Category Archives: The quiet revolution

The Employment Problem

A guest blog from Stephen Palmer.

Blog originally posted 15/4/17

In recent months much has been written by various media publications about the likelihood of jobs being “taken” by robots and other automated systems, including by AI (or AGI – Artificial General Intelligence – as it is often called now). There are various possible scenarios: hyper-rich individuals owning AGIs and thereby removing the need for employees, resulting in mass unemployment; a huge change in the types of jobs being done, as with the change from manufacturing to services in the case of Britain over the past few decades; or perhaps a strengthening of the exploitation effects inherent in the capitalist system. In my novel No Grave For A Fox I had the latter option prevalent, with the nexus embodied in various android-type bodies. In Beautiful Intelligence the effect was not so obvious, the main employment effect being a decentralising one.

But in the Factory Girl trilogy I also considered these options, despite the 1910-11 setting. The automata (or horas as they are sometimes known) which are one of the mysteries of the novels are owned by Sir Tantalus Blackmore, a classic Victorian entrepreneur who exploits everything and everybody to become as rich as possible – or so it seems at first glance. But, whatever his motives, Sir Tantalus does own outright the ability to utilise the automata made by his Factory. In this regard he is deemed one of the sources of the wave of mass unemployment affecting my alternate Britain, as shown in this early conversation between Kora and Dr Spellman:

They stepped out of the hansom cab, waiting on the pavement while the automaton lifted Dr Spellman’s luggage off the rack. “Will you pay it?” Kora asked. “No.” “Why not? You paid the one in London.” “Yes,” said Dr Spellman, “but he was human.” “That is not fair. How can the Factory make money if nobody pays the automata?” Dr Spellman chuckled. “A very good point! You’re not daft, are you? Well, you see, the local Council pays your father for the automata who do all the work.”

In other words Sir Tantalus has a monopoly, which even extends to public use, as exemplified by the Sheffield Town Council having to pay him.

Although there was unemployment in Edwardian times, I did have in mind future possibilities when I was preparing the scenario for the three novels. Sir Tantalus is a private individual. He has broken the link between people giving their labour in return for a salary. Labouring individuals can associate into unions, which gives them power, since, if the business is dependent on labour, they can go on strike. This is not the case with Sir Tantalus or with any private individual who might use an AGI. If, rather than changing the mode of employment, an AGI owner bypasses labour entirely via their AGI then that labour loses its power of strike; and this is perhaps the worst danger of future AGI use. Such an owner would have the ability to accumulate capital without any hindrance – and that has never happened before.

Sir Tantalus enjoys exactly this option. Although there is mystery behind the creation of the automata, he in essence – especially in the early days of his operation – can accumulate as much capital as he likes, since the automata, like AGIs, have no power of strike.

And Sir Tantalus does what any self-obsessed Victorian entrepreneur would do in the circumstances – he sucks up to nobility:

Roka … nodded. “Is [Sir Tantalus in Parliament], then?” “Not in Parliament, no. What he does is far more cunning. He influences from behind the scenes to get what he wants. Why, he’d like to be a lord, you know, but…” “But what?” Dr Spellman shrugged, standing up to continue walking. “He was born into a poor Yorkshire family. Real lords don’t want him anywhere near them.” “That’s not fair.” Dr Spellman chuckled. “It’s one of his weak points, his obsession with nobility. His envy eats him up, Roka.”

Regarding unemployment, there are two sides to the argument in the Factory Girl novels, one which sees the automata as beneficial (pro-hora) and one which sees them as usurping (anti-hora).

Rather surprisingly, Sir Tantalus stands in the latter category:

Sir Tantalus continued, “With the benefit of hindsight, I wonder whether the achievement of hora emancipation – of Abolition, as Parliament would have it – would in fact be a hollow victory. In Sheffield you perhaps do not see the cruel tide of unemployment that affects London, Bristol, Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester. My Factory gives work to more people than you can imagine, and I am glad for that. But as an older man, with little time remaining to him, I can see that there are too many horas in the world today. They do all the work we ask them to. But what of the little man? What of the ordinary man? It is for them that I worry.”

