Thursday, 16 December 2010

Only £499.99!

A simple but very effect trick of the trade, used by the masters of the dark arts of advertising, is to prefix a price with an adjective such as ‘only, or ‘just.’ It’s one of the oldest tricks in the adman’s guidebook, yet oddly, one of the more effective. No matter what the sum of money an item is displayed for, as long as it is prefixed with either of these terms, the potential purchaser psychologically is made to think that she or he is purchasing a bargain.

The customer is distracted by the adjective; the prefix has done its business and has persuaded the potential purchaser that the item on offer is a bargain, not to be missed! And, whatever price appeared after the ‘just,’ or ‘only,’ would be, to a large extent irrelevant. The customer has been hooked and from here on in it is easier to real them in.

Of course all of this is deeply immoral. But that is the way the adverting industry works. Advertising agencies employ very creative people whose job it is to create a desire in people for said product. Their livelihoods depend on their ability to sell to the public any item they are commissioned by the producer to sell.

Monday, 13 December 2010

"You do not have enough for a minimum standard of living!"

I have always related to The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), they are a charity that funds a large, UK-wide research and development programme. They say that they seek to ‘understand the root causes of social problems, to identify ways of overcoming them, and to show how social needs can be met in practice.’ They also fund groups who work in economically deprived communities. They are a well respected charity and they have the ears of governments, social service departments and many other key agencies working in the social poverty area.

I’ve read a lot of media articles recently, based on reports funded by the JRF. These studies, written by academics, try to get into the mindset of those living on what is termed the lower end of the economic scale. All of the finished reports though, appear to be based around people’s desires rather then their real needs.

On the JRF site, you can fill in a 'poverty indicator,' if you want to find out your level of living is. 
It calculates information you key in, and tells you, based on the information, if they think you are living below the poverty threshold, and how much extra, they think you need to live on.

It’s conclusions left me bemused. I found it laughable to be honest. According to these calculations, we are living way below the poverty threshold!!

Here are what, (in their words), the indicator has calculated we ‘need’ for a proper standard of living:

“Here's what you need as a minimum now…

£21,807 per year, so that income after tax and benefits covers outgoings.

Here's your situation…

You do not have enough for a minimum standard of living.

Your outgoings exceed your income.

You need an extra: £153.01 per week.”

It informs us, amongst other things, that we ‘need’ £14.85 per week for alcohol and £64.83 per week for social/cultural activities! On my goodness, no wonder people think they are poor! Neither of us drink,apart from some elderberry home made wine at Christmas. As for social/cultural activities!! We walk in the countryside, garden, visit friends, or read books, all for free! We have a car, but in our isolated, rural location a car is a real necessity.

But we certainly don't feel poor! We eat wholesome food, have a roof over our heads and clothes on our backs. What else is needed really?

There’s an old Buddhist saying worth taking note of: ‘we need warm clothes, a roof over our heads and food in our bellies, the rest is just desire!’ Unfortunately though, many are seduced into the whole consumerist merry go round, constantly drip-fed a media diet of desire. Whenever we turn on the TV or open a paper, we are beguiled and seduced by slick marketing, constantly trying to seduce us into buying products, we could quite easily live without.

But enough is enough; it’s time to reclaim the right to be poor and proud. To show that being poor doesn't have to mean a life spent in a constant struggle of ambition to ‘better oneself,’ where one may eventually clamber out of a well of despair and toil, up, into the a desirable land of wealth. Notice that wealth is nearly always equated with happiness and contentment!

True poverty is to be found in the slums of India or the Philippines. My understanding of the term implies a state of destitution, an inability to be able to afford even the basic necessities for a healthy life. A situation which would be very difficult to emulate in this country, where state benefits are a universal right for everyone unable to work, even under the forthcoming welfare cutbacks.

Poverty is a relative term! Yes, there is a basic level, where poverty means real, grinding hardship, where, due to whatever circumstance, a person found themselves in, it would be very difficult to escape from. And compassion must be extended to anyone who finds him or her self in such situations. A mark of any civilised society is surely when all of its members alike, receive an adequate income, to feed, clothe and house themselves and their families! Far too many people face a daily existence of misery, through sometimes, insurmountable, financial problems. I do not want to belittle anyone who lives in this sort of gruelling hardship. There are still far too many who find it almost impossible to lead any kind of normal life, due to the debt trap. Yet, even here, informed choices can be made, where some of the misery can be alleviated.

It is entirely possible, if one is careful and expedient, to live a life of contentment, and well being, whilst living below the so-called poverty level. If you are able to extricate yourself, from the trap of materialism.

We are fortunate I suppose, in that we cook our own wholesome foods, and we preserve much of the produce from our large garden, we forage for wild foods and neither of us smoke or drink alcohol. We have carpentry and basic home repair skills too. We even make all of our own soap, shampoos and cleaning agents.

I pointed all of the above out in a mail to the Centre for Research in Social Policy, at Loughborough University, who conducted a recent survey for The Joseph Rowntree Trust, on Rural Poverty. I received a courteous reply from one of the team, but it left me aware that many of the indicators they use to calculate poverty levels, are based on 'desires,' not on needs: I quote from her reply:

“In their deliberations, the groups think very carefully about the difference between unnecessary consumerism and normal participation - but at the end of the day people we talked to didn't agree that all that was needed was food, clothes and shelter. They felt that it was important to be able to interact with the society around them and not feel stigmatised and this translated into items that went beyond these basic necessities. One of the key components of the definition of what kind of living standard this is meant to be is that it should be such that people have opportunities and choices – not unlimited amounts of either – but enough to feel that they can choose how to live their lives rather than to be living at a level where their choices are limited to eating or heating, for example.”

This really is utter nonsense to be frank. People’s desires have to be separated from their real needs. If anything, what poor people ‘need,’ is to be better informed as to their real needs, and to switch off the incessant conditioning that is directed at them every time they turn on a TV or open a paper.

I really do also feel deep compassion for those who need to surround themselves with a continuous supply of possessions. Who accumulate wealth, and who imagine that wealth is desirable. It really isn’t wise for anyone to be covetous of such situations though, the accumulation of wealth and its associated bedfellows of power, desire and pride, are the surest ways to keep one trapped on a permanent round of sufferings and frustrations.

