Children’s Liberation

January 2, 2018

Throughout history women have been considered inferior to men and hence subject to their domination. People of colour have been considered inferior to white people and hence subject to their domination. Gay people have been considered ‘perverted’ and ‘unnatural’ and hence subject to punishment. As a result there have arisen the women’s liberation movement, the civil rights movement and the gay liberation movement. These are all positive developments. They have achieved some success and I hope they will achieve much more.

But where is the children’s liberation movement? Throughout history children have been considered inferior to adults and hence subject to their domination. Is this the one form of oppression that will go forever unnamed and unchallenged? Perhaps you think it’s perfectly obvious that children are inferior and that adults ought to control them? If so, remember that misogynists, racists and homophobes have the same confident feeling of superiority over the targets of their bigotry.

Childhood in this world is deeply authoritarian, even fascistic. Children are told where to be, at what time and what to do when they’re there; they’re told when to speak, when to be silent; when to sit, when to stand; what to wear; what to eat; when to sleep; when to piss and shit. Failure to obey results in punishment. Even when they do obey they are reminded of the punishments they would receive if they failed to obey. In this world childhood is built on fear.

Parents, teachers, and adults in general, behave as children’s jailers, rather than as their guardians. An authoritarian childhood, with authoritarian families and schools, trains people for obedience and conformity, resulting in an authoritarian society. This perfectly suits the people in power, whether they are parents, teachers, employers, police officers, judges, or politicians, as they are all desperate to hang on to their power and increase it if possible. We will never have a democratic society until we have a democratic childhood, which means children having an equal voice with adults in the family and in schools.

Adults hate children. I don’t see how we can escape this conclusion, given the way that they treat them. They pretend to love them but what they really love is a fantasy image of children as little angels, submissive to adult commands and desires. This is the paedophilic heart of our society. In practice adults treat children as prisoners or animals or ‘savages’ who need to be civilized, when in fact the adults are the savages who create this violent, divided, unjust world.

In order to love someone there are two crucial requirements: 1) you know who that person really is, and 2) you accept and love the person as they really are. I contend that most parents do not meet these two conditions for their own children. Firstly, they don’t know who their children really are because they are constantly telling their children what to do, managing every aspect of their appearance and behaviour, so their children never get to truly express who they are. Secondly, when their children do express what they are really thinking and feeling, what they really need and desire, they will usually be criticised, told that their behaviour is ‘rude’ or ‘inappropriate’, and told to stop being ‘difficult’ or ‘demanding’.

Children quickly learn to feel ashamed of their natural inclinations and to keep them concealed, to become secretive and evasive, to put on an appearance of conformity in order to please adults. This sickening, degrading conformity continues into adulthood with the desire of workers to please the managers who oppress and exploit them. The model for the employee-employer relationship is precisely that of child and parent; hence employers deceive, control and manipulate their employees, just as parents deceive, control and manipulate their children. Shame and secrecy poison human relations throughout our lives.

In an authoritarian society human relations are built on criticism. Parents, teachers, and other adults, endlessly criticise children, for every aspect of their appearance and behaviour. This teaches children that criticism is the normal basis for every human relationship. So they in turn criticise their family and friends and the other people around them. When they grow up they are likely to have intimate relationships that involve lots of personal criticism, preventing them from knowing who the people around them really are, and leading them to make futile attempts to change people to meet some absurd idea of their perfect companion.

The hatred and criticism spreads out to the social and political spheres, leading to all kinds of bigotry: racism, sexism, homophobia, body prejudice, class prejudice, etc. Children learn at the earliest age that human beings relate to each other primarily by criticising each other, by picking on every aspect of appearance and behaviour to determine whether it is acceptable or unacceptable according to the prevailing social conventions. As children we are largely on the receiving end of criticism. How good it feels to be the one doing the criticising as an adult! How eagerly we look for people to criticise and reasons to criticise them! How ignorant, miserable, and fucked up we all are!

No wonder kids rebel. They are right to do so; it’s always right to rebel against tyranny. Sadly the rebellion of children is usually individual, futile and destructive, rather than collective, purposeful and constructive. This futile rebellion is given such names as ‘tantrums’, ‘the terrible twos’, ‘naughtiness’ and ‘teenage moodiness’. How telling it is that when children refuse to meekly obey adult orders, when they begin to assert their individuality, adults consider it an unequivocally bad thing. As I said, adults hate children. As a result they love to punish them, sometimes violently, always with threats and fear, thereby teaching children the violence and tyranny of the adult world. We pass on our ignorance and brutality to our children and call it ‘discipline’ and ‘morality’.

