputed Health Tourism issue however, only costs the taxpayer £30 million a year. The cost of granting amnesty to all undocumented immigrants would cost us £4 billion. And the despised benefit fraudsters cost us just over £1 billion a year, as mentioned, only 70p of every £100 spent on benefits.

70p – is this what the Cameron government is waging a political war against? Is this what concerns us more than the suffering of our fellow human beings?

We spend billions trying to kill and oppress. We spend billions trying to catch and deport these supposed criminals. It is estimated that it would cost £12 billion pounds to deport all undocumented workers, three times as much as granting them amnesty. Not to mention the huge benefit it provides for them and the British economy. You tell me, what would you rather spent our taxes on – creating meaningful and lasting change in this world? Or trying to oppress and silence these already marginalised groups in society?

As David North, head of SEP in America puts it:

We have at our disposal material resources of which our revolutionary ancestors could hardly even dream. Were it not for the social and political obstacles that stand in the way of its realization, the eradication of poverty, … throughout the world, would be merely a technical problem which the existing level of science and industry is fully capable of solving.

And yet, nowadays, we are offered justifications and rationalizations for the existence of poverty and even squalor that would have embarrassed and offended thinking people 200 years ago. In our present society, people are conditioned to walk down a city street and take no notice of the ubiquitous scenes of human distress and social misery.”

These misconceptions and double standards are so prevalent that we think nothing of them. For instance, on April 15th, Martin Richard, an 8-Year-Old boy was brutally killed in the Boston Bombing attack. People all over the world wept for the child, and sent their condolences to his family. Shortly after, the assailants of this horrific attack felt the full force of US justice.

Last month on June 9th, a 10 year old boy was killed in a US drone strike in Yemen. The US refuse to even accept that they’ve murdered the child. Estimates suggest that nearly a thousand civilians have been killed in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia over the past decade. Just some more “collateral damage” in our supposed war on terror.

Where are these peoples justice? Where is the equality in this world? The use of verified fact is severely lacking in the publics understanding of issues. We need to educate ourselves and then others to these facts in order to reveal an inalienable truth that is so lacking in contemporary politics. That’s the only manner in which we can quell these fallacies in the public’s beliefs, because our government seems hell bent on further dividing our society over menial issues.

The ShortReport – Snowden Update

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Announcement: I’ve almost hit 1000 unique visitors guys, woohoo! To celebrate, I’m launching a new feature called The Short Report! The idea is I give you a quick breakdown on what’s happening on a particular issue, linking to articles as I go. This way you can read a short summary if you’re pressed for time,  or read further in depth analysis and commentary by following the links provided. I’m going to try and keep them around 300-600 words. Please let me know any suggestions/criticisms. 

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Just a quick update for you all on the Snowden and mass surveillance scandal – a couple of weeks ago I wrote about the Five Eyes, a network of major western powers who work in tandem to spy on peoples private communications. Some of these countries are now “complaining” about the NSA’s programs. Edward Snowden has revealed further details about Australia’s links to secret US Spying program,  identifying a number of operations such as one dubbed “ThinThread”.

Mr Snowden also said that the “Five Eyes” partnership is organised so that authorities in each country can “insulate their political leaders from the backlash” when it became public “how grievously they’re violating global privacy”.

Rather unsurprisingly, Cuba’s Raul Castro has criticized the U.S and backs allies on Snowden’s bid for asylum, accusing the United States of employing a “philosophy of domination.

These actions demonstrate we live in a world in which the powerful feel they can violate international law, violate the national sovereignty of other states and trample on the rights of citizens.

The U.S. responded to these Latin American countries with hostility, suggesting they will use trade sanctions to “to send a very clear message that we won’t put up with this kind of behaviour.”

The US claims that these countries have undermined “the importance of trust.”

Snowden has also revealed how the GCHQ in Britain Soaks up mass Internet data. The Tempora system is the signal intelligence community’s first “full-take Internet buffer,” according to the whistle blower.

It snarfs everything, in a rolling buffer to allow retroactive investigation without missing a single bit…if it routes through the UK, we get it.

He also accused Germany’s federal intelligence agency, the BND of working with the NSA to collect signals intelligence.

Further leaks from Snowden have revealed Brazil has been victim of cyber espionage by the NSA. Brazil has asked US to explain this internet surveillance, saying they received the reports from Snowden “with deep concern.

