Tuesday, 23 May 2017

"The Unaccompanied" by Simon Armitage

1929. Laissez-faire or free trade capitalism collapsed for the 44th time. This was followed by the Great Depression, saw the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party and subsequently World War 2. The cause and effect of this collapse saw the western world, if not the world in general, enter a protracted period of austerity that lasted for perhaps 20 years.
1947. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, having read Maynard Keynes, took the reins of despair and bridled capitalism to a new set of horses - interventionism. Gone was the free for all where corporations, business as a whole, could do pretty much as they liked. Instead, under the USA's hegemony, the wheel of capitalism, its vast mechanism, was controlled by governments elected democratically by its people. 

From 1947 through to 1979 was, if not a golden period for humankind, a better form of capitalism. Productivity was up, the like of which has never been seen again. The spread of wealth, with not only the rich getting rich but the poor also, was more generously shared.

1979. Margaret Thatcher came to power in Britain followed one year later by Ronald Regan in the USA. Thatcher was a new breed of conservative. Gone was the vision aspired to by perhaps the greatest conservative ever, Benjamin Disraeli, of one nation Toryism replaced by a neoconservatism fueled by neoliberal policies. Those policies were the stuff of Frederik Hayek whose book, "TheRoad to Serfdom" inspired both Thatcher and Regan. Trickle down was their watchword, a hideous system that made the rich impossibly richer and the poor incredibly poorer. 

Since that time every president we have seen enter the Oval Office along with every Prime Minister to enter Number 10 has been some form of neoliberal. From Reagan to George Bush 1, Bill Clinton to George W Bush to Barak Obama. From Thatcher to Blair, Brown to Cameron and now Terresa May. All have subscribed to the mantra of empowering the wealthy at the cost of the poor.

History repeats.

Donald Trump is now the most powerful man in the world. Thankfully, America has in place systems to prevent Fascism yet still we have a world subjugated to the corporates, where big business is the Empire no one can strike back against. Surveillance in the UK is greater than anywhere in the world with camera's watching your every move. Facebook, Twitter and Google are the databases by which the CIA monitor us. The modern world makes Orwell's 1984 look positively pleasant by comparison.

Simon Armitage captures this horror show perfectly. We see in this superb volume of poems how our homeland has been mutilated, altered, deleted to suit those corporates the better to ensure we purchase from them and them alone. The high street of my youth has been replaced by a corporate vision of how they want us to buy. Once a high street was individual to the town where it was based. Not so now as each high street has the same collection of corporate shops,  franchises, with a sad lack of bespoke businesses owned and run by the ordinary man.

Within this book Simon Armitage defines how climate change as redefined our seasons; where cost-cutter supermarkets have stomped all over our sensibilities as we, slaves to the wage, have been coerced into thinking cheap should be cheaper for surely cheap is best and better is too damn expensive and, anyway, we can't afford to live when we exist on a minimum wage.

Yes, indeed, this is a remarkable set of poems from a remarkable poet.

Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

The Three Teachings plus One

The above painting depicts Confucious holding the baby Buddha whilst passing him to Lao Zi. This symbolises how the two old masters welcome the new accepting him as their equal. Lao Zi, Confucious and Buddha. Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism. The three teachings are almost symbiotic in their relationship, harmonious in how they compliment each other. 

In order of when they approximately began we first have Confucianism followed shortly after by Taoism and then, two thousand five hundred years ago, Buddhism. The Chinese claim the Three Teachings but in truth Buddhism is Indian by creation - Siddhartha Gautama or Lord Buddha was Indian by birth.

Each one for me has a core philosophy that speaks a great deal of sense. Confucianism with its code of moral conduct rather than that of acts of moral character. Confucianism is not a religion. 

Taoism has become a religion over the years although Lao Zi, if indeed there was such a man, stated in the Tao Te Ching "The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao, The name that can be named is not the eternal name." In other words, Tao cannot be completely explained or expressed in words for a word is not the same thing as the constant, unchanging Tao as it is nameless. It is the mother of all things. It is the path or way.

I have great affection for Buddhism, Zen Buddhism especially. It is a compassionate, caring but also fun-loving philosophy. The Dalai Lama is a wonderful man with a terrific sense of humour. He is unlike any leader of a faith that I know of.  Zen is where Tao meets Buddhism. Zen is the Japanese word translated from the Chinese, Chan. Like Buddhism, Zen is far too ritualistic for my liking yet still I feel it makes so much sense. 

The three philosophies, intertwined as they are, each present wisdom that is hard to refute. Confucianism is now a religion yet the Analects are not a religious work, they are a source of collected sayings which have been attributed to Kong Zi or possibly Kong Qui as the man we call Confucious had two surnames. The Analects are not solely the work of  Confucious but also of his contemporaries and they champion strong family loyalty, respect of elders, veneration of ancestors but also hold firm to the family as the ideal basis for government. They contain the well-known principle "What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others." This, of course, is a variant of the Golden Rule which forms the basic tenet of my personal code. There is nothing within the Analects like the Bible. It is not a work of moral acts but rather one of moral conduct. It is rather conservative in its outlook. Oddly, Confucious is held as a deity by Taoism.

