Sunday, 8 April 2018

Success or Failure

Tomorrow, will be exactly three months to when I am eligible to claim the UK government pension. I already know at that date, I will have finished work and be on my final annual leave before officially retiring a little later in July. We have spent some time reviewing our finances to se what state we will be in. The conclusion is that I have not been that successful as there is no great retirement pot that we can live off. In fact, I may need to find some part time work just to help cover our costs. However, I really want to focus on research around peace building, economics, and computational reasoning. It would be nice to be funded for two days per week to conduct this research but we will still do some without funding after all that is how I have conducted research for nearly 20 years but maybe more on that later.
However, over the last year, I have taken to walking around my local neighbourhood as part of an objective of achieving at least 6,000 steps each day. Tomorrow will actually mark the 400thday when I have achieved that goal. But what I notice on my walks is that despite our area being in the Bournville Trust although near the western boarder, there are not signs of prosperity around here. In general properties within the trust area are well maintained but not consistently so. Just outside the trust area and the standards drop quickly. Walking through a newer housing state not far from us gives evidence of uncared for properties. Add to that the accumulation of road side rubbish (some fly tipped) and you wonder what is really so great about the United Kingdom. I am not convinced that there is much but then it is obviously better than the state which many find themselves in in Syria or some areas of Africa.
However, my thoughts have really focused on what success or failure means. I am reminded of a book in my personal library, The Logic of Failure : Recognizing and Avoiding Error in Complex Situations (Dörner,1997). In his book, Dörnertalks about complex problem solving scenarios that they got participants to attempt to solve and the high failure rate at solving these problems. The reason why there was a high failure rate primarily cam down to the focus of the participants. The participants would focus on solving one problem within the scenario and ignore all the other issues. The example I always remember is building a pipeline to supply water only to find when they had completed it the community that they were supplying water for was dead because of disease or other issues.
I can reflect on my career and see that at times, I have given priority to one area at the detriment of others (i.e. I have focused on teaching related issues at the expense of building a research reputation) but that is not the most significant reason why I have not progressed research as fast as I might.
However, it is not my own career that I want to focus on here. As I reflected on Dörner’s book, I thought about the current Conservative UK government and its focus on BRExit. I wonder whether we have a government that has a single problem focus and has lost sight of the wider issues. Maybe, if it kept a wider range of issues in focus, it might not be so focused on a suicidal exit from Europe. Supposedly we are now within 12 months of exiting Europe but no clearer as to what that means other than Britain having less say in European decision making. Unlike many European Union nations, the United Kingdom still has its own currency and control over its financial markets. It benefits from the European Union funding cycles and trade agreements, and has free access to European Markets. In fact, it is difficult to see where the UK is hindered by its European Union membership. Leaving does not look like it is going to give much more control back to the UK and possibly is going to remove control since it will have no representation in the European Parliament. Is the BRExit focus causing the UK government to fail in its obligations to the home nations? My belief is that it probably is and from what I hear from economists, they believe it will have negative impact on the UK economy.
However, even prior to the Brexit vote, I would contend that the Conservative government with its neo-liberal austerity economic policies had a single focus (lower the deficit). The estimates is that this caused an average loss to the UK population in the region of £10,000 per person since 2009 (Wren-Lewis, 2018). Is this success or failure? Yes, as George Osborne celebrated recently, they achieved the governments deficit target but what was the consequences for the UK economy and the people? Was that sacrifice worth the effort? Is this success or failure?
My contention here is that the singular or narrow focus (usually around economic or money issues) of governments causes governments to fail the people and ultimately the world. We cannot solve environmental issues by focusing on economic affordability. We cannot solve housing issue by focusing on affordability. We cannot solve conflicts around the world by focusing on the economic impact. We cannot end an arms trade by focusing on economic impact.If anything, we need to recognise the limitations of our economic models and the reasons for their failure and begin to put priority on dealing with the real issues regardless of the monetary cost. Maybe, as Steve Keen (2012, p 354) says in his book, capitalismneedsa year of jubilee. However, maybe we need an alternative economic focus that allows us to hold everything in better balance.
Footnote:If you have followed my blogs, you will realise that I have not been totally dedicated to teaching and that I have pursued a lot of background reading in computational thinking, economics, and peace building. I recognise that it is easy to become very narrowly focused and to fail to see the breadth of material required to understand how we might solve world problems. My fear for British education is that it encourages specialisation of knowledge rather than a broader perspective. However, that critique may belong to a number of education systems around the world.