Brazil appears on the charts of the American agency (National Security Agency, or NSA) as a prime target for the espionage of phone calls and other data, alongside nations like China, Russia, Iran and Pakistan.

If that has happened, these companies broke Brazilian law and acted against our Constitution, which safeguards the right to privacy.

It seems that US attempts to block Edward Snowden are ‘bolstering’ case for asylum, and in fact giving the whistle blower stronger allies. Evo Morales stated that the forced plane-grounding debacle will never be forgotten in South America.

The issue however, is one of a lack of safety for Snowden if sent back to the US. For instance, a lack of transparency means tainted justice for Bradley Manning, and many fear a similar fate for Snowden if he is extradited. Daniel Ellsberg, who was charged under the espionage act in 1971, suggested Snowden was right to run, for:

He would almost certainly be confined in total isolation, even longer than the more than eight months Manning suffered during his three years of imprisonment before his trial began.

One lesson of the Pentagon Papers and Snowden’s leaks is simple: secrecy corrupts, just as power corrupts.

After two years of preparation the US-EU free trade talks are beginning amid this spying row. However, more leaked information is showing that the key European players in these discussions are just as guilty as the US when it comes to unlawful surveillance.

In the meantime, things are still getting worse in the US. In Secret, a court vastly broadened the powers of the N.S.A. — judges have expanded the use in terrorism cases of a legal principle known as the “special needs” doctrine, and carved out an exception to the Fourth Amendment’s requirement of a warrant for searches and seizures, officials have said.

The Problem with Capitalism

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(Note to reader: This is a reworking of an interesting post on reddit by user noamsky. At first I was just going to repost, but decided to fix errors, improve the wording and also introduced more established economic arguments and terms, to make it read more like an essay. For more reading on the topic, I would suggest you start with the links provided, as they give more substantial data and evidence to back these claims. However, I do necessarily agree with what is argued. This is merely a exercise to practice my subbing skills.)

We often hear, and are often told that free commerce is the undeniable only means to achieve prosperity for all.

I however reject this claim, for Capitalism as it stands has two major problems – Wealth Condensation and Economic Inequalities.

The problem of wealth condensation occurs when you have a finite amount of resources and they’re all privately owned. The most wealthy of those agents begin to benefit from some natural advantages that arise out of this disproportionate allocation of wealth.  At its most basic, we might argue this to be some form of “economies of scale”. Some of you who have studied economics or business in the past, may have some inkling as to what this term means. A very broad definition states that those with greater means of production, can benefit from reduced cost with increased levels of output.

How does this concept tie in with wealth condensation? Those with this larger portion of wealth have much more freedom than those without; that includes freedom to make money. Simply put, the losers and winners in a free market are decided largely by circumstance. When everything has a monetary value, those with more income are automatically able to access greater range of opportunities than those with no accrued wealth. Since having a large income or vast reserves of wealth increases opportunities to compound this wealth, the process is a type of positive feedback loop, or a condensation of wealth at the very top of the hierarchy. Hence, wealth continues to concentrate into fewer hands, whilst income inequalities are exacerbated in the process. This too can be considered a positive feedback loop. As wealth disparities accrue, the working class becomes increasingly desperate, ever more at the mercy of the modern day rich elite and their accompanying class of bourgeois. This is because their very survival depends on the oft touted trickle down of wealth from the very top of this pyramid.

As we have economies of scale for a business or institution, the concept also applies to the individual agent. For instance, suppose you have enough money to make a deposit on a house, and thereby procure a mortgage. This reduces your monthly expenses, and you begin to receive some of your mortgage payments as equity in your home. However, if one is unable to produce this initial down payment, the only other available option is to rent a property. The renter incurs a greater loss than the owner. This is due to the opportunity cost of the equity lost aggregated with the increased cost of rent compared to mortgage. Such persons are at the mercy of the landlord.

We can apply this same analogy to many real life situations for a majority of people in this world. If you have a high income or similarly, inherited wealth, you would be more inclined to pay for your child’s education. This is so that they can better devote their energies to study. Hence, there is greater chance these children will perform well in school, and land a well paying, respectable job. This is supported by evidence. For instance, recent studies have shown providing direct income support to poor families can dramatically increase academic performance.

