Nick Harper is, and will remain, one of my favourite artists. Easily one of the most unnoticed and hence underrated folk guitarists of all time. It’s fair to say that in part, it may be down to his choosing, crafting anti-establishment ditties, weaving in social commentary pertinent to the zeitgeist to his songbook, and only playing small venues, typically to small troupes of his loyal acolytes.
Nick is the son of Roy Harper, a folk legend in his own right. Roy had a lot of success in the 1970’s with his own career, and a nod from the prog/rock Gods of the time who recognised his talents came his way back then, with Roy singing “Have A Cigar” on Pink Floyd’s classic “Wish You Were Here” album and Robert Plant/Jimmy Page dedicating a Led Zeppelin song to him in “Hats Off To Harper”. As a child, Nick found himself surrounded by such musical luminaries, and clearly has his dads DNA courses through his veins.
We are the richer for it, and any “Evening with Nick Harper” is always special. None more so that last night, set in a church.
On average, I have seen him at twice per year over the last two decades, but last night was right up there.
Conversely, I haven’t set foot in a church since my visit to Cape Town Cathedral many years ago, and tonight’s gig was held in Chester’s St Mary’s Church, built in 1433. Reverend Harper took to the pulpit and his parishioners looked and listened on.
Surprised to see his wacky attire and supporting a new purple rinse (to detract away from the bald spot appearing, his words not mine, and as a loyal supporter of Liverpool Football Club, this new hairstyle could be a retrospective and referential nod to “crown paints”), it was clear that he looked a little nervous, not at all surprising after two years in the wilderness, not having played to a live audience, hindered slightly by an acoustic guitar that went out of tune constantly through no fault of his own (almost turning every song into a rendition of Wicked Game by Chris Isaacs), which I guess added a little tension, not that it showed much, such is he the professional.
Maybe it was the setting, maybe it was the two year absence, maybe it was that my consciousness frequency is tuned in on a clearer channel nowadays listening for pearls of wisdom, but the opening track “Build Our Own Temple” was poignant in two ways. Firstly, because we were (in a Christian temple), but secondly and most importantly, that we must (build our own).
I have come to the conclusion now that society only works for the few, politics and democracy (“Lies! Lies! Lies!”) are truly dead and the only way out of it is to create our own, a micro-society that operates outside the carnage, the disorder, the disarray.
And that was in essence what Nick shared with his congregation. Whilst a few people have become rich beyond their wildest dreams (no not Robbie Williams again), a few, just a few of us have woken up, woken up to the realisation that we actually care for one another, care for the health and well-being of our families, friends, neighbours and communities, and by building our own temples (in whatever form that takes), “Love Is Due”.
Nick then took us on a somewhat uncharted journey through his extensive back catalogue, playing songs he rarely does live, so it was a real treat for all to witness.
I challenge anyone to reveal an acoustic guitarist who batters their guitar as much as Nick Harper. His live trademark is, and has always been, to change a snapped string mid-song, and such was the aggression of his playing tonight he snapped three.
Settling down after an edgy start, the guitar finally behaved itself and we were treated to over a dozen more sublime songs of pure poetry and perfection, leaving me for one, once again, in total awe of the man.
The final message of the night was again a nod towards activism, with “This Is The Beginning”, a call to arms, a message to all of those listening to think about a post-pandemic world, and how we can take the opportunity right now to change things, and forge new communities based on love and sharing, not ego and greed.
Oxygen. Nuts. Sepultura. Arguably three of Brazil’s greatest exports.
Without oxygen produced from the Amazon, we’d be fucked. Without nuts, modern day hunter/gatherers (us paleo types) would be short on protein and energy, and be fucked. Without Sepultura, the NWOTM (New Wave of Thrash Metal) potentially would never have taken off, and be fucked.
I’ve long been a fan of the brothers Cavalera, the raw power of those early Sepultura albums, the side projects of Cavalera Conspiracy and Soulfly, all banging out brutal chords and guitar solos at breakneck speed, all to a thumping beat and considered lyrics.
