Here are three ways you can get a proper degree from a reputable university without burdening yourself with debt for the rest of your working life and without buying a fake degree certificate from a spam email company in China!
1. Outsource your degree: Go European
With British fees reaching an eye-watering £9,000, isn’t it time you looked elsewhere for a degree? Our neighbours in France and Germany pay as little as £300 a year for their fees and, as EU citizens, Brits are eligible for studying abroad for the same price. If you study on the continent, you could save yourself around £8,700 a year. Just think of the number of pints of watered-down beer and tickets to see second rate Indie bands you could buy with that!
If you’ve got an A-level in a certain country’s language, that’s more than adequate for acceptance to study in the country. WIN!
‘But I can’t speak a foreign language!’ I hear you cry. That’s OK – you don’t always have to! Many Nordic countries, plus Belgium, Holland and parts of Eastern Europe have large numbers of degrees where all tuition is in English. This is especially true of Business Studies, Science and IT-related courses.
Beer money saved: £26,100
Fun factor *****
Difficulty rating **
2. Distance Learning
Everybody knows that an Arts and Humanities subject is all about the reading and not about the lectures. Some Arts students will find themselves shelling out £9,000 a year for the privilege of having 6 one-hour lectures a week, plus a couple of 17-to-a-group tutorials with an inexperienced PhD student.
Just about every University out there offers a distance learning programme, where you walk away with a certificate from UCL, Durham, wherever, but for a mere snip of the price. If you really miss the personal contact, find someone locally to teach you one-to-one a couple of hours a week. Most Postgrads and even many professors will happily teach you privately for £30 an hour.
Beer money saved: £21,000
Fun factor **
Difficulty rating *
3. PhD by publication
Finally, we come to the PhD. That piece of paper which you sweat blood to write in order to call yourself a non-medical Doctor. If you’re serious about becoming an academic/getting tenure/getting paid to talk crap/pulling young hotties forever, you need to spend four years sweating blood over a PhD thesis, drinking coffee, trying to avoid daytime TV and sucking up to your supervisor, right?
There is another way: PhD by publication. Write some academic articles, get them published, then submit a portfolio of published work to a PhD panel who award you with a PhD based on publications.
What we have here is basically a time-saving hack for anyone looking for a career in academia who is quite good already and doesn’t fancy paying £20,000+ for a piece of paper to tell people how good they already are.
Think of it this way: PHD + writing, say five articles will take approximately 7-8 years of your life. Writing five articles and turning them into a PhD will take approximately two years of your life. Also, while your contemporaries busy themselves writing an endless PhD thesis and watching the Jeremy Kyle Show, you have a PhD AND five publications under your belt. Who do you think will be the most employable?
What are the pitfalls?
You’ve got to be good. Very good. Good enough to have your articles accepted by reputable, peer reviewed journals. Not everyone can do this, but it’s not clear that sitting and writing a thesis for five years will make you any more capable of doing it afterwards, is it?
Beer money saved: £15,000
Fun factor ***
Difficulty Rating *****
A new ice-cream parlour has opened opposite my house and it’s a bit grim. It’s a chain, apparently: Basingstoke, Plymouth, Oxford… There’s nothing wrong with the place, really. It’s just the branding: The name, the signage, the pink and black and red and white interior.
The owners are clearly ignorant of the rules of the game. The rules are: A bit hipster, Scandinavia-meets-Pacific-North-West, wooden tables, exposed brick, white tiles, beards, tattoos… It’s not that difficult. Even fucking KFC has started doing it now. It’s in the marquee in British Bake Off, for fuck’s sake.
Now I’m all for originality and I have as big an aversion to that nebulous group we call hipsters as anyone, but let’s be realistic. We are living in an age with a new, weird kind of fascism: The homogeneity of global, urban consumer taste is all-pervading and to open a shop with a pink and black interior is to advertise your “otherness”, or at least your cluelessness, to the urban customers you wish to entice.
I’m not sure exactly when it set in, but somewhere in this millennium, everybody started thinking alike. The subcultures which had previously defined young people and kept them apart from their elders subsided. Vintage clothing further blurred the generational gaps. Here’s a disturbing fact: A 16-year-old’s record collection now contains 40% of the same tracks as a 60-year-old’s.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the scale, the last of the proper grannies died: Those ladies who wore nylon dresses, ate salad cream and disapproved of ‘living in sin’ and ‘the gays’ were no more. In a recent EU survey, 99% of Britons said they wouldn’t mind if a gay couple moved in next door. Europe-wide, this figure is well over 90%.
In urban areas in the Global South, western liberal values like gay rights, marriage for love and women’s rights are in the ascendency, thus breaking down the cultural peculiarities which made the world a much more diverse place twenty or even ten years ago. Meanwhile, global super-brands from Apple to Beyonce stalk the earth for new markets, sucking more and more consumers inexorably into their crowd-pleasing thrall.