Reference:

Dörner, Dietrich (1997) The Logic of Failure : Recognizing and Avoiding Error in Complex Situations. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books.
Keen, Steve (2011). Debunking Economics - Revised and Expanded Edition: The Naked Emperor Dethroned?Zed Books Ltd.
Wren-Lewis, Simon (2019) The media and attitudes to austerity. Available from:https://mainlymacro.blogspot.co.uk/2018/04/the-media-and-attitudes-to-austerity.html. Accessed: 8 April 2018.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Lacking Community?

I have been reading a lot on peace-building and relationships recently. This morning, the passage was on grief and bereavement. Associated with grief and bereavement are changes in relationships and our reaction to them. Retirement is one of those situations where relationships are changing.
Considering that we moved half way around the world to spend time with our daughter, her husband, and our two grandchildren only to have them move to the US and then back to New Zealand, you might think we were used to seeing relationships break up and having to establish new relationships. However, as I reflect on my planned retirement in July, I am conscious that outside the workplace, I actually have few close relationships. It therefore seems strange that I should sever the workplace relationships to enter the uncertainty of retirement.
However, reflecting this morning, I came to the conclusion that part of why I am prepared to walk away is that few of the relationships in the workplace are actually valuable for my health and have little to do with enabling people to be who they should be. Even the closest relationships in our small research group are focused on obtaining research outcomes. Other relationships are all about teaching outcomes. I am not sure I could identify any that are really about the people involved. There is not a sense of being part of a community from which I am withdrawing.
I would like to think as a lecturer, I treat my students as people that I want to encourage and help to grow but I have to admit that the reality is that it has become more about ensuring they jump the hurdles in order to obtain their degree. There are some friendships that I have established with students that have tentatively lasted beyond the teaching sessions but most are fleeting interactions in a lecture, tutorial, or laboratory session. The larger the classes, the fewer opportunities to get to know the students and to really help them find what it is that inspires their interest. There is no sense of community here.
I look around and although we might call our middle class neighbourhood a community, I do not really see it operating as one. I think back to my childhood and how the neighbourhood children played on our back lawn, how my parents shared the produce from the garden, and how we meet regularly with our cousins. I would not call it a brilliant community but I know that my mum was part of the local church community and supported by it after dad died. There was something there that I sense is missing from our modern maximising income and profit society.
I look across town at a group that I have some distant links with and I see them active in local community building. They are looking at the potential of the local community and how to build relationships. It is not an affluent community and I wonder whether that makes a difference. Does it also make a difference that key people in that community are working in areas where they are actively helping the disadvantaged?
Could I join such a community and feel that I could be part of it? I fear that I might actually be disruptive to what they have operating even though I know that in Auckland, we were actively involved in helping a small struggling church survive without a pastor through working at sharing the responsibilities. Yes, it put pressure on myself and some of the other key leaders. We departed after I found I could no longer keep up computing contract work, theological study, and leading the church community. The strain just proved too much. Could we have organised differently so there was less pressure on the few key people?
Building good healthy relationships and communities is not easy but I see it as vital to individual health. The operation of modern society does not encourage healthy relationships or community building. Most people are involved in a range of communities. Some are beneficial to them. Others put substantial strain on them (i.e. the education community). I really wonder what would happen if we gave people more time away from the workplace to focus on being part of a community. In fact,
  • What would happen if we made the local community the centre of our economic life rather than the workplace?
  • What would happen if that local community focused on ensuring that all its members had the resources that they need to survive?
  • What would happen if those local communities then interacted with their neighbouring communities to exchange surplus resources to meet needs of the other community?
  • What would happen if instead of maximising what we gained for ourselves, we were more focused on an obligation to meet the needs of others and to the enabling of their potential?
  • What type of society would we have and would we fear so much for our own security?
I wonder whether our problems actually stem from the emphasis on maximising personal and organisational gain. I know the objection. Someone will always try and rip others off but I ask whether that is in actual fact the result of generating an individualistic society focused on personal security and wellbeing rather than a community that shared together and worked to meet each others needs.
As I conclude this blog, I realise that it is not just the lack of meaningful relationships in the workplace that makes it easy for me to walk away. Ultimately, I am walking away because I no longer believe in the system that education is designed to support and create. It is increasingly something that I do not believe in and I no longer want to spend time supporting. If someone was to come to me and offer an opportunity to be part of a small group education programme focused on individual learning that was prepared to help people find what it was that inspired individual participants and that operated without time limits or artificial performance goals then I suspect, I might sign up.
So, yes, I am leaving an artificial community that contradicts what I have become but I am looking for a community that respects who I am and my potential so that I can help others be respected and fulfil their potential. That means getting to know who the other person is and what really inspires them.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Pensions and Economic System

