Blake’s Heaven (another message from beyond the grave)

Yesterday I looked at the thoughts of American writer John Steinbeck on the subject of individualism and human creativity. Yesterday was also the 250th anniversary of another visionary who still speaks to us relevantly and eloquently from beyond the grave.
William Blake, poet, artist, was probably the most extraordinary visionary Britain has produced since Shakespeare. Though not in the same league as a writer Blake, writing in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, foresaw many of the problems that would face society two hundred years later.
Most people know this writer for the hymn Jerusalem and so think of him as a religious poet. It is true there are many references to God and Jesus in the poems and essays but an unholy row has been simmering in he Anglican church for many years as to whether Jerusalem is actually a Christian hymn or poem. The answer to that (its a pagan poem actually) does not matter, what is interesting and is a theme running through Blake’s work is that his religious views represent heresy to standard Christian beliefs. Blake sees God as a symbol of the oppressive authoritarianism of state and church and Jesus as the unifying spirit of humanity. An authoritarian God and a liberal, humanist Jesus.
All our lives we are required to choose between God; conformity, unquestioning obedience, commitment to work and money and unthinking acceptance of the status quo, and Jesus; freedom of thought and speech, questioning of injustice and a love of art and expression all of which Blake believed would lead to the overthrow of tyranny and the creation of a Utopian world, Jerusalem:
I will not cease from mental strife
nor will my sword rest in my hand
‘til we have built Jerusalem
in England’s green and pleasant land.
So no promises that it will be easy then, but plenty of references to The Da Vinci code, well, to the enduring myth that Jesus actually visited Britain a few years after his alleged crucifixion. A full book would be needed to explore the possible truths of that so we will skip nit for now.
Most people have probably been told the lines in the poem Jerusalem that go:
And was Jerusalem builded here
among these dark, satanic mills?
are actually using the “dark, satanic mills” as a metaphor for the protestant churches that were preaching a very hardline version of Christianity. This is true but not entirely true, Blake is using a double meaning. Remember he was writing at a time when the Industrial Revolution was at its height in Britain and also there was a second wave of the protestant reformation going on. The mills and factories of the manufacturers were certainly dark, satanic places, the workers endured long hours in vile, dehumanising conditions, working for a pittance; they could be laid off or sacked without notice, punishments were regularly handed out for misdemeanours as trivial as talking to the person at the next machine, wages could be reduced on a whim and, under the law of the day, nobody could leave to obtain better employment without the permission of their master. Yes master, not employer. The relationship was of master and servant, and despite all the pious words of abolitionists who campaigned to stop the slave trade, the condition of workers in the industrial cities of Britain were no better than a kind of slavery. The workers could submit to the will of their bosses or they were free to starve.
The protestant chapels were just as dark and Satanic in a different way. It was in such places and through their warped teachings the idea of the “undeserving poor” took root, the notion that poverty was a judgement imposed by God and those who did not endure it with stoicism and grace were deserving of further punishment at the hands of pious human tormentors who considered themselves to have been granted wealth because God recognised they were better people.
What did it take to be part of the “undeserving poor”? Well, complaining about injustices, poor wages, squalid living conditions and the exorbitant prices charged in the “truck” shops. Oh yes, truck shops, nearly forgot those. So concerned were the pious and godly rich people for the souls of their workers, they did not pay wages in legal coin but in tokens only redeemable in shops owned by the employer. This was ostensibly to prevent the “undeserving poor” from spending their earnings on sinful frivolities such as drinking, singing and dancing in the alehouse. Obviously such practices did not sit well alongside Blake’s notion that all human beings must be free to make their own choices.
It was not only religion and the cause of the workers that aroused the poet’s passion. He was quite prepared to embrace radical political causes and supported both the American and French revolutions, writing in support of Washington and Lafayette and denouncing the Kings of England and France.
By profession Blake was an engraver and illustrator and his fine draughtsmanship brought him to the attention of radical publisher Joseph Johnson who championed the work of writers such as Thomas Paine, sometimes known as “the firebrand of the American Revolution” and Mary Wollstonecraft, proto-feminist and mother of Frankenstein author Mary Shelley. Through Johnson, Blake also met people such as scientific pioneer and religious rebel Joseph Priestly, Radical theologian Gilbert Wakefield who popularised the Unitarian faith in Britain and poet William Cowper, a stylistic influence.
As Blake developed as a writer, ideas formed from contact with these influential thinkers were given shape by his own individual vision. The form of Christianity expressed in his poems, though heretic in the view of the Biblical fundamentalism of the day, was in reality derived from the much older tradition of Celtic Christianity and owing a lot to the fashionable revival of interest in paganism, mysticism and naturalism. In the Everlasting Gospel, his last and unfortunately unfinished poem he goes right out on a limb and proposes that the true God could only possibly be a female, while in The Song of Los his implication is that the endless cycle of nature, of death and renewal, is the reality while the idea of “resurrection into a better life” common the Abrahamic religions is a fanciful notion that appeals to the weak minded. To the mainstrean Christian all virtue comes from God, to Blake all virtue is human and all evil from over-zealous and hypocritical love of the patriarchal and materialistic God of the Abrahamic religions.
In summary then, Blake was as much a political as a religious poet, and as such he now speaks to us from beyond the grave, showing us how we must fight to retain our rights and freedoms including the freedom to believe or not believe in some sort of God.
He also shows us in the words to Jerusalem that we must slow the insane rush for technology, not turning back the clock to a medieval lifestyle as Blake’s critics claimed he was suggesting and as my critics, the immature and irrational boy – scientists (who think they are really really original) will try to claim I am suggesting. There is no need to turn back the clock, only to make sure we control technology rather than letting it, and those who profit from it, control us.
Blake’s Heaven then was not a dream world where everybody sprouted wings and a distinct lack of wedding tackle and went around playing little harps, it was a world in which all could live with dignity and have the opportunity to fulfil their potential. That is a dream that technology should have put within our reach. Unfortunately, because we have been misled by those who worship money and power it seems to be slipping further away from us all the time.

