Showing posts with label life as i see it. Show all posts
Showing posts with label life as i see it. Show all posts

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Do we understand work anymore?

WORK: for many a four-letter word, for others the epicentre of their existence but for most of us just another necessary evil. Work is how we get the stuff we need to buy stuff and keep the kids in fidget spinners (replace with current craze). For some, it is in all too short supply and barely covers the basics for others it absorbs all our waking hours. It affords us prestige and position, for most a source of frustration. But do we really understand what work is any more. I say not.
Twitshot
Now, my old favourite, Plato (I always put him in, it makes me look smart… is it working?) suggested the principle of specialisation. This means that each of us should stick to what we are good at, traders trade, farmers farm and philosophers sit around telling everyone what to think. Du Monceau in his riveting work The art of the pin-maker used pins to explain how Plato’s ideas could be taken even further. Adam Smith continued the pin-making motif (It was nails, actually but I like continuity) in The Wealth of Nations to show how these jobs could be split up to make great improvements in productivity, Henry Ford used this to create the production line so he could employ less and less skilled people at much lower cost to produce a very complicated product. In other words, give someone something very simple to do over and over and he will be good at it while not having enough scope to demand more money.
In the 1970s mechanisation had reach a point where many foresaw a time when machines would take over the pin-making and we would all enjoy unprecedented leisure time. A logical progression considering that the 1938 Holiday and pay act had provided the first paid holidays for workers. Very soon the idea of being paid even on days when one does not work became a standard. So, the concept of working a 3 or 4 day week while still being able to support a family did not seem to be an unreasonable progression. The computer age should have accelerated this but it didn’t.
It was realised that just as Plato had suggested, everyone should stick to what they did best. And as Adam Smith had concluded, that this was good for the wealth of the nation. So, workers work, employers supply this work, education keeps pace with the supply of the workers that the employers need and the government keep the whole machine oiled with taxes.
Work is a simple exchange of time for money, the more valued your time, in other words, the rarity and desirability of your time, the more money you get. But, we also had a system that would ensure that our needs were catered for and the 5 evils of society under control. This means that everyone contributes what they can to the nation to ensure that everyone’s needs are catered for and amongst those needs are healthcare, security and leisure. Leisure is important to keep the balance right, each part of the machine should contribute, not dominate. At its heart a society which progresses human development and evolution.
Meanwhile a lady called Brownie Wise would change the way we would work for ever. She realised that Tupperware could be sold more effectively through direct marketing. She gave women the opportunity to earn some pin-money (pins again) by monetising their friends, but also these ladies were self-employed, outside the machine. A straight line can be drawn from there to app-builders today. So, now if you don’t have a job it is not because the employers are failing to provide it or the education system is failing to prepare you for it, it is because you are just not enterprising enough. Plato and Smith had agreed that you really should stick to what you are good at and we are not all entrepreneurs. This new ideology also absolves the government from the position it had worked so hard to establish of taking care of its population’s needs. Globalisation had allowed it to supply employers with workers by simply importing them as they would washing machines. They no longer needed to produce and you’ll see that most advanced nations have a skills deficit which they are happy to maintain because it is cheaper to import.
Here is the shift. Governments are now working to the needs of the employers, not its population. They continually tell the population that it must tighten its belts and forgo some of the luxuries of the so recent past, free higher education, healthcare and leisure time. They should continue to pay the taxes to support the system but should expect less for it. Business should be above all else. If we accept this we can all return to times of plenty for all. But expectations are being slowly readjusted. You must take on more of the responsibilities that were once provided by the nation. You need to do many of the things you are not so good at or pay someone to do them, if you can.
Now, businesses have discovered a new way to make money. Instead of making and selling pins, they can make money through the markets. Their stock value is the real route to success and all resources should be focused on maintaining a healthy market value. The pin-making is just a utility to this end. To increase the market value companies must make more money and this means higher efficiency which depends on cheaper labour expenses.
Workhouses 21st century
We live in the tech age and as the industrial revolution mechanised production, the tech age will automate almost all areas of the company’s operations. Artificial intelligence is rapidly out-pacing the abilities of the lesser educated and their jobs are in imminent danger. When was the last time you interacted with ebay or amazon, did you get the feeling that you were not talking to a person, interactive chat services are passing the Turin test on a daily basis and they are getting better every day. Call-centres were outsourced to India and other cheaper countries and it is one of the biggest industries in the Philippines but many returned because customers complained of the lack of communication, AI will do better and cheaper. Many of us shop online. We go to shops to try on the clothes and then order the same product, cheaper through the net. Some retailers have realised this and use their stores to close the sale and give customers incentives to order from them online after trying on the garments. As more and more of us get used to buying stuff without any interaction with a shop assistant, the retail fronts could be booths where you try on and order for delivery to home. No more shop assistants or call centre workers, next. Autonomous vehicles will soon be able to get us back from the pub after a skin-full, safely and legally. They may also have been serving our pint. They will also be able to drive our Uber, black cab, bus, train or truck they are even working on drone deliveries that will make postmen and pizza delivery boys obsolete.
Online education courses will increase the abilities of educators to be decentralised to begin with but will soon be surpassed. There are also robots that allow surgeons to operate on patients from thousands of miles away. These too may be surpassed by AI. Technology in conjunction with our diminished reliance on personal, human interaction will make all this seem quite normal. Just imagine, many of your facebook friends could be replaced with AIs and you wouldn't know the difference.
So, a whole bunch of menial jobs will disappear, so what? This could be great. The same thing happened after the industrial revolution and that saw rise to the welfare state. More leisure, more education, more interesting jobs. However, in order to develop the skills necessary to do these jobs, you need education and skills are a supply and demand market. To stem the flow of capable people, education costs and a great education costs a great deal. People are going into careers with a huge debt around their necks and to make the payments that are working harder. The information age makes them more available, more of the time. And those who don’t make the grade, well they’ll be left outside the wall and there will be no workhouses to ‘save’ them, no busses to drive, no call centres to man.
Work has always been a way to provide. First we worked our patch of land, hunted in the forests to feed our families. Then with the division of labour, it became a team effort and we evolved into a species that lived more and better. Work is a medium of distributing the wealth of nations. Each getting on with what they do best, no matter how little or how much. Each paying into society and communities to benefit from its prosperity. Work is not the reason for living. We hold ourselves superior to the ants and the bees. Quality of life is progress, servitude is devolution. Without it, children are not parented properly, communities do not have cohesion, we open ourselves to exploitation from those who would take from us, whether they be corporations or gangs of muggers.
“I’m working” is a phrase too often heard, it means I am being productive, useful, I have purpose. The same should be true of “I’m taking the kids for a ramble” or “I’m going to the neighbours for a drink.” Work is part of the equation, not the sum.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Back to a very dark age