In the age of big data, governments and corporations are increasingly able to design according to the wishes or predispositions of the crowd. “Crowdshaping” involves using personal data drawn from the people inside a defined physical area to shape and reshape their experience. For example, town planners make traffic lights which change according to real time traffic data, or DJs play songs taken from the audience’s home computer playlists.
Which is to say that the present and future of our society is a tyranny of the majority. It is a society where we are closely monitored, and everybody thinks and acts alike. Meanwhile, Germany dominates Europe economically and Scandinavian aesthetics rules culturally. Sounds rather like the Third Reich. But with hipsters.
Which kind of makes me want to hang out in the ice-cream shop just on principle. But I bet they don’t even have fucking WIFI.
I never delete people on Facebook for holding opinions that are different from mine. As an advocate of free speech, I welcome comments from lunatics, ‘KIPpers and even Tories (Of course, the first two are far from mutually exclusive).
In spite of all that, my Facebook feed around election time reminds me how much I have surrounded myself with woolly, liberal do-gooding pinko space cadets like myself.
To take an arbitrary example, no fewer than 33 of my FB friends “like” the Green Party. Conversely, not a single one of my friends “likes” the Conservative Party.
So, it should have come as no surprise today that my Facebook news feed reads like a Euripidean tragedy. Between gnashing of teeth, pulling of hair and crying into gluten-free yofu muesli, we had:
“I’m so, so sad”
“FUCK YOU ENGLAND”
“I can’t believe it. Devastated.”
Then I realised: We need to stop being unhappy. In every country of the world, including even formerly socialist places like Sweden, corporate control has made politics redundant. What you do or don’t do at the ballot box pales into insignificance compared with what you buy, where you bank and how you spend your time. We still have the power as consumers and (non-)workers to change the world should we wish to.
I voted Green and then went to Tescos on the way home and bought bacon and used their free plastic bags. That makes me as deluded and confused as the working class people who vote for ultra-capitalist UKIP.
Similarly, those people who are moaning about the election results, yet continuing to work for global companies whilst taking out credit cards and loans to buy shit they don’t need that’s been made in sweatshops from conflict minerals by third world slaves are just as hypocritical as me.
On a global scale, we are the 1%. We blame the Tories, but don’t realise that it is us, yes you and me who are the enemy….
The reason “they” have it all is that we all want what they have. It’s called false consciousness. The only way out of this mess is to create a system with values other than “their” values.
Those who are too chicken shit to consider a sustainable, anti-growth economic model may as well just quit moaning and get out there and make some money.
Liked this? Now read: Whatever happened to the leisure society?
It appears that London’s commuters have been attacked by anarchists telling them they need to stop working.
For those struggling to live and pay rent in the world’s most expensive city, those posters probably won’t cut much mustard.
However, the posters are indeed correct.
Revolution will only happen the day the working class realize they don’t have to work. It is only work which makes someone working class.
Socialists (as opposed to anarchists) on the other hand, are convinced that jobs are a great thing. They hold miners’ strikes and march for the ‘right to work’. Which means that Marxism might not be the best hope for the poor after all.
I wrote a blog about this a while ago, which explains all this. It’s here, if you haven’t already read it.
As well as the breath-taking honey-coloured stone, the famous dreaming spires and the tweed-clad Dons, the one thing that many visitors first notice is the number of homeless people on Oxford’s streets. Indeed, the homeless in Oxford are as numerous as they are visible. On any one night in Oxford, there are dozens of rough sleepers, hundreds more in hostels and thousands more ‘sofa surfing’ or sharing three or more to a room (making Oxford the UK’s 4th biggest ‘homelessness hotspot’). Some two miles away on the outskirts of town, the Oxford ring road is choked with stationary traffic at rush hour. Commuting to Abingdon or Whitney is the stuff of misery for a huge proportion of those who work in the city. These two seemingly disparate facts (homelessness and traffic) are, of course, intimately connected: Oxford is in the midst of a housing crisis. And the trouble is, there are no easy solutions. In spite of what commentators on the left and the right might have us believe.
The lack of housing cuts through all sections of society and is not reserved for some imagined underclass. Wages and job security in publishing and academia are enjoying a race to the bottom while property prices are continuing to out-perform the rest of the UK. The average property price is an eye-watering £380,000, while wages hover at around 1/12th of this figure. Simply put, Oxford is the country’s most expensive place to live, in proportion to wages.
The situation for Oxford’s less-well-off is, of course, even worse. The maximum housing benefit is £800 a month for a parent and child. A quick look at Rightmove reveals that the cheapest 2-bed property in town costs £865. You can, as they say, do the math. The Government’s so-called bedroom tax does not get a look-in here.
As we move further down the social scale, beyond town and gown towards down-and-out, the picture is even gloomier. The number of new arrivals at homeless shelters is growing by the day, yet the council has cut the hostel budget by 1/3rd. Many of what me might glibly call ‘normal’ people are now destitute, due to something as simple as falling out with a partner or losing their job. Most of the new arrivals were not into drugs or drink – until they slept rough for a couple of nights, that is.
