Is world government a bad idea?

On one hand, a lot of our problems are global. On the other hand, our governments are already comically inefficient at doing the work they need to (mostly because they see their purpose differently, I believe).

A democratic institution with a constituency of 7 billion would be something resembling a nightmare to organise. How do you write up that constitution? What unit of people is big enough to be represented by a person? Even if a million people constituted one ‘ward’, you’d be looking at a parliament of seven thousand members.

And if you didn’t do it on new grounds, then you’d have to leave national boundaries, and their centuries of exploitation grown inequalities, intact. You’d end up with something like the UN only bigger, that is still prey to the individual jingoisms and machinations of the countries on board. The EU suffers the same problems, it’s just an extra level for politicians to play their game on, scoring points through traditional tactics of bullying, preening and not getting things done.

It’s hard to not be cynical about government processes. We’re in this weird state where we need elections to keep the powermongers representative, but this just encourages a PRish approach to the job. Leadership becomes about presenting a certain face, while doing the things that help your investors. Business, basically. The whole idea of representing culture, politics and world as business. I visibly wince every time I hear the phrase ‘United Kingdom PLC’, for example.

But there are definitely global scale problems that aren’t being dealt with by national scale organisations. The banking crises come from a lack of national regulation because each country is invested in the gains of the banks on their soil. Multinationals are effectively unpoliced because of weird attributions of human rights to corporations and the fact that they know they can go to wherever the law is laxest. Wars happen. Resources are restricted. People are exploited.

I think at the very least you need more truly international organs. Something like the International Criminal Court for prosecuting genocide is an incredible organisation, but we need things on that scale for human rights, exploitation (people and ecology), economic manipulation and environmental destruction.

But then we’d have to agree the laws and boundaries, and even the ICC doesn’t seem to be aware of how to fulfil its current remit (Tony Blair and the war on Iraq come to mind).

I want something like that to work, but I worry that it would only be possible, and, to an extent, only be able to do what we’d want it to do, as a totalitarian dictatorship. At which point it would probably quite quickly stop doing what it was supposed to.

I don’t think government works very well at large scale. I do think the only real democracy is a community of people who all know each other’s names and can talk freely. That’s hard enough to organise in a neighbourhood, let alone a world.

Some good ideas won’t work.

Illustration by Jaime

Posted in Illustrations by Jaime, Questions by All Soul's General Paper | Leave a comment

Signs it’s time to consider euthanasia

I don’t know if I’m the right person to ask this. I’ve already upset at least one loved one by saying that I want to find a pension scheme that’ll pay out on a shorter term basis on the notion that I don’t much want to live past 60 (I actually started at 50, and she started haggling). It’s not that I don’t think I’ll be able to live well after that point, its that I don’t understand why I’m mortgaging my present so that I can survive longer when I’m less flexible and more worn out.

It’s probably not something I find true at my centre, and I probably wouldn’t have the guts to actively kill myself just because my arbitrary timestamp has come, but I do think I want to make plans for various outcomes.

For me, I’m considering getting a not for threes or no code tattoo, and not because I’m a fan of Pearl Jam and Plaid. I don’t think I want a fortune to be spent on keeping me alive beyond whatever natural incident might harm me. But of course, predicting the outcome of a procedure is difficult, and if something terrible happened tomorrow, I’m not sure I’d be ready for it.

Will I ever be at peace enough to say I’ve given whatever this is my best shot?

And you can’t say what constitutes a good enough life. It’s patronising and bigoted to say that you wouldn’t be willing to live with a disability when millions do. At what point do the vicissitudes of life become too big a change to accept?

I think in general, the issues come down to physical pain and mental ability. In theory, I don’t want to go on if my mind is lost. In theory, I don’t want to live a life that’ll be nothing but pain, no matter how englightening.

But is that all just weakness? Am I just scared? Am I not willing to see the continuity of self between myself and a reconstructed me?

And what if the new me wants to live in a way that the old me didn’t. Is it okay for one version of myself to decide whether the other can survive?

