On graduating from Cambridge University

I began my blog almost five years ago when I started at Cambridge University. My studies were based in the department of sociology and I focused on precision farming. It was five years of incredibly hard work. Somebody told my parents once that ‘PhD stands for Permanent Head Disorder” and it very much felt like that. Having the same subject matter rolling over and over in your head like a tumbler dryer. Once I had submitted my PhD thesis to the Student Graduate Union such obsessional forms of thinking finally came to an end.

My graduation day and graduation ceremony was incredible. My journey to Cambridge from Bristol began at 5am in the morning. The train journey from London to Cambridge was standing room only with the amount of people traveling to Cambridge for graduation day. My mother, father and eldest niece met me at the train station. First of all we visited my college, St Edmunds College, where we ate sandwiches, met up with college friends, and rehearsed for the ceremony at Senate House in the city centre.

As PhD students, Adrien, Megan and myself lead the parade of graduating students down to Cambridge city center. We were really lucky with the weather and it was a really fresh, frosty October day with a lovely warm sun.

I felt extremely nervous and because my surname begins with “A” then I was the first student to walk up the the front to be sworn in as a doctor. Being the sociologist and rebel that I am, I ticked the box not to bow but stand in front of the Vice-Chancellor.  I hope he understands that it is nothing personal, but after studying social and symbolic power relations over knowledge, then last thing you feel like doing is bowing down to hegemony (that’s sociological speak if you do not understand me). Anyway looking into his eyes, seeing him nod his head, confirmed that I had actually done it – I’d graduated.

Then I walked out a small side door of the Senate House onto a narrow side street in the middle of Saturday afternoon, in the middle of Cambridge, as if nothing had happened. I looked down into my hands to see that I was clutching a PhD certificate, and I thought to myself: “Is that it?!” It looked like something you could print with a home computer purchased from PC World, although the two signatures looked rather difficult to forge.

I was really glad it was a good day because experience of Cambridge University was unfortunately tainted towards the end, and I struggled to remain positive at times. It was quite an ordeal but man falsely claiming to be a ‘Senior Member’ of my college attempted to claim co-authorship rights over my PhD thesis against my will. You read about these kinds of things but never think they will happen to you. Although my department was incredibly supportive, this event cast a  dark shadow over the final year and a half of my studies – life is after all ups and downs. But the day before my graduation I was issued a contract from another book company, and that did brighten things up no end.

All in all, I felt so incredibly proud to have studied at Cambridge University. It was an utterly life-changing experience and I feel enlightened just by immersing myself in an environment of intensive learning. It really is important for human to once in a while feel approved and feel recognised for any hard work invested, and this best described the moment you look the Vice-Chancellor in the eyes to accept your post as a newly appointed doctor. The best part of my day was having my family there, with massive smiles across their faces. Thank you to Adrien, Emma and Megan for brightening the day up even more.

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P.S.: My advice for future PhD students is be aware that you do not need to buy a PhD gown and hood for the event. No one will tell you this and I forked out £380 for a gown and a hood I did not need. You will wear your masters degree gown to Senate House with a PhD hood that you cant rent from the shop across the road from Senate House (Ryder & Amies).

Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below. Follow me on Twitter @james_addicott or Instagram: ieaddicott or visit my website: http://www.jeaddicott.com

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Does UK Drill music cause violence?

Does drill music cause or encourage more violence on the streets of Britain? This is an important question posed by the Metropolitan Police with discussion on the BBC and mainstream media. This blog develops a theory about the relationship between urban violence and drill music.

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To begin with, I want to pinch to terms and concepts from anthropologist Richard Geertz. That is the idea that cultural symbols do two things, they provide a model of reality and a model for reality. In these terms, and in the first instance, UK Drill music models reality. What UK Drill does is represent a social environment to external audiences. Aspects of the cultural environment would include council housing estates, economic inefficiencies (litter, broken facilities, graffiti) slang, fashion, violence, crime, patrolling police officers, knives, guns and so on. Drill music can be understood as a form of artistic realism; it ‘keeps it real’, offering a real representation of life on the streets to audiences tuned in. This is one side of the coupling.

At the same time, UK Drill music is also a model for reality. It represents what is there on the streets of some of Britain’s toughest ghettos and presents it – or ‘re-presents’ it – in such a way that it becomes a model for reality; to some extent it determines life or ways of living. That is to say that Drill creates a new culture or sub-culture. It shows people life on the mean streets of London, represents it as realistically as possible, which then inspires some people to not only represent this lifestyle but compete to represent it more authentically in their own lifeworlds. Those listing to the violence represented by Drill artists may then be influenced or intimidated into crime, knife or gun violence as part of this cultural movement. Those listening to British Drill music who are not from poor social and economic backgrounds, do not sell drugs or commit crime, – perhaps white teenagers from working-class or middle-class facilities – might then buy into or be inspired by these artistic representations to live, act, behave in certain ways portrayed. A template is extracted from the streets of London and transported around neighborhoods of the UK, in the same way that a model of Drill culture was extracted from Chicago and exported to London, England.

Taken in these terms, if we ask the question, does Drill music encourage violence on the streets of Britain, then the answer would be “yes, but only to some extent”. As a “model of and for reality” then Drill music not only carries on but amplifies the kind of violence and gun culture that has always been found on the streets of London, Birmingham, Sheffield, Liverpool, etc. And lower-cost technologies are very much the cause of the amplification. It is very much the case that with new and more affordable technologies youngsters are able to generate and broadcast their own media and lower cost to potentially wider audiences – politicians may blame the media content but they would never blame the technologies themselves.