Housing crisis affects all walks of society: The homeless panhandler, the debt-laden student, the impecunious young professional, the struggling single mum, the miserable commuter. But how can we really, honestly, help them? How about we think about supply and demand? Or, as Oxford Labour party say, let’s build more houses. If you look at a map, much of Oxford’s geographical centre is green. The colleges own plenty of marsh land, pastures and playing fields which could be used to house Oxford’s poor, or so the narrative goes. The City Council has outlined the development (NIMBYS-notwithstanding) of around 10,000 homes in the next fifteen years, including a new garden city at Bicester. Unfortunately, this still leaves a shortfall of 20,000 when compared to its own estimates of population growth.
The council is in constant wranglings with itself over various building projects. It recently tried to build housing association homes for over 3,000 people in a new complex near the Kassam stadium, but it was wisely blocked by the Green party. I say wisely, not because I especially care about the no doubt very beautiful sparrows, earwigs and dormice in the proposed location, but because – I’m sorry to say – it is a fallacy that building houses reduces housing demand. Just as building motorways increases traffic, building more housing attracts more people.
Expanding a city attracts more people. There are already twenty thousand or so miserable commuters who’d love to move back to the city, let alone all the service industry staff – by which, of course, I mean immigrants – who would flock to a growing Oxford if it were to expand. Oxford’s reputation as a city of scientific research and a publishing mecca outwith the academy mean it will always have top people setting up great start-ups. The Universities themselves are, of course, growing exponentially, stuffing in more international students, as well as the home grown elite who are willing to shell out the fees for the word “Oxford” on their degree. Building new developments would merely serve to line the pockets of construction companies and landlords, which I can’t help but think is the real motivation behind the purported ‘public good’ of building more homes.
As is so often the case with macroscopic, top-down thinking, seemingly attractive technological solutions ultimately mask a deeper structural problem. Houses have become properties – commodities to be bought and sold. Student towns, pretty towns and towns near London are even more susceptible to house price inflation than most. Oxford is all three of these. The likelihood of Oxford University’s reputation waning any time soon is pretty slim. It made it through the last 1,000 years in good shape. As long as The West remains the ideological gatekeeper of knowledge, an investment in Oxford property looks like a no-brainer.
In saner countries than Britain, these problems have been solved by introducing rent caps or clamping down on buy-to-let. But there are no guarantees. Rent caps in Berlin held back astronomical rent rises, but the city is becoming less affordable to locals by the day. There really are no simple solutions to Oxford’s housing crisis, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do what we can. We may not be able to make the Government put the needs of its citizens before that of the banks, but each of us can be conscious of the housing needs of those around us and ensure that we act with compassion towards the homeless this Christmas.
2014 marked the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, an event I remember watching with both excitement and confusion at the time. Being only nine years old, I’d never actually heard of the Berlin wall before, but it looked like something very important was happening. Unbeknown to me, something very important was happening. I was witnessing the triumph of freedom and democracy over communism. Or at least the bankrupting of the Soviet Union and its replacement with capitalist hegemony.
In the spring of that year, Francis Fukuyama’s little-read piece in National Interest had predicted that free market capitalism was the only way forward and that communism was inevitably fizzling out. Pretty soon, he said, history would end, leaving humanity in a permanent state of liberal democratic bliss. It was only a matter of months before Fukuyama’s predictions appeared to be coming true: Solidarity won in Poland, GDR Refugees flowed through Hungary, the wall came down in Berlin, and – most surprisingly of all – David Hasselhoff sang atop the Brandenburg Gate. Ceausescu, Gorby et al were consigned to the scrap heap of history, like carbon paper, the ridings of Yorkshire and white dog poo.
A stroll through Berlin today might indeed reinforce the idea that the end of history is here. If ever there was a figurehead for the end of history, it’s the 21st Century cosmopolitain city-dweller. For the sake of argument, let’s call them a Hipster. Equally at home in Williamsburg and Kreuzberg, the 21st Century Hipster knows no international borders, loves all the latest technology and reinforces unequal economic structures in whichever hotspot it calls home. Hipsters are never racist or homophobic and really don’t see much point in governments or international borders. They value diversity and individualism above all else. Capitalism personified.
Of course, the Hipster aesthetic is no longer the preserve of the international backpack/jetset. Hipster went viral. Suddenly every high street in the Northern hemisphere has craft beer, pulled pork and bearded men with tattoos. The Hipster aesthetic is really now nothing more than the mainstream of youth culture: Be nice to gay people, have a cool phone, eat home-made stuff, make stuff and do something interesting with your life.
In spite of all this, if someone were to ask the question “Does it feel that, in 2014, we have reached the end of history? Do you feel like everything will more or less stay the same from now on?” The answer most of us would give is a resounding “no”. Not only are we becoming increasingly aware of a multi-pole world emerging where America, China, India, Brazil, Europe and Russia vie for economic and ideological hegemony, we are also witnessing a challenge to the liberal democratic dream in the west by so-called popularism. Figures as comically disparate as Nigel Farage, Vladimir Putin, Osama Bin Laden and Hugo Chavez remind us that history is far from over and that either the barbarians are at the gates of Rome, or that Rome needs to realize that Shanghai, Mumbai and Sao Paulo exist too.
