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Alice Golightly had the misfortune of surviving all her family. Husband, children, brothers, sisters, all of them had gone before her, so she sailed into her nineties alone as friends, too, old and new, fell by the wayside. Among the last of the plotter girls, she’d served as a WAAF, with Fighter Command, during the Battle of Britain. Then she’d worked forty years as a formidable secretary, in one of the great manufactories, now fallen to rust. She’d spent her retirement in the bingo halls, a cheerful soul. There were holidays in Blackpool, and Marbella,…

In wartime, she’d survived a direct hit on her bunker, helped pull others, less fortunate, from the rubble, never wondering for what purpose she was spared, what purpose, this long span of life. Only now did she fall casualty, still unquestioning of the rhyme and the reason of things. A copper broke the door in, found her sleeping the eternal sleep – by now a sleight, malnourished form, under hand crocheted blankets, in an unheated room. Less mobile, and confused of late, she’d been unable to work out how to make the pension go as far as was needed. The coroner concluded she’d been subsisting on a diet of raisins, and thereby succumbed to seasonal hypothermia.

After a blur of mergers and acquisitions, the newly formed, newly fangled energy company that had taken over Alice’s supply, had risen, as if by sleight of hand, and emptied her bank account in short measure. Then it disconnected her, when she could no longer pay. Alice had been sure it was a mistake. She’d always been able to pay her way before. Official letters had couched their threats in guarded and impenetrable legalese. Her own, spidery, handwritten replies spoke of confusion, openness and old age. There was also humiliation in her appeals for explanations in terms she could understand, none of ehich were forthcoming. She had never joined the online world, wary of clever people duping her out of money, and ruining her life. Always outgoing and spirited, the walls of her world finally closed in, and Alice Golightly was heard from no more. She might have made it to a hundred, if only we had let her.

Alice Golightly’s last act was to have the undertaker’s little ambulance block the road by her house, during her removal from this world. The traffic backed up and blocked the neighbouring street, which in turn, like a series of ripples spreading out, caused a minor hold up in the middle of town.

Now, the chief executive who closed the deal that indirectly caused the disconnection of Alice’s energy supply, was an unhappy man. Three times married, he was approaching as many divorces. His daughter, from his first marriage, was in therapy, and hated the ground he walked upon. His son, from his second marriage, was dropping tens of thousands in the casinos of Monte Carlo, and seemed bent on bankrupting him. The renovation of his Oxfordshire mansion wasn’t going to plan, and the taxman was on his back. He’d have to move more of his money offshore. Life really was a bitch right now.

As his limousine cruised through town that day, it hit the traffic indirectly caused by Alice Golightly’s last act, and a sat-nav diversion took him by a line of people queuing for food handouts.

“So many homeless,” he mused.

It never failed to amaze him how anyone could be so feckless, so lacking in the work ethic, or intelligence, or whatever, to say nothing of being so damned shameless, as to line up for charity like that. His driver nodded, not wanting to tell him these weren’t actually homeless people. They were more likely workers, working precarious jobs, yet who still couldn’t feed their families, or heat their homes. It was just the way of the world right now. But the chief was always right.

It did nothing to improve the chief’s mood, of course, seeing the ugly underbelly of the world this way. It always had him wondering by what misfortune he might yet end up there himself. It was a recurring nightmare of his. The limousine slowed to a halt in heavy traffic. He tried to avoid eye contact with the people queuing there, but his eye was indeed caught, briefly anyway, by a young girl in the line. She looked to be of his daughter’s age, and as pretty a girl as he’d ever seen. Scrub her up, swap her cheap clothes for couture, and she wouldn’t look out of place anywhere in his world, he thought.

Was it only money, then, that made the difference? What was the trick that had him destined for riches, and her,… well,… to stand in line like this? The girl’s expression was blank, betrayed no emotion. Except, suddenly, she smiled at something her neighbour said, then laughed out loud, holding her sides as if to contain a surplus of mirth that threatened to rock her entire being off the pavement. Her laughter moved him. It was so open, so light, so genuine. He could not remember the last time he’d felt that way. It saddened him too, that he would never see his daughter laugh like that, and when his son laughed – as he often did – well, that was only out of scorn.