As a human machine, I house a brain that houses a mind that I recognise as me. All three of those things could go dramatically wrong, and I could be unable to live as I do. Is that enough to give up on the whole project of me-ness?

And does that even constitute giving up?

Personally, I think it is right to acknowledge that we are finite, and I find it hard to argue against having a plan for that finality. I don’t want to be kept alive at great expense, but I want to leave room for miracles.

But maybe, by the time I’m willing to make that choice, it’ll be too late, and I’ll be someone different.

Also, when the question is framed differently, my response is quite different.

Illustration by Tomo

Posted in Questions by Colewelle, Special Guest Illustrations | Leave a comment

Is scoring within 15 minutes a healthy relationship goal?

If you set that as a goal, then it can only be useful for 15 minutes. I don’t think that’s a sustainable approach to goal setting, let alone relationships.

My answer is going to be no, but I’m going to take a while to get there.

I guess maybe you could be lying in bed alone, and need to motivate yourself to go out and find love. Maybe you’re the type that only responds to unlikely challenges, and so you could set yourself fifteen minutes to get out there. But what happens when you fail? And what happens to your soul in that fifteen minutes of predatory horror?

I spent a long time single recently, that ended kind of surprisingly. Throughout it, I kept on finding my brain blaming my singledom on not being direct enough, not being willing to risk making an object of affection feel like, well, an object. I’ve got a bad history, I don’t want to ever be like that, so I reject that kind of behaviour, but almost all the advice you can get is to be pushier and more predatory.

It’s not right. It’s absolutely not alright. In fact, the only good advice you tend to get is ‘forget about it, something will happen when something is right’. Of course, I am all about the over-analysis (see this blog I got here?), so forgetting about something is almost impossible for me.

I suspect the question isn’t really about that. I’m optimistic that it’s setting up the notion of two instantly chemistricially matching people, attracted wholly, and ready to rush.

Even then, if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen, and it shouldn’t really be a stated goal. For a start, you’ll take some of the mystique out of that chemistry, and you’re probably thriving a lot on mystique at that point.

Is it going to be a stable starting point for a relationship? I suspect not, but I have no practical knowledge. It may not actually be much of a hindrance (unless it doesn’t work, and things get dampened immediately), but I don’t know if its a great way to start off.

One of the fun bits of starting a relationship is finding out the depths of each other, whilst trying to hold back the desire. You’re mapping out a person, trying to work out on which levels you work, getting excited about each new common ground. There’s a frisson there from the fact that you’re both probably thinking about sex. Maybe its useful to get that out of the way, or maybe it just makes everything else feel slightly lower stakes.

I wonder if relationships are built on a trickery. The lust fuels the curiosity, which accidentally unearths the compatibility. The intensity of later on, is built on different things to the intensity at the beginning, but you aim to not notice the crossfade.

I’d do these things slowly, but romance is collaboration, so listen to each other, not to me.

Illustration by Henry

Posted in Illustrations by Henry, Questions by Colewelle | Leave a comment

Where has all the imagination gone?

What the hell are you talking about? It’s everywhere.

Unless, of course, you’re talking about this blog, in which case, sorry, but yes, 90% of posts generally devolve into one of a select few rants (change (personal), change (political), karma, negative entropy and self pity).

But the world today, is doing more different things than its ever done before. there’s more people alive than ever before, and all of them are full of it. Imagination, that is.

I can see where cynicism comes from. I always get it when I’m browsing the right kind of museum. Where are our movements? Our Manifestos? Where are the spats and affairs between literary greats? Where are the cities where the world is being reinvented? Where are our geniuses?

When we look back at history, we only see the highlights. It’s the nature of perspective, the further away something is, the less of it you can see. The things that still stand out are the huge monoliths, carved out of pure historicism. I wonder what the everyman’s relationship with Picasso was, at the time? Did many people have access to his work? How many people read Eliot’s the Wasteland in his lifetime? We know that Shakespeare was a populist, but did everyone go to see him? Really?

It’s hard to know, but actually, its probably only know that so many people have so much access to so much greatness.

And then we get to make our own.

