Garbage In Garbage Out. Why The Real Crisis is One Of Ignorance

9 01 2012

“One thing you might have noticed I don’t complain about… politicians. Everybody complains about politicians, everybody says they suck. Well, where do people think these politicians come from? They don’t fall out of the sky. They don’t pass through a membrane from another reality. They come from American parents and American families, American homes, American schools, American churches, American businesses and American universities and they’re elected by American citizens… This is the best we can do folks, this is what we have to offer… It’s what our system produces, garbage in, garbage out. If you have selfish ignorant citizens you’re going to get selfish ignorant leaders… So maybe, maybe, just maybe, it’s not the politicians who suck, maybe something else sucks, like… The Public… Yeah the public suck, there’s a nice campaign slogan: The public sucks, fuck hope” George Carlin

Harsh words from a great man, but think about it for a minute, are they also true words? When doing this try to remove your own personal experiences from the equation, because this statement is not about you, it’s about our society as a whole. Just to be clear when I talk about “our society” I mean the collective societies of the dominant military industrial complex of the Western World. I’m reminded of a point that was raised at the launch of Slow Food Oxford Brookes last year by Mark Hix who was a guest speaker at our first event. It was in relation to what the hospitality industry can do to become more sustainable and to help change attitudes, he made the point that it is all well and good getting produce from local farms and sustainable businesses but if the customer demands WAGU beef from Japan or Asparagus from Peru, then your very livelihood depends on making sure they get what they want. Whilst he accepted that the restaurant industry must shoulder some of the burden of having created this craving for delicacies from far-flung corners of the globe, his overriding point was basically that until the public get educated and started demanding better there is very little you can do as a restaurateur because of the nature of competition.

George Carlin

People eat beef from Japan and Argentina in restaurants like Gaucho all over the world for the same reason that people believe that being allowed to vote once every four years and push the shit  around in Downing Street amounts to a free democracy, basically because they have no understanding of the context of anything going on around them. Indeed the very reason a true democracy has and probably will never exist is because the vast majority of people are kept in a perpetual state of ignorance by a small but wealthy and powerful group of fairly well-educated but still highly confused people. As Peter Joseph – the creator of the world-wide sensation that is the Zeitgeist movie franchise  – puts it, “There is no energy problem, there is just a crisis of ignorance”.

Here an example of basic ignorance, something I’m sure everyone reading this blog already understands but something that shows just how much sudo-knowledge there is in the world and how easily fooled many people can be.

Before I left my job as a trainee manager of a Gastro pub in a town just outside St Albans I was earning around £15,000 a year, the UK national average currently stands at somewhere in the region of £26,200 so naturally some may assume that most people in the UK earn more than me. Of course the modal wage, – that is the amount of money most people earn in the UK – stands somewhere between £13,500 and £15,000. Indeed if you are currently earning £35,000 or more, then give yourself a huge pat on the back, look around you and be thankful, because you are in the top ten percent of yearly earners in the world’s sixth largest economy.

But wait there’s more, if you earn £35,000 in 2012 then you are one of the top 0.89% richest people in the world. If you earn the UK national average of £26,200 then contratulations! You too are in the top 0.99% and if you are earning between £13,500 and £15,000 then guess what? You’re somewhere in between the top 10.11% and the top 8.5% wealthiest people on earth. Go Britain! Go Western Civilisation! FUCK YEAH!!!! (Occupy protesters take note)

Hold on, why if most of us are  in the top ten percent, can’t we get on the property ladder and save for our old age? I find it odd that we live in a world where the average salary means more than the modal salary, to me that says that on the global stage we jockey for position based on an unfathomable amount of money changing hands between a few extraordinarily wealthy individuals. It also means most people do not understand basic maths, because if we did we’d demand a better method of determining a country’s wealth.

Now before you switch off, my point here is not about global inequality and the gap between rich and poor, we all know about that, its been done and whilst I have my own views and will eventually visit the subject in a later blog, what I actually want to talk about is what it means to be literate in this rapidly advancing technological age. You see I think we have a problem, I don’t think any of us are equipped with the correct tools and knowledge to allow us to understand important changes in our environment. I think this illiteracy, towards science, towards politics, towards economics and many other important driving forces in our every day lives is holding us back and damaging us in ways we do not understand.

