Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Sea and Hill

I grew up in Apartheid South Africa as it was gasping for its last breaths, and as the new South Africa was filling its lungs for the first times with a new cry. The road from Durban to Pietermaritzburg winds through Kwa-Zulu Natal with what were the white suburbs on either side, and the separated suburbs a little further back. One of my defining experiences was being taken to Umlazi as a 17-year-old. A place of almost half a million people, hidden behind a hill I never ventured beyond. There, but not. Gradually my high-school class filled with people from outside my bubble. I finished school when South Africa was just about to turn 4-years-old. That was my first experience of Global Apartheid. Seeing that the sea is just a big hill.

It must have been weird living in such a backward society. I grew up in England, which is a proudly liberal. Britain has an awkward history too, but we are able to have a good laugh about it. It feels good to be proud of my country. It must be horrible to not be proud of your country. We have been on the right side of history in the end. You need to let go of your history in the same way. You shouldn't let Apartheid define you. It wasn't your fault, in the same way as England's history isn't my fault. I can be proud of the positives now, and move forward in a society that is equal.

That doesn't sit well with me. I am proud of South Africa, but not in a Nationalistic way. When we first got the new South Africa flag, I was all-in for the story of Nation Building. I have lots of pictures of myself with a "Y-Front on my face" as the Barmy Army would put it. I was also one of the loudest singing the love child of Nkosi-Sikeleli iAfrika and Die Stem. When I got to the UK for the first time (a gap between school and uni), I was actually pretty annoying in my "South Africa is so amazing"ness. The problem is, it feels very much like the feeling I had growing up if you just focus on the positives. Life in a police state is backward, but all you know.


I don't know. That's all too much like lecturing to me. Life is too short. I have enough problems of my own to focus on. What exactly is the point of carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders? A Liberal Society lets everyone just crack on with what is important to them. There is nothing holding anyone back. It is all about getting the right mindset. If you are constantly looking for excuses, you will find them. No one owes you anything. If you want something work for it. That applies to everyone else too, so I don't see why I (or you) need to feel any responsibility for sorting other people's issues out.

I do think mindset is important. Except our mindsets aren't our own. We are part of a community, and we don't just move as individuals. It isn't as simple as snapping out of it. I don't think we necessarily recognise just how valuable being part of a set up that lets you focus on your own problems is. I love the UK. It is an awesome place, but I don't think there is sufficient reflection on issues like Colonialism and Imperialism. I don't think there is sufficient discussion about how we empower people to have similar opportunities to take advantage of the progress the world has seen. Even within the UK, I don't think it is as meritocratic as those who have succeeded believe. It is easy to say we get what we deserve, when we have succeeded.

Would you like some cheese with your whine? Colonialism and Imperialism happened a long time ago. Anyway, I wasn't part of all that. My parents and their parents also struggled. England was colonised by the Vikings, the French, and various European Monarchs had their turn. William of Orange was Dutch, and the latest lot are German and Greek. Russia was colonised by the Mongols. The Slavs, where we get the word Slave, were as white as Prince George's bottom. Look at Singapore and Rwanda... if you stop making excuses and start taking responsibility, your situation changes. Whine just gives you a hangover. At what point do we get to move on?

I do think there is a balance. Yes, responsibility is important but some of the obstacles are structural. It is very hard to see why it is hard to break out of those restraints when you aren't under them. Particularly us as white, English-Speaking, males, who went to decent schools, and were part of strong communities. The world is largely set up for us. Even if we stumble, and go rogue for a while. We'll have buddies and family to help us up again. It can't all just be about sorting ourselves out. There must be some sort of shared responsibility.

There is shared responsibility. It's called tax. It's called the Welfare State. At some point people need to wipe their own bottoms. I am so tired of being told I can't have an opinion on anything because of my genitalia and lack of tan. I am also tired of being told I don't care, or am evil, because I just want to get a job I am good at, build a life I want to live, do things I enjoy, and pay a truck ton of tax along the way to a state that can help others who don't have the advantages I do. What more can you expect from me?

Except taxes are National. It is the Umlazi problem I started with. The world is Global now. In the same way as I grew up where the "Whites Only Areas" were sustained by Black Labour. Building borders and sinking boats is just a way of creating open-air prisons. The UK is a country of migrants. The US is a country of migrants. The EU has a long history of migration. Instanbul, in Turkey, was the capital of the Roman Empire. Alexandria in Egypt, one of the centres of learning. How can we just focus on Nation States? Surely there is a better form of community.

