Prescience

Prescience

As a writer of fantasy, I consider prescience an interesting word – ‘the fact of knowing something in advance; foreknowledge.’  I’ve met people who are prescient.  I’ve read prescient articles on what the future may hold which has come to pass.

One of the most prescient I’ve watched recently is on Youtube: shorturl.at/jHLM1  All of it is well worth watching, especially about 15 minutes in for roughly seven minutes or so.

It’s the 125th Stanford Commencement address to the graduating class on 12 June, 2016 by Ken Burn, the documentary film maker.  This was around the time when the current tenant in the White House was about to become the Republican nominee.  By the way, Burn doesn’t mention the individual’s name once.  After talking about the role of government and those who aspire to office, he says:

… asking this man to assume the highest office in the land would be like asking a newly minted car driver to fly a 747.

With his knowledge of history, Burn has seen this type of figure arise many times and in many places throughout history. He warned that the reality TV star presents:

… an incipient proto-fascism, a nativist anti-immigrant Know Nothingism, a disrespect for the judiciary, the prospect of women losing authority over their own bodies, African-Americans again asked to go to the back of the line, voter suppression gleefully promoted, jingoistic sabre-rattling, a total lack of historical awareness, a political paranoia that, predictably, points fingers, always making the other wrong.  These are all virulent strains that have at times infected us in the past.  But they now loom in front of us again – all happening at once.  We know from our history books that these are the diseases of ancient and now fallen empires.  The sense of commonwealth, of shared sacrifice, of trust, so much a part of American life, is eroding fast, spurred along and amplified by an amoral Internet that permits a lie to circle the globe three times before the truth can get started.

Ken Burn warned the students what was going to happen, many applauded.  Others sat there glum of face, some glowering, disbelieving.  I wonder how they feel now? How do you feel now?

Interesting word, prescience, isn’t it?

Especially when it becomes a reality. 

No one left behind

J J Mitchell

A sea of humanity with just one message

A sea of humanity with just one message

Interesting times, interesting times.

Some time ago a guy called Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote about what he called black swan events.  Putting it into my own language, it’s about an event that appears to come out of nowhere and bites you on the arse.  Okay, okay, he didn’t put it quite like that, he was far more elegant, but you get the picture.  Post event, those impacted by the black swan rationalise why it was bound to happen and invariably say  ‘we should have seen that coming.’  Black swans invariably lead to tipping points when things take a completely different direction to what existed before.

I’ve used the ‘black swan’ term myself in the past when working with those involved in an offshore incident. In the main, folk sensed something wasn’t quite right but due to operational imperatives, lack of time or resources didn’t do anything about it and carried on.  Then the black swan swooped down and landed, (apparently out of nowhere), and all hell was let loose – and their arse was bitten.  A tipping point was created.

Here are some figures for you: in the UK young black men are nine times more likely to be jailed than young white men;  three times more likely to be tasered;  six to nine times more likely to be stopped and searched by police.  Oh, and whilst black people account for just three percent of the UK population, they make up 12% of the prison population. 

In the US, African Americans have it even worse, the most recent killing being a case in point – George Floyd, killed on 25 May by Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin.  That the current occupant of the White House has added fuel to the fire is no surprise.  This is the man described by former Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow on BBC Any Questions recently, as ‘The most rancid, racist and repellant occupant of the White House in my lifetime.’  Couldn’t have put it better myself.

As for police killing black men in the US. Just put that into a web search, the numbers may not surprise you.

Now, Floyd’s killing by Chauvin was videoed. It went viral. The oxygen thief in the WH must have thought it would soon blow over.  Many others in his circle would have felt the same.  And this is where the black swan element comes in – it didn’t blow over.  The black swan landed.  A tipping point.  In landing, the black swan uncorked a rage, a fury that was intense in its feeling of justice denied. 

I’m reminded of a quote from former slave Frederik Douglass, (1817 – 1895): ‘Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organised conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.

