Six degrees of caring: Can we have a caring capitalism?

September 14, 2012 Leave a comment
Can caring fix capitalism?

Maybe it’s far-fetched to believe we can be connected to everyone in the world by six people, but there may be method in the madness.

It could well have been the hand of destiny that had me sitting on a houseboat with a friend watching Law Abiding Citizen.

Without ruining the plot I will simply say they Gerard Butler decides to take the law into his own hands over the murder of his wife and daughter. This stems from the decision of the district attorney to give the killer a plea bargain, on the face of it to help with another case, but in actuality it is to keep his prosecution rate high.

The film highlights that the justice system in the US has little regard for the people involved. It is an assembly line, with judges sitting over hundreds of cases a week, lawyers representing multiple individuals as both defendants and plaintiffs, and barristers using their theatrical oration skills to help both help the innocent and guilty alike.

The reason the film struck a chord with is that the justice system is an arena where there is a growing disconnection with the people that they are meant to protect and serve.

On one level there has to be. In order that everyone should get a fair trial, lawyers and barristers have to put aside their own prejudices, and represent their client to the best of their abilities.

However, the initial disconnection that allows these individuals to do their jobs effectively can sometimes turn into a deeper a disconnection. This may not stop them performing the the service required of them, but it takes away the essence of the service. In this case, although the judge and DA convict the murderer, the plea bargain means that it is questionable whether justice has actually been satisfied.

This disconnection manifests itself in the shift from clients to statistics. The DA in LAC doesn’t see the people involved in the case as humans, but as statistics he can manipulate to make himself look better. But it is not just in the legal system that this disconnection is apparent.

Managers that fire hundreds of people in efficacy savings are trained to not see them as men and women, but faulty parts of a machine. The head of Ofqual, at the centre of the current GCSE debacle, must have tried very hard to believe that in moving the grade scale she was not ruining the futures of thousands of children, but simply balancing the books.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe many professionals are good people and don’t see their staff or clients as numbers on a spreadsheet. But, the system is geared so that the movers and the shakers above the glass ceiling can disconnect from the people they are meant to support and not treat them as people. Or at least when it suits them.

We are all guilty of it. That annoying customer who walks in and kicks up a fuss. That person on the phone trying to sell you insurance. That homeless person asking you for money. Our society has developed to the point where we can comfortably dehumanise the people who we don’t like or don’t want to interact with. It is only more apparent in the upper echelons of power because their actions effect more people.

But every time you send someone to Coventry, or whisper behind someone’s back, or tell a homeless beggar to “f*** off,” you are dealing with a person, who has people they care about and hopefully people who care about them.

The theory of sis degrees of separate implies that we are all connected to everyone on the planet through six people. Unlikely as it is, we should not dismiss the theory out of hand.

We all have our circle of friends and our circle of family. They all have their own circles and as you pan out from individual to individual is it so hard to recognise that we are all connected by interlocking circles? You may not like some of the people in your circle, but to not like someone implies that you care about them in some way – you care that their opinions differ from yours, or you care how their actions impinge on yours.

It would be a tall order to care about everyone in the world. But we can choose who to make statistics out of and who to respect. We have the choice, and the more people we turn into stats the further away from compassionate capitalism we get.

As Andreas Whittam Smith observes today, part of the problem with the banks at the moment is that they regard their customers as people to sell to, not people to serve. It is this attitude that has led to people becoming stats, and our capitalist model being on the verge of meltdown. It is an US and THEM attitude that favours the individual at the expense of others.

In order to do business with each other on a level playing field we first have to live on one. Not in terms of all having the same wealth or social status, but in terms of giving each other same respect. We have to stop hero worshipping celebrities with no talents, start respecting people with disabilities who go through more strife on a daily basis than some people live through in a lifetime.

Respect should not depend on your age, how intelligent you are, or how talented you are, or how much of something you have. It stems from what you do with those things, and as soon as we realise this we will be able to call ourselves a developed, nay, an enlightened society.

Doctors shouldn’t have to worry about being derogatory, they should tell people the truth

Doctors have been told that telling obese patients they are fat could be derogatory

Doctors have been told that telling obese patients they are fat could be construed as derogatory

 

In Britain we have a long accepted tendency to beat-about-the-bush. It maybe why people from other countries can sometimes seem abrupt and forthright in their manner of talking, accustomed as we are to people not saying exactly what they mean.