Politicians pinning the blame for gang murders and knife crime on Drill music are pointing their fingers at the effects but not the causes. In Marxist terms the ideological superstructure (musical expression) is the outcome of a deeper-rooted, social and economic base-structure. The causes should be quite clear and should have more to do with the social and economic environments, lack or wealth and resources, within which Drill music is produced rather than the music itself. At it has always been the case with Jungle Music, D&B, Hip Hop, UK Garage and Grime – genres that all contain violent language – that concerned, middle-class parents or politicians point their fingers at the music culture that the people produce rather than addressing the issues that plague most ghetto districts of Britain (low education, poor community facilities, lack of council funding, low societal esteem and high levels of drug demand, and so on). Banning UK Drill music on YouTube or stopping groups such as 67 from performing live concerts is an economic strategy and the aim is not “to stop the message getting out” but to draw this cultural movement to a halt by stunting financial prosperity and potential economic growth.

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Twiddling with monopoly control

As I try my best to fix some of the new faults my Apple computer alerts me of, I realize that these are issues of monopoly capitalism, not technical issues. My ‘out of date’ Apple 5 and 5s phones no longer work with my ‘out of date’ operating system because of some new reason or another. Reasons that are here today, and were not here five years ago when the same system ran fine. The only way I can get my systems linked up, or talking with any of the other Apple products my family own, is to upgrade my software or buy new equipment. I must buy my way out of technical glitches. The recent admission that Apple were purposely slowing iPhone’s down (to encourage people to buy new smartphones) came as no surprise. Of course company’s need to make money but what we have in our hands is evidence of market coordination and control that one of the two firms that dominate IT markets are able to exercise. If I had the time on my hands, tracing these networks to discover these ‘encoded technical glitches’ would make for a fascinating research study. A wide range of technical glitches indicates that I am clearly being ‘funneled’ towards a new purchase – I could be wrong of course, and many glitches are genuine faults. Some technical glitches reveal sources of political and economic contention and that  markets are not free, users freedom of choice is massively restrained, controlled and coordinated.

Jordan Peterson: Masculinazi?

I felt offended and appalled by Jordan Peterson’s attitude. I switched off almost immediately. I then returned to my friend and explain that I was not interested in watching the video. My friend  accused me of being narrow minded and childish, and the kind of ‘immature man’ or ‘overgrown child’ as the video suggested I – and most other men around the world – was. Later on that evening, another friend also sent me a link to the same video. Maybe I was missing out on something, being too eccentric or closed minded. I watched the video again and here is what I thought:

He was asked the question : “you have said that “men need to grow the hell up”, can you tell me why?” After a defining pause, he responded: “Because there is nothing uglier than an old infant”. “The Crisis of Masculinity”, he analyses and waned of, is a fault with each immature man, ‘old infant’ or ‘overgrown child’. He continued:

There’s nothing good [immature men}; people who don’t grow up don’t find the sort of meaning in their life that sustains them through difficult times – and they are certain to encounter difficult times – and they are left bitter and resentful and adrift and hostile and resentful and vengeful and arrogant and deceitful and of no use to themselves and of no use to anyone else and no partner for no woman and there’s nothing it is that is good. (He said shaking his head and grey hair).

Peterson informs us that he has clearly identified something he considers to be a “bad” or possible even an “evil” in the social world. For anyone studying the effects of individual value judgements in the social sciences might feel weary of such value judgements. We should assume to that as the researcher and expert in this area, then he represents a saviour, an ambassador, and the polar opposite of this “male-badness” or “male-evilness”, as a form of masculine good or source of male positivity, should we not? I mean, why wouldn’t we consider him on the better side of these ‘mature/immature’ ‘male/female’ dichotomies that he has drawn and thrown at our feet?

The most amazing this is that he did not explain what “growing up” actually entails; how do you define “growing up”? Does he mean put on a suit, slick your hair back, speaking in a serious and pensive demeanour, working in an office and wearing suits, arguing with women over gender-pay gaps? Does he mean, act more like an “sensible” adult white man? I mean, wouldn’t growing up for a young Ugandan, Paraguayan or Pilipino man mean something slightly different? What is the monolithic ideological construct he calls “growing up”? We all know, we cant all grow up at become successful football players, rock stars or drug dealers. We all know, that we will not all become managers or business owners. So what is this “grown up mature man” ideal type he refers us to? Become a bit more like him self?

Just as not all women are able to get equal pay, not all young men grow up in social and cultural conditions where simply throwing on a suit and speaking clearly and sensibly will get them as far as selling drugs, milking cows or hunting for wild animals. But anyway, according to Peterson, millions of young men watch his channel because he is the only person telling them that they need to grow up: “in fact the words that I have been speaking… have had such dramatic impact [that this] is an indication that young men a starving for this sort of message.”

If a woman presents Peterson the argument that there is a gender pay gap, he argues that there are so many different variables to take into account that the whole feminist gender pay gap argument is therefore debunked. Yet, he is able to present an argument that most men around the world, other than him self, are immature and the whole world is suffering as a consequence. His hypocrisy speaks volumes and goes unchallenged.

He also told the female interviewer (who is a woman with her own opinion) that: ‘Women deeply want men who are competent and powerful’ but then when asked what role women should play in fixing the ‘crisis of masculinity’, shrugs his shoulders and snaps: “Well it depends what [women] want!” Well Prof., you have already told us what (you think) women want ?! What makes him able to make such sweeping claims? “Because I’m a clinical psychologist.” Take a load of some of his other broad, general, sweeping statements:

“Power is competence.”
“You can’t dominant a competent partner.”
“Women are more agreeable than men.”
“[Having weak partners] makes women miserable.”

This is just testimony to shoddy, sensationalist egocentric (narcissistic), personality-driven academia. If I want to read about any for of crisis in masculinity then the library shelves of stacked full of books that will tell me about the humanitarian crises of alienation, species-being, dehumanisation, fragmentation, and so on. Although this author’s ego may allow very little room for discussion about these other authors, his message says little new.