The traffic eased as Alice Golightly’s final journey got under way. The chief’s limousine moved sedately on, and he settled back in the leather, caught up in a moment of deep introspection. Then it came to him, the solution to his unhappiness! What he needed, more than anything, right now,…

Was to buy himself a yacht!

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IMG_20170821_213323_429Now and then you’ll come across one of my novels popping up on Amazon, even though I don’t publish on Amazon and prefer to give them away. Instead, someone calling themselves Michael Graeme, will steal one of my titles, stick it on there and charge money for it. I know,… I’ve talked about this before, but anyway,…

It’s a common issue faced by all creatives working in the digital sphere. Why? because our “product” is easy to replicate and distribute. You just cut and paste. And it’s not just text of course: music, photographs, videos, computer-apps, games, databases, information,… you name it, it’s all vulnerable to filching. But does it matter? Should we not be viewing this ease of reproduction more as an indicator of a strange but bright new future?

Those wealthy enough can protect themselves to a degree, or at least they can for now. Indeed there’s a whole industry built up around digital rights management to prevent file copying, but the ways of defeating it are morphing faster than the defences can adapt – that’s just the nature of digital technology. So, do we accept piracy as a hazard against which there is no realistic defence long term? And more,… is this an indicator of the changing nature of society, of what we understand as industry, work and value?

It’s hard to imagine a cultural shift when you’re still living in the last vestiges of the old one. Science fiction writers and futurologists can have a stab at it. The most I’ll venture with any certainty is that in fifty years our current era will seem like the stone age, socially, technologically and economically.

The shift began with the ability to “cut and paste”. It renders anything you create, digitally, worthless, at least in traditional money terms, even if you’ve spent years working on it. How come? Well, you only need to apply the basic rule of economics which states the price of anything is proportional to its scarcity, and anything so easily reproducible as a computer file isn’t exactly scarce is it? unless rendered artificially so by technological countermeasures, and they will always have the tide of anarchy against them.

So the future is looking like a place where our traditionally paid labours are worth nothing, and all information based “products” produced by those labours won’t be worth anything either, at least by contemporary economic rules. For a time I’m sure there’ll be an elite of celebrity artists who continue to be paid handsomely via the old model, their works protected by a stout, metaphorical ring-fence of barbed wire, but by then they’ll be servicing exclusively a societal elite holed up in their security patrolled mansions – these being the crooks and the psychopaths still looking for ways to game the old system for maximum profit at the expense of the rest of us. All this even as that old system atrophies around them. And in part, they’ll do this by hoarding and guarding what bits of tangible capital remain and renting it out to the rest of us.

Already we have a generation who own nothing. They rent their homes, their cars, their phones. There’s even talk of retail models whereby we rent the very clothes we’re wearing. Stop paying, pause for breath on that tread-mill of the damned, and you’ll literally be left naked and broke as the day you were born. But I’m sure that’ll just be a temporary end-phase, that it’ll last no more than a generation, a necessary period of reflection for impressing upon us the need to think differently about the notion of value, of what we value and how we value it. And then, all writers, like everyone else, will be producing stuff for free, simply because they want to. And whatever we need, even the clothes on our backs, others will produce for free as well.

The alternative, at least for the ninety nine percent of us who own nothing, is a form of unwaged slavery, but I don’t think that’s going to happen because when a man has nothing left to lose, he’s impossible to control. And the greedy freaks, the one percent who go on hoarding wealth will be reviled and shamed and shunned to the remotest desert isles with all the money in the world to play with, money that’s worth nothing any more. And then the very notion of piracy will have become a quaint old fashioned term, one we must look up in the OED, then shake our heads in wonder such a strange phenomenon ever existed in the first place. An egalitarian utopia? Unlikely, I know, but the opposite doesn’t bear thinking about either, though I admit for now it seems the more likely outcome.

I remain optimistic though, and if I’m right, the future isn’t what it used to be. But at least I know why I give my stories away – I mean apart from it being easier and less self destructive: I suppose I’ve simply always been ahead of my time.