So much progress was made in the last century. Huge leaps in technology, great advances in equality, despite what many believe, education and health care for great swathes of the population. We put men on the moon, connected the world’s peoples with voice, video and written word, put eons of knowledge in the public domain and put computers that would have dwarfed NASA in the pockets of the same people that would have been bought and sold in the 1800s. So what’s gone wrong. We are on the cusp (and I’m being charitable here) of going full circle. Let me explain.
Twitshot
I will take my native Britain as case study but I also hope to explain why Trump happened, why BREXIT happened and why I believe we are in danger of finding ourselves back in an 18th century with touch-screens.
Looks like a call centre, doesn't it?
Around the end of the 18th century many worked in agriculture on tied farms owned by the lords and landowners. They paid to live in a little cottage and work the land to keep their family alive. There was no time for leisure and even less for culture. This was the domain of the aristocracy. They filled their days with lofty conversation, art and literature. Some made great advances in science and exploration due to their brilliance and wealth but mostly due to their wealth. Then came the industrial revolution which invented the middle classes, smart, driven men who took the dispossessed and orphans to work in their factories. They had no rights and were expected to work hard and show gratitude. Education was a luxury and so all doors were closed to betterment. They were all governed by the aristocracy who had the education and hubris to assume their rightful position at the helm of the nation. Some of the new middle classes aspired to these positions as they realised it was leverage to more profitable business.
The workers had no such aspirations and even believed that they had no right to even consider such positions. The upper classes were the men for the job, no questions. They could not envisage people like themselves having the qualifications necessary to make decisions on such a scale. Here we will see the beginning of the loop, be patient.
So after nearly a hundred years of industrialisation work had become a little more technical and there was a need to educate the masses to deal with the advances in technology. It was The elementary education act of 1870 that allowed local governments to set up schools for the less privileged. They were still fee paying schools but they were a little more accessible than private schools and more numerous. More kids were learning the 3Rs (Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic, maybe in itself an indication of literacy levels in those days) than ever before. In 1902 secondary schools were given the same treatment and just after the Great War in 1918 fees for elementary schools were abolished. This was also the year that some women got the vote.
The Liberals (Back when this wasn’t a bad word) pushed for universal free healthcare under Herbert Asquith and David Lloyd George. The masses were learning but still grateful. The British labour party had taken over as the main opposition but many would not vote for them as they were seen as not as qualified for such positions as the ruling classes. People still felt that those in the upper echelons were there for good reason and Joe Blow would never have the wherewithal to handle such responsibility, after all they were just like the blokes they spent their time with down the pub. Some may have been great orators and even pretty smart but they still got pissed and tried to shag the barmaid!
After WWII the Beveridge report introduced the welfare state, the NHS, the largest employer in Europe. John Maynard Keynes found the money and the war on the 5 evils of society (squalor, ignorance, want, idleness, and disease) was declared. People were put to work, educated to better themselves and their health and retirement was taken care of. Without the pressures of survival, people made huge bounds in progress and it is because of that era that we are where we are now. Microprocessors, the INTERNET, telecommunications, science, not to mention the arts would still be in the dark ages if these initiatives had failed. You can forget The Beatles and the Stones (Maybe even Radiohead… Gasp!).
Now, by the 70s things had gotten a bit strained and sectors of society that had always existed started to proliferate, those who were OK to kick back and let others take the strain and those who could make a buck from the toil of others. Neither the prior nor the latter were anything new but the prior were aided and abetted by the welfare state and the latter were waiting for the right conditions and they didn’t have to wait long. Productivity had fallen and the only way to keep the economy liquid was to allow people to spend the money they hadn’t earned yet. Credit was a way to give people spending power without upping their wages while giving bankers a way to make money that, they hoped, would trickle down to the masses. And, it did but not for long.
So now you have a people who had smelt the honey and they wanted more. You have the bankers who had enjoyed real power and they liked it. And you have a system that cannot support either.
The age we live in is characterised by technology but also by celebrity. Education allowed many to fast-track themselves and their kids to positions. Many of the Indians who fled Kenya in 1968 put their kids through medical school while working all hours in their own convenience stores. Many of the natives dreamed of getting on the telly or becoming rock stars, I know I did!
You see, the line, for most, between multimillionaire celebrity and themselves is comprehensible. Everyone can see the boy/girl next door in the people who compare game-shows or sing their favourite song. But, to run an international company or even country is tough and as education works so hard to rationalise their ambitions. Celebrity is far more attainable. The west has a huge deficit in skills production. With the exception of Germany, the US and UK have year on year chipped away at their education systems and health systems with the result of kicking people into survival mode. This results in people closing their circle of aspiration while still maintaining a level of desire for stuff and thus spending ahead of their years, keeping them focused on the job at hand.
Then along comes someone like Trump. He has built a multi-million international empire but still wants to shag the barmaid. He talks in the same simplistic terms as their buddies down at the bar but he has realised their dreams. He is the man for the job. He may be stupid but he is the kind of stupid they can relate to. The product of the education system. He is the perfect amalgam of celebrity and aristocracy, he even had a TV show.
But he will fail. He will be brought down by the incumbent aristocracy, in league with the academics and social media. He will be shown to be incompetent and his brand of bar-room politics to be unworthy. Not that it isn’t but the message is clear. Don’t get above your station. At the moment Britain is coming up for a general election where the winner is clear. Teresa May and the Tories, the same who had their power slip at the beginning of the 1900s, the same who wish those days to return, the same who feel a righteous purpose to privatise a system that tried to deal with the 5 evils of society, the same who will need to rely on imports of educated people to support innovative business or risk it going to the producers of educated people. And the only way they will be able to keep them will be to direct cash away from those services to reducing their tax and wages bills. We will be back in the industrial revolution and we will have come full circle.
The people will no longer feel adequate to aspire to anything more than surviving the week. Anyone like Jeremy Corbyn will be seen as a hapless student union dreamer despite having their needs at heart. And, those who say that in order to float the economy we need to run some teachers, doctors and nurses into the ground will seem most credible. But, education and health care is where this all began, it is what got us here. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a cycle that will come back round. The next phase will putting up fences that prevent it ever happening again.