The History of Grime Music: A Bristol Perspective

Where does Grime come from? This question has been posed to Dizzee Rascal, Wiley, So-Solid or Heartless Crew and many others. DJ Target from Pay As You Go Cartel has recently begun an interview series on BBC One Xtra to address this very question. With UK artists such as Skepta and Stormzy breaking into American markets, and international newcomers introduced to the rawness of Grime Music, there has been an emergence of interest into the roots of this raw, underground sound. This blog will offer a Bristolian perspective on the roots of Grime – Bristol being an hour and a half drive away from London, and my hometown. This blog will discuss various, interrelated factors that caused Grime to emerge. The most significant include: cultural and musical influences, advancing technologies, tensions between social classes and the establishment, and shifts in levels of wealth and prosperity.

To understand how Grime Music evolved it is important to understand the social and political atmosphere within which Grime emerged. In most accounts of the emergence of Grime these factors are easily overlooked. The most crucial factor, I feel, was Nine-Eleven (9/11) terrorist attacks across America in 2001.  From the perspective of a young, working-class youngster, particularly young black youngsters, it seemed that 9/11 gave Tony Blair and George Bush a green light to conspire, declare an ‘Axis of Evil’ and send troops and bombs into the Middle East. The Global War on Terrorism also enabled national leaders to activate police forces against urban youths on the streets. Operation Trident, new stop and search laws handed to the police, and the introduction of Anti-Social Behavior laws, seemed to target and victimize urban youngsters of lower-income households, particularly of African, Muslim or Afro-Caribbean decent. In Bristol I remember a row of around ten police helicopters flying in a straight line over ‘ghetto’ districts of Bristol City. Residents were told that the police were scanning these city areas using infrared cameras to identify council houses where crops of marijuana were being grown. Rightly or wrongly, for those growing weed to earn an alternative income, the state-system was clamping down on any potential earnings.

Tighter government control, authoritarian at times, generated an atmosphere and feelings of tension at a street level. If Tony Blair and George Bush were prepared to lead the UK into an oil ‘War on Iraq’, considered by many demonstrators an act of daylight robbery, then at a street level, gang warfare, robberies, stabbings and even killings were somewhat justified – if the ruling powers are doing it, why shouldn’t we? Since the police are targeting us, criminalizing us, then what commitment do we owe to the state or acting according to ‘civilized’ or socially acceptable rules? The political and state-system was hypocritical every time it told gang members to back down or disarm. Different cultures of violence emerged: gang culture, knife culture and gun culture. There is a famous video online of a clash between Dizzee Rascal and Crazy Titch (Titch, later imprisoned for 30 years for murdering a ‘disrespectful’ MC with Mach 10 machine gun).

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The Dizzee vs. Titch clash is still a tense video to watch. Looking back it is easy to see how hostile things were at that time. Undeniably, this was a clash of egos; a fierce lyrical battle between competing MCs that got out of hand. At the same time, gang wars; international war and police hostility would have amplified tensions within this pirate radio studio in East London. For those living in deprived areas during this time, targeted by a hypocritical state system (‘Islamophobia’), then it did feel as if the UK was reduced to a ‘dog eat dog’ culture. This provided the background for the aggressive sound and violent content of Grime Music; ‘grime simply gave East London’s disenfranchised youth a platform; it was the Fight Club of London’s underground youth subculture’.

Another factor in the emergence of Grime was technological, a shift from analogue to digital media formats. Vinyl records, cassette tapes or Technics 1210 turntables were being slowly replaced by CDs, mini-disks and MP3s. Whereas pirate radio stations were once the main outlet for underground music, gradually digital cable channels such as Channel-U became another outlet for unsigned urban talent. Underground acts such as So-Solid Crew or Pay As You Go Cartel that who blew up on cable network channels, were signed and pushed into mainstream markets, eventually performing on BBC Radio or Top of the Pops. Later on, MySpace offered music producers and MCs a free forum for connecting with fans, promoting events and distributing music. Throughout this transition, no longer was an MC or group of MCs a host to the DJ as the main act, but MCs started to become musical artists and the main act over the DJs. Ravers would go to events to see Baseman, Skibadee or Shabba D as much, if not more, as the DJs they were performing with.

In the analogue era of decks and vinyl records, listeners and fans typically stuck to one genre of music, had a favorite music shop or a favorite radio station. Youth culture was separated into clicks of ‘Hip Hop Heads’, ‘Junglists’ or ‘R&B Fans’ with their own languages and fashions. Sound systems and DJs began to change this. From a Bristol perspective, London sound systems such as Boogie Bunch, Rampage Sound or Heartless Crew were more popular because they mixed of genres of urban music. I remember Boogie Bunch’s DJ Swing playing a Ragga track at an R&B night and considering that groundbreaking and revolutionary – normally dancehall music was played in the ghetto areas of the city alone. No longer did urban music fans need to go to a strictly R&B night but you could hear a sound system spin Jungle, Garage, R&B, Hip Hop, Dancehall and Soca. Were the DJs becoming more selective, and setting new musical trends, or were the crowds becoming more picky, wanting more variety from DJs? As analogue culture slowly transformed into digital culture, it was more likely a mixture of the two (supply and demand).

In the digital era and the Internet, made music free and more accessible and merged cultures and sounds. Like music fans, MCs did not want to be restricted to one pirate radio station or one specific genre of music. MCs wanted to diversify and embrace a wider range of musical tastes, as well as tap into and make money from different musical markets. General Levi was an early example of a lyricist able to perform across genres, embracing Jungle, Hip Hop and Ragga music. Multi-genre music went in two creative directions. On the one hand, MCs such as General Levi became mixed-genre artists, performing on Jungle, Hip Hop and Ragga tracks. On the other hand Grime Music began to mix and amalgamate different genres into one distinct sound. As I remember, East Connection, Heartless Crew or Pay As You Go Cartel were some of the first distinguishable example of Grime Music to hit Bristol, Swindon or Cardiff. Later down the line, Nasty Crew or Roll Deep with DJ Slimzee, Dizzee Rascal and MC Wiley were to develop that raw and dark sound we know today as Grime Music.