In a free and fair world adults would celebrate children’s growing individuality and their refusal to simply obey orders. Of course this rebellion creates difficulties for adults, since it thwarts their plans, but a reasonable person adapts to circumstances and seeks compromise, rather than relying on threats and force to impose their will on others, whether they are children or adults. In order to get to this free and fair world we desperately need children’s unions, on the model of trade unions, organised in schools, in order to give children the solidarity and collective bargaining power that unionised workers possess. Such organisations have existed, and do exist, and they need to grow and spread if there is ever to be a better world.

Children are morally superior to adults. Isn’t this obvious? Children are horrified by war, poverty, and homelessness, for instance, and want to know why they’re allowed to continue. Adults, beaten down by school and work and debt and capitalist propaganda, become jaded and cynical, and simply accept these things, and think of themselves as ‘realists’ and ‘pragmatists’. And then adults are put in charge of children to give them moral guidance! The education system instructs children that their goal in life is to get good exam results for themselves, so that they can get a good job for themselves, and purchase lots of consumer products for themselves. Schools crush the original altruism and social criticism of children and foster greed, selfishness and egoism.

No oppressed people were ever given anything by their oppressors until they organised and demanded it. The workers and oppressed peoples of all lands must unite to end their oppression, but so too must children. Without the liberation of children there can be no liberation at all, since we are all grown-up children, carrying around with us the indoctrination, the memories and the wounds of childhood. If we ignore childhood it won’t ignore us, it will control us until the day we die. And so I say, children of all lands unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains!

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Class War

December 30, 2017

They make a desert and call it peace, as one barbarian supposedly said of the Roman Empire. We might say the same thing about modern capitalism. The New Scientist recently reported on academic research into the effects of economic austerity in Britain [1]. The research suggested that 120,000 people have died in Britain in the last seven years due to cuts to health and social care budgets. This figure was reached by comparing death rates before and after the policy of austerity was implemented.

Whatever the supposed economic benefit of this policy we can say for certain that the poorest people have suffered most from austerity. While the poor have seen cuts to the public services they depend on the rich have seen cuts to their taxes. The burden of the economic crisis has weighed most heavily on those least able to support it while the richest people, who have the greatest economic power and hence the most responsibility for the crisis, are as comfortable as ever.

If 120,000 people died in seven years during an armed conflict in a single country it would be considered a major war. These people died in their homes and hospital beds and so their deaths are not considered significant or newsworthy. But they were killed by the government’s policy of austerity just as surely as they would have been had the government launched a military attack on them. The casualties are hidden from sight so the media don’t call it a war; they hardly even report it. But it is a war – class war, the war of the rich against the poor. What’s happening in Britain is a small battle in a global conflict.

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) 2.78 million people are killed in the workplace each year, while 374 million are injured, often resulting in extended periods of absence [2]. These deaths are not ‘tragic accidents’ as the mainstream media likes to portray them: no one has to die at work. These deaths are the result of such things as dangerous working conditions, too few people and too little time to do the job safely, lack of training, lack of safety equipment, and poorly maintained equipment. All these things could be corrected by investing in more workers, more training, more equipment, but this would reduce the profits of the capitalists, so it doesn’t happen.

We are all interconnected and we are all dependent on each other. Every country in the world imports goods and services from other countries, such as food, fuel, minerals and manufactured goods, as well as skilled and unskilled labour. The worldwide deaths of workers are the collective responsibility of us all, since we all consume goods and services produced by the global workforce. Even if a particular commodity is produced without loss of life it is still part of the global economic system that does take many lives, and there is likely to be death and injury somewhere in the production and distribution of most commodities.

The more a country, organisation or individual consumes the more they are responsible for the global death toll. The wealth of the richest people and richest countries is built on the exploitation of labour at home and abroad. Millions of workers have died, and go on dying, in order to provide the privileged few with their luxury items, with their fast cars, foreign holidays, large houses, designer clothes, exotic cuisine, electronic gadgets, and so on. The material trash that leaves us forever unsatisfied and alienated from each other is a product of human misery. We all have blood on our hands and the more we consume the thicker the blood becomes. This is the brutal reality of class war – the longest, bloodiest war in human history.

1.www.newscientist.com/article/mg23631533-500-austerity-cuts-to-nhs-blamed-for-120000-excess-deaths/
2.www.ilo.org/global/topics/safety-and-health-at-work/lang–en/index.htm

The Myth of Individualism

December 24, 2017

We are all products of our childhood. People who are born into poverty are likely to live and die poor. People who are born into wealth are likely to live and die wealthy. And those who are born somewhere in the middle are likely to live and die somewhere in the middle. This is why we find ‘rags to riches’ stories so fascinating, because they are so unusual; if they occurred regularly we wouldn’t care. For most people, in a society that is divided into socio-economic classes, birth is destiny.