Later in the trilogy the reason for this becomes clear. But others are pro-hora:

“Regardless of the origin of the hora,” Lenin continued, “the hora is a worker, and as such acquires rights such as any worker should enjoy. Though we use the hora as an automatic worker to do tasks such as we do not wish to do, the hora is part of the great commonality of the working class – and it is being exploited by capitalist masters. In the essential regard about which I speak, the hora is akin to the man.

The above speech by Lenin should not perhaps be too surprising. (Lenin lived in Britain for a few years from 1902, so I thought it would be appropriate to have him play a small part in my novel.) But there is another aspect to these considerations which I wanted to use as a main part of the plot, and that is the way capitalism, unlike nature, posits no limit to growth. Though Lenin rightly saw automata as workers, he did not in my novels grasp the dangers of their mode of manufacture. He only saw the end result – employment in Sir Tantalus’ Factory for the men of south Yorkshire, and a force of hora workers who deserved rights. But the danger becomes clear in the third volume, The Girl With No Soul:

Agricultural fields lay littered with inutile horas, thousands of them, their steel exteriors glittering in the sunlight. In distant lanes he saw hundreds more walking apparently at random. The sheer quantity horrified him, and he realised that the Factory was still over-producing. What was Sir Tantalus doing inside?

The outer streets of the city were also strewn with horas, and with hora parts, as if a kind of grisly mechanical fury had ripped through the place. Through a gap in the blinds he observed lines of men at soup kitchens, elsewhere rubble and shattered glass; and everywhere a chaotic press of people with pale, starved faces. Police patrolled the streets in groups – never alone – and there were even a few army officers in uniform.

Over-production – a small, curious, and mostly ignored effect in the first novel – has by the time of the third novel become an overpowering concern. As Erasmus later says:

“Roka – you already know this to be true. You, a Marxist, can see the madness of capitalism, which uses resources as if they are unlimited. Capitalism posits no natural limit to economic growth, and therefore dooms the culture in which it exists – and its environment too. Now do you see?” She nodded. “Capitalism is cancer…“

This is the equivalent of the first option presented in the introduction to this post. A proliferation of automata, like a proliferation of AGIs with nobody to control their creation or use, swiftly gets out of hand. Humanity is blithely doing itself out of an existence. At a time of global population explosion that’s not wise…

The second option is a change in employment styles. In Edwardian times, with severe social stratification, there was little chance for such ‘portfolio careers’ as they’re known today. Most people, especially on the lower rungs of the ladder, had a trade for life. It is in fact the far-sighted men of the Malthus Brigade who change the options for the malformed horas which they collect and adapt:

AutoRoka continued, “Malthus wrote about a future where disease and famine checked the growth of population, suggesting there was a limit to such growth.” Roka said, “Do you believe then that people will all die of starvation in the future?” The man [Ernest] shook his head. “Not people. We’re talkin’ about automata. Thee not noticed ‘ow many of them there are these days?” Roka shook her head. “It’s why the police waste so much time gatherin’ up the loose ones. Soon we’ll be drownin’ beneath them.” Roka grimaced at the image. “You really believe that?” “Oh, aye. It’s inevitable. So we’re takin’ malformed automata, which otherwise would do nowt, to make a force.”

And Ernest sees further, albeit under the spell of mass unemployment:

“ … The whole bloody Empire is built on automata labour, thee sees. No automata – no Empire. No nothin’, in fact.” “I suppose so,” Roka agreed.

Employment not only brings a salary to an employee, it offers far more. Human beings live in entwined worlds of meaning, and employment is one of the main sources of purpose in life. In previous centuries it was obvious to some that making an individual perform the same task over and over again militated against humanity. We cannot do production-line work and remain sane.

If we create a future in which AGIs dispense medical diagnoses, direct trade deals and trade itself, drive cars, trains and planes, or perhaps run all our personal finances, we are creating a future with far less space for meaning. We’ll be making stressed, anxious zombies of ourselves – and there’ll be billions of those.

