Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Ultimately this is not about preserving the past, or regeneration, but about democracy

Liverpool City Council has decided, as the democratically elected representatives, to approve the Peel Holdings Ltd’s development proposal, Liverpool Waters. In doing so it has placed itself on the front-line of a national cultural conflict. The division centres upon the value that the community, the nation and the various special interest groups place upon the architectural and cultural inheritance of any and all communities in the United Kingdom.
English Heritage’s power and influence has grown phenomenally since the 1970’s to the point that it has been able to shape Britain’s capacity to respond to change. Culturally, Great Britain has, since the end of empire following World War Two, rejected much of modernism, building upon late 19th century reaction to the changes that industrialisation brought. The self-presented positive image of Britain has been dominated by architecture and the environment, and the impulse to preserve a bucolic past. As Britain struggled with the loss of international status and the decline of economic power, Britain’s establishment resisted change and egalitarianism, and sought to maintain the advantages that the inheritors of the feudal elite enjoyed.
Thus while the British elites were content to utilise the products of industrial Britain, such as machine guns and Dreadnought battle ships, they rejected the centres that produced them. The only residual component of these centres that is regarded as valuable today is the major municipal and commercial architecture of that period. Liverpool and Merseyside exemplify this. Britain’s cultural elites valued the “Journeyman with his pack horse coming over the hill” and produced the Arts & Crafts Movement. It had no significant equivalent for Bauhaus or any of the other movements across industrialised Europe. Their dominance of education and the media ensured their political dominance, and led ultimately to Britain’s loss of its industrial and commercial lead.
Those factions, like English heritage, that demand that Liverpool and Merseyside preserve for posterity the 19th century city environment are the same that repeatedly remind everyone that Liverpool’s wealth was built on slavery. This assertion carries with it a sense of assignment of guilt specific to Liverpool and its current inhabitants. It is not entirely dissimilar to the unfair opprobrium directed towards young Germans regarding the Holocaust. It is conveniently ignored that the entirety of Britain, and especially the City of London, benefited from slavery.
This repeated concentration on the slave trade, leads to other events and developments being overlooked. Merseyside, like many other northern industrial and commercial centres, was also a centre for positive innovation and social progress. It was not by chance that today’s Russell Group of universities was overwhelmingly located in the industrial north. Whether it is the world’s first School of Tropical Medicine, Birkenhead Park, “Penny in the Pound” worker health insurance or any number of construction innovations, Liverpool’s commitment to innovation led the world, and arguably had more importance globally than any of the physical environment that English Heritage and UNESCO seek to preserve. Liverpool’s current city environment was the product of a culture committed to innovation and modernity of its day, and reflected the community’s culture. Liverpool’s culture was centred upon trade and sustained through the employment it created.
Since World War Two Liverpool has struggled to redefine itself and recover from the impact of the extensive bombing damage, changes in international trade and an almost constant stream of negativism directed at by the UK’s media. That Liverpool has survived as a city at all is quite surprising, given that by the 1980’s even the British government was willing to voice consideration of formally abandoning it. Thus while the nation, and international bodies like UNESCO, place inordinate value upon a number of buildings in Liverpool, it does not exhibit the same degree of interest or value for the people of Liverpool nor their ability to sustain this architectural inheritance.
It is as though English Heritage and UNESCO regard Liverpool and other communities as little more than theme parks that visitors may descend upon for their entertainment. They are indifferent to the well-being of the community that lives in and around these architectural edifices they value so much. They have no interest in how these environments will be sustained. As publicly funded bodies their existence is informed by their own culture that posits them as “Guardians of the Public Interest”, yet neither of them is subject to the democratic process. They arrogate to themselves the right to define the “Public Interest” that they are defending. In their arrogance they assume that all “right thinking” communities will place priority upon the preservation of environmental inheritance above that of community well-being and economic development.
The Liverpool Waters development offers Liverpool the opportunity to turn around its fortunes and once more emerge as a commercial powerhouse, able to provide all of its communities with gainful employment and a decent standard of living. As commercial operator Peel Holdings Ltd is driven by the need to generate profits and cannot call upon a vast public purse to fund its activities, unlike English Heritage and others. As a developer Peel Holdings has a prime interest in ensuring that these developments are successful and self-sustaining. The by-product of such a major development should be the heightening of Liverpool & Merseyside’s international profile as a place to do business, and thus attract greater inward investment and be a catalyst for wider regeneration. But it is at a price, and that price is the destruction of some part of the older environment and changes in the city’s appearance.
English Heritage is threatening to seek Ministerial intervention and a public enquiry, and with it a delay at best to the renaissance of Liverpool. Peel Holdings Ltd has, understandably, stated that they will abandon the development if this occurs. Understandably because they cannot stand still waiting for the process to end, while there are business opportunities elsewhere. If this occurs, then the market will respond accordingly and relegate Liverpool to the league of cities where developers cannot turn a profit. Once that occurs, then Liverpool residents might as well abandon the city as they will have effectively lost control of it. They will be like the impoverished aristocrat who finds themselves owner of a grand pile, unable to dispose of it but unable to maintain it.