Yes, we’ve got television to drown out our own brains. Yes, we spend too much time on facebook and twitter, talking about sandwiches and trying to come up with puns to glue to kittens.

But we’re also ready to dive headfirst into some of the most creative waters of imagination ever held. We have instant access to the masterworks of history. We can find more information than was ever available to anyone.

If you can’t find imagination, you just haven’t opened up your brain enough.

The fact is, inspiration is breathing. You mind is constantly working on this stuff, trying to explore and explode every idea you come across. You feed it, you listen to it, and you let it pour back out again as something new.

It’s easy to look at the world and say that everything has been done before. It’s much more interesting to look in your brain and recognise that it has never been here before. The layout of your brain, utterly unique. The perspective that gives you, only your own. The ideas you have, pure imagination.

Nobody has ever been through a life like yours. Your particular mess of stimuli, experience and thought processes, is unique. Utterly.

Your neurons rearrange in response to the reliable chaos of the outside world. Your hormones react to the people around you and take you on pathways and decisions that nobody else could.

Everything is unique. You are exploring your imagination constantly.

Run with it.

Breathe in the world and spit out something new.

Illustration by Jaime

Posted in Illustrations by Jaime, Questions by David | Leave a comment

What’s inside the box?

The context to this is probably this. Acclaimed (lovely but megalomaniacal) games developer Peter Molyneux has quit his job to do a series of experiments. The first of these is to see how many people he can persuade to tap on an imaginary box on the promise that one of them (but only one) will get to find out what is inside. Peter assures us it’ll be life changing, completely and utterly.

The experiment is called curiosity, but Peter assures us it won’t be a picture of a dead cat. (And it can be fairly safely assumed that the metaphor won’t be fully extended and the box won’t kill the one that gets inside).

It’s a shame that Peter has a reputation for over-promising and under-delivering; if he goes on record he’ll have hidden something beautiful that makes you think ‘this could’ve been awesome’ without actually making you think ‘this is awesome’.

Or maybe it’ll just be a copy of Populous II.

I can’t imagine something that could be kept within a digital box that could be quite as life-changing as Molyneux claims. I keep returning to thinking of it as a quiz show prize. Maybe you’ll win a voucher for a speed boat, or bank account details for a few million pounds. Either could change your life. Anything could.

But we’re given the impression that it’s going to be something more cosmic, philosophical or unprecendented than that.

Perhaps its just a screen that flashes up ‘you are now famous’ and gives you a pre-written press release to brief the world on your life changing experience with a box.

Curiosity is interesting, it fires a set of neurons that seem to open up the world. I’m making cynical projections about the experiment, but simultaneously a little chattering voice in the back of my head is going ‘he’s loaded, he could do something really cool, WHAT IS IN THE BOX?’.

Watch the speech. He’s persuasively excitable. His passion and enthusiasm is infectious. His promises sound utterly genuine.

Life changing.

What does it take to change a life? What does he mean by that?

Like I say, it could be anything. Even a crushing disappointment is probably going to have quite an impact on your attitude. Every experience helps build a little bit of our future. We’re an iterative system, so you don’t know what tiny changes can build up into.

I kind of don’t care what Peter Molyneux has put in the box, but I can see the power of his metaphor. The strings he’s tugging at are strong ones, tied to important bits.

Things like hope, curiosity and excitement. Things that are pretty core to the human experience. If the box was our future, we’d have no promise of excitement at the end of it, but we’d still tap away.

I don’t think its the content of digital boxes that hold our future though. I think its just standing up and walking forwards.

Don’t get stuck in a box.


Illustration by Tomo

Posted in Questions by David, Special Guest Illustrations | Leave a comment

I could have been a doctor. Couldn’t I?


Yes you could.

I’m not just saying that directly to the questionaut. In a very deep way, everyone reading this could’ve been a doctor. It’s probably one of those hard work things on some level, with a huge slathering of ‘if cicrumstances allow’ that probably prevent a lot of people from ever being in the position to do that much hard work.