However, if there is a lack of financial assistance and one comes from a poor household, parents would be inclined to tell the student to work as opposed to go to school. They may also ask the child themselves to help with financing their own education, or they may be forced to take out substantial loans. If they choose the latter, they must toil even harder on completion to repay the borrowed sum, with interest of course. However, what we have seen recently is many graduates are being forced into low skilled labour, such as serving tables at restaurants. This is because there is nothing more productive for society that they could be doing.  This all pertains to the issue at hand –  the only manner in which anything gets done under capitalism, is if someone up the hierarchy stands to benefit.

The women that manufactured the clothes you are most probably wearing right now lives and works as a modern day slave. Trapped in low wages, poor working conditions and gruelling hours, prospects for a better life are slim at best. In many places, such workers are paid far less than $50 a month.  The $20 billion industry only raised salaries after 1,100 people died in a collapse of a factory building earlier this year. This is the natural coercion of market forces at work – such persons are no longer slaves by name, only in horrific action. For many centuries the oppressed blacks and creole fought the colonies of France, England and US for their freedom. They inevitably succeeded with the Haitian revolution of Toussaint Louverture, and the subsequent abolishment of the Atlantic slave trade. However, it seems as if these imperialist empires were ultimately victorious in the war against liberty and equality. For once the English realised they could pay a free Indian a penny to do the work of a colonist slave, a new kind of economic slavery was born. Whilst in 2012 Gross World Product per capita was approximately $12,400, it is estimated that 1.3 billion people globally still live on less than $1 a day. This is not freedom. This is nothing but exploitation rooted in prior exploitation, and justified by those who grossly profit from such systematic abuse.

A great majority of us in this world are forced to sell our time, energies, and services for barely enough to scrape by. Whilst the person who employs these labourers, consumes the majority of the real output produced by them. This isn’t like a consensual relationship between two equal partners. Low skilled workers are often forced into such occupations, and now increasingly also young persons in the developed world. If you want to use a parallel, it’s like being forced into prostitution.

Saying all this however, it is possible for people to escape this poverty trap. Or at least, it appears that many have become self made bourgeois themselves. How can one climb up this hierarchy if born into poverty?

They may work for wages to earn capital for investment. However, even through this process someone up the hierarchy has greatly profited from the workers efforts. It is fundamentally impossible for one labourer to move up in the economic food chain without further enriching a very wealthy individual already ahead of him. Now suppose the worker acquires the appropriate investment, and now attempts to become a entrepreneur. He may be inclined to abuse his workers in a similar manner as he was himself exploited, and profit in a similar vain as his former owner. However, further up the food chain, others benefit from his enterprise. Such as for instance, manufacturers or suppliers, or even the government of his nation in the form of tax revenue or political donations.

They might also choose to take out a loan from a financial institution such as a bank to begin their enterprise, who also benefits from the interest paid on this loan. Whether you succeed or fail at your business endeavours, you are by virtue expected to pay the bank more money than you were given. Hence, the agent cannot create wealth for themselves without necessarily paying a portion of it up the ladder. Thus, social mobility for a few of the many poor entails further enrichment of the few wealthy. This means a smaller proportion remaining for the rest of the impoverished. The growth of inequality is absolutely inevitable. This issue can become so compounded, it forces intervention, or as we have seen throughout history, even up to the present day, violent and bloody revolution. It is theorized that the most dramatic and deciding factor of an uprising is hunger.

Returning to our previous example, pertaining to the landlord and the tenant – what happens when you mix the necessity of property ownership into this problem? What does a man do who is born into this society with nothing? He needs access to land in order to provide for himself. He must do this so he can grow either grow food or other products (producing raw goods), building or making things to sell (manufacturing), or having a space to perform some artisan trade or task (services). However, what happens when that land has already had ownership claimed for many generations? How does the worker acquire this land when it is disproportionately owned by the wealthy?

Hence, the poor in this world face a momentous struggle in becoming wealthy. Increasingly the young in both developing and developed countries are poor, having had the means to acquiring wealth taken from them by the established older generations. For the assets of this country and the world in its entirety, are firmly in the hands of these persons, whom acquired their prosperity and then kicked out the ladder from beneath them. They began privatizing everything, and launched crusades of propaganda and disinformation to justify these measures.