You have been warned…

Sunday, 9 April 2017

No Sweat



Spring is here and the days are getting warmer. Good news. But for many of us it brings with it some very real problems. Sweat. Yes, for many of us still looking for the perfect remedy for stained armpits and that au so naturale aroma that comes with it. Well I think I may just have found the answer.
Twitshot
I recently read an article (Google it, you'll find plenty more) that made me try a different tact. Nothing. Yes, nothing. Seems the body likes to maintain equilibrium and the more you destabilise that balance the harder it works to fight you. 24/48 hour antiperspirants, manly deodorants do nothing but put a veneer of chemicals over the smell that must be smelt. Your skin is the largest organ of the body and it works hard to protect us from the elements while maintaining suppleness and supporting bacteria that shield us from airborne pathogens. For this it needs natural oils that we work tirelessly to eradicate.
The reason that this resonated so much with me is because it is not an entirely new idea. In my 20s, I had long hair. My hair is quite curly and as a result whenever I washed it my hair became dry and frizzy. I tried gentle shampoos, conditioners, I even tried olive oil but the result was always the same, unmanageable frizzy hair or lank greasy locks. Obviously the solution would be found in the right product. There are products that save us from all our human flaws and there would be one for this too. A simple transaction at the supermarket or body shop would surely fix this one and my hair, like so many other problems would be cured.
Then, I had a talk with a Norwegian girl with beautiful platinum hair. She told me that she hadn’t used shampoo for years and my reaction was probably similar to your right now. But, she did not look like a vagrant or a patchouli-smelling BoHo. I tried it and have used shampoo a hand-full of times since. The first month was hard, my hair went into withdrawal. Greasy and lank. I washed it everyday in the shower with plain water but kept soaps away. I have never looked back. Even using gels and styling products was no problem, they just wash out with water leaving the hair in a natural state of equilibrium. My scalp is healthy and dandruff-free.
So, when I read that the same could work with the toxic cesspits that are my armpits I ditched the expensive fragrant shower gels in favour of a simple olive-oil soap from the supermarket for less than 50c a bar (UPDATE: found multi-packs which work out to 30c a bar) and completely ditched the antiperspirants and deodorants. Antiperspirants contain aluminium chloride (aluminium and bleach), aluminium oxide (aluminium rust) or aluminium sulfate, you get the picture. Metal which blocks the glands to stop the nasty stuff getting out (also linked to breast cancer). in fact, the wife has found lumps before that at her annual checkups have been dismissed as blocked pores caused by antiperspirants. Deodorants contain antibacterials which kill the natural friendly bacteria which helps the skin protect us from airborne pathogens. The result is that the skin, the body’s largest organ, goes into defence mode and works harder to cool itself and protect us from the world by producing more stinky bacteria. Result, more sweat, more smell.
I have been doing this for just over three weeks now and have already noticed a marked reduction in sweat and almost no smell at all. In fact, a couple of people have remarked on how I (don’t) smell and asked what I use.
Now, the other part of the study recommends showering less. There I draw the line, even if it is really eco-warrior. I enjoy my steamy winter showers and my invigoratingly icy showers in the hot Greek summer. I will not give them up for the penguins or anyone else. The waste of drinkable water could just as easily be reduced by buying less bottled water. But, I don’t try to soap myself up like a snowman. I concentrate just on my stinky bits and I don’t have that tight feeling anymore like my birthday suit shrunk in the wash.
I have had to throw out so many shirts and my favourite Fred Perrys due to pits crusty with aluminium deposits. Every year we spend fortunes fighting the foulness that springs from every pore on those balmy summer days while we are trying to look cool. But when it doesn’t work, we do more of the same. More showers, more deodorant, more powerful antiperspirant, more, more, more.
Sometimes the answers are not to be found in the relentless pursuit of more of the same but in starting with an entirely new slate. Don’t try to think outside the box, rub the damn box out and get lost. You never know what you might find.