Now it has been suggested by Nice (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) that to tell patients that they are clinically obese could be considered derogatory. Hmmm…

Admittedly, to say to someone “You’re to fat, fatty-fatty fatso” is very derogatory. But to tell a patient, “You’re obese, meaning you’re so fat you’re putting your health at risk,” is not. It is medical advice.

A derogatory statement is one that belittles or disparages the subject. But doctors and medical professionals are not telling fat people they are obese because they want to be derisive. They are also not telling thin people they are fat, so it isn’t like they are trying to be hurtful. They are literally telling obese people they are obese.

The manner in which a statement becomes derogatory is reliant on the manner in which it is said. If I tell my parents they are “old biddies” for instance it is not derisive, it is playful. If I tell a lady-friend who asks that her ass looks huge in those jeans, it isn’t derisive, it’s an opinion. On the other hand, if I went up to a stranger and said they looked fat, it is derisive, because I don’t know them and it was said in a manner that could cause offence.

If doctors went about telling patients with lung cancer that they “might want to stop smoking because of the health risks involved,” it doesn’t provide much help the patient. Instead of telling patients they are morbidly obese, and telling them they should think about eating less because being heavy is bad for their health, doctors would not be informing them that they have a serious health problem.

Do we want to live in a world where doctors don’t tell us we’re ill, but suggest lifestyle choices we might want to make?

As a smoker, if a doctor told me I had lung cancer I would know it was at partially my fault. Ok doc, point taken, I will stop smoking and make some changes to my lifestyle.

If we muddy the waters over these issues, no one will solve their problems, because most problems can only be solved by taking responsibility for their causes. A fat person told they should eat better is less likely to change their habits than one who is told that they are so fat they will die if they don’t change their habits. A similar story could be said with smokers.

It is only the urgency and immediacy of the problem that will get many people to change long-ingrained habits. You don’t get lung cancer from one cigarette, and likewise you don’t get fat from a Big Mac. It is generally overindulgence of both these habits that leads to illness, and if doctors don’t highlight to overindulgers that they aren’t just making bad lifestyle choices ,but are in fact seriously ill, then they will have no impetus to change their ways.

I’m am not saying, and let me be clear about this, that we should go around telling fat people they’re fat, and smokers they’re unhealthy. Deep down inside they probably know this. But in the fields of medicine, psychology, dentistry, etc. professionals should have the freedom to tell their patients the unvarnished truth.

In fact, I would go so far as to say it is their duty to tell people the truth under these conditions.

 

 

 

 

The lost generation: why Britain’s young people have no hope of a bright future

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It is a frustrating time to be a young Brit today. But the mounting frustration I feel, being lucky enough to have a job and working towards a career, must be exponentially worse for those without work, without money and losing hope.

It wasn’t always like this, or so I’m told. But the halcyon days of old are no longer. The youth of today are screwed.

The first problem is education. Degrees have become a penny a dozen, not in financial terms, but in aspirational terms. If every job needs a degree then the majority of young people have to go into debt simply to have any hope of getting a job.

A huge number of young people now have degrees, but if everyone has a degree then it isn’t an advantage, it is simply a debt. If no one had a degree then the job market would be exactly the same. We have massively devalued our education system. This is because of market forces in the education system.

The next problem is the housing market. My mum bought her first house for £15,000 back in the 80s. She tells me that although her salary has trebled, her flat is now worth almost £300,000.

How on earth are young people meant to get a mortgage? When my mum was earning 10k a year her mortgage was a year-and-halfs wages. If you wanted a mortgage on her house while earning £20,000 it would pan out at 20 years wages. Young people are being denied mortgages, their right to property trodden on by market forces.

The people being given mortgages are the property owners. This means that as they expend their property empires, they force myriad young people into permanently renting, costing them hundreds of thousands of pounds, yet leaving them nothing to show for it.

Another problem employment. Where are the jobs that school children were so earnestly promised by schoolteachers when they graduated? Neither here nor there. This is of course, due to market forces.

