Why the Guardians faux progressiveness is more destructive than it appears.

Originally posted on Things that matter:

Why the Guardians faux progressiveness is more destructive than it appears.

By E.F Nicholson 

Whether we like it or not, our ever increasing participation in the world of consumption, allows us to be sliced and diced by advertisers into increasingly sophisticated demographic cages. The  advertising and brand awareness industry, pervasive and almost omniscient,  adopt  “cradle to grave” strategies that aim to massage you through every demographic group, squeezing the maximum amount of money from you at each stage. Corporations getting into the minds of their target audience  is big business. A huge amount of thought and planning goes into how those interactions take place and the impact they have on the consumer.

Companies like Coca-Cola and McDonalds invest massive amounts of money dedicated to access their key demographic and build their brand loyalty. Yet it is interesting to note that even when you are someone who dislikes Coke for its…

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The political is personal

Tor Mist

To some extent, I believe that the way we think and feel about the world has a direct effect on our immediate environment, the people we meet and interact with, cycles of projections of our thoughts and actions out into the world and the receiving and internal processing of what thoughts and actions come back. Perhaps it is my attachment to the political that keeps me open to the almost continual stream of negative media that seems to flood into my consciousness every time I switch on this computer. Perhaps this incessant political discussion presents a distorted picture of the actual world and its many different experiences.

For so many people, the political world is not something they have direct experience of, so they tend to leave it be, not feeling they can have any measurable effect on what goes on. I kind of envy those who can do this, who also recognise how it is important to look after one’s state of mind and emotions, and that it is only beneficial to give an opinion on that which one can directly affect. But I can’t pretend that the injustices I read about are not going on. And I can’t pretend that it doesn’t affect me or that our seeming collective indifference or inability to address these injustices are not a source of disappointment and sometimes anger.

I live in a country and in a time that offers so much in the way of progressive ideas, a society filled with people from so many different cultural backgrounds and belief systems, connected physically and virtually in a way that has not happened before in world history. In many ways, there is so much to be grateful for, to live in such a place in such a time, which seems to me evolving in self-perception and in the technological contributions to a planet encountering the effects of a growing number of energy intensive beings – us.

But I don’t believe that change will come about just by positive or wishful thinking. Equally, I don’t believe that me simply being aware of the many injustices that seem to be happening in the world right now as a direct result of decisions taken by governments we supposedly elect, is creating that reality. I believe it is reasonable to state that that reality exists, whether I choose to notice it or not. The anger I feel at the injustices is my own anger, yes, and I am responsible for how I use that anger. It has many roots, it is connected with what I have experienced about the world and how I have reacted to it. But that does not negate the legitimacy of that anger. War is real, torture is real, environmental degradation is real. I can maybe turn away from the news, look at my emotions more deeply, nurture myself, look after my state of mind, spread some positivity and love to whoever else might be finding life a bit of a struggle in whatever immediate way I can. Living in Glastonbury, I can be closer to the here and now, beyond the incessant noise of the urban environment and, among the many strands of alternative belief systems in this ancient market town with its spiritual roots, find my own connection to nature, which is so accessible here.

But eventually, whether online or in person, I am presented with the a view of the world which is political, which for me is about connecting with community using both the intellect and the emotions, and finding a way to speak from my heart and mind what I feel and wish to say. That will create, and has created, tension with others, online and in the physical world that has sometimes broken out into hostility. But, in the wider scheme of things, that is so miniscule compared to what others have had to face and face today for speaking out. And yet, in the midst of all the terrible tragedies and injustices, so many acts of kindness, even in the face of the recent brutal terrorist attacks, remind us that we are at root social beings, that many of us enjoy being in company, and that we also can create communities where those who wish for silence and solitude can have the space for that too. Art and verbal expression can be bridges between people of differing viewpoints, who at the root all share a common humanity. I’d rather focus on using my expression to bring people together rather than to divide.

But as long as I see what I perceive as injustice, as long as I feel a voice inside burning to be expressed, I must also honour that calling, no matter what others may think of me or say to me. I find, as much as I criticise, that I find receiving criticism difficult, so it is rarely easy for me to express myself. So do I just back out, keep quiet, or do I let it all flow? I cannot fully express my gratitude and joy at this undoubtedly privileged life I lead right now, unless I have also expressed my sadness and anger at the injustices I perceive, whether in my immediate environment, or out in the world. I have my words and my self-expression. Many do not even have that. So I commit to expressing what I can, when I can, about the world I see and resolve to be prepared to face the consequences. And if it all becomes to much to bear, I also commit to breaking away from the incessant chatter to find some peace among those I am close to, and to seek solitude where it is required, to replenish me to enter the fray once again.

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Russell Brand battles through a rigged BBC Question Time

The Russell Brand v Nigel Farage debate on Question Time was a bit of a disappointment to me and I shouldn’t have been surprised, as it has always been a bit of a rigged game, set up to favour establishment puppets like Nigel Farage and the Tory-Lib-Lab stealth coalition of neoliberal cronies. He looked as sounded as nervous as I’ve ever known him, which was unusual as he is normally such a brilliant performer under even the most nervy situation, often more so the higher the stakes. The debate was in Canterbury, Kent, where stoked up fear of immigration is high. Alongside “Poundshop Enoch Powell” (Brand’s brilliant stand-up phrase for Nigel Farage), was Tory MP, Penny Mordaunt, Labour MP corporate drone, Mary Creagh (who voted moderately for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas, voted very strongly against an investigation into the Iraq war and voted very strongly for replacing Trident with a new nuclear weapons system) and the Rupert Murdoch-run Times assistant editor, Camilla Cavendish. All chaired by bluer than blue establishment bigwig, David Dimbleby. In a week when shocking torture revelations were revealed, where the United States is gripped by continuing mass civil disturbance over racism and brutal policing, we had a bland first question that lasted over 15 minutes, about whether politics was becoming too divisive. Talk about a non-question.

Brand was cold-shouldered by all the panellists and though he made some good points, his speech was slow, laboured and hesitant. Perhaps he was over-awed by the huge expectation of so many people, perhaps he was mindful of presenting himself in as serious a way as possible. In my mind, he was and is best when being irreverent, not giving a shit, and saying exactly what he feels, breaking protocol. He seemed to be kept on a very short leash tonight, perhaps of his own doing, given the widespread attacks on him primarily from the Sun, but also the “snidey” Channel 4 and equally snidey Guardian, who pretend to be his friend, while stabbing him with snarky comments. But Brand has more than done his bit. It is too much to expect that if the public pour all their hope on one man that he will single-handedly bring some reason and humanity into politics. Undoubtedly, there will be other opportunities for him in mainstream media in future to better that performance.

