Hyper Normal Cows

hyper normal cows

This picture is from the 19th century. At the time there was a trend to breed larger livestock and over-feed them, as the chap is doing in the picture, to produce excessively large cows. It has been suggested that this was for little more than as a status symbol, the bigger your cow the higher your status as a farmer. However they were not normal cows, they were not healthy cows and would have had obscenely high levels of fat.

One of the big televisual events of this week was the airing of George Monbiot’s “Apocalypse Cow” a documentary to raise awareness of the lack of sustainability of rearing cows for food, looking specifically at Britain. My social media has erupted yet again with farmers upset at seeming to be targeted as the bad guys. This perception is bolstered by aggression directed towards the farming community by those demanding sustainability, largely extremist vegans. In reality, this is a false perception, so it was disappointing that Mr Monbiot failed to ensure this was not the ‘take home message’ of the programme. I think it’s all to do with hypernormalisation.

As a man, I shave my face. When I started shaving I experimented with various methodologies and concluded that what worked best for me was wet shaving using a traditional brush and a soap block. However, over the years getting hold of reasonable quality block soap for shaving on the high street has become ever harder. Harder because most people who wet shave purchase cans to produce their shaving foam. This is surely an inferior way to shave for several reasons:

1/ the quality of the foam isn’t as good. 2/ It’s environmentally damaging as a single block of soap will last longer then several cans 3/ the cans are much more expensive.

It seems that most men are not making the optimal choice, particularly financially. This may because of marketing. I have never seen an advert for block shaving soap, but I have seen countless adverts for cans of shaving foam on the telly and in magazines as the only way to be a “Real Man”. The reason for that is likely because the soap makers  and the retailers make more money from selling multiple quantities of the more expensive cans. Use of cans is now regarded as the normal way to shave. The whole process of how society shifted to an inferior product is an example of hypernormalisation, normalisation of something that rationally is abnormal. Everyone kind of knows that this situation is bad, yet continue to buys cans of shaving foam. It is also partly this desire to conform, to not be the oddball who buys block soap like their ‘old-fashioned’ grandfathers did.

The conspiracy theorist in me has a theory about this. In most supermarkets, you are lucky if there is one shaving block soap. If there is only one it is usually Wilkinson Sword shaving soap, this has to be the worst shaving soap ever produced; it is very difficult to get a decent lather with it. Every other block soap brand produces a good lather.  Anyone who experiments with block shaving soap is likely to trial it with Wilkinson Sword soap, so they conclude that it’s a poor way to shave and go back to the cans. It is entirely possible that Wilkinson Sword simply produce poor soap to encourage people to buy canned foam to boost their profits. This is perhaps the inherent weakness of modern capitalism.

This hypernormalisation also happens with cows. Society has become accustomed to generally buying cheap, intensively produced meat through this process of hyper-normalisation. As household food budgets are squeezed, the idea of spending more to get sustainable local produce seems crazy, let alone the hassle of queuing at the butchers on a Saturday morning. There is the idea that it is only oddballs that obsess about only buying sustainable meat, have become vegans, or indeed do really mad stuff like learn to speak Welsh as an adult.

These conventions of habit and hypernormalised thinking need to change if humanity has any hope of averting the looming climate crisis. There was a very poignant example of this in Apocalypse Cow.

One segment of the programme involved Mr Monbiot visiting a pasture based cattle farm. Mr Monbiot was accusing the farmer of not being sustainable. The farmer was visibly upset by this accusation as hers was a traditional, extensive, pasture -based farm and she was carrying on the long proud tradition of cattle farming on that farm, how was she not one of the good guys? Mr Monbiot then delved further about the feed supplements that she used, which contained unsustainable palm oil. To feed her traditional cows she was playing a part in the destruction of primary forest to release land for production of palm oil. Hence, her farm was not as sustainable as she thought. She had believed that her farm was sustainable through hypernormalisation. Both the farmer, the shaver and everyone else are victims of hypernormalisation leading to unsustainable situations like the world is in now. Everyone else buys these sacks of animal feed, it is normalised.

These myths are so easily entrenched, most of us exist in these self-confirmatory social bubbles, telling us that we are the good guys and the baddies are elsewhere. The uncomfortable truth is that we are kind of all the bad guys when it comes to the environment, our intentions are good, but we have been misled through hypernormalisation. The vast majority of farms in Wales fail to achieve sustainability, even the hill farms I grew up around.

