I Get Now… Woodsy

I get now,

more than ever,
how nobody saw it coming.
How could they?
I’m hiding now, behind a dozen or so tangled pieces of
“no, that’s not what it’s like”…
“no, that’s not what happens”…
“no, that’s not how it feels”…
“no, that’s not what this is about”…
and it feels right now like most of you can’t get to grips with just one.
Don’t tell me you want me to explain.  Because most of you barely want me to get halfway through the world’s longest, scariest sentence before you ride in with your gleaming sword and kill it stone dead –
without even stopping to see what it was.
If I was able to explain the gazillion things you can’t hear right now, I wouldn’t need the help I can’t ask you for.
But right now, I can barely breathe.
That’s why I can’t come to you.  Because sometimes, the thought of killing it all feels way less scary than hearing the screams of all those things we’re torturing by letting me carry on.
You don’t get that – because you think you know.
That’s why nobody saw it coming.
Posted in mental health professionals, poetry, poetry of the disenfranchised, trauma | Leave a comment

Torturous Sea – Laura Gregory

I am lost in this torturous sea

A furious maelstrom of thoughts,

Swirling, thrashing, snarling

Trying to pull me under

Fighting for each and every breath

As the waves crash and the tides drag me

Ever further from solid ground

I look to the sky but find no solace

The clouds black and ominous press down

Their crushing weight ever present above me

Just as dangerous as the ocean I’m drifting in

The intensity of the storm ravages

My body, my mind, my soul

Energy saps, the will to survive waning

Acceptance of my fate to drown all alone

In the midst of this unforgiving beast

I let go of the breath I’ve been holding

The last of my hope ebbs away

I succumb to the will of the dark, cold water

Caressed by its grip, it steals my strength

The light in my eyes long since burned out

Just as the last of me slips under

There is a light, a voice in the dark

A hand reaches down and pulls at my clothes

Plucks me from the depths of despair

I am too far gone, no one can save me

The sea has made sure of that

But the voice is persistent, gentle, encouraging

Like the first rays of a new dawn

Breathing new hope, new life into my broken and battered being

The storm begins to calm, the sky, slowly brightens

No longer adrift in a sea of malaise

The shadow of land on the horizon, still out of reach

But no longer impossible to grasp

The helping hand guides me to safety

Plants my feet back on solid ground

Building a wall to keep the sea at bay

When the storm rises up with the intent to destroy

Now, I can feel the sun on my skin

Smell the salt on the air

See the sand at my feet

Hope is restored, strength is regained

The light in my eyes, reignited

One helping hand and a voice in the dark

Cut through the confusion, the hurt, the pain

To save me, a person, once lost to the sea

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Battle of Wills – Laura Gregory

Who am I?

I don’t know

Who can tell me?

Where can I turn?

I can’t trust my mind to tell me the truth

It tells me I’m disgusting

That I’m a failure

I don’t deserve to be here

I should die

Everyone would be better off

But I don’t want to

Not really

Do I?

The constant narrative of negativity

Relentless

Wearing me down

Breaking my spirit

Slowly

Surely

I try to rally, use coping mechanisms

But it uses them against me

Smoking is disgusting

Alcohol makes you needy

Chocolate will make you fatter

Twang of the elastic band

Not as satisfying as a blade

The release of pressure not quite the same

Who will be the victor?

Between my mind and me

Only time will tell

I feel that perhaps time is running out…

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The Road I Travel – Laura Gregory

It’s a beautiful day!

I’m glad I’m alive!

I wish I could say this everyday

But I can’t

Sometimes I long for the end to come

Because I can’t see the beauty

In the world

In myself

It’s a long road to travel

To being OK

Not even happy, just toeing the line

It’s lonely and cold

I try to keep walking, slow and steady

Sometimes I’m crawling

Sometimes I’ve stopped

Sometimes I’ve gone backwards

These days are the worst

One day I hope

That the path will change

And I’ll find joy in the simplicity of life again

But for now I keep plodding

One step, two step

I can’t stop, I won’t

I will regain what I’ve lost

When I find what it is I am looking for…

If only I knew what that was…

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Fight for Life – Laura Gregory

Migrants are coming!

Don’t let them in!

They’re all bad news, it’s the colour of their skin

They’ll steal all our jobs

Put my nan on the streets

I don’t care if they’ve got no shoes on their feet

The government’s right!

It’s a crisis they say

If we let them in, then we’ll all have to pay

So close all the borders

Patrol England’s seas

You can’t come in, we’re a nation on our knees

All lives matter!

