Essentially a reflective polemic this essay explores Brexit, accelerated change, new technologies and the Coronavirus pandemic. A meditation that is written in a diary-style format, common to Blogs, it is reactive to contemporaneous phenomena. It was both cathartic and salient to present occurrences in our current reality of unprecedented change. Towards the end of the essay a global, spiritual resolution is suggested.
It feels almost inconsequential, the ratio between change and time and its dramatic alteration. Arrette! Commence! Arrette! Commence! We've probably reinvented the wheel several times in the last few years and all of it quite unnecessary, except from within the context of the reinvented wheel. If Solipsism was ever considered critical of the human condition, it would now be seen as a sign of (fake) progress, desirable, profitable, yet morally ambiguous and intellectually defunct.
What I am struggling with is the notion of "cloud computing". A while back all our hard drives disappeared and all our (great swathes) of (largely unnecessary) information are now stored on the Internet. Companies who own large mainframe computers sell space to other companies, so they can store information, often of a sensitive nature, on their computers, all linked via the Internet.
I used to work with computers in the distant past, so I immediately brought up the risks of using this method of storage. Spyware, clever hackers, attacks by computer viruses, etc. Is our information really safe when its stored online? I guess it depends what you mean by safe. In essence the idea is that if a criminal breaks into an office he can't actually make off with the hard drives of computers and access sensitive data. There is a more hyperreal and ambiguous concept, that is supposedly advantageous to data protection, that being that paper copies are not stored in the office. I'm intrigued. For how many decades, centuries have paper copies of documentation, sensitive or not, been stored in offices, even if only for a short period of time; perhaps as part of a task and on the completion of that task, the documents are destroyed. Do we really think that staff wouldn't be able to tell if someone was an intruder and notice that they are sifting through paperwork or trying to make off with a filing cabinet or the hard drive of a PC? What is the likelihood of this scenario actually being acted out? Pretty damn low! Does it justify the migration of data onto cloud computing environments and the risks that this entails?
Apart from the viruses, hackers, spyware and a myriad of ingenious ways that those with the skills and intent, can compromise the safety of data online, should we be trusting sensitive information with large corporate companies who hire our space on their computers? When things go wrong on the Internet, it can be on an industrial scale. With all that we hear about Russian collusion in US and UK elections, fake news, sophisticated scams, uninhibited developments in new technologies and the disorientating pace of change, shouldn't we be approaching new forms of data storage with caution rather than rushing at it, in a knee-jerk reaction to try to escape the threats of new legislation or to make ourselves more competitive?
Hypothetically, companies who hold our data could access it and sell it on for profit. We all know the case of Facebook, using Cambridge Analytica as an intermediate, selling sensitive, personal information about its users on to companies for statistical and advertising purposes. The mind boggles at the potential misuse of information. The case against Facebook helped shape the new Information Governance laws, that threaten companies with six figure fines if they are caught with data breaches. Putting so much sensitive data into the hands of wealthy, powerful computing companies could prove very tempting to the unscrupulous to misuse that data in a variety of ways, to make huge profits at others expense.
These companies will mention secure storage, encryption and data protection laws to back their case to continue their lucrative services. I don't doubt that security measures are in place, but this is no guarantee that data isn't vulnerable to external hackers, nor does it protect the public, or even the companies from the vast temptations for profit-making for the unscrupulous. In increasingly Capitalist times when corruption is rife in Politics, the power of large corporations and their financial backing of political parties hasn't gone unnoticed by observers and a bewildered general public. Increasingly ring-fenced and in dealings with each other, political parties and big business make for uncomfortable bed-fellows.
The UK has been through its toughest time since the height of the last recession. The joke of Brexit has caused ideological splits, a panic stricken Parliament and much anxiety and uncertainty for the public. The ramifications can be felt well beyond the UK; Eire and Northern Ireland, Mainland Europe, the US and further afield have all weathered the contagious angst of crippling indecision and division. This bizarre Political and cultural stasis has resulted in a new Prime Minister with dubious morals, who is a serial liar, behaves like a dictator and is prone to extraordinary gaffs and irresponsible behaviour, being overwhelmingly trusted to deliver Brexit! I've never experienced such absurdity in UK politics and, I guess this exhibits the depth of the problems that we have been facing ever since the Brexit vote was put to the electorate. Perhaps, most troubling of all is the absurd desire of our current Prime Minister for the UK to crash out of the European Union without a deal, despite the shortages of essential supplies and the imminent recession that this will incur? And all this potential suffering will be justified by his insatiable, lust for power. Ultimately, the UK left with a deal in January 2000.