For instance, the US asserts free markets are necessary to growth. However. the countries GDP stood at almost $16 trillion in 2012. It has the amassed the most wealth out of all the nations in this world, and so can by and large influence market forces as it see’s fit.  Hence, any free trade will likely result in the US coming out on top. That’s how the coercive power of money works. If you have a lot and other people don’t, but they desperately need it to survive, grow, and thrive, then they are going to be in a position where they are willing to work for much less. This is simply because they lack other options. Once again, this is not a consensual agreement.

Returning to this idea of economies of scale and efficiency of production. The issue is largely one of advantages in production – or a lack of advantage. For a nation like the US only stands to benefit from trade, whilst emerging economies can do nothing but be exploited, in a similar manner to the individual worker. With the huge improvements in ferrying and transportation, the modern day bourgeois can cheaply pay to transport goods across the world, and continue this systematic abuse of the worlds poor. They are able to perpetually profit by forcing these proletariat to compete the for work, often at slave wages. This willingness then deflates the value of their efforts, whilst the real value of their labour remains the same. The disparity between this nominal value, and the real value is in turn exploited and consumed by the wealthy elite.

It is this use of economic exploitation that inevitably traps entire nations in poverty. Workers in places like Cambodia or Bangladesh can protest their low income and ask better for better working conditions, as they have and continue to do so, But then said workers are harassed by the state for doing so. International behemoths like Nike run sweatshops where they make huge markups on products produced. When factories collapse and hundreds die, they simply wash their hands of the blood implying it is the moral obligation of factory owners to care for workers safety. They say this as if the supply chain isn’t one in the same, a continuous process that Nike grossly benefits from. The factory owner, who may have been a worker themselves at some point, is caught in the middle in this particular example. Major corporations and banks, posting staggering profits, are the ones who ultimately have all of the slack in this distorted system of distribution. That’s the only node in the chain where anybody has true freedom to do as they choose, and live sinfully wealthy lives, whilst stomping their boots in the faces of the slaves that made them so rich. They do all of this whilst boldly declaring that they are improving the quality of those slave’s lives, because the slave voluntarily chooses to enter the employment and work for whatever impossibly small rate market forces have decided upon.

Hence, the cycle of poverty continues, and economic inequalities are exacerbated. Only time will tell what will happen to the wealthy elite and those trapped in poverty. Only we can break this cycle of oppression. How this can be done however, is still a hotly debated topic. Perhaps something for another blog post, although there are some idea’s that seem promising. For instance, Meghnad Desai, a member of the UK’s House of Lords and a Professor of Economics at the London School of Economics, stated in an article last week that:

With global aid totalling roughly $130 billon, each of the 1.3 billion people living in extreme poverty (less than $1 per day) worldwide would receive $100 in cash [with direct aid].

Some countries have already experimented with such programs, and India is preparing to begin providing cash transfers to its 300 million poor citizens. In other words, a global cash-transfer scheme could be very effective, and would be feasible if donor countries pooled their aid budgets.

So perhaps direct transfers of cash to the poorest in the world, can help mitigate the effects of increasing income and wealth disparities. How and if we could do this however, remains to be seen. This idea remains somewhat unpopular with the majority of nations and the general public.

The end of the 6 week summer holiday…

 

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 ‘Tis a sad day my friends, a sad day indeed. For that wonderful joyous time we have all come to know as the hallowed 6 week summer holiday, will be coming to a rather unfortunate end for children across the country. Well, perhaps not entirely, but a new piece of legislation passed last week by Michael Gove, Education Secretary, gives schools the precedent to set their own length of holidays over the summer months. He has also allowed schools to increase mandatory time spent at school to up to 4.30pm.

So what does this mean for future students? Well at first, what really caught my attention was the abolishing of summer holidays as we have come to know and love them. I suppose a strong sense of nostalgia instinctively made me despise the notion. “How dare they take these poor children’s unalienable right to do shit all for 6 weeks?” I vexed. “How could they take that precious jewel of childhood from their unsuspecting, probably sticky, little hands?” I cried in a burst of unbridled rage, and proceeded to throw my half eaten jam donut at the television screen.

Alas, perhaps I may have over reacted in hindsight.