They rant and they rave

As they condemn those arriving alone and afraid

I’m not racist but

Is the common retort

Followed by nonsense from a Facebook report

Those migrants are people

These people are strong

Battling through hell to be told they don’t belong

You’re not a good parent

For risking your life

You shouldn’t be travelling when pandemic is rife

Of course, if you’re rich

You can flout all the rules

As long as you swear you didn’t stop to refuel

My heart aches for you

I wish we could be

The nation you hoped would help set you free

I hope you find peace

A new place to call home

As you leave yours behind thanks to OUR warzone

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Eight Simple Words – Laura Gregory

People assure you that time heals all wounds, but that’s not true at all.

Mental wounds if left alone can fester and infect until all aspects of you,

The person you were, is nothing more than a brittle shell.

People are supposed to change, to grow, as they gain knowledge and experience

From this thing called life.

But not you.

The trauma, the pain, the fear from the past has impeded, stalled, halted your growth.

Beating you down time and again, becoming the norm.

Why would anyone care if you weren’t here anymore, no one would miss you,

Your contribution so minute to the daily rat race.

Mourning for the person you used to be,

Just can’t see a way to get past it to pastures new.

Doubtful, Mistrusting, disgusted with yourself.

Hurtful, spiteful, hatred.

Twisted, broken, burnt out from trying.

You didn’t ask to be this way.

What have you got to be sad about?

Look at your life, your job, your friends, your family.

No one understands

These are just more pressures, more expectations, more guilt for the way you feel.

You look fine on the outside,

May even laugh, joke, be the soul of the party.

A lot of time spent perfecting the mask.

Excelling at work, being the star of the show an absolute must.

There can be no disappointment from anyone

But yourself.

Inside you are breaking with the weight of pleasing, of shining bright.

Everyone comes for advice because you’re just “so put together” and “on top of it all”

But the pedestal is precarious, it always falls.

It just happens in private when it all gets too much

A flicker as the mask slips, too quickly to reveal the truth.

So next time someone confides that they’re depressed, suicidal or just plain unhappy,

Don’t tell “get over it”

Don’t tell them “it takes time”

Don’t tell them they’re attention seeking.

They wouldn’t really do it,

No how, who, what, where, why.

Woulda, shoulda, coulda,

That’s just life.

The worst is the statement “we all feel down sometimes”

Your problems are insignificant, unjustified. Adding to the guilt, the pain, the suffering.

Words are important,

They hurt and they heal.

Just 8 simple words can go a long way,

“How can I help you feel better today?”

Posted in mental health professionals, poetry, poetry of the disenfranchised, solution Focused Practice, That awful language of "mental health professionals", trauma | Tagged , | Leave a comment

BME and the Working class: Steve Flatt and Javed Rehman (Bridging communities).

“As professionals from this depersonalized, specialist, unsituated position we can come to know everything in general and very little in particular. The trouble with that is that citizen space is filled with people who know everything in particular and are not all that interested in our generalizations. And so often institutions and communities, professionals and citizens are ships passing in the night.” (Russell 2020)

Russell really manages to nail it in this quote from his latest book. There is a huge gap between what actually happens on the ground in everyday communities and the way the institutions approach those difficulties experienced by significant proportions of the population.

Over the last 20 years there has been a shift from community towards commodification of services. Services are delivered in a particular format, whether they be health, utilities, education or even food delivery. The disconnect is deliberate and is focused upon economic progress rather than social progress. This is incredibly clear in health. For example, IAPT has been described as the, “industrialised access to psychological therapies”. Happiness has become an industry that is sold to the people on the street, mostly through books and therapy.

The groups that have been most disenfranchised by this move towards commodification, and which has become clear over the last few months of the pandemic, are those BME groups and the working class. Those people who earn more are able to take advantage of this commodification – they can purchase their way out of misery. For the vast majority of people in low-paid vocational occupations the reality is the grinding hamster wheel of employment to enable them to feed their families, themselves and just keeping a roof over their head.

People have become dependent on services for their existence, even for their health and particularly for their mental health. We know that well-being is rooted in social activity and strong communities. It is an irony that mental health services in particular have largely disabled our ability to take care of our own well-being through social activity as the expert becomes the person to solve the problem and we hand ourselves over to the experts as though they have some panacea for happiness.

Ignoring, for a moment, the vast differences between the different cultures in the United Kingdom today the overarching approach of government in the last 25 years has been to deliberately destroy community cohesion for the purposes of selling services. Furthermore, the statutory services have been systematically cut during that time in the name of austerity.

Making a difference to the lives of so many people will require a gargantuan effort to begin to find a way to enable communities to take back control of their destinies in a meaningful way and develop locus’ of control that are in the hands of people whose faces are known and trusted in each community. The digital world may have a part to play in this, but good old face to face low tech communications will be the real driver.