English Heritage, and to a lesser extent UNESCO, demonstrate their total disdain for the democratic process and the expression of the popular will. Further neither English Heritage nr UNESCO show any consideration for the balance between authority and responsibility. Liverpool’s built environment is the product of Liverpool’s communities, and remains responsible for it. Yet knowing that Liverpool’s democratic leadership have considered all the issues openly and decided to pursue a path towards city revival, English Heritage has determined to ignore that and seek to oppose the proposed development.
Although English Heritage might claim that its mandate affords it the responsibility for challenging proposals it finds unacceptable, it is in fact authority and power that it possesses. It has no responsibility for the consequences arising from its actions. It will not compensate Liverpool and its inhabitants for the lost opportunities, neither will it reimburse Liverpool for the maintenance of the current city environment. The management and officers of English Heritage will not live in the urban decay of Kensington or any other run down part of Liverpool, and more than they will stand in the dole queues for the want of work.
UNESCO’s threat to down-grade Liverpool’ status as a “World Heritage Site” is, for most Liverpool residents, probably fairly meaningless. What proportion of Liverpool’s inhabitants derives its income from this status and city tourism? Tourism and other service sector employment is notoriously insecure and poorly paid, and is often dependent upon other industries to create wealth to sustain the city environment that it relies on.
English Heritage and UNESCO regard Liverpool’s inheritance solely in terms of its built environment, and in doing so show disregard for its powerful and creative community-based culture. Towards the end of last year I attended the final evening of the Liverpool Music Week and witnessed in microcosm the spirit of Merseyside culture in the form of the “Infinite Love Orchestra” performance as an example of international, collaborative, innovative professionalism. It was a small “brick” of an intangible and constantly evolving inheritance of very distinctive culture that is Merseyside. It cannot be listed for preservation, nor awarded some accreditation by UNESCO, yet it is upon these inherent values that Liverpool will experience a renaissance.
I believe that Liverpool is at a crossroads and whatever is the outcome of this will determine whether it will experience a revival or simply drift endlessly into irrevocable decline. It is clash between cultures and communities. If Liverpool inhabitants simply stand silently hoping that the government will do the right thing and quickly consider all the factors, then they are probably in for disappointment. English Heritage knows that if it can force a public inquiry then it can stop this development dead in its tracks, and that Peel Holdings Ltd will walk away.
I urge the people of Liverpool to vocally take a stand and express their will very publicly. Their democratic representatives have made a decision on their behalf, which an unrepresentative quango, English Heritage, is seeking to overturn.
The government has placed special emphasis upon local decision making and the strengthening of local communities, where those communities take authority and responsibility for their futures. In making the decision for Liverpool to approve this development, Liverpool Council signaled its will, and that of the people of Liverpool, to take the responsibility for their future. It is therefore the duty of this government to respect that expression and support that decision.
Ultimately this is not about some old buildings, or a cityscape, it is about democracy and communities taking responsibility for building a sustainable future. English Heritage has had its opportunities to articulate its objections and offer a viable alternative. Having lost the argument, it should gracefully accept the will of the Liverpool people and work with them to find some common ground to preserve what it values.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

And what of the majority of women?

In the recently published Forbes magazine (no I don’t’ normally read it) there was featured the publication of “Winning the War for Talent in Emerging Markets: Why Women are the Solution.” by S.A. Hewitt. It trumpeted the rise in the number of women attending and graduating university in a number of developing countries. (
While for those individual women who are now attending university in the cited countries it is clearly an achievement. But I have serious doubts whether this will have any positive impact on women as a whole, and may well an overall negative impact if the patterns of social development in those countries mimics that of UK.
In the UK we consider that we are a broadly egalitarian society where men and women have equal opportunities, but we recognise that women still face apparent barriers to entry into certain areas of employment. What we do not examine in any depth is the perception of opportunity and the realities of choice.
Feminism has posited the notion that women by right should have the right to choose from a range of lifestyle and career options ranging from pursuit of a professional career to being a stay at home parent, and any permutation in between. Feminists have successfully politicked for regulatory frameworks and the provision of public services to provide the exercise of choice. The Feminist paradigm also promoted the concept that women could revise their lifestyle decisions at will, and expect society to facilitate this.
But for men such range of choice does not exist, and I would argue that the entire feminist paradigm is based upon men not seeking to exercise choice. Broadly for men there is but one choice, work or unemployment. As we can see reinforced by endless advertising and other media activity, men with poor earning potential are excluded from enjoying the opportunity of family and relationships with women. Comparing and contrasting advertisements for proprietary healthcare products highlights this, where positive health for women leads to exploration of potential, empowerment, socialisation etc. But for in the case of marketing to men it is primarily focussed on either functionality (i.e end of pain) or the maintenance of economic status. There is no offer of quality of life improvement or empowerment for men through health.