By surrounding themselves with riches, people perpetuate their sufferings of attachment, fear of loss, and need for constant security to guard their possessions.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Hear the jingles and spend, spend, spend

Here's how shops get us to buy so much crap every chrtistmas!

From the Independent Newspaper

In the past week I have felt like a white lab rat in a capitalist experiment. I have panicked that bestselling Christmas items might sell out, despite the economic evidence to the contrary. I felt bad for not buying a Kindle, when Amazon has so charmingly demonstrated its interesting features every time I open my inbox. I paid extra in a clothes store to have an assistant gift-wrap my purchase, only to watch on as he screwed up said purchase into an unsightly ball of white tissue paper and stuffed it in a big, branded box that I know I'll chuck away. I have lingered in a deliberately well-heated branch of M&S as it snowed outside, allowing my eye to be caught by pretty boxes of nuts and fruit. In short, I've fallen for every trick high-street retailers have conspired to play.

But the tactic that really has me in a frenzy of breathless festive spending is the oldest in the book. Not discounts. Nor artful window displays. It is the sound of pounding, mulled wine hangovers, of doorstep-thick slices of pub-lunch turkey, of inadvisable snogs and four pounds of extra fat on the midriff. For some reason, though I loathe them in any other context, I can't resist the effects of Christmas music when I'm shopping. La-a-a-st Car-eest-maass, I gaaave you my heaaart ... At our local Tesco, this and other literally unforgettable festive pop is currently playing at rock-concert volume. But it really works. On Sunday, as I rounded the potato display, I saw a couple rub noses and mouth the lyrics as they loaded their basket with smoked salmon. More dancing ensued in the tea and coffee aisle. I wanted to sneer, I really did, but the strange result of the mass hypnosis that Tesco employed – for any retailers out there, I believe it was the standard Now That's What I Call Christmas CD – was a 50 per cent increase in my usual bill.
The connection between music and consumer spending has been scientifically documented, notably in several studies carried out in the 1980s (possibly not coincidentally, since that's the era of much of the Christmas music you'll hear). Slower, positively associated music is proven to make shoppers not only linger, but spend more. As the sound of Noddy Holder or Mariah Carey reverberates in our eardrums, we suddenly think we're having fun, engaging in a leisure activity, rather than performing an expensive, tiring chore. The same studies showed that volume has a converse effect on how long shoppers stay in a store; therefore loud, Christmassy music from yesteryear is designed to make us grin like loons, march around the shop loading up our trolleys in haste, before we can have second thoughts about that third packet of bite-sized stollen cakes.
The soundtrack to spending is of course something online stores can't control. I might be browsing Net A Porter listening to Joy Division, which would make me buy nothing, and sob into my keyboard. As it was yesterday. Etailers can dangle pages of discounted Bananagrams and Black Ops games and Kindles, but without Noddy or George warbling in the background, the spell is broken.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

How to persuade people they don’t have time to cook any more!

‘A kilo of corn costs around 15p, a kilo of Cornflakes, on the high street, costs us £3, that’s a 2000% cost difference.’

The BBC are at present screening a mini series of three documentaries, dealing with the way multi national food companies induce us all to buy their products, last week the focus was on the bottled water industry, this week was the turn of breakfast cereals and next week, yogurt will be in the spot light.

These three programmes are extraordinary in that they expose the cleaver marketing tricks multi national companies use to flog their useless products. The programmes are not being screened by some anti capitalist, revolutionary organisation, but are made, and screened by the BBC for goodness sake!

We thought we knew all about the dark ways employed by global capitalism to sell their products, but these three programme open up a completely new chapter. Here are the producers themselves telling us, in their own words just how they make their billions!

The latest programme dealt with the convenience breakfast cereal market and spoke to insiders from the big players in this highly lucrative market. As the founder and ex chairman of Weetabix said, without a trace of irony, “people buy our cereals because they thrust what you tell them”

This is the fast and easy way to make vast profits, by making so called ‘foods,’ they have no or little nutritional value and convincing customers through the power of marketing that they simply must buy the product.

As the food writer Michael Pollen commented in the programme, “the way you make money is to process food, add convenience, add packaging, add health claims, whatever you can do to complicate it, to get people to buy it.”

A famous and often quoted experiment was carried out in the 1970’s. Rats were fed a range of different cereals. The conclusion being that they would be better off eating the cardboard box then the contents inside.

The cereal companies have always used the trick of targeting children. This ploy ensures brand loyalty from an early age. So kids are blitzed with images of cuddly cartoon characters each one of which is associated with a particular cereal (remember Tony the Tiger)! The children’s cereal market alone is worth over six hundred million pounds.

But in 2006, legislation banned their adverts during children’s television programmes, because of the high sugar and salt contents of their products. The companies were forced to take out much of the sugar and salt.

The companies simply glossed over the fact that they had been forced to alter the contents of their cereals but, instead claimed they were simply giving the customers what they wanted, They’ve asked us to give them more choice, which we are happy to do” Says the head of Kellogg's, UK. We’ve done that, and we feel good about it.”

Breakfast cereals are the epitome of the global markets’ triumph of persuasion! They are the blank space for our aspirations and our neurosis and, in the process they made billions.

Monday, 29 November 2010

A world without money!

This is an extract from an essay from The Resource Based Economy, a site dedicated to a world, which is free from the vicious grip that money has on us all. Where greed and competition are replaced by a realisation that only by mutual interdependence can we realise fulfilled and purposeful lives. To read the full article or to learn more about their work, click here

A resource-based economy is a society where money, is no longer used. Where the earth’s resources distributed equally without any form of exchange, barter or payment. It is not a new communistic approach. Neither is it socialism or capitalism. It’s beyond communism, socialism, feudalism, fascism, capitalism or any other ‘ism’. It’s beyond any social system that has ever existed on this planet, at least in our awareness. In communism the state owns everything. In socialism the state owns something while the rest is privately owned. In capitalism everything is privately owned.