A list of the top ten world population growth hotspots reads like a compendium of despots, beheadings, child soldiers, modern-day slavery and rule by military coup. I would wager that transexual rights are pretty far off the agenda in Liberia, Afghanistan, the Sudan, Sierra Leone and Oman. Even Russia and China may never be as zealously enthusiastic about minority rights as the west. (As Hitler showed, it is possible to have a capitalist system which supports majority rights at the expense of minorities.)
Fukuyama and others imagine that, given time, the international markets will correct the whims of national politicians and that capitalism – albeit in a Chinese or Indian flavoured model – will prevail. So far, it appears that once people reach a certain level of material wealth, they have the time and energy to question authority and to push for democracy. As Fukuyama said in a recent article in the Wall St Journal, “Even as we raise questions about how soon everyone will get there, we should have no doubt as to what kind of society lies at the end of History.”
Fukuyama would point out that the market, by its very nature, cuts down national boundaries and that, through the internet, infrastructure and immigration, humanity will be forced to be liberal, like it or not. His entire prediction, then, is based on a single idea: Capitalism will prevail. If we are to predict whether his predictions are correct, we need to decide whether Capitalism has a future.
The fundamental basis of our economic system is the idea of growth. Without growth, there can be no stock market, no investments, no loans, no banks. There are three ways to get growth: Exploiting nature (eg – by manufacturing goods or by burning fuels), exploiting human capital (eg – by making working weeks longer, or introducing zero hour contracts), and exploiting money (eg – by insuring money or betting on futures). That’s it.
Aside from the cheery realisation that our entire economic system is based on environmental destruction and human misery, the other thing these facts should tell us is that growth capitalism doesn’t have long left to run. The UN says with 80% certainty that what I’m going to call ‘peak humans’ will occur before 2100. The earth cannot support more than 12 Billion people, whether they eat GMOs or not. Similarly, the oil, gas and mineral deposits of the planet are finite. Fracking and shale gas have delayed the inevitable, but I don’t think that even the most gung ho of petrol heads expects to be running on gas come 2080.
Two of our three pillars of economic growth (ie – the exploitation of human and natural resources) look pretty unlikely to survive the century. This means that capitalism is going to have to change drastically if it is to survive. The question of whether you can make money out of money without human and environmental resources like manufacturing, immigration, air travel and wage competition is oddly both pie in the sky and a pressing concern. My intuition is that somewhere along the line, debts need a human being doing a crappy job so they can buy crappy things. I’m no economist, but I can’t help but think that over-dependence on ephemeral assets is the stuff of crashes, bubbles, bank runs, dust bowls and wheelbarrows of banknotes.
The next couple of years will be a vital turning point in deciding whether the world will switch towards a more sustainable economy. The economic recession has forced many people into creating their own sustainable businesses, far from the clutches of the stock markets. In fact, the amount of money made by profit-sharing cooperatives outstripped that of smartphones by a significant margin in 2012 (in spite of what the mainstream media failed to mention).
Young Western people are into things like knitting, baking, sewing, buying vintage clothes, collecting old things, growing stuff on their rooftops, riding bikes, eating less meat – all hallmarks of a post-Capitalist, sustainable economy. The big question might be whether or not the young people in China and India catch the same bug.
In the years since the fall of the wall, we have seen a homogenisation of cultures, where the global rich’s youth are a tolerant, democratically inclined, liberal-minded elite which grows by the thousands in number every day. We could be forgiven for mistaking this for the end of history. But counter to this, the years since 1989 have seen the rise of fundamentalist Islam, the rise of Popular parties, and a population spurt in some of the world’s least liberal countries. We know that something is going to happen with global warming: It might mean catastrophic destruction of major cities or perhaps a move to sustainable local energy cooperatives. In technology, we are going to see artificial intelligences overtake humans and the reflexive phase of human history will really kick in once genetic manipulation and nanotechnology is applied to our own bodies and brains. Either way, it’s pretty clear: Fukuyama don’t know shit: History is only just beginning.
It’s funny how time just moves on and, imperceptibly, things disappear without fanfare or farewell. Of course, technology is the reason for most things to become outdated. Among the recent cultural cullings are: Watching VHS, listening to CDs, using encyclopedias, knowing people’s phone numbers, arranging to meet someone at a specific time, booking your holiday at a travel agents (or through Ceephax if you were awesome), wearing a watch, writing a letter.
While the digital age has heralded much of this change, some of it is unrelated to technology and more of a fashion thing. It’s no longer relevant who is at number one in the charts. Neither is it cool to visibly belong to a youth subculture. Except in, like, Retford or Cumbria, where defiant Emo kids still cling longingly to the idea that thickness of eyeliner equates to emotional depth. As a DJ, I am no longer expected to announce people’s birthdays or ask “anyone here celebrating A-level results day tonight?” in a nightclub, thankfully.