A decade or so ago, UK media and social commentators asserted that “Men Are In Crisis”, and there were a vast number of articles written about this. At the heart of this was the concern that boys are not doing as well in school and thus not securing such good jobs. In the conferences that followed it was women who composed the bulk of the audiences. Rather than it appearing to be a crisis for men, it appeared and was a crisis for women.
The crisis for women is as follows. If boys and men are not motivated to apply themselves to study and secure good jobs, then their earnings will be less and the likelihood of long term unemployment greater. The consequences of this is that men will not have surplus income to be able to support women’s choices and women’s reliance on the public sector to provide services and employment.
In the preceding decade there are been many interventions to assist women into employment and to promote girls / women’s interests. There developed, funded by the public sector, an entire industry in providing women with a variety of courses / workshops to empower women. Public and private sector funding set up training programmes for “Women Returners” in potentially medium to high skill, and traditionally male dominated, sectors. But by the late 1990’s it was clear that participation for a large number of women had been determined by their desire to defer entering the workforce, rather than an interest in entering those fields.
With the rise of Feminism since the late 1960’s, in parallel there has also been a massive change in men’s real earnings. Whereas in 1970 it took approximately 36% of an average man’s wage to provide accommodation for his family, by the 2005 this had risen to 70%+. In effect men’s purchasing power in relation to housing has fallen to the level of the average woman in full time employment in 1970. Although women’s notional pay in relation to men had risen during this period, their purchasing power had actually fallen slightly. Had it not been for the massive supply of very cheap food and clothing during this period, the entire economic model would have collapsed. Thus the lower down you were as either a man or woman in society the less choice you had regarding your lifestyle.
In the bottom end of the working class, women had always had to seek paid employment to augment the family income. It was in the skilled working class and in the middle classes where women did not generally work once they were married, and many never took paid employment at any point in their lives. The Women’s Movement of the 19th century had not forgotten the lessons of the 1840’s Mines Act which excluded women and children from the workplace. Despite predictions of economic catastrophe for those mining communities, it was found that the standard of living improved as it created a labour shortage, and drove up wages. This in turn compelled mine owners to invest in machinery to improve efficiency, and society to start establishing primary schools to cater for the now unemployed children. Thus the Women’s Movement and the Trades Unions were in agreement that married women should be excluded from the workplace and actively sought to promote this.
Post-war Feminism demanded initially that women should have an equal opportunity to access employment and progressed to promoting the idea that women, even with dependents, should be in employment. Paid employment for women was promoted as fulfilling, and repeated surveys indicate that women do value the social aspects of work.
As women entered the workforce in large numbers, they demanded that their incomes were taken into consideration by the banks and building societies when applying for mortgages. In theory, women’s wages should have contribute to family wealth and thus choice. But in practice the housing market simply responded with price escalations driven by the scarcity of housing and the available money.
For successful professional women, these changes in the socio-economic balance had little impact, for those women in the lower end of society it brought little if any benefit. As men and women struggled to maintain family units, it became often economically beneficial to seek separation and divorce with the public sector funding their decision and protecting them from economic catastrophe. Divorces became characterised by battles over custody as the bulk of community property and access to welfare followed the children. As society became more and more consumerist, men with their declining purchasing power became increasingly marginalised and the object of opprobrium. Despite society being still dependent upon men conforming to traditional patterns and seeking life time employment, men as a group became a target for an endless stream of Feminist condemnation. Feminist pundits progressed to asking “what is the purpose of men and have they any future meaningful role in society?”
Even where men challenged some aspects of this, feminist political influence engineered functional inequality. Thus with the ready availability of DNA testing men could for the first time definitively challenge paternity claims. The UK parliament in a late night sitting passed legislation that denied men the right to seek to establish their paternity of a child without the mother’s or a court’s permission. Further the Family Courts ruled that a “named father” could not, despite not being the biological father, abdicate his responsibility for any child born within the marriage if it was not in the child’s interest.
Feminists had achieved this by becoming part of the establishment and being able to assert overwhelming political influence. At the end of the 1990’s the Royal College of Nursing passed a resolution calling upon the newly elected Labour government to align funding on clinical priorities. The RCN claimed that the allocation of funding was politically driven, with lower clinical priority women’s treatments being promoted at the expense of men. The minister responded that if men wanted better health they could either change their lifestyles or purchase health services from the private sector, and that the government was not willing to re-assign funding. At the time less than 12% of NHS funds were spent on men.
The above example highlights the degree to which feminists had shifted from seeking equality, to securing advantage. In doing so they made a mockery of the notion that public services were based upon the concept of being needs based.