The term and meaning of a Resource-Based Economy was originally conceived by Jacque Fresco, founder of the Venus Project. It is a system in which all goods and services are available without the use of money, credits, barter or any other system of debt or servitude. All resources become the common heritage of all of the inhabitants, not just a select few. The premise upon which this system is based is that the Earth is abundant with plentiful resource; our practice of rationing resources through monetary methods is irrelevant and counter productive to our survival.

Modern society has access to highly advanced technology and can make available food, clothing, housing and medical care; update our educational system; and develop a limitless supply of renewable, non-contaminating energy. By supplying an efficiently designed economy, everyone can enjoy a very high standard of living with all of the amenities of a high technological society.

A resource-based economy would utilise existing resources from the land and sea, physical equipment, industrial plants, etc. to enhance the lives of the total population. In an economy based on resources rather than money, we could easily produce all of the necessities of life and provide a high standard of living for all.

In a resource-based economy the world’s population doesn’t ‘own’ anything, but has access to everything. Anything ever needed, like food, clothing, housing, travel, etc. etc. is provided in abundance through the use of our updated knowledge, values and technology. There’s no ‘state’ that is the owner of the resources, and nothing is privately owned. In RBE the world’s resources are considered the heritage of all the inhabitants of this planet, not just a select few. RBE is not a society where we will live in scarcity with few resources. It is not a society where a few control and distribute the resources. No, it is a totally new society where we let today’s and tomorrow’s technology be developed to it’s fullest to work for us, and where we utilize knowledge about nature and technology to provide a life in abundance for everyone. It is a society where we truly have the option to take care of each other instead of struggling to survive.

It is a totally new way of life, unimaginable within today’s value system, but still something most people truly long for in their hearts. It is a world where we can call ourselves Free and live with dignity and respect for each other, nature, the planet and the universe. It is a concept where value no longer is measured by money, but rather by the joy we feel, the contributions we make, and the development we take part in. It is a society where we utilize our minds and hearts in providing a healthy life for everyone, developing our knowledge about nature and technology, and using this in the most sustainable way.

Imagine a world without money, barter or exchange, where everything is provided for everyone, and everyone can pursue their own interests and dreams and live in the way they want. Be it moving closer to nature and grow your own garden of delicious vegetables, travel the globe and experience the wonders of the planet, make and perform your own music or collaborate with others to develop a new invention for the betterment of society. In a society where we don’t have to think about money and profit, we can truly develop ourselves and the human race into something completely wonderful.

The monetary system
The monetary system doesn’t work anymore and is obsolete. This is obvious when you look at today’s world with increasing unemployment, financial crisis, endless consumption producing endless waste and pollution, not to speak of crime and wars. You could say money has outplayed its role on this planet. It produces greed and corruption through the profit motive we are all a slave to. The economy is falling apart, and everyone seems to be struggling to get richer and richer or just to make ends meet. The financial crisis has so far made over 200 million more people end up in poverty. Now, about 2 billion people in the world are considered poor. Poor countries that have received massive loans from the World Bank have become much poorer after receiving the loans, because of the interest. And they can only hope to pay it back. The collective external debt of all the governments in the world is now about 52 trillion dollars and this number doesn’t include the massive amount of household debt in each country. How can we owe each other so much money??? Because we think we need it.

We don’t need money
It turns out that it’s not money we need. We cannot eat money, or build houses with them. What we need is resources. Food, clothing, housing, etc. Money is just a hindrance in making the resources available for everyone. Imagine if there was no money. Right now. No money. Everything would still be there, wouldn’t it? The trees, the mountains, the houses, cars, boats, air, grass, snow, rain, sun, animals, birds and bees and the people. Nothing has changed, really. Why? Because money doesn’t really exist. There’s no money in nature. It’s only an agreement between the world’s people, made up thousands of years ago as a means to control the world population. Instead of slavery, where one had to feed, house, nurse and guard the slaves, one invented money. With money everyone would have to fend for themselves, while the rulers collected taxes, controlling the masses.

It was a means of which people could trade stuff that they all needed. Labour, food, housing, etc. If it wasn’t scarce, there was no need to charge for it. Like water and air. The rulers claimed ownership to land, and thus became the “owners” of this land. They could then charge others for using it and for stuff that was produced there, like it is today. And the property could be sold and inherited in the bloodline. “Banks” became invented, and eventually; loans. And now society has become addicted to it, like a drug. But, like a drug, money is something that we don’t really need, we only think we do.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

The Foods that Make Billions

We all have books, films and articles, we tell everyone who will listen that it is a 'must read/watch item, well this is a documentary I wish everyone who is interested in seeing less consumerism in the world should watch.

The Foods that Make Billions is a film about the bottled water industry, and how it has become a must have product for many millions of people all across the world. As someone in the film says, it's amazing how people can be persuaded to pay for a product that they can get for free. There are some 30 odd different bottlted waters available nowadays, and the manufacturers use every trick at their disposal to make us think each one is somehow different from the others.

It's the foremost example of how big business and marketing, use their dark skills to manipulate us into seeing a product as a necessity.

It was shown on the BBC last night, and is available to watch on I player. it's available until 14th December, so watch it whilst you can.

Here is the blurb about the programme:

This major new series tells the untold story of how big business feeds us by transforming simple commodities into everyday necessities and highly profitable brands.

The first episode tells the extraordinary story of how the bottled water industry has grown from nothing to become one of the biggest success stories in the modern food and beverage industry in just 40 years.

With unprecedented access to the world's largest food and beverage companies, including Nestle and Danone, this is the inside story of how the bottled water business has become emblematic of an age of plenty in the West. With billions at stake, the market is fiercely fought over by the world's multinationals who promise us health, convenience and youth. It is natural and pure and sourced at minimal cost, its real value lies in the marketing and branding.

Told by the Money Programme team, this film takes us to Hawaii, Japan, North America, France, Switzerland and Scotland to chart what lies behind the incredible success of this industry and explore what it tells us about ourselves.

I watched it with varying feelings of amazment, sadness anger and disgust.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Made to Waste

We buy most products not out of need but out of desire.

