Prehistoric Britain…

Tribes. Tribal convictions was where the conversation turned slightly sour. Declaring to an ex-squady (who has always voted Tory, who has always pledged allegiance to the Queen and who would always have voted for Brexit), that you didn’t identify yourself as being British was never going to go down too well.

We conversed what “tribes” we felt we belonged to, radiating from the self outwards. For me, the most important tribe is my immediate family, my wife, sons and daughter (even my faithful old pooch). Nothing is more important than that tribe and nothing will ever come close.

As one goes further afield, the extended family (siblings, parents) as well as close friends come next, more geography dispersed and with that a weaker bond. Outside of that, it is our streets, avenues, villages, towns, cities, counties, countries, continents, planet, solar system, galaxy and the universe that make up the outer laters of our tribal onion and with that a lessening connection as we move away from the core and what is most important.

True bonds have strong metaphysical connections, spiritual if you will. The bond with my immediate family is strong.

The bond with my extended family is not strong (as this site has described over the years) although the recent reconnection with my sister is starting to repair what was broken for many years.

The bond with my close friends remains a constant, with quality not quantity reigning supreme.

The bond with my neighbours is divided, some super strong, some super strained (and Covid has widened that gap even further).

The bond with my community solid, I’ve always admired the Scouse way, never one to shy away from a debate, never one to take things lying down, always one to take it on the chin and fight back (the political establishments don’t stand for us and we stand strong and proud to our core values and principles, a real spirit of togetherness).

The bond with my nation is broken, feeling totally disconnected from Westminster, from the population at large (due to recent election and referendum results).

The bond with my continent is still there just, the love of mainland Europe and friends I’ve met and kept in touch with over the years is still in tact (and will be after we officially disconnect at the end of the year).

As for my planet, never has the population of the Earth been so divided as it is now, each nation state doing their own thing, preserving invisible borders and protecting “their” resources within non-material lines, not caring about the whole, only their part, infecting every corner of the world with the promotion of self, destroying our “little blue dot” in the process.

The challenge my bimbling comrade gave me was an honest one. Politics aside, why did I have no connection with Britain. As we hiked over the hills of Northumbria, I pondered this question as we gazed upon the historical sites and came to the conclusion that I had no real idea about the history of Britain, beyond what TV had taught me over the years (Monty Python mostly).

What did the early landscape of Britain look like and how did it become an island? How did the inhabitants of Britain evolve over time and how did they organise themselves into tribes and communities, and perhaps the most intriguing question of all, what made them British?

Maybe after finding out all of those facts would I be able to make a more informed judgement on whether I identified with being British or not.

So without going too far down the rabbit hole and borrowing some facts primarily from Wikipedia ( I say borrowing, its more like stealing really – what all Scousers do apparently, its in our DNA according to some!), I uncovered the following timeline, with a particular focus on the area where I live now, Wirral.

Palaeolithic (Stone) Age

Clearly there is no real way to validate the true timeline of a period that dates back almost one million years, but the collective understanding on how things evolved in the Britain are based on population migration from the continental mass of Europe (you heard it right Brexiteers, we are all immigrants!), as well as the geo-morphological aspect due to several ice ages and tectonic movements.

Our first hominin ancestors lived in Britain around 900,000 BCE, and is presumed to be Homo Antecessor, a few stages and several million years after the monkey-to-man thing happened (curse you black monolith!). These folks were amongst the first Hunter-Gatherers and we assume this via various Stone Age tools and animal bones which were found in Happisburgh (in Norfolk) and carbon dated to that period.

The map of Britain as you would expect looks very different one million years ago compared today, with Britain being a large peninsula, surrounded by water on three sides, much like a Wirral on steroids.

Between 700,000 and 500,000 BCE, Homo Antecessor was replaced by Homo Heidelbergensis, whose brains were significantly larger than that of its predecessor, and with that extra capacity, expanded its intelligence and thought processes. Historic finds around this time have uncovered early flint tools (Pakefield, Suffolk) and with flint comes fire, the catalyst for real advancement of the species.

At the end of that era, the first mention of glaciation creeps into the history books, and Britain is almost completely under ice, thus driving our early human ancestors back south and east to the warmer climates of Europe.