Boys and young men could readily look at the world around them and could only wonder what motivation was there to engage in society, if society showed such scant interest in them. The further down the economic scale they were, the opportunities to participate in society seemed to be. They were assailed with profoundly negative statements in the media. They witnessed their father’s and other men being daily marginalised within the family and society at large.
For the women around them, mothers, teachers and girlfriends, this was also a bewildering situation. These working class men could not longer provide the security and stability that the pre-1980’s men, their fathers, had delivered, and most of all the choices that Feminism promised. While education and egalitarianism in the workplace afforded women the opportunity to secure paid employment and develop careers, the loss of men’s earning power meant that they lost the choice to be “stay at home” mothers to bring up their children as their mothers has done. Those that did seek to combine home and work, had to rely on expensive child-care that often consumed almost all their earnings, and their husbands worked longer and longer hours.
When the European Working Time Regulations was first mooted it immediately became a major political issue in UK as so many people, mainly men, worked far in excess of the recommended 48 hours. Industry had also come to depend on this long hours culture and had built its business model around it. Towards the end of Tony Blair’s term in office, he proudly stated that there were more people in UK in employment than at any time in Britain’s history. He omitted to mention that despite all this work being undertaken and wages earned, the gulf between the rich and poor had widened to reverse the achievements of the 20th century.
Proudly announcing that, in one country or another, increasing numbers of women are present in tertiary education is in itself meaningless. These women are an elite who are unlikely to share in the experiences of women in the bottom half of society. As an elite they will join the establishment, and like all members of establishments seek to preserve and extend their advantages. Their access to political and economic power will enable them to shape society in accordance with their wishes.
In the United Kingdom, the battle is no longer about gender but about class, and class unity. While in popular expression husbands and wives became referred to as “partners” as though co-join in some union. Yet Feminism dealt in polarities, and the division of men and women. The Feminist paradigm posited men and women in eternal battle against each other. The division in the working class that Feminism has sown has led the poorest and weakest in society into catastrophe. To reverse this will require massive structural and attitudinal change in society, and requires the elites to relinquish much of their power and wealth.

Monday, 20 February 2012

The Eternal Page 3 Issue

For those alien to the United Kingdom they may be unaware the Page3 is a reference to the Sun newspaper’s page 3 image of a topless young woman. A number of decades ago it was seen as a tad risqué but fairly harmless. The young women concerned were posited as being wholesome “girl next door” types. However in the age of feminism, the Page3 image attracted complaint by feminists, but not enough to remove it from the Sun newspaper. In fact it was copied by others.
In the Leveson inquiry Anna van Heeswijk, representing a collection of feminist groups, told the inquiry: "Page 3 tabloids contribute to a culture in which the value of women and girls is reduced to their appearance." Jennie Bristow offered another view in the Spiked blog. ( Zoe Williams, the Guardian journalist, saw it as the Sun baiting feminists, but quite frankly I doubt that the Sun staff think feminists are worth the candle. Yet all these women miss a fundamental issue. Harriet Harman called for the Sun to be banned or removed from general accessibility in shops (i.e. top shelf)
If Page 3 of the Sun and similar depictions of women objectivise women, then so too does a vast proportion of advertising and other activity in our society, including that of feminists, objectivise men. The band the Good Charlotte summed it up succinctly, “Girls don’t like boys, girls like cars and money.”, and millions of men can readily acknowledge this to be their experience. The recent ING advertising campaign depicted a number of scenes in which men were faced with women’s demands for material goods without any regard to their ability to pay for them, and by implication would need the loans that ING offer.
The most extreme of these was the scene of a couple looking at engagement rings in a jeweller’s window. The man points out something he can afford, to which the woman responds “oh no, that looks cheap. I want that one” presumably pointing to the most expensive ring in the window. The man looks on despairingly (his chest explodes with an “Air Bag like in a car) and doesn’t say a word. The male viewer knows implicitly that to deny this woman her desire for an expansive and unaffordable ring would result in the relationship breaking down in some way. The message is for the man “if you want the girl you provide the money”. For the woman it validates a stance where intimacy and the continued relationship is secured through the provision of expensive goods.
Peculiarly feminists are seemingly silent regarding such adverts. Even though ostensibly the depicted woman is implicitly trading her body for money, and is in effect no different than a prostitute. Feminist’s silence effectively adds to validating such behaviour and reduces men to objects to be exploited. No wonder some men in return regard women with such disdain. Sadly this attitude towards men is repeated in varying degrees in a number of adverts. Fortunately none of the current advertisements are as bad as some of a decade ago, where women in permanent relationships were shown successfully using the withdrawal of intimacy (sex), manipulation of children against their fathers and isolation in the home as acceptable mechanisms to secure men’s acquiescence to unaffordable credit purchases. In one very successful ad campaign the man’s discomfiture and powerlessness was clearly depicted.