I’ve always taken a particular interest in their lyrics (key note speeches if you will), with the general theme of anti-establishment coursing through most songs.
Chaos AD is a particular favourite, an album I have been listening to quite a lot of late, with the opening track “Refuse/Resist” striking a real chord with me as the Covid chaos continues to sprawl across these green and pleasant lands at breakneck speed (not too dissimilar to their speed metal classics).
As reported in the last post, the army were drafted in to enhance and set up seventeen test centres in Liverpool, which was quickly followed by an extension to test secondary schools. If the children of this fair city were not scared enough, imagine eleven year old faces when they were confronted by the armed forces in the playground, behind masks and armed with test kits in hand this morning.
As predicted, the scope was further extended today to our side of the river, with similar demands based on Wirraliens (pronounced we’re aliens – which most folks not from these parts would concur), even though the infection rate (according to the available data) has gone down and continues to do so, with no discernible rise in mortality rates.
Then the news broke yesterday that so many have been waiting for, the vaccine is nigh! This is a vaccine that uses brand new technology that has never been tested on humans before, but whilst most rejoiced with a sigh of relief an a hope that things would return to pre-Covid norms some time soon, I sat there head in hands, with the firm belief that my last somber post is becoming even more of a possibility as each day passes.
Tonight I found out that the advent of the Digital ID / Medical Passport may also be upon us. My brother in law works in the event management business and his establishments will now demand that all patrons who enter his arenas will have to have a digital health passport to watch live events. Then within minutes, I hear on Sky Sports that the Premier League plan introduce the exact same measures. Soon all of the fun things to do (concerts, sporting events, theatre, cinema, international travel etc) may likely follow suit.
And finally, the breaking news that all university students (my son included), must take a Covid test before being “allowed” to travel back home for Christmas.
So the question we have to ask ourselves is what value do we put on freedom, what value do we put on free will, do we want to live in a fully inclusive society or are we happy to live in separation and seclusion.
I am all for pro-choice and if folks are happy to be tested for Covid, be vaccinated against Covid, to allow for their DNA strand to be inventoried, to sign up to be tracked and traced, and to have (potentially) biometric chips injected into them to monitor all of the above, then who am I or who is anyone to say otherwise. That is freedom of choice, free will.
If all of this does come in however, then those who do not sign up may find themselves excluded from society. They may find themselves as outsiders, marginalised because of the choices they have made.
Just think about that for a second. We (most of us, not all of us) have worked so hard in the UK to be the most inclusive and progressive generation this island has even seen.
We have progressed across barriers such as race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and many others to become a nation where the attitudes of our forefathers have become all but a vague and hazy embarrassing memory of bygone times, teaching our children that they have the freedom and the choice to be what they want to be in a society that is wholly inclusive and does not discriminate.
As things stand, we all still have the choice. A choice to sign up for those things listed above, or a choice not to.
Today we stand on the precipice, a tipping point where society may diverge into one that that looks to exclude parts of its population due to the choices they make. That is not a country that I want to live in. That is not a world that I want to live in.
As a species, we have been here before remember, do we not learn from past transgressions?
The definition of society is thus:
1. A large group of people who live together in an organized way, making decisions about how to do things and sharing the work that needs to be done.
2. The state of being together with other people.
3. An organized group of persons associated together for religious, benevolent, cultural, scientific, political, patriotic, or other purposes.
Way back in 1965, Peter Watkins wrote, directed and produced a “mock-umentary” called The War Game, a documentary film that depicted nuclear war in the UK and its aftermath, which caused dismay within the BBC and the government at the time, and as such it was subsequently withdrawn from the TV schedule before the provisional screening date of October 1965.
The BBC claimed that the effect of the film was judged to be too horrifying for the medium of broadcasting.
