Archives for posts with tag: anarchism

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A couple of years ago my wife and I went on a holiday to the beautiful Greek island of Kefalonia and stumbled upon a house that so unashamedly proclaimed its whimsical good humour to the world at large that it was impossible not to stop and stare… and point… and smile… and take pictures… and generally fulfill every annoying tourist cliché in the book. Decked out from top to toe in a resplendent raspberry and vivid lime green, the place really did emanate its very own wave lengths of positive energy. Seriously, if you’d fiddled around with the dial of a transistor radio in the near vicinity, you’d have been able to have listened to the place humming happy little tunes to itself as it watched the world go by without a care in the world.

And whenever springtime rolls around again… and nature starts throwing a bit of colour about… and the miasmic drabness of a suburban winter finally starts to recede from view – I always find myself thinking back to that raspberry and lime green house with an overwhelming sense of nostalgic benevolence, and a seemingly instinctive desire for a radical injection of humour and vivacity into this woefully utilitarian world we seem to have built for ourselves.

If only the genius behind that resplendent Greek masterpiece were given free reign over the entirety of a modern city! How many dull grey office blocks would be transformed into 3 dimensional cubist masterpieces? How many cement grey subways would be commandeered for the artistic free-play of our alienated youth? How many toxic advertising billboards could be replaced with actual paintings? And I don’t mean the commissioned monstrosities knocked up by the Oxbridge turtleneck brigade for their boyhood friends in local government… or the cold pretentious oddities offered up (with sneering indifference) by your average urban architect hoping to surf his way to fame and notoriety on a wave of controversial reportage – I mean real art, and real city planning, and real building design by real people of the community. Fuck it. Why can’t the old fisherman from number 7 be given somewhere to memorialize the memory of his dead wife in sea shells? Why can’t the kids from the local junior school bedazzle the pavements around the local park with a hundred thousand painted sunflowers? Why can’t we draw smiley faces on the roundabouts… and grow strawberries up the railings of municipal buildings… and have stenciled processions of black and white doves for zebra crossings?

Why so drab?

Why so grey?

Why so serious?

Can there be any cultural crime as heinous as a societies loss of its own sense of humour?

Where in the name of God will we find ourselves if we start taking things too seriously?

Let’s face it – histories back-catalogue of particularly serious societies doesn’t exactly make for comfortable reading…

At the end of Jacques Tati’s seminal cinematic masterpiece “Playtime”, a sterile modernist Paris of glass, and steel, and right-angles is transformed into a giant fairground, where roundabouts become carousels and the world dances happily along to the sound of a circus organ. It was a desperate and brilliant plea for a more human version of reality – and as I endure my morning commute, crawling across the belly of a dead cement giant in my miserable little space-pod, I can’t help thinking that tati’s passionate plea is more relevant today than ever before.

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Capitalism presents us with a world largely stripped of playfulness and spontaneity because these are the human characteristics most deeply threatening to a society that functions upon principles of “absolute predictability and remote control from the centre” (Mumford). To the architects of a production rather than a demand based economy, the very idea that the people should be free to do as they please, to act in random or unexpected ways, is a terrifying concept – for what if the people were to suddenly lurch sideways into a spontaneous samba renaissance whilst they were supposed to be buying microwaves? What if they were to lose interest in upgrading their games consoles and their home cinema systems and started playing dominoes with their neighbours instead? To the greed driven capitalist psyche, the concepts of unhindered cultural development and genuine freedom of choice are abominations of free will. If the people stopped buying what they were told to buy, if they demonstrated genuine variety and individuality in their tastes and their interests, the financial markets of the world would quickly collapse under the destructive weight of a super-abundance of worthless and unwanted consumer goods. Thus, the entire capitalist racket hinges upon the coercive principle that the people must be made to behave in as predictable and obedient a fashion as possible at all times.

It is a depressing realisation that any society in which millions of people are centrally governed by a small capitalist elite must by its very nature, work upon principles of generality and mass appeal; the variations and deviations of the individual, be they brilliant or sublime, have no place in a system founded upon principles of servile predictability and enforced order. Thus, encoded into the very fabric of mass governance and control is the guiding principle of absolute banality. It is this increasingly bland and mechanistic model of society, with its flick switch predictability and its blind obedience to a centrally planned, profit driven culture that marks the true cost of contemporary consumerism upon the soul of man.