Tao is not Taoism although the former lends its name to the religion. There are no deities in Tao for Tao is the unknowable, the path, the way. Tao is the flow of the universe, of all creation therein. Yet still, humankind has taken the principles and formed them into a philosophical creed. Yet the Tao persists.

"The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao

The name that can be named is not the eternal name

The nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth
The named is the mother of myriad things
Thus, constantly without desire, one observes its essence
Constantly with desire, one observes its manifestations
These two emerge together but differ in name
The unity is said to be the mystery
Mystery of mysteries, the door to all wonders."

I suppose it would be fair to say that Taoism is the study of Tao by acolytes who have broadened the truth so as to encompass their belief. There is no God in Tao for Tao is the beginning of all things yet Taoists hold firm to their deities. 

To follow Tao one has to appreciate nature and accept that nature makes no mistakes, no judgements. Only humankind do that. Nature holds pre-eminence in the minds of those who follow Tao for like water it replenishes its self endlessly, it is soft, quiet yet supremely powerful. This alignment with the natural world is such an obvious choice for we are, no matter how we pretend otherwise, a part of nature.

When Tao met Buddhism something special happened. Already the two had their similarities along with their differences then Tao begat Chan which in turn begat Zen and bingo! Zen Buddhism was born from the coming together of the two paths. 

Unlike the monotheist faiths, the far Eastern ones hold firm to their individual principles but not at the cost of love, peace or compassion. There is no discord among them even though there are distinct differences. Their differences only define their paths as being ones that lead to the self-same summit. Three paths - one destination.

The three teachings form a fabulous trilogy of philosophical thought. Each practise meditation, each sees the resolution of the problems humankind face lie within the individual. There is nothing supernatural in anything they do simply logic. We are in charge of our bodies and so we are in charge of our minds. We are of one kind not many.

The plus One, as mentioned in the title of this piece comes in the shape of Jiddu Krishnamurti. K, as he was affectionally known, has often been compared Siddhārtha Gautama with some suggesting he was either the reincarnation of Lord Buddha or that of one of his monks in two previous lives. K would simply brush aside such suggestions saying he didn't believe in reincarnation just incarnation.

He never spoke of his teaching as his but always referred to them as the teachings. He said he was no one special just a mirror by which we all could see ourselves. He disavowed the self, saying the self is nothing but a series of projections. He spoke out against, guru's, lama's, Sri's, Pope's, priest's, mullahs, anyone who didn't see that the follower is the followed, that having someone else project their belief's onto another leaves the other without the ability to help themselves. K completes the circle.

Out of this mishmash as some may see it, of philosophies, are truths that have helped me. The meditation, the self-enquiry, the living in the now. All these and much, much more, and all without the need for the supernatural. Just pure, unadulterated logic.

Of course, there are other wisdom's as practised by Jain's,  Hindu's, Shinto's, Sikh's and monotheist's but for my purposes there are but four that strike the right chord for me.

  1. Bless Kong Zi. 
  2. Bless Tao. 
  3. Bless Buddhism and Zen Buddhism. 
  4. Bless K.

. . . Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

Victorian Posters 2

Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Doctor Who 2017

When Matt Smith left the series, as his version of Doctor Who regenerated into Peter Capaldi's darker character, I was ecstatic. I had long wanted a return to the Hartnell era, not because I disliked the Eccleston, Tennant, Smith, the modern Doctor Who trio, as I loved their whacky, one hundred miles per hour Doctor's, I simply wanted to see where a slightly more adult vision would take us. I think it worked well. I think Peter Capaldi has done, still doing in fact, an excellent job. That said, the show has definitely lost its family entertainment feel. I confess I miss that aspect as much as I have loved Capaldi's take.Things may be about to change.

Last Saturday, May 13th, Squid and I watched the show. It was very good. However, it was aimed at an adult audience rather than a family. The basis of the story was capitalism. How, if uncontrolled, it runs riot over people's lives. Rather than us running the machine, the machine runs us. In short, it becomes, much like it is now, a form of slavery. In this case, in the Doctor's reality, a space station is being overtaken by what appears to be zombies. It soon turns out that these walking dead are not the horrors we first think they are but the suits that hold their lifeless bodies. You see when oxygen starts to run out, the only way to replenish it is by purchasing it from the corporation. This story was a clever way to illustrate how our lives are now led, or should I say driven. As good as the show was, with the Doctor, after a selfless act of heroism left blind, was not the stuff for children.

We all know Peter Capaldi is about to leave. This means it will shortly be time for a regeneration. Scriptwriter Steven Moffatt accidentally let slip who the next Doctor will be. The clue is in the above image.

Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.