Dead Man Speaks. A Message From Beyond The Grave

OK, I know. That heading is just calculated to provoke certain people. But truly the dead can speak to us from the past of things in the present, as I will now prove.

Freedom, liberty and the need to preserve our ability to think for ourselves (and be self – destructively wrong if we choose) against the dark forces of authoritarianism are a regular theme of this blog. But I’m not famous, not even in the shallow way of modern celebrity, so why should people listen to me?

Perhaps nobel laureate and susperstar author John Steinbeck who died forty years ago will command more attention. Read what he has to say on the subject.


“Our species is the only creative species, and it has only one creative instrument, the individual mind and spirit of a man (and woman). Nothing was ever created by two men. There are no good collaborations, whether in music, in art, in poetry, in mathematics, in philosophy. Once the miracle of creation has taken place, the group can build and extend it, but the group never invents anything. The preciousness lies in the lonely mind of a man. And now the forces marshaled around the concept of the group have declared a war of extermination on that preciousness, the mind of man. By disparagement, by starvation, by repressions, forced direction, and the stunning hammerblows of conditioning, the free, roving mind is being pursued, roped, blunted, drugged. It is a sad suicidal course our species seems to have taken.
And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual This is what I am and what I am about. I can understand why a system built on a pattern must try to destroy the free mind, for that is the one thing which can by inspection destroy such a system. Surely I can understand this, and I hate it and I will fight against it to preserve the one thing that separates us from the uncreative beasts. If the glory can be killed, we are lost.”
– John Steinbeck, East of Eden

Well Steinbeck wrote those words around sixty years ago but how relevant they are to what is happening in our industrialised nations right now. From government, religions, business and academic community alike we come under increasing pressure to conform, to not question authority, to lay aside our ability to think for ourselves. Liberalism and the notions of personal liberty, civil rights and free speech are under attack.

In an earlier post I highlighted the dangers of social engineering and the threat of happy pills and modified gense poses.

It is time we all took up our pitchforks and cudgels and marched on the citadels of authority, like the revolting peasants of old would. We can’t all be righ, its a lie. We can’t all be successful, its a lie. We can all be slaves to debt and the system, they don’t tell you that. It is time to retake our individual freedom.

When the dead start speaking its time to stand up and take notice.

Not convinced? Read the book,
East of Eden by John Steinbeck

or if you fancy an even more radically life changing experience…
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Little White Lies and Big Brown Lies

Politicians tell lies; its not big news, just part of what politics is about. We all tell lies. “I had to work late darling,” “It was a bargain, reduced in the sale,” “the cheque is in the post,” “of course I love you,” “no your bum doesn’t look big in it, its perfect.” Little white lies intended to keep us out of trouble or spare peoples’ feelings. Politicians little white lies can turn into big purple lies though. “I did not have sex with that woman,”
Now there is a new colour of lie, big Brown lies. A big Brown lie is about promising one thing and doing the opposite. And then denying there is a contradiction.
“We must reduce carbon emissions by 50% over the next thirty years.”
“If Heathrow Airport in not expanded British businesses will not be able to compete.”
No contradiction there of course, a new generation of emission free jets could be just around the corner.
“This government will put the welfare of workers foremost.”
“We must relieve business of the burden of health and safety restrictions.”
Yeah, right.
“To enjoy the benefits of citizenship people must accept the responsibilities that go with it.”
“We must not drive away the wealth creators with heavy taxes.”
OK, so if someone is rich enough to qualify for non-domiciled status, tax is voluntary.