 

My review of The Factory Girl Trilogy over here – https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2018/05/13/the-factory-girl-trilogy-review/

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Good humans are not a scarcity

A rather toxic idea I’ve encountered recently is the notion that good humans are in short supply. Which leads to the idea that as good humans are in short supply, we should cling tightly to any half-way decent humans who cross our path. Even if we don’t really get on that well. Even if we’ve uncovered massive differences. Even if one of us has serious doubts that the other one even is a particularly good person.

If you accept the idea that good people are scarce, life is scarier. You may be more persuaded to stick with the people who you already have, regardless of how good they are for you.

It is a standard issue trick from bullies and abusers, to encourage the victim to think that they can’t do any better. No one else would put up with them, or understand them better, or care for them more than the bully does. Good people are in short supply – if I tell you this and I tell you that I am ‘good people’ and I encourage you to be afraid that without me, you will feel even more sad and alone… I am not your friend.

At the same time, we can on the whole afford to think better of the people around us. The haters, trolls and Nazis may be loud right now, and they may drown out quieter voices, but they are not as numerous as they want us to think. Most of the people around you are probably more decent than not, kinder than not. If we can’t believe in the goodness of each other, we become more vulnerable to the minority of people who peddle hate.

Good people are everywhere. Most of them don’t go round advertising themselves as ‘good people’. Many are quiet about the good they do, or under-estimate its worth. There are also a lot of people who would be good if they had any idea what to do, what to trust or believe in, how to navigate in these strange times… if we look after each other and put faith in each other’s goodness, we can collectively overcome this, and make more good happen between us.


When there aren’t two sides to a story

Suggesting that there are always two sides to a story may sound entirely reasonable, but I think it’s a notion that could stand some scrutiny. That the Flat Earth Society persists in stating that the world is flat, does not mean that they have an argument worth listening to. When the science is all on one side, and unsupported opinion dominates on the other, we are not looking at a two sided story, we’re looking at fact and fantasy. This is very much the case with climate change, where there is a consensus amongst the vast majority of scientists, and yet the other side of the story – a tiny minority – is given a platform to speak.

We live in an era that doesn’t discriminate between evidence based information, and opinion. It doesn’t help that the opinion side of any story will usually claim that there would be evidence to support their version if only the evidence side did their job properly. If the ‘facts’ are skewed by biased researchers, of course we shouldn’t trust them. The way that the tobacco industry successfully hid the dangers of smoking for so long is a case in point about how asserted ‘facts’ can turn out to be nothing more than marketing.

So, how do you tell if you’re seeing something reliable and evidence-based, or something that’s been paid for? Actual science tends to be wary of asserting facts. It offers theories that are open to change as new things are learned. Science tends to deal in probabilities, not certainties, so proper science can sound a bit cautious, even when its 97% sure about things. People working based on opinion tend to sound a lot more confident, which in turn can seem far more persuasive.

If you’re looking at something evidence led, there may be uncertainty over how best to interpret the data. You may get more than one possible interpretation. You may get questions raised about whatever hasn’t properly been studied. If someone asserts that they know what the data would look like if only someone did the proper research, there’s every reason to be wary.

When considering whether there could be two sides to a story, we have to consider the reliability of our sources. This is not an easy process, and the less education you have, the harder it can be to assess what might be reliable. You can end up mistrusting all authority and so called ‘experts’ if you’ve got no means of telling which ones are being as fair as they can be, and which ones are playing you for their own ends. That mistrust can then be played on by people who do not want you listening to good information, and people who want opinions to be as important as evidence. When those of us who have the privilege of better education and sharper thinking skills denigrate people who are more easily persuaded by less rational things, we feed into this. Denigrate a person and they have no reason to trust you.