The teenager, beaming at his new mobile phone as he dies of boredom in a classroom, is not a teenager fulfilled by the wonders of the world before him or the opportunities for play that the world presents. The triple headed suction valve of the housewives new vacuum cleaner is, no doubt, an impressive technological feat, but after the smell of new plastic has worn off, the drudgery of her housework remains stubbornly intact. The joys mankind is afforded within the disabling limitations of an enforced mediocrity are scarcely joyful at all. For with every purchase of the latest gadget, with every music trend that is reverently followed, with every diet fad that comes and goes, humanity affirms the burial of its own creative principles.

The “freedom” to choose between a blue sweater and a red sweater cannot, in any meaningful sense of the word, be considered a freedom… and there can be no such thing as a moderately free society because freedom exists only as an absolute. It therefore follows that the freedoms we are presented with as consumers of the capitalist programme are not freedoms at all, but false freedoms… and what are false freedoms, if not systems of control and limitation – the prefabricated “spontaneities” of a system that fears the genuine intellectual and artistic play of its people. For in the free play of the mind exist the seeds of revolution.

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1. Politicians stockpile nuclear weapons… monkeys don’t.

2. Monkeys masturbate in public… and will unashamedly shag anything that moves – with monkeys, what you see is what you get. Politicians on the other hand spend half of their lives indulging the lecherous and debauched fantasies their new found power gives them access to… and the other half trying to convince the voting public that they’re paragons of clean living “traditional family values”.

3. Monkeys live a sustainable lifestyle in rainforests and jungles, completely in harmony with their natural environment. Politicians tend to live in mansions… and happily allow rainforests and jungles to be ripped from the face of the earth whilst they dedicate their entire political energy into staying in power for a second term.

4. Politicians take bribes, and do favours for their multi-millionaire friends, and use off-shore tax havens – monkeys on the other hand never even bothered to learn the concept of money (it seemed rather dull and boring… and they were too busy eating bananas and shagging in the tree tops).

5. Monkeys are cute, and lithe, and agile, and graceful. Politicians are paunchy and bloated and generally resemble closet alcoholics with a weakness for KFC.

6. Politicians spend most of their time making shady backroom deals with dodgy corporations and psychotic dictators. Monkey’s don’t give a fuck about dodgy corporations and psychotic dictators (because they’re too busy eating bananas and shagging in the treetops).

7. Monkeys are illiterate and have low IQs, and don’t care who knows it – politicians spend their entire overly privileged childhoods surrounded by private tutors and enrolled at uber-expensive educational establishments to cover up this very same fact.

8. Human beings have the terrifying DNA capacity to create genetic abominations like Michael Gove – monkeys don’t.

9. Politicians write painfully self gratifying memoirs in multi-million pound book deals as part of their retirement plans. Monkey’s don’t care about retirement plans or lying about stuff to be remembered better (because they’re too busy eating bananas and shagging in the treetops).

10. Monkeys have retained the “Common touch” and will happily pass the time of day with any other member of their community. Politicians stay at the world’s most exclusive hotels, eat in the world’s finest restaurants and get chauffeured around the world’s capital cities in Limousines and Rolls Royce’s… they too claim to have the common touch – and pay public relations gurus vast sums of money to prove it.

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I thought I’d set the tone by publishing a divorce letter I wrote to Tesco a few years back when I’d just come out of hospital after knee surgery… and was stuck in an armchair for seven weeks with a stash of anti-capitalism books and the complete “Monkey” DVD boxset. Good times!

Dear Tesco,

Please find enclosed the shredded and charred remains of my Tesco clubcard personal-surveillance device, which I return in its present condition as a symbolic gesture of the utter contempt in which I hold your odious corporation. I am writing this letter to demand that my name and personal details, underwear measurements and grocery preferences, along with any other purchase related data I may have generated, be erased in its entirety from your Stasi-like web of databases and index systems… and if that means altering sixteen thousand pie charts by a millionth of a percent then so be it. It’s my data, and I want it back. I make this demand on the grounds that I have decided (belatedly I admit) to cease frequenting your stores on a permanent basis, and as is the case in all such divorces, it has come to the point where by the parties in question must crouch over the carcass of their relationship and take what is theirs. I also see this letter as an opportunity to get off my chest some of the Tesco-related moral outrage and pent up frustration it never seemed fair to call forth upon an innocent checkout worker desperately trying to earn a living on the insultingly low wages you callously insist upon palming people off with.