There are now over a million young people unemployed, with no hope of owning property because they can’t get a career in order to get the money to invest in a house.

The economic situation has instilled such fears in employers that even if there was a 99% chance that taking on more staff would be profitable, they won’t. The big business owners have gone for damage limitation, which in real English, means reducing their costs to keep their profits.

But, young people of Britain, don’t dispair, because it is not your fault. In fact it isn’t your government’s fault, nor your parent’s fault. It’s the economy stupid.

It is in fact the wool being pulled over our eyes. Austerity has failed this country, it has put us into another recession, left millions unemployed, ruined the moral of millions more, destroyed the hopes and aspirations of the next generation of this country.

We are told that market forces i.e. the recession, is responsible for this. But the market was created by us, and why would the chancellor pronounce an annual budget if we couldn’t have effect it?

We do have an impact on it, but that is directed away from the young people, the needy and the disabled.

Yet we do nothing. We barely even vote anymore. This has led to some of the disparity that exists in our country because politics is all about voters. The majority of home owners vote, whereas a majority of renters don’t. Work it out, political parties hoping to be in government preach to the home owners and the business owners, the people who vote. It may have started as a trickle, but as politicians started to care less about young people, they stopped voting, so the government cared less, and fewer young people voted. And on it went ad infinitum until we get what we have today, a government that protects the vested interests of the rich because the young poor don’t vote.

It is not just the economy, it is our fault too. Pensioners still receive their free bus passes and tv licences because they are the highest voting demographic. Big businesses receive better deals and billionaire CEOs get lower tax rates, because they not only vote, but fund political campaigns.

Our politicians see young people as hoodies, rioters and lazy. Until now we have been too scared to be or do anything different. If we have jobs we want to keep them, and if we don’t we still have this hope, drilled into us at a young age, that our lives will be like our parent’s.

This is a myth. We won’t have state pensions, many of us won’t have jobs. As pensionable ages get higher this will stop new, younger workers entering the system and it will get worse and worse. There is no growth strategy (except if you count helping businesses and millionaires grow their own profits), no safety net and as I see it the only hope is to make our voices heard.

We have been institutionalised to believe that the system will look after us. It worked for our parents, our parent’s parents and their parents before them. It won’t work for us. If we go on hoping that getting our grades will get us a job which will get us a mortgage we are letting ourselves be cheated by a system representing the few.

I am not saying that young are the only demographic to suffer, god knows what’s being inflicted on the old, disabled and public sector is inhumane to say the least. But it is the young people who have to stand up for themselves, ourselves, if anything is going to change.

We must make our jobs, we must make our money and we must make our hope.

Pornogrpahy addiction: It’s bad for our children, but it’s only the icing on the cake after TV and films

April 30, 2012 1 comment
Singers can look just as sexually explicit as porn stars

Singers in tiny skirts, hot pants and stockings can be just as explicit as what porn stars wear

 

Normally it is a subject that I shy away from giving an explicit opinion on, so to speak, but the time has come.

The Daily Mail has launched an appeal to get Internet Service Providers (ISP) to clamp down of pornographic sites because a recent cross party parliamentary report suggests one in three ten-year-old children has looked at explicit images online and that four out of five 16-year-old boys regularly look at porn.

I admit that by the time I was 16 a lot of my friends at school, myself included, would regularly access internet porn. We thought it was perfectly normal, although it depends what the report means by regularly, because we had to wait for the parents to go out so we could use the desk top computer. We also had to cope with dial-up internet. Now that everyone has laptops and household broadband it must be so much easier for children and youngsters to look at porn in the comfort of their bedrooms, and judging from the recent case study it can have terrible consequences.

According to The Daily Mail last week, there are numerous young men who are now unable to normal relationships with woman. Some are even on the sex offenders list for crimes varying from looking at child pornography to sexual assault. I have admit that to someone who regards pornography as an everyday thing, it is harrowing to read how it effects some people.

Now the Mail is putting pressure on ISPs to switch the way the filter content from an opt-out to an opt-in. This would mean that the default position is that parents would have to switch on pornographic content, rather than having to switch it off as they do nowadays.

The sexualisation of our country has been a long time in the making. Gradually our attitudes towards sex have relaxed, in terms of acceptance on homosexuality it can only be a good thing. But there are a variety of ways it has had a detrimental effect on children.