The film eventually premiered at the National Film Theatre in London in April 1966 to critical acclaim, taking the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1967, but it still didn’t hit the UK TV screens until 1985, the week before the fortieth anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, and the day before a repeat screening of Threads, a TV film which gave another dramatic account of nuclear war and its affects on the UK city of Sheffield, the plot centring on two families as the confrontation between the US and USSR erupted. The film depicted the medical, economic, social and environmental consequences of nuclear war.
I don’t recall either of these pieces (but I did watch The War Game today – incredibly bleak with some potential fallout of what we could go through in a post-Covid worst case scenario) but do fondly remember going to see War Games with Matthew Broderick which was released in 1984 in UK cinemas.
It was Christmas 1984 that I got my first computer (ZX Spectrum 48k) and much to my disappointment it never worked (due to it being bought from a bloke in the pub, later finding out that orange juice, with perhaps a double measure of gin had eaten away at its primordial motherboard).
War Games itself was exciting, a nerd proficient in something a bit more advanced than a “specky”took part in a computer simulation called Global Thermal Nuclear War, a game which quickly escalated into a very real and very dangerous exercise when it becomes apparent that the simulator is in fact hooked up to the live nuclear weapons system of the US.
Bizarrely and coincidentally, the very first city that was targeted in the film was my home town of Liverpool. Of all the towns and cities in the UK (and world for that matter), they had to use my town as a test case.
And here we are, thirty six years later and once again, my home town is being used as a test case for an invisible war. Three weeks ago it was the first town in the country to go into Tier 3 lockdown, an experiment to see if tighter restrictions worked (in terms of bringing down the R rate) and to see how the hardened population would react to it (how compliant we are).
Yesterday, it was determined (once again) that Liverpool would be another test case for mass coronavirus testing, with the army turning up in droves to stake out positions across the city to test up to half a million people (a pre-cursor for the so-called Operation Moonshot, mass and frequent testing across the length and breadth of the country costing a projected £100bn).
As it turns out, despite scenes of long queues from tight camera angles, the turnout on Day 1 was relatively poor, and the intense testing schedule is due to carry on for a further nine days, post-which the authorities will see what the R rate is like and how complaint the people have been. The test centre set up in Toxteth remained desolate all day (“Lest We Forget”).
With all of that said, I went for a walk with my good pal “M” this morning, deliberating, cogitating and ruminating on what was going on over the River Mersey and discussing our own views when the testing inevitably makes its way over to us on the world famous ferry, sharing that everything seemed to be playing out like a Hollywood movie and my admiration for the movie War Games which he had never seen.
On the way home, I decided to pen the below, a work of fiction. The piece is not a conspiracy theory that I believe in (fully), it posits how things may be and how they may turn out.
Those that believe in the multiverse and Everts Many World Interpretation will concede that in one of the infinite amount of universes, the content below plays out exactly, and that probability and chance dictates that the odds of this playing out in this one is a value over 0.0%.
Act One : Inception
A group of wealthy elites convene a meeting to discuss the future of Planet Earth.
It is clear that the projected population explosion, fragile geopolitical landscape and degrading biosphere will put at serous risk everything they have achieved (and hope to achieve).
The group decide that a plan of action is required at set out a series of activities that will not only restore the balance to the biosphere, but will put them in a position of power and control for generations to come.
The first action is to create a highly contagious but low-mortality rate virus (<1%) to fit the needed plan. The manufactured virus is a novel coronavirus used as the “primary strain” and is developed from existing pathogens (SARS-COVID-1). The second action is to create a “secondary strain”, which acts as a weaponized version of the primary strain with a much higher infection/mortality rate (>30%) as a backup plan, ready to be released but only if needed.
Create and fund a vaccination programme and roll out plan so it’s capable of being rolled out on a global scale and seen as the only solution to combat the virus. Once the plan has been initiated, be prepared to downplay and shut down any potential treatments (like hydroxychloroquine) and continue to echo that the only cure that is viable to fight this virus is the vaccine. Make it mandatory that the population have vaccinations to attend workplaces, cultural events, travel between regions and countries and introduce biomedical passports.