I am writing this during the university strike over amendments to the USS pension scheme. There are a number of things that are easy to say that are emotional in character rather than based on any understanding of the system and the way it operates. We also need to recognise that different economic assumptions influence the way that we view the issues in this dispute and to some extent, I would argue that what we are seeing is a conflict of economic principles.
We have workplace pensions because the government is seeking to offload some of the financial burden of paying pensions for an ageing community. This is based on a neoliberal principle of small state which leads to the idea that individuals need to prepare for their own future retirement. If we take the government at its word that the only possible ways to pay for the increasing pension bill are to
1) encourage / force people to save for their pensions (workplace pensions),
2) to increase taxes to cover the additional costs, or
3) to have people work longer (i.e. to an older age)
then we should look carefully at these options to decide which is the most appropriate to use.
Option 1 places the burden on the person who will supposedly benefit from the pension when or if they retire or on their employer to contribute to a suitable scheme. This places pressure on the employer to pay an adequate amount to cover pension savings while allowing the individual to live off their income. The current workplace pension scheme places the burden partially on the employer and partially on the employee. I would argue that regardless of the distribution between employer and employee, there is the same cost to the employer unless the employee has reduced spending power in the wider economy. Employers saying the cost of the pension scheme is too much and that the employee should be willing to risk their future income on the markets (the university proposal in the current dispute) just shows a lack of understanding of the employees position. As an employee, I do not want to spend forty hours slaving for an employer and then have to spend my evenings and weekends analysing the markets to obtain the best results for my pension savings. There is more to life than being constantly locked into financial issues. Unless you have some independent income or have a reasonable amount of control over what you do in the workplace, the employee becomes little more than a robot or an economic slave. They work to survive and to prepare for a future that they have no idea what it will deliver. A future that to a large extent is being moulded by government decisions.
If the pension is based on a defined benefit then it is expected that contributions plus the earnings from investment need to cover the future benefits paid out (assuming that a person’s contributions is what derives their pension). Leech (2017) argues that this is based in the assumption that the scheme could close. He also suggests that if the scheme remains open then the focus on the viability of the scheme should be based on cashflow (i.e. will current and future income including new contributions cover the required benefit pay outs?).
The defined benefit is estimated based on an assumed average earnings of the contributions. If the rate of earning falls below the assumed average earnings for any prolonged period of time then the pension scheme potentially has a deficit that may have to be made up by the guarantors of the scheme (for work place pensions then the guarantor is the employer so they carry the risk. Leech (2017) says that the scheme is backed by the Pension Protection Fund (PPF) which actually invalidates this assumption). This is the current situation with many workplace pension schemes having low earnings because of the financial crisis and government austerity. Employers are keen to reduce this risk by reducing the defined benefit or redefining the benefit to a defined contribution scheme.
Leech (2017) provides an analysis of the risks based on the assumption that the scheme could close and could therefore be in deficit at the time of closure, and of the risks based on the assumption that the scheme remains open and that future contributions and investment income have the potential to meet the defined benefit commitments. Leech concludes that the scheme is not in deficit but he also highlights the inaccuracy of the estimates being prepared by UUK and USS based on the basis of the scheme closing.
A defined contribution scheme works on the basis of what has been paid into the scheme plus the earnings from interest. For the employers, there is no risk but the employees take all the risk when they retire because they can never be sure what their potential pension will be or whether what is in their pension put has the capability of providing the required pension for the remainder of their life (life expectancy also being a guess). If an employee wants a better pension then they need to pay in more but that still offers no guarantees of a suitable pension for the remainder of their life.
Although not a direct comparison, this reminds me of some of what Michael Sandel (2012) says in “What money can’t buy.” Sandel describes schemes that are based on gambles (i.e. life insurances and futures trading). I see the workplace pension scheme in a closed form as a gamble either by employers or employees. There are no guarantees of future value of any investment. Any guaranteed pension has to be built on a different basis than the individuals contributions and returns on investment.
