A riot is the language of the unheard

A riot is the language of the unheard

There’s a saying, (it’s also a curse), ‘May you live in interesting times’.  Hmm, well, we’re certainly experiencing that at the moment aren’t we?  So much going on, so much frustration with the status quo; so much frustration with inequality of opportunity be it health, education, whatever.  People feel the system is unfair and their concerns ignored, in sum, they are the unheard. 

According to the Pew Research Centre, the income inequality gap in the US has never been wider – the bottom 50% of Americans have just 1% of the nation’s wealth, the top 10% has 70%. 

None of this is new, however, it’s just that it has recently become more obvious.  But there again, you knew that didn’t you? 

In 1967, Martin Luther King, MLK, gave a speech at Stanford, entitled, ‘The Other America’.  You can read it here: https://bit.ly/38q0d8F  (The page also provides a link to YouTube.)  Keep in mind this was in 1967, over half a century ago. Think about that for a moment, over half a century ago…  

Like all great speeches, it is still powerful; it still resonates;  it still applies.  It’s a long speech but worth the time.  MLK ranges far and wide, talking about lack of opportunity in America, especially if your skin is black.  It is the speech in which he says, ‘A riot is the language of the unheard.’ 

In the same speech, MLK also said, ‘Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.’  Yep, that works for me as well.  Remember, half a century ago… 

In the US we have the current resident of the WH pouring petrol on an already volatile situation.  No leadership or listening to the unheard there, or in Brazil, or Hungary or Poland.  In Russia, Putin is now in power until 2036 after a somewhat, to put it mildly, questionable referendum.  In Hong Kong, China has imposed a ‘security’ lockdown on political disagreement breaking the treaty it had with the UK in the process. 

All of the above have one thing in common, the creation of the unheard.  All are creating groups who may feel they need to go ‘underground’ to survive.  All are storing up a pressure that will, one day, make itself heard again.  It will appear to have come out of nowhere, but it will happen.  They will be heard. 

Let’s just hope it doesn’t take another fifty years, eh?

J J Mitchell
No one left behind

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

On the generosity of other writers.

On the generosity of other writers.

In my last blog I wrote about the generosity of other writers.  There are so many who are willing to share their points of view, what they’ve learned and how others can learn from their mistakes.  I like that.  

Currently I’m setting the scene for a battle between the good guys and the bad guys.  The thing here is that you simply can’t just launch into something and say, battle ensued.  Where’s the context?  Where’s the development of expectation?  Where’s the satisfaction when battle does commence and your bad-ass good guys go against the bad-ass bad guys? Read more

‘Our medical insurance world is so fucked up right now.’ The marketisation of compassion and responsibility

‘Our medical insurance world is so fucked up right now.’ The marketisation of compassion and responsibility

My view of blogs is simple, write when you feel you have something to say or when something you read triggers that need.  Here’s the trigger, it was written by Hannah Middlebrook of Tulsa.

After reading this morning’s terrible news, it struck me my friends in the UK need to hear something many Brits may not have considered. If the Manchester Arena bombing had happened in the US, every family with a dead or injured member would begin receiving bills in the coming days. Parents who lost their children would get a detailed and unadorned list of services provided by the medics that tried to save their relations’ lives. And they would be expected to start making payments immediately.

While they mourned heartbreaking losses, American families would be billed for the ambulance rides, morphine, CPR, anaesthesia. They would be expected to pony up for surgeries that were unsuccessful, medication that didn’t work, and the time the anaesthesiologist spent trying to keep their children comfortable during major procedures. They would continue to receive those bills for month upon month after the death of their children. Read more

Turbulent times all round…

Turbulent times all round…

Well, I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise. Confusion and mendacity continue on both sides of the pond. In the case of the current President of the United States, he’s doubling-down via his early morning tweets. Over here in the UK, we continue to experience the confusion caused by the Brexit vote. The lie regarding the £350 million a week that would be added to the National Health Service should we vote to leave the European Union is now history. Those who promoted this calumny, this lie, attempt to ignore it and, to be honest, they’re being allowed to by the media that gave them resonance in the first place.  

Then add to the mix the undemocratic voting systems that enabled this chaos – First Past The Post, FPTP, in the UK and in the US, the Electoral College. The result is that in the former you have a Government with a majority in Parliament voted into power by a minority of the population, thus not fully representative. In the latter, the outcome is a President who lost the popular vote by almost three million votes and yet still became President, thus, again, not fully representative. Think about that, both systems created for historical reasons that no longer apply, and yet are still extant. That we need to change this is beyond doubt. That the vested interests do not want to is also beyond doubt. The result of this continuation of an undemocratic process?  Well, turbulence for sure.  And definitely anger.