Joe Rogan

Joe Rogan once made the point that “most of us are idiots, we just like to think we’re not idiots because we use a bunch of shit smart people figured out… If I dumped you in the woods with an axe, how long do you think it would take for you to send me an email?” He’s absolutely right, for me though the scary thing isn’t the people who can’t work out how to send the email, it’s the people who wouldn’t even think to use the axe for fire wood I’m scared of, because they’re really confused and if shit goes down, they’re going to be really angry…

Arthur C Clarke once famously said that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”, highlighting the fact that in a rapidly changing technological environment it is crucial that science literacy be a major part of what it is to be an informed member of society. We now live in a world where science is doing unbelievable things and has the ability to advance us beyond our imagination in a very short period of time. Yet the direction that science takes is dictated by political policy makers who invariably don’t understand what they are dealing with, they get away with this because they are elected by a public who for the most part fear what they don’t understand and don’t understand science or politics. This public are led by a media who are equally illiterate and therefore when science gets mixed up in policy its progress is slowed or worse turned to technologies that further separate us from one another.

There is a concept called the singularity detailed in the documentary Transcendent Man, just to make clear this is a theory about what might happen and I am using it to make a point about our misunderstanding of technology. Singularity is essentially the moment when technology is advancing at such a rapid rate that man will not be able to keep up with it unless we find some way of semi merging with the technology to allow us to evolve with it rather than against it. Now some people say this moment will arrive in 2029 and as far-fetched an idea as it may seem, it is not such a crazy notion. The entire history of human technological development has been about bringing understanding through technology to humanity. It does seem a natural next step to make, but how can you do that in a world where people don’t understand anything?

Here’s a scenario of what might happen if singularity were to occur. People will fear Singularity and it will be a disaster for the human race because as things stand, people will misunderstand the concept. An educated individual would approach singularity in a critical yet open fashion and might come to the conclusion that humans and technology need each other to survive and that singularity is the next stage of that unavoidable, shared evolution. An uneducated person would look at it as the enslavement of man to machine and as something that will see the end of man rather than the next stage of our growth.

The problem we have is that if technology were to reach that point today most of us would think the Terminator movie had come true and in the ensuing panic we would probably end up agreeing to being enslaved by some sort of cross between George Orwell’s 1984Aldos Huxley’s Brave New World and The Matrix. Science literacy and critical thinking, this is what we should be teaching children, bored fact rememberers who don’t even understand how to verify said fact are useless in a technologically advanced society. Now onto some proven science…

In a funny and at times mind-blowing interview with Stephen Colbert, world-renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson discusses the reason why people don’t give science the attention they should; “Science is distrusted, not because of what it can do but because people don’t understand how it does what it can do, and that absence of understanding or misunderstanding of the power of science is what makes people afraid of it”.

I think this is a really important point, our distrust of science means that we allow our opinions to override scientific fact because we do not understand what we are looking at. We do this because our opinions are more comforting to us than misunderstood truths, it is easy to believe something that you ‘feel’ is true or that you have faith exists. It is easier to believe an untruth that speaks to what you want to hear than it is to believe something that is staring you in the face but you don’t understand. Fear rules us and it stops us embracing something that not only can show us where we came from, but can make profound discoveries that can change our whole way of looking at our existence. Back to Dr Tyson…

Neil deGrasse Tyson

“The Atoms and molecules in your body are traceable to the crucibles in the centres of the stars that manufactured these elements over their lifespan. When unstable on death, these stars exploded their enriched guts across the galaxy, scattering into gas clouds that would ultimately collapse and make another star which would have the right ingredients to make planets and people… Which means we are part of this universe, not only are we in the universe, the universe is in us… That is a profound concept and I think it is the greatest gift that astrophysics gave culture in the twentieth century.”

The problem is people are kept stupid because those who lead understand that knowledge is power. Ignorant people need to be led and need to be told what to do and how to live their lives. Show me an enlightened, knowledgable individual that needs a leader, they don’t exist, they know what they need to do and they do it. To hand knowledge to the world is to destroy the power structure and the hierarchies that have controlled society for as long as we can recount, that is why our leaders will never educate everyone equally and that is why a true democracy may never come.

Of course, there’s always the internet… now the internet in itself will not change the world, it will be the tool that allows our shared humanity to shine through and a collective enlightenment will move things forward. I think everything; every person, system, planet, solar system, galaxy, universe, everything that has ever or will ever exist has one thing it cannot resist that will eventually destroy it, for the universe that thing is probably gravity or matter, for capitalist imperialism that thing is the internet. The internet allowed globalisation to reach its full potential and made a lot of really rich people really, really rich, but it did something else. For the first time in human history most of the world now has instant access to most of the world’s knowledge, so the power structure hangs on a knife-edge and the only thing saving it from the full wrath of the internet is that no one knows how to bloody use it!!!