A man walking into a high street newsagents and browsing the magazines, cannot help but notice that the majority of leading women’s magazines are strongly focussed on how to get better sexual performance. Other than top shelf pornography, men’s magazines are largely devoid of any sexual content.
For the average married man, he must surely wonder why it is that single and married women seem so obsessed with sex but the experience of married men indicates the opposite. He must surely question whether women’s interest in sex is either a harmless fantasy centred on a fantasy male, or what women in general will do in order to secure the man of their dreams. Either way the average married man knows it doesn’t apply to him anymore. Even single men, whose sex lives are infinitely more active, know full well that while women might intimate that sex will be the finale to an indulgently expensive evening, the reality is that women always have the choice to change their minds.
Even little girls are encouraged to regard men as objects. Fairy stories such as Cinderella, Snow White and others, repeatedly present men as featureless objects without agency or personality. In the pantomime Cinderella, Buttons the powerless peer is asexual at best. Despite his obvious concern for Cinderella’s well-being, he can never aspire to be her partner due to powerlessness, poverty and class and Cinderella is indifferent to his feelings for her. The entire story focuses on Cinderella’s machinations to obtain status, power and wealth, and above all uncritical adulation. The men, her Father and Prince Charming, are featureless entities subservient to the will of women.
If we look at the modern epitome of girl’s play, the ubiquitous Barbie, we find that Ken is merely an accessory with no greater worth than the handbag or car. Feminists attacked Barbie believing her to depict women as subservient sexual objects. What they missed is that Barbie as a plaything present women as having choice, and men as objects to be used and discarded at will. This little plastic model is primarily about how women egotistically relate to one another and compete for resources.
The little girl who owns Barbie invests the toy with personality to act out her fantasies as an adult woman. There is no distinction between her fantasy and herself, no requirement for skills or knowledge. Any averagely developed girl can be Barbie. Doesn’t the media endlessly say she can, and feminists for their part do not demur. Herein is the distinction between classic boys and girls play. In boys’ fantasies of being a footballer, soldier, and so one there is a skill and ability requirement. Boys know from the outset that to be the figure on TV requires the development of skills and knowledge, and that for most there will be disappointment. They know that they cannot buy the realisation of their fantasy. If they buy football shirts, they know that they remain the same, a kid with a football shirt Whereas for women there is a vast marketing industry based on the notion that women can buy their fantasy through cosmetics and clothes.
Women’s desperate need for validation and the profound sense of inadequacy is exploited mercilessly by the marketing industry. The volume of advertising targeting men is dwarfed by that target women. Negative images of women are not permissible in advertising, whereas men are readily the object of derision and dismissal. The power of marketing directed at women is immense and highly effective. Concepts such as “Must Have” are alien in the male market. But to satisfy this generated demand, women need access to men’s earning capacity and credit worthiness, and to achieve that they must hold out some inducement. An intellectual exchange would not produce the goods, simply because both parties would recognise that buying unnecessary goods is in no one’s interests. Thus women’s bodies become the marketing tool with techniques to raise awareness (push-up bra’s etc) and the implied promise of satisfaction. Unfortunately for men they have no recourse to Trading Standards if the delivered goods and services prove to be disappointing. But nevertheless the exchange has all the hallmarks of a commercial deal.
If women are encouraged to regard men as objects to be manipulated to obtain material goods and money, then it is little wonder that men cynically return the compliment and reduce women to being objects.
But is the Page3 girl evidence of this objectivisation? Daily she is depicted smiling and not the least bit sexually provocative. She is the embodiment of most men’s real fantasy and ambition. She is ultimately the pretty girl next door who wants nothing more than a relationship between equals, a partnership. She doesn’t make the production of endless consumer durables and luxuries the condition for her affections. She doesn’t need the endless pandering to a profound sense of inadequacy that a vast proportion of women demand. But she is also unattainable fantasy and men know it.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

National Service – Hypocrisy at its worst

Every decade has its crisis with “youth” and it seems that there is always a faction that calls for the return of National Service. This faction asserts that National Service would reintroduce into society that self-discipline that it is allegedly missing.
Somehow forcing young people, mainly young men, to don ill-fitting uniforms and heavy boots, march up and down and do largely pointless things, like painting coal white, would foster an inner desire for self-discipline.
Not only do the National Service faction seem to think that military service is a source of self-discipline, but they also imagine that young criminals would also benefit from the same rigours. Quite what training young criminals to the peak of fitness and in the use of a variety of firearms would do to reduce crime figures is frankly beyond me. Surely it would simply mean that once these young tearaways were demobbed they’d simply be able to run away faster and if cornered shoot their way out of the situation. Not exactly conducive to decriminalising “youth”.