This requires a monumental shift in approach from top-down intervention to bottom-up action. Finding a way to motivate people to begin to communicate amongst themselves once again across the country will begin by noticing where this is already happening creating local events for local people and spreading what works. This cannot be done by professionals or “experts” who do not live in those communities and do not understand their needs in the same way that local community leaders do. Nor can it be one size fits all.

There has been so much rhetoric about the NHS using the rainbow as a metaphor. While the intention is great the reality is that more BME and working-class people have died in this pandemic than any other group.

If we are to take this seriously, we need to do two things it seems to me:

  1. find those communities that are working well and learn from them
  2. use that knowledge to challenge the rather arrogant “we know best” approach that has been applied for the last 25 or 30 years by so many policymakers and professionals.

This means a fundamental change in thought processes from an assumption of the inability of the working class and BME groups to be able to take care of themselves and know what is right for them to position of trusting them and allowing them to do the best things for their communities in terms of governance and service delivery.

Ref:

Russell, Cormac. (2020) Rekindling Democracy: A Professional’s Guide to Working in Citizen Space (Kindle Locations 89-92). Cascade Books. Kindle Edition.

Posted in corona virus, economics, mental health professionals, trauma, Work | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Digitisation, Psychology, Psychotherapy and the future

    A few days ago I came across a paper called “The Digital Future of Mental Health Care and Its Workforce” by Foley and Woollard. I had seen the paper previously as it was first published in February 2019. However, what caught my eye was that it was on Twitter and lambasted by a number of psychologists and psychotherapists.

Their responses were entirely in the negative and the very idea that digital interventions could possibly ever be useful in psychological/psychiatric activities was clearly an anathema to those commenting.

The very idea that psychotherapy could ever take place in a digital environment seemed to be a heresy to them and immediately phrases like “the therapeutic relationship” and “reading the body language of the client” were trotted out as fundamental reasons why digital interventions must fail.

As someone who has been working digitally for the last seven or eight years with clients who are in different time zones and war zones I find these claims unhelpful in as much as they do not follow the science (such as it is) nor do they follow the logic of development, especially in these strange times.

Telemedicine in its many different forms is growing very quickly and has developed some remarkable tools and made some incredible achievements in the last few years thanks to the flexibility of digital technology and the hardware that goes with it. I have little doubt that if I did a search, I would find surgeons who were railing against the idea of remote surgery when it was first introduced, yet now this is becoming a thing with an expertise and training all of its own.

This doesn’t mean to say that I have a complete unalloyed allegiance to digital technology in the talking therapies and other psychological interventions. Far from it, we are only at the beginning of this whole process but like most other technological creations there is continuous improvement, discovery and development.

There remain a vast range of issues in the use of digital technologies that are nowhere near resolution. For example, digital technology is currently only largely available to those who have an income sufficient to enable them to purchase some form of communications device that goes beyond the simple telephone. Indeed, a good many people who are in real need of support, the homeless, the stateless, the elderly, frequently do not have the means to be able to connect to more sophisticated forms of digital intervention. Nor do they necessarily have the education or ability to use it. Thus, it is those who are already in a more secure position, for example better educated with an income, that are able to access digital interventions. And, by definition, are in a better place to be able to benefit from them and probably in less need of them.

As Sinclair (2019) points out in his book “Lifespan” we are quite prepared to have hundreds of sensors around our modern cars to make them safer and more reliable. He also observes that we have taken significant steps into using biosensors to monitor our sleep, insulin balance, blood pressure, heart rate, etc. Yet the response to the idea of the use of technology in improving mental health is outrage! I wonder how many mental health professionals wear fitness trackers or apple watches that monitor everything (it seems) apart from their thoughts (more on this later). He goes on to say, “That’s why the current solutions, which are focused on curing individual diseases, are both very expensive and very ineffective when it comes to making big advances in prolonging our health spans”. This focus upon individual disease is great for the providers, much less good for the recipient.

Olshansky (2017) makes another observation about the way medicine goes about its business, “As soon as the disease appears, attack that disease as if nothing else is present; beat the disease down, and once you succeed, push the patient out the door until he or she faces the next challenge; then beat that one down. Repeat until failure.” This strikes me as being so reminiscent of the way that diagnosis is so essential for successful treatment of psychological distress. Much has been said about the utility or otherwise of mental health diagnoses, I don’t propose to spend any more time or waste futile words on that particular dispute.

However, let us not ignore Armitage’s subsequent investigations into individual medicine at the genomic and epigenomic levels to provide the possibility of personal medical interventions based on individual physiology. Again, I fail to understand why exploration and exploitation of technology cannot be accepted and explored for the benefit of our psychology as well as our physiology.