I’m currently reading John Davies’ ‘History of Wales and here are some quotations from the book:

“Welsh rural communities experienced greater changes in the thirty years following the Second World War than they had in the previous three hundred years. The key change was mechanisation… Between 1950 and 1970 the number of sheep in Wales increased from 3.8 million to 6 million, cows from 369,000 to 528,000 and a decrease in hectares under grain by 45%”

That is a substantial change. If we imagine the  practises of my grandfathers’ farms compared to them now the differences are substantial, but aren’t at first glance. I think it is reasonable to suggest that those farms were sustainable; they grew fruit, vegetables and grain for human consumption and as winter supplements for their herds, didn’t use pesticides and fertilisers as has now become normalised and probably had greater areas of the farm as nature refuges, such a trees and hedgerows, where the soils had time to recover from grazing, to get the nutrients back into the grasses. Those processes are likely now reduced due to modern practises, they may have passed a tipping point on many farms.

It can be understood that through these changes we have made Welsh farming unsustainable. We are losing biodiversity and the ecosystem services provided to keep the soils, plants and animals healthy and full of quality nutrients at a rapid rate. Where Wales is fortunate is that to develop sustainable agriculture should not involve major changes to our farms. Welsh farms can be sustainable with relatively minor changes to practises compared to much of world agriculture. We do kind of need to return to the ‘Child’s First Farm Book” with a pictures of cows and sheep, a couple of pig sties and chickens pecking around the farm yard, surrounded by abundant wild birds, because it it is mixed farms that are the most sustainable and productive.

My other criticism of Apocalypse cow was the suggestion that all of the UK under pasture can be rewilded and we can eat instead food from bacteria grown in vats. The problem with academics or ideas people is they ask the “What if?” questions. Attempting to answer those questions leads to some big useful numbers, so we can predict how much carbon is stored in the remaining parts of the Amazon rainforest. However this scientific, big picture thinking doesn’t break through very well to the general public, it doesn’t relate to our understood reality or the farm next door.

We may indeed as a species need to grow food in vats to get us through this environmental crisis. However we are still going to need some fresh fruit and veg and the most sustainable way of doing that is to also rear some animals on the land to facilitate nutrient cycles. It is often said we need to ‘Think global, act local” however this message makes it look here as though farming itself is to blame, rather than the broken system of capitalism at work that is responsible for all this hypernormalisation of unsustainable practises.

We are all the bad guys. We all know it’s wrong to buy so much plastic, so much food from the other side of the world and many of us non-farmers in the developed world drive to work. we kind of know this commuting is wrong, but we have to do it to have a job, we have little choice, so we can buy food to put on out tables and only have time to visit supermarkets in the evenings when the butchers is closed. Farmers are no more to blame than the rest of us, so we should not pick on farmers as being the bad guys here.

The real bad guys I suppose are the beneficiaries of our broken system of capitalism, the fat cats of big ag’, multi-national corporations and corrupt governments run by people far removed from the land and the everyday life for regular people. The people who allowed it to be decided that promoting cans of shaving foam, sourcing animal feed from primary forests was an okay idea and not tackling the housing crisis forcing so many of us to not live where we work.

So, how do we resolve all these problems? They are big and complicated and they are powerful vested interests in not changing them. I believe that what we need to do is work together, gather data, share ideas and best practise, and support those making an effort. What will hinder us is the divide and rule of the rich and powerful, who will set Farmer against Vegan , Brexitier against Remainer, Town against Countryside, Welsh against the English. If we can get beyond that and work together we can have a better quality, more sustainable quality of life, with wonderful productive farms with the highest animal welfare standards so that even those who believe it is morally wrong to rear animals for meat can accept those farms providing a service for those that don’t believe so.

We have to get beyond this black and white, good guys and bad guys, the reality is always more complicated.

The Good Guys and the Bad Guys

On a personal note, I think the best way to achieve this is stronger democracy and more local government by people who live in and understand our communities, from the bottom-up  rather than the top down. That is why I support Welsh independence.

 

 

 

Happy Veganuary/ Regenuary !

I’ve seen some slanging matches going on on Social Media, with Vegans and Livestock farmers spitting acid at each other. It’s so wrong and unnecessary, it really isn’t a black and white issue and in fact diverts energy from finding sustainable solutions. This whole argument of ‘you’re not perfect so why should I change my ways’ thing. None of us are perfect, but we desperately need to tackle climate change and that includes developing sustainable agriculture.

We should all be celebrating Veganuary, so Happy Veganuary folks. There are two main reasons. Firstly that vegans are doing a lot to help make living on this planet more sustainable  and for those thinking about transitioning to a vegan diet a month to try it and for support to be available is great. Secondly,  the vast majority of meat eaters, like 99.9% of people should substantially reduce their meat consumption. To do that people need to learn how to make vegan meals and that isn’t easy. Yes, we also need to cut out flying and using cars so much, but we all have to eat.