There is a reason it's often cheaper to replace a broken electronic gadget than to fix it - the tech industry planned it that way. The unfortunate consumer cycle of want, buy, upgrade, replace, discard is a very calculated one. While it is true planned obsolescence keeps consumers spending, the major downside is the hefty environmental burden that comes with hyperconsumerism in an advanced capitalist society.

Planned obsolescence is not just rampant in the consumer electronics industry, it can be found in just about any sector. "Cheap" products might seem like a deal but when they end up in a landfill a short time later, who's really getting a bargain?

The term planned obsolescence is a well-known concept amongst manurfacturers. The phrase was first coined in 1932, Manufacturers realised that they had a problem, just after the war, goods began to be produced on a mass scale, now everyone could own a car, fridge, and house furnishings. No one needed anymore, but the products were still rolling off the production line.

The solution came from the car industry, General Motors realised that everyone was buying the black Ford Model T, a vehicle built for longevity and durability. So GM realised that if they wanted to sell cars, they had to persuade customers to switch to their products. They came up with the concept of ‘style, selling their products as ‘lifestyle,’ choices. They introduced new ‘coloured,’ cars, extra lights, stylish tail fins etc..

The new models appeared yearly, most of the time with nothing but cosmetic changes. The American consumer was programmed. A trade-in every year or two or three was "de rigueur", but when foreign cars started penetrating the American market, Mercedes, BMWs, Toyotas, Hondas, the American consumer wised up. Here were better products that lasted.

What happened in the car industry was repeated in every other sector of production. And the concept of concept of 'lifestyle design,' really took off. Of course, this is nothing more than a massive con, that appeals to consumers vanities; they must have the latest products. If you don’t buy into the latest trend, fashion or look, you are made to feel behind the pack.

This is termed 'psychological obsolescence.' This is how television advertising works, where you are bombarded with sublime messages, telling you, you must have the latest laptop, dress, car, ad infinitum. If we don’t own the newest plasma TV, we are out of touch and seen as somehow eccentric even. So our desires are endlessly stoked by the manufacturers. We buy most products not out of need but out of desire.

In 1960 the American investigative journalist, Vance Packard, brought out a book The Waste Makers. Subtitled “A startling revelation of planned wastefulness and obsolescence in industry today”, it exposed how capitalist firms making consumer goods were deliberately designing them to break down after a calculated period of time so as to encourage repeat sales.

The manufacturers and their marketing departments were quite open about what they were doing. Thus Justus George in 1928 said: “We must induce people . . . to buy a greater variety of goods on the same principle that they now buy automobiles, radios and clothes, namely: buying goods not to wear out, but to trade in or to discard after a short time . . . the progressive obsolescence principle . . . means buying for up-to-dateness, efficiency, buying for . . . the sense of modernness rather than simply for the last ounce of use”.

Brooks Stevens wrote in 1958, “Our whole economy is based on planned obsolescence and everybody who can read without moving his lips should know it by now. We make good products, we induce people to buy them, and then next year we deliberately introduce something that will make those products old fashioned, out of date, obsolete. We do that for the soundest reason: to make money.” 

This provoked a conflict with engineers, who knew they could make solid products that could last for years, but in the end their reluctance was overcome (they, too, are in the end only hired employees who have to do their employer’s bidding). It is also enormously wasteful as still usable products, and the material resources that went into making them, are simply thrown away.

Things have gotten worse since Packard’s day, with the use of soldered circuits in electronic devices that are now part of everyday life. These are easy and cheap to produce but their chipboard's can’t be repaired. There is a growing problem of where to dispose of abandoned (but still usable) mobile phones, which, together with other ‘e-waste’, contain materials that are harmful to the environment.

Packard blamed consumers, if not so much as manufacturers. If, he argues, people take account of the effect on the environment of what they buy, manufacturers will begin “to adopt design strategies that include not just planned obsolescence but planned disassembly and reuse as part of the product life cycle”. This assumes that the capitalist economy is driven by consumers. It isn’t. It’s driven by the drive of capitalist firms to make as much profit as they can.

Nothing physically produced can ever maintain an operational lifespan longer than what can

be endured in order to maintain economic integrity through ‘cyclical consumption’.

In other words, every ‘good’ produced must breakdown in a respective amount of time in order to continue financial circulation to support the players (consumer/employee/employer) in the game.

There are two aspects to Planned Obsolescence
a) Intentional: Deliberate withholding of efficiency so the product in question breaks down.

b) Consequential: Profit based shortcuts taken in production, usually in the form of cheap
Materials/poor design, in an effort to save money and create repeat customers. This translates into an inferior product immediately. i.e. The use of plastics for electronic enclosures is cheaper for the company and the consumer, but the durability of this material is poor in comparison to say, titanium metal, which is much more expensive.]

The introduction of new products and services must be constant to offset any increased efficiency of the prior generations of production, regardless of functional utility, generating
endless waste.

The constant re-creation of inferior products wastes available resources and pollutes the environment.

In other words, waste is a deliberate by-product of industry’s need to keep ‘cyclical consumption’ going. This means that the replaced/obsolete product is expelled, often to landfills, polluting the environment. The constant multiplicity accelerates this pollution.

‘The Need for Cyclical Consumption’, which could be considered the ‘engine’ that powers the entire economic system, is inherently dangerous and corrupt, for the nature of the necessity does not allow for environmentally sustainable practices to be maximised. The constant re-creation of inferior products, wastes available resources and pollutes the environment.

To express this from a different angle, imagine the economic ramifications of production methods that strategically maximised the efficiency and sustainability of every creation, using the best-known materials and techniques available at that time. Imagine a car that was so well designed, it didn’t need maintenance for 100 years. Imagine a house that was built from fireproof materials where all appliances, electrical operations, plumbing and the like were made from the most impermeable, highest integrity resources available on earth. In such a saner world, where we actually created things to last, inherently minimising pollution/waste due to the lack of multiplicity and maximisation of efficiency, a monetary system would be impossible, for ‘consumption cyclically’ would slow tremendously, forever weakening so called “economic growth”.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Dumb and dumber

As every schoolchild knows, water is comprised of just 2 elements – hydrogen and water - which make up the familiar molecule, H20. So to be confronted by the sight of bottled water being sold as 'diet water,' takes my breath away.