Not all opinions have equal weight, either. The opinions of people who want more than their fair share and who want to hurt and harm others do not deserve to be accepted as valid. The opinions of people who are known to lie and manipulate for their own ends, do not deserve to be taken as seriously as the opinions of someone who has always acted well. People who have done the wrong thing, or who wish to exploit others, will say whatever they think it takes to get them what they want. It is in their interests to persuade you that there were two sides to this story all along. The apparently less tolerant person who won’t accept there could be two sides isn’t always the bad guy.

People who are working with evidence can and will show you their evidence. It takes more work on our part than listening to a sound bite. People who have no evidence will ask you to accept that they know best. They may offer that which is clearly too good to be true. They will assert that their evidence exists and that only prejudice keeps the data from being properly collected. They will be more likely to rubbish their opponent than tackle the details of the argument.

Sometimes there aren’t two sides to a story. Sometimes there is no debate to be had, and nothing worthy of being explored. Sometimes there is evidence on one side, and noise on the other. If you aren’t sure who to trust, ask who will benefit and in what ways, should you believe them.


Breaking your social contract

Following on from yesterday’s blog about social contracts, but not requiring you to have read it…

Civilization is, in practice, underpinned by co-operation. There will always be those who try to compete and exploit, and to a degree, that can be coped with. A grouping of people that goes too far into power hunger or exploitation is likely to experience conflict. The laws held by countries, and the rules held by groups of people exist to try and keep everyone co-operative enough for things to work.  Crimes are things that have the capacity to undermine your culture.

Any culture, community or civilization has the right to resist behaviours that will undermine its viability. This is not at all the same as having the right to make laws and rules that destroy the freedom of others. There’s only so much rigid control you can inflict on a group before it will shatter under the pressure of that.  Those who wish to restrict reasonable freedoms will often justify what they do as being a way of upholding and protecting culture, but that doesn’t make it so. Those who do not want their ‘freedom’ to break social contracts restricted, will call any effort to protect the basis of society an encroachment on their rights.

I think these are the things we need to bear in mind when talking about the right to free speech and the limits of tolerance. If we allow the kind of speech that undermines social bonds we move towards a more oppressive arrangement and if we keep moving that way, we get massive social unrest and violence. If we tolerate people who want to make society intolerable for some, then we’re moving our group towards a state of unviability.

We can afford to accommodate any amount of difference if that difference doesn’t prevent anyone else from quietly getting on with their own lives. Women wearing headscarves are not stopping anyone getting on with their own lives. Women forced to wear headscarves are being prevented from getting on with their own lives. Being LGBT doesn’t stop anyone else from quietly getting on with their own life. If being LGBT is illegal, or encounters violence, then people aren’t being allowed to quietly get on with their own lives.

Tolerance must be limited by whether being tolerant will undermine the feasibility of your people. Tolerance that allows people the maximum freedom it can to live in their own ways, is a good thing. Tolerance that allows people to restrict the freedoms of others is problematic and sows the seeds of its own destruction. The only freedoms we should not allow each other are the freedoms to harm each other. As the intention of hate speech is to bring harmful practices into a culture, hate speech should not be tolerated.

Intolerant societies have violence hardwired into them, and/or break down into violence. Peaceful societies are inclusive, and only restrict freedoms in so far as that’s necessary to prevent harm.


Social contracts

Social contracts underpin our lives, but we don’t talk about them much. To participate in civilization and to benefit from it, we have to agree to contribute what we can or at the very least, not go round ruining things for other people. We benefit from all manner of things that belong to, or are funded by everyone – as do private companies, who often use the idea of their private-ness to suggest they shouldn’t have to contribute as much. They use the road networks, the police, the fire services, the education of their employees and so forth.

At the moment, our social contract obliges us to pay for participation with health – when the work demanded of us makes us ill, when the cities we live in have such bad air pollution that it kills people. Participation comes at a high price. I think government and industries alike are failing to hold up their side of the contract, because profit is put before health – especially where air pollution is concerned.