Looking back objectively of course, was it really necessary for me to have a 6 week break? Is it necessary to have this privilege enshrined in yet another menial law? Perhaps not, but I cannot help but feel future children up and down this country are being robbed of something as sacred as their long and lustrous summer holiday. I’m sure many teachers are just as annoyed by the passing legislation. I would suspect that for quite a few of these educators, the promise of long holidays and short working hours may have enticed them into a career in education in the first place.

But all these reasons are beside’s the point, for they all pertain to some nostalgic ideal. That is, because something has been this way for all this time, it cannot possibly be wrong. Many people argued against the abolishment of the slave trade out of a similar feeling. But I concede this may be an unwarranted comparison. The moral implications of slavery I would argue far outweigh that of the case at hand. What are the more reasonable reasons to reinstate the sacred 6 week summer holiday? Or likewise, what are the reasons we ought to allow schools to set their own timetables?

Firstly we must contend this notion that teachers and students alike are lazy and inept. Darren Preece, deputy head at Swindon Village Primary School,  said that the idea that teachers spend six weeks sunning themselves was ludicrous. But he concedes, that:

With such a crammed curriculum, I can understand why the working day may need to be longer.

Yet Mr Preece argues this new legislation could cause more harm than good, suggesting that shorter holidays will lead to greater absences during normal term time. He also argues that teachers spend a great deal of time preparing during these summer weeks for the new academic year.(1)

If there was less time in the summer to prepare, that won’t go down well with teachers.

Gemma Bowes reports for The Guardian, that travel industry experts have been dismayed by the Gove’s announcement.

Malcolm Bell, head of Visit Cornwall, said: “If the government wants to hurt hard-working, striving families, this is the best way, as holidays in the UK and overseas would become far more expensive in peak periods.”

However, does it not make sense that every school ought to be able to teach their students how they see fit? I think stifling a school’s ability to cater to the needs of students, parents and teachers alike is a very bad thing for everyone. Yes, while I feel the holidays are important to a child’s development, it is not for me to forcibly impose my beliefs of child rearing, education nor how to run a school upon anyone else.

“It is heads and teachers who know their parents and pupils best, not local authorities. So it is right that all schools are free to set their own term dates in the interests of parents and pupils,” a spokesman for the Department for Education said. (2)

Hence, I can only argue the merit for my case, and hope others adopt this manner of thinking. I am a firm believer in deregulation in such cases, for we cannot impose such a strict set of binding rules when it comes to raising and educating children, who come in such marvellous variety. I think what is good about this legislation, is that it provides schools with greater power to tailor their education to their students and teachers needs. But I sincerely hope that they use these new powers within reason, for all work and no play, makes Jack a very dull boy indeed.

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The change is due to take place from September 2015, affecting the 70% of state primary schools and 30% of state secondaries still under local authority control. To find out if you or your children will be affected, contact your school or the Department for Education for more information.

 

references:

(1) http://www.thisisgloucestershire.co.uk/Teachers-unhappy-Michael-Gove-s-plans-shrink/story-18754750-detail/story.html#ixzz2YBAJ1h7A

(2) http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2013/jul/01/michael-gove-school-summer-holiday

 

 

Life as a wannabe – shit happens…

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I had a really bad day yesterday. The kind of day where you find yourself looking thoughtfully out the window, trapped in self-inflicted prison of crippling apathy. I wanted to write about it, but I couldn’t fathom the enthusiasm to do so. So I stared. I stared out the window and I stared at the ceiling. I looked seemingly vacantly at the bare walls, whilst worryingly incessantly about what had transpired earlier that day.

So I suppose you’re wondering right about now, what on earth happened to cause me so much despair? Well, to put it simply, I fucked up. And of course, I’m not so conceited as to not be able to admit that this happens often. It doesn’t help that I’m slightly neurotic, but I suppose that all writers tend to be, well, just a tad bit strange. You have to be to want to break into an industry as fickle as journalism.

So the rather cliche story is, I’m trying to become a professional writer, and unsurprisingly, it’s not particularly easy. At least not with a bad degree from a midrange university. Nobody ever said it wouldn’t be tough considering circumstances, and I never thought otherwise. But still, the occasional unforeseen hiccup on the bumpy road ahead can set you back a bit more than you’d hoped.

