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’

On War? Reset

On War?  Reset

Interesting thing, war.  Many things written in the past by students of war still resonate.  For example, Carl von Clausewitz, 1780 – 1831.  He wrote ‘On War’ (‘Vom Kriege’).  A couple of useful quotes, ‘Many intelligence reports in war are contradictory; even more are false, and most are uncertain… In short, most intelligence is false.

Fair enough. Doesn’t mean that you don’t take it into account, it means that you treat it with caution.  Like all intelligence.  You also don’t want to try and pressure those providing it to say what you want it to say. That’s called lying.  Remember the Weapons of Mass Destruction, WMD, that existed in Iraq?  That was based on politically driven ‘edited’ intelligence and we all know how that turned out.

Here’s another, ‘Politics is the womb in which war develops.’  Appropriate for the time and I would argue, still relevant.  Politics back then were, in many cases, driven by personal aggrandisement, arrogance, aggression, and a sense of entitlement.  Okay, yes you’re right, it’s also relevant today.  You’ll have your own ideas as to whom this applies. 

Some politicians see value in war.  Seriously, they do.  A war can be used to bring a population together in a ‘righteous war’ when you’re slumping in the polls or there’s civil unrest caused by your policies.  Initially, the country is united as the (non-fighting) politicians send men and women away to fight.  Then come the casualties.  The broken.  The coffins.  The push-back.  This because the plan is going pear shaped.  Why? Well, let’s go back in history to a student of Clausewitz, Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, Chief of Staff of the Prussian Army before World War One.  He wrote, ‘No plan of operations extends with certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy’s main strength.’  Commonly summarised as, ‘No plan survives contact with the enemy.’  Yep.

Why am I writing about this?  Why do I feel it relevant?  Well, put quite simply, we have a world that is stuttering.  Health, trade, international relationships, finance, national security, in fact, the ‘whole jing-bang’ as folk from the North East of Scotland might say.  It’s stuttering; people and communities are uncertain;  misinformed and malicious information is being spread;  people are losing their jobs and are fearful of the future.  It’s stuttering.  It’s concerning.

When one adds those using Covid-19 to increase their political authority, that concern increases. Think Hungary, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, China, Philippines, and, oh, yes, North America. There are many that might come to mind, some more overt than others.

However, weaponising Covid-19 for political ends is a dangerous strategy, really dangerous.  This virus is an enemy that has no ego, no plan, it exists just to infect.  That’s it.  Weaponise Covid-19 and your planning won’t last beyond first contact with the enemy, be it the virus, or the country you have suddenly decided is the cause of your country’s financial and social tensions and have attacked either militarily or economically.

The investment of billions in arms over the decades also needs to be reset.  War has moved on, it’s more asymmetric although killing a fellow human being has become even more industrialised and effective.  What value an aircraft carrier, or a multi-billion dollar jet when your enemy won’t come at you head on?  What value highly trained men and women when they succumb to a virus?  Weapons don’t and cannot fight pandemics.  Definitely a reset.

‘Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its labourers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.’  (General Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1953)

He knew about war.

So, back to where I started. On War? Reset. 

J J Mitchell

‘No one left behind’