Any practice that allows a few to profit from the natural resources of the world while damaging the environment for everyone else, breaks the unwritten contract. There is no mutual good or benefit here. Why are some people allowed to profit to an obscene degree while others are exploited? Why are some people allowed to accumulate vast wealth at the cost of making others ill? The greater the distance between the richest and the poorest in society, the more strain there is on that unwritten contract that in theory binds us all together.

Poor, vulnerable and under-privileged people who seem to have broken the social contract, are punished for it. Having the resources you need to survive taken from you, being a case in point. That we have food banks feeding people who would otherwise go hungry and even starve, is itself a manifestation of the social contract, upheld by people who believe that we all have a duty to contribute to society and to help those who have less than us. There are a great many individual people trying to hold our social contracts in place despite the way those in power are ripping to shreds that which was never put on paper.

Humans have always depended on co-operation to survive. We all depend on each other. We depend on the people around us to respect us and not assault us. We depend on each other for food, for amenities, for shared resources. And yet all too often we are persuaded to think of ourselves as isolated individuals who can act alone with no consequences. If we don’t see the threads binding us together, we can do massive damage to everything we depend on. If we don’t see the importance of working for the common good, what we get is exploitation, and benefit for the few at a high cost to the many.

When we see society in terms of winners and losers, we make ourselves poorer. Most of us lose. When we see society in terms of co-operation and mutual support, more people are able to win. What would happen if we aspired to make sure that everyone was winning at life? What would happen if we started to see piles of wealth as weird, and offering assistance where needed, as normal? Why not aspire to a world in which everyone has enough and lives peacefully, rather than heading towards a world where a few powerful individuals get to be kings and queens of their own infertile piles of plastic rubbish?


Little Luxuries

When we feel pressured, over-worked and under-resourced we can easily be persuaded that luxuries are things we have to buy. Expensive things. The urge to brighten a life that doesn’t feel bright at all can take us into debt or keep us running harder as workers than is good for us. If you can experience a feeling of luxuriousness without having to spend money, this is a great help. Here are some things I find give me feelings of luxury – no doubt others exist.

Rest. There’s nothing like being tired for making me feel fragile and marginal. Making time to rest can feel indulgent. Simply lying around can give a body a sense of peace and ease. This can be added to (for me at least) by adding other soft mammals to the equation. Lounging about with cat or husband, enjoying soft, sensual contact that requires nothing further, can feel deeply luxurious.

Water – be that a swimming pool, a bath, dabbling my feet in a stream, taking a quick shower or running a cool flannel over my skin on a hot day. Water can create rapid feelings of luxury for me.

Getting outside – sun on my face in winter, sitting under a tree in summer. Breezes against my skin, relishing the cool night air, listening to birds, enjoying the scent of flowers. Perhaps meandering a little, but not going far or at any great speed.

Friends – just spending time with people when nothing much is going on, or needs to happen. When we can just sit around and talk, or not talk, or share activities that don’t take too much effort. Taking time to be entirely focused on a friend always feels like a luxury to me.

I can get several of these into most days. Sometimes I’ll have been racing about like a crazy thing with lots to sort out, at which point the contrast of moving into luxury mode can be dramatic. Even just a few minutes of doing something like this helps me feel richer and happier. Pausing to do things that help my body feel good keeps the rest of my life in perspective. I know what I’m working for, and I don’t end up busy for the sake of busy.

We tend to think of luxury in terms of big things – like yachts and exotic holidays. In practice, small luxuries that are part of your everyday life are easily available and enriching, they just need a little space.


The distorting power of drama

Drama is, by its very nature, self announcing. It can skew your sense of what’s really going on in life, and it skews other people’s perceptions of you as well. A week or so ago someone commented to me (and not for the first time) how often I fall out with people. I find that a curious perception. I deal with a great many people with my various hats on – easily more than a hundred people in any given week. I deal with bloggers and book reviewers and authors and publishers and people running events and at events, and people who follow me on social media, and through the social media platforms I work on. Many of my online people I consider friends. On top of that I have a lively local scene and a great many people I regularly see in person.