As the inevitable question about immigration arrived, with the inevitable responses by Farage, it was left to Brand to point out the corrupt banking system is the real cause of inequality and injustice, not the easy target of people who look different, stoked by a hysterical media and compliant liberal press and Labour party who feed in to the entirely false debate that “there’s not enough room” and “we have to close the doors”. Poverty has been caused by the rich and Brand was right to mention it. But no one backed him up on the panel, certainly not the Tory MP and journalist. Definitely not the former City broker, and shamefully not the Labour corporatist Creagh, who plays at being an equal rights campaigner, but presided over a government that Farage rightly accused of borrowing PFI money to fund NHS investment at extortionate interest rates that we are going to be paying off for a very long time.

But where Farage misleads, and where Brand failed to nail him on the question of the NHS, was that that money would not have been cleaner in the City, as Farage disigenuously suggested. In fact, the City made a profit on that money as that borrowed money and its interest and financial derivatives are inevitably traded in a variety of ways in the City, and throughout the financial centres of the world. A lot of corporatists made a lot of money out of that. And Farage wouldn’t change that, he’d make it worse and would inevitably open up the NHS to more stealth privatisation, before an eventual outright sell-off. A serious debate about this should be requisite for a publicly-funded organisation such as the BBC. But, instead, Auntie, as Brand likes to overly-familiarly call it, is deliberately avoiding such a debate, siding with the corporate-backed politicians of the three neoliberal parties and the racist Ukip, preferring to allow meaningless soundbites like “free at the point of use” while the whole system is hollowed out and sold to private interests.

So, despite a nervous performance from the comedian and amplifier of good causes, he still managed to land the soundbite of the night. “Poundshop Enoch Powell” was spot on, but in and of itself not enough. It is time to focus on exactly why Farage is so wrong, on why he misleads and to recognise that his issues of a corrupt Europe run by banks (while refusing to criticise the equally unaccountable and opaque City of London) and to talk about open door policies, when he fails to recognise that it is big business that is exploiting workers in Britain and Europe, is to miss the opportunity to bury Ukip, despite the support by easily inflamed and easily led and the plain old bigots. But we shouldn’t focus only on the Ukip bigotry, because we have to see how Labour is complicit in this neoliberal agenda, and also backed up by superficially leftist media such as the BBC, the Independent and the Guardian, with their co-opted lefty journalists who refuse to critique the organisations they work for. It is time also to recognise that, try as they might, the Green party is attempting to work within a political system that is not fit for purpose. The west is in a crisis situation. It is on life support, to be honest, as is the climate. Brand’s vision of grassroots activism, interdependent communities and a compassionate and empathic spiritual connection to people and planet is important and tragically undervalued, mocked and outright attacked.

But despite his rather muted performance, around the world fires are beginning to rage at blatant injustice, because the stitch-up I witnessed last night, that I witness on so many mainstream media approaches to major issues, be they about police brutality, war on terror, NHS or the neoliberal ideology, backed by supposedly liberal organisations like the BBC and Guardian, simply has to be challenged with passion and that will rightly shock and appall the establishment. That passion may well flare up in ways that spill into violence, and of course, in places like Ferguson, that already has, but though violence can never be condoned or encouraged, it is a natural response to repression, state violence and societally restrictive attitudes, whether of morality or convention. If heartfelt passion is brutally put down, ridiculed, or worse still ignored, it inevitably morphs into other forms. Violence is counterproductive, nonviolence will always be the core of the people’s resistance movement against corrosive corporate capitalism, but sometimes, the voice of the voiceless will be heard in ways that conventional society will not be able to accept as valid, but will nevertheless have to listen to. Humanity cannot compromise on truth and justice. As the saying goes, No Justice, No Peace

The woman with the dyed hair in the audience, who called Farage a racist and vowed that she was after him broke protocol and spoke from the heart, with burning passion that emerges from a deep compassion for the oppressed and in a way that others in the audience could not bear to acknowledge as legitimate (one woman calling her the rudest woman she had ever met). The man who attacked Brand with misplaced passion, backing Ukip, provoked her into action. The passion in her words are what Brand has always exemplified and even in his muted, spiritual humility that he displayed, with hands clasped together in prayer, apologising for his sexism and for interrupting a woman, even here, in the audience, that compassionate fire which is at the centre of Brand’s engaged spirituality, was able to express itself and impress itself on the evening.  Farage may have come out of the event looking more reasonable than he should have, and Brand may have missed an opportunity to really nail him (there will be other opportunities in the next few months, I have no doubt). But the “Poundshop Enoch Powell” jibe will live on and perhaps also, there will be ways to engage in such fraught political debates in ways that are not so divisive, that bring us together to heal, rather than drive us apart, increasing the pain. The countdown to the 2015 election has begun, and it’s time we all contributed to driving a different political narrative, one that speaks from the heart of the people of this country and does not comply to the spurious view that putting a cross on a piece of paper every five years is the only way to be politically engaged.

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The Guardian’s liberal establishment hierarchy is at its root conservative

I worked at the Guardian as a subeditor and occasional writer between 2007 and 2013. It’s been my newspaper of choice since university. Ten years previously I’d decided to train to become a journalist, and I considered working there in whatever capacity as an ambition. When I finally managed to get some casual freelance shifts, I felt a sense of achievement. When those shifts turned into the offer of a short-term contract to work as a subeditor on the environment desk, I felt everything was coming together. Having spent much time and commitment on antiwar and climate change demonstrations, with what I would describe as a mixture of eco-spiritual and anarchist communities, I believed (rather naively, it would seem) that my interests would chime, or at least not provoke suspicion among fellow workers at the Guardian and on that section in particular.