UPDATE:

Things are going well. So well that the wife shouts Fished called Wanda! every time I check the progress by sniffing my own pits. She has joined me in the experiment and I have no complaints with her aura. 

Trial 1. Took a drive down south, about 500km. Now, driving makes me sweat and I did. No more or less than usual but the difference was once we arrived. It dried and then the shirt is usually more offensive than Prince Philip at a... well anywhere (My favourite is his 'eating dog for the anorexic' quip) but there was nothing. No stains, no offence. Even the next day, the shirt was OKish.

Trial 2. My Vespa let me down yesterday on a 28 degree day. After frantic kick-starting and general kicking, I pushed it around 300m to a cafe while I called a man with a van and had a beer. Still no offence.

I have been doing this since February. Generally speaking, I have been sweating normally but there are no strong odours. My theory is that the antiperspirants and my perspiration joined forces to produce an unholy whiff. Now, some of this could be due to my diet or hormones or something to do with my body but it has been a resounding success. My shirts clean easier and I feel more confident. I have continued with the olive soap, which I can't be sure if it contributes to the outcome but it's cheaper and smells better. My only indulgence is a dab of something behind my ears (CK Obsession and RL Polo are my favourites, old skool).  Also, I  like the AXE (Lynx) everyday fragrance Amber and Tobacco, which I may pump under the pits from time to time.

The wife describes my smell as 'warm' and I think she smells like spring.

I cannot recommend this strongly enough...   

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Chaos theory

wild fruit
Centuries of farming technology and genetic research goes in the produce that we buy everyday. Our fruit and vegetable are the result of painstaking study, grown in perfect conditions with the perfect nutrients at the perfect temperature. Often they are the result of genetic modification, selective breeding. Now venture out of the city, climb a mountain, hike in the wilderness and you will find forgotten bushes hanging with blackberries, wild fruit cared for by nothing more than nature. But pluck that fruit and you will enjoy the most exciting flavours you have ever tasted. Maybe it’s the thrill of the chase, finding the few berries ripe enough but not too ripe and unmolested by insects. Maybe it’s the fresh mountain air and the climb to reach it. Maybe it’s the joy of something for free. And, just maybe it’s the satisfaction of sustenance at a time of great exertion. I have my own opinion on this. There is an ingredient missing from so much of life’s fruit. Chaos.


Twitshot
Speak to any enthusiast, someone who has a passion for something, be it art, cars, travel, sport, music and you will often find someone unable to articulate the root of their passion. What makes the heart race is the unfathomableness of its nature, the discombobulation of not knowing what it will tell you, where you will arrive, who will win, will it get you there.
Let me take cars as a point of reference. No one gets sweaty over a Toyota or Honda straight off the production line. People lust over old Jags, TVRs and Ferraris, machines that could give you the ride of your life or leave you in the middle of nowhere, machines that could kill you. Many years ago some friends of mine after passing their tests, bought brand new Honda CBRRs, a well-engineered street racing bike. They still had the chicken strips on the tyres (the little ‘hairs’ from the moulding that show a bike hasn’t been taken far from vertical) One asked me to take it out to tell them what I thought. I did. I took it down country lanes and on fast straights then brought it back unimpressed. Of course my mates were disappointed, they thought they had bought the best machine that kind of money could buy and they had but it didn’t scare me. It was so well balanced, the power delivered so evenly that I felt cocooned in the confidence that I would get home intact. At the time I had an old GSXR 750 that never had good tyres and the brakes had a habit of sticking when they shouldn’t. I would take it up to motorway speeds and see how long I could keep my eyes closed. The Honda did not impress.
Sport, the agony of not knowing if your star player will stumble or soar. Music, the feeling of whether the audience will tingle the way you do at the chord change or the line that makes your underpants dance. Art, are you seeing what the artist really painted for you. Literature, are you really getting what you are reading. Sometimes (read: always) when I finish a piece, my hands deliver the final line, my heart stops and my eyes well. Something, and I don’t think it is me, has put those words in just the right places to make it something more than ordered letters. Just like closing my eyes at 100mph and opening them to find a caravaner with a handful of sticky brakes. I am still alive but some of those heartbeats have put years on my life or life in my years. They were not wasted.
One of the, No! the main reason I came to live in Greece was just that. I didn’t know what was going to happen next. Greece is a drama Queen. In sexual terms, if Greece was a man he would never go on top, cause he can only fuck up! Other countries in the Eurozone went into recession took bailouts and pulled themselves back up. Greece is still too busy pointing fingers to get its hands on the work to be done. The uncertainties and fear, however have taken their toll and I have retreated to the Honda-like safety of my home.
So, back to the fruit. Take yourself somewhere hard to get to. Get lost and find some wild fruit.