If we are to see digital interventions increase then we must consider equity of access, which was one of the key indicators of the English mental health services when the new service, Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT), was launched in 2008. I wonder whether if equity of access has even been achieved in more traditional services at this point in time; somehow, I doubt it.

With regard to subjective statements related to “the therapeutic relationship” or the inability to read body language on a screen , they strike me as Luddite statements in much the same way as people demanded a red flag to be waved in front of a motor car at the end of the 19th century; The same could be said about the resistance to the opening up of radio frequencies to enable the communication devices that we have today. There are so many examples of this kind of Luddite behaviour that are more an attempt to secure the expert role and the income of the professional that made the hysterical response that I saw to the paper laughable.

However, the paper itself is also inconsistent and in some respects uninformed. I made the observation about equity of access with regard to digital technologies above. Nowhere is this more important than in the delivery of public services such as the NHS. Digital technologies are not free. To access them a person needs a device upon which to access it and then a means of connection to enable access, such as a phone line or internet connection.

As a side issue, the authors of the paper are also an interesting bunch. All have a vested interest in the progress of digital interventions. There was not one member of the public referenced as a contributor. Though I am sure the main signatories would say that they are all members of the public – digital privilege!

At this time there are significant issues around sections of the population being able to access basic rights such as education effectively as a result of the pandemic due to lack of equipment, connection or privacy. These issues are even more pertinent to matters of health and possibly especially psychological health.

If digital interventions are to become common place and even desirable, then the means of access has to be equitable. While one could argue that there is inconsistent equity of access to the NHS, it is within the capability of an individual to attend at an accident and emergency department, or walk in centre for any medical of psychological/psychiatric consultation without the need for any form of technology.

If online consultations become part of the standard pantheon of interventions for psychological distress, then there is no longer equity of access for significant proportions of the population. Also, a simple trawl of the University of Liverpool library produced over 1000 papers related to digital interventions using CBT suggesting that these are fast developing forms of psychological interventions.

A small number of papers have considered equity of access in relation to the current service through a number of different papers, e.g. Brown, J. et al, (2018), Green et al, 2013, but far fewer than those extolling the efficacy accessibility of online therapy.

It is this last comment that brings me to the real point of this short essay. The rush to develop online therapies is all part of a marketing exercise that has gone on for the last 100 years where therapists relentlessly extol the virtues of their particular intervention in a way that suggests they have the holy grail or, in today’s language, a unique selling point (USP).

Commodification of health services has been growing steadily over the last fifty years. This development is consistent with the political shift that has taken place toward the centralised delivery of many services that at one time would been provided free of charge in small communities by the citizens of that community among themselves. Those communities would have included “experts” whose role would have been seen as a guide or elder.  

This commodification has created a situation where common emotional distress has now to be managed by people who are specially trained, and the sufferer has little or no agency.

“Marie de Hennezel 2012 observes that the commodification of care has become big business and carries with it a double charge. First, there is the overt financial charge for the program or intervention consumed, and second, the hidden charge paid in the currency of personal agency and social capital” (Russell, 2020). In the current climate where non statutory organisations bid for NHS contracts there is always a fee to be paid and a profit to be made. What is meant by the “hidden charge” is that the commodification of healthcare disables, not only the individual, but the community in which they reside by making the assumption that communities need outside intervention from experts to resolve their social, legal, economic and health difficulties. Commodification infers that communities have no capacity of their own to find solution or resolution.

Moving on, the assumption that psychological wellbeing and technology are mutually exclusive seems bizarre to me especially when many psychologists are currently taking advantage of digital tech to sell their courses and training online during the pandemic (me included). Do they not need to read the body language of their trainees? Inconsistency rules.

I mentioned “reading thoughts” a few moments ago. Elon Musk is now working on something called “Neuralink” and is planning to be able to create human/machine links to enable more accurate diagnosis of brain disorders, amongst other things. Why not? Is mental health exempt from progress and technology. I think I the development of technology has to be carefully monitored and kept out of the hands of mad Frankesteinian zappers and druggers but there is an inevitability about the progression of mind/machine links. Research and experimentation is not going to stop because psychologists and psychotherapists don’t like it or don’t approve.  

