The Murder of Jo Cox MP

jo-cox

I don’t like the world we’re in now. I’m sick of the confrontational political discourse. I’m disgusted with both sides making out that it’s disaster if you don’t agree with them. There are people out there who are tinder-dry and only need the faintest spark to set them ablaze. This isn’t confined to the UK. I want better leaders. I want better politicians. And right now, I really, really want them to shut up.

Who Is Watching You?

Think the scheming and deception of the spies at the court of Queen Elizabeth I in The Scar-Crow Men is some historical novelty? Much of what I write about in the Swords of Albion books is relevant today. In fact, that’s why I write it…

A two-year Washington Post investigation has revealed the true extent of the top secret world created by the US Government over the past few years.

* one and a half times the population of Washington DC now have top-secret security clearances.
*In the last ten years, 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence have been, or are being, constructed in the Washington DC area alone covering 17 million square feet or the equivalent of three pentagons.
* Fifty thousand intelligence reports are published every year, so many that a good number are ignored by time-pressed chiefs.

This hidden world has become so pervasive, so secretive and so unwieldy that “no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.”

Purpose Not Profit

One of the things that seems to unite a lot of my readers (if the emails and messages I get are right) is a deep-seated sense that there’s something wrong with the world. With the way we operate as a society.

Here’s a short film about some new research which suggests they’re right. It has implications not only for the creative industries – in my case, publishing – but for business in general, for politics, for environmentalism and more.

Bigger bonuses (please note: banks and the City of London) don’t make people work better or harder unless they’re doing production line-equivalent tasks.

Once people have reached a basic standard of living they’re not interested in more cash (please note: hard right think tanks).

More than anything, they just want purpose in their life. That might sound dangerously spiritual, but according to this research funded by the Federal Reserve – not a haven of radical thinking – it’s true.

Evolving

Changing the world is one of those concepts that divides society. Your views on it characterise you as a naive, woolly-thinker or a hard-nosed, selfish cynic, depending on who is pointing the finger.

It’s a topic that most writers are interested in, whether they admit it or not. Stories have always changed the world. They transmit ideas or information that infect other minds and are then passed on virally. That was the whole point of stories in the earliest days of humanity.

I’ve written here a few times about the 2012 meme – not in any literal sense, that ancient prophecies have somehow signalled the end of the world a few months down the road. I’m interested in it more in the abstract sense – how, when a lot of people start to believe a great change is coming, they bring about that change by altering their patterns of behaviour.

I’ve been looking recently at how various 2012 groups have been springing up all over the world – getting involved in environmental issues, or tackling poverty or community problems. This appears to be gathering speed.

But today I want to draw your attention to evolver.net, which describes itself as “a new social network for conscious collaboration. It provides a platform for individuals, communities, and organizations to discover and share the new tools, initiatives, and ideas that will improve our lives and change the world.”

It’s there for creative collaboration as much as the whole world-changing thing. It’s not a place for cynics. Don’t go there. It is about the future, and it is unmistakably utopian. But then a lot of writers are utopian too, even when they’re writing about the most miserable, darkest visions imaginable.

The Meaning Of The 21st Century

Further to recent discussions, I wanted to flag up a book – The Meaning of the 21st Century: a vital blue print for ensuring our future by James Martin – which raises many of the big issues facing us, the great opportunities technology can bring, and then ties it all up in a nice, neat bundle.

Martin is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated author for The Wired Society which was prescient about much of today’s world. In this one, he interviews lots of experts across a range of disciplines and gives a powerfully-stated overview, which is hard to get in such a complex world.

It’s a popular science book, and easily understood, so all you uber-scientists don’t come here complaining that he’s not written it at a thesis level. Worth checking out for anyone interested in life in general, science and politics.

Time For A New Politics

For most of my adult life I’ve been involved in various forms of campaigning across a variety of issues. I’ve worked with politicians at all levels, and advised and consulted. But I’m increasingly of the opinion that the politicians we have are part of the problem, not the solution. We face the greatest crises – multiple crises – we have ever encountered, and the vast majority of MPs are simply not up to the job of tackling those great problems.

For the last few weeks I’ve only sniped and snarked about this across Facebook and Twitter. But I’m starting to wonder if we have to accept this incompetence and inadequacy with the usual British stoicism or if there’s something we can do about it.

While I ponder on what can be done, I am happy to support this initiative by the Joseph Rowntree Trust, a charitable foundation. It’s a small step, but the more people speak up, the more those at the top can be encouraged to listen. Watch the video, then vote for whatever you believe in.

New Stonehenge Visitor Centre Announced

The Government has announced plans for a new £25 million visitor centre at Stonehenge.

Finally.

The entire ritual site around Stonehenge is pretty much an atrocity, and a mockery of its World Heritage Site status. Moving the visitor centre a mile and a half away is one small step to redressing the shockingly poor stewardship of such an important site, but the site is still criss-crossed with noisy roads and ruined at night by light pollution.

I don’t blame English Heritage – they do a good job under difficult circumstances. I do blame successive British governments. The next step should be to get rid of the roads, if necessary through long tunnels, which would then give the entire site some of the gravity and majesty it deserves.

The usual Government argument is that the cost would be prohibitive. Perhaps they should have used some of the billions spent sending Iraq back into the Stone Age for no discernible reason.

Why America Rules The West

(Apart from economic and military superiority, of course.)

America has become the world’s leader because of all nations it has understood and utilised mythology.

Stupid people will tell you that it’s what you say that counts. Clever people will say a picture is worth a thousand words. The best and most effective communication is non-verbal, and it’s something the Founding Fathers understood very well. Oh, they had a way with words too – the US Constitution remains one of the greatest pieces of philosophical writing. But what they really gifted to their new nation was an understanding of why mythology was so vitally important to ancient cultures – because it transmitted simple ideas directly to the subconscious where they could take root and spread.

This kind of communication has unbelievable power. Competing philosophies – however well expressed – simply don’t stand a chance. Marx and Lenin could speak endlessly with eloquence, but the minute one American leader saluted before a fluttering flag, they were doomed.

The mythology of America is now so entrenched we barely recognise it is a mythology. But wherever you are in the world, you know what the US is all about…without discussing it, without even thinking about it. This mythic element is so rooted in the nation, it’s been developed for the last 230 years not by successive governments, but by the people. It’s responsible for the global success of US movies and TV, and food and drink, for the mythology is encoded in every single product, driving that economic power.

Britain understood this in the days of the Empire, but no longer. Hitler grasped it, and understandably Germany will go nowhere near it again. No other nation today is empowered by mythology, for good or bad. The ideas they represent are weak and untethered.

Fantasy readers will appreciate this for fantasy deals in the currency of symbolism. It is dream-fiction, where symbols live and breed, as opposed to the shiny, hard fact-fiction of SF. In ancient times, when all fiction was fantasy fiction, mythological, symbolic communication was the only game in town because it was so effective at passing vital, life-lessons down the generations.

The rapid decline in the cachet of the US Government around the world in recent years is directly attributable to this. Opinion surveys reveal that across Western nations there has been a massive shift towards a negative view of the US leadership – 90% opposed in the UK, across the political spectrum – from what appeared to be an entrenched positive view. Put simply, when you have communicated an idea so effectively and powerfully for two centuries, any actions in opposition to that idea are instantly laid bare. You can’t hide them behind rhetoric and real politik.

But that is a hugely positive thing. The mythology abides. It crushes weaker philosophies, even when those philosophies attempt to wrap the mythology around them. That is why those opinion surveys reveal that the same people who dislike what America is doing in the world are still drawn to the ‘idea’ of America.

(Cross-posted to LJ, MySpace and JoR)