Yet, bottled water is now a multi billion pound industry. And millions of people have been sold the delusion that water from a bottle is somehow preferable to tapped water. This has become one of the largest marketing scams ever, and shows how you can fool most of the people, most of the time, by appealing to their vanities.

I just wonder though how water can be made less fattening! Take out one of the oxygen atoms maybe?

So expect to see diet water, become one of the industries top sellers before long. There are enough silly people out there, for the manufacturers to make a fortune.

I'm thinking of bringing out bottles of Diet Air soon too. I could make a fortune! 

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Christmas is coming: The annual lust fest is upon us!

When I was young, there was a well known poem we used to recite:
Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat,
please put a penny in the old man's hat.
If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny will do,
if you haven't got a ha'penny, god bless you!

Nowadays, it isn't only the geese that are getting fat, the annual consumption bonanza that is still laughingly refereed to as Christmas, makes a lot of people fat in the advertising, marketing and production worlds. And many of us are seduced into this mass illusion, hook, line and sinker.

I rarely watch TV, so don't know precisely what the date the first Christmas advert appeared this year. I saw my first on 30th October, and every time I've watched a programme on a commercial channel since, the commercial breaks have been taken over by an orgy of unadulterated lust, where we are overwhelmed by all of the tricks, the advertising world has at its disposal to make us go forth and spend, spend, spend!

We're easily seduced by the whole plethora in their psychological armoury, and aroused into a sate of frenzied desire and greed. Marketing men know how to appeal to our every base instinct, in order to get us to succumb to spending our money; they target our emotions of lust  and guilt, the guilt we will surely feel if we deny child/mother/brother/partner, the latest techno gizmo. They play on our sense of pride too; they know most of us will want to buy a certain product if Ms Jones down the road is also getting one.

The black arts of psychological advertising were first developed after the last world war, when psychologists come into the field and advised the 'ad' men about the best ways to make commercialism into a religion, an ego trip of consumption, so was born the 'shopaholic.' Psychology is put to many uses in marketing, In 1957, Vance Packard’s book 'Hidden Persuaders,' described how the marketing industry used depth psychology and motivational research to manipulate the public.

Fifty years later, marketing’s persuasive role is generally accepted as part and parcel of the neo-liberal economic agenda. Even so, residual suspicion of marketing’s psychological influence remains, and not only from those repelled by the coercive strategies of big business. Marketing techniques are blamed for rising childhood obesity and alcohol misuse, not to mention cigarette-related disease, the decline in public manners and countless other social ills from avarice to anorexia. The subtext of this criticism is that marketing’s effect is psychological because it influences people to do things that harm themselves and others.

I love Christmas, a time to visit relatives, relax with loved one, listen to the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, and many other such treats. But our Christmas begins around the 17th of December, where we start to make our own cards, presents and food. I'm not a Christian, yet appreciate the religions aspect of this time of year; a time to celebrate the coming of a very great enlightened one.

In our home, we don't deck the halls with the commercial and artificial, but head out into the woods and fields for our trimmings. People tend to be jollier too as this time of year. A shame that this feeling of brotherly love and peace cannot be maintained for the rest of the year! It could if we would only let go of our hopes and expectations, but that is another story!

Whereas Christianity originally appropriated from the Pagans, so in its turn, capitalism has appropriated the festival from the Christians.

I don't want to seem the archetypal Mr Scrooge here, and in the past I've been seduced many times too, by the guiles of slick marketing, but in these hard economic times, is it really sensible to go out and buy a load of packaged junk, most of which ends upon a land fill in a matter of weeks? Just for the sack of 'pleasing our nearest and dearest. Be brave, stand up to the persuaders and just say no!

Bah, humbug, A merry Christmas to all of you. xx

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Talking to Corpses

Tashi, on the left above, with Steve a good friend and a fellow Chela.

The following piece is a brief extract from Karma Tashi Thundrup's unpublished work, 'Talking to Corpes.'  Perhaps one day we will get it all published.

"Some reflection upon the nature of our thoughts reveals that much of our conscious reasoning is devoted to the well being and importance of ourselves, our possessions, our desires and aversions. The average mentality is awash with reasonings, the conditioned i.e. prejudiced rationalisations of social, cultural, political and ethical opinions, the important property of an equally important 'ME'.

For many years now Britain and most Westem societies have been effectively secularised where religion and scriptural morality are no longer an essential part of school's curriculum. Everyone is now free to believe or disbelieve whatever they choose and act according to their own reasoned judgement, and yet, we appear to be falling apart at the seams, with burgeoning family collapse, homelessness, street violence, drugs of oblivion and a pervasive amoral culture of cynicism and doubt elevated to a consensual quasi virtue. The public at large have no faith in their elected politicians, their laws, police, public servants and religious and charitable institutions. Modem man has cut himself adrift, stoutly defending his precarious ego from the stealthy approach of wisdom with a smoke screen of smart doubt. The situation however is not quite as gloomy as it appears, for believe it or not, we do it all in our sleep.

G.I.Gurdjieff a mystic joker of the 1920’s used to say that everyone was sleep walking.
Most people are, some almost zombies, perpetually shunting the sidings of hope and disillusionment, others virtual corpses. Anyone who is Awake can observe this. The popular media, designed by somnambulists to keep us slumbering, pumps millions into Universal Sandman Television. Tabloid newssheets tout malicious vicarious gossip, whilst broadsheet supplements are stuffed with gossip of the cultured kind; trivia about trifles for wanabee sophisticates. One literally guts these obese publications to find a page or two pertinent to the needs of suffering humanity.

"The primary conditions for engaging in the struggle, are compassion for all sentient creatures and unalloyed devotion."