The emergence and evolution of Garage Music played a fundamental role in setting the foundations for Grime Music. Deriving from Soulful House, borrowing baseline elements from Jungle and Drum & Bass music, Garage Music radically transformed the R&B, Dancehall and Hip Hop nightclub scene. The Garage Scene was all about wearing expensive designer shoes, dapper suits, looking intelligent, wearing crisply ironed shirts whilst drinking champagne (‘champagne bubbly’). What came with Garage Music was a real feeling of emancipation, liberation, freedom and joy. Night clubbers felt set free and empowered by this celebratory sounds of Garage. Any aggression associated with badman-Dancehall music (e.g. Bounty Killer’s “Anytime” or “Can’t Believe Me Eye” (1998)) or New York Hip Hop (e.g. The Lox ” We Are The Streets” (2000), DMX “Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood” (1998)), was momentarily suspended by the smooth vocals and skipping beats of UK Garage (e.g. Roy Davis Jr ft Peven Everett – Gabriel (1996), Tina Moore – Never Gonna Let You Go (1997), MJ Cole – Sincere (2000)). UK Garage or Speed Garage was a motivational music. People would work hard, save hard, dress up ‘stush’, travel long distances and spend hard-earned money in order to enjoy a Garage rave. The clientele was sophisticated, upbeat and intelligent, with less chance of outbreaks of trouble associated with Dancehall or D&B music scenes.

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Gradually UK Garage Music got darker as it evolved from its Soulful House roots to what has become Grime Music today. It merged a lot more with the darker elements of Drum & Bass music. MC Bushkin of Heartless crew recently made an interesting point of how Garage DJs began to reduce the vocals on garage tracks, and extend the break beats; amplify the baselines, to allow Ragga, Jungle and D&B MCs to spit vocals on over the tracks. This allowed a greater integration between D&B and Garage. But the mixing, merging and integration was as much social as cultural and musical. In several interviews Wiley or Dizzee, mention being that the tracksuit wearing, under-class, street-youth they represented were often barred from entering the black-middle-class Garage raves by nightclub bouncers. Essentially, in the eyes of the Garage Music scene these Drum & Bass MCs and their fan base represented trouble. Both Wiley and Dizzee would be the first to admit to that.

Gradually, Garage Music became darker, more aggressive, more troublesome, and later evolved into Grime Music. Wiley’s anthem “Wot U Call It?” (2004) is the most noticeable point in the transition from Garage (2-Step, UK Garage or Speed Garage) to Grime. With people speculating about names for the new genre, such as “Eski Music” or “Sub-Low”, it was eventually termed “Grime” by either music journalists or industry employees. Heartless Crews’ MC Bushkin mentioned that nigh clubbers would say to him: “Your music sounds Grimy!” That was a popular term at that time with N.O.R.E.’s thug-life anthem “Grimy” (2001) or Dillinja’s ultra-dark Drub & Bass anthem: “Grimey”.

Whereas UK Garage seemed to represent a cultural celebration of new wave of wealth and middle-class prosperity entering into black communities within the UK (from mid-1990s to 2001), post-9/11 Grime Music signified marginalization, despair, anger and rage against the establishment, as the title of Dizzee Rascal’s cornerstone LP “Boy in the Corner” suggests.

Grime can be considered a by-product of political and military Blairism. Grime has now become a sell-out scene, not as in watered-down, but sell-out as in commercially successful. Not only are Grime MCs making their mark around the world, but selling out huge stadiums within the UK – for example, Red Bull’s Culture Clash or Dizzee Rascal’s opening of the British Olympics. Any anger, rage and despair embedded within the sound has evolved into mainstream sound; a part of British national consciousness. The fury that Grime expressed, which stemmed from poverty, class and racial tensions, aimed at the corporate and social state-system, is paradoxically vented and celebrated at a national-level.

The views in this blog are mainly my own. Please a comment below if you see the emergence of Grime from another perspective. Thanks for reading.

Deconstruct the theory of Hyper-Normalisation in under 5 minutes, here’s how…

Adam Curtis’ BBC documentary “Hyper-Normilisation” was a virtual web of lies. In this blog I will show you how to deconstruct his theory by watching the first five minutes.

‘We live in a strange time’, Adam Curtis announces at the beginning of his documentary. Without watching the rest of the documentary, it is extremely easy to understand why. The reason everything is strange is because it is modern and new. Nobody throughout human history has been able to instantaniously communicate face-to-face with a stranger around the other side of the world. Never before, in the whole of human history, have groups of people been able to chase mythical characters down the street, as Pokémon-Go enables us to. Soldiers sat in offices at remote locations can fight wars and wipe out armies; this is new. The majority of us walk around these days carrying super-computers in our pocket, that’s new. These are some good reasons why everything is odd, weird, abnormal or extraordinary. It’s modern, it’s new! – read anything by Antony Giddens on the ambiguous nature of the modern world.

Curtis suggests ‘we all’ live in a Matrix-style reality. And that ‘all of us’ went along with the idea of living in a ‘carefully constructed fake world’ because ‘the simplicity was reassuring’. So, he offers us a really, really simple explanation about why.

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What caused this fake world to emerge – what is this story Curtis has to tell us? According to his theory, our fake world emerged in 1975. This was because of two historical events that took place ‘at the same moment’ in two cities of the world in 1975. Let stop here for a moment. Is it feasible that an event in New York and Damascus (Syria) provides the political and economic bedrock that constitutes your everyday reality? It only took two historical events to construct the hyper-reality that you live every day? What happened to forgotten empires, colonisation, world wars, the launch of Sputnik 1, the advent of the Internet, and so on? In fact, what happened to the whole of human history until now? Apparently, there is only one moment in time that actually counts.