I was reading Siraj Dat9o’s post on WannabeHacks the other day , and it got me thinking about all the collective mistakes I’ve made on my journey so far. None yet as grandiose as a fake bomb prank gone horribly wrong, but one time I did tell an interviewer that anxiety was one of my key skills. You can’t help but wonder about such past misjudgements.

This is all opportunity to learn of course. So what have I learned so far? Well to be quite frank, I don’t really want to patronise you my dear reader, with the whole list of useless hints and tips that are so prevalent on the internet. What I’m saying is, this isn’t wiki how – there is no set way to how things are done when it comes to writing. Also as an amatuer myself, I must confess I really don’t have a bloody clue yet. I suppose like many of you, I’m feeling my way along, tentatively creeping along this seemingly perilous path ahead. What I’m getting at is, I think you will learn your lessons in your own way, as I have learned mine so far.

Saying this however, one subject that I am an unquestionable expert at, is being a bit shit. Contrary to regular posters on Wannabe Hacks, my list of of success to date is rather lacking. While admittedly I’m still at the beginning of this journey, I’ve already made quite a few mistakes in launching my career in Journalism so far. I guess what you could say is, I’ve learned a lot about what not to do, and I feel rather compelled to share these lessons with you, irrespective of if you should wish to follow them. So without any further introduction, here is my not-so-list like list of things NOT to do. I know this because, I was stupid enough to do them all.

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THINGS NOT TO DO IF YOU WANT TO BE A JOURNALIST

Lesson number one – don’t be lazy. The famous Mathematician and Philosopher Bertrand Russell once proclaimed, “I think that there is far too much work done in this world.” This was, until earlier this year, a statement I stood by wholeheartedly. Which is unsurprising, considering my aptitude at ineptitude. 23 years of combined idleness and laziness has stuck to me like a bogey on a wall.  It’s been a struggle breaking many years of bad habit. But If I could give you one tip, from personal experience, it is this – do stuff. Be proactive. If you’re an artist, you must paint. If you are a dancer, you must dance. And if you’re a writer, you MUST write. Russell argued for the “organised diminution of work”, because he thought this would allow “every person possessed of scientific curiosity” to “be able to indulge it, and every painter…able to paint without starving.” The unfortunate reality is, you have to work to survive. And there are no two ways around it – you have to work hard. Pull up them socks and get to typing friends.

Lesson number two –  don’t be (too) reckless. Everybody loves a risk taker  There’s something enchanting about someone going up against the odds. And I myself have frequently thrown caution to the wind, and sadly also, my future prospects. It’s not surprising I got a 2:2 on my dissertation, considering I was drunk whilst writing half of it. In hindsight, perhaps a foolish thing to do. Maybe I should of also revised for longer than a fortnight for my finals. Most certainly I think, this would’ve been wise. I guess as writers we value creativity, but it’s nothing without conscientiousness. While it might sound foolish, now I know it’s a lot easier to write when sober. I now know that it’s lot easier to do things when you plan ahead. Whilst I concede that these seem like rather common sense things to say, I cannot stress enough the importance of balance. It is a lesson hard learnt for me, but worth it in the end. I still think you should be willing to take risks and enjoy yourself, but be warned, all play and no work means you will suffer in the long run. What I’m getting at is simply plan, prepare and most importantly, study. You won’t regret it.

Lesson number three – By far my most important lesson, never be afraid to admit that you’re wrong. I remember reading a NYT article a while back, claiming that a big reason why people argue, is to simply win the argument, and not find any objective truth. I think I see this a lot in others as well as myself. When we receive criticism, it’s easy to blame someone else. It’s even easier to berate yourself over failure. But when we fail or come short, it’s a chance to look at ourselves critically. I argued in a blog post last week, that writers need self delusion to succeed. And while I still stand by this claim in part, I can admit I was partly wrong also. Because sometimes its useful to be knocked down a peg or two. It’s always good to be humbled. If you can’t be self critical, you’re never going to achieve any real lasting success in life. That’s what I think anyway’s.

The way I look at it is like this – whenever I should get something wrong, whenever I should make a mistake, “I do not fail”, but “I succeed in finding out what does not work.” So while it may be difficult not to feel despair or even resentment whenever you do bollocks something up – try be cheerful instead. Because at least now you know not what to do.

It’s a long journey, and I suspect there will be many more obstacles to face ahead. So good luck to you my friend, and always remember to stay humble, thoughtful and most importantly, optimistic.