Then there is the loony plan to force the return to the workplace of severely disabled people like me and bendygirl, author of the excellent “benefit scrounging scum” blog (guaranteed to attract Daily Mail Readers and give them a glimpse of what it is like to be disabled in the bureaucratic dictatorship that is 21st century Britain.
The draft of this plan proposes people who can walk two hundred yards or get around in a wheelchair and can use a computer can hold down a job. Well I can walk two hundred yards. Then not so far the next time. Then the third time my brain starts to shut down. Its not a stereotypical after effect of strokes, but people who have had strokes tend to differ so widely. I would love to be able to work but were I to do so my quality of life would disappear. Still I would be a productive economic unit.

Things like the quality of life for disabled people do not matter to the government, the only things that matter are the votes of the fifty thousand or so floating voters in Nimbyland marginal constituencies who will swing the next election.

The Prime Minister does not care about fairness or justice, only about getting re-elected. So for the next two years at least you can expect big Brown lies and their consequences to become a part of your daily life.

Managing Mayhem (the failure of management)

During the Post Office strike a few weeks ago I let off a rabble-rousing leftie rant about the abuse of workers’ rights. A comment from Irish-le-feaux reminded me there are other considerations and sometimes managers have to be allowed to manage. He was right of course, the problem is having the ability to manage is a prerequisite of being allowed to manage. And the core skills of management seem to have gone the same way as those of teaching, policing, journalism and so many other professions. That applies in business as well as the public sector.
My experience of working with the Post Office and other public service organisations is that management skills were never encouraged or developed and this is underlined by the lost disks fiasco at HM Revenue and Customs.
Managing is completely alien to the public servant’s mindset. Procrastination, delaying decisions, evading responsibility, shifting blame and bean counting are the things they do well. The rest they do not do at all. When in doubt, take refuge in bureaucracy.
In every Post Office, when I headed up the Information Technology project to automate Post Office counter trade, there was a book of ancient scriptures. I think it was called The Post Officers Guide and Handbook, something like that. In it one would find instructions on what to do in every possible situation from selling a stamp to instructions on how to assist in childbirth should a pregnant woman go into labour while queuing for her maternity allowance. (For the benefit of those humourless boy-scientists who are stalking my posts, what I just did is known as exaggerating for comic effect.)
In the book of scriptures, and similar ones in Tax Offices, Benefits Offices, and anywhere the public meets the government, every decision a public servant will face is made for them. “Just follow procedure and you’ll be alright,” is the message.
This probably explains the child benefit information shambles. A situation arose that was not covered in the book so nobody knew what to do.
Bureaucracy is one of the ten modern plagues to afflict the Nation of New Labour of course. Bureaucracy and obsession with procedure has escaped the public sector and now invades business and private life but the burgeoning of bureaucracy is entirely due to the failure of management and the rise of a culture of bean counting. Tony Blair’s government style was commonly identified with control freakerey and an obsession with hiring consultants, in fact his approach to dealing with problems was based on techniques promulgated by his favourite consultancy firm McKinsey whose corporate motto is “If it can be measured, it can be managed.”
Management however is not about counting and measuring things, it is about dealing with those things that cannot be counted and measured. A famous management maxim from before the era of bean counters goes, “managing people is like herding cats.” It is true, but managers who cannot deal with people and all the quirks and eccentricities of human nature are doomed to fail. And managers who try to use bureaucratic procedures to reduce people to automations will not just fail, they will crash and burn.
On my last contract as a gainfully employed person I was working for a middle sized consultancy, Infact, on a huge technology project in Stockholm. We were expensive guys to employ, as well as our fees and the consultancies mark up, there was the question of five star hotels, meals in good restaurants, business class flights each week and all sorts of sundry expenses mostly called Ingrid. But Infact specialised in delivering solutions rather than procedures.
After a few months one of our Swedish colleagues, a devotee of modern management methods, decided to make a name for himself by asking what was the point of paying so much money for our services. “What do you do that we cannot?” he asked.
Andy, a non nonsense Scot looked at him and replied, “We make decisions.”

That is the difference between a manager and a bureaucrat.