If, like me, you grew up in a traditional “meat and two veg'” home it is quite a transition. Most of my meals when growing up where meat based, so removing this central feature of meals is a challenge, it’s about finding combinations of tastes and textures to produce enjoyable vegan meals. From there comes a need to ensure a balanced diet and that involves quite a bit of knowledge about nutrition, that most people don’t have to start with. It takes a lot of effort.

Beyond that there is the social elements, where people disrespect your dietary choice and the fact that eating out with friends is always a pain in the arse, though it is a lot easier these days. People should not be attacking vegans for being pioneers in food sustainability as vegans do a lot more ethical shopping than most people do, even if occasionally the world isn’t perfect and they need to import soya beans from some rather unsustainable sources.

On the other hand, there are some from a more extremist angle who are activists who protest at farms and hassle farmers, but they are a minority and actually are symptoms of the main problem. The main problem being that since probably the Second World War, there has been a growing disconnect between food producers and consumers. Agriculture rapidly industrialised, without social consent for some of the developed practices  and we now live in world where the majority of people buy almost all their food pre-packaged in the supermarket, often with little idea about how that food got to be there.

Yet, these farm-gate protesters are also at fault. Farmers are not to blame for this whole mess. Most farmers care about the land they farm and want to farm in as sustainable way as possible. However they need to earn a living and to do that they have to do whatever the broken food market tells them to do, which has been to intensify, despite all the environmental damage that causes. Farmers, Vegans and the rest of us shouldn’t be fighting each other but instead work together to sort out the broken food market and support anyone who is taking things forward in a positive direction.

Recently, finally, at long last, we are starting to see some promotion of sustainable meat production. The problem is sustainable meat production has been neglected for so long and is so far behind the vegan movement, which has it’s own labelling systems, supply chains and support groups, which sustainable meat lacks.

I grew up in rural Wales, surrounded by upland sheep farms and yet became vegetarian at the age of 15, not because I thought the farmers who were my classmates were terrible people, they are certainly not. It was my discovery of factory farming and a realisation that this was simply wrong in animal welfare terms and sustainability and finding a way of only eating local sustainable meat seemed far to challenging to me at 15, so I went Veggie. I’ve never been vegan for more than a few days at a time (I just have a serious blue cheese fetish), but about fifteen years ago I decided to eat meat again, as I felt educated enough to make informed decisions about sustainable, ethical meat sourcing and it’s been incredibly hard work. I should point out that I’ve never thought that rearing animals for food is morally wrong, though I respect people who have that view. It may be that a lot of people are tempted to veganism because of concerns about animal welfare, health or sustainability and there is a sensible compromise to consider for these people who don’;t have the moral imperative to go 100% vegan, but it needs better support.

Yet with no ready made framework, no labelling system and no-where to go to for support. Purely to make my life easier, my initial rule was organic meat only as it was and regrettably still is the only reliable labelling system for ethical meat consumption. It means meat is very expensive, so you can’t eat much of it and really the price makes it a genuine sustainable market, rather than the generally broken food market.

From there I worked out when I could eat locally produced reasonably sustainable lamb and beef from butchers and very very occasionally get hold of a chicken. Why is eating sustainable meat important? Because if we want to maximise sustainability and look after the soil, which is degrading horribly in almost all agricultural systems, some livestock farming is sustainable and supports soil sustainability and low consumption of meat may actually be healthier. Recently there has been a growing awareness of how bad processed food is for us, yet fresh meat doesn’t seem to have such issues with it from a health point of view.

We are blessed in Wales with land that isn’t great for arable farming, but is great for ruminants, cows and sheep and to move to a fully sustainable system I don’t think there is a necessity for a single farmer to stop lamb or beef production or for such radical change that is needed elsewhere on the planet. However flocks may need to be a little smaller and the land managed in new ways (or a rediscovery of old ways). The food market is broken in much the same way the housing market is, we need to pay more for our food and less for our housing and in that way create a real food market and a real housing market, which maintains farming traditions, rural incomes and gets Wales to be sustainable.

It is crazy for people who eat meat every day to complain about vegans as that diet choice of everyday meat (and often processed meat at that) is far less sustainable. As I’ve said to get to sustainability, as a species we need to eat a lot more local, seasonal, sustainably produced food. Some have suggested having “Reganuary”, where sustainable regenerative agricultural practises are supported. Why not combine the two, start making vegan meals and then reward yourself with some local sustainably produced meat, that will actually taste a lot better and have more nutrients in it!

It’s just been so challenging over the years to be ‘holding the fence up’ with one wellie in a muddy field and a sandal in a vegan shop. I get so frustrated with vegans and farmers attacking each other when we need come together and share ideas to find solutions to create sustainable communities and ways of living that don’t wreck the one planet we live on.

Like so many arguments these days, we only hear from the people at the extremes, the livestock farmers and the rearing animals is wrong vegans, whilst the majority of people with no axe to grind struggle to get listened to ast all. This happens with the Brexit debate too.