The environment that we experience in childhood is crucial to shaping our future personality and behaviour. A caring, supportive environment in childhood is likely to produce confident, capable adults. A harsh, unpredictable environment is likely to produce angry, depressed, anxious adults. Children born to educated parents are likely to get a better education than those who are born to less educated parents. People who experience violence as children are more likely to become violent themselves. And so on.

There is a terrible irony to all this. Adults make children the way they are and then criticise the children for what they, the adults, have themselves brought about. Adults lecture children about taking responsibility for their actions and then take none themselves. Instead we live by the myth of individualism. This myth says that the kind of people we become, the education we have, the job we do, the money we have, and so on, is purely a result of our own efforts, of our own ‘hard work’ and ‘character’. The myth suggests that our parents, our peers, our school, the time and place we are born, the educational and employment opportunities we have or are denied, are all irrelevant to our status in life.

Why would anyone believe something so obviously false? Here we can ask the old legal question ‘cui bono?’ – who benefits from this state of affairs? Certainly the rich and powerful benefit, because they can claim that their riches and power are the result of their hard work and superior personal characteristics, and hence that they deserve all they have, and that no one has any right to object. The flip side of this assertion is that the poor and powerless owe their position in life to their lack of hard work and their inferior personal characteristics. The existing social order is justified by ignoring the different environments that people grow up in, the different levels of support that people receive in life, particularly as children, and the different opportunities that are made available or denied to them.

It’s easy to see why comfortable, privileged people would believe this myth, but why do the poor and powerless also believe it? Why do they so admire the rich and powerful people who oppress and exploit them? The answer is that they don’t know any better. Politics, the media, the education system, and the workplace are all controlled by the wealthy elite and they all repeat the myth over and over again, so it gets lodged in people’s brains and makes them accept the existing social order without question or complaint. People are trained to see the bad things that are done to them as their own fault; they are trained to see the things they are denied as things they don’t deserve.

You were born into poverty? That’s your own fault, says the myth. You grew up in an area with high levels of unemployment, crime and substance abuse? Also your own fault. You went to an overcrowded school, with stressed teachers, and lots of behavioural problems? If you’d just worked hard enough you’d have got top grades and gone to university anyway. You ended up with no qualifications and a low paid, low status job with arrogant, bullying managers? That’s because of your lack of moral character.

The myth of individualism says that our economic status is a matter of our personal efforts and characteristics. The truth is that we are social beings and we can only survive and prosper by providing each other with help and support. None of us is economically self-sufficient, none of us is the sole author of our own destiny, unless we live alone on a desert island and provide everything for ourselves. And even then the fact that we live on a particular island, with a particular set of natural resources, and that we have a particular set of physical and psychological characteristics, is beyond our control.

There is the myth of individualism but there is also the truth of individualism. The truth is that we are each capable of finding our own principles to live by, forming the kind of relationships that we prefer, and engaging in activities that we find interesting and worthwhile, without anyone else ordering us around and forcing us to do what they want. All this society denies. We are told that we must obey the people in power and behave as they tell us to behave in order to be loyal and patriotic citizens. We are told that we must sacrifice our own personal interests in order to serve the interests of ‘society’, which in fact means the interests of the ruling elite.

We are also told that competition, greed and selfishness are the natural driving forces of human behaviour, rather than the product of the sick and twisted socio-economic system that we live in. There is a great paradox here: we are told that we must be loyal servants, obedient to our political and economic masters, but also that we are utterly selfish and dedicated only to our own personal gratification. Individual freedom and the interconnectedness of human beings are both denied by the propaganda and ideology of capitalism.

If the freedom you desire is the freedom to consume lots of material goods and services, and you’re willing to dedicate your working life to obeying the orders of management, then capitalist society will welcome you with open arms. If the freedom you desire is the freedom to decide the course of your own life and to shape the society you live in through discussion and cooperation with the people around you, then you will find yourself at odds with the prevailing social order.

Fascism for Kids

December 11, 2017

When I was growing up, in the working class north of England in the 1980s, fascism was cool. Everyday at school I would see swastikas graffitied on walls or scratched into desks, or the letters ‘NF’, meaning the National Front, the most prominent fascist organisation of the time. I often heard pupils complaining that there were too many black people, Asians, and immigrants in the country and asserting that they should be sent ‘back where they came from’. Black and Asian people were referred to as coons, wogs, niggers, Pakis, and so on. Obviously the children didn’t spontaneously generate these words and ideas – they came from the adults around them and from wider society.