We know that the major determinants of societal and environmental security are based around the guarantee of the building blocks of life, reliable food sources, heat, light and safety (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/health-profile-for-england/chapter-6-social-determinants-of-health). However, meaning and purpose are also fundamental to wellbeing, which may mean work but is much more likely to encompass creative and social activities as well. Digital technologies are far from ideal at the current time for providing these requirements in effective ways. Having said that, people, communities and organisations have reorganised in remarkable ways in the last few weeks to be able to communicate effectively both socially and professionally within their existing relationships and by creating new ones through the wonders of video conferencing and other digital platforms. No one can deny the adventurous spirit or inventiveness of human beings when provided with technology that is flexible and adaptable. After all, look what happened when the wheel, bricks, cement and electricity, were invented. I wonder if the hod carriers, cave dwellers and candle makers resisted these innovations as well?

If we are to be successful at managing distress in the world that is currently upon us, and the world that is to come, we are going to have to be able to zoom out and look at the global picture of what good mental health will look like and what the environment will be like that will sustain it; while at the same time peering down the microscope using every piece of technology the engineers can build for us to enable personalised and effective interventions, whether they be through deliberately targeted medically based psychological treatment, behavioural interventions, political (including propaganda & nudge), social interventions or just plain good old conversation.

Those who resist the ever-changing landscape of human psychology and suggest that technology should be resisted are the ones who will be swept away into the backwaters of psychological interventions as curiosities to be amused by and wondered at.

However, the ultimate arbiters in the current climate for the success or otherwise of psychological interventions are twofold:

  1. Those policy makers who determine what kind of a society we live in and the tools they use to mould it. Commodification being one that will be based upon a profit motive that will ultimately benefit the few; rather than a desired outcome that will benefit the many instead of the few by creating a more benign environment that is sustainable and secure
  2. The person on the receiving end. If people reject the commodified offering as ineffective and unhelpful then having a helpful conversation is much more likely to survive as a useful intervention for people who are distressed.

At the end of the day the choice lies with all of us. It largely depends on what we wish for, who holds the power to enable it and how badly we want it. Change is never easy and always resisted. We are going through probably the greatest period of change in human history and it is happening faster than anything that has happened previously, because now we have the technology to mitigate the worst effects – but we must use it wisely! That is the hard part.

References.

Brown, J. (2018), Increasing access to psychological treatments for adults by improving uptake and equity: rationale and lessons from the UK, International Journal of Mental Health Systems. Nov 9, 2018, Vol. 12 Issue 1.

Green, Stuart A.; Poots, Alan J.; Marcano-Belisario, Jose; Samarasundera, Edgar; Green, John; Honeybourne, Emmi; Barnes, Ruth (2013) Mapping mental health service access: achieving equity through quality improvement. Journal of Public Health (J PUBLIC HEALTH), Jun; 35(2): 286-292. (7p)

Olansky, J. (2017) The future of Health, Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 66, no1, p195-97

Russell, C. (2020) Rekindling Democracy A Professional’s Guide to Working in Citizen Space, Kindle edition. Location 803.

Sinclair, D. (2019) Lifespan, Harper Collins, london.

Posted in corona virus, future history, mental health professionals, That awful language of "mental health professionals", Work | Tagged , | Leave a comment

“It’s the economy, stupid”

I was listening to Radio 4 this morning and Nick Robinson interviewing various luminaries about the current situation and while I normally tend to gloss over these discussions I heard two phrases that prompted me to react.

The first one is “saving the economy”. it was very apparent that the crucial aspect, for at least two of the people that were interviewed, was that the economy is the most important thing to be protected and saved. Both commentators were highly successful white businessmen whose own perspectives, presumably throughout their lives, have been related to making money and growing their businesses. I am at loss to understand how the “economy” can be more important than people. Both went on to say that we need to save the economy in order to save jobs and to create security for people. This is clearly a statement that clearly illustrates their priorities.

The economy is nothing more than an abstract concept that has become so ingrained in the psyche of the human population globally that nobody seems to be to imagine a world in which the economy takes second place to the lives of people. It is also clear that governments, big business and anyone else who seeks to have wealth, power and influence uses “the economy” as the yardstick by which to measure human achievement.

Virtually all of the greatest discoveries down the ages were immediately exploited in order to monetise them for the benefit of a relatively small number of people, ironically at the cost of the many for whom they were supposed to benefit. That’s not to say that medical breakthroughs, technological breakthroughs, even infrastructure breakthroughs haven’t benefited populations, but the levels of exploitation compared to the benefits are clearly in favour of exploitation. The economy has always measured the cost of everything and not the value that it could have had in a more benign and secure society.

Surely the most important thing to create if we are an ethical, moral and forward looking society is safety and security and a sense of future for ourselves (I am still being rather human centric rather than planet centric), our communities and the planet as a whole?

 The idea of trying to imagine a world in which discoveries, developments in technology are used for the benefit of the many rather than the few seems to be anathema to the very rich and influential in our global society.