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the masterOkay, let’s be careful with our terms here. When we say ‘crisis’, what we really mean is even celebrity authors can’t make money writing literary fiction any more. Book buying is in decline generally, but literature especially. What’s literary fiction? Well, roughly speaking it’s what’s left when you take out all the other stuff people generally prefer reading – the genre stuff: thrillers, chick-lit, crime, horror, sci-fi,… whatever. It’s the kind of stuff written against the odds of anyone actually being interested in it. Sounds a bit grim, and it can be, but on the plus side ‘research’ suggest literary fiction is the genre most likely to improve a reader’s soul. But who cares about that these days?

I hesitate to say it’s the kind of stuff I write because that would grant me airs I’m not sure I’m due, but since my stuff won’t fit into any other genre I suppose that’s what I must call it. And that’s a pity because according those who supposedly know – all those book publishy types – literary fiction is finished. Kaput! It’s really so ‘over‘ darling.

Hmm, story of my life.

Except:

What saves me from oblivion is the fact I already don’t make my living at it, and never have so it’s a bit of a moot point to me. I’ve always had a day job, though to be frank for as long as I’ve had it – some forty years now – all I’ve ever wanted to do is quit it and write. Thank heavens for common sense then.

So, bottom line, it’s harder now for those who used to scrape a living at writing high-brow fiction – facts of life catching up and all that. But it doesn’t mean that kind of fiction’s dead. It just means you won’t find it in Waterstones any more. And at fifteen quid a pop guys, I mean, come on. There are some  who have to feed themselves all week off that. Oh, yes, seriously. So you need to get out of London and go visit some provincial towns. Maybe then you’ll be surprised to learn hardly any of them can muster a bookshop any more. They’re all Pound-land and charity shops, and thank God. Me? I get my literature from places like Age Concern and the Heart Foundation. So it’s no wonder the bottom’s dropped out of the market.

The starving artist in his garret? Yes, that old Romantic trope still exists. He might have a Masters’ degree in creative writing or literature now, or some other highbrow thing, but if he wants to live he works sixty hours a week in shop, or a warehouse earning £7.25 an hour, slaving for a grumpy old philistine who makes his life a misery. Then he goes home to his mouldy old flat, the rent on which takes most of what he earns, and he pens a literary line or two before he passes out. Then he submits them blind to a publisher who hasn’t a clue who he is. And you know what happens? Well, let’s just say he finds out soon enough there’s no money in literature, that indeed there never was for the likes of him, which is a pity because his story is the story of our times and worth listening to.

So that’s not to say there’s no need for it. It’s just a question of who needs it most and since the influential are deaf as a post to the cries of suffering heard all about us these days I still maintain the person most served by such work is the writer himself. Readers are a bonus, but hardly to be guaranteed, and not necessary anyway. So stick it online and be damned. If there’s no money in it you might as well, then move on and write something else because that’s what writers do. Isn’t it?

Can’t make a living at it? I know, it’s sad. But if stories are important, and the writers really mean it when they say they’re writers, rather  than posers in tweed jackets, the stories will get written anyway by someone not so proud. And this internet thing will disseminate all the unprofitable literary stuff and preserve it for eternity – unless of course this net-neutrality business gets a look in and then we’re all stuffed.

But that’s a story of a different kind, possibly much worse, and I’ve yet to get my head around it.

Maybe next time.

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pardiseIt’s a difficult period to bear witness to, at least for one who’s always had a naive faith in the idea western society would, by dint of superior economic, moral and social models, continue to thrive. I never once thought the opposite was more likely true, until that is until the coming of this lost decade when it seems we have been thoroughly undermined by our own avarice.

Everything real is broken now. You might not notice it as you walk the consumerist delusion of London’s Oxford Street, the Capital seeming as prosperous as ever, but walk any other street, especially in the North, and you’ll understand where the pain is being felt, and why. Here, there has been no recovery from the crash of 2008 and now, a decade, on we are entirely disabused of the notion there will ever be one. That the poorest would one day be reliant upon charitable handouts of food, even those in work, would once have been beyond imagining. Now it’s normal.

I’m approaching retirement from a profession on its uppers, but it’ll see me out, and I have the cushion of one of the last final salaried pension schemes to take me into old age, so I write from a somewhat detached perspective, neither rich nor poor, but anyone with compassion cannot but be moved by what they see about them. And anyone with children cannot but be alarmed for their prospects.