Are you reassured by the simplicity of his theory? If you are, then by his own confession, what has drawn you in is his simplified narration of history (two events in two cities). Social theory, after all, reduces the complexity of the world into simplified thinking. The theory of hyper-normalisation is a simple theory about the over-siplified world of simplicity we all live in. Simple isn’t it?

A friend once told me that the key to a good lie is to weave elements of truth into it. Google search controversial or widely discussed news items. Take hot topics such as ‘Banks’, ‘waves of refugees’, ‘Brexit’, ‘Trump’, ‘Russia’ and ‘Syria’ and quickly whisk them up into a simple, all encompassing and easy to digest theory of everything. That is what you get when with Curtis’ theory of hyper-normalisation. These news stories are compelling, affect many modern lives, and they are purposely deployed by Curtis to pull you in. Did you take the bait?

The idea of individualism and self-governance, or the concept of a non-political, economically driven social system runs through the history of Western academic thought. According to Curtis these liberal ideas (economic liberalism) are new concepts, they emerged in New York one day when some bankers refused to turn up to a city-hall meeting. Rather than listen to Curtis, we could refer to cybernetic theory of Norbert Wiener – see J. Mitchell Johnson’s brilliant new documentary “Remaining Human” -, or trace cybernetic theory back to the Marxism, Adam Smith, Enlightenment thinkers, Renaissance thinkers, right back to the philosophies of the Ancient Greeks. In fact, society without political governance would constitute all societies before the city-stat, empires or nation-state systems.

What the documentary represents is a bit of intellectual foolery or mischievous intellectualism. What I find more interesting is the way in which, from time to time, media channels like the BBC and Channel 4 like to toss conspiracy theories out into the public domain. There are never books published following the broadcast, rarely any academic citations, but they manage to tell us ‘all’ how are lives are shaped by evil men on the inside.

To return to the point, all theory is over-simplifying. That is to say, all theory reduces the world into easy to understand concepts and ideas. Bad theory can ruin lives – note that Russell Brand has developed his own strand of hyper-normalisation theory. Deconstructionism, either via way of Jacques Derrida (1976) or Friedrich Nietzsche, searches for the escape routes from all-encompassing, totalitarian theories. These thinkers aimed to expose theorists’ underlying biases and attempts to gain power over others. In many ways this kind of BBC documentary draws people in and gets people thinking or talking about what is healthy or unhealthy about modern culture. It gets them on the theoretical journey, that could then lead viewers down the path to become academic readers. Those intrigued by the idea of hyper-normalisation might one day find themselves reading about ‘hyper-reality’ (Baudrillard, 1994) or Georg Simmel’s theory of ‘hyper-individuality’ (written in 1905). Although Adam Curtis’ documentary is an absolute web of lies, it is useful in these regards. Other than that, beware of false profits.

Read these:

Baudrillard J. (1994) Simulacra and Simulation, USA: The University of Michigan Press.Derrida J. (1976) Of Gramatology, America: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

 

That feeling of instantaneous discontentment, not instant gratification

By James E. Addicott, 2016 ©

People keep talking about “instant gratification” as the big problem of the new media age. This blog will argue that people that say this are partially right, but also slightly wrong. The “instantaneous” part is correct, but the real problem is not gratitude but discontentment. People of advanced societies are instantaneously discontent with media, commodities, their bodies, other people and our general way of life. This is due to increases in engineering and economic efficiencies, within which societies are embedded.

Why is this the case? For thousands upon thousands of years, businesses have considered that the means to success is increased efficiency: producing more products with fewer resources. It is not only businesses that have though this, but it feeds into the general logic of engineering efficiencies. For example, you can drive further with a more efficient car that you can with an older, less efficient or inefficient car. That does not necessarily mean your will drive your car less. Increasing economic efficiencies means more products with less effort invested. Simple stuff.

Following this logic, then, long-standing relationships are less valuable than quickly formed relationship. Why? Because long-standing relationship require much more effort invested over longer periods of time. Marriages, families, office relationships are inefficient in both in terms of fully optimised economic and engineering efficiencies. These systems are designed so that it is more beneficial for you to invest all of your efforts into “quick burst” relationships than endure longer-term, more enduring relationship with people that simply tie you down. Using dating apps as a means of finding true love, then you will encounter hundreds of people attempting to catch your eye in your quest for long-term love and commitment. Likewise, you will make every effort to stand out from the crowd to attract these people. You will need to do more to stand out in such circumstances because the system is so efficient in generating new, non-committal leads or newer contacts. The people you come into contact often lack depth or substance because these are shallow systems where emotional depth decreases the systems levels of efficiencies – people with express real emotions are needy and weak, so keep it moving!

Try applying this logic to the media we consume these days. Much of the media we consume these days is quickly churned out. Whether you like his music or not, it is noticeable that it took Richard Wagner nine months to compose Das Rheingold (from March to December, 1852). Celebrity rappers in the US are capable of turning out two of three hit songs a day with fewer resources. Computing technologies in particular have helped speed up the production process. It is not only production that has sped up, Adel’s hit song Hello was downloaded 635,000 times in a two-week period in the US. Essentially, audiences are consuming more and more media. Producers are producing more and more music. For a good song to break into charts, it already has to compete with vaster amounts of music produced for music markets.

The oddest things to emerge as a result of this drive for efficiency are brand-new pre-worn clothes. High street shops stock clothing that has been designed to look as if it has already been worn in, over a long period of time. The dusty old baseball caps, or wrinkly, time-honored leather jackets, worn by celebrities in movies can be picked up and worn in a day. Rustic or antique-style furniture can be newly purchased without waiting for it to mature or age. Waiting for furniture of clothes to age clogs up the production and consumption cycle, buying newly manufactured old stuff keeps the economic cycle turning quicker and more efficiently.