In spite of the increasing questioning of the mental state of the current POTUS, aka 45, he still retains large pockets of support in the US. The same for Brexit in the UK, in spite of economic, social and cultural concerns becoming more clear.  Retained support in both cases, I would imagine, in no small part due to the privately owned media that has a vested interest in ensuring the millionaire owners and their coterie of sycophants remain in power and retain their wealth.  (Anyone have a story about a banker being made legally and financially responsible for the 2008 meltdown and being put in prison? Or a media organisation CEO charged with promoting hatred? No?  I didn’t think so.)  

With all this happening I feel we are coming to a tipping point. I have written before about what happens when people continue to feel ignored, mocked, taken for granted and so on – revolution of one kind or another. That I have trust in my fellow human beings makes me believe that things will improve – eventually.  

However, between now and then, it’s turbulent times all round…

J Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind…’

There are times when a picture does say it all…

There are times when a picture does say it all…

Y’know, as a writer I look around me at the worlds of business, politics and finance and think, ‘I couldn’t make this up.’  

This was reinforced for me when the love of my life and I were at the Edinburgh Book Festival recently and saw James Oswald and Gunnar Staalesen.  These are two authors who seriously know their stuff.  Not only are they incredibly successful, (multiple books published, films, TV, and in one case, a statue in the town in which the main character lives), but they are also delightful, funny and insightful human beings.  In sum, and to put it mildly, they do good stuff.  Obviously I am not envious, (he lied.)  

Anyway, to continue, one thing that particularly struck me was the answer to the question of where did they get their ideas from.  The reply was that it was less of a problem of not knowing what to write, but more what not to write about. 

‘There’s so much around you, all you have to do is look.’  

I understand and agree with this wholeheartedly.  

The reason for this train of thought is a recent picture I came across.  It’s by Norman Rockwell and called ‘The Golden Rule’.  The picture appeared on the cover of the The Saturday Evening Post, 1 April, 1961, and can be seen, along with the article, here:  http://bit.ly/18KaXyg 

I think that what attracted me to the picture is its simple belief, powerfully depicted, in our common humanity. The common humanity he identifies so well remains, although you’d maybe think otherwise if you were fed only on a diet of Fox News, an oxymoron if ever I saw one, or believe the ranting of the blowhards within the political and financial elites.  I look around and see how so many with a vested interest in the status quo try to prevent change. I see hatred being stirred up for political reasons, setting our humanity against each other for the benefit of those creating this dissonance, this wasteful emotion.  I see many decent people being exhorted, goaded, to turn against each other.  They do this not realising the ‘nudge’ they’re being given by the media, the moguls that control it, and the vested interests that support and thus gain by it.  It takes a simple picture, printed over 55 years ago to remind us that our humanity is a constant.  

We forget that at our peril. 

Have a look at the picture, it really does say it all…  

J J Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind…’

The most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose

The most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose

So here we are, the first week of the Olympics. It’s an interesting experience this, seeing carriers of the Olympic torch surrounded by people holding guns so that the torch bearer can’t be attacked.  Not seen that before. Oh, yes, apart from when China held the Olympics. They had special security people preventing others from even coming near. Looked quite fit. And trained. And dangerous. And willing to use violence. Similar to Brazil actually.  

It’s the cause of these experiences that I find interesting.  With China it was their reputation on human rights that appeared to be the main driver.  In Brazil, it is something else. When you have such inequality – political and economic – as they do; when you feel even your basic needs are being ignored by the powers that be; when you are frustrated at money being spent on something that is ephemeral and provides you with no benefit; when you are frustrated that you and your kind, the needy, the impoverished, the disadvantaged, are ignored because your ‘betters’ feel it is, ahem, better, to spend money on something that makes your ‘betters’ look good to others of their kind, then you react in any way you can. Which is why we’re seeing what we’re seeing.  

I’ve been to Brazil a few times. I love their open heartedness and generosity to others, the wicked sense of humour, and boy, do they know how to party. I like that in a people, in a culture. I also found Brazil fascinating in another sense – innate sensuality side by side with a very Roman Catholic belief system. Curious and contradictory.  

We need to keep in mind, if you ignore the people long enough; if you don’t give them the opportunity they see being offered to others; if your political system is such that only others of the elite can ‘play’; if people continually feel disenfranchised, alienated, then there will be consequences.

Closer to home, in the UK we saw that alienation in the Brexit vote. In the USA we’re seeing anger at the status quo, and Wall Street. We will have to wait until November to see if the disenfranchised vote in enough numbers to make President someone who, to put it mildly, appears to have a personality disorder. If he is successful then the world of ruling elites will only have themselves to blame.  

As the American Essayist, Playwright and Novelist, James Arthur Baldwin said, ‘The most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose.’ 

If that doesn’t convince you, think on the Italian saying, ‘Beware the person with nothing to lose.