Around 450,00 BCE, as luck would have it (for the Brexiteers), the land-bridge that connected Britain to France (Weald-Artois Anticline) was cut for the first time (small at first), creating the English Channel (though I suspect La Manche was more of a La Rivière at the time).

400,000 BCE saw the first Neanderthals set foot in Blighty, and Swanscombe Man was recovered from a bog in Kent, along with several hand axes, mammoth teeth and jaw bones. Early indications were that these ancestors spent most of the time in the south west of England, not venturing too far north due to densely populated woodlands making hunting more difficult, and less habitable conditions (temperatures mostly and the proximity to escape when the inevitable ice flows came back.)

And that is exactly what happened for the next few hundred thousand years, ice flows in, Neanderthal flows out, that was until 125,000 BCE when the rising sea levels completely cut of Britain from Europe (much to the rejoicing of Tommy Robinson’s Neanderthal forefathers).

It was around 45,000 BCE when the first evidence of Homo Sapiens was found, as my last post stated in Kents Cavern in Devon and it was this period that the Neanderthals were completely driven out of Britain by the new kids on the block, never to return and eventually die out altogether only five millennium later..

Several more periods of glaciation took place, again driving “humans” (as they are now known) back to Europe until 11,700 BCE when the Holocene warming begins, melting huge volumes of ice, rising the sea levels and starting to hint at Britain that it may not be a peninsula for much longer.

Up to this point, humans lived freely across the land in tribes, no invisible borders existing, free to roam from country to country in search of sustenance and security within nomadic tribes. All that was about to change however with the dawning of the post-fire evolutionary catalyst, the agricultural revolution.

Mesolithic Age

With things warming up nicely in Britain around 9,500 BCE, our ancestors began to migrate north and with that form structures to live, a good example of early settlements were found near the Vale of Pickering in Yorkshire (Star Carr) and although nothing much exists there today, finds included the remnants of deer (headdresses presumably used as either hunting aides or ritual adornments), boar, bear and wolf, as well as some rarer finds like amber, hematite and unsmelted iron pyrite object d’art used as prehistoric Pandora (jewellery).

Post holes and evidence of early hearths dot the landscape here and reveal what could be one of the first real settlements on mainland Britain, and it is shortly after this period where the Wirral gets its first proper mention in the history books.

Excavations in Greasby (more recently signposted as Gravesberie, a nod to its ancient past), revealed the exact same footprint as found in Star Carr 800 years earlier, uncovering flint tools, signs of stake holes and a hearth used by a hunter-gatherer community., and other evidence from around the same period has been found in New Brighton, where I live with my own tribe today.

As most of us know, East Anglia and vast parts of the Netherlands are still below sea level today, but many may not know (until recently myself included), that until around 6,200 BCE, the two were connected by marshlands known as Doggerland.

Around this time, a great ice sheet in western Norway side off into the North Sea causing a mega tsunami which flooded the entire area, and with the associated sea level rise cut Britain off from the continental land mass completely, never to return. Little did I know that we have only been an island for just over 8,000 years.

At this point, the agricultural revolution had been spreading like wildfire from its origins in the Middle East (Jericho and Aleppo being the first known structured civilisations to pop into existence), and around 6,000 BCE, the Isle of Wight off the south coast of Britain gave birth to wheat cultivation.

Neolithic Age

So it was around 4,000 BCE that saw a marked shift from hunter-gatherer tribes to organised collectives in Britain, with humans now able to create and store food for the first time, and with it the advent of rules, regulations, hierarchies, ownership, greed and conflict (not an exhaustive list by any means).

To date, the most impressive nod to the Neolithic movement can be found on Orkney, an island off the north coast of Scotland. Skara Brae is a prehistotic village made out of stone around 3,000 BCE. Cut deep into the landscape and with the exception of the roofs which would have been thatched, stands strong today, with fully formed semi-subterranean houses giving real insights into how we used to live during that time and not too dissimilar to how we construct our homes today, with central living spaces, cooking areas and sleeping quarters all close to heat sources when the weather turns gnarly.