Never once did I see a hammer and sickle graffitied on a wall. Never once did I hear a call for the workers to rise in revolution against the capitalists. This brought home to me an enduring truth. Under capitalism the only acceptable form of working class dissent is fascism. The capitalists are quite relaxed about racism and fascism; what worries them is socialism and communism. Racism and fascism are perfectly compatible with the maintenance of private property and the power of the economic elite. In fact they turn working class people against each other, divided by the colour of their skin, making them easier to oppress and exploit. Socialism and communism, on the other hand, present the possibility of the working class united against their oppressors, threatening the wealth and power of the capitalists.

I first started paying attention to the news media in the 1980s. From then until now I have seen newspapers and television news programmes discussing the supposed problems of immigration and multiculturalism. Outright fascist publications like the Sun and the Daily Mail openly express their hatred of black and Asian people, whom they portray as terrorists, drug addicts, sexual predators, welfare cheats, members of subhuman races who ought to submit to the ‘civilizing’ rule of the white, Western elite. A conservative broadcaster such as the BBC simply reports the ‘concerns’ of racists and fascists without openly endorsing them. Of course to repeat their words is tacitly to endorse them and to provide them with the oxygen of publicity.

The problems of capitalism, the class system and inequality are seldom addressed. For every trade unionist who appears on the BBC there are dozens of managers and economists. The trade unionists are presented as political agents attempting to improve their own conditions at the expense of wider society. The managers and economists are presented as impartial experts seeking economic prosperity. Wealthy business people are presented as ‘entrepreneurs’ and ‘innovators’ showering their blessings upon society. The workers who physically create the wealth of society, and who are robbed of this wealth by the capitalists, are almost invisible, or accused of being uneducated and unproductive.

Racism and fascism – unlike socialism and communism – are never spontaneous movements from below. They are always incited from above by the ruling elite who know that poverty makes people angry and that this anger must have an outlet or be turned against the rulers. Human beings don’t naturally hate people for looking or behaving differently. Most of us would happily give directions to a person with a different appearance and language to our own or help them lift heavy luggage on to a train. It takes a brutal society, and a steady stream of propaganda, to make people hate others simply for being different.

I mention the fascism I encountered at school because that’s where the problem begins, in childhood. Schools are hierarchical, authoritarian organisations that put great value on conformity and obedience, with swift punishments for those who step out of line. Teachers shout abuse at children, they enforce uniformity and regimentation, they encourage violent sports and turn a blind eye to violent bullying. All this prepares children wonderfully for the mindset of fascism, just as it prepares them for the hierarchical, authoritarian workplace and for unquestioning acceptance of the pronouncements of authority.

Everything is political. The way we are taught, the way we work, the way we consume, the way we spend our leisure time, the way we interact with each other: all these things are shaped by the socio-economic system in which we live. Consumer society is built on dissatisfaction, on convincing us all that there is something wrong with our lives and that only consumer products can put it right. The result is that most people live their lives with frustrated desires and feelings of inadequacy. In order to relieve their frustrations they look for someone else to blame, the scapegoat who can carry all their sins.

The ruling elite and the mainstream media are happy to oblige our desire to blame someone else for our problems, as long as it’s not them, and they provide us with a host of imaginary enemies – immigrants, ethnic minorities, people on welfare, single mothers, homeless people, drug addicts, gay people, transgender people, and so on. This is the everyday fascism that flourishes in our supposedly ‘liberal democratic’ societies. Capitalism inevitably breeds fascism. As the old slogan has it, the choice before us is clear – socialism or barbarism.

The Kids Are All Right

October 22, 2017

There are no troubled children only troubled societies that we force them to live in. Children didn’t invent violence, war, poverty, inequality, famine, racism, sexism, homophobia, or a thousand other injustices, but we bring them into a world where these things exist in abundance. And then we condemn our children for swearing or not washing their hands or some other petty, irrelevant thing. If any child does something we adults don’t like, whether it’s mild disobedience, petty theft or murder, the child is not responsible, we adults are responsible, all of us. We adults created this dreadful world, and we brought our children into it whether they wanted to be in it or not. No child is criminally responsible. We adults are the criminals for treating children the way we do.

We shout at them, criticise them, judge and condemn them, we call them angels one moment and monsters the next, we tell them to sit in silence one moment and condemn them for their inactivity the next, we tell them to be nice to each other then terrify them with our anger and unpredictability, we bombard them with advertisements for a thousand desirable consumer products then condemn them for being greedy and materialistic, we impose on them a thousand pointless, petty rules, force them into families they didn’t choose and schools they didn’t choose, we damage them in a thousand silent ways, and when this damage leads them to behave in ways that we disapprove of we gleefully condemn them, and bemoan the ‘youth of today’ and the ‘decline of values’, and congratulate ourselves on our moral superiority.