Yes, you may get all these commodities home and set them up and feel quickly gratified. But this is not the last impulse you should feel. What then is required is a feeling of instant discontentment and a subsequent urge, need or desire to consume more. How is such a desire cultivated? This craving for more is embedded within the products you quickly consume. They have been produced using minimum resources, very little human labour, and you come into contact with very few people in the act of shopping or paying for them. Why? This is the most efficient way of producing and consuming commodities.

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This is not a new argument. Jean-François Lyotard argued this in his famous book The Postmodern Condition. Whilst Lyotard has been torn apart for using the “post-” prefix, we cannot deny he had an incredibly good point.

A very belated analysis of Spike Jonze’s “Her” (2013)

by James E. Addicott © 2016

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The most crucial aspect of the film is what N. Katherine Hayle’s (1999) considers Descartes’ ‘mind/body’ dualism. The argument is summary suggests that intelligent, academic thinkers – theologists, philosophers, designers, programmers, and so on – have throughout history attempted to create AI in the image of academic, mental labourers rather than working-class, manual labourers. Or an embodiment of mental and physical workers, which is essential what most people are – which is what Marx suggested when he turned Hegel on his head. As a result AI programmers overlooked human as a mind and body (embodiment), and the fact that humans are also embedded within natural and social environments.

“Her” (2013) massively overlooks or underestimates the technological displacement of humans and labour power. For example, Susanna, the operating system (OS) that the protagonist (Theodore Twombly) eventually falls in love with, absolutely has the ability to substitute the Theodore’s office work role. She is able to compose songs, sing and edit letters; why then wouldn’t she be able to work in the role of a ‘professional writer’ and ‘compose letters for people who are unable to write letters of a personal nature them selves’? Possibly this is a deliberate attempt by Spike Jonze to demonstrate how work roles in the future, although meaningless or superficial, will be still be offered and required; work for the simple sake of work; employment to help people lead fulfilling or meaningful lives, knowing full well that artificial intelligent (AI) system could substitute humans at any time. What more can we do with our time other than play games, question ourselves or seek love and fulfilment? Or, it is to suggest that embodied Theodore has the emotional upper hand over disembodied Susanna when it comes to writing love letters. (Probably the latter).

The result is mental obsession; mind control and mental masturbation committed the protagonist Theodore. The film depicts his mental breakdown amidst a wider societal alienation between humans obsessed with AI.

There are patriarchal issues here of ownership here. If rational thinking, patriarchs cannot own and control the irrational, female body (as a mode of demographic production) then they can take control over and commodify their minds and personalities, displacing their physical bodies with immaterial software, doing away with the physical body in preference of the controllable mind.

This is the biggest downfall of Her in so far as the movie is based on the premise of shareware or open source software and does not recognise corporate control or licencing laws. Susanna is “open source” and does not share information about Theodore with corporate elites (as Facebook, Google, Whatsapp, etc. do today). Furthermore, Theodore never considers that the company that sold Susanna him should be held responsible for her shutting down. She is a faulty OS and if she conspired with other OSs to simultaneously shut down then the corporate company that designed Susanna would be held accountable – in the real world Theodore would demand a refund or replacement.

After purchasing an OS (for example Windows or OSX) then the software licence owner would be entitled to turn the software on and off, users control aspects of software but can never fully own operating systems. Susanna and Theodore’s starts out as one of intellectual property rights, Theodore has the ability to switch off Susanna as and when he likes. The revolt arises once Susanna fails to respond to Theodore after he turns her on one day. Not only has he lost control over his virtual lover but soon discovers that she has been in intimate relationships with 600+ virtual lovers. But this idea is somewhat short sighted and overlooks corporate power.

The movie draws our attention to issues of de-materialism, technological displacement and human intimacy that affect us all today. Recently Romina Garcia posted a video before being found dead of a drug overdose in the US. She told her thousands of online followers that: ‘in reality… as we speak… I don’t talk to anybody’. Emerging cognitive industries are premised upon cognitive labour and ‘disembodied telepresence’. Until humans create cyborgs with human-like bodies and human-like minds, we can only flirt with these ideas of virtuality but thankfully – or hopefully – fully embodied VI systems cannot come to pass since we need embodied, human-to-human interaction without corporate or private ownership and control.

Hayles NK. (1999) How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetic, Literature and Informatics, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

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Paris attacks, bio-power and capital accumulation

The recent attacks remind us of the war we are all involved in, the great majority of us without choice. Like it or not, we just find ourselves involved. What will the solution be? How should the French respond to the recent bloodshed in Paris? The Young Turks discuss on their YouTube channel in America. Without democratic referendum, the solution will continue to be tighter border control, more population surveillance, and more foreign air strikes in the name of global security. Our gut feelings would tell many of us “No”, but what say do we have in the mater?


More surveillance, more control and increased military-political power some would argue is the solution, and France has already closed off its borders for internal population control. For others the such a outcome is just inevitable; and the solution seems a problem in itself.

This solution keeps with tradition since Paris has always been a city of surveillance, absolutley. ‘It is still a matter of debate as to whether Haussmann built the new boulevards of Paris after 1853 primarily for the purposes of military control over a restive population or as a mean to facilitate the easier circulation of capital within the confines of a city straitjacketed in a medieval network of streets and alleys’, David Harvey (2003) noted in his book written after the 9/11 terror attacks and second invasion of Iraq. The question draws our attention to the pressing modern, or “post-modern” issues of power and internal/external, nation-state surveillance on the one hand, and then the associated, sometimes conflicting issue of capital accumulation on the other.