My life began in a working class family, sustained by my father’s energy and intellect. In the mines he worked his way up from collier, to shot-firer, to deputy. Night school in his teens and twenties, and the earnest application of his craft in the very depths of the earth yielded sufficient reward to support a wife and two kids, a modest three bed semi, and a second hand car. He wanted nothing more.

When my father died early, his Coal Board pension sustained my mother for the rest of her life. It stood me on relatively secure ground too, saw me through the early years until I could work my way into a profession of my own. What I am now would not have been possible without my parents, and what they achieved, modest though it was, would not have been possible without a supportive society, a Britain that was by and large benevolent, providing those who had begun lowly in life with a basic financial catch-all, and a ladder to improve themselves.

This grand experiment ended in the 1980’s with another experiment, one founded on the redistribution of money into private hands. The theory was that, while this would naturally render certain individuals obscenely rich, their riches, through investment, would somehow spawn enterprise that would in turn allow money to trickle down and sustain the whole of society. What happened was rather different.

They entered into a kind of warfare against the masses, also against the governments who represented them. They developed ways of becoming richer, of evading laws, and where necessary lobbying sympathetic lawmakers into dismantling the financial checks and balances created to ensure decent and fair practice. Thus the financial systems pulsating throughout the nineties and the early noughties were already akin to legalised swindles.

As the rich prospered, they moved their money into secret places beyond the reach of the taxman, while industries providing employment for millions collapsed for want of investment. The industries were not replaced. The poor became poorer, and the ladder allowing them to become richer by means of diligence was kicked away. Reliant on by now severely rationed state handouts, and on ever more demeaning and dead end work that paid virtually nothing, they clutched at the devil of credit-trickery to makes ends meet, and fell headlong into a cunning debt slavery from which there was no escape. As if this were not enough, they were also vilified in rich men’s newspapers as n’er-do-wells and scroungers.

This appalling system fell apart in 2008, the result of one last financial swindle that spun the roulette wheel so hard its axle broke. The world would have ended then had it not been for the largely unacknowledged efforts of a former and much maligned British PM. But it was not enough to restore the world, even to pre 2008 levels of declining prosperity, and the decade since has been one deliberately contrived to render the masses poorer, increasingly insecure, and more despairing than they were before. Meanwhile the rich have continued to prosper so much they have begun gold-plating their Rolls-Royces,..

My ‘phone was bleeping every five minutes this last week as the Paradise Papers broke, my left-of-centre news-feeds breathless with yet one more revelation of how the rich keep their money safe from the rest of us, and what obscene frivolities they spend it on. None of it surprises us. We’ve heard it all before. If you take money from the masses, deprive us of meaningful work, you cannot expect us to support ourselves, let alone prosper and pay taxes for the benefit of society as a whole. We whither, and society withers with us, becomes cheap, threadbare, fragile. The rich have inherited all the convertible wealth of earth, dumped the rest of us among all the waste that’s left over.

We have no control over the circumstances into which we are born, and nowadays less opportunity to alter those circumstances as the rich secure their fortress positions and kick the ladders away. If one is born poor, it’s likely we shall remain so all our lives. The rich do not have a greater right to life than the rest of us, yet one might be forgiven for thinking they do since money is life, at least in the type of society we have created. To hoard riches beyond the reach and benefit of the masses is to deny security, and the sense that life means anything at all. But this is not a safe sport for the rich to play in the long term.

These scams and schemes are deftly gamed by the pulse takers and the money-lenders, and all the barrow-boys of the financial temples, but it is a crime, if not in the eyes of the state any more, then in the eyes of God. And if you do not fear God then perhaps it is the poor themselves you should be wary of, for there is little protection to be had from an ordinary man who’s already had everything taken from him.

But that the Paradise papers have come to light is itself a glimmer of hope, that someone working in the turgid murk of those sequestered riches possessed sufficient moral outrage to expose them. Look, someone’s saying, this really isn’t right! It could be something small, this thing, a brief cry in the dark and it’ll go the way of all such yesterday’s news, or it could be the start of something big, a viral howl of outrage to usher in a new, more socially responsible zeitgeist.