Stasis and change, altering perceptions of time and an interconnected, multicultural world all make for anxiety and uncertainty. It is no wonder that mental health problems have seen an increase, nor is it any wonder that immune-deficiency type disorders are also increasing in prevalence when we increasingly live in artificial environments. Quite where all this accelerated change will lead us is sometimes difficult to foresee. Maybe the humanoid robot Sophia can give us some insight into the ambitions of computer designers, IT engineers and the like?
Sophia is certainly unnerving, however her inventor Dr. David Hanson is really frightening with his visions of the future where Artificially Intelligent, humanoid robots may not wish to take over the world and destroy humanity, they may decide to help us solve our problems! How auspicious!
Whereas technology can be used to solve the problems it creates, it doesn't usually help us solve our existing problems. Dr. Hanson proposed that robots could help us solve the complex problems of the human race on ITV's This Morning program. Naivety can be endearing, other times it can be offensive and even dangerous.
The complexity of accelerated and multi-faceted change is made more difficult to cope with because of the accompanying emotions that we experience, in reaction to this phenomenon. The Covid-19 outbreak, essentially a new strain of Coronavirus, commonly associated with respiratory infections, exemplifies the enduring potency of human emotion and the how a lack of reason, knowledge, idea-generation or emotional maturity can result in panic. Emotions can be subtle, complex, ambiguous and kaleidoscopic, at times revealing the subtleties of human experience and perception and revealing the knowledge and intelligence of individuals. The arts are a great example of how emotional states can be multi-hued, ambiguous and complex, leading to reflection, thought-provocation, mental subtlety and insight. However, when there is no forethought, no reason, consideration or reflection potent, basic emotions, such as fear can lead to damaging and crippling panic.
The absurdity of panic buying, is both ridiculous and disturbing; an animalistic response an overriding emotion of fear, unchecked by reflection. Fueled by continuous news reports that sift out nearly everything else but Coronavirus, endless obsessing on Facebook and other "Social Media" websites and fake news scams that attempt to evoke even more destabilizing fear, the current vogue for epidemics of fear and suspicion, becomes comprehensible. The problem is, of course, new media; information overload. Particularly disturbing to me, is the fact that pseudo-medical terms such as "global pandemic" (literally "global, global epidemic") are treated as absolute yardsticks or indisputable facts and the immature lack of perspective or context that news providers promote. Obsessing on reports about Covid-19, viewing the phenomenon from numerous angles, without mentioning the existing viruses that are equally, if not more prevalent and infect similar, if not more people is irresponsible, to say the least.
Boris Johnson's daily Coronavirus public updates, where he laboriously waxes on "social isolation", "social distancing" and other, intrinsically unhealthy, practices push and pull us in various ways, towards a panicky conformity and then towards a more relaxed, we shall all be OK if you comply to my demands, eye-in-the-storm. Rumours of martial law are not necessarily fake news or scaremongering. Spain has seen their police force returning individuals to the perceived safety of staying indoors, when they dare to break the curfew and venture outside. Globally, the ease with which governments, in democratic cultures, can enforce their will upon the public, through force if deemed fit, is both illuminating and concerning.
Of course, as we have seen from Italy and China, Covid-19 is a strain of Coronavirus that can kill and has infected thousands of people worldwide. It is not unreasonable to take measures to protect the public, particularly the vulnerable, to attempt to reduce the spread of this virus. However, we need to retain a sense of perspective and reduce an overload of speculation, irrelevant information and even accurate information, that induces panic in the populace. The average, yearly Influenza death-rate in England is 17,000 and the current Coronavirus death-rate in the UK is 177 (at 21/03/2020). Perhaps this figure illustrates my point.
"Social Isolation" and "Social distancing" are, potentially damaging behaviours that should only be encouraged or enforced, when the risk of an epidemic justifies these behaviours. People with mental health problems, Dementia, disabilities and physical illnesses that already inhibit social interaction or physical mobility, could find these prescribed limitations particularly frustrating and, for some a deterioration in their existing condition may occur. Furthermore, the disruption that we are experiencing to society as a whole, economically, socially and recreationally are profound and don't come without a cost. Of course, medical practitioners will be aware of this, however they shouldn't let panic or a fear of potential legal action drive the course of their advice in to propositions that could cause more damage than the virus its self.