But one thing that has passed imperceptibly into the past is Grannies. By which I mean real Grannies of the kind still depicted on TV like this:
Proper Grannies were so ubiquitous that we never thought we’d see the back of them. We thought that, as you got older, we’d all automatically start wearing nylon dresses and calling the radio the “wireless”. It seemed a natural part of the ageing process: As soon as your hair turned grey, you suddenly felt an uncontrollable urge to eat tongue sandwiches and switch to electric blankets and eiderdowns.
But something happened….
The proper Grannies went to the great whist drive in the sky and the baby boomers started reaching 50, then 60, then 70… Suddenly, your Granny has done more LSD than you have and makes better pesto to boot. Granny wants a Kindle Fire for Christmas. Granny has 2000 followers on Pinterest. Granny is glamping at Glastonbury (Emily Eavis follows her on Twitter).
So, before they are gone forever, let us remember:
Carriage clocks for 40 years’ loyal service
Listening to Perry Como/holidaying at Lake Como
Calling electricity ‘the electric’
Knowing/caring who Princess Grace of Monaco is
Motorbikes with sidecars
Tea urns in village halls
Saying ‘five bob’
Saying someone has ‘elfin’ features
Knowing how to play the piano
Thinking milk is healthy
Those brass lady/bell ornaments
What with the rise of British Bake-off and Sewing Bee, the hipster-fuelled return of knitting and the Swing music revival, some might argue that Granny culture is making a comeback. Or, like vinyl records, Caramacs and milk floats, it never actually went away if you knew where to look. More elderflower wine and damson jam is being consumed at more WI meetings now than at any time in the past 20 years. So while there is always a hint of tedious 21st century irony in the latter-day fad for bunting, shabby chic and Keep Calm and Carry On, at least we have some reminders of the Reenies and Mabels and Ethels who made our childhoods so full of joy. And Murray mints.
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It’s the Russell Brand or Johnny Rotten dilemma. Which Self-styled Countercultural Icon Should We Believe? Polly Tonbee opted for John Lydon while Jeremy Paxman seems to have gone for a Brand approach.
I have always had time for John Lydon. His vitriolic, caustic, Punk-as-fuck attitude and his keen lyrical wit are what makes his musical outings such an irresistible force. On the other hand, I have recently been much impressed by the off-the-wall rantings and giant-slaying kookiness of Russell Brand. They both agree that the political system is messed up, but Lydon says we must vote the current crop of failing politicians out, while Brand insists that voting is for dummies.
Russell Brand is essentially a hippie; he believes that the best way to alter reality is to change yourself. He has long espoused the benefits of transcendental meditation, so it’s no surprise that he believes that change comes from within the individual. In Brand’s world, there is no point in voting because it only encourages politicians. It legitimates their power. If you stop voting, you stop giving them that power.
If Russell Brand is Woodstock, then Johnny Lydon is Paris ’68. He is essentially a Marxist. Or perhaps more accurately, a Democratic Socialist. He believes that politics matters, that the working class need to vote for left-wing parties and through state intervention and good governance, everything will be OK. If only we had the right politics, the right government, the right policies … The way to bring about political change is more politics.
There are obvious flaws in both Brand and Lydon’s arguments. The trouble with Brand’s hippie anarchism is that you would need everybody to not vote. While there are still grannies and middle-Englanders religiously exercising their democratic right to vote, there will be a government. And one which reflects the voters’ interests (or perceived interests), not the interests of the apathetic non-voting youngsters.
The big flaw with John Lydon’s argument is that it assumes that we have somebody to vote for. The main three parties, plus UKIP, are essentially neo-liberal parties. They all want the same thing: Bail out the banks, feed the corporations, encourage austerity. Unless people actually start reading the Green Party Manifesto, which is hardly being encouraged by the media, there is no viable alternative.
The debate between Brand and Lydon is, to my mind, another manifestation of the age-old debate which has been raging in the left for over a hundred years. It began in the Russian Revolution, cropped up in (and indeed scuppered) the Spanish Civil War, was resurrected in the 60s and is now back with a vengeance. The question is whether the left wants Anarchism or Socialism. Unlike in the past, however, the nation state is no longer the unit of power. So this is why I’m going to say Russell Brand is right and John Lydon is hopelessly out of date.
Power lies in the corporations and banks, not national Governments. And banks and corporations are already answerable to us, as we are their customers. Even though their fattest customers are more banks and corporations, somewhere near the bottom is the little guy who has to pay off his debts and shop in Tesco’s. We don’t need to vote in a polling booth. We can vote with our pockets. In that sense, Brand is right: The way to change the world is to choose a better bank, to shop locally, to consume less. As the hippies say, the world is an illusion. If we stop believing in Tesco’s, it will go away. In fact, it’s already happening.
Liked this? NOW READ: Whatever Happened To The Leisure Society?
[EDIT: I’ve made this post sticky, as this topic is back in the news again! Mostly since Oxford university researchers announced that over 40% of jobs will be taken by robots soon . It’ll be interesting to see what really does happen, whether (as I suspect), people will just be kept busy doing ever more ludicrous tasks.]