I found to my dismay this was not the case, that in fact there seemed to be a culture of open disdain at anything remotely radical or spiritual and, along with some very dubious office politics, which I openly and forcefully contested to no avail via official channels, I eventually had my contract terminated. I did manage to continue working as a casual freelance subeditor in different departments at the Guardian for another four years, proving both that I was capable in my job and friendly and forgiving enough to work with and that the Guardian has a varied group of editorial staff, some welcoming and friendly, others not so much. The experience of losing my contract was a bitter one, and resulted in me casting a perhaps jaundiced, but certainly critical eye on the editorial hierarchy. I was now conscious of resistance to certain opinions I held, which resulted in me recasting myself in a more self-effacing light to make sure I continued getting casual work shifts.

In such subtle ways, and though difficult to objectively confirm, parameters of debate are determined, even in casual workplace discussion. It was not that I held on to any particular worldview or identified with any political grouping. I welcomed, even craved, discussion on such matters. But discussions on controversial issues were not encouraged. They seemed, in fact, to be passively discouraged. For example, any comment I made even remotely critical of western mainstream media propaganda, whether from myself or others, anything suggesting that the (then Labour) government’s economic policy was neoconservative, or any suggestion that Tony Blair should be tried as a war criminal for his conduct in sending the UK to war on false premises, would often result in either an abrupt put-down, or an awkward silence, rather than open, welcoming dialogue. The political narrative in office consversation seemed to be dominated by New Labour thinking. There was a clear indication on certain desks that openly controversial discussions were not welcome in a busy newsroom, certainly not between production editors and commissioning editors. There was a clear demarcation line, but even among subeditors, the political viewpoints I would say leant towards a damp, liberal conservatism.

These are, of course, personal impressions, and details of my personal story at the Guardian and how my political/spiritual beliefs were treated could fill an essay in itself, but suffice to say the atmosphere was often cold and unwelcoming between myself and certain editorial staff members, conveniently it seemed, those in the most startegic positions, often editors or commissioning editors. In terms of my treatment in having my contract terminated (a few weeks before Christmas 2008 at that) I could additionally detail the almost complete absence of advice from my National Union of Journalists’ in-house chapel on my demotion back to the ranks of casual staff (not quite a freelancer, but not quite a staff member, a curious role for an ethical liberal newspaper that should be considered anachronistic). The NUJ chapel (what a quaintly religious and apt description of an outdated and musty organisation, which is supposed to represent the collective and individual rights of workers) was a grouping structured very rigidly within the Guardian’s offices among a small clique, with seemingly little time or inclination given over for counsel or informal discussion (again, in my personal experience).

But considering the social, political and environmental crisis we face in the world and the mainstream media’s inability or unwillingness to form an informative viewpoint which echoes public discontent, I’d like instead to concentrate on how I believe certain media narratives are constructed and maintained, and particularly on how the so-called liberal media, of which the Guardian is the flagship publication, seems to determine its editorial opinion. I’d like us as a society to begin to look critically on what ethical and moral basis such narratives rest. Though these are all personal impressions, I make no claim for objective fact, I will say that I am by no means the first, or likely to be the last, to make such claims. Thus they bear closer scrutiny among those on the political left. It is only a wonder that it is not common knowledge among the more noted young radical activist circles, though given that many of the more media friendly groups are often comprised of a mainly white and middle class demographic, perhaps that is not so strange.

I would suggest that it is the internal political and cultural make-up of individuals, from what appears to be an almost exclusively singular ethnic and class background, which ensures that specific viewpoints are only understood and expressed from within a narrow bandwidth of political and cultural reasoning. More often than not, this monoculture would seem to express itself through the prism of what has become known as Oxbridge bias, which manifests in many other British institutions, but which is in fact only a subset of those universities, specifically seeming to come from an even narrower cultural and political background. Many of the editors and commissioning editors are alumni of Oxford and Cambridge universities. It has been noted elsewhere that Oxford university’s Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) degree has a higher than usual representation in the higher offices of politics (David Cameron and Ed Miliband to name the two most prominent) and particularly the mainstream media, whether of left or right.

While much discussion has been formulated to describe the conservative roots of the upper echelons of British society, most recently in Owen Jones’s book, The Establishment, little focus has been given to this conservative elite’s liberal counterpart, the liberal establishment. The editorial line of the Guardian would seem to conform to a specific liberal secular viewpoint that is considered favourable to an establishment class, a liberal aristocracy of sorts, that stretches back in wealth and reputation to the European Enlightenment thinkers of the 17th-18th century, which follows a traceable line into postwar secular, liberal, democratic socialism and pacifism.

While radicalism has never been part of the Guardian’s official political line (this is, after all, a newspaper that condemned the direct action of the Suffragettes) it seems to have had a greater acceptance as a viable political viewpoint in times past. But while the right has become more extreme in many ways since the events of September 11, 2001, the Guardian and the liberal establishment in general has appeared to veer to the right in its qualified support for war and liberal intervention and its generally dismissive attitude to what was known in the 1960s as countercultural thinking. As such it has been unable, or unwilling, to mount a successful challenge to an increasingly bigoted form of multicultural class war.

Despite some mutlicultural and sometimes radical leftfield thinking contained within the pages of the newspaper and on the website, the hierarchy of the organisation remains ethnically Anglo-Saxon and culturally liberal conservative in its outlook, and, as such, it is prone to the same inability to objectively examine itself and the world without succumbing to cognitive and cultural bias, as other cultural groupings of classes and ethnicities might be accused of elsewhere. There would appear to me to be smatterings of other ethnic and establishment religious thought nestled within what seems predominantly a post-Anglican atheist, secular demographic. But the dominant political and societal narratives are viewed through this narrow post-Anglican prism, and I would contend that it is this cultural distortion that actually gives the neo-conservative military hegemony its moral and ethical basis, even as there exists an internal battle from within this establishment family, of the methods through which this western secular establishment maintains its power (the establishment fundamentalist and liberal Protestant Christians serving as a convenient buffer to hide the essentially secular atheist nature of western hegemony).

The Guardian undoubtedly has strands within its editorial staff and roots within its core readership, known historically for its socialist/communist/green philosophies, and such demographics were in times past characterised as the Guardian’s muesli-eating, sandal-wearing, hippie activist contingent. But this demographic was at least able to express itself more freely, though it was often mocked by the rightwing papers and the more conservative elements of the Guardian’s own hierarchy. In the past few years, though, with the rapid growth of the digital technocracy and a scientific materialist ideology presented as the only system of legitimate thought, there has been an increased obsession in society with visually impressive data sets that purport to give factual information as truth and to relegate all other forms of knowledge such as intuitive or spiritual, as irrational “woo”. This muesli-eating editorial line, a beloved accusation of rightwing commentators, is a myth. It no longer exists in any identifiable form. The liberal conservative technocracy is the predominant narrative of the Guardian’s editorial line.