The most striking characteristic of the National Service faction is that they are generally too old to be required to endure it themselves, but too young to have done National Service in their youth. It is of course just another instance of gross hypocrisy among our 30+ generations. If, of course, these older persons were standing in line begging the TAVR (Territorial Army Reserve Force) to be let in to do their bit, one could look at it differently. But they are not. Most likely they are entrenched in their sofas watching the television and listening to the latest over-hyped report about Britain’s broken society and wayward younger generations. It should not be forgotten that no male born after 1942 has been subjected to National Service (it ended in 1960), and that makes the last National Service man about 70 years old. So what is National Service?
Well bluntly it’s an arrangement by which the government compels you to leave your home for a period (18 months) and live in a communal facility with little concession to privacy with a bunch of people you wouldn’t choose to be with. The government conveniently suspends your basic human rights and denies you the opportunity to freely leave. It demands that you learn to kill and maim, using traditional and hi-tech weaponry.
If you decline to participate in this activity the government awards itself the right to charge you with various offences and potentially imprison you. If you choose to leave without permission, then the government as representative of the greater community awards itself the right to dispatch its agents, burly military police personnel not known for their delicate handling of arrestees, to bring you back and face trial. Of course if you are a university student you could get deferment and hope that your late teens and early twenties drug consumption renders you unfit.
However if you don’t happen to have sufficient qualifications and parental financial resources, you are likely receive through your letter box a terse invitation to attend a medical at the age of 17 and 9 months. This may be very inconvenient for any number of reasons (i.e. you may have just met the woman of your dreams, be on the cusp of getting that job, be in the middle of an apprenticeship), but if you correspond to “Fodder, Canon for the use of” off you jolly well go. Of course if you are unfit (obese, anorexic, drug induced paranoid etc) they won’t want you. But if you’ve had your “5-A-Day” and kept yourself trim, then you’re exactly the material they will take.
The big day comes and off you go to waste 18 months of your precious youth doing nothing of any value whatsoever. There aren’t any decent sized wars either (underway or planned) so you won’t get to use any of the skills you acquire, and the nation can’t afford to start one for you.
At the end of it, you’re back on “Civvy Street” and if you’re lucky your job has been held open for you. But the fat, asthmatic, flat-footed slob who was your colleague, who was rejected at the medical, has completed his studies and been promoted and could well be your supervisor. Of course your employer may have gone bust as all its plans to utilise you as a trained and newly qualified craftsperson went down the pan once you disappeared into the Army, and they couldn’t replace you because the generous government had passed a law to prevent it.
You may have been further disenchanted if the feminists in government insisted that young women were exempted, as they were during the post-war National Service. So while you’re wandering about on the pittance the government pays you while on National Service, your (former?) girlfriend, sister, female colleague, former fellow secondary student is partying on the higher salary she receives due to the sudden labour shortage caused by the disappearance of all the fit young men on National Service. In response you drink yourself silly on cheap supermarket beer, while you wait for the inevitable “Dear John” txt to appear on your mobile phone.
But really this wont be a prison sentence, they’ll let you have leave once in a while. They’ll even pay for the journey in the form of a travel warrant. Of course the army will have posted you as far away from your home town as they can achieve, and so there you are standing on some drab station waiting for a train. Provided the rail operator doesn’t cancel it and there’s no weekend engineering works, you get home almost a day later.
Naturally you’ll travel most of the way with your new found National Service mates, and having no better way to pass the time you’ll have polished off several crates off beer long before you’re anywhere near home. Naturally having spent the previous three months in the company of other men, you’ll be keen to re-acquaint yourself with the opposite sex. However, excessive alcohol consumption, fast food, train compartments and young women rarely mix, and can easily result in any number of anti-social outcomes. All of which are encompassed in the ready descriptions that were used to justify the return of National Service.
If you make it home without be arrested and charged, you may soon find yourself wishing you hadn’t bothered. Even if you haven’t received the “Dear John” txt from your girlfriend, the embarrassed silence at home when you mention phoning her will quickly tell you what’s she’s overlooked. Even if you deal with it calmly, it will be tremendously galling to go down town to find that there she is in the company of the overweight asthmatic former colleague who’s recently been promoted to the supervisory post over your “reserved” job.
Of course for the middle aged person sat in front of their television with the same company night after night, National Service doesn’t look so bad. For the balding father the idea of being compelled to participate in seeming pointless activity for the benefit of someone else may not be very different from daily life. The same father might indeed welcome separation from his spouse and have little issue with the lack of sexual intimacy in a barrack room. There being little substantive difference between the barrack and the “master bedroom”.
But for the 18 year old to be condemned to waste 18 months in some far flung barracks for no earthly reason, other than the desire among the old to punish the young, is a tragedy of epic proportions.