Because Nation States are the most effective form of Government we have come up with. Because not participating in  "Civilising Missions" is the lesson learned from failed Colonialism and Imperialism. Because Free Trade is the best way to let other countries sort themselves out in their own way, in their own time. We haven't exactly had a sterling history of military interventions in imposing ourselves on others. Borders will gradually become more invisible as and when it is safe. You are living in la-la-land if you think it is fine to thrust "progress", whatever that is, on people. Or to expect people to put at risk all they have built up, to let whoever wants to come, in.

[Simon, Marco, Andrew, Arthur, and Max are fictional]

Monday, January 21, 2019

Out the Nest

Wealth compounds. 10% growth on a lot is a lot more than 10% growth on nothing. If you look at GDP per capita in England, it exploded in the last 200 years. This means that each generation, if they are playing the game, earn a bucket load more than the last. It also means that if you don't play the game, your life will progressively look far more different to the generation that came before. Standing still is falling behind. If you don't believe in Hereditary Wealth, and you believe kids should be pushed out of the nest at 18, their lives will progressively look dramatically different. 

As a Soutie, one of the obvious differences between South Africa and the United Kingdom is the pragmatism of degree choices. The lucky few who get to go to university in South Africa, primarily choose money-making degrees. Business Degrees and STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) tend to put food on the table. The proud history of Universities in the UK is of a Liberal Arts degree. You study to learn to think... then you get trained on the job. The challenge is, if you choose a non-money making job... you are certainly not going to fly in the same way as the Eagles. That is fine. It is a choice. It does put a strain on communities when lifestyles are varied.

There is an analogous strain in the other direction in South Africa. Tearing itself painfully from the grip of Apartheid, it is fairly common for the parents of Engineers, Accountants, Doctors and Lawyers to be Domestic Workers or Gardeners. The concept of a "Black Tax" is that first generation Freedom Babies who do well financially, often have an entire community to support. That community may have pooled their money to finance the studies, effectively buying a stake in future earnings.

Financial progress is great. There are however real unintended consequences that families, communities, and countries are only just beginning to grapple with as we get pulled in multiple directions.

Getting Better

I don't really understand the fuss that was made about the Gillette advert. It simply says we shouldn't treat each other badly. It shows a particular brand of fragility that so many people have pushed back on it. They accuse us of being Snowflakes, and then they are so easily triggered by a polite request to be better. I like it when companies use their platforms for good. Like this, and the Nike adverts and the Nandos adverts. It certainly beats the American ads which are half disclaimers about how the drugs they are selling will make bits of your body fall off.

I didn't like the ad. I find it worrying that Social Movements can be so easily co-opted by Corporates and trivialized. This is a difficult conversation that needs having. It feels similar to the American division in News Media. Years ago, everyone would have watched the same channel and had a view. Now each side gets different facts and reacts. Companies now seem to be picking sides. Even though I agree with you that which 'side' seems obvious here. I also worry that this ad makes out as if the issue is important because it affects men too. We can't deal with #MeToo without saying #ToxicMasculinity harms men.

I didn't like the ad for the reasons Rachel says... but am one of those reverse-Snow Flakes if that is the binary choice. It's all just a bit too much, to be honest. All this stuff about Privilege and blah, blah, blah. I get it, but isn't there a time limit on that? Can't people start taking some responsibility for sorting their own stuff out? I really think Jordan Peterson is nailing it. What is wrong with being the traditional male? Without being a dick. Having muscles and enjoying a barbecue isn't toxic. Messing around on the playground is how you learn resilience in a world that isn't fair. A world that isn't safe. It is not just Peterson who makes sense in this space. It isn't a Right-wing push back. If you look at some of the work of David Deida, and others in the spiritual space, having a balance between Masculine and Feminine energies is important. We can't all just have a cry about it when life gets hard. Someone has to provide the backbone. Even if it is the Woman that Mans up.