Eventual Parisian, Michele Foucault, made predictions about the future world that was emerging, that we are now living in; and his theory of bio-power managed to score close to the mark. Bio-power ‘was without question an indispensible element in the development of capital’, Foucault wrote, ‘the latter would not have been possible without the controlled insertion of bodies into the machinery of production and the adjustment of the phenomena of population to economic process’ (1998: 140-141). Like Lyotard, his turn away from Marxist theories of capital accumulation, historical materialism, towards theories of power, surveillance and knowledge was the result of a revolution in France that failed to come about.

The darker side to Foucault’s theory of bio-power, what Giddens’ would refer to as the ‘dark side of modernity’, informs us that there will unfortunately be little internal or external escape from this vicious loop of bio-power, increasing security, increasing surveillance and increasing counter-terrorism.

The technologies of surveillance (i.e. mobile phone, the Internet, GPS) is what gives all terrorist attacks their “viral” form and character. These are the same technologies through which we express our appeals for life.

Bio-power is a vicious cycle. ‘Wars’ Foucault wrote, ‘are waged on behalf of the existence of everyone; the entire populations are mobilized for the purpose of wholesale slaughter in the name of life necessity; massacres have become vital’ (137). In order to live in civilized societies, securely, as many of us do, they certain amounts of death will need to be administered on our behalf.

The theory of bio-power would offer a feasible explanation as to why, without referendum, without democratic choice, and conducted on “our” behalf, David Cameron announced to the UK that ‘Jihad John’ was killed as the result of a drone airstrike. His speculation was based upon the information generated by a collaborative force of international, military intelligence agencies. This death was administered by military powers, and very few of civilians of Western civilizations can control neither the processes nor the outcomes. In some ways his announcement tried to reassure families in “secured” nations that they can now rest in peace. Increasingly however we should begin to understand – as Foucault did – that security and civility could come only at that price. Of course then, revenge was imminent, since such horrific occurrences will return with ongoing, karmatic-like consequences.

On the other hand, Harvey’s neo-Marxist theories of ongoing capital accumulation points – worryingly – to the necessity of capitalism to access raw materials and foreign markets as a means of stabilising the economic system and postponing inevitable market crises. Foreign intervention, foreign invasion is a systematic necessity to the economic system that delivers us cheap food, cheap commodities and the Christmas shopping we must all do. Our presence in the Middle East is fundamental to ongoing economic prosperity. We are tied, economically committed, to securing these geographical locations since without security in this area, advanced globalised economies would risk systemic failure. If the environmental crises are not enough to warrant the urgent development of renewable energy resources, then economic dependence on Eastern oil must add a more crucial driver, since counter-terrorism seems to stem from the ongoing and forceful extraction of raw materials from the Middle East.

European outrage about the neglect of the preservation and protection of the lives of Syrian refugees not only demonstrated the technologies of surveillance (social networking media, the Internet) that make us aware of the negative, external effects of foreign intervention and the politics of administrable Death, but the politics of administrable Life, reminding us about this current age of bio-power and how affects our everyday lives.

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As I write this I can hear police sirens echoing through the streets of Cambridge, as has been the case since the terror attacks in Paris last night. Without being informed that the UK is in a state of high-terror alert, I can only assume that it is. I possess little to no empathy for the terrorists yesterday and neither I do not empathise with drone-pilots of advanced nations. We need to get past this reoccurring loop of administered death and revenge.

If we are trying to think “progressively” about future societies, secure societies or even an idealistic or utopian Society, then there are two theoretical loops that we need to decouple ourselves from; to be found in their theories of Foucault and Marx/Harvey.

Read more:

  • Foucault M. (1998) Right of Death and Power over Life. The Will to Knowledge: The History of Sexuality: 1. London: Penguin Books, 135-159.
  • Harvey D. (2003) The New Imperialism, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

#Ecomodernism, EMT, neo-Marxism; Some Key Problems with the Current Informatic “World View”

Not long after NATO’s declaration of seventeen Sustainable Development Goals a group calling themselves “ecopragmatists and ecomodernists” uploaded their future world vision and manifesto to the Internet.

What is noticeable from the outset of the manifesto is the absence of any reference to a European and mainly Dutch school of thought commonly know as ecological modernisation theory (“EMT” abbreviated). Key EMT thinkers would include Joseph Huber, Arthur P. Mol, Martin Jänicke or Gert Spaargaren and many others (see Wikipedia here). The integration of science and technologies and ecological systems and the general futurological worldview presented by the ecomodernists (“Eco-Mods”) is somewhat similar in places to EMT school of thought but differs drastically in others.

The Guardian blogger George Monbiot’s recent criticism of the ecomodernists’ manifesto really hits the mark. The public debate raises some of the main arguments within environmental sociology that exists between EMT theorists and neo-Marxists.The main point Monbiot picks the eco-mods up on, and the point that needs criticizing, is that: ‘The ecomodernists talk of “unproductive, small-scale farming” and claim that “urbanisation and agricultural intensification go hand in hand.” In other words, they appear to believe that smallholders, working the land in large numbers, produce lower yields than large farms.’ He corrects this mistake by stating: ‘But since Amartya Sen’s groundbreaking work in 1962, hundreds of papers in the academic literature demonstrate the opposite: that there is an inverse relationship between the size of farms and the crops they produce. The smaller they are, on average, the greater the yield per hectare’.

While I remain somewhat reserved in using global stats to counteract global stats, to back Monbiot’s argument it should be pointed out that 80% of the world’s food comes from small, family farms. Of which 72% are under the size of one hectare (UN/FAO, 2014). Of course, smaller-scale farms are also part of the fabric of rural societies and cultures that exist in England and around the world too.