Religion means to me the consummative goal of yearning, the human yearning, rooted in wonder, to somehow unite one's being with the great Uncreated, Godhead or Buddha Mind. To discover within and without oneself a Kingdom of God where action and inaction merge, and all acts are blessed in the light of Reality. Religion is from the Latin Re-Ugio, to re-tie or re-fasten something, which has come adrift from its moorings, in the original authentic Mind. It denotes the solitary struggle to unite the souI, whatever that is, with the source, the ground of all creation. The primary conditions for engaging in the struggle, are compassion for all sentient creatures and unalloyed devotion. Any belief system lacking these basics of universal compassion and devotion to a supreme "Good" is not a religion to my mind but a cultural superstition best studied by alienists and anthropologists.

Aquaintance with the current church going public, would demonstrate that very few of the congregation are truly religious in the sense that I have broadly outined, but most however derive considerable mutual comfort in the companionship of fellow believers, the gathering of church alms and parish centred social activities: For one, maybe two days a week they will pray together and together sing songs of worship. They will listen to sermons and readings from the Holy Book, where The Law is proclaimed to all and the congregation transfused by righteous assent will be assured of a post mortem residence in Heaven.

All this of course is completely irrational, A rational agnostic could well ask; 'Who and where is this God to whom you pray and sing? and your Holy book, the work of many years and various writers, why is this presented as the literal words of your imaginary God in the sky?"
Regular church goers are, like ourselves, suffering fellow humans and can find themselves confused and doubtful even within the organised empathy of the congregation. "As stranded fish" Chuang Tsu once said, "Keeping each other moist with their own slime". Chuang Tsu was a born Taoist contemplative. "When the springs dry up", he said, "the fish are all together on dry land. They then moisten each other with their dampness and keep each other wet with their slime. But this is not to be compared with forgetting each other in a river or a lake.

In most congregational assemblies each individual has his or her burden of hopes and fears, variously obscuring the essential practice, and therefore blind faith in doctrine and repeated affirmation become grounds for an assumption of mutual 'Salvation.'But tucked away in the intesticies of these bastions of mass worship are a few, pitifully few, whom seeking first the Kingdom of God actually find it. However isolated from the congregational mainstream these solitary men and women may be they are in fact the spiritual lifeblood of their church.

Swami Sri Yukteswar of Puri once wrote 'Whatever brings tranquillty must be considered Sat (Saviour)." Churches are usually pretty tranquil places where people in need of some peace and calm fellowship can freely go and to judge from a recent visit of mine to a nearby Catholic congregation, experience a warm, humorous sense of family

The Swami's disciple Paramahansa Yogananda taught that we are like naughty children, full" of mischief and malice and with a short attention span. Meanwhile Mother Church must endeavour to keep a protective eye on her aberrant kids until such time as one or two of them yearn to come of age and get down to the single minded devotional and compassionate business of religion which the crowd dub mysticism.

The foregoing is highly critical of the general view of religion: An overall consummate view is naturally quite different.

I have been reading a good translation of "The Muscat aI Anwar"' or "Niche for Lamps" by the great 11th century Sufi teacher AI Ghazzali. To quote; "For no man shall approach near unto Allah unless his feet stand at the very centre of The Fold of the Divine Holiness" .... "Again this fold contains lesser folds sorne of which penetrate more deeply than others into the ideas of the Divine Holiness. But the term fold embraces all the gradations of the lesser ones."

There is much mystic mud evident here, yet I, neither a scholar nor a Sufi have no trouble with the essential message. AI GhazzaJi insists that the lesser folds have their appropriate lesser wisdoms which point the way to the "Transcendental Wisdom of the Divine Fold" itself, and furthermore in his complete non duality they cannot be considered less of a whole than the Whole.

There is nothing that I can add to AI GhazzaJi's brilliant overview; it is enough right now that you should be aware of what the word religion means in my mouth.

We can now approach a mind numbing paradox in that the goal of dedicated religious endeavour once realised is at the same time the end of religion for the pilgrim. Consider a brief run down on how this comes about. The essential teaching of any worthwhile deist gospel is simply to 'let go' in surrender to the Beloved: To slowly and by degrees jettison the armour of projection and conditioned ideas which binds us with rivets of discrimination to the obsolescent task of defending, deluded ideas of self, which stand squarely blocking our own intuitive light, the light of intuitive being and a consummate understanding of Reality.

The carapace of self has to drop off along the journey and with it all the burden of craving and aversion which hitherto enslaved the pilgrim to delusion. Anally all that remains to bolster the persistent clinging to a self are the beliefs, doctrines and practices, however sublime, which have led him this far. Even these must be surrendered in the last leap to realisation and our Man has no further use for them except where in the service of compassion, some teaching may be conveyed with appropriate wisdom to those with ears to hear. "

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Another exampe of a sick society

This is another photo I came across on the net, no I don't trawl fashion sites to find them :)

This model is the epitome of all that is wrong with our mad, delusional; society. In a more caring and compassionate world, this woman would be offered counselling and support. Or rather, she probably wouldn't have become so thin and emaciated in the first place. She is yet another victim of a world where  stupidity, greed and glitz are used to beguile and bewitch impressionable young women, with temptations of fame and wealth. Watch five minutes of any (Un)reality show  to see what the lure of fame and wealth does to people.

What makes me angry, is the knock on effect this sort of image has on perfectly healthy females. Any women who is over the insect size six, is deemed to be 'fat.'  She is demonised and ostracised to such an extent that many perfectly healthy women drag themselves down into ill health as a result of the desire to conform to what are seen as 'normal' standards of beauty.

Beam me up Scotty, I no longer wish to belong to such a society.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

The deadly virus of consumerism

My partner and I have a joint income of under £10,000 a year. That would be a considerable amount to say an average African, but here for some odd reason we are classed as living 'below the poverty line, even though we have all we need and don’t want to take holidays abroad or buy the latest Hi- Tec television/Blu sky/kindle. We don’t want to eat out in restaurants and certainly don’t want or need any more clothes. We have enough to feed and clothe ourselves, and have a roof over our head. What more does anyone really need?