Nonetheless, there are positives to be taken from the current situation. The pandemic of Covid-19 has also resulted in a new found optimism, a willingness to co-operate with and help others and an awareness that humanity must alter its priorities or we may end up destroying ourselves or the Earth. It's fascinating that, in the UK, the National Health Service (NHS) is currently seen as an essential service that we must support and fund adequately. Usually the NHS is seen as a drain on resources, a political football where points can be scored with a weary electorate. Homelessness has been a serious problem in the UK for as long as I can remember. It is treated with fear and, by some with contempt, an inevitable consequence of High Capitalism or an unfortunate situation brought about by those who have no desire to take responsibility for their lives. Yet, because of the risk of increased rates of infection homeless individuals are currently being found accommodation in large numbers. It seems that money is being found to find solutions to problems that have been neglected for decades and even longer.
A vital lesson seems to be being learnt rapidly. If we want a better quality of life for all of us, then we need to look after the most vulnerable in our societies. The elite of our societies helping themselves to multi-million pound bonuses and huge wages while the most vulnerable in our society are forced to endure cutbacks to essential services and a reduction to benefits and a continually draconian, mean state, is a situation that is no longer a viable option.
Personally, I am sceptical about the phenomenon of, so called, global warming. It has become a symbol for overt moralizing and a variety of environmental or green issues that are not really understood, ill-thought out and communicated without giving any cohesive thought to practical solutions. The dynamic here is one of communication and panic, raising awareness rather than doing anything about a multitude of environmental problems. Nonetheless, we can't continue to treat the Earth as a dumping ground, ruin land through the use of fertilizers and other chemicals, incessantly destroy natural environments and push animal species to the brink of extinction and not face any consequences. The idea of putting huge profits for the few before the health of the planet we inhabit and rely upon for our existence, is obnoxious. Particularly unpalatable to me is the development of genetically modified (GM) crops. Why? I can almost hear people say. Put simply, the driver is huge wealth and power for those who own the rights to GM science. There is no need for any experimental, human intervention into the growing of crops, they grow well with existing methods so why take the risk of potential human illness and/or natural disaster? The answer is profiteering on an industrial scale. Some may argue that GM crops may help to feed an ever growing global, human population. This doesn't wash with me. The solution to having less children doesn't need spelling out.
Whatever the endless moral implications of potential cause and effect, whatever the tropes and rituals of governance and whatever the vicissitudes of comprehension, our global encounter with Covid-19 cries out for societal and global co-operation, emotional maturity and constructive reflection. Certainly, established religions, from whatever religious perspective, can nurture a more mature, disciplined and co-operative approach to crises and to everyday life. Whether Christian, Judaist, Islamic, Buddhist, Hindi, etc., established religions and practical philosophies emphasize self consciousness, where reflection on behaviour and thought can lead to greater moderation and maturity. This encourages integration, communication and a less fretful and frenetic response to difficulties.
Of course, religions are certainly not free from their problems and more secular routes to maturity, reflection and moderation are all around us. For example, meditation, relaxation, mindfulness, practical psychology, physical exercise, reason, problem solving, conversation and creativity. Very underrated and pivotal to comprehension in any useful, practical form is commonsense. The artificial nature of interaction via new technologies distances us from others and from our natural environment. Our perceptions become less accurate and more prone to be laced with shock and fear when information, sometimes deliberately misleading, is thrown at us incessantly. Commonsense is more difficult to apply when turbulence and flux are a continuing reality.
Pope Francis has called for solidarity across the world to confront the "epochal challenge" posed by the coronavirus pandemic, in his traditional Easter address on Sunday. Image and words www.aljazeera.com
It would not be unreasonable to state that the Coronavirus pandemic is, in part a result of the continuing greed and growth of High or Late Capitalism, since the global recession that started in 2009. To claim this was an absolute cause would be ridiculous, but it could realistically be seen as a contributing factor. From a UK perspective, it seems that we need to relearn the lessons of the Late-Victorian period, through to the early 20th Century, where reforms such as the sewage system in London and, consequentially other major cities through to the commencement of the NHS, improved the health of the populace, beyond measure. The wealthy benefited from these reforms because infectious diseases were less prevalent and therefore less likely to spread to them. Today we need to combat the systemic greed and crippling fear of financial collapse, since the 2009 recession, by funding essential services properly and, therefore we can all benefit, whichever power or wealth stratum you may consider yourself belonging to.