Create and fund a global crypto-currency to replace the current economic / banking model and introduce a Universal Basic Income with the plan to migrate all low paid workers to it. At the same time, develop a biometric chip which will be administered via the vaccination programme, whereby population movement and biometric / physical data will be monitored constantly, with the population earning credits which are uploaded to their biometric chip, credits which can be exchanged for goods and services.
Act Two: Initiation
The primary strain of the virus is released, with the primary narrative being natural in its evolution, its origin / epicentre being a market where the contamination of the food chain takes places via an unfortunate jump from animal species to humans.
As a back up, the secondary narrative is that the virus escaped from a laboratory by accident, the outcome being the same, a localised infection.
As the virus takes a grip on the local community, downplay human-to-human transmission for as long as possible to allow the primary strain to spread on a country then region then global scale, before any country can lock down respond to avoid initial infection.
Once a country has seen infection in situ, lock down incoming and outgoing travel to keep the transmission within the country, spreading for as long as possible.
Once enough people in a country are infected, enable strict national lockdown restrictions to emphasise the severity of the situation to test initial compliance and resistance.
Overhype the mortality rate by tying the primary strain to deaths that have little to nothing to do with the actual virus to keep fear and compliance at maximum levels. If anyone dies for any reason and is found to have the virus, consider it a virus death. If anyone is thought to have had symptoms of the virus, assume they have it, and mark it as a virus death on death certificates and national statistics.
Keep the public in lockdown for as long as possible to break the countries economic model, create civil unrest, break down the supply chain, and cause the start of mass food shortages. Lockdown will weaken the immune system of the population due to a lack of interaction with human and environmental bacteria.
Continue to drag out the lockdown over and over again causing fear and unrest which will eventually lead to compliance from further parts of the population, with others standing up to resist. Bring in more powers of enforcement by threatening fines and imprisonment for non-compliance. Increase the amount of, and visibility of, the police and armed forces to further increase the fear amongst protesters, weakening resistance.
Set up detention centres for those that do not comply, introduce enhanced arrest and detainment powers and relocate protesters until they agree to comply and take the vaccine / biometric chip.
Act Three: Escalation
Should the initiation phase fail (due to non-conformity or lack of / delayed progress), move to the primary escalation phase.
Increase the amount of testing in all regions and report a significant increase in the R rate whilst launching a proactive media campaign against anti-establishment / non-conformists and put the sole blame for the current situation on them, turning the population against each other, effectively doing the governments work for them.
Enforce lockdowns at a much more extreme level (6 to 12 months of total lockdown) increasing the penalties for defiance. Deem all travel as non-essential. Increase checkpoints, including military assistance. Take full control of food, energy supplies, and create large scale shortages so that people can only get access to essential products or services if they conform.
If the majority of population go against the inception phase and the primary escalation phase, then initiate the secondary escalation phase by releasing the “secondary strain” (30% mortality rate) on the population as a final measure to punish the minority to conform.
Act Four: End Game
Once full control is in place, initiate The Great Reset by moving the population into smart cities (whilst reallocating assets to the elites), reskill workers, reclaim rural areas, create wilderness zones, restore soil health, reduce global population through control measures and biometric monitoring.
Whilst the planet recovers, society is completely divided into the haves and the have nots.
End state is realised.
Clearly works of fiction make for good books, films, and TV, and whilst the above is more than likely not going to be realised, it is interesting to see how much (if any) of the above comes true.
Let’s hope the only realisation is a global recovery programme which is fully inclusive, a society which achieves the following:
1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere
2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
10. Reduce inequality within and among countries
11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development
Should the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as outlined above be realised, and we all live in peace, with the freedom to live our own lives without the strong arm of the law (or Big Business) calling the shots, then now is a real opportunity for real change.
The chances are, however small, that such goals are an affront for a more hidden and sinister agenda (oft tabled as The Great Reset) that will only play out well for the elites of society, time too will tell whether is also true…
So along with the other one point five million good folks of my home county, we found ourselves placed in the highest bracket of England’s new three tier system of lockdown rules this week, a traffic light system as it were.