Those with an excess of money are just fools to themselves, and are living in absolute delusion. They either think or are conditioned into thinking that they must have the latest consumerist fix. Pravda bags at £500 a time, Rolex watches, cars, suits, coats! I don’t know whether to laugh at their sheer stupidity or look upon them with sadness and compassion for becoming trapped in the delusion of desire. Watch as they work harder and harder to pay for things they really don’t need, or have a surplus of already. Just observe anyone who has a lot of money, beyond the outer appearance of sunglasses tanned body and chauffeur driven car, you will see the mass of doubt, dissatisfaction and fear encrusted on their faces.

Look at the that other group of wealthy individual’s those the media label ‘celebrities.’ Under their veneer of well-groomed style, do you think many of them are content, really content? Look at their thin stick like, emaciated bodies, those people are walking wounded both, physically and psychologically and in a more caring society would be given support and guidance. But here and now, they are rolled out as role models for thousands of young and not so young impressionable and equally deluded people.

I've come across several ‘Happiness and Wealth,’ reports in the media these past few months, the intelligentsia, have been given much food for thought. Yet, whilst the liberal wing of the media are at last beginning to grasp the notion that wealth can never bring real contentment, they only understand it from an intellectual perspective. They can’t really grasp the reality of it. They are only able to grasp something once it is spelled out to them in reports and analysis.

Of course, once anyone becomes entrapped in the whole charade of ‘a certain standard of living. It’s extremely difficult and painful to extricate oneself from its grip, when everyone you know lives the same way; it’s very hard to go against the flow. When friends and work colleagues are buying into the latest fashions, and gadgets, the latest home improvements and entertainments, it takes a brave person to stand up and say enough is enough. For this mass delusion is contagious, and hard to break especially when its victims are feed a daily dose of the nonsense every time they turn on a TV or open a paper. A tremendous amount of pressure is exerted upon us to become ‘normal’ and to join the consumerist ‘dream.’ Watch any game show to see what I mean. The Lottery sells itself with the slogan, ‘you too can live the dream’

It’s time to break free of this nonsense

It’s time for those of us who are classed as poor, to come out and be proud to be so, to dispel the stigma that having little money, equates to a life of misery and a lack of ambition. Those of us who are 'poor,' can show others, that there is all to be gained by living a life where one happily forsakes the trimmings of consumerism.

It’s time to reclaim the right to be poor and proud. To show that being poor doesn't have to mean a life spent in a constant struggle of ambition to ‘better oneself,’ where one may eventually clamber out of a so called 'well of despair and toil', up, into the a 'desirable land of wealth.' Notice that wealth is nearly always equated with happiness and contentment!

There is no need to become sanctimonious, to develop an ‘holier than thou,’ attitude to poverty either. To many spiritual seekers, being poor is seen as a necessary aid on the road to god. Indeed many religious orders actively encourage a life of poverty, in the pursuit of holiness. What I think is missing here, though, to realise that money per say is not the problem. Whether you are a millionaire or a pauper is beside the point, it is how attached you are to money'

It is entirely possible, if one is careful and expedient, to live a life of contentment, and well-being, and real happiness, whilst being relatively poor. If you wish to extricate yourself, from the trap of materialism! It means first of all you have to re-evaluate your priorities, and to wake up to the fact, that a wardrobe stuffed full of clothes, the latest technological gadgets, or eating junk foods, does nothing to further ones situation, and can be happily left behind!

If the writers of those happiness reports and books really want to understand that contentment is available here and now, and not just an intellectual proposition. They only have to spend ten minutes in the company of any truly liberated being.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Sanity or growth: The madness of continued economic growth.

The following is an extract from an article entitled, ‘Understanding money is central to self sufficiency,’ by the author Charles Eisenstein. It’s an excellent analysis of the effects of our continuing dependence on economic growth, and how it cannot continue indefinitely. A link to the full articles is provided at the end of this extract

"From an economic point of view, a forest is only of use if I cut it down and Iand sell the timber. While it is still standing and inaccessible, it is not a good. It only becomes "good" when I build a logging road, hire labour, cut it down, and transport it to a buyer. I convert a forest to timber, a commodity, and GDP (Gross Domestic Product), goes up. Similarly, if I create a new song and share it for free, GDP does not go up and society is not considered wealthier, but if I copyright it and sell it, it becomes a good. Or I can find a traditional society that uses herbs for healing, destroy their culture and make them dependent on pharmaceutical medicine which they must purchase, evict them from their land so they cannot be subsistence farmers and must buy food, clear the land and hire them on a banana plantation -- and I have made the world richer. I have brought various functions, relationships, and natural resources into the realm of money. In The Ascent of Humanity, I describe this process in depth: the conversion of social capital, natural capital, cultural capital, and spiritual capital into money.

Essentially, for the economy to continue growing and for the (interest-based) money system to remain viable, more and more of nature and human relationship must be monetised. For example, thirty years ago most meals were prepared at home; today some two-thirds are prepared outside, in restaurants or supermarket delis. A once unpaid function, cooking, has become a "service". And we are the richer for it. Right?

Another major engine of economic growth over the last three decades, child care, has also made us richer. We are now relieved of the burden of caring for our own children. We pay experts instead, who can do it much more efficiently.

In ancient times entertainment was also a free, participatory function. Everyone played an instrument, sang, participated in drama. Even 75 years ago in America, every small town had its own marching band and baseball team. Now we pay for those services. The economy has grown. Hooray.

The crisis we are facing today arises from the fact there there is almost no more social, cultural, natural, and spiritual capital left to convert into money. Centuries, millennia of near-continuous money creation has left us so destitute that we have nothing left to sell. Our forests are damaged beyond repair, our soil depleted and washed into the sea, our fisheries fished out, the rejuvenating capacity of the earth to recycle our waste saturated. Our cultural treasury of songs and stories, images and icons, has been looted and copyrighted. Any clever phrase you can think of is already a trademarked slogan. Our very human relationships and abilities have been taken away from us and sold back, so that we are now dependent on strangers, and therefore on money, for things few humans ever paid for until recently: food, shelter, clothing, entertainment, child care, cooking. Life itself has become a consumer item. Today we sell away the last vestiges of our divine bequeathment: our health, the biosphere and genome, even our own minds. This is the process that is culminating in our age. It is almost complete, especially in America and the "developed" world. In the developing world there still remain people who live substantially in gift cultures, where natural and social wealth is not yet the subject of property. Globalisation is the process of stripping away these assets, to feed the money machine's insatiable, existential need to grow. Yet this stripmining of other lands is running up against its limits too, both because there is almost nothing left to take, and because of growing pockets of effective resistance.