Much like the Labour party at the height of its power, a misplaced and seemingly exclusive faith in technology and statistics above intuitive and experiential knowledge, is often at odds with grassroots community action and nonconformist spiritual and ecological traditions. Spontaneous individualism and collectivism is often treated with suspicion. Ironically, such exclusive binary, reductionist reasoning is being challenged in leading edge scientific, environmental and technological fields, with systems theory and holistic methods of social and environmental organisation such as permaculture gaining in prominence, and peer-to-peer structures in computing technology translating into real world methodologies, with innovative methods of communication gaining in popularity and efficacy. Yet, time and again, the Guardian’s hierarchy maintains a centralised, linear, top-down decision-making process, undermining editorial staff and often defying union advice, showing it to be conservative in nature.

In my experience, I have found there are individuals in the newspaper who are progressive in outlook, both in the suggested methods of production and in political opinion. They do try to implement more nonhierarchical, inclusive strategies. But openness and accountability from the management, though offered, often feels contrived. Open meetings, where editorial members are invited to express themselves freely, are periodically organised. But, in practice, when this happens, the meetings tend to have an awkward atmosphere and there is a very precise way that contentious points are dealt with. It is an overly formal and strained affair, like bringing different sets of friends to a birthday party and struggling to get them to mingle. One almost longs for the days of Fleet Street, when the local pub and alcohol would provide both a social lubricant and a cultural leveller. But these are different times, and different tactics need to be employed. One senses that the Guardian hierarchy is trying to be more inclusive, but once again, culturally it appears to me stiff, formal and conservative.

Business strategy is cloak and dagger and the NUJ chapel also negotiates in a very formal and rigid way. Union meetings appear overly hierarchical in structure, a desk of official representatives sat on a table at the head of a meeting room, taking questions in linear fashion, with no cross conversation between members allowed. Dissenting or radically alternative opinions were batted away by the overwhelming attendance at important meetings of the more outspoken conservative members of the editorial staff. In the past four years, editorial members have been culled in a voluntary redundancy scheme that was on the borderline of coercion, yet this was accepted as inevitable by a series of often unpopular agreements between the NUJ board and the Guardian Media Group (GMG) leading to a strained atmosphere among editorial staff that has lasted years and which I doubt has improved much since I left.

Finally, on the issue the editorial line of the Guardian, and how narratives can be constructed, I will return to the Guardian’s celebrated environment section, which underwent a significant change in 2008, during the very period that I worked there on a short-term contract. There is an ironic coincidence, considering my eco-spiritual and activist interests. It was at one of the first editorial meetings I attended at the newly set up online environment section. At the meeting, a decision was made to make the Guardian’s environmental focus an exclusively scientific (read reductionist) one. Alongside this, was a direct, expressly outlined decision to distance the newspaper from environmental campaigning and activism, offering a neutral stance in order not to alienate governmental bodies and fossil fuel and energy corporations, many of which were at the time undergoing a variety of what now would retrospectively appear to have been greenwash public relations exercises, but which were presented as ethically conscious strategies.

The Guardian seemed content to take these greenwashed claims at face value despite some prominent journalists at the time raising concerns (and being allowed to write the odd article decrying the companies in question, but never the Guardian’s specific involvement). At the time companies such as Shell and BP advertised across the Guardian’s environment site, among other companies with questionable environmental credentials, and excuses were given by management at the time for why such associations were needed (always a business decision over an editorial one and always maintaining the Guardian remained independent). Eventually, in the course of a few years, and after much complaining from readers and journalists, many of those questionable and high-profile associations have been severed. But, more recently, the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation, though ostensibly a charitable organisation, but one that is heavily linked with Monsanto and the landgrab in Africa, has invested in GMG, though it has not been made clear just how much or how extensive this investment is. Along with such associations, a seeming lack of editorial scrutiny of biotech corporations has been noted by many anti-GM and green campaigners.

A clear editorial line a few years back would seem to have cast GM agriculture and nuclear energy in a more positive light than previously, presenting “new evidence” of these technologies as part of a varied solution to climate change and food and energy scarcity, though there were a variety of campaign groups whose voices were drowned out by the increased prominence of positive GM and nuclear stories. Even when the Fukushima disaster in Japan happened, the slant of the news narrative insisted that any disaster claims had been exaggerated and public concerns were downplayed, though such concerns have a legitimacy simply on a human interest level. It must be sad for any regular Guardian reader and concerned environmentalist to see such a brilliant writer and human rights activist as George Monbiot become so closely aligned with the pro-nuclear narrative that he ended up downplaying the Fukushima disaster in several articles, against any ecological sensibility. Many more seasoned ecologists were not surprised at his stance, given his previous writings on nuclear energy. Such distorted narratives would seem to invite cynicism in those who take a more holistic approach to ecology.

While scientific reasoning and a solid evidence base is vital to gaining an understanding of our environment, there is a strong argument to suggest that activism of any kind, whether official campaign or unofficial pressure groups, plays a vital part in raising public awareness. Such voices have long been neglected and diminished by insidious coverage. They deserve their place in a supposedly liberal media organisation which claims to have a strong emphasis on presenting itself as environmentally conscious and representative of community rather than corporations. More recently, many of the same narrative techniques of context, feigned balance and editorial “neutrality”, taking corporation and government claims at face value, have been seen in relation to the coverage of the fracking plans to extract fossil fuels from the English countryside, and the activism that has sprung up to challenge it has been downplayed and presented in a supposedly neutral way, but often derogatory way. It is the faintly withering critique that can be the most damaging.

Scepticism of government and corporation claims should be the default position, knowing as we do that evidence can be manipulated by large corporations with teams of lawyers and scientists, as was the case with the tobacco industry over decades, while there should be a more encouraging, if equally sceptical, view of activists who are, after all, campaigning on behalf of the public, rather than shareholders or lobby groups. While the public was wary of such corporate shenanigans and sceptical of their claims, it seems the editors of the Guardian were not. This may be have changed somewhat in the past year or two, but there is a strong sense that it is not nearly enough, that government and corporations are still given a higher priority than environmental groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth who, after all, have existed for decades and been at the forefront of raising environmental awareness. Should they not be afforded at least the same status as corporations whose primary purpose is private profit?