The system was introduced as a series of measures to reduce infection rates, increase ICU availability and ultimately decrease mortality numbers.
We have been told time and time again to follow the science, and many of us have done just that, albeit not the science that this woeful and truly incompetent government would have us believe.
Those who seek the whole truth and not the truth from “trusted media outlets” like the BBC and Sky, have found gaping holes in the science and much worse, which includes the redirection of public funds to private sector industry, more specifically to organisations that have close affiliation to the incumbent prime minister and his cronies (all without impartial and unbiased tender processes).
What the science tells me is that something is very wrong in this country. When you overlay the areas of infection which have the most draconian measures applied, a few things become very clear all of a sudden.
The first and most obvious observation are that the hotspots are places in the north of England. Second, almost all of these areas are Labour strongholds where little to no Tory candidates wield power. Third, the amount of test centres and testing is disproportionate in those areas of high infection when compared to other “Blue” parts of the political map. And it is in those very same areas where unemployment is higher, so when the government incentivised testing for those out of work (via hard luck or choice) by increasing the amount of benefits folks would receive if they tested positive, it doesn’t take a genius to work out why these areas are spiking. Finally, in our case, we have a brand new hospital sitting empty in the city centre, barren and idle once again due to government contracts, this time it’s abject construction leaving the health centre a health hazard and the eventual collapse of the construction company responsible, Carillion, as well as the potential of the building itself. Not only that, but it is clear to all that the NHS is broken, critically underfunded and simply does not have the correct number (and properly paid) medical support staff nor the capacity to cope with normal situations, never-mind issues such as COVID-19, all of which puts a squeeze on the medical profession and puts the onus on the people to do something and misdirect attention away from the governments catastrophic approach to social care in this country.
All of this put together stinks of something rotten and rather sinister.
Sadly, the local council here have always been as corrupt as their Westminster counterparts. Back in the bleak days of the 1980’s, Margaret Thatcher attempted to put this town into “managed declined” when she decimated the manufacturing industry and eroded employee rights. We fought back then, literally, via the infamous Toxteth riots, only to be saved by an unlikely hero (Conservative MP Michael Hesseltine) who stood up against the government and said no.
Our local council took advantage of the situation back then and via a branch of socialism known as Militant Tendency, proceeded to be, on the face of it, a flagship of equality, whilst behind closed doors pocketed many of the centrally allocated funds proving once again that some people are more equal than others.
So here we are exactly forty years later in another period of “managed decline”, the strong arm of the law policing establishments l and issuing fines and criminal records on people not abiding by the rules as laid out by a totally inept regime (central government and local mayor who appears to have both seemed to have sold us down our famous river) neither of which know their arses from their elbows.
In stark contrast, our old nemesis Manchester have a strong leader who is not taking it lying down. He and his comrades have formed a Manchester united (not the football club) and refuse to be walked over like Liverpool, unless the true science is followed and a just and fair economic package (for all businesses and self-employed people throughout the supply chain, not just those asked directly to close) is delivered for its constituents. Many of us in Liverpool stand besides our northern kin, albeit with head lowered due to our own spineless leaders here.
To further paint a picture of our pathetic prime minister, not only does he not understand his own rules (again getting found out last night), but within two days, his clear three tier system is now four, with Lancashire negotiating their own deal which allows gyms to stay open, whilst they are closed here.
Never in my time have I witnessed such a pathetic and totally out of their depth government, clearly led by a bunch of “bellends” as they say here. Hats off to local entrepreneur Dan Davies for renaming and rebranding one of his closed public houses here this week.
So we sit at home and watch the drama unfold before our eyes. Thankfully, my family are not greatly impacted by the latest measures, but many folks across our county are so this weekend we will stand alongside them at planned and socially distanced demonstrations in the city centre, putting our hands in our pocket for local causes where we can.
My daughter came to me this week and said she was studying something in English she didn’t quite understand.
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.
“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.
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
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?