They’re worth keeping in mind…

 

J J Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind…’

The people have spoken – the bastards

The people have spoken – the bastards

This blog is being written on the Monday after the seismic events of the UK vote to leave the EU.  Cameron has resigned and the Conservative Party, (formal title the Conservative and Unionist Party – somewhat ironic), is now in the throes of a leadership election.  At the same time, Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition, The Parliamentary Labour Party, has decided, whilst their opponents are leaderless and rudderless and at their weakest, to mount a coup against a leader they see as ineffective.  Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain – we can only imagine where that might take us.  I know it’s more complex than this, but I’m keeping it relatively simple for the benefit of brevity.

The dust still remains to settle on the decision of those in England and Wales to leave the EU.  However, it is becoming clear that many in the North of England and some in Wales voted to leave as a protest against what they saw as an unfeeling political and financial elite living in London and within the ‘Westminster Bubble’.  They felt ignored.  They’re right, they have been.  That is until those concerned need the people’s vote and do and say anything to gain it  For example, ‘The NHS will be better off by £350m a week...’ Interestingly, it was only after the vote we were told that such a statement was, ‘an intention, not a promise…‘  or, a good one this, ‘a mistake.’  Really?  Here’s another, ‘We’ll address immigration…‘  Post vote, ‘it may take time to fully address...’   Those who obfuscated or told downright lies, in many cases both, are now being held to account to deliver on what they promised.  

Fernand Braudel once wrote that ‘history can be divided into three movements: what moves rapidly, what moves slowly and what appears not to move at all.’  At the moment, it appears that we are experiencing the first.  There has been a societal seismic shift and that expectations have been raised is without doubt.  I am also confident they will not be met.  The result will be increased cynicism and the view that politicians are ‘only in it for themselves.’  Many are not, are totally committed to the community they represent and try to engage in the politics of the possible.  These politicians must have looked on aghast as they saw what was happening.  Like many of us, they must now be deafened by the sound of screeching brakes as the promises made during the campaign are being ‘moderated’.  However, the leaders of both campaigns need to be held to account.  Somehow I don’t think it will happen.  

I have written on this sense of alienation and frustration in a number of other blogs.  I have also written about the use of language that generates hatred and distrust of others.  When will those in power realise that there is always a cost to what they say?  When will those in power learn that people will sometimes vote in a way that shows their contempt and dislike for the body politic?  Especially when they feel powerless.  

The comment, “The people have spoken…the bastards,” is said to have been uttered by California State Senate Candidate Dick Tuck, who lost an election to Richard Nixon in 1966.  I would agree, they have.  Currently, the people ‘speak’ by voting.  We need to ensure the people are provided with a voting system that allows them to be heard more effectively. Currently this does not exist.  In the UK, The First Past The Post, FPTP, is a broken and discredited system.  In the US, you have a process that requires candidates to have deep pockets.  If they don’t they invariably become beholden to some whose views of democracy might be questionable.  If not addressed, then the people will ‘speak’.  They will ‘speak’ by electing those who espouse a world view that reflects their own anger and sense of frustration.  Thus come demagogues… 

Then the people will not have just spoken, they will have roared.  And if they do, it won’t be pretty.

JJ Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind…’

Letting go of the tiger’s tail…

Letting go of the tiger’s tail…

My last blog was about how easy it is to create hate.  I still feel the same.  In fact, looking at the media in the intervening period we are now seeing a ratcheting up of emotions in the political arena.  In the US there have been fist fights, fortunately nothing more than that at the moment, (one can only hope this remains the case), but the anger and hatred between people is being increased. Being played upon.  Being used.  In sum, the body politic is becoming venomous.  Unhealthily so. 

Then let’s add the media to the mix. When one has a media that cites ‘in the public interest’ and lambasts those who cannot protect themselves, (the poor and the powerless), and then hides the misdeeds of those with power;  when one has a media that relies on advertising revenue to make money for the oligarchs that own them;  when one has an elite and a political process that only allow those with money, (or the ability to obtain it with promises of future benefit), to aim for power, then you have a powder keg in the making.  And it’s becoming dangerously hot.  

As an observer of human behaviour I have noted this simmering resentment for the last eight years or so.  It became a tad more obvious when the fiscal meltdown occurred in 2008.  It was exacerbated further when those whose greed and irresponsible behaviour caused the crash were able to escape any penalty.  Interestingly, now I’m hearing that we might be on the verge of another fiscal earthquake.  And those who initiated this before?  Well, they’re the ones who remain in power, have retained their uber rich benefits, and the media machine continues to pump out, ‘in the public interest’.  Really?  What interest do / should we have in the ‘meedja’ wannabes whose outrageous behaviour makes them click-bait.  Ah, the marketing arm that’s involved in maximising revenue.  

So, the reason for this blog.  Currently we have a world where those trying to escape being killed are vilified; those whose race, creed or colour differ from the blowhards spouting their hatred are termed an ‘enemy’ and, slowly but surely, one can see that the tiger is beginning to stride towards the centre of our world. 

Finally, when these blowhards achieve power, what are they going to do then?  Will they change their tone?  Will they be able to? Or will they see the tiger padding towards them? 

JJ Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind…’