Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Robotic Automation

So the big story for business is the next major phase of automation. The first phase was the automation of factory work when massive machines were brought in to replace people at their benches, and when tractors and harvesters replaced farm labourers.

One part of this new phase is not robotics but computers. It said they will make redundant all drivers of vehicles. That's every taxi, bus, train, lorry, van, tractor. To be replaced by driverless vehicles run by computers. Millions and millions of jobs will be lost.

The same they say will be true for professional jobs; lawyers, accountants, nurses, doctors.

We've been there before. The scare stories of mass unemployment, revolution in response to mass poverty and a meaningless life without work. Of course, it didn't turn out that way.

But this time there is a real opportunity. We could tax the profits of these new businesses so that they fully pay for the lost income of the mass of workers. It could pay for the concept of full citizen incomes. The idea that every human being will be given enough to survive and enjoy life without having to work, paid by the profits of those businesses which made redundant the old jobs. I think it's possible.

That extra income for the masses will of course be spent, creating a cycle of profit for the businesses, from which tax is returned to pay for the people's citizens' income.

And for many of us we can freely chose what if any work we want to do. It can be totally liberating. The alternative is the demoralisation of millions.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

and even

and even as you're writing it
you know it's all nonsense

and yet precious
like a massive gem found by chance
in a shallow stream

a shallow stream gurgles forth
wasting time

ocean deep
endless and profound

endless, over in a flash
profound, like the sun reflecting
into my eyes from a car window

you know it's all absurd
even as you stop writing

Towards A New Global Culture

I believe we should educate and train the coming generation to be kind.

Sounds nice and naive, simplistic, but it's not. We have never before known scientifically that we can in fact deliberately and consciously nurture kindness and compassion in people through simple ongoing practices.

Now we know. And we know that kindness is a good thing, not only for those who receive it, but for those who act in a kindly manner.

Kindness is giving practical help out of a desire to do so, not for selfish reasons.

So we know it works at a personal level. It also works at a national level. It aids mental health issues, which not only help those suffering but also boosts the economy in many ways. It reduces absenteeism. It increases productivity. And it reduces the burden on the NHS.

The other side of this suggestion is that we should, politely, gently but clearly ask that any suffering, cruelty or hurt be stopped. Plain and simple. If it hurts or causes harm we should stop doing it.

This can be construed as both a principle or philosophy on the one hand, and a direct timely response to an ongoing incident in which hurt or cruelty is being imposed on someone or something. Every time we see or hear about cruelty, harm, hurt or imposed suffering we should simply ask that it stop.

We do of course have declarations and statements on human rights which already cover many of these wishes. However fine formal declarations are all well and good but they don't tend to sink into the heart of people unfortunately. People require something simpler, closer to home, closer to how they actually feel moment by moment. Kindness and asking for suffering to stop exactly fit what people experience and feel.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Elements of a Good Society

I think we sometimes get so engrossed in the soap opera of politics, the fire fighting, the crises, the opportunities to stick it to the opposition, that we sometimes forget to remember what we are actually seeking to attain. So in this and some future posts I'll sketch out some basic things I think need to exist for a society to call itself good.

The first is ensuring that everyone can feel secure about their basic needs - food, clothing and shelter. Amazingly this is not the case in Britain, nor within Scotland, the part of Britain I live in. I buy three items every week from the supermarket, drawn from a list of things the local food bank says they need most. We have people who rely on a food charity to feed themselves and their families.

I'm off in half an hour to go to Edinburgh to do a talk this evening. Every time I arrive at Waverley Station and go to somewhere within ten minutes walk from the station I pass at least three people begging. They are homeless. They might have temporary accommodation - might - but they have nowhere that they can call home.

So that's two of the three basic needs of a good society not being met by one of the world's largest economies. Not enough food, and no home.

We need to have economic and social strategies in order to sort this shameful failure as our number one priority.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Stating the Obvious

A U.S. student returns from imprisonment in North Korea, in a coma, and dies a few days later.

The barbarity of authority is not checked or self-restrained.

Over 70 people at latest counting died in a tower block, where fireproof cladding was rejected because it cost £2 more than the cheaper alternative, which was used.

Money doesn't grow on trees but life is precious. Unless we have wise, compassionate and judicious government it is always the poor who will be neglected and damaged.

Another multi-millionaire is accused of tax evasion.