That’s right Tesco, I have finally gained enough of a sense of my own humanity to opt out of your globally destructive suicide mission for good. I am ready at last to turn my back on your in-store psychological blanket bombing and your multi-million pound ad campaigns and walk away. I have clambered off the treadmill of mindless over-consumption upon which you placed me as a child and cast your two-for-one offers, your piss poor self-service checkout systems and your eerie lack of shopping baskets into the giant wheelie bin of disgruntled customer oblivion. Never again will I find myself crippled by the sheer banality of my own indecision as I stand alienated and dehumanised before a 50ft wall of assorted male grooming products, slowly dying inside, at 7.45 on a grey Tuesday evening. Nor will I have to endure again those endless hours of catatonic drift past mile upon mile of tasteless pre-fabricated junk food… air fresheners that will pointlessly vary the chemical stench of your home on a 20 minute basis… gleaming mountains of status boosting electrical goods with a built in obsolescence that will barely see you across the car park… schizophrenic stockpiles of slimming aids and cream cakes, health supplements and cigarettes… the vacant expressions of former human beings pushing their weekly piles off hollow dreams towards the flashing light and automated voice recording that used to be a person…

It feels good to be rid of you Tesco – liberating and life affirming, like waving goodbye to a tumour or a crack addiction. And of course, none of the above are even amongst the more important reasons for giving up the cankerous blight of your free market imperialism. Far more rewarding indeed is the knowledge that I will no longer have to worry about blinding a 12 year old girl in a Bangladesh sweatshop when I place a pair of socks on a checkout conveyor belt, or stop up my ears against the uneasy babbling of my own conscience as I knowingly toss two pence (seriously. Two pence) at the blistered feet of a half-starved plantation worker in the developing world for a £1 bunch of bananas – my tacit contribution to Tesco’s global dragnet of child labour and worker exploitation, has finally come to an end. Gone too are the days in which every grocery purchase I make hammers one more nail into the coffin lid of another local business; where every penny I spend is instantly sucked out of community circulation into some distant capitalist tax haven, further impoverishing the already vague and atomised sprawl of my local neighbourhood. While we’re on the subject of money, is it really true that your chief executive takes home an astonishing four million plus a year in pay and bonuses? And what, might I ask, are those bonuses for exactly? Certainly not putting the health and happiness of some of the world’s most vulnerable people before the avaricious profit requirements of fat-arsed, jag-driving city banker types… or providing a decent supply of shopping baskets for that rare breed of shopper who doesn’t intend to cart home three times his own bodyweight in freezer foods every week. Unless of course you want to try and convince me that people on the other side of the world enjoy working 80 hour weeks, and that they do so out of an inordinate love for repetitive manual labour rather than any grim financial necessity?

Any corporation that can so brutally dismantle the economic infrastructure and cultural diversity of its host environments in favour of the bland and homogenised dystopian blueprint Tesco seems to favour, isn’t just a little bit naughty in any loveable rogue “business is business” sense of the word, but fundamentally and irreversibly Evil. Even a five year old child, once presented with the facts, would come to the obvious conclusion that it simply isn’t possible to commit such an abominable catalogue of crimes against the basic principle of universal human compassion by accident. And that, in the proverbial nutshell, is the heart of the problem – your entire business model hinges upon your ability to discreetly ravage the collectively torn sphincter of the world whilst smiling at the people like some sort of saintly and benevolent service provider. I see you in my dreams Tesco. Or should that be nightmares? You are a bloated and repugnant lounge lizard, stalking the nightclub of life with an etherised hanky and a stash of Rohipnol. You have paid off the doorman, and the police officers, and the magistrates of the land, and the only thing that stands between yourself and your victims, is their ability to stay clear of your dubious charms and your spiked free drinks. Behind the grease paint façade of “consumer choice” and the “feel good shopping experience” is a cold and ruthless machinery of exploitation so criminally adept at hiding all the nastiness it gets up to behind closed doors that the average consumer is too busy cod-eyeing a pile of mobile phones or looking for a bloody shopping basket to even notice. I suppose that’s how supermarkets, in their ecological wisdom, can get away with flogging locally produced “five mile and closer” vegetables that they’ve flown to Poland and back to get washed and packaged on the cheap by underpaid Eastern European workers (you couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried!).

Think about it Tesco, in previous generations the only people who showed any interest in wrestling control of the food supply and managing society’s access to basic human provisions were despots and dictators. As Lewis Mumford points out in “The Myth Of The Machine”, wherever traditional agrarian cultures have given way to urbanisation, “the political agents that collected and distributed the grain could control the entire population” It really is the oldest racket in the book; and one that you have obviously done very well out of over the years. When you see the population, week in, week out, crawling around your stores in supplicant obedience to the power and pull of your overwhelming control of the market, it must make you very proud of yourself. Of course, once upon a time, the idea of creating a world that could be governed entirely in accordance with your own capricious and self serving desires was reserved for the likes of a Caesar or a Napoleon – rather than a boardroom full of flabby middle-aged executives. Perhaps you’ve simply forgotten that you’re supposed to be a supermarket (that humble place where people buy tins of pilchards and rice pudding), rather than an axis power? Let me clarify something for you from a slightly more human perspective; if it really is true that one in eight pounds in the UK is spent in your stores, that doesn’t mean that there are seven more pounds to “go after” as your head honcho once famously suggested; what it actually means is that you need to stop being such greedy monopolistic bastards and give us our money back before we start getting ideas about descending upon your stores in an altogether different mood and expropriating some of those millions of hours of hard earned wages you have taken from us.