There is another element of this that I object to. It is the employee’s pension that is supposedly being brought as part of this work pension scheme but it is the employers who are dictating the scheme to which the employee belongs and the benefits that the employee gains from the scheme. Surely in a market economy (I do not believe a market driven economy is valid (see Thompson, 2018 and other entries in my blog)), the person who is purchasing the scheme should be the employees but that is not the case here. The employers are making the decisions based on their assessment of the affordability of the scheme. The employee is simply expected to accept the consequences of the decisions. If there is to be a workplace pension scheme then surely it is the employee that should be looking at the schemes on offer and their affordability to determine which they feel best satisfies their future needs.
However, there seems to be a bigger problem with these workplace pension schemes. In two recent company collapses (BHS and Carillion), it has been stated that there is a deficit in the pension fund. It is not clear how this evaluation was made so it could be on the basis of the fund closing (see Leech, 2017). Not only have the employers been managing the fund but they have either been undersubscribing to it or using funds from it for business purposes. The employees are not guaranteed a pension from such schemes but are sacrificing some of their incomes for ultimately no return. Possibly not surprisingly, the owners, senior managers, and pension fund managers do not seem to have lost out. They still have their expensive houses, cars, etc. It is the lower level workers who suffer the consequences both in terms of a lose of employment and lose of pension savings. Does this suggest there are some fundamental problems with the system. The universities are no different. They can afford the vice-chancellor salaries but not ensure that the people doing the real work have adequate security for the present or their future. Surely this has to be part of the mandate for any executive officer.
Add to this an emphasis on the desire for workplace mobility with a pension scheme that is linked to a workplace, and you wonder what the employee is actually obtaining from these schemes. In New Zealand, this was recognised as a problem with many employees finding that after transferring from one company to another they had gained nothing from their pension savings and in many cases lost their pension savings. The solution was to set up a national pension scheme that was available to all and was independent of the company you worked for. The employers still contributed along with the employee but at least there was no lose of savings and no risk of closure. However, such a scheme does not solve international employment mobility but that is a wider issue.
Option 2 places the burden on the current workers to pay for the pensions of those who have already retired. Leech’s (2017) argument for an open pension scheme also makes this assumption. This is based on a misunderstanding of money creation and government deficit. I am deliberately using deficit rather than debt since many economists say that it is acceptable for a government to run a deficit. These economists focus on the ratio of deficit to gross domestic product (GDP).
The usual argument in this situation is to focus on having to cover government expenditure by taxes but taxes is not the only source of government income. The government earns seigniorage for all cash (notes and coins) produced and distributed to banks. However, most money created is now created by banks when they issue loans or people use credit cards (Jackson, 2013; Jackson & Dyson, 2012; Jakab & Kumhof, 2015; Mcleay, Radia & Thomas, 2014) for which the government obtains no seigniorage. In effect, banks have taken over the responsibility for creating money and gain the advantage of charging interest to those who borrow. It should be noted that they also destroy money when loans are repaid.
The economic theory that drives the push to offload pensions is neoliberal in focus and seeks to minimise government services. There are other models that recognise that government should be working to meet the needs of its people and not the profits of large corporations. In this later focus, governments are prepared to tax the rich in order to feed the poor. Also consider the alternative of sustainable communities (see Thompson, 2017). There are also other economic models proposed including basic income models (see www.basic.income.org.uk). We are not necessarily tied to an economic vision that impoverishes large portions of the population and transfers the wealth to an increasingly small subset of the population (Neate, 2017).
Option 3 simply reduces the number who will be seeking to be paid a pension but it also assumes that those who have worked for forty or more years still have the drive to deliver the outputs demanded of them. Graeber (2018) argues that work becomes an end in itself. In effect extending the retirement age requires the creation of work and not the reduction in work hours that was expected with technological developments. In effect, we have not found a way of distributing the rewards of the economic system. It also requires the creation of money making schemes that amount to little more than gambles on future outcomes. Sandel (2012) discusses this idea in his book although not in relation to pensions.
We need to consider a different conceptual framework for the way that we interact economically. It would take more than this blog to deal with these economic alternatives.