Britain wouldn’t be Britain without a good henge, and it was around this time when thoughts turn to the sky for the first time. Obviously the most famous of the henges (Stonehenge) began its construction around this time, but it wasn’t the the only one (I’m sure Strawhenge and Woodhenge were early iterations of this, only for a big bad wolf to go blow them down), with hundreds of these ancient sites still dotted around the landscape today.

It was clear that henges were constructed for a few reasons. Firstly, as a place to bury the dead. Excavations at most sites reveal this, with buried remains found at various points across the sites, our Neolithic graveyards. Secondly, as a monument or a place of worship. To me it is no coincidence that all henges are circular, a nod to the sun. Typically henges and barrows (burial mounds) are aligned to both the summer and winter solstices when the sun is at its highest and lowest points in the sky, signalling death and rebirth, with new life and new hope around the 25th December when the sun (or should I say son) which aligns to the northern stars (forming a crucifix would you believe) starts its ascent.

Clearly this was the first signs of thinking beyond tribes and that there was something more to the physical life as they knew it. The ancient druids of Britain clearly recognised the importance of the cosmic bodies and the wider Universe and as such erected such monuments, creating rituals and sacrifices by way of appeasing “the maker”.

Society was starting to mature at this point in Britain and settlements far and wide were springing up, again around the abundance of natural resources and sources of food, and at this point the tea-cup bearers of Europe (the Beaker People) crossed the English Channel and settled in, bringing with them new technologies and of course “heavy metal”.

Bronze / Iron Ages

It was around 1,800 BCE that bronze and iron working took off in Britain, with ores being excavated and smelted from various quarries across the land, rendering stone and flint tools obsolete, and with that added durability came an increase in crop production and an uplift in the standard of living, for some at least.

In terms of a class system, it was around this time that the haves and have nots were created in Britain. Those who claimed the ownership of the land became the masters of others and as the land was carved up, so the invisible lines were drawn up on ancient parchments so that villages became towns, towns became cities, cites became counties and counties became countries, carving out Britain into the three component parts we know today (England, Scotland and Wales), owned by the few and worked by the many (not much has changed since then).

As borders were created, so were barricades and strongholds, and with that the increase in Iron Age hillforts to protect the land owners and what was “rightfully theirs”.

Whilst we don’t have many prehistoric reminders on the Wirral, a short journey over the border to Wales gives us a taste of what life was like back then. Nestled on top of many of the Moels (hillocks) in North Wales are the shapes and ruins of Iron Age hillforts, a particularly frequent stomping ground for my family, neighbour and I, with Moel Arthur being a particularly impressive site.

Coming to the end of prehistoric Britain and before the Romans came to rape and pillage our fertile lands, Wirral was inhabited by a Celtic tribe known as the Cornovii and artefacts discovered in Meols (on the north coast) suggests that it was an important port from around 500 BCE, with traders coming from France and the Mediterranean to exchange minerals and rich ores mined from North Wales and Cheshire for foreign goods, setting up the first sea-faring trade routes in the area.

What did the Romans ever do for us.

What happens next will be the subject of more research and a future post, taking us up to the modern day, with Romans, Vikings, Angles, Normans, Saxons and likely more marauders not yet known, all scrapping for a piece of Britain’s green and pleasant lands, a real- life game of Risk or Age of Empires.

So with all of that knowledge committed to both my brain and cyberspace and reflecting on the original challenge, has a foray into the past given me a better insight into the history of Britain, of course it has. Has it made me any more British than at the start of my journey, no not really.

What we now know is that until 6,000 years ago, we were physically a part of Europe and now we are both physically and metaphysically not which is a real shame.

That said, I do feel a spiritual connection to certain places in Britain, none more so than the aforementioned Stonehenge but even more so on top of Glastonbury Tor, for me the most magical place on Earth, acting as it were as a nexus point to several ley lines that convene at the hills top. The druids knew it and that esoteric knowledge has been passed down to non-materialists and panpsychists ever since.

The energy of that place is unlike anything I’ve experienced, and tapping into into makes one realise that there is so much more to life than being British, being “Universalish” is something that we all should aspire to be, maybe then we can truly evolve, choosing lover over fear, as one…

Serpents Rising…

There is no doubt that energy is shifting daily like the sands on a windy beach.