Small is Beautiful

I’ve never liked living in a city and they do seem to be getting worse, in that their livability is falling. Increasingly the way cities function makes less sense, yet generally people are still moving into them. I have lived in probably all the main types of ways of living in Britain: Rural idylls, Small towns, Commuter Towns / Suburbs and Large Cities. Choices about where to live now seem to be a conflict between where people want to live and where work demands that they live. Work has become more demanding so we need more leisure time to re-charge. The problem is that this whole system of living and working at distances is now unsustainable in that not only is it unpleasant and environmentally damaging but also unnecessary.

It seems to me that I and many other people are basically harking back to how things used to be. I still feel that the Brexit vote was largely an expression of frustration with life getting harder in Britain an a yearning for more sensible times. Yet that sensible structure is still available but it is surprising how economic forces are not supporting it, making the UK less and less productive and efficient. To me if society were to realise that small towns are not only my living preference but are the answer to the general problems faced in the UK and possibly globally too. The general problem is that we spend more and more  time and money simply travelling around on ever more congested transport systems to do everyday life, largely because we are able to do fewer functions in our localities. Centralisation is limiting choice and making every more time and money expensive.

Small towns have one of everything someone needs to be able to do what they want and need to do on a daily and weekly basis and be able to walk everywhere to do it. Then longer distance transport is optional, to do once or a couple of times each month: for desirable entertainment, shopping, business meetings or to visit friends or relatives. So a small town has one of everything, a supermarket supported by independent shops for food needs, a medical centre, a school, a sports centre, a pub and an arts centre (which doubles up by being a cinema, venue, nightclub and group meeting space), a work-space and somewhere for young people to get involved with useful projects. This is what all towns used to have and you rarely needed to leave them unless you wanted to.

However most small towns, suburban centres of cities and commuter towns have lost some or all of these facilities, which means travelling to access these services. So people end up travelling to work, travelling to do their shopping, driving the kids to school, driving to the cinema, driving to the gym (largely as they don’t have space to exercise at home), basically driving or catching public transport to do anything outside of the home. So really where your home is isn’t important anymore as you don’t live there by choice (except in the rural idyll). Which is basically living as if in the rural idyll, but instead with pollution, traffic noise, not having enough space to do more things at home and stress and more time to get to the nearest centre to do other functions as they are ever further away without the advantages of the rural idyll (like no internet and getting snowed in in the winter <sic>).

Generally people have been complicit in this. My generation has known that there is an awfully big world out there and been frustrated with how slowly things came to our towns and tradition is great but not if it’s the only thing. So what people did was look forward to going to places where a wider range of things was available and driving to them wasn’t all that horrible or time consuming and was simply a nice change to everyday life. This then took vital money away from the local suppliers to the big centralised chains, we ended up travelling more often,which led to the local services closure. These closures meant that you could no longer do as many daily life functions in the small towns.

I used to think it was just me being different. My local bookshop never had the book I wanted to read, so I had to order it and wait a few days or wait until our next trip to the big city and revel in being able to pick the something I wanted off the shelf, which really was a thrill! I rarely want a “Top 40” record or a latest “Bestseller”, I have oddly shaped feet and the local show shop would rarely have shoes that fitted me or offer zero choice in what kind of shoe to wear.  I became vegetarian at the age of 15 and needed ingredients not available in my town. we would have to wait months for the latest films to make it to our cinema with all the pops and crackles of film run though a projector too many times. People seem to want their urges satisfied now and are not prepared to wait.

I also used to think it was just us lot in deepest darkest Wales, in a very small town (2000 people) a good hour and a bit drive to anywhere significantly bigger,  that people in the bigger small towns at least had some choice, or even something other than going to the pub on Fridays nights to do and then we had to share the pub with all strands of society of every age group [which is very nice really, I really don’t get why people like to go to bars where everyone else is similar to themselves all the time, isn’t it just a little dull?]

Yet, it wasn’t just me, perhaps everyone pined for choice and getting things now, to not just have one option all the time. To be able to see the bands you wanted too and not put up with whomever happened to come our way. However that pining for choice often wasn’t seeking alternatives for other these people, it was seeking the trendy, the latest. Perhaps people didn’t want to put up with the ageing creaky seat of our cinema and they wanted a big hole to put over-priced popcorn in like they do in the U.S. of A we’d seen in the movies,  to be deafened by Dolby Surround Sound on an even bigger screen. Perhaps people wanted what them people in the big towns and cities were having, even when it the same things available in every big town and city with no quirky uniquenesses and not actually any better than what we had, but it was perceived as being better somehow. People maybe lost the appetite for putting up with a strange Eastern European arty film because that was all what was on that night and want to choose the film that everyone else seemed to be viewing at the time. To desire a centralised one size fits all of false choice of fifty shades of grey, when really having the choice of one of two bright colours is a much more enriching choice, say a Bollywood film or a Hollywood film.