One rarely sees people who create innovation in social care, communities and in individual lives becoming globally successful entrepreneurs. While those who exploit technology, social media, online shopping, medicine, agriculture and food and other aspects of human activity that are easily monetised are feted for their success and are measured by the amount of money that they now possess.

Saving the economy is not going to save the planet. Far from it, saving the economy is likely to go on ruining the planet and unless we begin to think about what the future will look like and begin to think of much longer term solutions then we are unlikely to have an economy that is worth saving. The seeds are already being sown by governments across the world, particularly right-wing governments as they attempt to save their own skins rather than those of the people that they are supposed to serve.

There was one person who talked about developing a green economy. This was a step in the right direction but the focus of attention remained the same it was about a sustainable economy rather than beginning to think about the much deeper questions around, “if we had a sustainable world in which people can be creative, productive, sociable and community orientated what would we be doing? What would it look like?” It may be that a green economy is the answer but until we can begin to create security and safety for all the species on the planet in a long-term sustainable way talking about the current economy and the problems that it has is almost an irrelevancy.

The other statement that made my ears prick up was, “None of us know what the future will look like.” I find this statement quite bizarre as we as human beings have more insight and control over our future that any species on the planet has ever had previously. We are already voting for a future that will end in destruction and oblivion due to wastage through trying to save an economy that is ultimately destructive, which I have made observations about elsewhere.

We can know what our future looks like, we can decide what kind of the future we wish to move towards. We have the insight, the ability and the technology to radically transform our economy into something that can work for far more people, more effectively and more sustainably. But currently our leaders worldwide choose to be selfish and protect their own interests, their own dribblings of power and influence at the cost of the rest of us and that of the planet.

The approach to the current several crises is confusion and undirected. The British government is a particularly good example of this as it is trying to solve the problems of the pandemic while at the same time maintain their own individual political power and assert their individual authority and power rather than thinking about what a more equitable future will look like.

As a result, they are sowing confusion, fomenting resentment, and allowing far more of the population to die than should ever have happened.

It is interesting to observe how the shift of the dialogue has now shifted from, “following the science” to “these were always political decisions” and “we have to balance the science against the needs of the economy”. This shift in emphasis achieves two things:

  1. it exonerates the politicians from the massive errors that they made at the beginning of the crisis and enables them to be able to rewrite that aspect of the history of this pandemic in a way that will show them to be “experts and heroes” rather than the incompetent, indecisive ditherers that was the reality in the early stages of the management of this disaster. The politicians can portray themselves as taking those difficult and life changing decisions for the benefit of the society and the people that they are supposed to protect. Stalin would be proud of them.
  2. This shift of emphasis also enables governments, corporations and large businesses to focus upon, “getting the economy going again” at the expense of their workers and the planet. There is great discussion about offsetting the risk of a second wave of the virus sweeping through the population against the needs of the economy. What happened the lives and needs of people? Again, these discussions make the powerful and the influential look decisive and business like when in fact they are destructive, short-term and likely to cause the deaths of still more people.

The reality is that the majority of the current systems of government around the globe are destroying lives, resources and hope. It is time that we started thinking clearly about what we want for ourselves, for our children and our children’s children. If you ask anyone of the businessmen, for they are mostly white businessmen, what they want their children they would say that they want a sustainable and safe planet, but because of their own short-term needs they’re expecting somebody else to provide that future while they perpetuate the broken system that was instigated by their forefathers for their own short term gain.

We are still living in a hunter gatherer economy, unfortunately it is now an economy that benefits the few at the expense of the many instead of the original hunter gatherer economies that recognised the need to work together to survive and were much more democratic than the societies that we live in today. We have the capacity to change it, we have the technology to change it; the question we must ask ourselves, do we have the foresight and the will to change it?

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A piece I wrote in April and sent to a friend!

Like the BAME communities the “working class”, which includes many of the BAME community, are going to be one of the hardest hit sectors of the population during this pandemic. There are lots of reasons for this, but first I want to illustrate the different ways in which different classes are treated by the contrasting fates of Prince Charles, tested and cared for while presenting only mild symptoms of the disease, and Kayla Williams, a 36-year-old mother of three from Peckham, south London.

Williams, the wife of Fabian, a refuse worker, died in her flat of suspected COVID-19 a day after calling 999 and being told to look after herself at home. She died the next day, at home and without any support other than her husband. She had three children. Over a hundred care workers, doctors, nurses, care assistants, have already died doing their jobs. This pandemic is not being solved and managed by politicians it is by the hard work of people on the ground who care about their communities and the people in those communities and put their lives at risk to help others.

The reality is that the working class in general is going to be the hardest hit by this pandemic. They have already endured 10 years of austerity, cutbacks in just about every form of social and health support have changed the lives of this group of people radically.