Is this all an allegory? You may never know…

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Mushrooms


I want you to imagine that you are in a dark room, maybe the size of your living room with four others. You all have a pretty good knowledge of the layout of the room and quite soon somebody would stumble upon the door and you would be back in the light. Now imagine you are in a huge stadium-sized room with thousands of people and no knowledge of its layout. Now, being intelligent and communicative human beings, you would form groups who would collectively decide on the best plan to get out. Democratic groups that would devise and agree on the best course of action, this is exactly what you would do, right?

Twitshot

But, this would be a course of action that would be based on darkness. After some time and failure to find a way out, disagreement would begin and the groups would fight and fracture. New smaller groups would form under new leaders. Now you have two problems, finding the door and arguing with the other groups. At this point the disagreements could easily become a priority. Yes, of course some would argue that you should get back to the task of getting out but these pleas would get drowned out by the anger and frustration between the groups. “Why will they not listen?” the leaders would have the conviction that their way of reaching the light was the only logical conclusion. The group members would be more and more prepared to defend their way. These new groups and their leaders would gain more and more influence and despite not successfully finding a door, you would become more and more reliant on your group and leader for guidance and support. Pretty soon the only people looking for the door would be anyone who had not joined a group and working alone would have minimal chance of discovery, in fact they may even become fixated by their own approach, I mean, what type of person would they be anyway if they didn’t want to join a group.
We live in a world where most of us have been enjoying a well-established path to a truth, a truth that was authored by others over thousands of years. A truth that adapts periodically to serve the contemporary context. Simple instructions and protocols that enable us to concentrate on higher tasks instead of trying to work out how to survive each day. These instructions may be difficult to follow and feel restrictive but they shape our lives in ways we no longer register. These protocols exist for the good of the whole while masquerading as self-improvement. Learn what you need to know to contribute to the whole by means of some challenging and worthwhile task that sustains the cycle. If you you execute these duties well, you will have value and be rewarded, with these rewards you can acquire the tools of happiness and satisfaction, tools that were created by more people like you who have laboured under the understanding that they are contributing to something of value. But, in this darkness we only see those who are very close and usually only by how they touch us. We are the mushrooms in the dark cultivated of a nutritious bed of bullshit.
Now, back to the room. Imagine that someone found the door after generations of living in a safe, secure darkness, would you believe them? Would you understand what the door was? Would the light of the outside world not offend your eyes and strike a fear into your heart that would steer you back into the comfort and familiarity of the darkness. And, if one of the leaders found the door, would he tell you?

Saturday, 7 January 2017

I have discovered the meaning of life and you won't like it!



The beginning of a new year is always a good time to stop and take stock of the past twelve months and by any comparison 2016 was a doozer. You begin to dream about the next year with expectation and new hope but then at a particular age all the data from all of the years starts to make sense and conclusions can be drawn. I’ve reached that point and I know. What I now know is mostly that I know nothing. But, that “nothing” has more clarity and pertinence than ever before. What I have discovered is the meaning of life.
Douglas Adams dealt with the greatest question in his book “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” and it’s so easy to overlook the wisdom in the mirth. According to Adams, the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything is 42 (sorry for the spoiler) and it takes a super computer, the size of a city seven and a half million years to arrive at this. Many of you are aware of this, Adams’ risible conclusion is often quoted, but it’s the next step of the story that should receive much more attention. Another organic super computer is built to work out the QUESTION. They call this computer “Earth”.
Plato and Socrates (I always put these two as a double act as it was Plato who documented his mentor’s teachings and I’m sure the younger lost his objectivity from time to time) pondered the purpose more than the meaning of life. They came up with The Principle of Specialisation. What they meant is that in order to be moral and true to one’s self, one should not venture far from their preordained purpose. Merchants should trade, builders build and sailors sail with philosopher kings at the top ruling with reluctance and wisdom in equal measure. Aldous Huxley studied this idea some two and a half thousand years later in Brave New World with much less optimistic denouement.
There has never been a shortage of people telling us the way to righteousness. These sages will, once they have established their moral superiority, franchise their own answers until they are the only reasonable conclusions and followers will defend this safety of knowledge against any and all who disagree. History shows us that this defence of faith becomes more and more vehement until the keepers of opposing answers will wage spiteful and bloody wars on each other just to prove that their answers are good and moral. The irony is that the profits of these answers invariable begin by teaching acceptance and love for all.
We, as a species, need purpose and tend to fall into two distinct groups. Those who seek meaning and enlightenment through institutionalised faith or philosophy and those who get on with wrighting ships, building buildings and making trades so they can buy stuff that will give their lives some meaning. And, while they would appear to be fitting nicely with Plato’s Principle of Specialisation, they are deeply frowned upon by the prior. This could be seen as simply religious and secular but they are merely two sides of the same coin.
You see, the biggest poverty in both these approaches is that they keep any truth at arm’s length. The closer you get to the answers the more you need either faith in an external omnipotence or an update.
I recently visited Holy Mount Athos, Greece’s monastic state, I watched the faithful yearn for reason and enlightenment. The monks devote their lives to it scouring the scriptures for answers and guidance. But, in order to find pertinent answers, you must first craft apposite questions and to do that you must look inward and not to others. Questions are deeply personal and you must understand yourself to ask them well. We live in a society that pretends to encourage self-awareness but needs you to follow the herd and need what is on offer. You should consume the mass market solutions to questions you never asked
So to the meaning of life I promised. Well, it’s simple really. The meaning of life is proliferation, that’s it, the great existential answer is to service the species and make babies who will continue this. I invoke Kafka’s assessment that the meaning of life is that “it ends” and while it seems too nihilistic to stomach, it is true. I’d like to bring you back to Adams because I’m not an intellectual snob, I believe that it is just as likely that wisdom can be found in a 20th century Essex boy as much as a couple of beardy Greeks or tortured Austro-Hungarian. The meaning and the purpose of life can easily be confused, the purpose of life is propagation of the species but the meaning is just what you put in it. We are too answer-obsessed to stop and reassess our questioning skills. And, while information and data satisfies our need to know, the ability to craft purposeful questions requires a level of self-awareness that can be unsettling and is discouraged by society. While we continue to look for reason and meaning in the wrong places, there is no chance of us ever looking behind the curtain. But, if you learn to ask the right questions, you will find the answers that will help you live a better, more satisfying life. Not by looking to others but by knowing yourself.
So, would you like me to put you on the right track to finding the right questions. If you do then you have not understood a word.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Would you like people to be nice to you?