References:

Graeber, D. (2018) Bullshit Jobs: A theory. Penguin.
Jackson, A. (2013). Sovereign Money: Paving the way for a sustainable recovery. London: Positive Money.
Jackson, A., & Dyson, B. (2012). Modernising money: Why our monetary system is broken and how it can be fixed. London: Positive Money.
Jakab, Z., & Kumhof, M. (2015). Banks are not intermediaries of loanable funds - and why thus matters (Working Paper No. 529). Retrieved from http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/research/Documents/workingpapers/2015/wp529.pdf
Leech, D. (2017, 25 November) Is the USS really in crisis? Available from: https://henrytapper.com/2017/11/25/is-the-uss-really-in-crisis/
McLeay, M., Radia, A., & Thomas, R. (2014) Money in the modern economy. Retrieved from http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/publications/Documents/quarterlybulletin/2014/qb14
Neate, R. (2017, 14 Dec) World’s richest 0.1% have boosted their wealth by as much as the poorest half. Available from https://www.theguardian.com/inequality/2017/dec/14/world-richest-increased-wealth-same-amount-as-poorest-half
Sandel, M. J. (2012). What money can't buy: The moral limits of markets: Penguin Books Ltd.
Thompson, E. (2017) In or out of Europe? Available from http://kiwi-et.blogspot.co.uk/2017/05/in-or-our-of-europe.html
Thompson, E. (2018) Inequality and economic slavery. Available from http://kiwi-et.blogspot.co.uk/2018/01/inequality-and-economic-slavery.html

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Equality versus Equity

In our reading of King (1964) this morning, King was arguing not simply for justice but for additional support to give the African Americans the opportunity to gain equality. In effect, he is arguing that it is not equality unless you have equality of outcomes. Simply removing desegregation was not going to give justice unless the African Americans had the opportunity to take advantage of the new opportunities. Is it justice that you can go into a lunch bar and sit with white people if you cannot afford to buy a lunch? Is it justice if you can apply for jobs but you will not get them because you have not had the educational opportunities to gain the qualifications required? Is it justice if you have the qualifications and skills but you cannot get the position because the focus of your qualifications or skills does not match with the dominant framing story of society or the institutions that would normally employ you?
King was fighting for civil rights but he recognised that it was not simply the African Americans who were disadvantaged by the nature of capitalism. The poor whites suffered from the same disadvantages that segregation caused for the African American. He therefore argues that a bill of rights for the disadvantaged should not simply be for African Americans but should be for all disadvantaged people.
I see King’s argument as promoting the different between the argument for equality of opportunity or what I refer to as equality of outcome (equity). Equality of opportunity simply says anyone has the opportunity to participate but it does not take into consideration the disadvantages that some people have that actually hinders there ability to take those equality of opportunity. Equity recognises the those disadvantages and endeavours to overcome them so that all have the same outcome. An example of equity is were you have different height people and seeking to look over a fence. Giving them the same height box is equality but if those boxes do not allow all to see over the fence then there is no equality of outcome. If instead, they are given different height boxes to ensure that they all have the same view then you have equality of outcome or equity.
Some would contend that equity exists in our society but I see on a daily basis how some are disadvantaged because of attitudes of others or the competitive nature of funding gives advantages to others. If what you seek to achieve does not match the dominant themes then you are not likely to have the opportunities given to you. If the roles that you are able to obtain do not enable you to take opportunities to advance then you simply become enslaved to the system. Our society tends to reward those who already have the advantage and to restrict the opportunities for those who are disadvantaged.
I see the UK education system as failing to provide equity. It does nothing to help people find their strengths but instead forces students to conform and if they fail to conform then they are spat out as of no value to society. The opportunities to recognise that you have made the wrong choice and to restart are not there. Instead the system leaves them with a huge debt that locks them into a path that they possibly chose before they recognised what it was that they were interested in or that they were good at. That debt becomes a noose around their neck limiting their future opportunities.
However, it is not only students who are disadvantaged by the system. I see staff locked in because they need the work but cannot afford to move to another location. I see it in others that I meet who are locked into low paying occupations with no opportunity to advance. Capitalism inherently encourages inequality. Capitalism encourages conformity to its story. Capitalism requires competition and if you cannot commit or prefer not to compete then you have no future.
Like King, we need to be calling for reform of an unjust system. Like king through nonviolent action or protest, we need expose the injustice. We have to expose it in such a way that there becomes a real drive for reform. We need to continue the reforms of the civil rights movement so that real justice prevails.