The percentage of people in my life I’ve fallen out with is pretty small. A handful of real drama episodes (two involving the police) and, I confess, rather a lot of my just not bothering. I can’t be everything to everyone and I don’t always stay around when I’m not enjoying things. I’ll do what I can, and what I want to do, and increasingly I make no apology for it. Sometimes, this annoys people.

Drama always takes centre stage. It’s what stands out, what we see and notice if we aren’t careful. Drama itself is inevitable to some degree, but how much it gets to hog the limelight is a real consideration. It is easy to let the big things, and especially the big and difficult things, become the story of who we are. My real life, my normal, everyday life is quiet and there isn’t much drama in it.

In any given week I will have exchanges with a lot of people, in person and online. Most weeks, all of those exchanges are peaceful and productive. Some are exciting or challenging and that’s fine too, but most are not especially dramatic. I spend my days with my husband, and a lot of time with my son and we are a peaceful and functional household. My interactions with friends are – most of the time – warm, quiet, mutually supportive experiences. My real life has very little drama in it, and I like it that way. I find drama exhausting.

But, if the drama is big – which it usually is – and disorientating or destabilising in some way, it becomes the dominating story of what’s going on right now. If I’m not careful, it can become the big story of who I am and how I interact with people. It becomes the story other people tell me about myself and each other – and that bothers me. It’s what’s easiest to see from the outside sometimes. But also, stories are about drama by their nature. We don’t make stories about the thousand gentle, productive conversations that happened in the week. We don’t write songs about the sensible decision we came to in the pub – although perhaps we should. Humans tell stories about drama, and so we foreground our own drama and lose sight of the bigger story. The big story is often full of small things.

My life is mostly about the small things. The gentle details. The smooth, easy exchanges that make perfect sense and get stuff done. I realise that I am a part of a culture that foregrounds drama. I am influenced by it, and I contribute to it. I need to keep doing that – around environmental issues and speaking up against abuse, but I want to develop a better stream alongside it that is all about the small, everyday things, the good things, and the things my life is mostly made of. I don’t think it will change the perceptions of people who want to see me as a difficult, temperamental drama queen, but I don’t have to take up the roles I am cast in. I do not have to let the inevitable bouts of drama define me to myself.


Female violence against men

Whenever the subject of domestic violence comes up, there is always a man keen to get in there and make clear that domestic violence is also something women do to men. I find this difficult and problematic. First up, I know a number of men who have been victims of domestic violence. I know it exists. I suspect women generally know it exists, and if we didn’t – there are always men about ready to remind everyone.

All the evidence that is out there suggests that domestic abuse, and domestic violence have a massive gender imbalance in them. The victims are overwhelmingly female, and the perpetrators are overwhelmingly male. Yes, female violence exists, yes, domestic abuse can and does happen in gay and lesbian relationships too. But mostly, this is male on female violence, according to all the statistics I have ever seen.

But here’s the thing. Men who wish to speak up about male victims of domestic abuse often say that the problem is under reporting. Men don’t talk about it because they’re embarrassed. Maybe no one has ever researched this, I don’t know – if you do know of research, I’d like to hear it.

Under-reporting is not an exclusively male issue. Here’s why women don’t report domestic abuse reliably. They are afraid that if they speak up, they will be killed, or their children will be killed, or their family members or pets. Or that they, their children, pets etc will be violently or emotionally punished in response to them speaking out. Or that social services will take their children away. The threat of violence is a reoccurring feature in domestic abuse, even when violence is not yet present. Not a fear of social embarrassment – which, sure, is uncomfortable, but fear of potentially fatal consequences. Fear of what happens if you speak up, and the perpetrator does not go to prison, and knows where you live. Or lives with you. If their name is on the property in some way, you can’t legally change the locks. Where are you going to go to be safe? Many women don’t talk about what they’ve been through until after they have safely escaped. Trying to get out increases your risk of being killed.