It is not my generation, the baby-boomers, who will solve this problem; we’re still too close to the myth of the golden olden times to put up much of a fight. But the young have and will suffer more, lose more than they have lost already, indeed they have grown up in a period that has eroded trust and faith in authority, a period that has equated wealth and power and privilege with corruption and the abuse of the powerless on an Herculean scale. This has been their bread and butter, and they are sick of it, and they are coming of age.

I forgive the young in advance their ire at so monumental a betrayal. The rich, who avoid their dues and bend the rule of law to suit themselves, I forgive nothing. I’ve no idea what the next decade will bring, but as the West stands today in the light of these revelations from paradise, the best I can see is a long haul, wading knee deep in the mud, while the bastions of the rich are dismantled one golden brick at a time. The worst I can imagine is that nothing changes at all.

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capsocEven a casual observer of current affairs cannot fail to be impressed by the spectacular tragedy that was 2016. The year was a litany of violence, hatred and political upheaval, proudly presented across all media as infotainment – this in formerly stable, western democracies. Coupled with these calamitous events there is the growing realisation that even though Capitalism has been hanging on by its fingernails since 2008, it’s essentially dead. However, since no one has a clue what to replace it with, there’s a fear we’ll be suffering the stench of its rotting corpse for a long time.

Indeed the times do little to reassure me we’re tending towards a more peaceful and prosperous co-existence – quite the opposite. The impression is one of a world totally out of control, one in which destructive archetypal daemons have breached in force the liminal defences of reasonable thinking, and are now wreaking havoc on several fronts, ushering in a zeitgeist that wears a face permanently distorted by a snarling hatred of all things “other”.

The response from that more compassionate brand of politics, the politics of the progressive (i.e. old) left, seems muted, as if they’ve been so long in the shadows the daylight burns their skin. I’m more pessimistic now than I was in the Summer about their chances of making a difference. All the forces of evil, news-media, and even public opinion are arrayed against them, while the alt-right seeps unmolested into the cracks. The prospect therefore of passing the remains of this century tossed by an ever escalating reign of chaos does not sound implausible.

I have long wondered if I should take a more direct approach to this collective existential emergency, and become more politically active myself. The feeling came to a head recently, after giving the meat and potato pasty I’d just bought, and was rather looking forward to, to a homeless guy. I was embarrassed, didn’t quite know what the etiquette was, only that he wore the thousand yard stare of extreme misfortune, and everyone else was ignoring him like he was a drunk, or a dope-head, or it was somehow his fault he was sitting in the cold and the wet with a blanket around his shoulders. My companion even commented, somewhat cynically that he probably drives a jaguar and lives in a docklands penthouse. But anyway, I gave the poor guy the pasty, and he was grateful for it.

We’re used to seeing down and outs in our cities, and that’s troubling enough to someone visiting from the sticks, but this was a provincial market town in the North, my town, my North, so okay: I was going to get political. I was going to kick this spectre of eternal decline right in the balls. Boy, was this Cappuccino Socialist going to whip up a storm!

However,…

Instead, I tried to join the Labour Party. It’s currently revitalising its atrophied radical roots and I thought I’d fit right in with my newly radicalised self, but my enquiries thus far have not exactly been welcomed with open arms. Indeed my online applications are repeatedly lost in cyberspace. I don’t know why this is, and I’m not going to speculate beyond saying it’s probably more a case of administrative overload than I am suspected, by dint of an all blue post-code, of being a sneaking Tory saboteur. I admit the thought of the latter does amuse me.

So,… I’m taking this rejection by the Socialist brethren in good part, and in a more transcendentally meaningful sense, that is to say the Universe is obviously telling me my contribution to the cause of a global Shang-ri-La isn’t meant to be political. I’d be rubbish at it anyway. Take me away from the keyboard and I’m tongue-tied by a log-jam of incoherent thoughts. So I’m back to chronicling the times as I see them, sipping my Cappucino between repeated rewrites, the best I can do being to urge a positive frame of mind in spite of everything that’s telling us to be afraid and to restock our millennium cupboards.

I’m writing this on January 3rd, the worst day of the year, the first day back at work after a long festive break. It is my morning of a thousand emails, evidence enough of a world drowning in obfuscating bullshit. Like those emails it has mostly to be deleted before we can get at the real issues, the things that actually need doing. Nor does it help that my holiday reading consisted of Hans Fallada’s novel, Alone in Berlin, a chilling tale that in part describes the ways and means the barking mad alt-right of Nazi Germany infiltrated every institution of state, efficiently reducing the German people to a subservience based on a blend of patriotism and fear.