Can pornography be any worse than what children see on TV?

Is pornography much worse than what children are able to see on TV?

 

I remember two 13-year-old girls at my school were told to tone-down their dance routine for our annual talents how. They had choreographed a Christina Aguilera song, using a chair as a prop, and one of the teachers put her foot down as it was far too elicit for two minors to perform in front of the entire school.

It is through music and film that our attitudes to sex have gradually eroded, although nowadays singers gyrating about in very little clothing has become so normal that we don’t really notice it. But the results have been young girls dressed up like porn stars on their way to youth nights, young girls dancing like strippers, and young boys looking for ever more raunchy and explicit material as sex gets thrown in their faces from an ever younger age.

Do we simply lay blame for this degradation at the feet of the ISPs? We could no doubt blame MTV, or the BBC as well. How about we blame the Sun for its Page 3 images, or the Sport for having naked women on almost every page? I was reading FHM from aged 13 or 14, and no shop would ask for ID. It contained not only pages and pages of women in their scanties, but also articles about sex, be it real life confessions, technique pieces or how to pull girls. Let’s blame magazines for the current state of affairs…

There’s a really sad truth in this tale. It is the same truth that lies in the tale of our country’s education sector – the majority of blame rests with the parents.

Sorry parents, but in all honesty, the main guardian of your children’s moral upbringing is you. Although it is a teacher’s job to educate your children, it is your job to support that education, making sure they go to school, that they read books and do their homework, and that they take it seriously, because if you don’t take their education seriously then they never will.

It is the same with what they watch on the Internet. You can bury your head in the sand, or you can pay £25 to get porn filter installed, or you can make your children use a desk top computer instead of allowing them to look at what they want in their bedrooms.

Although our government wants to take responsibility for both our children’s education and what they look at online, they are not responsible. Our government constantly blaming teachers and meddling with education has left it in the sorry state it is in today. Now it is ok for parents to blame the teachers too, instead of supporting them. If we do the same with what we look at online then it will be another burden of responsibility we renounce.

So let the ISPs do what they will, the Beeb and newspapers do. How about, for a bit of a novelty, we stop letting children do as they will, and take responsibility. If your child is addicted to porn, unlike drugs where they can go down the park and do them out of your site, it is because you, as a parent, have given access to it online.

I wish the Daily Mail would do a campaign to make parents take some responsibility rather than trying to play the blame game to sell a few papers.

Philosophy matters, that’s why it’s important

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My first moral philosophy tutorial was one of the most humbling experiences of my young life. I knew, or at least thought, that I had some well thought out liberal opinions and was ready to fight for moderation and understanding against bigotry and hatred. But it only took about ten minutes (if that) for my tutor to demonstrate that my views on everything from abortion to euthanasia were simply the echoes of my mother’s. As I said, humbling.

We all do it I imagine, echo the opinions of our elders and betters. Whether you’re a vociferous Guardian reader, or a Daily Mail sensationalist, whether it is mum or dad’s opinion or your older sibling’s. Philosophy taught me my first lesson: question the basis of your own opinions before you parade them out as doctrine.

That was why I was so pleased to see Russ Thorne’s piece defending philosophy degrees in the Independent. Finally some appreciation for the discipline that I love and respect so highly, after years of getting a hard time.

When admitting they study philosophy, the first question asked is usually: so what are you going to do with that then? An innocent enough question that hides undertones of condescension. It implies that studying philosophy can lead to nothing useful in or of itself.

I had idea what I wanted to do with philosophy, I just enjoyed it. The reading was (usually) very engaging, the debates in class went from heated to mind boggling, and the essays were a challenge. But the question continued bugged me.

Those lucky enough to study vocational disciplines, or with a career mind already, seem to think they have the right to give the humble philosophy student a hard time. They accuse you of just spending your time thinking, or of doing nothing useful. They are just as happy to parade their opinions out over a pint or a coffee.

However, the majority of opinions that are spouted about everything from the environment to politics haven’t been explored in any detail and are therefore mostly platitudes, rehashing what has been told to them by parents, lecturers or the newspapers.