Getting back to nature last week and living life temporarily outside the chaos has brought new light on dark times. Ignoring the pandemic, turning off the news and revisiting the positivity of the past has of late rekindled introspection and what gives me inner peace.

Experiencing the sensory and physical aspects of reality – the flora, the fauna, the cloud formations, the rush of the sea at high tides, the setting sun, the rising moon, as well experiencing the mystical and metaphysical aspects of reality too on just what it feels like to part of something so incredible, I find myself at times in awe of such beauty and the associated feelings experienced are rekindling forgotten spiritual connections I have with some people that I have lost touch with over the years, giving me such a huge internal boost in these troublesome times.

It is seven years ago to the very month that I took my reiki training, opening the neural pathways to something quite alien, quite astounding, tapping into hidden energies that had been hitherto out of reach for the materialist I once was (and have been again over the last couple of years).

Once again it was my wife that reminded me of just who I was back in 2013 and how of late bits of my old self had returned. My “being” back then was born out of abject negativity and selfishness, with me operating as it were as a mid-week bachelor and weekend dad (replicating the abhorrent behaviour of my own alcoholic father).

Such was the shame at this realisation that I was becoming him if not already, that drastic action was required else my strong-willed wife and children would be gone, something my mother sadly never had the strength to do.

So an awakening took place, and with it a connection to a hidden and healing energy, a cosmic current taped into for the first time, opening my eyes to the fact that there was more to this reality than the five senses could serve up.

Buddhists and New Age folks say that things go around in seven year cycles, and here we are exactly seven years later and I find myself knocking on the door of my old reiki master “L” who has “upgraded” to kundalini yoga, and has her own practice based out of a majestic place in the heart of the Wirral countryside.

Although I had not seen her for many years, it was clear that time doesn’t exist (does it anyway?) when it comes to a rekindling of spirits. A quick non-non-distancing hug and catch-up revealed that we would pick up exactly where we left off and both agreed that paths we have taken across the years seem to be forever intertwined.

The same for my wife too. She has been struggling too over the last six months as a furloughed complimentary therapist with too much time on her hands, consuming the chaos, facts, lies and conspiracies for most of her waking hours, minutes and seconds each day. She too needed to refocus by joining me on this journey.

I decided after our trip to Devon to remove meat from my diet. The previous seven days had seen us consume half a farm, chickens, pigs and cows were all present on our daily calorie count and a return to the homestead made me feeling bloated and like a badly cooked steak, over-done.

I was a vegetarian for around eighteen months when I took my reiki training and with the new outlook, new friends, new energy and new lifestyle, it was only natural a diet forms part of the new me.

We have all consumed too much during the lockdown, grazing from cookie jars and overdosing on Netflix for too long over the last six months and our portly figures provide the evidence of that, so a dietary change was a must. I’ve also been out every morning running, cycling, kayaking and land-boarding before everyone else opens the curtains, and boy what a difference a week makes.

Tuesday saw our first kundalini yoga session with “L”. I like to understand what I’m getting myself into so spent sometime on Tuesday morning researching what kundalini yoga was all about. I had heard and read some negative and sensational reviews of the kundalini experiencing, ranging from mental instability to whole body orgasms and a lot of other stuff in between. Classifying it as fake news (but having an awareness of it in case I experience such – yes to the orgasms!) we joined the class and took part in what was such a different experience to the Hatha / posture-based yoga I have always undertaken.

Relatively easy positions were counter-posed by vigorous breathing techniques (breath of fire) leaving us both exhausted yet conversed completely invigorated and energised by the end. Everyone in the group was lovely, warm and welcoming, leaving us with the opinion that in some way, we had found our way home.

We spoke fondly of our experience on the drive home through the shadowy country lanes and with energy still racing when we got back home, I went for a run with the old and faithful pooch, giving new life to old legs.

Land-boarding on the promenade and looping the local marina in the morning sun as the open-water swimmers raised the mouths for breaths the next morning reminded me what if felt to be alive, a positive feelings I’d not felt in a long, long time.

If the early part of the week blew us away with positive energy, then what we experienced on Thursday made that look like a mere ripple on the sea compared to the the tsunami which was about to take place. When we have good weather and as we live close to the sea, when the conditions and tides are right, then “L” conducts her kundalini yoga class on the beach, which is accompanied by evening swims and paddling (sea kayaks and stand up paddle boarding).