In Nazi Germany the penalties for dissent were extraordinarily harsh, as with all oppressive regimes, the slightest hint resulting in torture and death. It’s not something we hear much about, how the Nazis were as cruel to their own people as to the nations they invaded. It’s an important novel and, sadly, as relevant now as it was when it was written. If we think it cannot happen in a modern western democracy any more, it does not mean it cannot happen, only that we lack the power to imagine it, and have not learned the lesson of history.

Of course things are not so bad now as in Fallada’s wartime Berlin. I can still type freely online without undue fear of my IP address leading the tech-savvy Gestapo to my door. Sure Google knows where I live, but they just want to sell me stuff. The point is we should remain mindful of the freedoms we still have, freedoms we might yet lose, and the ease with which they can indeed be lost, once the goose-stepping alt-right shadow-monsters are manifested in the crowded rally, whipping us all to hysteria, making us do cruel and degrading things to others in the name of nationalism, and security.

Yet, it’s puzzling, the vast majority of people have good hearts. This is my experience. The natural state of the human being is compassion, a desire for mutual respect and peaceful co-existence. Cruelty and criminality – things that underpin the oppressive regime – are aberrations, and the rest of us must not be afraid to point them out, for our collective weakness is as ever the ease with which we can be led, either by the wiles of the charismatic populist, or in fear of the shouty man. That we so often allow ourselves to fall into the hands of vile impostors is testament enough, also a warning, for in their hands we might be condemned to languish, helpless, for generations.

But all is not lost. It’s not for everyone to stride boldly upon the world’s stage, to influence the masses with one’s wit and common sense back to a reasonable way of thinking. We cannot all write a novel like “Alone in Berlin”. We cannot all, apparently, join the Labour Party. For most of us the best we can do is sip our Cappuccinos thoughtfully, remember the difference between right and wrong and, in holding to that simplest of things, preserve our dignity. By doing so we hold a mirror to the shadow whipped crowd so it can see its own face, see how ugly it’s become of late, and maybe think twice before dragging us any further into peril.

Stay Safe, and be of good heart.

Oh, and a Happy New Year!

Graeme out.

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The_ScreamIn observing the political and economic turmoil of the world, I feel I should be writing about it more, since if I’m not writing my life feels a bit like a rudderless vessel. And, politics, world affairs, these things are, after all, interesting subjects, subjects that determine the fate of nations, but I find it difficult to get at the facts of them, and without the facts one cannot help but be partisan.

The reason I struggle for the facts is I have laboured all my life under the misconception of a simplistic world view, a simplicity that’s comforting because the truth is more complex than most of us can make sense of. Indeed partisanship seems a necessary condition if we are to function at all, without the infinite ambiguity of the world rendering us permanently frozen in a state of catatonic schizophrenia. To be partisan, after all, halves the problem, since we can then dismiss the other person’s point of view and rest more comfortably in our own.

Of course, the advent of the world wide web has blown up a storm of imagery, revealing a world far more complex than we once thought, but this does not help because now the available information overloads us so we self-censor, pick the images that suit our narrow view, and block the ones that don’t. Yes, I can try to be non-partisan, but I’m working against myself, and I can be a devious fellow, but here goes.

Approaching now the end of our lost decade, we find American and Western European democracies polarising into entrenched positions to the left and right while the middle ground has fallen away. Unfortunately, the middle ground is where most people stand, and they’re finding no one represents their aspirations any more.

The economic system that has supported us since the Second World War – free market capitalism – is now impotent. It still generates wealth in sickly spurts, but fails to distribute it evenly. It is caught in a pathological malfunction that vastly enriches its captains while laying waste to the rest, both environmentally, and in terms of the life prospects of the majority of planet earth’s inhabitants. A mutiny, by the natural world, and the disenfranchised is an entirely plausible consequence, and some might say long overdue.