We adults are despicable, every one of us, whether we directly brutalise our children, or stand by and watch it happen, or simply live in a society where children are subjected to this treatment. But we were brutalised in our turn by adults who themselves had once been brutalised children. And so the misery is passed on from generation to generation, blindly and senselessly, until maybe one day a few of us wake up and alert anyone else who will listen. And maybe as the generations pass by the knowledge will spread through society and one day we will offer our children understanding and compassion and the whole terrible cycle of misery will come to an end.

Or maybe we’ll blow ourselves to kingdom come, or poison the earth until it becomes uninhabitable, all the while congratulating ourselves on the righteousness of our cause. All the problems of humanity can be traced back to the mistreatment of children and the lifelong damage it does to them. A hateful, cruel world produces hateful, cruel people. The problem lies in childhood and the solution lies there too.

Schooling

October 4, 2017

A basic assumption of all authoritarian societies is that children are born bad and need to be made good, or at least obedient, which is the same thing to the authoritarian mindset. This is why adults put great emphasis on obedience, conformity, hierarchy and discipline. Parents and teachers spend lots of time shouting at children, criticising them, threatening them and punishing them. They believe that if they don’t do this then the children will become ‘animals’ or ‘savages’. In fact it’s the anger that adults direct at children, and the hierarchies they force them into, that make them savage.

Children are great imitators. They are born ready to imitate the behaviours of adults in order to survive. The reason children bully other children is that they are subjected to anger, threats and violence by adults, so they repeat these behaviours with other children when they get the chance. It makes a nice change to be the one making threats rather than receiving them. Children are generally placed at the bottom of the social hierarchy. When they are free of adult supervision they again imitate adults by creating their own hierarchies based on intimidation and violence.

Thomas Szasz said that childhood is an 18 year prison sentence that we are all condemned to serve. This is true for most children, although it doesn’t have to be. Childhood could be a time of joy, a time of love, play, adventure and curiosity. But in the authoritarian societies that infest the world today it’s more likely to be a time of criticism, threats, punishment, obedience and conformity, leading to a lifetime of anger and resentment.

At school children are treated like prisoners convicted of a crime, although it’s never explained what crime. Freedom is largely non-existent. Individuality is highly discouraged. Children are trained to sit in silence and await instructions. The underlying atmosphere in most classrooms is one of fear. Even when things seem to be going well the children know that this could change at any moment. The children know that if they fail to follow instructions swiftly and correctly, or fail to do automatically what is expected of them, whether instructed or not, they will be chastised and punished.

Authoritarian schooling teaches children to put on an appearance of humility and obedience while keeping their real thoughts and feelings hidden. What they really think and feel, all their hopes and fears, their doubts and dreams, is made to be a matter of shame, something to be repressed and denied. Children are trained to deny their individuality and their humanity and this creates a lifetime of psychological problems. Children who are encouraged to repress their feelings struggle as adults to create open and meaningful relationships. The habit of keeping secrets, the feeling of shame that surrounds our innermost experiences, stays with us for life.

Brutal schooling creates brutal people and a brutal society. Much of the anger, fear and hatred directed at vulnerable groups, because of their socio-economic status, their ethnicity, gender, sexuality, physical characteristics, and so on, can be traced back to the authoritarian education system in which teachers mercilessly identify and chastise anyone who deviates from expected appearance or behaviour. Children learn this lesson of judgement and condemnation very well and carry it into their adult life. They remember how good it feels when someone else is getting the blame rather than them. It feels good to point the finger at someone else, but that good feeling is short-lived and there is no real personal satisfaction in it. The result is that we live unsatisfying lives in an angry, miserable, divided society.

There is, of course, a tried and tested alternative. All schools should be democratic. There are different ways of implementing democratic education, but there are some key ideas that can be stated briefly. Schools should be run by a school parliament, in which all students and staff have an equal vote. Children should get to choose what they learn about, and how and when they do it, rather than having a curriculum imposed on them. Relationships among students and staff should aim to be relaxed, friendly and informal, with staff acting as facilitators rather than instructors. And this should all be presented not simply as a way of learning but also as a model for how society at large should be organised.

Children are not stupid. They know when they are being treated unfairly and they resent it, quite rightly. They also know when they are being treated with kindness and respect and they respond positively to it. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be any problems in a democratic school. But it means that problems can be worked out in a way that treats everyone with respect, rather than assuming that the children are always wrong and the adults are always right. Adults must learn to accept that growing up can be difficult and sometimes children need to express their anger or frustration without automatically being condemned for it. Teachers are quick enough to express their own anger and frustration. They are the supposedly ‘professional’, ‘grown-up’ people, and they are the ones who need to learn more self-control, and to be less selfish, not the children.