As we approached, the beach car park (usually only partly occupied) we were surprised by how was rammed it was with vehicles. As we decanted our kayak and paddling gear, we looked up to see over 100 yoga mats laid out facing the sun, a welcoming inward tide and our spiritual instructor for the day in the lotus position waiting to begin. Incredible.

The session was the same as the “kriya” as Tuesday so we both knew what as to come, this time it was easier as we had had the practice, the session was more magical than the previous one, given the setting, the sheer volume of people and the communal and positive energy by all, resonating a common frequency of happiness.

Feeling again totally energised, we spent the next hour kayaking on the open and warm waters of the Mersey Estuary, totally at one with the universe and the like-minded souls we were spending time with.

Without sounding like a stuck record in reference (reverence) to Westworld, the words “Some choose to see the ugliness in the world, the disarray, I choose to see the beauty” never rang so true. If you are in the position to commune with nature and seek out opportunities for serenity, there is no better time than now. I’m mindful that we are not all in that position presently, with my friends and colleagues in India under almost full lockdown so I have to tone down my own personal journey at the moment, so not to fan their flames of despair, but they are in my thoughts and non-religious prayers.

I’m not one for taking good photos, but every now and again I hit jackpot. As my wife was paddling in, I stood waist-deep in the sea as the sun was setting and pressed click, the result of which reminded me of the ethereal Pink Floyd album The Endless River (Sea in this case), which sure seemed to be that way with nothing visible on the horizon, almost suggesting that infinity beckons…

Eye of the Storm…

As with every storm, there is a period of tranquility as long as you are in the right location at the right time.

With chaos and turbulence all around, there is a period of respite if you happen to spend time in the eye of the storm which gives one a time to recharge, to gather thoughts before the inevitable onslaught of a second wave.

This week I sought out the eye of the storm, and after many years of promising to spend some time on the south coast of England, airport blockades gave me the needful kick up the backside to experience what others have always said about Devon.

Keeping costs down to a bare minimum, we set up camp in Dawlish (scene of its own storm seven years ago when Mother Nature ripped apart its coastal railway to pieces) and plotted our week of relaxation, exploration and adventure.

Like the mystic who peers into the bottom of the teacup for insights, I held my plastic beaker up to the sunlight to see it also reveal a similar eye of the storm. Ordinarily that would predict an ensuing hangover but we managed to find non-alcoholic rum which tasted remarkably like the real thing when poured over “the real thing”.

Like a great many of us, lock-down has provided its own opportunities to learn new things. New hobbies, new skills, old habits which die hard. I’ve gone through extended periods of sobriety over the last six months but also recall a few regrettable occasions where empty bottles have been kicked aside by unshoed toes through bleary morning eyes.

So our trip was a sober one (save one day where we consumed a few afternoon beers) and a much welcomed change to our usual holiday boozing and excessive weight gain.

The campsite itself was the best I’ve ever been to in the UK, with outdoor and indoor swimming pools, restaurant, pub, shop, kids adventure playgrounds and five fishing lakes, and the weather made it the perfect place to kick back and whittle some.

Dawlish, Teignmouth, Torbay and Brixham provided our south coast adventures, with adventure golf, ancient caverns, forest walks and obligatory fish ‘n’ chips on the beach keeping us busy and Woolacombe Beach on the north coast allowing us to swim in the sea, embarrass ourselves with some primordial body boarding, as well as giving us all the obligatory lobstered-look the next day, as only the Brits can truly achieve with aplomb.

All of this was proliferated with several short early morning bursts of fishing on the lakes, catching bream, tench and carp (the largest of which was around six pounds – the biggest fish I’ve ever caught).

Our last day saw us take a boat trip down the Jurassic Coast, taking in the views of the coastal towns, sandstone outcroppings and the beautiful and pea green sea (apt after eating at the Owl and the Pussy Cat in Teignmouth for the wife’s birthday the night before), accompanied by clotted cream scones, jam, tea and Julie Peasgood – soap star from Brookside which set in my home time of Liverpool, who sat next to us who now lives in the area as a writer.