However, perhaps this same reaching for standardisation and centralisation has affected the world of work too. Perhaps people are not happy working to serve a local community but rather be a small cog in something more global. Perhaps people don’t want to produce a service in much the same way as the service in the next down down the road, but reap the economies of scale, even if that means paying for the privilege and not actually being better off at all at the end of the day. This has meant that instead of playing a role in decision making in small business, to have a decision making role involves working in the big office in the big city.

The problem with going to work in the big city is that everyone else is also going to work in the big city now and the big city can’t cope with this. The big city quickly runs out of housing and its transport networks clog up with people travelling in and out allday. So the only livable bit of cities is the inner city, with it’s pollution, noise and teeny tiny homes. There have always been commuters, people who wanted to work in the big offices, but not live in the smaller city housing. Such commuters were generally wealthy and happy to spend time commuting in on a train. These though it’s the minimum wage people who commute in from ever further afield as minimum wage will not get you a city home. So everyone arrives to work already tired from an hour or so of stress, yet are expected to be more productive that someone after a bracing twenty minute work into the small town centre. At the moment I look forward to school holidays as then I can get to work in half the time as the roads aren’t as clogged up, so even getting to work is delayed because of people taking their children to school/ doing ordinary daily tasks.

Yet nothing is gained from all this time spent travelling while others travel in the opposite direction. we could all go back to small town living again and travel purely for leisure and it would be leisure on unclogged transport networks, or rather travel in comfort. Living in the suburbs and commuter towns now offers no advantages as the local cinemas in the suburban centres have closed so it’s into town to the overly priced multi-screen cinema showing the same film on different screens. It’s overly priced because it’s in the town centre, which now has to serve everyone, rather than just the inner city residents and it’s visitors. I remember when inner cities were cheap and grotty places to live, but thronged with young people who are the section of society that is exploring themselves and want to go to interesting nightclubs or see the latest bands every night of the week, because it’s was relatively cheap and a twenty minute walk and was rightly their playground. Now the wealthy live in the inner cities who don’t use these facilities and then have the temerity to complain about the noise from the nightclub they have just moved next to! So the nightclub is forced to close as it has less money than the people rich enough to afford city centre flats. They just use their wealth to be the minority that can walk to these facilities and in doing so force them to close. Instead of being poor ghettos, the inner cities have become rich ghettos.

It just seems bonkers to me. Why not go back to the small town system? We have the internet now, so you can order what you want and it arrives in a day or two, just like small town shops once did. You can order the exotic things you need the local shops won’t stock. You can work from home and hold meetings over the internet for the vast majority of office jobs. Even if you work in manufacturing, the costs of the buildings (the land) is much cheaper in a small town, it’s easier to expand, your overheads are much much less and even if you need experienced workers, they will be happy to move as the housing costs won’t be exorbitant and the town will have one of everything just like whenever they were before with merely a little bit of interesting cultural change. You can go the the cinema if you want a cinema experience, or stream a film at home if you want to watch that arty East European film. Lets make the places where we live liveable again! Small towns could be better than they were and we can transform city centres into accessible leisure playgrounds, wouldn’t that be nice!

Working Relationships and Compromise

Often, when we talk about relationships we consider our interrelations with other people and perhaps we usually neglect to think about our intrarelations. Sometimes, we have easy, good relationships because the intrarelationship is almost intuitive and requires no effort, in other relationships the intrarelations are difficult and often are the real cause of a relationship to break down. People fail to recognise their need to help others and instead prioritise their personal ambitions.

So, what are intrarelations? These are the decisions we reach that occur outside of communication. Indeed in long term relationships they are discussed, but this is something we only engage with with those closest to us, or when things are not working out. A large part of these decisions are about what we do as people to achieve a balance in our lives. This balance is between our own inner lives and our social lives.

I don’t believe in altruism, the idea of acting for no personal gain. If we do something for the benefit of others we also gain, from fulfilling our needs to play a role socially and be useful, so helping others helps ourselves and our society.

There are things we really want to do and there are things people want to do with us. Sometimes we are really lucky and what we really want to do will also be what our loved ones also want to do; these are often the very best times in our lives. Often we choose something we quite like doing with a group of friends to something we want to do more by ourselves because doing things together socially has it’s own rewards and adds enjoyment. However, most of the time we have to make decisions about whether to do what we want to do or engage in a social activity. Often we prefer to do something involving other people to something by ourselves, because we are social animals and we thrive from social activities. However over time we start to get increasingly niggly about doing the thing at the top of our list that we never seem to get around to doing and start prioritising it. conversely, after some time doing what we really want we may then desire to something we are not terribly keen on, just to be with a particular person or group or to experience something different. So interrelations are perhaps all those decisions about balancing our individual priorities.