The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass’ published in 1845 is well worth reading.  It still resonates as do many of his quotes. Look up, ‘What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July?’  The rest of the quote is searing, to put it mildly. And justified. And relevant – to those disenfranchised by society due to the colour of their skin; their belief system; sexual orientation; race; poverty; education, and so on and so on…

This particular black swan has been circling for decades.  There have been times when it appears to have landed due to the killing of a black man by the police, but it merely continued to circle.  So when Officer Chauvin killed George Floyd, perhaps those who are equally rancid, racist and repellant thought nothing would come of it.  How wrong they were.  It landed.  One can only hope that a tipping point has been created that will unleash the change that is so necessary.

The heading of this blog says it all, there is a sea of humanity with just one message – enough now, enough now. For those who believe this will blow over, I will merely quote a verse of Maya Angelou’s ’Still I rise’.

You may shoot me with your words,


You may cut me with your eyes,


You may kill me with your hatefulness,


But still, like air,

I’ll rise.’

J J Mitchell
No one left behind

Interesting thing aggression…

Interesting thing aggression…

Interesting thing aggression.  In fiction, the hero, invariably a male, takes out the ‘bad guys’, five or six at a time in about five minutes or less.  That his cardio vascular fitness lasts that long is always a wonder to me.  Try swinging a broad sword for longer than three minutes in a simulated battle and you’ll see what I mean. Knackered.  Take on five people at a time rather than running away and, unless it’s a film, they’ll attack you all at once and you’ll go down.  Then the kicking begins.

During Boudica’s war against the Romans, like a number of British tribes, the Iceni had small, two man chariots comprising the driver and a warrior.  Pre-dating cavalry, the chariots would race up to the enemy and javelins, along with other pointy things, would be thrown.  The aim was to break the ranks and create mayhem and confusion.  They would wheel around and drive away, or, the warrior might jump down and engage in violence and general unpleasantness.  This might last about three minutes or so, maybe slightly longer, and then the driver would race back.  The warrior would leap on board and away they would go.  This would allow the warrior time to recover because doing violence at that level is knackering.  Then they’d go back and do the same thing again.  Alternatively, if the driver saw his warrior in trouble he would come back earlier.  It was all about controlled aggression.

More recently, some of the people I know who have been trained in controlled aggression, prefer to fight from a distance, using long barrelled weapons and so on.  Oh, and in greater numbers than the enemy.  ‘It’s safer, and means we can run away if it turns naughty,’ was one comment.  They knew about controlled aggression and used it effectively.  They are also some of the most peace loving people I know.  They know the cost of violence.

I also find it interesting that the most aggressive people tend to be those who hide behind the anonymity of Facebook or Twitter.  So very brave, so very aggressive.  However, they’re bullies, and like most bullies, if one was able to confront them in person, their anonymity lost, they would deflate.

Then there are the political bullies.  They are the ones who confuse aggression with being assertive, with being leaders.  They use their position to bully those who have the temerity to question them.  I don’t need to say who they are, you’ll have your own ideas.

The problem with aggression is that in our current situation regarding the Covid-19 pandemic, the virus doesn’t give a hoot, (polite version).  It has no ego to be intimidated, it has one simple aim – infection with the bonus of killing people if it can.

Controlled aggression requires never giving the virus the chance to spread; to bring people along with you; to make sure that those who break the rules are brought to justice and made to pay for their selfish transgressions.  New Zealand is a great example of controlled aggression.  From the off, they went in hard.

The problem is that the bloviate leadership we are seeing currently, populists all, can only peddle aggression.  Uncontrolled and bullying aggression.  And that’s why they’ll fail. 

But at what cost?  That’s what we should be asking ourselves.  How many have died unnecessarily?  Let us not confuse aggression with leadership.  Let us not confuse aggression with effectiveness.  Let us simply make those using aggression accountable for the damage they have done and will continue to do until they are replaced.

Interesting thing aggression, it can end up killing you.  But never them… 

J J Mitchell

‘No one left behind’

This far and no further

This far and no further

I’m beginning the third volume of the Kold Kronicles trilogy.  As you do when writing fantasy, you think about battles, war-fighting, using viruses as an economic as well as physical weapon, y’know, the kind of thing that writing fantasy allows you to do because it’ll never happen.  The characters who are on the good side need to be brave since they could end up losing their life or badly damaged, physically as well as mentally.  It started me thinking about what’s meant by bravery and the form it might take in this day and age.  