The overwhelming beauty about this week was just how “normal” it was. Camping is by its very nature self-isolating and socially distancing, with each family given there allotted “metreage” away from everybody else, as it was at the outdoor swimming pool, play parks and fishing lakes. The only notable difference was the directional arrows on the floor of the shop and the masks worn by the bar and restaurant staff, but done in a subliminal way.

The footfall was notably lesser too. This week being the height of the summer season (kids first week off school in the summer holidays in the UK), our last three days were spent in isolation our field of twenty camping spaces. Whether the site will be there next year with the same facilities and capacity time will tell, here’s hoping it will as the staff there were uber-friendly and it would be a real shame for it to go under. We are already booking to go back there such was its appeal and such is the uncertainly about international travel.

As I was up all week as dawn broke to go fishing, my circadian rhythm was still set to daft ‘o’ clock so I was up early today, taking the dog for a walk on my local beach up north, both man and dog happy to rekindle their morning sojourn before the day started for the rest of the troops.

The low tide brings with it the opportunity to get to the other side of our local lighthouse, and for a brief moment, a break in the dark and foreboding clouds gave the light of the sun the ability to shine through its fresnel, providing a clearer outlook, not unlike my trip to Devon this week.

Who knows what the new normal will be hereafter, but if you can take time and spend it in the eye of the storm, you will feel a lot better for it as I do today…

Divide and Conquer…

Polarise (verb) – to divide into sharply opposing factions.

Humanity, it seems, is becoming more polarised with each passing day, with little or no hope for respite. Taking a world view and with a few exceptions (where polarity is not tolerated, like North Korea), each “democratic” country on Planet Earth seems to separate into different factions on an all too regular basis.

Take my homeland, the United Kingdom. For the first 4 decades of my life, polarity centered around several themes, politics (Labour or Conservative), football (Everton or Liverpool), music (Rock or Pop), animals (Cats or Dogs), sexual orientation (Hetero or Homo) and wealth (Haves and Have-Nots), and ones choice or preference didn’t really have a major impact on society as a whole (with the exception of wealth where choice doesn’t always play its part).

The United Kingdom and the population that resides here, was until recently a relatively united kingdom comprising of four component states, each with its own nuances and idiosyncrasies and by and large we got on quite well all things considered.

We joined a bigger family when we entered the European Union (then the European Economic Community) in 1973 and again, by and large over the last four decades, we got on well, with the added bonus of freedom of movement across the member states, which I have had the privilege of using many, many times.

Something has changed of late, and not in a good way. Our political system and the society I now reside in is completely broken. We have been used to seeing Red fight with Blue to gain supreme power since it took over the reigns from the Liberal Party in the 1920’s, placing our X’s next to our party of choice ever since.

The childhood I can remember was governed by the Conservative Party when Margaret Thatcher was at the helm, growing up in Liverpool in the early 1980’s when the shipping and manufacturing industries were decimated by Tory policy, making it difficult to put food on the table in the vast majority of households.

We cracked on as any community would do under the same circumstances, and we did it as a pseudo-syndicalist collective, coming together as one to support each other during what were difficult and challenging times, putting two fingers up to Thatcher and her “managed decline” edict, with the help and support of Tory MP Michael Heseltine, an unlikely hero still in these parts.

The wealth and the glory of bygone years (due to the profiteering of shipping merchants during the truly abhorrent Slave Trade of the 1700’s) and the excitement of the Merseysound had all but gone, but the city got itself up off the floor, dusted itself down, and had a renaissance in 2008 when it was awarded the European Capital of Culture, and with it, truly significant investments from our EU comrades. Run down areas and tired city centre establishments were all defibrillated back into life and until very recently, the city had enjoyed an upturn in fortune.

The real turning point (for me at least) was Brexit (as I have mentioned in my State Of The Universe Part 1). In Liverpool, we had just short of 60% voting for remain, a real mandate to keep things the way they are, but alas no, the wider collective decided against it, pushing the entire nation into the abyss, to go it alone.

We then had three and a half years of stagnation and another election, putting the Conservatives back in action for another term.

Now we have Covid, and with it, something even more divisive, even more worrysome. Never in my life have I seen and witnessed such polarised views.