Reference


 Martin Luther King, Jr. (1964) Why we can’t wait. Boston: Beacon Press.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Inequality and economic slavery

We have been working our way through King (1964) “Why we can’t wait” on the civil rights actions in Birmingham, Alabama, USA. King describes how the authorities fought to hold on to their segregated society in the face of nonviolent direct action. However, in today’s reading, it was comment that he made about a company who had major operations in the Birmingham area but whose headquarters were in New York that prompted this post. King says “Profits were not affected by racial injustice; indeed, they were benefited. Only people were hurt, and the greatest single power in Birmingham turned its back” (p 133).
As I reflect on inequality and economic slavery, I can see that I could adapt this statement to apply to many of the decisions being made by governments and business leaders. The company had said that it had “fulfilled” its “responsibility in the Birmingham area” (p 133) when in reality they had changed nothing and only benefitted from the segregationist policies.
Our capitalist system says that things are alright provided the “profit” is not impacted. Change only came in Birmingham, Alabama when the nonviolent direct action began to impact the profits of companies and even then the authorities sought to apply force to coerce the protesters to accept existing policy.
In the British media, the gender pay disparity has again hit the headlines in part because high profile females are protesting to not being paid as much as men for the same job. I agree with their claims, they should receive the same pay but I would contend that there is a more uneven pay differential that is being completely ignored and it is this second pay differential that leads to inequality. I no longer believe that we should be judging the value of skills as a way of differentiating how much we should pay people. The argument for the skills pay differentiation is “market forces”. Supposedly it is easy to recruit workers for low skilled jobs. There are more people competing for these jobs so the pay is low. If I listen to some of the anti-Brexit discussion, this appears not to be true. People do not want the low paid jobs and avoid taking them on. The low paid jobs have no future and do not guarantee security. They lock you in as a slave for life. As a result employers are looking to immigrants who will just about take any job to fill these lowed paid positions. If market forces were at play then the pay would rise to attract local workers to take up this work but that doesn’t happen. The market doesn’t work. Pressurising the low paid to take lower wages in order to maintain profit is what drives the economy.
However, the pay disparity between the low paid and the high paid ensures the unequal distribution of wealth. It ensures that a proportion of the population stay enslaved to the economic system. With government policies being made based on the average or above average income, a large percentage of the population are unable to achieve a viable living standard and they are certainly unable to put aside what is needed for a pension. I am sure this claim could easily be verified from the national statistical databases. The end result is that a large proportion of the population is enslaved to the work that they can obtain or they remain locked in to receiving government handouts.
I believe that it is not simply time that the gender pay gap was resolved. It is time that we overcame pay prejudice and rewarded everyone equally for the time that the put in. It is also time that we implemented a basic income for all and to get rid of the discriminatory social security systems that are implemented around the world. Inequality is not the result of people failing to put in the effort. Inequality has its roots in pay inequality and the basic operation of a market driven economy.
Profits are not affected by pay disparity; indeed, they are benefited. Only people are hurt, and the greatest single power for achieving equality has turned its back.” This power is governments and business owners. We could have a completely different system if the focus was on greater equality and not difference.
Yes, I can hear the cries that we cannot afford to do this but a lot of these cries show a complete lack of understanding of money and its creation. We do not have enough money because we have turned money creation into private debt and focussed on being able to pay. Governments ability to create money for essential works is being hampered by attempting to treat governments like companies and declaring that they have to live within their income (i.e. tax). If you want growth in the system then there needs to be an expansion in the money supply and that expansion has to be without the debt risk. The only entity that can expand the money supply without the debt risk is the government through its central bank but that is for another blog.

Reference


 Martin Luther King, Jr. (1964) Why we can’t wait. Boston: Beacon Press.