There are many types of bravery, on the field of battle, or those private, dark night of the soul moments.  It might be an individual standing up to power or a member of a group going against the majority view.  

I have become aware that many brave acts tend to be driven by personal values.  The individual feels they will be a lesser person if they do not act.  The outcome of such bravery is that, invariably, they are mocked, pilloried and bullied in such a way as to try to intimidate them and others.  

As for bullying, here’s a definition I can work with: 

‘Persistent, offensive, abusive, intimidating,  malicious or insulting behaviour, abuse of power or unfair penal sanctions, which makes the recipient feel upset, threatened, humiliated or vulnerable, which undermines their self-confidence and which may cause them to suffer stress.’

Anyone in the White House come to mind?  

Bullies need to be confronted, and hard.  If you don’t, they feel empowered to double down and become even more of a threat to others, their behaviour even more egregious.  Perhaps Captain Jean-Luc Picard in ‘Star Trek:  First Contact’ had it right when he said of fighting the Borg:  

‘We’ve made too many compromises already.  Too many retreats.  They invade our space, and we fall back.  They assimilate entire worlds, and we fall back.  Not again.  The line must be drawn here!  This far and no further.’  

So, to The Squad;  Mitt Romney;  Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch;  Lieutenant Colonel Alexander S Vindman;  the impeachment prosecution team who resigned in disgust at Attorney General Barr’s behaviour;  the former Conservatives who stood up to the UK’s current Prime Minister and his homunculus of an adviser;  to you and so many others, confront, hold fast, counter attack.  

This far and no further.  

J J Mitchell

‘No one left behind’

 

It’s good to read…

It’s good to read…

So interesting, so interesting.  If you’re a writer, one of the pieces of advice that seems to be given by experienced writers is that you need to read.  Read everything that interests you.  Read material that may not appear to be relevant to your own writing.  Just read, it’s never wasted.  

I agree with that.  

Currently  I’m reading a book called ‘Shredded:  Inside RBS, The Bank That Broke Britain.’  It’s a fairly hefty tome but what comes through is how one individual, enabled by those whose focus was only on profit to the detriment, eventually, of customers, can take down a company and all but melt down the UK’s financial system.  

George Mathewson was the CEO of the Royal Bank of Scotland, RBS, from 1992 to 2000 and is credited with turning around the bank and making it a major financial player. He became chairman in May 2001 following the retirement of George Younger.   Mathewson was also responsible for hiring Fred Goodwin, a micro-manager and control freak.  Goodwin, also known as ‘Fred the Shred’, hence the title of the book, comes over as a thin skinned and vindictive individual who made short shrift of those who questioned him.  He was rude and he was a bully.  His senior management morning meetings or ‘morning beatings’ as they were known were dreaded.  He would pick on one individual and then berate that morning’s ‘victim’.  There was also a culture of fear throughout the organisation made worse by what was known as the ‘rank and yank’ reward system the bank introduced.  The ‘Vitality Curve’ to give it its proper name, was pioneered by Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric.  It was a brutal and counter productive system that ranked people as an A (20%), B (70%), or C (10%).  Look it up, not pleasant.  

Mathewson must also take responsibility as must the Board of Directors who appear to have known about Goodwin’s bullying and did nothing.  No, let’s not call it bullying, let’s call it what it really was, psychopathic behaviour.  Everything was fine as long as profits were made.  

Goodwin’s behaviour reminded me of some senior management I met when I used to analyse and evaluate organisations in a previous life.    It’s called the Dunning-Kruger effect.  In short, it’s where people mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is.  

Goodwin was / is an obviously bright man, but something must have been missing in his ‘make-up’ that caused him to be such a hated individual and yet ignore it.   Maybe he had people around him who wouldn’t tell him the truth, they knew that if they did, they would lose their job.  The result is that, in the short term, you can appear to be a trail blazer.  In the long term you end up overrating your ability since no-one will tell you differently.  The consequence is that you lead your company into a situation where it will fail spectacularly.  

Or a country.  

Finally, a quote from last week which made me smile:  I earned my spurs on the battlefield; Donald Trump earned his spurs from the doctor.’   (Former General and Defense Secretary James Mattis.)

Ba-boom!  

J J Mitchell

‘No one left behind’