Once again, we are faced with choice and what we believe in; truth (Fact or Fiction), masks (Wear or Don’t Wear), science (Real or Not Real) and political integrity (Honesty or Conspiracy). I dare say more choices are to follow, namely cure (Vaccinations or No Vaccinations), legislation (Support or Reject) and possibly totalitarianism (Acceptance or Anarchy).

Whilst previous views were by and large for or against the establishment or a personal preference which had no material impact on society as a whole, what has happened over the last few years (spiking with Covid) has turned (wo)man against (wo)man and with it the birth of divided factions, and with that some quite appealing behavior.

The venom with which targeted abuse is delivered is something to be utterly ashamed of too and it really brings into question the fundamentals of ones personal relationships.

Social media makes it far too easy for some to become keyboard warriors, sitting comfortably in their socially distanced locales, cowardly brandishing all manner of vitriol and verbal abuse on platforms that were meant to connect people together in a positive way, not to pour petrol on incendiary situations like we find ourselves in today. This week has already seen non-virtual altercations occurring in shops and supermarkets as the factions clash face to face, now that masks are compulsory.

It was a very easy decision for me to disconnect from all social media applications (with the exception of WordPress which is for me an anonymous and cathartic vehicle) and from what I have heard and seen most recently, the decision in January this year was the right one.

I now have to make a different type of choice, a preference as to whether the opinions and subsequent behavior of others is something I chose to acknowledge and accept or choose to walk away from.

State of the Universe address (Part 2)…

“Even a casual glance at the media whether in print or streaming form reveals a distinct shift in energy and sadly not a positive one. Recent events from all over our little blue dot have shown that humanity appears to be on a disturbing downward spiral, towards a destiny I don’t think any of us can predict. Even the glass half full brigade is starting to see the drink drift towards the bottom of the tumbler.

The have been several events of late which have upset the balance in the Universe which even videos of kittens playing and falling off stuff are failing to have the desired uplifting effect”…

Those exact words were scribed here on the twenty sixth of July, twenty sixteen during the aftermath of the Brexit vote here in the U.K, my abject disbelief in the majority (not overwhelming by any means, but majority nonetheless) of citizens voting to go it alone, to disconnect from a union which gave more freedom of movement, more freedom of choice, more freedom opportunity for cultural exchange, just more.

The pursuing three and a half years in stasis were frankly embarrassing, like two school children endlessly bickering in the playground over which colour was best, blue or red, only to be resolved by asking the question all over again.

I was, as were many of my close friends and family, truly disappointed by the outcome of the general last year but it was apparent to us that a different type of politics had emerged. The time of robust, transparent and progressive manifestos had gone, replaced by rhetoric and hyperbole, and the more succinct the better. A manifesto of three words won the election. “Get. Brexit. Done”. That was all it took. No five-hundred page visions of the future required, no clear or quantifiable plans to take the U.K to the next level. Simply, these three words resonated with original voters and with new found sympathisers in socialist strongholds (depleted of energy in a stagnating country) who were targeted by social media campaigns and the less-than independent and biased views of the BBC.

As much as I admired Jeremy Corbyn in the past, it was clear that all hope was gone leading up to the election result, when so many people uttered the words “I cannot bring myself to vote for that man”, choosing instead to hand Boris Johnson a fresh set of keys to Ten Downing Street.

After the dust settled and a period of reflection, it was clear to me that the election was lost by a total destruction of the “Red Wall” due to the beleaguered populace wanting an immediate end to the vacuous stalemate in Westminster on Brexit which only the Conservatives were truly offering. It was a vote for capitalism and the self rather than for socialism and the many.

One thing that did concern me during the whole period (and even more so today) was the role media and social media organisations play in such events, and how much of our personal data is used against us to influence what we think, how we think and how we subsequently act.

1984

The rules of the game have changed. Take a step back in time and look at the amount of information or personal data that was available to organisations in the past (government, civil service and private organisations). To say it was sparse compared to today is an understatement.