It is for these reasons (and many more along similar lines) that I refuse to help sponsor your international campaign of worker misery and cultural degradation any longer. Since finally leaving behind our abusive relationship I now enjoy the incomparable pleasure of shopping at a pair of family run local grocery stores, and even if they do only provide me with a shockingly poor selection of 6 breakfast cereals combined (how will I ever manage?) the hardships I endure as a choice-less consumer are more than recompensed by the warm and fuzzy feelings that spontaneously well-up inside me when I am recognised with a smile, talked to like an old friend and treated with patience, sincerity and kindness. Not possessing a soul yourself, I imagine this particular argument is hard to comprehend so I’ll move on to something more concrete.

Much to my surprise – thanks largely I suppose to your endless barrage of perception bending media – I soon realised that my non-Tesco shopping bill is between 10 and 20 percent cheaper every single week! Even with the far tighter profit margins smaller shops must surely have to contend with! 20 percent! And before you get the wrong impression, this figure does not include the bloated cost of all those chemical convenience foods and other toxic perishables I would have been tempted into buying from your stores – it comes from running my current grocery receipts through your crappy website delivery service for a direct comparison. It seems that somebody’s price fixing policy – sorry, price flexing policy – has been ripping people off more than they might have imagined: just one more example of your Evil master plan at work I suppose. One thing I really would like to know is what will happen to your pricing policies once you really have killed off all of the competition? Will you stick to your immensely condescending “every little helps” marketing slogan or go for something more honest, “pay or die – there is no alternative” perhaps? I suppose, if you’re the only store left, there will be no need for you to assault our senses with your shinny happy advertising campaigns at all? Every cloud has its silver lining as they say.

More than a hundred years ago, in his seminal text “The Conquest of Bread”, Peter Kropotkin passionately argued that if the people were ever to free themselves from their social and economic enslavement, it was imperative that they fought to once again control the destiny of their own food supply – that the parasites and the exploiters, the merchants and the middlemen that stand between a population and their “bread” (this is you of course), needed to be permanently cast aside in the name of justice and equality. I want you to know therefore, that as I cultivate the scrap of land that my suburban existence and the horrors of private property afford me, I do so as an act of open defiance: I refuse to deplete the worlds dwindling supply of natural resources pointlessly shunting about potatoes that could happily generate themselves in half a dozen sacks in the corner of a patio. I refuse to swell the profits of greed driven corporate shareholders buying farcically priced strawberries that would just as well grow in a row of old plant pots. I refuse the inherent perversity of complacently sanctioning the payment of slave wages – silently endured by millions of agrarian labourers around the world – when a little care and attention, a little sweat and elbow grease can bring forth a myriad of home-grown organic vegetables of a quality and freshness the cryogenic produce departments of your over-lit stores could never even dream of.

And if all my words and actions be written off as the inconsequential ravings and futile gestures of just another angry lefty (as doubtless they will) at least I can take solace in the happy realisation that I am but one of an ever growing number of ordinary people who have knowingly rejected participation in your sordid bid for world domination; that I can go to bed at night with something approaching a clear conscience, and the quiet hope that I may be but the first of many to “burn and return” my Tesco clubcard to HQ. I also hope, in a more poetic sense of the word, that I live long enough to enjoy the priceless spectacle of your Empire of exploitation crumbling beneath the boots of a galvanised proletariat who, having awoken from the media induced slumber of the last century, burn their TV’s in ceremonious piles on the corner of every street and arm in arm, reconnecting in a disconnected world, make a stand for what is right against the wrongs of the capitalist system you so perfectly embody.

If of course, after removing my data from your records, you find yourself unable to comply with my more general wishes by ceasing to exist (an evolutionary certainty of your unsustainable business model at any rate) please at least consider finally relinquishing your painfully dreadful blue-and-white-striped corporate branding. It’s hideously ugly, overwhelmingly tacky, and makes me want to vomit on sight.

Yours faithfully

Steven Pepper

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