Frankly we haven’t the morale right to do this to our young, if we are not prepared to volunteer ourselves first. So let all those who call for the reintroduction of National Service line up now and put themselves forward to be first.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Titanic Man

Like many of you, I grew up with images of classic films where the men are expected to give priority to vulnerable women and children. These men were portrayed as sterling, stalwart individuals who put aside their interests for the interests of the vulnerable. For the purposes of this article I have called these men “Titanic Man”. We all know the scene where the SS Titanic, holed by an iceberg, is sinking. The ships officers call out “Women and children first!” The few panic striken men who seek self-preservation and push their way into the lifeboat queue, possibly even dressed as women, are clearly depicted as craven cowards. In the lounge the all male band plays on, while other men calmly sit down to smoke and drink, and await their fate. The “Titanic Men” are the paragon that society espouses for men generally, and ideal that all boys should aspire to be. Thus at the beginning of the 20th century the male ideal was a man who sacrificed his life for inherently vulnerable women and children.
Despite heroism of “Titanic Man”, I find myself questioning the rationale for this ideal. How and why in a society where men were principally the sole breadwinners, and where men held all the power, and there is a surfeit of women and children, is it in the interests of society that men should be sacrificed.
In the early 20th century Britain was a place where widows and orphans were vulnerable, as they had been in previous centuries. In a world where men’s wages far exceeded those of women’s, and that many women had few employable skills, the loss of a husband could be a tragedy from which a family might never recover. The majority of men on the SS Titanic would have had wives and children back home who depended upon their ability to earn money.
On the decks of the Titanic, we are shown the men who as individuals stand aside and let the women and children survive. The men stand there stoically as the last life boat is lowered, and resign themselves to a freezing end in the North Atlantic.
Behind the majority of these stoical male figures positioned across the decks of the SS Titanic existed a very large number of women and children dependent on their husbands’ and fathers’ wages. As the SS Titanic slipped below the waves, these women and children were rendered widows and orphans. Despite their losses, their voices remain largely unheard and certainly never given tongue in any of the films. Even if we put aside the emotional impact of these losses for widows and orphans, the economic and societal impacts of the loss of these men is considerable.
In a society dominated materially and legally by men, the loss of a male head of household is a tragedy almost beyond measure. In an environment where women cannot hope to earn enough to replace their husbands earnings, widowhood would result in perpetual impoverishment and dependency upon charity. For the orphans not only do they lose their father, and important figure in a patriarchal society, but they also lose opportunity. The impoverished child lacks access to learning and the materials for learning. They are likely to be compelled to leave school and go to work at an early age, whereas they may have remained in school and have progressed beyond it if their father had lived.
If on the other hand a woman perishes beneath the Atlantic waves, she may leave behind a widower and children but in a world where there was a surfeit of women her husband has a greater chance of remarrying. As a man he has greater earning capacity and could buy child-care services in the form of a maid. If a child died, it was of course tragic but not catastrophic. One only has to view the registers for the late 19th and early 20th centuries to be aware that infant and child mortality was extremely high compared with the 21st century. Children are however dependants and the economic loss of a child is negligible compared with that of a man at this time.
If we look beyond these simple familial associations and consider that in a world where men are the captains of industry, the loss of key male corporate figures could have consequences far beyond the realms of their families. Imagine the capitalist industrial innovator whose imagination and management skills have forged new industries, and upon whose capacities are built immense industries. If these men die, the need for transfer of power to the successor management is inherently problematic. They might not have immediate and identified successors who can quickly grasp the reins. In this case the banks may lose faith and call in their loans. The consequence could be the collapse of the enterprise, and for the employees and their dependents it could mean long term unemployment and poverty in a world without a social safety-net.
Thus we find ourselves with this bizarre paradigm. In a society in which men created virtually all the wealth and upon whose wealth creation women and children are dependent, the epitome of masculinity is the man who sacrifices himself regardless of the consequences for himself and his dependents.
Titanic Man was an irrational model at the beginning of the 20th century, and remains so. In today’s world, where women demand equality, men should not be expected to put aside their interests for self-preservation and the interests of their dependants for the interests of some anonymous woman or child. Yet we still as a society cling to the notion of “Titanic Man”. While we might debate whether men should continue to display deference to women by opening doors and surrendering seats on public transport, we still expect men to be stoical. The vast inequality in state health care provision in UK between men and women exemplifies this. No one looks back to the days of National Service and raises the profoundly inequality contained in it where it only applied to men.
Coward remains a pejorative term when applied to men. In fact it is rarely if ever applied to women. Yet if women are men’s equals then the expectation of self-sacrifice should be the same. We retain at the heart of our society the notion that men should be able to put aside their urge for self-preservation and be willing to sacrifice themselves for the common good. Where women do carry out traditional male roles, such as in the armed forces, and die in the course of that, they are distinct exceptions and eulogised for it. While we might have current media and thus political attention given to the men that are injured and killed in the armed forces, they do not receive the same degree of attention and there very few of them compared with earlier larger conflicts. For those of the post-war generation they will recall that the casualties (physical and psychological) of WW2 received very little care and concern, often bordering on aggressive intolerance.