But that is not the end of it because now companies and corporations are downsizing, protecting their existence by letting go of staff as a result of the pandemic. The worst hit are those people who work on production lines, who have zero hours contracts, who work in the gig economy, who largely live hand to mouth. I have had a number of reports of people who are now unable to pay their rent and the landlords are uncompromising, making statements like “use your lunch money or your holiday money to pay the rent”. The people who cannot pay the rent don’t have any lunch money or holiday money!

So far the government’s response has been to attempt to prop up an economy that benefits the rich at the expense of the working class. Unless there is radical change, the poorest amongst us are going to suffer yet again while the rich and the well off will be barely affected by the economic consequences of this pandemic.

If we really want to help make a difference as professionals, then we need to be challenging the determination of the government to return us to “business as usual” at the end of this crisis. The world has changed. As I observed a few days ago in one of my other published pieces, “Never has a human economic experiment been shown to fail so quickly and so completely and by the intervention of such a small and apparently insignificant organism. The failure of individuals, communities and nations to cooperate will produce unrest and disorder that will make this pandemic look like a tea party.”

We need to begin to think about how we are going to manage a population of 7 ½ billion people in a more compassionate and thoughtful way. That demands radical thinking, not a return to the way things were. If our politicians continue the way they are going they will be swept away by the chaos that their failure to act now will have caused. That chaos will be caused by those working class people, who are the most insecure, trying to find a way to survive in a world where money has become more important than people.

Posted in future history, politics, Work | Leave a comment

People, Power and Profit (or lack of it)

I return once again to my thoughts on what the future could look like. But first we have to consider the past before we can consider what a new normal would look like.

For the past 200 years the global economy has been like a constant loss system. A constant loss system is one where energy or material is lost regardless of how efficient one tries to make it. The internal combustion engine in a motor vehicle is a good example of a constant loss system as it is only about 37% efficient; 63% of all the energy in the fuel burned is lost through the inefficiency of the moving parts in the engine itself; losses in the transmission system; losses through friction in the braking system; wind resistance and a myriad of other smaller inefficiencies. Then there are the losses in construction, repair and dismantling and recycling of automobiles. In this way arguably our global economy is subject to the second law of thermodynamics as much as everything else. It is extremely inefficient and much of what is produced is wasted and finishes up in landfill sites, the oceans or the atmosphere, lost to the economy but polluting the planet

Yet those proponents of the current form of the global economy maintain that growth is the key issue. But what is clear is that the greater the growth the higher the losses, the more inefficient system becomes. Therefore, the system has to generate more and more just to standstill.

In the last 50 or so years leading up to the fourth Industrial Revolution automation has become increasingly a part of the global economy. Whether it is automated production lines for food picking, processing, packing and transporting or the automation of the banking process with computers doing most of the heavy lifting. Wherever we look, whichever industry we look at, automation is fast becoming the norm and more and more people are losing their jobs and are no longer needed. There are many writers who have written about the subjects in the past and I doubt very much that I shall say anything new but what I think is worthwhile observing is the human take on the situation.

These innovations have come about to make a very small number of people very rich and a large number of people to remain at a standstill or become poorer. The reason for this, regardless of what governments tell you about their employment figures, is that fewer people are in full-time employment, more people are on temporary contracts in the “gig economy” and the world of work for the vast majority of people has become much more insecure.

Which brings me to the crucial loss that I wish to make an observation about. Those people who have become obscenely rich as a product of automation rely upon large sections of the population to buy products and services in order for them to gather the wealth that they now have. In their race to automation they seem to forget the circular nature of economies and the constant losses that are inevitable in the system.

The constant loss that I am particularly interested in as a result of Covid 19, the global pandemic, is that of work. It has been the panacea of governments the world over, and explicitly in the United Kingdom, for many of the ills of the population including mental well-being.

After this lockdown is over, we are going to see a huge jump in unemployment. As a result, there will be huge numbers of people seeking work in order to maintain themselves and their families in the basic necessities. They will be prepared to take jobs at lower rates, shorter hours and worse conditions in order to survive. There is little doubt that many business owners will attempt to take advantage of this, as I have observed in the past, and this is the greatest loss to the system. This insecurity will impact hugely upon the well being and psychological wealth of the country in a profoundly negative way.