Human beings are ingenious creatures. There are no problems we can’t solve if we make the most of the talent and energy available to us. To do this we have to start by really nurturing children, really helping them to discover their own interests and abilities, and by allowing them to develop in their own way, in their own time. If we do this then our children will at last have the chance to realise their true potential, instead of becoming more sick, twisted ‘grown-ups’ like the rest of us. And we might finally recognise that children are not animals to be trained, or savages to be civilised, or inadequate adults who need to be shaped and moulded, but unique, irreplaceable and extraordinary individuals who need and deserve our love and support.

Lazy Bastards

October 2, 2017

Sometimes the state of the world can make us feel hopeless. What can any of us really do to change things for the better? Well, we can start by joining a trade union and a socialist or left-leaning party. We can contribute a little of our time and money to the cause of social justice. But there is also a simpler approach that we can alternate with the more active approach. We can simply do less. We can even spend some time doing nothing at all. We can individually defy an unjust system by refusing to accept its values and by refusing to give it our best efforts.

Capitalism is utterly dependent on people turning up to work, producing lots of goods and services, and spending the money they earn, and the little free time they get, on consuming those goods and services. The more time we spend producing and consuming the more we are exploited by the capitalists, the greater the profits they make from our efforts, and the more power they have over us. The more time we avoid producing and consuming the less we are exploited, the weaker the capitalists become, and the freer we are.

Think of the great variety of goods and services available to us, if we have the money: all the food, drinks, clothing, housing, furniture, electronic gadgets, personal grooming products, cars, travel destinations, television channels, and so on. Most of it is completely unnecessary. We could be perfectly healthy and happy with much less stuff. In fact we would be healthier and happier. Human beings are social creatures with powerful imaginations and our happiness lies in human interactions and creative self-expression, not in doing as we’re told by the powers-that-be and greedily consuming whatever we can get our hands on. All the consumer products simply distract us from what really matters and make us feel inadequate if we don’t possess the latest fashionable item.

The advertising industry, and the media in general, exist to make us all feel shit about ourselves, to feel hopeless and impotent, and to convince us that we’d be happy if only we had the latest clothing or mobile phone, or whatever crap they’re trying to sell us this time. Our desires are twisted to generate profits for the capitalists. In order to earn the money to buy all this shit we are forced to work for capitalist employers, giving them the opportunity to exploit our labours twice over, when we produce the goods and services and when we consume them.

Hard work is the ultimate moral virtue under capitalism, for obvious reasons. The more time we spend working, and the harder we work, the more exploited we are, the more exhausted we become, and the less energy we have to examine or challenge the society in which we live. The harder we all work the weaker we are and the stronger the capitalists become. Exhaustion and apathy make us easier to oppress and exploit.

But the more we slack off, laze around, take a break, and shoot the breeze, the weaker the capitalists become. People who don’t work, or don’t work hard, are doing us all a favour. They’re undermining the capitalist system that imprisons us all, they’re consuming less of the earth’s precious and dwindling resources, they’re generating less of the pollution that poisons us all, and they’re reducing the amount of conflict in the world by refusing to join in the selfish competition for commodities and social status.

Busy people are the ones who cause all the problems in this world. Busy people consume lots of energy, lots of goods and services, they consume the earth’s resources at an unsustainable rate, they generate more pollution, and they cause competition for resources that leads to conflict and war. If the human race ever dies out it will be the busy people who push us over the edge. Only the lazy bastards can save humanity.

Hierarchy

October 1, 2017

Hierarchy is a despicable thing, whether it’s in the family, schools, workplaces, the state or anywhere else. It’s despicable that anyone wants power over other people. The only legitimate power is power over one’s own life, the power to choose one’s own principles, activities and relationships. The desire to control others is a type of sickness. If people are satisfied with their own lives then they will put all their energy into living those lives and feel no desire to control others. If people do feel the desire to control others then there is clearly something lacking in their own lives, some frustration, some feeling of powerlessness, which they are attempting to compensate for by controlling others.

Why on earth would anyone want to tell other people how to live? We might want to give advice and make suggestions, to persuade or encourage. Which is fine, in moderation. But what pleasure is there in shaping other people to meet our own preferences? How does that make our own lives any better or more fulfilling? What have we personally achieved when we force someone else to serve our needs and desires? Surely the only way we can ever be satisfied with our own existence is if we concentrate on making the most of our own lives rather than interfering with the lives of others.

I despise anyone who wants power over others and I also despise anyone who wants others to have power over them. I feel contempt for people who want to rise up the hierarchy and I feel contempt for people who willingly obey the hierarchy. William Hazlitt said that some people love having power and that makes them tyrants, while others admire powerful people and that makes them slaves. I couldn’t agree more.