So, it’s about 7.30 in the morning and I’m heading down the mountain for an 8am appointment. The twisty-turnys are a little petulant this morning due to a generous frosting of dew so I gingerly pilot the Vespa, making full use of my lane to soften the bends. Then in my mirror I spot a shiny white X5 BMW. Any closer and he’d need lube! Now, I’ve been on two wheels since I’ve been on two legs and I’m not about to be intimidated by four wheel drive. I keep my mind on the task of keeping both wheels pointing down. He’s itching to get past but the blind turns keep sending oncoming traffic that could easily give him reason to abort any overtaking manoeuvre right onto my day, my medical insurance and my Vespa’s pristine curves. I hold my ground. Then after the thirteenth bend (yes, I’ve counted them) he floors his Bavarian tractor, nearly clipping me with his fully-automated door mirror. He honks and gives me a mountza (an open hand thrust in the direction of the insultee, rather like the middle finger you may be more familiar with) through the back window. I sent it right back. About a kilo later I catch up with him at the lights where his tractor is stuck in a queue of traffic along with the proletariat. I slip in next to him and tap on the window. And this is where my morning lesson really begins. He’s a mousy looking guy, completely at odds with the brawn of his wheels, no bigger than my eldest pre-teen son. His son was in the back seat. I asked him what his problem was, I was pissed off and probably showing it. He lisps in riposte that I had the problem and I should have pulled over for him to pass. So this weaselly arse in designer gym clothes is telling me that his right of way is way more right than mine and I’ve got my toe on the centre stand ready to dismount and charge. The child in the back seat keeps me from venting profanity but I’m getting ugly. The lights go green and he makes off, still adamant in his righteous behaviour and I start doing the maths of ramming his SUV with my Vespa and fortunately make the right decision.

I relayed the story to a friend and he began to tell me about his Dad. Before his death he insisted on driving but did so at his own pace. He regularly acquired a tail of disgruntled motorists all in a hurry to be nowhere in particular. He told me that he kept this in mind when stuck in irritating road situations. Yeah! So the dick up my arse on the slippery winding road should have been more charitable to me! “No,” he said. I should have been more charitable to him.
Ok, So how many of you are buying this? I wasn’t.
He told me that if I had said sorry, but the road was pretty slippery and I was just trying to stay alive a little longer (without the irony that I’m projecting through the keyboard right now) he might just have seen me from behind the mist of all the problems of his morning. The anger would have been defused, the defences would have dropped and maybe an understanding achieved. Not to mention a valuable lesson for the son in the back seat (did I mention that I’m a teacher? No maybe not the best of times to bring that up). My mind went back to nearly ten years ago when I was involved in a near-miss on a cross junction. We rolled down our windows and I gave him a piece of my mind. He left and the car behind stopped in my path and the driver asked, “Would it have hurt so much to say sorry?” I still remember how humbled I felt.
We all want to live in a more understanding world where people consider others. We all want to feel that others see us yet we continue to vent our frustrations on those who have little to do with its cause. If we are going to turn these situations around, we need to disarm our opponents and open a window into the life which is so similar to theirs. Turn opponents into momentary friends. It’s easy to stay angry when you are met with anger and bile but difficult when met with understanding and charity. The guy in the Bavarian tractor would have passed this anger off onto someone else but he could just as easily have been given a pleasant surprise and the beginning of a whole new day.

I won’t be pulling aside to let an impatient schmuck pass, I will expect him to do what I always do on the twisty-turnys, hang back and wait for the straight. I won’t resist the urge to tap on the window of someone who has put me in danger. I will not desist from giving them a piece of my mind but I will invest in my environment by making sure that it is a better, more constructive mind that I share.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Roundabouts in Greece, a real tragedy.

Is it just me or has Greece really missed the whole idea of the roundabout as a safe way to keep traffic flowing without the frustration of traffic lights.

Now follows a rant but this really needs to be addressed before a major death toll is caused by these relatively simple junctions.