Occasionally there are conflicts, we are all different and have different needs. For example introverts tend to need more time by themselves, whilst extroverts need more social time. So, it is easy to understand how an introvert and an extrovert may have conflicts. Having said that some very strong bonds can form between these two opposites, when each party is prepared to listen and compromise and find a way for both of them to be happy.

So in a relationship there needs to be some way of ascertaining what the others persons feelings are. Usually we ask indirectly and gauge the answer, for example “Do you fancy coming to the pub with me tonight?”. Possible answers are:

1- “Yes, I would love to go out with you tonight” [Highly affirmative]

2- “Yes, why not, but I probably shouldn’t stay too long” [Affirmative, but not the others priority]

3- “No, I have other things to do tonight, do you need me to come?” [Negative, but will do so as a favour]

4- “No, I don’t fancy it tonight” [Highly negative]

Another spectrum! , the answers 2 and 3, in effect ask a further question of the other person’s priority in doing the activity and their need for social activity.

Such a system is open to abuse and manipulation and often this causes friction in a relationship. It is easy for the person wanting to go to the pub to encourage the other to join them, however repeatedly forcing the other will eventually go beyond their desire to compromise. Sometimes people will inflict their own personal priority systems on others, for example an extrovert may feel that the introvert would be better off socialising more, rather than staying at home, but this is wrong and dangerous. However there are times, when a person will be better off for doing something that are not inspired themselves to do, but you need to know each other well to do this.

Essentially, a good strong relationship, is where both parties have a healthy balance between their social and private desires.

It is possible to explore wider types of relationships from the standpoint of achieving this balance. When community relationships are explored, as the social net becomes wider, the intra-relationship is at risk of not being maintained by social convention.

Markets

In Wales, as in much of Europe, we used to do most of our everyday trading locally, I was lucky to grow up in such a community. We would know personally our local ‘butcher, baker and candlestick maker’, we would meet and form friendships within our communities as we wandered the market doing our shopping. Traders, would learn what our preferences were, indeed such relationships were good for trade. However this gentle manipulation was appreciated, for example often the butchers recommended cuts, would mean we enjoyed our meat more. The relationship was maintained as the trader wouldn’t want to rip-off or off load bad meat onto a customer, who they would then lose future trade with. Hence mutually supportive relations were established between customers and traders. Often people lament that such economic relationships don’t happen anymore. Indeed, so many of us no longer even have a local butcher, baker or local market. Instead we travel, often long distances,  to large multi-national supermarkets, where we have practically no relationship with the seller of our goods. The effect of this change is that shopping becomes more of a chore and we lose out on social interaction within our communities.

In place of this social interaction we have the phenomenon of marketing. Rarely nowadays, do retailers provide for the needs of their customers. Vast amounts of research and study of numbers have been done, simply to find ways of maximising profits. These ways of maximising profits have little to do with satisfying peoples needs and wants, but generally work to increase profits, essentially by manipulation and finding artificial ways of making people feel satisfied with their shopping. Having worked for a supermarket myself, I appreciate how easy it is to become institutionalised and  of serving the commercial needs at the expense of the staff and customers, it is so easy to allow the compromises of the job to become a new normal and accepted.

Romantic Relationships

A desire most people have is to find a partner, someone to share most of their life with. This usually isn’t easy, indeed we invest a lot of time in wishing for such successful fulfilling partnerships. However, like in marketing, a plethora of research has been done and people have found ways to manipulate generalities to increase their success in finding partnerships where the relationship can be exploited to maximise an individuals priorities at the expense of doing things for the other person. However where manipulation doesn’t occur and true compromises are reached is often the recipe for a successful relationship.

It isn’t hard to find people who are game players, who have worked out how to have relationships that satisfy their personal ambitions, to use general rules at the expense of establishing truly mutually beneficial relationships or fulfill their need to support someone else. It isn’t hard either to find doormats either, who only want to make their partner happy at the expense of their personal needs. True fulfilling relationships perhaps does only come from achieving a good balance.