I have no problem with organisation in itself. We’re social creatures and we need some way of organising ourselves, but it should be democratic organisation, such as worker co-ops, housing co-ops and democratic schools. Democratic organisations pool our individual talents, and encourage consensus and compromise, while hierarchical organisations crush our individuality and twist our lives to the will of the people in power.

It seems to me that we’re dealing with mass neurosis here. People who desire to control or be controlled are unable to accept their own individuality. They feel uncomfortable with their distinctness and separateness from others, their personal responsibility, and their vulnerability as fragile, mortal beings. In order to compensate for this discomfort they convince themselves that they’re not really individuals at all, that their identity is formed by their place in the social hierarchy, as patriotic citizens, as husbands, wives, pupils, teachers, workers, managers, and so on. Personal responsibility, with all its challenges and opportunities, is rejected in favour of social conformity and obedience.

All the people in a hierarchy are defined by their roles in the hierarchy. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the people at the top are any freer than the rest of us. The rulers have to adapt their behaviours to meet social expectations just as the ruled do. The people at the top have to appear confident and commanding just as the people at the bottom have to appear humble and obliging. The power of the rulers depends on the obedience of the ruled. The ruled live in constant fear of punishment while the rulers live in constant fear of disobedience. Everyone, from top to bottom, is imprisoned in the iron cage of hierarchy.

The highest ideal of a hierarchical society is self-sacrifice. What could be clearer than that? We’re told that the greatest thing we can do is sacrifice our selfhood, our distinctness as individuals, in order to give service to our ‘great’ country with its ‘great’ traditions and its ‘great’ leaders. The pressure to think for oneself and act on one’s own initiative is reduced at the cost of denying one’s individual humanity. This is a refusal to accept reality as it is – a clear indication of neurosis.

Here’s a little suggestion. Instead of sacrificing our selfhood why don’t we each try to really nurture and explore it? Let’s each try to discover principles that we really believe in and try to live by those principles. Let’s each try to find a variety of interesting and worthwhile activities that we can engage in to enrich our lives and contribute to the community we live in. And let’s each try to form a range of relationships in which we learn to appreciate each other’s distinctness and respect each other’s choices. Doesn’t that sound more appealing than simply following social convention and doing what we’re told by the powers-that-be?

Most of us have no choice but to obey, at least some of the time – since the hierarchy controls the money, the police and the prisons – but we don’t have to like it. We can at least have enough self-respect to resent our slavery rather than taking masochistic pleasure in it. We can also limit our support for the hierarchy in various small ways. We can subtly undermine it by refusing to fully conform and refusing to make our best effort to meet its demands. If we spend our lives doing what we’re told we might as well never have existed. Someone else could have filled our place just as well as we did.

Depression

September 27, 2017

Depression is like a black hole. When a certain amount of negative or traumatic events have been experienced by an individual the weight of these events becomes so great that they collapse inward on themselves, like super-dense matter collapsing into a black hole. The gravitational force of this black hole is so great that no light can escape, no positive event or feeling can last long without being swallowed up. This process usually begins in childhood, although the effects may not become fully apparent until difficult events in adulthood reveal just how badly the individual has been hurt.

Bowlby remarked that love in childhood is as important as vitamins. Without vitamins we become physically ill and the effects may stay with us for life. Without love we become mentally ill and the effects may stay with us for life. Bowlby’s research suggested that people who get adequate love and support in childhood generally grow up to be healthy, happy adults. People who are denied adequate love and support in childhood generally grow up to be unhealthy, unhappy adults.

There’s no great mystery here. Obviously parents should hug their kids and tell them they love them, as much as possible, and they should help their kids when they’re feeling frightened or alone or struggling with some problem. Confidence doesn’t come from being left to struggle alone, it comes from knowing you can get help if you need it.

Human beings are highly evolved members of a social species, with a long period of dependency in childhood, and they are born expecting the love and support that will be necessary for their physical, social and emotional development. If children are denied the love of an adult carer they will tend to feel themselves unworthy of love and become depressed. If children are denied support in difficult situations they will feel themselves to be unable to cope alone and become anxious about future difficulties. If the lack of love and support persists through childhood then the child is likely to suffer from depression and anxiety in adulthood, whether ongoing or triggered by particular events.

The sad thing is that we’ve known all this for decades, since Bowlby and his colleagues did their work, and yet still people are condemned to a lifetime of depression and anxiety because their parents didn’t know how to parent properly. It seems that the child instinct, the instinct to seek out an adult for love and support, is strong, but the parental instinct, the instinct to provide this love and support, is all too weak and subject to perversion by social factors. I mean, for instance, the belief that discipline and punishment are the essence of parenting, or that children should only receive love in return for meeting social expectations, such as being polite or passing exams, or that love will ‘spoil’ children.