There seems to be a prevailing belief here, prevailing but by no mean unanimous, that drivers on the roundabout should give way to those entering in accordance with the give way to the right law that applies generally on the highway. Thing is though, that if priority is given to those entering but not to those trying to exit a roundabout will quickly fill with no one having the right to leave. This often happens and while it is frustrating it is nowhere as dangerous as those who feel they can attack a roundabout at full throttle expecting those on it to make way for them. Just think, you are 2 or 3 metres from an entrance to the roundabout and someone 50 metres away will boot it with no concept that you may not give way to their righteous path. 

The other matter is the usual belief that any road with more than one lane is there expressly for parking. Watch this to see the calamitous results of a coach using the junction to drop off passengers, or go for a sandwich.  
Watch this: 
Thanks to David Woodhead

This is an American video showing how to use a roundabout from the wrong side of the road perspective:


I know that roundabouts are not common-place in the States but the concept is the same.

An Irish video, simply cause is sounds nice. 


I found plans for a double roundabout in Athens.... mercy!

Rant over. Share this to everyone you know in Greece, natives and ex-pats alike.  
  

Friday, 3 October 2014

The Greek republic of WTF



So there I was, scurrying along late and lost, as usual. It was a balmy moonlit night and I was going to pick up a friend's kid from night classes. I had circled the neighbourhood and finally found a space miles away from the music academy. Looking at my watch, it was 10.30 and getting close to the time when the kid would be looking for me and making panicked calls to his parents.


Greek police
Papaki Squad
I was in full scurry when I heard the farty toot of a police horn, I looked round in curiosity. It was Papaki squad, two bikes loaded with four officers locked and loaded. Who were they after? I doubted they were going to ask for directions but maybe I might have seen some suspicious type running away from a crime scene. One of the pillions was standing and they tooted again. I stopped in a who-me-? stance. The standing officer alighted and approached, was this really happening?

He told me they just wanted to do a little check; blood pressure? customer satisfaction? 

He asked me if I live in the area, I told him I didn’t. I told him to make it quick as I was going to pick up a kid from classes. He told me it would take 2 minutes, so I played ball.

I was asked if I was carrying anything illegal, I said I really hoped not as this wouldn’t be the best time. He deadpanned the same question again until I told him that I was not carrying. I turned out my pockets and everything was carefully scrutinised. It was about this point when I realised what was really happening. No just cause, no suspicious behaviour, just a 40-something late and lost.

I raised my arms and accepted a full body frisk. Thankfully he had gentle hands.

Once they had satisfied themselves that I was no immediate threat to society they asked me if I was from round here, I told them again where I live. He looked at me and asked the question again. I knew the question he wanted to ask, my accent had set off alarm bells. He persisted with variations of the are-you-local question without directly mentioning ethnicity. I told him that I’m British and he corrected me saying Greek-British, I told him English-British. Then the short one next to him started demanding papers. Now, I rarely carry ID as such, credit cards maybe but if you’ve ever lost your passport or driving licence you’ll understand that the risk of a night in the cell is worth all the hassle and cost of getting it replaced.

handcuffs
Porridge time
I told shorty that I took them on holiday abroad and I didn’t realise that I would need to prove my identity crossing the municipal line. Shorty tells me that I am abroad and have to prove my legal status in the country. Yes, this really is happening. I told him that I’m a Greek tax-payer and European citizen. He asks me again if I have any ID, I tell him again that I was under the assumption that I was free to move around as I would be in Britain, yes I know this was taunting but by this time I had had enough of their bullshit. He told me that they would have to take me down the station if I wanted to continue (read: keep it up, sonny!) I offered my hands ready for cuffing.

They had two bikes and two pillions, how they would get me there was anyone’s guess.

Finally, shorty told me that due to having to pick up the kid they would let me off… Let me off for doing nothing, stopped with no just cause and after discovering no illegals on me; how gracious!

I told them how grateful I was for their kindness and wished them a good evening, whatever that may entail.

I’m sure I’m not alone in this and nothing came of it in the end but when the police get used to this kind of arbitrary power of stop and search where do they go next. And what if shorty had really taken my bait and taken me down the cells.

Let me know of your experiences.     

Monday, 8 September 2014

Why Optimism Sucks


Optimism is the new dogma. You can’t turn these days without some cheesy-grinned motivator telling us all to turn that frown upside-down and look at the positives.


Keep calm and suck it up
Keep calm and suck it up!
 Pessimists, we are told, die young and lead less fulfilling lives. All your clouds must have silver linings and you glass must be half-full. If we are to believe some of the gurus, an optimistic outlook even brings success. They tell us that optimism makes us better leaders, cures cancer and makes us sexier. Rhonda Byrne, in her book The Secret tells us that just believing and wishing for good things will cause the whole Universe to realign toward their manifestation. And God help you if you don’t. Let me tell you now, ladies and gentlemen, optimism is bullshit.

A while ago, I watched a documentary in which a soldier was asked about his experiences during a 9-month hostage situation (I have spent ages trying to find it again but as yet nothing). The one comment that stuck in my mind was that it was always the optimists that broke first. They were always the first ones to look for a rope and a chair. This confused me, after all, everyone knows that looking on the bright side is the only way to be. Well, I’ve been thinking about that comment for some time and realised that it makes perfect sense.