That grassroots campaigning groups were marginalised and continue to be marginalised, in order to curry favour with politicians and corporate bodies, shows how narratives can be distorted to place a false consciousness in the public mind of what the environmental priorities should be. Scepticism of environmentalists, which is often presented in the Guardian as solely backed by fossil fuel lobbies and conservatives, can also comprise, at the marginal end, working class and anti-corporate opinion that has become disillusioned with doomsday scenarios and centralised plans in the face of a growing distrust of the corporate agenda including the liberal media, often represented by the Guardian. A news organisation that was once a supporter of a more engaged grassroots environmental activism should not be bogged down in statistics and exclusively scientific jargon. It could and indeed must reinvigorate public interest by presenting ecological issues in a tangible and urgent, but also a positive light, inviting vigorous dialogue and collective action, rather than seeking to polarise opinion for sensationalist ends such as comment click-bait.

In becoming too closely aligned with corporations and government and dismissive of ecological activists, described by one staff member to me sardonically in an unguarded moment as “treehuggers”, the Guardian lost a key differentiation between corporations and grassroots environmentalism. It is not too much of a stretch to imagine how such editorial decisions can be extended to affect the paper in matters of economics and politics, finance and war. The delusion of treating the Guardian as a leftwing liberal news organisation, which has a multicultural and multidisciplinary make-up, has to be challenged in the interests of creating a news medium that is a truly balanced representation and reflection of British leftwing radical and liberal viewpoints. In order to even begin to do that, the editorial staff would need to hire from radically varied cultural, educational and ethnic sources to ensure that opinions and viewpoint emerge organically through different cultural prisms, rather than by patronage from a ethnic monoculture that may believe itself to be liberal, but which bears all the hallmarks of insular, upper middle-class thought.

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Russell Brand for Green party leader may be the only way to tackle the rise of Ukip and the cult of Nigel Farage

I was back in my hometown London last weekend, in east London and the famous York Hall, often used as a boxing venue, this night playing host to a Question Time debate, which was supposed to mimic the political jousting of our parliamentary representatives. The event was organised by the People’s Assembly, an alliance of socialists, the Green party and assorted groups of students, public sector workers and activists, hoping to answer the pressing issues of the day and come up with a strategy to tackle the increasing corporatisation of our culture and attack on our public services.

A crowd of 1,200 packed this beautifully crafted Victorian building, testament to a time when the richest people in society put money and effort into creating inspiring spaces in the poorest parts of London, recognising that if the poorest were left to rot, as had been the case in times past, even the rich suffered. It was only after outbreaks of cholera in the slums began to reach into the West End that investment in such buildings, and the green spaces of Victoria Park and elsewhere, brought some sanitation and some sanity to the area and to British society as a whole.

Today, it seems that there is investment in the area again, but rather than civic spaces, the money is going into private ventures, corporate hipsters taking progressive ideas and monetising them, creating rich playground spaces for the influx of billionaires now pouring into the capital city along with the less rich but equally eager immigrants, looking for a taste of this seeming increased wealth, at a time when we have been told by our elected government and their shadow parties, that the nation’s debt is too high and that economic austerity is the only solution, making the poorest pay for the billions lost by private banks in the financial crash of 2008. It is a swindle of epic proportions that should result in public outrage, but such is the control and propagandising of mainstream media, that we barely have a focused public response to this increasing injustice.

Since the Occupy movement sprang up in New York, London and elsewhere in 2011, there have been a number of theories as to why the reasons for this economic disparity have not been addressed. A number of academics and avant-garde thinkers have focused on the extreme injustice of debt-based banking, and anarchists, futurists, spiritualists and conspiracy theorists at least managed to find a voice in these public spaces, where they had previously been marginalised from both mainstream and leftist circles.

It needs saying, and you will not hear it often in regular organised leftwing meetings, but the anti-war and anti-globalisation demonstrations of the 2000s offered so much more than was apparent in the controlled and directed socialist narratives of the time. In the UK, the main organisers of demos and meetings were the Socialist Workers party and their part-creation, the Stop the War Coalition, an association of the SWP, the Muslim Alliance of Britain and CND, but a coalition which was, in effect, run by the SWP and administered according to their methodologies. You may detect here some criticism of this organisation, and you’d be right. From 2001, I attended a number of meetings and demonstrations and found them to be dogmatic and unwelcoming of alternative political viewpoints, particularly left libertarian and anarchist ones.

I leant towards more anarchist and progressive ideas, of which there were many, and I saw a systematic marginalisation of such outspoken voices by the politburo of the authoritarian left. That is not to say there were not progressive voices in those organisations, or that their organisational methods were not often effective. But you have to ask how a group that claimed responsibility for 2 million people marching on the streets of London in February 2003 against the imminent Iraq invasion a month later, was able to preside over the dissipation of support that now results in only tens of thousands marching against the recent air-strikes against the so-called Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Mistakes were made, in my opinion, mistakes that I have not seen dealt with but which need to be addressed for the left to heal and unite in a common purpose.

So, as I arrived at York Hall to listen to the speakers, perhaps I should have been more prepared for what transpired. But my critical faculties were suspended because of one important guest. A man who I believe has done more for progressive politics in the past 18 months than any politician, unionist, activist or academic. That man is Russell Brand, and the vision he offers is so in tune with what I believe are the sentiments of this country and the world’s resistance to injustice, that I did not think for a minute that the event could be anything other than a success. And despite my ultimate disappointment, his involvement on this platform did inspire a thought that headlines this piece, and which I will address towards the end.

As I walked into the hall, and saw the preparation, and recognised one particular face on the unilaterally organised “Question Time” panel, and heard the first question asked and the replies all conforming to a singular view, I realised that, on some level, I’d been had. Here I was, once again, on an SWP-like rally, where contrary opinion is not welcome, where questions are vetted (ostensibly because there are too many put forward, but how convenient that the editing process can be made behind closed doors) and where the mainly young, white, middle-class audience will walk away with a warm, fuzzy feeling of change, but where no real effort will be made to engage with the wider public, who instinctively turn away, seeing these kinds of meetings as idealistic agit-prop, and who will, instead, continue to feel frustration that their issues are not being addressed.