Teach a generation of children to think critically and to understand their technological environment. Then give them the internet and watch as capitalist democracy is dissolved and replaced by a free thinking, enlightened society of really cool, creative people. If it’s garbage in garbage out maybe we should stop feeding the system garbage? Maybe we should try gold-dust in and see how many nuggets it churns out.

Just a thought…


Life: It’s About Stories Told and Stories Yet to Tell

2 01 2012

My Dad is a great story teller, I remember as a child how he would invent stories about the adventures of characters strangely resembling my sister, brother and I. He’d come upstairs before bed and within moments we’d be be fighting dragons or evil wizards and overcoming death-defying odds to save a princess, every night a different story, every night we were hooked. My Dad’s improvised story telling was my first real experience of the power of a good tale told by a great teller. It was an early education in the workings of the wider world and one that has stuck with me, if you want people to listen to you, you’d better have a story worth hearing.

As we are coming to the end of the festive season, it seems appropriate to use the story of Jesus to illustrate my point about great story tellers and stories told. It is my belief that the thing that unites all great people, be it Jesus or Bill Hicks, is the ability to tell a good story. This is a universal truth, your story to date and your ability to tell it will directly affect your success in both the work and social environment. To illustrate my point, I am going to use the most controversial story of the last two thousands years, one that I do not believe actually happened, but one that is nonetheless, a great story and has valuable lessons for us all. Then I’m going to talk about comedy, because I want to and because 2011 Jesus would almost certainly have been a stand up comedian

OK, so I’m paraphrasing here, but this is the basic story of Jesus Christ… Born in miraculous circumstances and poor conditions with question marks surrounding his fathers mysterious absence. Raised by his mother and step dad in a happy home, where he learns the skills that will enable him to have a successful life both personally and professionally. The question of his true identity remains and as he grows older he seeks the truth about who he is and what his purpose is upon this earth.

Jesus the stand up comedian?

He works until he is thirty in a job that fails to fulfil him, at which point his story finally gets interesting. He meets a dude called John who baptises him and thus enables him to finally meet his father, who as it turns out, like many absent parents is great with the wisdom and guidance but not so good on the touchy feely stuff. This understandably fills Jesus with a cacophony of mixed emotions, the overriding one being a new found urge to get his fathers approval and have that cuddle he always wanted.

After forty days and nights in the desert confronting the darkest corners of his subconscious, Jesus has a moment of clarity and filled with vigour  he then sets about promoting his fathers ideas and values. Jesus himself is no mug, he has always been curious and therefore is well educated even for a man of his modest background. He’s a handsome dude and a funny guy, people seem to enjoy his company so it is not long before his story becomes one that attracts people from all walks of life, even a hooker or two.

During his journey he does some amazing things; he invents canapes, finds a more efficient way of transforming water into wine – known today as vinification – and becomes the great philosophical teacher of the age, not bad for just over a decades worth of work I think you’ll agree. Understandably if you do so much in such a short space of time, there are going to be those who will seek to twist your words and destroy you…we’re a jealous bunch us homosapien‘s.

Therefore things quickly turn nasty for Jesus and in a cruel twist of fate, his greatest strength – his faith in mankind – leads to his downfall as he is betrayed by one of those closest to him. This leads to his brutal but necessary death, one that enables his legacy to live on for over two thousand years and one that finally wins over the worlds toughest dad. That the story takes a twist of the supernatural is immaterial and serves only to elevate his purpose.

I’ve massively glossed over the story of Jesus there, but lets face it, its a long one and if you don’t know it you shouldn’t be looking to me to tell you. Regardless of what you think – and I’m happy to say that I am a touch sceptical that any of it happened – that is a great fucking story! Its got something for everyone, it’s the journey of one man, yet it is the journey of every man and woman that has ever existed. It covers the whole remit of human emotion in a brutally honest fashion through the eyes of one individual, much like modern day stand up comedy.