It's all about choice. I have read some of the Deida stuff and it makes me cringe just as much as the Peterson work. I think the Male/Female divide is lazy. It is how we have always done it, and there are certainly strengths and weaknesses we associate we men and women, but aren't there other words?  The word 'Bridge' is feminine in German, and masculine in Spanish (strong, sturdy, towering). Even when speaking English, German speakers will tend to describe Bridges using feminine adjectives (beautiful, elegant, fragile) and Spanish speakers will use masculine ones (sturdy, strong, towering). We get so deep soaked in expectations that it isn't really a choice. We are making progress on women making "masculine" choices, but boys are still restricted from making "feminine" choices and expected to adhere to positive masculine requirements - strength, provision, stoicism.  

There are some hard discussions. In the past there was a play book. Rather, there were playbooks. Everything is now up for discussion, and the world has profoundly changed. 200 years ago, most children died before their fifth birthday. We were mostly poor farmers. We have gone through an industrial revolution where most of us were workers, and then in rich countries we have gradually moved out of our bodies and into our heads.  The playbook has been burned. Most of us grew up in sexually repressed religious cultures that were sexist, homophobic, racist, and xenophobic. You don't need to look further than previous generations to get your cringe on. Maybe we should all just cut each other a little slack and figure this mess out.

Isn't it simpler than that though? We do tolerate negative behaviour from men. We do live in a world where women are fearful, because that is completely rational. They should be scared. We do live in a patriarchal world where there is a pay-gap, and woman are restricted from progressing in the work place in the way men are. Even if on paper they are "allowed", culturally woman are expected to work as if they aren't mothers, and be mothers as if they don't work. Expected to thrive in a male world, while still being feminine. This push back strikes me as a lack of willingness to change that.

There is an element of whataboutism going on here. As Rachel says, there may be other issues but that constantly brings the discussion back to Men. I don't like the trivialisation of the ad, but the #MeToo and #ToxicMasculinity discussions are important. There has to be a way we can have these discussions where an issue gets addressed fully, without each garden path being followed.

Ok, but that has to work both ways. We need to be softer on boys, but we also need to be harder on girls. Sometimes you do need a bit of grit to push through, rather than a cuddle. I have seen too many examples where when life gets hard, people opt out. Life is hard. For the people at the top, life is often awful in many ways. Make the choice sure, but then accept the consequences. The only reason they do it is because of the Kudos we often attach to people able to be "Toxic". I don't buy this Choice stuff. You can't have everything. Choice sometimes requires a partnership with someone else who will do the stuff you aren't prepared to do. If you want to Yin, someone has to Yang. Someone has to take out the Garbage. Someone has to fix the toilet.

Sure, but it sounds like you aren't acknowledging the problems. You have jumped directly to why men have it hard. Men have always had the platform. Maybe it is time that we focused the attention elsewhere.

I am not Men. I am Peter. Half my ancestors are women. A big chunk of the reason things stay the way they are, is because women are half the parents, and want them to stay the way they are. I don't dispute the problems. I just don't think the public discussion is very nuanced. A lot of people who feel differently about this would rather just crack on with stuff that needs doing than make a lot of noise about it in public. It seems some people choose to be activists, and some people choose to take action.

We can at least be grateful that we are at this messy stage of the discussion, and action is being taken. We are also 50/50 committed to a solution, as you say. Still not sure I like Corporates triggering the chat, but maybe it is a positive that the discussion follows.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Let's See

I have always been skeptical of Epiphanies. Less so when they are events in our past we reflect on. When we realise that years ago, a breakthrough experience changed the path of our lives. I do believe in the Butterfly Effect. That everything we do matters, and nudges the world onto a different path. We just have very little idea of the unintended consequences of our actions. The pumping heart of valuable change is sustainability. Not whether you can do something today, but whether you can do something every day. Whether you can still do it tomorrow. Whether you can still do it in ten years. Change compounds through repetition. Through practice. Through deep soaking. Till the change becomes a part of who we are. The correct response to most Ephiphanies is, "Let's See".

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Empowering Consent

The first goal is to stop the bleeding. To get to the point where the Outs are less than the Ins. To live within your means. Then you build a Buffer. A gap between the Ins and Outs. The cost of living isn't smooth. We get caught off guard by unexpected expenses that aren't part of the plan. You can plan for the expected unexpected. That is a Buffer. Some Capital that builds resilience. 

These are short term measures.