Now, that is a harsh condemnation. The event itself was fun and informative on many levels. Russell Brand was his usual loquacious, vivacious and even rebellious self, offering many soundbites that chimed with the times we live in. I can see why the unions and socialist intellectuals like John Rees, who bat down dissent on the left as well as any rightwing politician, might want to use his celebrity status for their own ends. I’m sure that Russell Brand is smart enough to recognise if he is being used in such a way, and I sensed that perhaps he too was impatient at the plodding way the evening was structured.

My main issue of the night was in using the gimmick of calling the event Question Time, accusing the BBC of not allowing progressive voices on its programme (which is true) but then responding by organising an event which is merely a leftwing reflection of that same limited structure. At least there is some heated disagreement on the BBC’s Question Time, even if within a narrow band of opinion. There was little disagreement at the People’s Assembly Question Time. It became a backslapping echo chamber, which is not conducive to progressing ideas about how to tackle the world’s rapid shift to the right and the increasing control of public life by private corporations and the corruption of parliament. We need passionate dialogue, not a bubble of self-satisfaction.

John Rees spoke of the left’s failure being its fragmentation and bitter infighting. I would say its biggest failure is that the authoritarian left, which he is part of, successfully marginalised non-hierarchical groups, progressives and eccentrics of the left. Where Ukip has managed to find room for their own “eccentrics” (bigots of all descriptions, but a few harmless fools as well), the left has suppressed their own dissenters, often mavericks with important, if sometimes irrational and nonsensical contributions to make, as well as ordinary working class people with very pragmatic demands (how inspiring to see the E17 mothers and how starved the left has been of working class voices over the years). This is the essence of progressive dialogue, creating a broad church of differing but equally valued opinion, yet such views have been stifled and the structures of these debates could learn a lot from the Occupy movement. The authoritarian left is thus a distorted representation of a broader left movement, and the debate in such meetings and demos becomes controlled and sterile, which I believe has contributed to the public being unable to relate fully.

We are complex human beings, often contradictory and irrational in our beliefs. We cannot be squeezed into boxes that do not shift in perception. That is as stifling whether it comes from the left or the right. It is ridiculous and dangerous to objectify Ukip and their supporters simply as ignorant racists. We thus give them a power they do not possess. But it is just as dangerous to characterise those who wish to talk about alternative medicine and the role of Big Pharma, or debate the media narratives around 9/11 and 7/7 as conspiracy theorists. The authoritarian left has done this as effectively as anyone from the mainstream or the right and this has severely hampered open debate and a broad strategy.

Everyone on the panel, even Russell Brand to some extent, took this position of going for the cheap shot of Ukip (they can hardly be blamed, as the anger at their increasing power is completely understandable). It got laughs and cheers, but later that night Ukip got their first MP, so the laughs kind of fell flat. They will get an extreme amount of the media spotlight now (even more than the excessive amount they have already been getting) and they have done so, not only by appealing to the public’s ignorance and fear, but by being willing to go after and engage with the mainstream politicians (assisted by a hefty does of ruling class funding and a barely concealed mainstream media support, it must be said).

The authoritarian left, and that includes the radical elements of the country’s unions, is also used to shouting dissent from the sidelines. As I write this, I have to confess that I often do the same. When you have little sense of power, when you feel victimised, often the only chance you have is to voice your discontent on the margins of acceptability. I had the opportunity to voice my disapproval at that meeting in the York Hall. Why did I remain silent? I was angry at how stage-managed it seemed to be. But, because of past experiences of being shouted down at meetings, and because of the size of the attendance, maybe I backed out of voicing an urgent rethink of how we should organise in the next few months leading up to the general election. Maybe I also recognised there would not be enough time to engage in such a debate from the floor of a meeting attended by a thousand people with a structured process and time limit.

I believe engagement is important, that many radical ideas can be brought to the table, from all sections of the progressive left. Unions discussing pay and socialists discussing capitalism are but two facets of a much deeper and broader critique of society that involves ending drug prohibition, introducing hitherto banned natural remedies and patent-free chemicals, that there is strong, clinical evidence to suggest will deal with many of the country’s minor to medium health problems, which will save the NHS millions of pounds and take away our dependency on private pharmaceutical companies.

Additionally, there are complementary and psychospiritual methods of healthcare and counselling, with an evidence base derived from decades of research, that can begin to address the individual and societal trauma affecting not just our country, but the world particularly in the most violent and inhospitable places. Why aren’t these issues being addressed at the People’s Assembly? If it will not address them, then the People’s Assembly will fail in its objectives, in my opinion. If it seeks to use the same methods and critiques that have failed to engage with the public over the past few decades, why would anyone feel they can engage now? We have to look at more radical strategies.

The Green party has a major role to play in the progressive debate, I feel, since it is steeped in the kind of empathic and compassionate worldview that is conducive to such dialogue. Their members are generally aware and welcoming of the socialist critiques of capitalism that are necessary, and they are open to non-authoritarian methods of engagement. What they lack is a figurehead to galvanise members and to engage with the media narrative and thus get through to the public. Leader Natalie Bennett is a skilled politician and activist. Green MP, Caroline Lucas, is a brave and articulate campaigner who has put her reputation on the line tackling issues such as fracking. They will remain the intellectual and political driving force of the party and rightly so.

But to be honest, for all their knowledge and experience, neither can be said to capture the public imagination in a way that grabs headlines, causes controversy and has newspaper editors scrambling against their better judgment to discuss the pros and cons of their policies. It may be unjust that politics in the media world should be reduced to superficial notions of personality, but this is how society presently functions and to ignore that is to throw away the possibility of effecting change through the pragmatic apparatus of parliamentary democracy. Why waste this opportunity when a radical and effective alternative exists?

In progressive politics, leadership should be about creating a focal point, the individual should act as a lightning conductor, able to absorb and transmit public attention towards the many pioneering and necessary ideas contained within the structure. The Green party has many policies that need exposure and which the public would relate to if they were presented them in a simple and direct way. I can see only one individual presently who is capable of creating that kind of buzz. He will of course enjoy the attention, but I believe he is also genuine and generous and prescient enough to understand why he could be effective in being used in such a way, and would be skilled enough to know how to direct that attention on to the issues and policies at hand.