I grew up in the early nineteen seventies:

  • We got the bus to school and work every day, no personal data at all
  • We had newspapers delivered each day which contained information on current affairs, no personal data held other than our local corner shop knowing which publications we preferred
  • We had our post delivered each day with letters and postcards from loved ones, no personal data captured other than offline credit card and bank statements
  • We went to the shops to buy food, clothes and toys, no personal data held other than store receipts
  • We had three television channels with one daily one-hour news bulletin on two of them, no personal data held other than we had a television licence
  • We listened to music on the radio, vinyl, cassette tapes and watched films on video tape (eighties) and at the cinema, no personal data held other than store or picturehouse receipts
  • We had a landline telephone, which allowed us to communicate with others, no personal data captured other than the more left-wing voters with affiliations to certain political groups having their lines tapped (and I know a couple)
  • We borrowed books from the library to enhanced our knowledge on certain topics that interested us, no personal data captured other than which books we had to pay fines on as invariably they were overdue
  • We went on holiday in the U.K due to limited funds to travel abroad, no personal data captured
  • We had a voting card (well my parents did) and placed our X next to our preferred candidate, no personal data captured other than the binary choice (red or blue) we made on the day which made the peg count in election of the day

Life was much more private then, simpler, with only rudimentary individual/consumer profiling available to those who sort it, which in itself was minimal, marketing types really. Not so now. The migration from analogue to digital has heralded an unprecedented technological evolution the likes of which we could only dream of back in the seventies.

Clearly our lives are enriched by the positive aspects of technology advancement:

  • The multitudinous, multifaceted and multifunctional devices we have at our disposal
  • The wealth and depth of information that is available to us via online search engines and thousands of media channels
  • The convenience of online shopping and having any goods delivered the very next day
  • The immersive audio/visual experiences we take part in through online games, streaming films and music from all genres tailored to our particular tastes
  • The majestic and global reach of contacting others via phone/video/email many thousands of miles away making the world a smaller place
  • The ability to pay for goods, services and travel through credit and not cash, via a watch on a wrist, an app on a phone or a contactless payment/travel card
  • The ease of voting online, never having to traipse in the English summer rain to the polling station

IsaacNewton

But as the late and great Isaac Newton famously once said, “To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction” later paraphrased by Albert Einstein (“For every action there is reaction”).

Big data is big business and, in my opinion, a big risk that could lead to a Big Brother.

In the current capitalist/consumerist paradigm we find ourselves in, social and economic profiling by identifying the what we think, the way in which we think it and how we subsequently act and react is something a lot of people are very keen on understanding. Big business and big governments appear to be launching a crusade to uncover everything there is to know about us and how access to that data that can or will influence our actions and reactions.

The vast majority of us buy into that paradigm, myself included (although I am taking active measures to “anonymousise” my digital footprint). Take a step back if you will and see how proactively we are feeding the machine.

Every single digital transaction we make (from Google search, to Amazon purchase, to Facebook like, to Twitter retweet, to Instagram photo check-in and beyond) leaves behind a digital footprint, breadcrumbs of data which can be used to build up a profile of us.

Marry that up with every text or social media message we send, every phone call we make, every Alexa command we utter and we very quickly come to the conclusion that Edward Snowden was right, our social interactions, our online presence is being monitored constantly. We have all experienced an advert popping up on Facebook for something obscure we have just been talking about the day before.

The learned and the well-educated will know that already, but the less well-educated or socially unaware will remain in ignorant bliss. They will be blind to the more subliminal methods organisations are using to profile them, turning them and us into perfect consumers.

Events over the past few months relating to Covid-19 have, in my opinion, taken profiling beyond consumer and economic and are now venturing into a dark realm of social, physical and even DNA profiling. Only yesterday did we hear about the U.K government allowing a private AI company (Faculty) to access sensitive patient data against the rules of GDPR to execute algorithms and produce predictions on how things may materialise and how measures can be taken to combat the pandemic. We also heard that the government are launching a tracking app which will use the GPS signal on the smart phone to monitor the movements of the population.

Whilst I don’t believe that there is a covert operation currently underway towards the creation of an Orwellian-esque New World Order (I can’t see Johnson, Putin, Trump, Xi, Jong Un, Merkel and Macron collectively agreeing about anything just now), we do seem to be setting the foundations of Big Brother via big business and this pandemic, and that is something to keep a very close eye on over the coming days, weeks, months, years.

In closing, take a good long look at the Rehoboam in Westworld Season Three. How do you think something like that would start off, what foundational building blocks would need to put in place?