Politically, even the most cursory analysis reveals the West is not governed by democracies as we are led to believe, but by plutocracies. These are systems in which the democratic machinery exists and is indeed much vaunted, but its goals are more of an aspiration, rendered largely irrelevant by, and subservient to powerful moneyed interests. And plutocracies are resistant to change when change is due, since the beneficiaries, cosseted in wealth, do not feel the pain of the poor who are subservient to them, nor are they particularly aware of their existence.

As a consequence the global plutocratic vessel fetched itself up on the rocks for the last time in 2008, with political and economic efforts since then being devoted entirely to its salvage, at floating it off on an incoming tide of oft-touted market resurgence. But its back is broken, its cargo spilled and plundered. Persistence in this direction promises not a lost decade but a lost generation, or two. Yet this is exactly the course on which we’re bound.

There is a revival of left leaning, anti plutocratic politics, giving voice to complaint. Socialism, a term not mentioned above a whisper since the 1980’s, is spoken again, on both sides of the Atlantic, and without irony, but it remains to be seen if this will have any effect at ushering in a more egalitarian paradigm, since the forces arrayed against it, barricaded behind vast wealth, remain formidable.

But when consumer goods, things that have rendered populations docile, are beyond purchase, when the domestic budget forces a choice between food and renewing the contract on the iPhone, populations will become restless, prone to irrational frenzy. Thoughts will turn from the Playstation to activism. This is, after all, what the consumer society was invented for in the 1920s, as an opiate for the masses, and it cannot be allowed to fall away entirely or, whether such frenzies of want are tickled by charismatic, media savvy individuals, or by the phases of the moon, the half century to come will be an eventful one.

The Middle East is aflame, of course. The Syrian civil war has been raging for six years. Iraq and Afghanistan, theatres of western intervention, have been bloodletting for over a decade. Western Africa is benighted by an economic ruin largely ignored in Western Media. These regions have haemorrhaged their youth, set them on the terrifying migration routes to the heart of Europe, where their arrival arouses compassion and racist resentment in equal measure.

I do not know where this is going, only that it is a crisis terribly underplayed, and perhaps it is for this reason we seem immune to it still, ambivalent, by turns perplexed and apathetic, but generally believing things will still turn out well in the safe shires of the West, because they always have before. But this time they may not.

The world is not a dream, but in many respects the imagery coming out of it resembles the imagery of dreams. There is still the beauty of aspiration – the eye of the beholder – reminding us the human spirit can be stilled into appreciative contemplation by the simplest of things. Yet there is also the grotesque, the violent, the terrifying – all the stuff of nightmares, suggestive of the power of the unconscious bearing a dark fruit, sown by the seeds of things we have long suppressed.

This harvest is not a wholesome one, we shudder to touch it, but it must be gathered in all the same, dried out to harmlessness under the sun, and examined, not left to rot and fester in the fields, season after season, as we have always done before.

And as with dreams it helps to take each image in its turn, to ask ourselves what it is within us that gives rise to this picture. The dream, like the world, cannot be controlled directly. It simply is. And what it is is a consequence of our thinking, our desires, our prejudice, our imperfections, our inner most selves. We can only therefore each look to our selves and temper our hardness, temper the Ego’s will to power.

It is a retrograde step, and sad to see, the usual media popularising our leaders trading infantile insults live on TV. We have no need for warriors. Time more for all the great houses of power to temper their tone, for the Ego, that when shown its failings in the dream, even then persists in its will to power and the fantasy of its own superiority, gives rise to the most monstrous nightmares, to the apocalyptic imagery of the archetypal gods, on whose anvil all things are eventually broken.

Viewed in these terms, the world begins to make more sense. We are in the midst of a cataclysmic collective psychosis. Sadly, this suggests that what lies ahead of us is not a lost decade, nor even a lost generation, but perhaps a lost century.  And it’s only 2016.

Better to stay away from politics and world affairs – its study can make you maudlin.

Sweet dreams.

 

 

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southport pierSince 2007 we’ve been observing a world in freefall. Something’s gone wrong with the money machine, and the machine is a mystery to me. Try as I might, I just can’t figure out how it works so, like my car, I tend to leave such things to the mechanics. All I know is that the mechanics tell us we can’t just print money when we run out of it. If we print it, they say, the prices in the shops go up, so we run out of money again and have to print even more. The result is a never ending and upwardly inflating spiral of destruction.