Money corrupts. The wealthier you get, the more you fear losing your money, and the more you resent having to share it, unless you have strength of altruistic compassion and conviction.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Thou Shalt Not Kill Animals

If I was a dictator, or even the elected leader of a country, with a healthy majority in parliament, and the back up of most of my party - which is a whole lot of ifs -

I'd ban the deliberate killing of all animals, allowing submissions to be excepted from the law under very limited circumstances.

I'd allow those who run businesses, the survival of which depends on their killing other living things - eg. slaughterhouses - or which depends on others killing animals eg. livestock farmers, butchers - an amount of time, say five to ten years, to turn around their business so that it has a fair chance of survival without the need for animals to be killed.

People would say this is an unfair infringement of their rights but our rights are already curtailed by thousands of acts of legislation. We are not allowed to kill other humans except under rare circumstances. Moreover we are not allowed to kill certain animals or birds, either because they are owned by humans eg. a dog, or because they are endangered (usually because of other human activity) eg. ospreys in Scotland.

This would mean that meat eating would end, changing the culture of our culture and cuisine dramatically. It would also change the nature of our countryside, as currently large tracts of land are used solely for the grazing of cattle and sheep.

It's a moral point of course. We are intelligent enough to be able to produce the food, clothing shelter, education, and health services we need without killing any other living things intentionally. So the moral rule - do no harm if you can avoid it - applies.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Thing 12 - There's Nothing Like Democracy

It's not quite the divine right of kings but we're a long way from democracy.

The UK government collect taxes from everyone who can afford it. Oh, except from those wealthy individuals and big corporations who don't feel obliged to contribute, only to gain.

The UK government then, like kings in days of old, give parcels of money to our devolved Scottish Government as if they were some minor noble who did the king a good turn on the battlefield.

The Scottish Government in turn, like some minor noble pretending to be king, doles out chunks of cash to the misnamed "local" authorities. These authorities can only collect around 20% of their income from council tax so are obliged to bow before the largesse of the Scottish Government.

So the feudal system still exists portrayed as a form of democracy. You might argue that we live in a system of representative democracy. I can think of two definitions of representative. One is based on re-presenting, where the elected member hears what his electorate want done and he re-presents this at parliament or in the local authority. There's not much evidence that this form of representative democracy happens much, unless one includes major business lobbyists as part of the electorate, in which case there are endless examples of elected member re-presenting lobbyists' views.

The second definition of representative is that the elected members are like us. That is, they live locally, have the same kind of upbringing, have done similar jobs. In fact most elected members are distinctive because they are so unlike us, and the higher one looks up the pyramid of power the less ordinary our masters become. This doesn't mean they aren't competent leaders but it certainly means they don't represent the ordinary man or woman on the street. Nor do they think or act like them.

Back to local democracy. My "local" authority covers the major towns of East Kilbride, Hamilton, Rutherglen, Cambuslang, Blantyre, Larkhall, Lanark, Strathaven, Bothwell and other communities. We live in an era where over forty percent of the population go to university, and we have record numbers going on to masters or doctorates. Of course university degrees and academic success are not necessarily predictors of good decision-making or even common sense but they are the most readily-available statistic on how potentially competent our local population is.

So allowing for age differences we could estimate that perhaps around a fifth to a quarter of the population in towns and villages across Scotland are in historic terms very highly educated. Certainly of a population of 60,000 the residents of Hamilton would have large numbers of people educated at the highest level in economics, health, medicine, education itself, nutrition, civil engineering, architecture. You name it, we'll have it. There will be several lawyers, doctors, accountants, managers, I.T. specialist on hand.

So why in our "democracy" does Hamilton not have its own town council, elected from its own people to work with the local people to determine what's best for our community? The same of course applies to the people of nearby Bothwell, Larkhall, and so on.

This is not about parochialism. It is about real democracy. People care about their own community and should feel part of the decision-making process. Moreover local people should be entrusted with raising most of their own income tax and other forms of revenue generation. Indeed I'd argue that all taxation should be locally raised then ceded as negotiated with the upper levels of government.

Until you treat people as adults and give them adult responsibilities they will be unaccountable on the one hand and feel marginalised on the other. The centralisation of power both at UK and Scottish Government levels is a disgrace to the word democracy and a huge impediment to practical progress in our society as a whole.