It is a great loss to the system because those people who are now out of work are the people who used to buy the products that the corporations, production lines and service industries all produced. Probably the clearest example of the present time is the oil industry and for the first time in the history of the Industrial Revolution the producers of oil are paying people to take it away because we’re no longer burning anywhere near enough of it in our daily activities to sustain the industry. We are no longer travelling from our jobs, for leisure or social activity. while I see this reduction in fossil fuel use as a good thing, it is a great example of , as I observed in an earlier piece, it only requiring a very small particle of life (or other small change) to destroy the world’s very fragile global economy. This global economy is unlikely to ever recover in a way that is comparable to the economy before the advent of Covid-19.

It does not take a genius to see that unless people are able to buy products, products will become unsaleable. Those businesses that see this as an opportunity to make themselves leaner and meaner with greater profits will be cutting in their own throats in the medium term, as those redundancies and sackings will mean another group of people who will no longer be able to afford to buy the product they manufacture or the service that corporations or industries sell, and of course those same people who have lost their jobs will stop buying lots of other different products too.

The drive for both growth and efficiency is a paradox. Companies seek to be as lean as they can in terms of efficiency of product manufacture or service delivery by cutting seconds off the time in a production line or monitoring call centre employee times and efficiencies. As a result, they may well be able to claim that they are greener by reducing their energy use or the use of raw materials. However, they are also deliberately creating built-in obsolescence so that their product or service is bought time and again.

The paradox is that when they start cutting employee numbers and using automated systems that human operators have to fit in with (to increase efficiency) they are also reducing their customer base who will no longer have an income with which to purchase a product or service. So many organisations see their employees as a cost rather than as added value in the workplace, let alone as an essential part of the process in the wider economy. The assumption seems to be “let someone else deal with the bigger issues, i.e. governments, my issue is profit.”

There is also a huge discussion to be had here about how some individuals see themselves as ‘special’ for whom the rules of society don’t apply and they have a special entitlement and rights as a result of their elite status.

Without a customer base any industry will die very quickly, as we have seen with the oil industry in the last two months of the global pandemic.

However, as we begin to come out of lockdown, people will be keen to return to work to try and create some sense of security and, as I observed above, organisations will attempt to exploit that. Many economists are already predicting a huge downturn in economic activity. The pandemic has highlighted many new ways of working and activity, especially with many now working from home. Our ability to communicate through technology has advanced massively in a very short time. There are minuses and pluses in that change but that is a discussion for another time.

I note that over the last few days Germany has, in effect, legislated for a universal basic income. It may not have meant to, but it was an extremely smart thing to do. Not only will it secure the loyalty of the population, it will help individuals to feel more secure and safe and spend a little time considering their options. That will buy time the German government to consider longer term plans, begin talks on creating stronger alliances both in Europe and across the world.

Those alliances will not be based upon power but upon a mutual understanding that countries can no longer stand alone but need to learn to cooperate effectively to maintain supply lines of basics and essential goods and services.  The non-essential services, goods and luxuries will be a long way down the list of priorities. But perhaps the smart governments will recognise that those goods and activities that support the well-being of the population will be those that should be prioritised.

As a side issue, I notice that there are many companies within the financial sector whose advertising has increased massively in a desperate attempt to encourage people to buy financial products. Probably the last thing on most people’s minds at the moment.

The key now is to reduce as far as possible those inevitable losses in the circle of production and consumption, not only to maintain some kind of an economy, but to maintain some kind of a sustainable world. Minimising those losses means that for example, not only do we have to stop dumping food in land waste sites, but we also have to recognise that dumping people and seeing them as costs is a massive drain upon the global economy and the planet’s resources. These people are not only consumers but have abilities and talents in their own right that are going to be sacrificed on the altar of profit and efficiency in the coming months and years.

For as the corporations, production lines and service industries attempt to increase consumption and rebuild growth once more, fewer and fewer people will be in a position to buy the products or services that are offered.

I guess the single most important point I am trying to make is that the global economy relies upon people being able to afford to buy and then use the product that is being produced or provided. I rather suspect that significant portions of the population have now begun to realise that many of the things that they saw as essential previously are going to be nowhere near as important or vital post pandemic.

When we began valuing people even less, which we did 200 years ago at the beginning of the first Industrial Revolution, the end was not just likely it was inevitable. This pandemic has highlighted the inherent weaknesses in a profit driven economy dependent upon growth. Governments, particularly in the West, have seen the population as a cost and fail to recognise that first of all, governments exist to care and protect the population they have been elected to govern and secondly they need to value those people that are part of the economic cycle that those same governments are so successfully destroying through their desire for more and more economic growth.

The reality is that if governments, corporations, production systems and service industries wish to survive they now have to begin to consider what it is that they need to do in order to become sustainable themselves and that means providing sustainable production and services with the minimal possible losses and the greatest efficiencies. But that sustainable economy will be based upon people, not profit.

Posted in economics, future history, politics, Work | Leave a comment