Optimism is exhausting, you begin each day in the belief that everything is going to be hunky dory and it invariably isn't. Someone is always throwing banana peels at your feet and you are bound to come up against someone whose idea of things going well is things going wrong for you. Think about it, you want a pay-raise so you go into your boss and ask for more money. Now, his idea of a good day is to address flagging profits which is eating into his bonus or margins. Who is going to have a great day?

So what are we to do, give up? No! Well yes. I propose a new approach and I call it Constructive Pessimism. Under the rules of Constructive Pessimism you are not to assume that your day will have any success, you will assume that, as Murphy’s law so wisely states, what can go wrong, will go wrong. Now, I can already hear you jeering and you have every right to do so but hear me out.

Spot the optimist
Begin your day with a list and start with the weather, are there any clouds? It’s going to rain, take an umbrella or rain-mac. How do you get to work? Bus, car, train? There will be delays, leave early. You are already prepared. Optimists will tell you that each mishap is a lesson; bollocks! Having a raincoat is a lesson learned, being on time and keeping your job is a lesson learned. 

Optimistic spin on disaster is sign of a slow learner.


You have a big business meeting, the board will hate your proposals. What will they hate? How can you counter their objections and what will you do when they turn you down flat.
You have to budget a project. What will it cost? Wrong! It will cost much more. Sell it to the optimists at the lower amount but keep some aside for the hitches.

Optimists may help you but pessimism will save you.     

Experts tell us that pessimists suffer with stress that leads to neurosis and heart problems. They tell us that optimists take risks and succeed more. Well, I’ll tell you that the belief that every silver lining has a cloud will mean that you always have a brolly and a glass half-empty will lead you to a tap for a refill. Constructive Pessimism will keep adrenaline levels high making you more aware and ready to deal with life’s slings and arrows.

At the end of an optimistic day you will count the lessons learned and resign yourself to the good of the big picture. At the end of a pessimistic day you will be able to lock your door and count the things that didn't go tits-up, not to mention being glad you had that brolly with you.

Optimism sucks the life out of you, believing in the good nature of the universe is like willing your stocks to stop falling. The Universe does not know who you are and definitely has no great plans for you. 

Coming to terms with that may make you feel insignificant but it will put you back in the game.

             



Thursday, 28 August 2014

Naked life


Naked life
Life without walls

Just picture your neighbourhood without walls, your neighbours walking around around in their underwear, drinking their morning coffee in plain view of all before they manage to get their face to sit straight. The warm familiarity of a warm hand down the front of your trousers while watching TV or that moment when the bile rises in repugnance of a spiteful comment from your dear spouse. Our lives depend on walls. Without walls when would we pick our noses or break joyous wind.  But this is exactly the experience that camping gives us and I have to admit, it is a very pleasant one.  


As a Brit, I have always viewed camping as an exercise in resilience. I remember shivering
Camping in Britain
kingdom of rain
throughout the night as a small child, fear stoked by campfire ghost stories; the sounds of nature morphed by the imagination into ghouls and monsters. Waking up with a raging hangover in a puddle after a stormy night at a festival as a teen.  Camping in Britain is a badge of honour, a rite of passage to fill the heart of any Victorian explorer or even Baden-Powell himself.

Then, I tried camping in Greece. Camping in Greece is not an SAS survival course; it is an exercise in prolonged nudity. Not just the fact that you spend most of your time in your trunks or bikini but  that people set up complete roaded suburbs from canvas and string, it is true open-plan living.  The result is taste of life without walls. The barbeque indicates the kitchen, a piece of string the laundry room.
What really started to make an impression on me, though was how a life without walls can be quite liberating. Stripping life back to basics is 5star living on 1star expenses, your every need is fulfilled because you don’t have any. The most taxing dilemma of the day is whether to make the trek down to the beach or sit and read a book in the hammock. The most arduous task is lighting the barbeque for dinner.

Your neighbours are all very semi-clad and this seems to make them more open to a good morning and a friendly chat. The lack of boundaries makes open visits so much easier and we enjoyed meeting people that we may not have otherwise spoken to on a hotel break. We shared food and drinks with them without fear of encroaching or interference.
The whole experience got me thinking what my own neighbourhood would be like without walls. Would we be a little more considerate without our doors to close, a little more charitable if we saw what was on other people’s plates.

naked camping
life al fresco
Then there is the matter of vanity; you would think that being naked all day would make you very self-conscious but quite the opposite is true. When the illusion of perfection is no longer made possible by push-up bras or baggy shirts, people look more human, more flawed and less intimidating. We tend to imagine what we cannot see and we tend not to imagine the worst. That said, you do become more in-tune with your own body and are more likely to pass on another sausage from the grill when you feel your tummy starting to protrude. One of my neighbours was a young guy with a fantastically chiselled physique but seeing his mealtimes served from a carefully prepared Tupperware box helped me appreciate that nothing comes for nothing. I personally found people less pretentious and more attractive for it.               

Taking some of the pretence from life might help many to feel less inadequate and more happy with reality. The walls that protect us from prying eyes also allow us to become more influenced by illusions from the popular media than by the people we live around. Reality becomes what we think everyone else is doing.


I can thoroughly recommend a couple of weeks under canvas each year, without push-up, lycra or baggy trousers. It would help to realign our notion of reality and view others in a more human light, not to mention redressing the illusions foisted upon us by the photoshopped media stars.      




From Under Dark Clouds

The Century of DIY