That’s a fairly big deal, its distressing that you have to be in a privileged enough circumstance to have a good shot at being a doctor, or anything, for that matter. People can overcome obstacles, but we should really be aiming to remove those in the first case, rather than providing people climbing ropes over them in select circumstances.

Of course, one of the biggest reasons you aren’t (unless you are) is probably that you had to make the decision to be/do that much earlier in your life than you were ready for.

I know its the reason I’m not doing something that involved harder work at the educational level. I feel like I’ve missed my window, because those choices had to be made at the point where I was swimming in dope, music and alcohol. This is not a question of lack of privilege, I’d like to clarify, this is to do with being a wastrel (in my case).

Anyway, the point I want to make is that I really think it would be great if there was a natural break in the worklife pattern running up to the age of thirty. And maybe again at forty. I think every decade you should have a few years off in which you can study, train and re-examine your priorities. Its no use making huge important decisions when you’re sixteen, eighteen or twenty-one, you are not then who you are going to be.

You don’t know what you are.

You may have a few hints, and if you’re lucky, you’ll train yourself further into them and create a you that’s right for your path, but for the majority, I believe, we don’t have a clue.

The question shouldn’t be a could have been. It should be a could. Plain and simple. It shouldn’t be nigh on impossible to become a doctor, astronaut, baker or judge by the time you’re rolling towards thirty (or forty, or fifty, or any age that exists). Our lives shouldn’t be built on teenage decisions.

We all remember our decision making process as teenagers. No matter how hard we try to forget. They were not good processes. My flowchart was FUCKED. That’s a straightforward fact.

So why do we build our lives on that. And why do we save the freedom for the time when we’re too creaky to use it (more often than not, there are some pretty limber pensioners out there, I can testify to that)?

I think our world is built more than a little wrong, and I think a big part of that is our work/life/education balance.

Spread it out.

Illustration by Henry

Posted in Illustrations by Henry, Questions by David | 2 Comments

Does the economy work?

I think it still depends on what you mean by ‘work’. The economy does a lot of things, it can do a lot of things, it is claimed that it does a lot of things. It’s even quite often very efficient at some things.

Unfortunately, those things aren’t everyone’s idea of the best way to run society, and our economic base feeds into every aspect of our society. Our current models of economics are very good at exploiting resources, for example. It is economically viable (and therefore encouraged) to dig oil out of tar sands or find gas by injecting vast amounts high pressure toxic chemicals into groundwater.

Depending on your point of view, that is the economy working, or that is the economy destroying us.

The economy provides us with a set of metrics with which to look at the world. It gives us GDP to compare countries by, and it lets us measure our debts in terms of that. It provides us with reams of statistics with which we can navel gaze and stare at until it looks like we know what the world is made of.

I don’t think the economy works. I don’t think it helps us do the things we need to do, it is currently just a framework that makes us focus on absolutely the wrong things. There’s enough dogma (much like mine, unfortunately) about how things are supposed to be that policies can slowly strangle a country whilst still appearing to be the right thing to do.

The economy is a giant tangle of interacting desires. It isn’t really a whole thing that can be looked at objectively. Its everything from the price of chips to the interest rate. It’s billions of monetary transactions, the rules that shape them and the desires that make them.

Can that ever work? Is that really a monolithic thing that can be teased and cajoled and explained and understood?

We’ve decided to rely on it, make it the basis of our everything, and lately, it can’t help but feel like an out of control monster. Every week there is a new story about some major crisis that the only solution appears to be throwing more made up money at.

A large part of it is because that efficiency we talked about at the beginning, comes from an economy built around reducing the friction that gets in the way of unadulterated greed. Recognising greed as one of the most powerful human motivations, we encourage it, so that we can keep the numbers increasing.

No matter how efficient that may be at certain things, I don’t think its the right way to do things. In a world of finite resources and delicate balances, efficient greed can’t be the main motivation.

To make the economy work for society, we need to change it, probably fundamentally.

More than anything, money can’t be the only thing we value.

It’s made up, and it’s not what really counts.

Illustration by Rosie

Posted in Illustrations by Rosie | Leave a comment