The Green party’s election campaign trail represents an opportunity to bring as many progressive ideas to light for discussion as are needed at such a crucial moment in time. I would like to see Russell Brand take that step from rebellious voice to entering into the parliamentary fray as the Green party leader, and for the organising committee to show they are not like the authoritarian left and to recognise the opportunity that may be presented to them and which may not come again and put him up for nomination and a vote. It is a venture filled with risk, and there may well be huge resistance within the party, but nothing less than 100 or so Green party MPs at the next general election will do to prevent the further injustices, the roll-out of the Translantlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and rolling back of decades of European Human Rights laws, and there is no chance that with the party’s present set-up, it is equipped to successfully challenge the mainstream media narrative and the cult of personality that is Nigel Farage.

It is a massive gamble, one that I admit is unlikely to happen without a monumental shift in perception, but it is a massive gamble to allow our society to continue as it is presently. The heat generated from such a move will be enough to galvanise support in many constituencies, off the back of the undoubted controversy and searing narrative that will be generated by a radical leader who is highly skilled as an entertainer and condenser of complex political ideas, who has proved his commitment to changing our society for the better. The Green party, under the banner of a maverick, can gather the support of the left which will challenge the monstrosity of austerity politics and the criminal transfer of public wealth into private hands. And if it happens, then this new alliance can begin by going after the establishment and fake establishment politicians to engage in a more honest debate about the future of this country. Can you imagine a live debate between Russell Brand and Nigel Farage? Does anyone doubt who would come out on top? “We’re never gonna survive unless we get a little crazy,” the singer Seal once cried. So why not now? Is there really any other alternative that can challenge the rigged game we are being presented with? I can’t think of anyone better suited to challenging the cult of Farage than the boy from Grays, Essex. Russell Brand for Green party leader. You heard it here first.

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Kate Tempest’s Ted Hughes poetry prize recognition is richly deserved

Public Enemy are rightly preparing to be inducted into the rock’n’roll hall of fame as artists who changed music and whose commitment to lyrical truth and the philosophy of the personal as political inspired millions, while Kate Tempest has been awarded the Ted Hughes poetry prize. What links them, is that Kate Tempest showed such self-confidence in her talent at an early age, that she once framed a question to her hero Chuck D at a festival in the form of rhyme, that earned his respect and praise, the skill and bravado that has made her such an important artist in evidence as she delivered her poetic statement.

The award is official recognition for what many of us have known for some time to be one of the UK’s outstanding artistic talents. I first saw Kate at a Peace Not War benefit gig nearly 10 years ago, when as an 18 year-old, she ripped up the stage with rhymes filled with rhythmic mastery and linguistic complexity. She was beyond her years even then and seasoned performers knew it and remarked on it.

What sets her apart from the many talented artists of the time who opposed the Iraq war is her ability to combine wisdom gained from her experiences growing up in south London, with a mastery of rhyme and imagery that weaves together the sacred and the profane; but there is also a deep compassion in her words towards those who have fallen on the wrong side of the tracks, to those who life has treated harshly. She demonstrates an empathy with the everyday experiences of the “common people” and a defiant energy in response to all that nullifies us, alienates us, makes us feel unworthy to occupy our own space.

The award is for her playwriting, specifically for her spoken word performance Brand New Ancients, positively reviewed by the Guardian’s Lynn Gardner, that brings a spiritual element to the everyday tale of two families in conflict. She finds divinity where others would not think to look and she exposes the hypocrisy and the rank sterility of the mass media spectacle and those who have raised themselves up as idols, false prophets such as Simon Cowell and the many vacuous celebrities who pose as entertainers.

In this modern age of social media and Youtube, there are many clips of her poetry online and, for those who are able to relate to her streetwise wisdom, there are many opportunities to marvel at how she manages to weave words with such mesmeric dexterity, to tell stories with such a deep sense of what it is to be human, a recognition of the pain and numbness of urban life in London and the joy and love of existence.

But while there is a knowing self-confidence that has continually spurred her on to perform at any given opportunity, what marks her out is the vulnerability she displays that seems to come from a conscious and courageous act of will. I saw her perform with Saul Williams on a memorable night last year at the Queen Elizabeth hall and felt those in attendance, including me, hang on her every word. I watched her step off the stage and go into the audience in mid-performance, like she really wanted everyone present to know they are just as important as she is, that her words would not matter as much if there was no one to hear them. Such confidence and vulnerability on display at the same time is a potent mixture for an artist.

Kate Tempest’s words have the power to change people, to inspire them to believe in themselves, to love literature as she demonstrates, for example, with her knowledge and love of the words of William Shakespeare, and to believe in the power of words to heal, to bring communities together, a reminder that raw energy and talent can inspire us to overcome the sense of oppression and heartlessness that seems to pervade our society at this time, not just to elevate us transcendentally, but to celebrate our humanity and to see beauty in the everyday and the mundane.

With the recognition of Kate Tempest, it feels to me that the spirit of 2003 and the peace movement is alive and well and ready to shake up the world and I hope she now reaches the wider audience her undoubted talent and integrity deserves.

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Trauma is at the root of the violence in Israel-Palestine

How do you even begin to unravel the political, social, humanitarian mess that is the travesty in Israel-Palestine? The roots go back to before there was an Israel or a Palestine, they go back even before Britain redrew the map of the Middle East, a region that it had conquered and colonised. The roots go back to the origins of the three Abrahamic religions and their traditional enmities, they go back to a history of vicious and inhuman antisemitism, of the persecution of the Jewish people, particularly in Europe, which led most brutally and inhumanely to the Nazi death camps and the genocide that terrorised and traumatised a people.

The roots of Israel go back to a political idea, itself rooted in left liberal thought, to create a homeland for a persecuted people, the Zionist project, which eventually and seemingly poetically found its home in the land surrounding Jerusalem, the biblical home of the Jewish religion and its followers, a home which came at a cost to those already living in that land, creating disputes over land and rights that continue to this day. Such disputes are difficult to pin down in terms of rights, ethnicity, culture and religion and there are seemingly intractable arguments on both sides. It is difficult, maybe even impossible to get absolute answers to these questions that all can agree on.