This is why one of the most important lessons of philosophy is not to take those platitudes as fact. That is why philosophy is important.

In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig describes philosophising as walking in the hills. Anyone can leave the village in the valley and take a little sojourn through the hills of thought. There are a lot of well walked paths up there, that philosophers of bygone days have tread, and their students and acolytes have traversed after them, winding into the mountains of thought.

The valley is an analogy for our family, our culture and our society. It represents the preconceived opinions of the day, the platitudes. One who lives in the valley will take red as blue and blue as red if everyone tells them so. It is easy to live within the valley and not stray outside because everyone agrees with you.

Discussions over coffee or a glass of wine represent the walks in the foothills. You can follow Plato’s path, or Marx’s, arguing over the merits of their journeys and what the discovered. This is as far as many of us go.

But day-trippers should stop and look up. For above the well worn paths in the foothills, there are the mountains, which have only a few paths through them, for not many have ventured beyond the foothills.

This was why philosophy was so humbling as both a subject and a discipline. To further Pirsig’s analogy, the foothills that have been so well trampled can be understood as other subjects, chemistry, physics, psychology. Before these subjects existed there was only the questions: what is the world made of? How does the universe work? What makes human-beings tic? The ancient philosophers would have seen the foothills as mountains, there were no paths there, and it would have been both scary and novel to escape the valley of society and tread new paths. But after years of people following the routes, the questions have been replaced by answers, which are claimed by other disciplines. What matter is made of is answered by chemistry, what forces control the universe is the domain of physics, and explaining what makes humans do what they do is psychology.

It is testament to the wanderings of the greatest minds in history that we have these answers, but the cost has been the question. I think every question is philosophical, and from this it would imply that philosophy is the art of questioning. While the answers are now left to the various disciplines spawned from philosophical enquiry, the soul of the questioner is the soul of the philosopher, and this is why philosophy remains important.

To not ask questions because you assume you know the answer is at best ignorant and at worst arrogant. A lot of people in the valley take their opinions for granted, because they like them. If I had an unwanted pregnancy I’d want to abort it, so I am pro-abortion. But the philosopher explores their own opinions, and those of others, like Socrates, to find the justification that doesn’t rest on the comfort those opinions provide.

We are lucky to live in a culture where we have so many answers, but we should not let this make us complacent. If we do, like in the US, we get creationists, who take comfort in their opinions, yet make no effort to delve into the absurdity that the world was created only 9,000 years ago. We need questioners, to keep ideas fresh and stop them stagnating, and that means we continue to need philosophy.

And, as I learned long ago, philosophy teaches you to be humble before both your own and the opinions of others.

Vivienne Westwood’s comments beggar belief

Courtesy of The Independent Blogs.

Westwood said during London Fashion Week the UK public was "ugly".

Westwood hit out at the UK public during London Fashion Week, calling them badly dressed.

It seems rather unfair of Vivienne Westwood to hit out at the UK populace, saying that we have never dressed as badly as we do today. While, admittedly, I am no fashion guru, and agree that there is a certain similarity between the discordant fashions of the day, it seems fair to argue that we’ve actually never had it so good.

The septuagenarian said, “In history, people dressed much better than we do today. If you saw Queen Elizabeth it would be amazing, she came from another planet.”

But Queen Elizabeth had the finest dress-makers and tailors in the country. She would have had her choice of the finest materials, the softest silks – the shiniest satins and the most voluminous velvets known to man. With all the money in the world, looking good is easy.

What Westwood forgets is that for the Queen to have all these accoutrements the majority of her people lived in poverty. Again, we have one of the elite forgetting that the 99 per cent don’t have Mary Poppins handbags or bottomless wallets.

Most of Queen Elizabeth’s subjects would have worn pretty shoddy clothes by comparison with today: picture hessian sacks, with rope tied round the middle, or Baldrick from Blackadder. For the designer to accuse the majority of the country as being conformist, while harking back to an age where variety was for a privileged few literally beggars belief.

You only have to take a short walk down any high street to witness the menagerie of prancing peacocks that make up the diverse crazes of the British public today. There has never been so much variety in fashion.