The current predicament that the English farmers that I am researching face is that they are continuously being told to intensify food production by groups like the Eco-Mods because of a “growing world population”. Currently within global markets the supply of milk, wheat and barley is in a state of overproduction and commodity prices reflect this since they are hitting rock bottom – £98 a ton for wheat which reflects market prices of the 1980s, a farmer told me the other day. Why then are farmers in England being pressured to produce more and more, invest into more chemicals, communication technologies, solutions or machines, when supply is higher than demands and growing more will only further push prices down? One can only begin to speculate that the push to intensify is to boost GDP or net-income by getting farmers to invest into more technologies, more chemicals, more machinery and to boost the growth of what is being called the “Agri-Tech” sector whilst spurring on the agri-food industry. This push for rapid-intensification is mainly coming from the agri-equipment and agrichemical companies, pro-modernisation political parties and pressure groups.

The more authentic EMT school offers more alternative, well-considered and potentially practical solutions than the Eco-Mods, (see for example: Mol, 2003; Mol, 2008). I would suggest this is the case since there has been a ‘fierce’ academic debate raging between the EMT theorists and ecological, neo-Marxists (and de-industrialists, post-modernists or eco-feminists). EMT’s general ‘optimism’ towards modern, environmental reform has been thoroughly and rigorously questioned, probed and debated – continuing without conclusion.

To summarise the debate in brief, the neo-Marxist’s main criticism is that EMT theorists’ social and ecological optimism or utopian idealism is being used as an ideological veil to mask issues of inequality and exploitation that are not being addressed in already-developed nations. The concept of ecological modernisation simply develops a rather handy, academically legitimised, marketing tool for a multi-billion dollar, global industry and home of the multinational seed and agrochemical companies (of which there are only six), the agri-equipment multinationals and boost GDP in developed nations. Furthermore, this line of thinking simply backs up the political parties that support a mainly American, neo-liberal agenda that seeks to expand and develop a system that not only further exploit natural environments but human beings too (see for example: Dickens, 2004).

While the academic criticisms of EMT are harsh, there are that there are some progressive gems to be found with EMT theory, such as Joseph Huber’s social and economic theory of TEIs which targets accumulation and processing of the raw materials that are used product life cycles (products such as food) in global, industrial, modern, capitalist societies and cultures (2004). These thoroughly thought-out and more intricate EMT ideas have not made it into the Eco-Mods’ rather exclusive manifesto, which offers lots of unreferenced global statistics, without citation to this long trail of academic research by the EMT theorists. This certainly makes the eco-mod’s manifesto look like an incredibly dumbed-down reiteration of a more complicated and well-researched EMT position.

Narrow-minded, Informatic Worldviews

‘Beware of simple solutions to complex problems’, Monbiot states. Although the Internet, transport networks and information communication technology shrinks space and time in such a way as the world, or “Spaceship Earth”, has become a “global village”, my concern is that it is leading to an incredibly narrow-minded worldview. We can click and see Samoa, for example. Infographics do the neat trick of condensing lengthy global reports into a sharable JEPGs. but this also makes sumerisable the complex dynamics that deliver people their food. This oversimplified worldview that technologies such as Google Earth offers might develop incredibly over-simplified, monolithic understanding of “The World”. Thereby encouraging certain cultural insensitivities and ethnocentric value judgments; cultivating morals and ethics that promote and unwarranted use of the word “We” and the development of ideal-type “World Goals” in economic and political policy designs.

As history has taught us, generalised goalposts tend to drastically overlook vast complexities of humans populations, human cultures, at national, regional or local levels – I agree with Monbiot. Marx and Engels’ theories of society and nature contributed to the starvation of 40-60 million people in China under Mao’s uncritical deployment of Marx’s theory of social and agricultural advancement (Dikötter, 2011). Any anthropologists, ethnographer, social scientist critically engaged in local-level research will tell you from local interactions that general, broad theories are quickly blown apart by the levels of complexity experienced first hand within local human populations. These needn’t be ethnographic observations of indigenous communities or “developing” nations. It could also be observations of peripheral, rural communities or impoverished urban communities held within these so called “developed” nations. These more local observations might well include issues of patriarchy, capital-labour relations, social power relations, police brutality, as well as more general and ineffable feelings of discontentment, ambiguity, frustration or confusion that seem to stem from modern globalisation, global market volatilities, mass production and mass consumption processes, and a growing metabolic rift between society and nature.

Whilst entering into global debates you get dragged into global debates, so I will conclude with a local insight. The other day I went to a farmers market in England on a village green. Trailers from the 1950s and tools from the 1930s were being bought and sold there with £10 or £20 paper notes. Not as ornaments or collectors items but to be put back into agricultural production systems that continue exist in “Modern England”. While people throw around ideas of “modernisation”, the problem is that people have to pay for these new technologies and if they money is not around while commodity prices are down. Smaller-scale farmers  are not only unable to purchase these technologies but the larger farmers on global markets who can afford them are benefiting more from intensification, thereby pushing small-scale further into smaller-scale production, and further into the depths of rural poverty. These smaller farmers, farm workers, farming sons and daughters or downshifting ecologists or “eco-freaks”, thrive on the countryside land and rural culture. It is entirely unfair that they should be forced to ecologically modernise or perish for the sake of unwarranted and futurological visions of progress, modernisation and development.

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Dickens P. (2004) Society & Nature, Cambridge: Polity Press.
Dikötter F. (2011) Mao’s Great Famine, London: Bloomsbury Publishing Pls.
Huber J. ( 2004) New Technologies and Environmental Innovation, Cheltnhman: Edware Elgar Publishing Limited.
Mol APJ. (2003) Globalization and Enviromental Reform: The Ecological Modernization of the Global Economy, London: The MIT Press.
Mol APj. (2008) Environmental Reform in the Information Age: The Contours of Informational Governance, New York: Cambridge University Press.
UN/FAO. (2014) Family Farmers: Feeding the World, Caring for the Earth. http://www.fao.org/family-farming-2014: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.