But what is undeniable is that Palestinians were displaced in great numbers after the second world war and the right of return denied to many of them. What is indisputable is that Egypt, Jordan and Syria went to war with Israel and that Israel dominated this deadly exchange with a military assault that ended the war in six days, that ever since, Israel has been flouting UN resolution 242 on the illegal acquisition of land through war. The motivations and reasons for the conflict are disputed, but what most reasonable people on all sides would agree on is that peace is preferable to war. So how has this region come to be so fixated on war as a way of life?

Many reasons are given for the intensity of the conflict in the wider Middle East. In the most pragmatic analysis, it is said that the industrial world’s hunger for oil keeps the area in a state of perpetual conflict to allow the world’s dominant countries to extract fossil fuels at a cheaper price. But how cheap is the price when it is paid in blood? Oil does not seem a strong enough motivating factor.

Others say it is, as I have mentioned, the traditional enmity of the Abrahamic religions; three cousins, who share a common God, arguing viciously and murderously for the right to claim He favours them. This is more plausible and, in the light of the advances in scientific knowledge and philosophical thought to this human process of self-awareness since the European Enlightenment (itself rooted in Middle Eastern thought and subsequently evolved and enriched by multicultural knowledge from all parts of the globe), it seems that such musings on imaginary, and distinctly different representations of divinity should have been consigned to history.

In truth, though the worship of deities and the differing dogma of religious books, particularly patriarchal religious books, with their pronouncements on women and sexual behaviour, is deeply problematic, revealing systemic faults that cannot be justified in the civil and ethical framework that most would acknowledge forms part of our evolution as a world society, their existence is not enough to convince me of a motivating factor that would produce the horrors we are seeing on all sides in this region.

For, while the American-backed military might of Israel and its determination to continue to allow flagrant breaches of United Nations resolutions in invading the fragmented remnants of Palestinian land is abominable, and is rightly condemned, what such brutality has created in Gaza and surrounding pockets is a traumatised, nihilistic group of people whose seething hatred of Israel has intensified into becoming an even greater threat to the Israeli people than it was before the first intifada.

And it is here where we have the root of the problem, fixed very much in the present. That root is psychological trauma. This is trauma rooted in childhood abuse, the abuse that is a direct result of war and psychological brutalisation. The abuse that so many Jewish children faced after the second world war. A psychological trauma that has not been acknowledged or dealt with by those who went on to found the state of Israel and who now execute its domestic and foreign policy. It is an abuse that is now affecting millions of children throughout the war-torn regions of the Middle East. This trauma is what causes violence to be perpetuated and expressed as the only manifestation of that pain that is superficially acceptable.

To look into the roots of that trauma in each individual is a much harder course of action, but one that society is beginning to acknowledge is the only route to healing. As such, there is cause for optimism, we are aware that there is a way to resolve that trauma and drastically reduce the manifestations of hatred and violence. We have scientific and medical solutions to heal that trauma. Underneath the trauma, underneath the violence, the hatred and the anger, is pain, and underneath that pain is grief, an unexpressed grief, a grief that has been submerged under layers of more socially acceptable expressions, such as hatred, anger and violence.

But, for every violent expression of that grief, there are also those who express that grief through depression and other forms of psychological self-harm. The crisis in Gaza, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Congo, in Sudan and so many other violently afflicted regions has produced unimaginable human suffering, not just physical suffering, or the existential suffering of losing homes and struggling to find food and shelter, but the emotional suffering of familial loss, of losing loved ones, the emotional suffering of being dehumanised, humiliated and unacknowledged.

It makes no difference to the child if the dehumanising has a political motive, as was the case with Nazism, or whether it is the result of an already dehumanised and traumatised people being placed in a hostile region that was traditionally seen as their religious home (hostile, it must be underlined, as a result of an inhuman displacement of people, the Palestinians, who themselves had lives and hopes and dreams brutally taken away from them). The resultant trauma, the effect on the emotional body is the same, the same confusion, the same grief, the same attempt to accommodate such pain.

The anger and hatred that often grows out of that pain is the same no matter how that trauma was caused. And violence affects all in the same way, we all cut, we all bleed. How can we as a human society that has developed such knowledge of our physiology and psychology, the evidence of pathology, not be capable of finding a way out of this cycle of trauma and violence?

The knowledge is there and it is time now that we deal with the here and now, that we begin to see, not Palestinian, or Israeli, or Iraqi, or Afghani, or Congolese children, not to distinguish these from American or British or French children, but to see only children, children who need the help of those who are able and willing to heal, to show compassion, to show love and understanding. As much as the active qualities of protection, action and construction are needed more than ever, we need to allow a re-emergence of the qualities of nurturing and being.

It is a strange coincidence that doctors and scientists in Israel are part of the growing wave of psychedelic therapy that is beginning to emerge after years of prohibition and negative propaganda. The scientific research with MDMA in a therapeutic setting with those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder gives great cause for hope. But before such controversial healing modalities are even considered, the blame game of who started what and when, of who is the good guy and who is the bad guy must be transcended and the priority of healing all trauma must be prioritised.

We must arrive at a stage where we recognise that, while there are those on all sides who see violence as a method to achieve power and a sense of justice, often that is itself a sign of trauma. Of course, such violent and dominant people will be the last to acknowledge that their methods are pathological. But it does seem that the world, the human nation, that is becoming self aware as an organism, is beginning to recognise this. At some point – soon I hope – that recognition will lead to the kind of pressure that will produce a change in emphasis, from a search for rightness, to a determination to heal and live interdependent lives that manifest human potential in harmonious ways. A person who has their pathologies – no matter how slight or intense – processed and resolved, is a human being that naturally harmonises with their surroundings.

The challenge is to enter into the intensity of a conflict region that has such media attention and to find a resolution. Creating a healing paradigm to deal with the psychological trauma (particularly in children) will not instantly solve the conflict between the Israeli and Palestinian people, but it will go some way to lowering the tension and the violence and allowing true dialogue and true empathic and compassionate communication to take place and to sow seeds of health and self-esteem and laughter and love that will benefit all in the long term.

In doing so, a psychological and humanitarian template may be created that can be used, not just in the many conflict regions of the world, but which can also be brought into the many multinational corporations currently dominated by pathological executives, who are expressing their trauma in another form of violence, the ecological destruction of habitat for profit. The connections are there, we just need to find a way for society to apply its own learning to its own body, each human individual that makes up the whole organism of the human race. I believe this can be done. There has never been a more urgent need or a more likely chance to achieve this aim.

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