Disc Jockeys

In this age of on demand digital media, the demise of the traditional radio Disc jockey (DJ) has been predicted. There is the idea that we don’t need someone to sit in a studio playing records for us, when we can do it ourselves and choose the music we like. Yet, arguably now is a golden era of the DJ. A good DJ will not merely play records they like, though this   is what they do, they create programmes. Radio programmes are an attempt to collate things we are interested in in interesting ways, they enhance our listening to music. A good DJ achieves this in a number of ways. Firstly curation, a good DJ will spend a lot of time discovering music for themselves and their listeners and becoming highly skilled at this. Indeed searching for music on the internet, or even developing a decent algorithm for  selecting an internet stream isn’t easy, so having a professional helps. The music is then blended together, so pieces of music flow and provide interest and a story through the order in which they are selected. Finally a good DJ will chat with the listener, creating warm feelings and making the whole process of listening a lot more personal. A good DJ does their job for other people, and may even play a piece they don’t like, but feel that their listeners will find it interesting in it’s context. A DJ listens and makes compromises with their audience. Really, the good DJ fulfills their personal needs and their social needs.

In contrast, there continues to be a plethora of commercial radio, which is truly awful. Many radio stations simply use the model of playing the most popular pieces of music of the day and the aim of the game is not to provide good programming, but manipulate their audience in to staying tuned in for the next set of advertisements. It is often so soulless.

Politics

It is perhaps in the arena of party politics, where the this disconnect demonstrating the failure of modern relationships to achieve healthy balances occurs.

The job of a politician is simply to make good decisions. In a democracy, the politicians are elected, so should demonstrate to the electorate that they are good decision makers by making it clear what they base their decision making on.

A politician is also someone whom is interested in politics, so will have personal goals they wish to achieve in helping create the kind of thriving society they want to see. However, they are entering into a relationship with their electors, so compromises are required, to find solutions that work for the community.

Really it doesn’t matter if a politician is of the left or the right-wing as long as they make good decisions and achieve a good balance with their own ideals and the good of the society they serve, for then good decisions are made.

However as the political sphere becomes ever more centralised, the direct relationship with the electors is lost and the role stops being about serving the community. In consequence being a politician becomes more about personal achievements at the expense of social achievements.

Being a member of political party and having done some canvassing for elections (Plaid Cymru), I have become interested in the welfare of the party, rather than the society it aims to serve. These days, party politics is notorious for rules for saying and doing what works to help the party gain votes and win elections, often at the expense of losing sight of improving the economy and society. I was with a candidate who was asked a question on the street and they gave a very grod ‘politicians’ answer of not saying anything. I knew he had good answers, but was concerned about saying something that would be misinterpreted by a potential opponent at the end of a long tiring canvassing session (Remember you have been saying very similar things to lots of people for several hours, so your brain starts turning to cardboard by the end!).

The famous example being Tony Blair’s government, where the government became a slave to focus groups and engineering policy to win elections, rather than doing the right thing. Winning elections became more important than improving the economy. Blair was good at compromising, he was a master at it, he was a failure in my eyes because he didn’t really make any progress his own convictions to improve  society, I don’t even know if he had any, he seemed merely to want to win the game.

I recently read ‘The Greasy Poll’ by Mike Parker who stood for my party in the Ceredigion UK general election of 2015. In this diary of an election from the candidates view, a world was revealed of his words (that there are racists in Ceredigion) being taken out of context by the press (‘he said that all incomers are Nazis!’), which seemed to have led to him failing to win the seat. It seemed to him that ordinary people can’t succeed in politics because they can’t be themselves, for if they are, they are crucified. Perhaps only a slick politician who is very careful to say nothing that could be misinterpreted is successful.

However now we are in the Brexit/Trump era, where people have got fed up with politicians not being honest with their views and opinions, that mavericks such as Trump and Farage get the votes, by appealing to this discontent but just using a different set of words to do it. Instead of the glib “We are going to make things better, don’t listen to the other lot as they want to make things worse!”, this new breed say “The other politicians don’t say anything, so listen to my populist rhetoric of finding scapegoats for our problems instead” What a politician says has become far more important than what they do. It seems we live in a world where a soundbite that resonates is more important than a deed that actually helps improve something. Where are the politicians who have sound personal ambitions and the ability to make decisions that work for the whole of society?

Take the current leaders of the two largest political parties in the UK. On one side we have Jeremy Corbyn, a socialist campaigner, who has thus far failed to convince the population as a whole that he is able to listen and find a workable compromise with those who are socialists. On the other side we have Teresa May, a right-wing authoritarian, who only seems to serve her ideological ambitions and in real terms has yet to do anything to genuinely serve society. She is able to say that she cares, even when she does nothing at all to act on these cares.

It seems that you have to play the game to be proficient at succeeding in the party political game, to rise to senior position where you can actually achieve something, yet by that point they are so distorted by the game to be unable to do anything positive at all. So perhaps all politicians have a broken relationship with the the people in their society. Such politicians do not help society, nor make progress in advancing their individual cause, they only win the game of of politics. In the same way as the ladies man may rack up lots of partners, but never achieve a deep meaningful relationship. An executive business person, may achieve success for their company. career, but not any real tangible benefit to society, or any real achievement, outside of the corporate game.  A popular DJ, may rack up millions of listeners listening to them in the background, whereas the good DJ can seriously touch peoples lives and change people’s thinking with their selection of music.