For true Freedom, you need to build a base. A foundation that is independent of you as a productive asset. For most of us, our labour keeps us alive if we are lucky enough to have a job. A Base would be sufficient Capital that survival isn't the objective. A simple roof over your head. Warmth and security to allow a sense of calm to soak deep. Food and water to keep you sustained. A Base isn't the dream house. It is the foundation. A base gives you sufficient freedom to say No. Empowerment in the form of Consent. If you do something, it is because you want to, rather than because you have to. Yes carries very little information if No was not an option.

When you are living within your means, and you have a Buffer for the bumps, and a Base to give you confidence... you are in a position to build an Engine. An Engine is a Muse. A Patron. A Breadwinner. An Engine is the pragmatist that accepts the way the world works so that you don't have to. An Engine can take the abuses of failure because it doesn't have an identity to defend. An Engine can do multiple jobs so that you can focus on the things that really matter. An Engine is bigger than a Base, and works for money so that you can work for whatever you want.

A Community Wealth Fund would be a big Engine that can provide a Base to a number of people. When security and confidence go viral, trust becomes the community superpower. The Endurance to sustain a thriving community, the Resilience not to get knocked off track, and the Creativity to create the kind of world we want to live in. Every day.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Old Scripts

We speak too quickly for each word to be a conscious choice. The stream that bursts from us comes from deep beneath the surface. A reaction from within. We recognise the situation we are in from situations we have been in. From situations that have repeated themselves into our muscle memory, or burnt themselves into us through sheer force. Seeing things from other people's perspectives is so hard, in part because we haven't had their experiences, but in part because it is so hard to "unsee" what we have experienced. As the experiences soak in, we can forget them but they don't disappear. Accessing the scripts that drive us requires patience. It requires calm. It requires doing the work. This is why honesty isn't just letting down barriers. It is also making time. Understanding can't be forced.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

First Aid

I believe in Engine and Buffer building. In snapping the idea that people are productive assets defined by the work we do. A Buffer is some Capital that you have built up, that means that you are no longer living purely hand-to-mouth. It provides breathing space and resilience. It means that bumps don't break you. A sufficiently big Buffer, unused, can start to grow into an Engine. An Engine is a Muse. It earns the money so that you don't *need* to. It doesn't mean the work you do might not still make money, but that money becomes a bonus. You could choose to completely focus on something that doesn't make money. Like raising a family, creating art, or working a country mile from a wallet. Like putting in a chunk of unpaid time, that might one day lead to an opportunity to work in an area you would love to be.

Step One is more pragmatic. Step One is First Aid. You have to stop the bleeding. Apply pressure to the wound. The pumping heart of Financial Security is that your Ins are bigger than your Outs. There is a minimum amount you need to survive. If you don't have that, any idea of putting some aside is a hypothetical campfire story. Far too many people on this shared rock are not even at that point.

We spend a lot of time in Dreamland. Thinking of where we want to end up. I believe it is all about the base. The deep underlying confidence that you will be okay. Some of us are lucky. We come from communities where we know that to be true. The bank of Mom and Dad stands ready to step in. Friends and Family have spare rooms. Spare couches. A web of people care about us and stand ready to pick us up if we fall. There are jobs we could get at the drop of a hat, but don't, because they are "beneath us". We can move to cheaper houses. We can move to cheaper areas. We have options. A lot of people have no options.

Even if you have options. I still believe it is all about the base. Start where you are. Take control of the bleeding. Make sure you can get the Outs less than the Ins. Then start to build a Base. A floor to the worst case scenario. Grounding. Then you can explore. Then you can shoot for anything you want.
1. Stop the Bleeding
2. Build a Buffer
3. Build a Base
4. Build an Engine 

Tuesday, January 15, 2019


As the world becomes connected, our stories become more detached from our daily realities. When you in a small pond, pretty average people get to lap up the glory of being the biggest fish. Then that protection falls away. As Global and Local mix, the benchmark for being the "news maker" gets higher. The "good life" pushes to the edges. Unless we let go of comparison. If we celebrate good enough. If we celebrate mediocrity. If we celebrate the things that are on the menu. There is nothing wrong with being gloriously average. Spectacularly unspectacular. Unless the stories we consume make us think our lives aren't good enough. We can raise the profile of simple. Of affordable. Of plentiful. Of thinking inside the box. Rare and unique raise the price of things... not the value. Price is just a clearing mechanism. A measure of how much there is of something. That is a very bad measure of value. Success needn't be about setting yourself apart.