When you strip away the feathers, and get down to the real velour, we are privy to the fact that fashion is intimately linked with money. The poor spend a huge amount of their income trying to look like their celebrity icons. It is easy to forget that these false gods have it easy style-wise. They have millions of pounds to spend on brand-clothing, and if they don’t like any of those brands, they can make their own. They can hire make-up artists, style gurus, hairdressers; a veritable army of servants to help them look good.

The regular hoi polloi have to assemble their ensemble as best they can from Primark, discount stores and the sales. Yet the fashion elite have the nerve to say: “People have never looked so ugly as they do today.”

What a corker Viv.

Now, this might not be completely fair. Vivienne Westwood has always been on the cutting edge of fashion. An industry legend, even. Yet coming out of her latest show during London Fashion Week the age-old phrase, ‘mutton dressed as lamb’ could easily spring to mind.

So, before harking back to a bygone era, maybe you should appreciate that you’ve never had it so good? At the tender age of 70, Dame Westwood should count her lucky stars that we are in an age where people  can indulge in myriad fashions and trends that were once the province of a select few.

So before you go knocking the regular Joes out on the high street, please spare a thought to those on squeezed incomes, worried about unemployment and job cuts, stuck on the dole, or in debt. It may not be as bad as the days of serfdom, but buying the latest fashions is still a luxury that only the rich can consistently afford.

I will eagerly await Vivienne Westwood’s hessian range for the squeezed middle, complete with dung-ball accessories, modelled by Tony Robinson in next year’s London Fashion Week.

Can we save water, pennies and time during the drought?

How do you save water in a drought?

Showers can use up to 200,000l of water a year, cut the time to save money...

Courtesy of The Independent Blogs.

I have to admit that I am a self-indulgent when it comes to showers. There is nothing I like more than to stand under hot water, washing the sticky sleep out of my eyes, preparing for the day ahead. It is also the easiest cure for a hangover.

With the South East and Midlands in a state of drought, I was shocked to learn that my power showers could use as much as 136 litres of water each. Radox estimate that a family of four could use up to 200,000 litres a year in showers, which could fill a swimming pool in less than two years.

The cost is staggering as well. An eight-minute shower every day can cost the average family £416 a year, whereas a power shower not only uses nearly twice as much energy and water as a bath, but could cost consumers £918 per year.

In light of this, they’ve offered a series of tips to save water and money during the drought. But how far are you willing to go to save both water and some pennies?

Some of them seem pretty obvious. Halving your shower time will save on average 45,000 litres of water per year. Every minute less you spend under the hot jets will save 17 litres.

If you are worried about taking an egg-timer into the shower with you, or are unable to accurately estimate the time you spend there, Radox are here to help. They have come up with a shower app that will choose a song of appropriate length for you to shower to – singing is purely optional – so that when the song is over you know you should be towelling-off your intimates.

The one issue with this is, how long do you have to spend in the shower to be clean by the end of it? It’s all well and good using less water, but if you smell like last nights beer and doner kebab you might not be too popular.

A novel idea for some will be turning the shower off when you apply shampoo and conditioner. Radox estimate that a family could save £104 a year if they switch it off when they shampoo, condition and shave.

I remember staying in a hostel in China, where they had the tiniest bathroom I’ve ever seen. What was even worse was that slap-bang in the centre of the shower, was a hole in the ground. Now I’m all for brushing my teeth in the shower to shave a few minutes of my schedule, but the idea of urinating at the same time could be taking things a little too far.

It turns out that consumers in Brazil have also indeed been encouraged to wee in the shower, so maybe it is simply my British sensibilities being tested here.

As well as washing your face and hair, brushing your teeth and going to the toilet in the shower, are we about to see new showers coming with a coffee machine and breakfast bar? What about having your wardrobe in the bathroom so that you could have breakfast, go to the toilet, brush your teeth, and select your clothes, while showering at the same time?

It seems doubtful whether doing more in the shower is actually going to mean you spend less time in there. It runs contrary to the spirit of the water-saving advice, if not the letter.

Once again, consumers are forced to walk the fine line between practicality, affordability, and being environmentally friendly. We have to choose between saving time, money or water, and as DEFRA has officially declared a state of drought these choices could become ever more pressing over the next few years.

One day in the distant future we might be able to have all three at the same time, but for now we are left with these hard choices.

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