I wrote last time about what is an achievement. I do just believe that making a real difference to society, or forming a mutually beneficial relationship is an achievement. Whereas winning an artificial game is much no achievement at all, in any game someone has to win and someone has to lose, the winner has not really achieved anything. Perhaps interrelationships are passing fun, but intrarelations are where true success can be achieved.

Fighting Against Evil Supermarket Bread

I love bread! I love making it, baking it, the smell of it, eating it and spreading it with jam! It is the most wondrous stuff and the staple of European food. To an outside observer it would seem that the British in general have ended their love affair with bread. The story is a rather middle-class first world problem, but also illustrative of creeping value loss.

I was lucky to grown up in a small rural town, isolated from the early wave of the supermarket takeover of the British high street. The town had a bakers shop, mainly baking bread for the townsfolk and local businesses such as hotels and restaurants. We had several butchers shops, a fishmonger at the weekly market and several greengrocers. We also had a local independent supermarket , which sold one of everything, basically all dry goods, it even had a cheese counter. Shopping meant walking from shop to shop to purchase your provisions.

Nowadays the town has a rather poor chain baker, is very fortunate to have retained a butcher and convenience shops (which are basically only good for alcohol and snacks). There is a huge supermarket, 7 miles away in the next town, a drive or a bus journey. Time wise, weekly shopping now actually takes much longer. How did this happen? How is the only way of getting a decent loaf of bread to travel 7 miles to buy flour and bake it yourself, indicative of a more modern efficient society?

Supermarkets came about as they offered a more efficient distribution network, offering lower prices, more choice and exotic goods. There were supermarkets in the big cities first. My family used to drive to the city (a three hour round trip) once a month or so, for shopping: books, LPs, clothing and anything else we desired. On the way back we would visit the supermarket to stock up for the month on dry goods, such as rice, as this was much cheaper and to be able to buy foods we couldn’t get at home.

Most people in the town did this kind of shopping (in those pre-internet times). This did impact on the local shops. However the bakers survived as, fresh still warm bread is something very special, to be picked up from the local shop and delivered to the breakfast table. As time passed, local bakers declined. The supermarkets sold the soggy crappy ‘Chorleywood’ sliced, plastic bag bread, only good for toast, at rock bottom prices. So people bought this cheap crap and didn’t eat as much of it, instead people ate more and more of the other things the supermarket provided to replace bread (which they made more profits on),  bread declined. Occasionally people missed fresh bread, the supermarkets provided ‘in-store bakerys’, producing bread any real baker would be ashamed of. However, this made those who only used a supermarket to think that this was what real bread tasted like, it was no longer seen as something very special.

The supermarkets won and killed off real bread as an everyday staple. Bread is now seen as an artisan, luxury product, and often priced accordingly. This is very sad. Many place the blame on the ‘evil’ supermarkets, exploiting the British consumer. This is a rather reactionary view and is indicative of how extremist views can arise, whether they be on bread, meat-eating, political creed or religion. A blame culture, blaming others for a failure to act responsibly. Are the supermarket bosses really that evil, do they drink the tears of virgins with glee?

No. The supermarkets have simply followed the path of maximizing their own profits, without regard for their impact on society. The town planning system failed in holding back their growth.  They are not evil in the sense that they set out to destroy peoples enjoyment of bread,  A consequence of this is loss of bread and a loss of appreciation of the value of various foodstuffs. People are not evil, they simply follow convention and seek cheap food. This explains why bread demised, why the disgusting factory farming of animals proliferated, why people vote for political parties that superficially make the right noises.

Those of us who have invested the time to research, investigate and think have understood this. but the majority don’t. So, for those who understand, can see the situation as one where people just need to be told the truth, to be educated and they will form the same conclusions as these early seers. However, the majority appear not to listen to this vocal minority. They don’t listen because surely a minority of wierdos can’t be right, they must be extremists. So, all these dedicated minorities become tarred with the extremist label, whether they be religious converts, animal rights activists or political activists. The minorities respond by becoming exasperated, so shout louder and sometimes start acting immorally themselves ‘for the greater good’. Moral principle is lost, as well as access to a decent loaf of bread.

Corporate culture has killed off many things precious to ordinary folk. Not because pursuing a profit or greater efficiency is evil, but by taking the idea too far, without control, trying to be all encompassing. It is often heard that people don’t have the time to enjoy kneading there own loaf of bread, yet people have the time to sit for hours everyday in a traffic jam on the way to work and queue in the supermarket. It is very curious indeed how people don’t seem to take responsibility for there own lifestyles anymore in this ‘need’ to comply with contemporary economic theory.