In the early 70s, perhaps catalyzed by LSD or Marxism (or possibly both), academics in the humanities very briefly experienced a mini enlightenment. One of the most enlightening articles from this era, which I would recommend anyone read – if only the first couple of paragraphs – is Marshal Sahlin’s The Original Affluent Society.
In The Original Affluent Society, Sahlins explains that contemporary (ie-1966) hunter-gatherers like the Kalahari Bushmen or Inuits spend on average three hours a day working. Yet they live in some of the most inhospitable places on earth. Imagine how easy it must have been for stone-age hunter-gatherers living in temperate parts of Europe or America to survive. Their surroundings were so abundant they could procure everything completely for free from nature’s larder within minutes of their doorsteps – if they indeed had doors. They also had the knowledge to just go out and make anything they wanted – again completely free and gratis, using their extensive knowledge of the environment. This is why it’s a good idea to remain skeptical about the development agenda. If a person is “surviving on $1 a day in Africa”, it might actually mean they are actually rather well-off. Introducing waged labour and that economists’ pet obsession, property rights, to these communities turns them from being the most affluent people on earth into the poorest overnight. Way to go economists.
So, what does this have to do with us? Well, if you’re like me, you’ll have noticed: hold on a minute – three hours a day? In the arctic? WTF are we doing here in the West? We have the mechanisation of agriculture, digitisation of just about everything and roboticisation. Yet we humans are working more and more hours. We work 40 hours a week – probably around 4 times the amount of our paleolithic forebears. Something, somewhere has gone horribly wrong. We should be living in some kind of utopia where everybody is drinking drinks with umbrellas while robot slaves do our housework. What happened? Why do we live in such an inefficient society? Especially when capitalism claims to be so big on efficiency?
Unfortunately, the answer to this has been known for over ages. Herbert Marcuse predicted in 1956:
“the closer the real possibility of liberating the individual from the constraints once justified by scarcity and immaturity, the greater the need for maintaining and streamlining these constraints lest the established order of domination dissolve. Civilisation has to defend itself against the specter of a world which could be free. If society cannot use its growing productivity for reducing repression (because such usage would upset the hierarchy of the status quo), productivity must be turned against the individuals, it becomes itself an instrument of universal control.”
Marcuse, Eros and Civilization
Which, in a nutshell means: Capitalism wants to keep people busy. People must keep working to live and living to work, otherwise society will start – gulp – thinking for itself.
Those of you long enough in the tooth to remember the 70s might remember that Marcuse’s predictions about productivity had started to become a reality. Human labour capacity was outstripping demand and a “leisure society” was inevitable. There was talk of a three day working week and the question was posed: what are we going to do with all our free time? Freed from the shackles of employment, humanity would reach a new era of unprecedented creativity. People could live in tipis in Wales while robots and computers did all the human work. It was going to be like Woodstock every day. But with robots. Of course, all western governments realised this was terrible news for them. How can a Labour party survive with no workers? And how can right-wingers and Liberals survive with no consumers? Luckily for them, they had a solution: Bureaucracy.
Keep people busy at all costs. Introduce audits and targets and league tables and managers at all levels in the nationalised industries. Make them feel indispensable. Devise outreach schemes and health and safety drives and equal opportunity commissions; make sure that these new jobs are promoting equality and diversity, then any left-leaning person will be unable to question them. Make the public sector one huge, teetering bureaucracy where everybody feels they are helping society. Even though all society really needs is a few nurses, teachers and possibly policemen. If this bureaucracy idea is implemented, we can ensure that all people will be kept:
a. Too busy to change the status quo
b. Dependent on the state
Which is what happened. Ask any teacher, nurse, doctor, policeman, lecturer or social worker about their job and they will all, without exception, tell you that is blighted by inordinate amounts of pointless paperwork. The drop-out rate of new teachers is approaching 50%. A large proportion of them cite overwork as the cause. They are even talking of scrapping the long summer holidays, so it must be bad. Tenured university lecturers in the UK have to spend over half their working week on paperwork instead of doing new research or teaching students. Nurses and doctors spend as much time reporting on what they have just done as doing it.
The Protestant work ethic is so embedded in Anglo-American society that everyone from the unemployed demanding the “right to work” to the super-rich who do internships instead of just whatever the fuck they like all day are all in it together. The drudgery of wage slavery is the only way to feel fulfilled in our society. The long-term unemployed become suicidal. We are urged to detest those on Benefits Street because they are refusing to play along with the game.
The fact of the matter is that our society only really needs a two or three day working week. The other two and a half days create the surplus value which feeds capitalism by creating the consumer society. If people had those extra two and a half days, they might start their own businesses and compete with large scale capitalism by owning the means of production. ‘Owning the means of production’… of course, all this Marxist language sounds hideously old-fashioned to us now. It may be outdated, boring, passé, but let’s face it: It’s bang on the money, right?