The problem is, of course, we have indeed run out of money – lost it apparently – but such is the depth of my ignorance, I don’t understand where the money has gone. I know money is largely computerised now, but when the pundits opine that billions have been wiped off the value of the stock market, does that mean there’s a computer program somewhere deleting it?

If I only understood these things a little more I’m sure I’d be less cynical when we hear the tired old politicians’ saw that we’re all in this together and tough decisions must be made. But I’m not so ignorant I don’t understand that phrase: “tough decisions”. It means diverting money away from anything that betters society – diverting it to where, exactly, I’m not sure, but certainly nowhere it will do the majority of us any good. Those tough decisions may be expedient in terms of getting the  machine going again, but it seems also morally perverse, no matter what the money mechanics tell us.

To my eyes, something is wrong at the heart of the machine, yet the solution the mechanics are groping towards appears to be a painstaking restoration of the very thing responsible for the breakdown in the first place. It seems unwise to merely restore a system we know has imperfections so deeply ingrained it cannot help but impale itself again on the future shards of its own avarice. I’m aware this is a naïve view and it’s probably why I’m unsuited to the field of money mechanics.

The majority of people remain silent on these things, like me, lost in ignorance and apathy, focussing purely on the next pay-cheque, the next bill. We regard the economy the same way as the weather – something we must occasionally take shelter from, and are powerless to control. So, we look on in dismay and gather those closest to us, that we might comfort them with platitudes as the tornado cuts another swathe. But human beings are not meant to live like this for long. And six years of “tough decisions” is a long time.

We are all of us aspirational. If we cannot feel the thrill of life, however we define it as individuals, it makes us crazy. We might be tempted to expand ourselves in directions we ordinarily would not. And if the compassionate, inclusive directions in life are closed to us, what then?

They say there are no powerful ideologies any more – left or right leaning, that we run in the safe groove of the middle ground. Indeed someone famously declared the end of history with the fall of communism in the 1980’s. I think that was premature, for what is the avaricious freemarket economy, if not an ideology? And what are ideologies anyway, but irrational beliefs, each born from the ashes of the ideology that preceded it? But the thing with ideologies is the seeds of the old ways remain, like prehistoric grasses, frozen into the glacier of the new. And that glacier of the free market economy, has been melting so very fast of late. At what point will it release, drip by drip, those ancient seeds?

In Britain the ancient seeds are most visibly represented by the minority politicians who occupy the far right. I saw their footsoldiers in the summer. They went leafleting en-mass along the promenade of a wealthy seaside town in my locale. Bright eyed, jolly lads, they were. White, shaven headed and patriotically tattooed, they strode out with a purpose. But they also seemed intent on a parody of themselves as they handed out their literature of race-hate.

The Britain of my personal experience remains for the most part inclusive and fair minded, and I’m happy to report those leaflets were received with largely contemptuous ripostes. But I wonder at what point will those fair minded summer crowds be rendered vulnerable enough for the dark seeds take root?

Although the money mechanics remain by far the most vociferous of the media pundits, it’s clear by now this is much more than a financial crisis. It’s something that has reached to the psychic roots of our being and has begun to reshape us as people. We must therefore take care in the ideals we hold to, as individuals, for the only cure the mechanics can come up with is more of the same – namely the ruin of nations and the impoverishment of our children, generation upon generation.

In order to repair our world along the old familiar lines, it seems we must first destroy it.

So, as we stand on the cusp of this new age, and look to the future, we must be mindful of the times to come, that we shall at times feel our hands so tied we can no longer do any good in the world, that we will feel at times ever more restrained, unable to expand and feel the aliveness within us. Yet expand we must, for this is our nature. But whatever path we choose, let us remember the old doctor’s saw, that we must first do no harm.

There is an axiomatic kernel of decency in all of us, no matter how cynical and pressed. It’s an ancient thing, God given and born of dreams. It would always have us act to safeguard our fellow man, not out of legal necessity, nor national interest, nor economic expedience, but out of compassion. If we could only wake up to such an ideal as that, we might fix the machine properly so it works for all of us, instead of so intractably against most of us.

There has to be another way.

I know, I know,… I write stories, and most of them are fantasies too, but I remain hopeful.

 

Graeme out.

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