“Titanic Man” is a Victorian / Edwardian anachronism that needs to be swept away. Men should not be expected to put aside their desire for self-preservation and self-interest any more than women. Women might like to cite that they sacrifice themselves for their families by doing a disproportionate amount of housework, but they have a major self-interest in making sure that their homes are tidy and clean. Indeed their allegedly disproportionate contribution to the household provides them with significant influence where they define the standards and style for the home they live in. No amount of housework is quite as demanding as being willing to go to your death for the sole benefit of a stranger.

Power Elites Destroy Communities

The phrase "Power Elites Destroy Communities" seems a given because we all see others as the "Power Elite". They are the bankers, opinion formers and so in our society, and we can see the damage they do.
But actually they are often us, and the worst groups are "Resident Representative Groups" who form themselves into factions to assert their power over the area they live. Residents have the vote, if they are over 18 years of age, and through the ballot box they can assert influence, and between elections they can use the threat of the electoral power to influence outcomes. MP's and Councillors react swiftly to "Resident Representative Groups" demands for action, and as a consequence councils and other government administration respond to their demands.
Residents perceive that because they have invested in housing and chosen to live somewhere they are possession of the right to determine the characteristic of an area. Thus while the stakeholders in a viable community are both residential and commercial interests, it is only the residents who have a vote. Commerce may seek to represent their views, but at the end of the day it is only the residents who can cast a ballot. (Of course businesses can seek to influence politics through party donations)
Thus in an agro-industrial area where animals and plants are husbanded for food, and which provides employment across a complex economic chain, for their activities to be curtailed or suspended through resident action. With the trend to purchase country cottages among the urban wealthy, the prevalence of residents with no historic or economic connection with the agro-industrial economy has grown phenomenally. These inward migrant residents can then through the ballot box and through "Resident Representative Group" power seek to prevent the local agro-industrial enterprises (farms) from continuing their normal business activities if any aspect fo it has a negative impact upon the inward migrant residents' lives. Thus if the newcomers don't like the smell of cows and pigs wafting through their homes, they can demand that the council takes action.
One could of course ask why these people moved to an agro-industrial / country environment when they object to the smells or noises connected with these business concerns. Their counter is that it is their right to live as they wish and their choice is determined by their desire for "country" views. They overlook the fact that out countryside looks the way it does because of the agro-industrial / farming business concerns.
In the last few days an article was put out by a blogger in Liverpool regarding a complaint about noise from a music venue from an inner city resident. ( While the issues relating to this incident are not significant, what is significant is the reaction by Liverpool Council and the consequences for the venue.
In response to the complaint, the venue has had its entertainments license suspended and cannot stage any amplified music events. The particular venue has only ever had this single complaint against it. But a venue is not just a venue, it is ostensibly a production facility for entertainment that provides employment and attracts inward investment that shapes the nature of the city. Were for instance a factory to open its doors in the middle of the night and a dreadful noise poured out. to which the residents complained, the Council would certainly attend but they would prevent the factory from continuing production as it would threaten employment. But music and arts are not regarded in the same manner, because we assign them other values. Nevertheless nightclubs, bars and venues are places of production, and they cluster in places where there ancillary support services and transport infrastructure, just like any other industry. Late night venues also contirbute significantly to local economies as their customers often start the evening at other places such as bars, cafes and restaurants, where they spend a significant proportion of their money. These customers make a considerable contribution to the city economy and make some operations that the day-time economy relies upon viable. Yet despite the importance of venues to the character and viability fo city communities, they appear to have little power to influence local events.
Instead Power Elites composed of local residents, who most likely have chosen to live in the inner city environment, have the power to influence policy and demand that council officers curtail the activities of legitimate business interests, which have no vote. The inequity of this is considerable. Any city centre business owner can easily have invested far more of their personal wealth into the area than a home owner. They will have invested their skills and knowledge, and are likely to have created employment, unlike the homeowner. Their activities create wealth which in turn supports other enterprises, and thereby creates and sustains employment. Yet they have no formal means of expressing their views and ambitions, and seeking to obtain representation.
In Liverpool it is the entertainments industry that has been at the forefront of shaping the city and its atmosphere. It is this ambience that has been the catalyst for articulate and politically astute individuals to move into the city centre. Yet now through their application of their rights a business operation has had to suspend its activities, and cancel contracts. There is no interest among the "Resident" Power Elites for the consequences of their actions, and that some economically marginal music group has now lost the opportunity to perform and generate income. Power Elites don't care about anything but their own interests.
It is time for businesses, whether they be farms (agro-industrial concerns), factories or city centre venues to demand a modicum of equality and demand that inward residential migrants are not awarded the right to curtail the very business activities that have created the environment that attracted the inward migrant in the first place.