In spite of not knowing how to spell Obama, or that the UK doesn’t have a president, Gemma Worrall knows that Russia is bad. The western media can give itself a collective back pat for that one. The endless anti-Putin propaganda, starting with the Olympics and ending in the whole Ukraine thing has been so effective that even those who know absolutely nothing about anything at all have been wholeheartedly convinced that RUSSIA IS EVIL.
Thank God our great leader Barraco Barner is here to save us all from these foreign evil dictators who do evil things like not selling us their gas as cheaply as we’d like or invading places they used to own.
I’m probably not the first person to point out that we have invented the most powerful mechanism for human interaction and cooperation ever conceived, yet use it to share pictures of kittens. In the spirit of Buzzfeed, Upworthy et al, I will give this article a ridiculously over-egged headline and a picture of a sloth doing something cute, but if you want to understand my drift, you might have to actually be bothered to read a few hundred words. Sorry about that.
I awoke this morning to a Buzzfeed article about an artist called Lindsay Bottos. To cut a long story short, Lindsay found herself at the brunt of cyberbullying for no other reason than being a relatively attractive woman with a Tumblr. I’m sure that many commentators’ angle on this story will be the failure of feminism: “The male gaze”, that sort of thing. However, there is an underlying tendency behind this whole issue which is, if anything, far more disturbing/interesting in my eyes. When people watched TV, it was called the ‘three-second zapping culture’.
Now we’re in the digital age, it’s this same zapping culture which draws us to Buzzfeed, Tumblr and the rest. If this new century can be characterised by anything, it is the way that visual culture has replaced the written word, and that information is becoming ever more bite-sized. Why watch a 2-hour film when you can watch a one-hour episode of Breaking Bad? Why read an essay about the meaning of art when you can see the idea expressed on canvas? Why read a cookery book when you can watch a youtube video instead? There is no doubt that, for good and for bad, all the information in the universe is slowly being condensed and filtered into manageable chunks. These bitesize pieces are easier to digest and help us to achieve more as human beings. But the flipside of all this is that we are becoming really sucky at thinking for ourselves, of holding complicated ideas in our heads and of seeing things in ways other than black and white.
To take an arbitrary example, let’s look at internet memes. They are funny because they are able to sum up a ‘type of person’ or a ‘familiar situation’ so well. They play into the same human weakness; the need to stereotype, to condense information, to create a shorthand, to distill a thought to its essence. They are also incredibly cruel for the person who’s been memed: They have had their individuality erased and whatever intentions they had in striking that pose have been completely airbrushed from history. They have become nothing more than a hideous caricature, a shorthand for an idea. Sucks to be them. But what is a selfie, but the creation of one’s own meme about oneself? Every selfie is in all circumstances the same meme: I think I’m hot. Just as College Liberal might not even hold liberal views, you might not think you’re hot. But you don’t control your message. The public controls it. They think that all selfies are the “I think I’m hot” meme. Any reaction to your selfie is a reaction to “I think I’m hot” not to you as a person. Don’t take it personally.
In a digital-visual world, there is no room for ambiguity, the marginal, the esoteric. The children of tomorrow will not memorise Shakespeare’s sonnets or Sanskrit grammar. They will not follow trains of argument with logical rigour. They won’t understand the irony of Buzzfeed – the website that specialises in short lists – decrying people who judge artists based on shallow first impressions.
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Getting into Oxford University is, like, really hard. And it’s, like, really expensive, too. But it must be cool, because David Cameron and Mr Bean went there.
… Let’s Hack it!
Option 1: The Brookes Blag
Oxford has another University. It’s called Oxford Brookes, which sounds a bit like Oxford. Especially to foreign employers. Even more so if you leave out the ‘Brookes’ bit. It’s also a lot easier to get into (though it costs the same amount in fees).
Total Cost: £9,000 per year.
The Pros: Oxford without the geeks. The word ‘Oxford’ in your degree. Life amongst the dreaming spires and all that.
The Cons: That nagging feeling at the back of your mind that whispers “you didn’t really go to Oxford, did you”.
Option 2: An Armchair Approach
While studying in Oxford is all very well and good, it has a fatal drawback: You have to actually be arsed to live in Oxford.
Why not use the power of the interwebs to watch lectures online? It’s like being in Oxford, except without the spotty geeks, three-legged pub crawl participants, hooray Henries and Cowley crack whores.
Total Cost: £0
The Pros: Learn from the greats at your own pace.
The Cons: It is an internet thing and therefore mostly ephemeral.
Option 3: A Scholarly Scam
It’s a not-very-well-advertised fact that members of the public can attend lectures at Oxford University. At the discretion of the college, you could attend a series of weekly lectures for as little as £60 per term. Basically, peanuts. Then you could buy a year’s subscription to the Bodleian Library, costing the princely sum of £38.
But what about the one-to-one tuition that Oxford is so famous for? Well, you could advertise in the Daily Info for a private tutor. You’ll find a PhD student or junior academic is willing to teach you one-to-one for £25 an hour.
The downside? You won’t get a degree. You’ll have nothing to show for your efforts except, like, actually knowing stuff.
Total Cost: £818 per year.