When In Doubt, Do The Most Stupid Thing (Heathrow expansion)

At the present rate of expansion, Heathrow’s Terminal 99 and the fiftieth runway will be built somewhere near Bristol with work commencing in 2050. The latest extension to London’s monster airport have been nodded through without consideration for the impact on the environment so we can expect planning applications for extensions to Stanstead, Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow, Liverpool and any other airport that fancies doubling its traffic handling capacity to be fast tracked without the hassles of public enquiries and such.
Britain’s road system, both trunk routes and local roads, in near gridlock. What is the government’s answer? Build more roads, widen existing roads, make it impossible for people who want to shun the car to find a practical bus service or to afford a journey by rail. Sell more petrol and get extra revenue by taxing us per mile for our car journeys.
Climate Change crisis, what crisis? The government is aware of the challenges posed by climate change and is doing all it can to maximise the opportunities for businesses willing to offer market driven solutions.
So long as somebody makes a profit.
The City of Preston’s bus service is in crisis right now. The private operators were allowed to cherry pick profitable routes, the council tax funded City Transport Department is left to provide loss making services on other routes. Now, thanks to government imposed spending targets the transport department is bankrupt and having to withdraw services. And the private operators, freed of even the limited competition they had, are jacking up prices which causes hardship for the poor old and vulnerable.
As a nation we no longer have a transport system, we have a system for handing taxpayers money to private companies whose one area of competence is in moving profits offshore.
The expansion of Heathrow is madness as is any scheme that encourages more air travel, but as usual in this era of unbridled commerce, the last thing anybody wants to do is the sensible thing. The rich and powerful have serious issues about facing reality.
Along with drought (South East & South West U.S.A., Canada, Central & South East Europe, Central Asia, Africa, floods in Southern Asia, Southern Africa, China etc. etc. and the famine and disease than inevitably follows, we face a crisis of overpopulation and the hangover from unregulated industrialisation.
Yet when any green leaning commentator suggests we need to think about major changes in lifestyle, instead of more of everything faster, less of everything slower, much less, much slower NOW! some twunt* (usually a boy scientist from the Bad Science site in my case) will start sneering about going back to a medieval lifestyle. Not at all, unlike the boy-scientists us green campaigners are well up for change and innovation so long as it improves things. We want tidal and run of river power schemes, solar power as soon as a way of harnessing the solar energy that bombards the Earth without damaging the environment can be found, we want urban tramways, intercity mag-lev train services.

There is no point changing things if they change for the worse. To say “if we can’t improve let’s stay as we are” is not medievalism. So joint the protests readers, campaign to stop new road schemes, fight airport expansion and boot out politicians who are less than whole hearted in their support for environmentally friendly transport, power and building projects.

Its our world, only we can save it.

*twunt: a swear word that people like Russell Brand and Jonathan Woss have started using since Boggart Blog invented it and applied it to Brand around two years ago. Brand probably got it from Wossy who is always stealing my jokes. Russell Brand does not steal my jokes, if he did he might be funny although he would still lack comic timing.
Who says bloggers are not influential?

Blair’s Former Chief Scientist Warns Against Climate Change Scaremongering

Self Inflicted Wounds

You are not going to believe this.

Well OK, when I tell you its about the American military you will.

In past wars it was accepted that soldiers who caught pox or clap (sexually transmitted infections) were regarded as having harmed themselves and denied sick leave. Some were even given a dishonourable discharge.

Consider that against a news story featured on American news blog Crooks and Liars.

A new government policy directed as American troops wounded in the Iraq war requires soldiers wounded in action (this is loss of limbs, eyes etc. we are talking about, not a little dose of the clap)are being required to pay back their enlistment fees on grounds that they have failed to fulfil their contract.

And if the yanks have thought of it, will it be long befre someone here thinks of it too.

The world gets crazier.

The Triumph of Failure

Imagine what would happen to your career if you failed so utterly in every aspect of your job that the result was the exact opposite of what you were aiming for. You would not expect a big leaving party with a strippagram, lots of presents from grieving colleagues, a hyperbolic speech from the boss praising your professionalism and talent and a big fat cheque in appreciation of what you had done.
No, more likely you would be given thirty minutes to clear your desk before being escorted off the premises.
Little Nicky Machiavelli’s definition of social justice is very simple, SAME RULES APPLY, so we would hope that in any business whether the failure was of a low grade hireling, middle ranking exec. or a CEO the exit would be equally ignominious.
Are we all agreed?
Right. So can anybody explain why when a clerk, a shelf stackers or a burger flipper screws up you would think from the reaction they had sold their security pass to Satan as they departed with the words “and don’t expect a reference” ringing in their ears, the CEO of Northern Rock expects his severance package to run to millions while the recently departed CEO of the world’s biggest investment bankers Citigroup, whose wild adventures in the world of sub – prime lending will cost his finance company billions (they’re still counting) will be rewarded for his ffff failure with a golden handshake estimated at $95 million. Even at current exchange rates that’s a lot of money and makes failure an attractive career move.

And we have been told by politicians from Thatcher to Blair and Brown we should admire and seek to emulate America’s meritocracy. When it is put in perspective it makes our current economic plight (and theirs)more easy to understand.