When a man is killed in a domestic violence incident, it tends to make national news. Typically, two women die every week at the hands of a partner in the UK, figures from other countries seem to be about the same, or worse. It has to be especially gruesome or also involve children to make the news. It’s not really news after all, it’s commonplace. This is not about victims reporting or not reporting, this is about corpses. This is about how many bodies can be attributed to spousal violence.

So please, can we stop suggesting that hypothetical men being too embarrassed to report domestic violence is somehow comparable, and overlooked, and in need of more care and attention, than the routine murder of female abuse victims.


Resisting despair

Every day when I get online there is some new awfulness. An email or two in my inbox I have to delete without looking at because I know from the subject matter that I can’t take it. Some appalling and cruel political decision revealed on Twitter. Something in the news to weep over. There are new ones every day, and it is exhausting and demoralising, and what are we to do?

It would be easy to give up all hope, to decide that humans are awful and we cannot be saved from that. It would be easy to decide that trying to care for the planet is too hard, too painful. It would be easy to decide to ignore every new source of heartbreak and stop trying to do anything. To accept that all is futile. To give up. To let feelings of despair and cynicism in.

Of course, nothing is won by people who give up. No good change is brought about by people not caring. Perhaps the single most important fight any one of us faces right now is the fight not to succumb to despair.

I think that’s an important point to recognise right now. Your heart is a battleground, a microcosm in which all the big fights of the world are going on right now. If you give in, then all that is worst about humanity gets to move into your heart as well, and even if you don’t actively support it, in your silence and inaction, you’ll tacitly support it. If you can win this one in your own heart, if you can stay caring and compassionate, and stay hopeful, you can be part of the solution.

If we can keep our own hearts open, we can help the people around us to do the same. For as long as there are people prepared to keep caring and trying, there is hope. That’s all hope is – someone who hasn’t given up yet. We can hold each other up, and remind each other of what we’re fighting for rather than focusing always on what we’re up against. We can share good things – love, friendship, kindness laughter, gentleness. We can be the good in each other’s lives in so many small and every day ways. We can keep each other going. We can do this.


What to want

If you’re regularly exposed to adverts or anything offering lifestyle advice, you’ll be used to being told what to want. We are encouraged to want consumables, objects, the latest, newest thing because it’s faster and shiner than the things we already have. As though emotional needs can be answered by spending money. As though identity and self can be best explored and expressed through the brands we chose.

Who are you, and what do you want? *

What do you want in your life from day to day? What do you want to do with your time? What matters to you? What do you need in order to express yourself? What do you want from life? How do you want to live? What inspires you? What makes you happy? What do you find meaningful and rewarding?

Given time and quiet to explore these questions, my guess is that most people would not make a list of products by way of answers.

Some years ago when I started exploring this in earnest, a person I knew told me that I was just kidding myself. My growing investment in local landscape and walking was, he said, just making a virtue out of necessity. If I could afford better I’d let myself want better. If I had the money, I’d want the same kind of exotic foreign holidays he went on. I could afford to do that now. I find it isn’t what I want at all. My desire is not for fleeting thrills in distant lands. My desire is for deep connection with the landscape I live in.

For anyone who is all about the money, my life must look rather small and shabby. But it is increasingly a life driven by my passions and desires. I know what I want, and what I need, and increasingly, I know how to find those things. I know what uplifts and enriches me. I know what sort of thing I find meaningful and fulfilling. I’ve also got a good deal better at going after the things I want. Having taken some months to think about my options, this week I went after two things I had worked out that I wanted. One of them was an instant ‘yes’, and the other was always going to take more time. I am making the life I want, piece by piece.

Adverts teach us to be dissatisfied with the lives we have and to try and answer that need through spending money. It’s only by really exploring what we want that we can change this. Satisfaction and contentment have much more to do with how we live than what we own. Once our basic needs are met, happiness is not found in stuff. Where it is found, is part of the mystery of who we are, part of the adventure that is ours alone to undertake. Part of the possibility in our own lives that’s been hidden from us by a story that tells us to want things that can never satisfy us.

Do something radical. Ask yourself what you really want.

 

*yes, I have seen Babylon 5.