The Pros: An actual Oxford education, without the stress or the essay deadlines.
The Cons: No degree certificate, but then Oxford don’t give out degree certificates, so you’re fine.
Option 4: The Language School Lie
There are private colleges around Oxford which cash in on the ‘Brookes Effect’. You can spend a few weeks in Oxford doing a short course in anything from beginners’ English to advanced Calculus for a few hundred quid. And the colleges have names like ‘St Cuthberts College, Oxford’ or ‘Marlborough College, Oxford’. You also get to hang out in the Turf Tavern, go punting, pick up some received pronunciation and generally feel like an extra from Brideshead, Downton et al.
Total Cost: £200 for a short course
The Pros: A certificate bearing the words “Studied English at Regency College Oxford” or some such gubbins.
The Cons: ‘Con’ is the definitely the operative word.
Option 5: The Deuchars Deception
Sit in The Eagle and Child or The Lamb and Flag, wear tweeds and talk about Marxism. Soon enough, everyone will assume that you’re a Queen’s Fellow anyway.
Total Cost: £3.80 a pint.
The Pros: Beer
The Cons: Can’t remember. Whose round is it?
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Freedom for Scotland!… ¡Viva Catalunya!… Long Live the Carinthian Slovenes!
You never have to go far on what Americans call ‘The Continent of Yerp’ before reaching a smaller country within a bigger country.
Treaties, invasions, settlements, amalgamations, annexations, expansions to their ‘natural’ frontiers, marriages, divorces and pure ‘nicking it while nobody’s looking’ have all played their part in creating a Europe which is riddled with smaller provinces within bigger countries which now seek independence from their bigger evil overlord.
It’s happening in Britain (Scotland and Wales today, Rutland tomorrow!), Spain (in fact, I’m not sure there’s a part of Spain that actually wants to be in Spain), Belgium (well, nobody really believed it was a country anyway), Germany (Bavaria has Audi and Oktoberfest! Who needs Berlin?!)… Even that most One Nation-y of countries, France, has a Celtic fringe threatening to spoil their little solidarité and fratenité bun fight. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if one of the lesser-known suburbs of Lichtenstein turned around and declared they’d be better off if only it wasn’t for those power-crazed Lichtensteinians and their alpine empire-building ways.
The level of enthusiasm for the independence movements varies massively from country to country, of course. Some involve million-man marches, mass terror campaigns and starvation protests, while others prefer to go down the bumper sticker and local-jam-selling route.
There are two main paths to freedom for any region that seriously wants their independence. The first is to start a race war and ethnic cleansing policy, wait for the UN to intervene and eventually get your own country. The second, possibly less dangerous, route starts with abysmal local television shows about artisanal crafts, then moves onto setting up a bloated, self-serving and utterly powerless devolved parliament and ends with a referendum on independence (in which the larger country has no say whatsoever).
It never happens, though, does it? Self-determination. The little country hardly ever gets to wave bye-bye to its colonial master and raise its own taxes and be ‘independent in Europe’ and all that. The big guys always win and the little guy always gets to be the disenfranchised minority dreaming of the day his people will be richer/happier/more racially pure/be able to keep their own natural gas. But at least the little man has the feeling of self-righteous indignation, which is almost, almost as sweet as freedom.
Western Europe must be one of the few remaining places on earth where the question “Hey! Would you like a free greencard?” would be met with a disinterested shrug.
It is a truism that, while everybody hates America, they all want to secretly move there. This is not the case in Europe. While Your average Angolan/Brazilian/Mongolian man on the street would up sticks to Indiana quicker than you can say “J1 Working Visa”, the Pierres, Pedros and Piotrs of Europe would rather stab themselves in the eye with a rusty croissant.
It’s not that they hate America, it’s just that it’s not for them. They like the fact that the nearest shop (although most certainly closed at any convenient time and only selling jars of cabbage and dried meat products when it does eventually open) does not require a 100-mile round trip. And the fact that they have a community (except England) and a national culture (except Belgium) and free healthcare (except Germany) and it’s safe to walk the streets at night (except Tirana, Naples, London, Kiev…) are big factors, too.
Due to having been under The Communist Yoke for half a century, some Eastern Europeans still harbor secret desires to live in Ohio/drive a Humvee/get married in an Elvis suit. However, this urge is far less pressing now they can move to Hemel Hempstead*, join a line-dancing class and eat at KFC, which more or less amounts to the same thing.
…Which makes us wonder how much any of them really liked America in the first place. Maybe it was just that America was better than Stalin. (Oh look! Gonorrhea is way better than AIDS! Go gonorrhea!)
Not that America is like gonorrhea. It’s a metaphor. As in literature. As in books. They’re like magazines only bigger and with fewer pictures of Zack Ephron.
Anyway, back to Pierre or Pedro. They are happy to live in Old Europe with its social care, small cars, smelly cheeses and splendid churches.
It’s not that they hate America. They just don’t need to go anywhere anymore. They have already arrived.
*Hemel Hempstead is a town in South-East England, known mainly for being rubbish.
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