It is typical of humanity to take a great story that metaphorically outlines the oneness of man and find a divisive element to it. I don’t expect that in two thousand years people will be sitting around debating whether Harry Potter or Bilbo Baggins were in fact real people, they are just great stories. They will live on for the same reason the story of Jesus sticks around, because they have something to teach us about ourselves. It’s a story and a great one, but any great story can be twisted, people just need to learn not to get so pissed off about it.

I’m a huge fan of stand up comedy, I reckon if Jesus was around today he would have been a stand up comedian, it’s the only way anyone would have listened to a word he said and it’s the most effective way of getting a modern day audience to listen to a harsh truth. At its best, comedy can shed light on a different view point and open the mind to seek out new truth, at its worst it forces us to look at our values and engage in the ongoing discussion that is the evolution of our collective morality.

The Genius George Carlin

It is a truly wonderful thing and I believe that the great comedians, the Bill Hicks’ and George Carlin’s of this world should be held aloft and celebrated as the great philosophers that they were. These guys not only thought great thoughts but they thought them in ways that were easy to hear because comedy can touch anything and everything, laughter is the great leveller. They said and asked great things like: “We are the facilitators of our own creative evolution” (Bill), “Honesty may be the best policy, but it is important to remember that apparently, by elimination, dishonesty is the second best policy” (George) “What do atheists scream when they come?” (Bill) and “I have as much authority as the pope, I just don’t have as many people who believe it.” (George). If our politicians were as in touch with humanity as the worlds great comedians, and if they could find a way to tell their story with the same passion and truth at its heart, I for one would start listening again.

The best comedians have a way of touching on the underlying truth, without ever allowing their audience to realise that they are engaging in something deeper. In many ways, great comedy is in fact an attack on the subconscious, an attempt to open the eyes, but done in a way that seems totally natural. It is always an attempt to awaken a perceived universal truth that the comedian believes goes unnoticed. That some are good at it and some are bad is irrelevant, it is that need to speak of the unspoken that drives a stand up comedian, and it is that quality that makes them the great story tellers of the day. Here’s an example from the late, great Bill Hicks:

“I was in Nashville, Tennesee last year. After the show I went to a Waffle House. I’m not proud of it, I was hungry. I’m alone, I’m eating and I’m reading a book, right? Waitress walks over to me: ‘Hey, whatcha readin’ for?’ Isn’t that the weirdest fuckin’ question you’ve ever heard? Not what am I reading, but what am I reading FOR? Well, godammit, ya stumped me! Why do I read? Well . . . hmmm . . . I dunno . . . I guess I read for a lot of reasons and the main one is so I don’t end up being a fuckin’ waffle waitress.” 

That in essence is what separates a great story teller from the rest of us, the ability to say something deep, succinctly in a way anyone can understand. So the question I ask you is this, what is your story and how are you going to choose to tell it? And don’t think for a moment that you don’t have a story to tell or that you can’t tell it, once again we look to comedy to enlighten us:

Wise beyond his years, hated by some, loved by many, died too young. Bill Hicks

Jimeoin, an Irish stand up comedian who lives in Australia:

“This is usually how a night out works; normally what happens is when people are telling you a story, half way through their story it will suddenly remind you of a story, so the whole way through their story your not listening to a word they’re saying. Your just thinking hurry up and finish that stupid story, mines next… but you have to pretend that your listening to their story, because if your not listening to their story, they’re not going to listen to your story. So you have to look like your listening. You don’t actually have to listen it’s just a trick…”

In that I think lies a simple truth, life is one big story and you are the author. It also tells you something about great story tellers, they’re the ones that actually listened to other peoples stories. That’s why you don’t hear much from Jesus until he turns thirty, up till that point he’d been busy listening.

The way I see it you have two choices when approaching your life. The closed book approach; you can write it as you see it now, in one draft, only ever going back to fill in details and facts about what happened, never considering how other peoples stories could enrich your own. Alternatively you can take the open book approach; accept that it’s not over till it’s over and you can edit, update, even change the whole purpose of the book as new information comes to light and as you reach understanding. You accept there are elements of the book that may forever remain unfinished, but that the story will be all the richer for it and you move on, to bigger and better things.

That’s what this blog is really, it’s just another element to my story, a story that I hope I have not even started to write, but one I know will be grounded in everything I have experienced to this point, and enriched by everything that is yet to come. I urge everyone to take the open book approach to their lives, that’s what Jesus and Bill did and love them or hate them, real or not real, there is no denying the quality of the story, and if you want to be remembered, you’ve got to have a great story.

Happy New Year…

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