The result is that the supply of money -- and the corresponding volume of debt -- has for several decades outstripped the production of goods and services that it promises. It is deeply related to the classic problem of oversupply in capitalist economics. The Marxian crisis of capital can be deferred into the future as long as new, high-profit industries and markets can be developed to compensate for the vicious circle of falling profits, falling wages, depressed consumption, and overproduction in mature industries. The continuation of capitalism as we know it depends on an infinite supply of these new industries, which essentially must convert infinite new realms of social, natural, cultural, and spiritual capital into money. The problem is, these resources are finite, and the closer they come to exhaustion, the more painful their extraction becomes. Therefore, contemporaneous with the financial crisis we have an ecological crisis and a health crisis. They are intimately interlinked. We cannot convert much more of the earth into money, or much more of our health into money, before the basis of life itself is threatened.

People can no longer pay for various goods and services, and so have to rely on friends and neighbours instead. Where there is no money to facilitate transactions, gift economies re-emerge and new kinds of money are created. Ordinarily, though, people and institutions fight tooth and nail to prevent that from happening. The habitual first response to economic crisis is to make and keep more money -- to accelerate the conversion of anything you can into money. On a systemic level, the debt surge is generating enormous pressure to extend the commodification of the commonwealth. We can see this happening with the calls to drill for oil in Alaska, commence deep-sea drilling, and so on. The time is here, though, for the reverse process to begin in earnest -- to remove things from the realm of goods and services, and return them to the realm of gifts, reciprocity, self-sufficiency, and community sharing. Note well: this is going to happen anyway in the wake of a currency collapse, as people lose their jobs or become too poor to buy things. People will help each other and real communities will reemerge.

In the meantime, anything we do to protect some natural or social resource from conversion into money will both hasten the collapse and mitigate its severity. Any forest you save from development, any road you stop, any cooperative playgroup you establish; anyone you teach to heal themselves, or to build their own house, cook their own food, make their own clothes; any wealth you create or add to the public domain; anything you render off-limits to the world-devouring Machine, will help shorten the Machine's lifespan. Think of it this way: if you already do not depend on money for some portion of life's necessities and pleasures, then the collapse of money will pose much less of a harsh transition for you. The same applies to the social level. Any network or community or social institution that is not a vehicle for the conversion of life into money will sustain and enrich life after money.

Elsewhere I have described alternative money systems, based on mutual credit and demurrage, that do not drive the conversion of all that is good, true, and beautiful into money. These enact a fundamentally different human identity, a fundamentally different sense of self, from what dominates today. No more will it be true that more for me is less for you. On a personal level, the deepest possible revolution we can enact is a revolution in our sense of self, in our identity. The discrete and separate self of Descartes and Adam Smith has run its course and is becoming obsolete. We are realising our own inseparateness, from each other and from the totality of all life. Interest belies this union, for it seeks growth of the separate self at the expense of something external, something other. Probably everyone reading this essay agrees with the principles of interconnectedness, whether from a Buddhistic or an ecological perspective. The time has come to live it. It is time to enter the spirit of the gift, which embodies the felt understanding of non-separation. It is becoming abundantly obvious that less for you (in all its dimensions) is also less for me. The ideology of perpetual gain has brought us to a state of poverty so destitute that we are gasping for air. That ideology, and the civilization built upon it, is what is collapsing today" Full article here

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

It doesn’t really matter

Fact: All of us consist of 99.999999% of empty space

Some people love tinkering about with cars, others love to spend their time creating wonderful treats in the kitchen, whereas I have a fascination with the world of the infinitesimally tiny, in fact so tiny its invisible to everything but the most advanced microscopes. I have a profound interest in the sub atomic world, a world that, once you get to grips with, continues to blow you away with its sheer illogicality. This is a world which, if you want to step inside, you have to leave your everyday logic at the door. Here things are not what they seem, you enter an Alice wonderland in set up where things are not what they seem, a place where you can’t know both the position and speed of something at the same time, a place where things can be in two different place at once. And in this world the every day laws of physics break down. Its even possible for particles in this worked to be two different things at the same time. Talk about weirdness!

All matter, that is you, your computer, sofas and tennis balls, consist of millions upon millions of atoms. To give an idea of the size of one atom, it would take 10,000 million laid side to side to stretch from one side to the other of a full stop on this page! Each atom has in its middle a nucleus, which, is 100,000 times small than the complete atom. Spaced around each nucleus are clouds of electrons, these electrons whiz about at great speed, and are viewed more as clouds then object’s, it's also quite impossible to say with any certainty, where one of these electrons is at any one moment, all you can do is estimate its probable location. 
What gives all matter its sense of solidity is just the opposing attractions of elections and the nucleus. Elections possess a negative charge whilst neutrons, which reside into the atoms centre or nucleolus, possess a positive charge, these two opposing charges mean that the electron always keeps a certain distance from the nucleus, it were not so, and electrons fell into the nucleolus then what we see as solid master would not be possible, it would be easy to put your hand through the table, and you wouldn’t be able to stand on solid ground for instance.

Getting back to the opening fact, all matter does indeed consist of over 99% of empty space; the only mass to be found in an atom is that inside its nucleus. If all of the empty space could somehow be squeezed out of our bodies, then the entire population of the earth could be squeezed into the space occupied by a sugar cube! Now, isn’t that amazing?

I know that most people find physics are just too intimidating and boring to bother about.
And its true that to properly appreciate this weird and wonderful world does take a bit of time to grasp, yet the subject isn’t half as complicated inc e you grasp the basics. Well in that sense it isn’t that far removed from car mechanics or even cooking is it!

I haven’t even gone into the even weirder world of light wave/particles duality. That can wait for another time.