I don’t mean this to be an attack on parents as individuals. I mean it as an attack on a particular form of parenting, as it so often occurs in an authoritarian society such as ours. Parents are themselves simply grown-up children, products of their own childhoods. Their parents screwed them up in various ways and they generally repeat their parents’ errors with their own children. They have my sympathy, but in any conflict between adults and children I’m on the side of the children, since they are the ones with the least power and freedom, and they are the most vulnerable.

The main hope for those who suffer the after effects of childhood trauma is that they might come to understand the cause of their suffering and realise that they are not to blame. Of course this is only the start. We’re a social species and we can’t be healthy or happy entirely on our own. The problem is getting the positive interactions that can help a person heal. How many people regularly have open, genuine, caring interactions with the people around them? And how many people spend their lives concealing what they really think and feel, playing different roles in the hope of gaining approval or seeking ways to manipulate others?

We’re a sick species living in a world full of ignorance, cruelty, anger and fear. But there is a way for us to get better, if only people knew it. As the poet said, we must love one another or die.

Wealth and Poverty

September 26, 2017

We are all dependent on each other for our survival. None of us produces for ourselves even a fraction of the goods and services that we need and desire to go on living as we do. I mean such things as food, water, clothing, housing, heating, lighting, transportation, education, health care, and the various leisure goods that we enjoy. Millions of other people, at home and abroad, have to do their jobs in order for these things to be available to us.

These millions of people spend their working lives growing food, making clothes, building houses, mining minerals, extracting oil and gas, maintaining the supply of water and electricity, driving buses and trains, fixing things when they break, cleaning the streets and workplaces, delivering letters and parcels, serving people in shops, and doing a thousand other jobs. In order for each of us to live as we do, and to do our jobs, millions of other people must do their jobs too.

The wealth of society is created by all of us together. Basic fairness demands that what we create together belongs to us all together. We are all entitled to an equal share of the wealth that we collectively create. The question is how to arrange this. History suggests that it’s impractical and undemocratic for there to be a single organisation (i.e. the government) that owns and manages the whole wealth of society, but there is the practical alternative of the worker cooperative, where the workers in each workplace jointly own and democratically manage what they create together.

But of course this isn’t what happens under capitalism. Property law, created by the rich and powerful, says otherwise. It says that the vast wealth of goods and services that the great majority of human beings create does not belong to them, that it belongs to the capitalist elite, to the managers and shareholders, to the bosses, bankers and landlords. The labours of the workers count for nothing against the paperwork and legal processes of the capitalists.

The bosses control the budget at work, they decide what everyone gets paid, and they decide to pay themselves the most, surprisingly enough. Bankers and landlords don’t build houses, the working class build them, but the working class are nonetheless required to spend their lives working to pay the bankers and landlords for the privilege of having a house in which to sleep at the end of the working day.

The workers under capitalism are allowed ownership of their own bodies and this raises them above the level of slaves. But in order to survive they must work for the capitalists and they are denied ownership of the work they do with their bodies, putting them back on the same level as slaves. The workers are paid ‘compensation’ (i.e. wages) for having the fruits of their labours taken from them, but the value of these wages is less than the wealth taken, giving the capitalists their profit margin, and there is no compensation for the freedom and dignity that is also taken.

Poverty is caused by one thing: wealth. It is only because some people are wealthy that others are poor. Wealth and poverty are two sides of the same coin. There is a finite amount of goods and services in the world. If some people have more then others must have less. This is clearly unjust. The wealth of the world is created by us all together, so it belongs to us all together. Anyone who takes more than others is a thief. Anyone who gets less than others is a victim of theft.

A critic might object that some people work harder than others or that they have special skills that deserve a special reward. The problem with this objection is that judgements about who works ‘harder’ or who is ‘special’ are largely subjective. Personally I’d say that physical work is harder than mental work, so people who do physical work should be paid more, but that’s certainly not how things work under capitalism.

As for people who have ‘special’ skills that few possesses – e.g. doctors, lawyers, accountants, scientists, etc. – I would point out that they could not have acquired their skills, or had the opportunity to use them, without the support of the rest of us, providing them with food, water, clothing, housing, education, health care, etc. Economic individualism is a myth. No one is ‘self-made’. We are all dependent on each other and no one should be getting rich at anyone else’s expense.

Human society is a collective endeavour, not an individual one. The only reason to deny this obvious fact is to protect the wealth and power of the ruling elite. It flatters the rulers to pretend that they are uniquely valuable and uniquely worthy of their position. Anyone who does this is presumably either a member of the elite themselves, one of their more fortunate servants who have an interest in preserving the status quo, or someone who has been brainwashed by the education system and the media.