I am not a religious person, but the cohesive nature of religion and spiritual practice combined with the commonsensical and compassionate statements made by religious leaders, has a maturity and relevance that seems to be the antithesis of greed, swinging austerity measures, selfishness and societal dislocation. Furthermore, the compassion, at times selfless, in reaction to this crisis, by the general public, whether religious or secular, is inspiring and very hopeful. Beyond the tropes of power of the objective comprehensions of medical science, both as limiting as they can can be useful, humanity appears to instinctively exhibit both a rigorous understanding of vital leadership and natural comprehension of the potential causation and appropriate response to severe epidemics.
As if a pandemic wasn't enough to be coping with, the near-certainty of a global recession is looming on the horizon. The crippling austerity measures that would have to be implemented (on top of current austerity measures, often denied by Governments) could compound the severity of virus and it's contagious nature. If health and social care providers cannot contain the outbreak or provide support for those with other illnesses/disabilities and if people cannot afford proper nutrition or other rudiments of basic healthy lifestyles, then the pandemic could take hold again. If the virus cannot be contained then its spread will grow and develop.
Ultimately, the only reasonable and pragmatic solution to a global recession that risks a protracted pandemic and greater likelihood of recurrence, would be a global cancellation of debt accrued throughout the duration of Covid-19 within all countries. Anathema for Capitalists and Corporations who's priority is wealth creation and voracious competition with competitors, global debt cancellation actually aids all societies and helps them to regain economic activities without compromising the measures taken to contain the outbreak. Niaive? Perhaps. Unrealistic? Actually no. The question is; do we have the courage to show commonsense and compassion within our decision-making? By "we", of course I refer mainly to governments but also to business leaders and others in positions of power. In this instance pressure from the public may tip the scales, and result in debt cancellation. We should be reminded of the 2005 G8 summit where $40 billion of debt was written off for 18 impoverished countries. Public pressure certainly had a potent impact in influencing the outcome. As times have changed and the emerging economies have become major economic players on a global scale, and while power gradually transitions towards the East from the West, a global cancellation of debt for all countries affected by Covid-19 should be pursued. All countries whether they are considered developed, developing or undeveloped experience poverty, austerity-measures and a transition of wealth from the many towards an ever-shrinking elite. There's no doubt that there are nations who experience poverty to a far greater degree than the majority and there are countries that are already experiencing humanitarian crises or natural disasters. For countries such as these, financial aid and practical help should be offered in addition to debt cancellation, until they experience low incidence of Covid-19, low death rates and palpable economic recurrence. The measuring tool for debt cancellation for all countries should be the first date that Covid-19 was discovered and the end of the debt cancellation should coincide with either zero deaths by Covid-19 or a low and manageable incidence rate. At all times medical organisations, such as the WHO should advise due to their expertise and governments should not act without thorough consultation with these medical/health organisations.
In this way we can all, globally look forward to a brighter future where we can reduce the negative impacts of human behaviour on the Earth and on ourselves. If we do this then we have a greater chance of recovering from this pandemic much sooner and with less risk of recurrence and escalating incidence and death rates.
Flux is not the panacea it seems. From one perspective flux appears to be stasis and, from another stasis appears to be flux. When you are a passenger on a high speed train the passing land may appear to slow to near stillness. The problem here would be to disembark the train and to find that, what appeared to be stasis was rapidly changing. Alteration and fixity are not absolute and their conception is, to a degree illusory. Furthermore, sudden adaptation to low levels of stimulation from the experience of accelerated change can be as difficult to cope with as incessant change. The idea that speed of reaction to external stimuli equals safety is not dissimilar to being in a state of high alert, constantly. This is the raison-d'etre of High or Late Capitalism, the ever-increasing speed of change in reaction to your competitors and a world subsumed by information-overload. The apparent safety or reduction of risk is short lived and the impetus, societally is towards chaos.
As night shifts to day and the stars map out our futures and, vicariously our emotions, life ebbs and flows in familiar, reassuring ways. Here change appears to be stasis, alteration as peace. To conceive change as bad is cliched and arbitrary; change is invariable, it is the rate of change, our perception of it and our ability to have control over change, or accept we have no control that matters. If we can slow change that is potentially dangerous to us or our environment and provide change that is more positive for ourselves and the Earth then we can influence change in more mature and useful ways. The wisdom of maturity hampers quick-fix profiteering; the long-term ideas (think Horus surveying the land for the Pharaohs) will shelve greed for more sustainable and equal outcomes. If ever we needed a good reason to adopt more mature, wise and fairer approaches, then we certainly have one now. Sans Doute!