Monday, 18 December 2017

Heroes and Peace building

I have never been comfortable with the “Help for Heroes” charity and the constant use of heroes for military personal. The more I read on peace building, the more I object to the use of the term heroes for military personal. The use of this terminology glorifies militarism and war. It also silences any voices that may voice alternative approaches, such as peace building, to militarism.
However, if we are not in favour of calling our military personal heroes then what do we call them. I call them victims of our militaristic framing story and, like all victims, they need our support and help. It should not be through charities. It should, along with helping the civilians impacted by war, be accounted for as part of the cost of going to war. If this was done then I suspect governments would be more reluctant to use militarism as a way of resolving international conflicts. They may also be more reluctant to support an arms industry as a way to increase the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP).
There are numerous problems with trying to change this deep seated cultural perspective. There is the impact on those who have served as soldiers and who have returned from war zones that now feel that they have sacrificed through putting themselves in harms way but are forgotten or their work is not honoured. I recognise this problem and if we are to transition away from a militaristic culture then we need to acknowledge that it is our cultural norms that have promoted this militaristic self-sacrifice. It is we who must accept the guilt of having sent them to cause destruction and not they who should be treated as outcastes. We speak against the action and not the person.
The problem with militarism is that we send out people with weaponry to cause destruction in another nation, and then when the military personal return, we are upset at the destruction caused. We are upset at what appears to be indiscriminate bombing of civilians with weaponry that is unable to pick out individuals. But we are to blame because indirectly we supported the militarist stance that sent them there. Even as a pacifist and peace builder through silence, I have implicitly allowed military action to occur even though I feel we should be pursuing peace building alternatives.
We, the general public, are at fault here and we need to acknowledge that we have sent people out to maim and be maimed. Yes, they may have signed up for service but our implicit acceptance of the militaristic solution is what keeps the current system in place.
What I am arguing for is a change of language around military service. We need the programs to rehabilitate those who have served and this isn’t simply to make them feel they have done us a service. Even more we need a change in language about how to deal with international relationships and terrorism. This may mean acknowledging the harm that we have done in colonising other nations and our attitude of superiority. So often I hear politicians using words that suggest the third world nations should be grateful for our help when it is we who have caused many of the issues that have arisen in their relationship with us.
We need to be humble and willing to listen. To stop demanding what we want and be more willing to meet the need. The capitalist system favours those with the wealth. It never starts or operates with the equal playing field that free markets require. The imbalance exists and until the imbalance is addressed and continually addressed, we will have those who rise in protest.
Peace building starts with listening and understanding the problem. It does not ignore conflict but seeks to deal with it by looking at the underlying causes. It means being prepared to nonviolently stand up to the oppressor and to expose the injustice. Militarism does not do this. Militarism relies on might and coercion. Peace building seeks to put things right and to bring justice.
As I reflect, I recognise that the problem is not simply militarism but that coercion is deeply ingrained into the culture of western society. Our businesses apply coercion to customers. Our education system indoctrinates students. We foster an us versus them culture where we must win and others must lose. To maintain this culture, you have to apply coercion whether through military power or monetary reward. People are required to conform.
If we are serious about seeking to build a peaceful society then we need to focus on meeting needs and not demanding payment. An economy for the common good has to be an equitable economy. That is an economy that ensures all people’s needs are meet regardless of how we value their contribution to society. It also means to enable people to contribute, we need to focus more on their potential and enabling them to develop in ways that allow them to be contented and to feel that they belong. The tensions that we try to repress with militarism are caused by the imbalance of our economic system. If we fail to address the subtle coercion of our economic practices then we will fail to bring a coherent peace.

It is time for a serious rethink so that peace building takes priority and the bulk of our investment. Our use of the term heroes needs to decline.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

I am not who you want me to be

I am approaching retirement after forty plus years of working in the computer industry or teaching in higher education or universities. Along the way, I have done a number of interesting things but I find myself saying that I am retiring to pursue the things that I want to do and to be who I want to be. I am revolting against being forced to conform and be someone that I am not.
I often wonder how many others are crying inside saying “let me be who I am and not what you think I should be.” I fear that some of them who resolve to be free turn to violence and become something that they end up loathing more than what they were trying to escape from in the first place. Others simply give up and try and escape in activities away from the daily grind for survival. Is this really what life is all about?
This blog is stimulated by the situation that I find myself in but I was also motivated by some reading that I am currently doing on peacebuilding (Francis, 2010). She was reflecting on people movements and in particular how some people movements started by women with no formal education change when they become funded so that the originators of the movement are no longer involved. This happens because the funding organisation seeks professionals to run the movement and not amateurs. In the process, the movement loses its original focus and becomes what it can obtain funds to achieve.
As I look back over my life, I see a number of recurring patterns related to this theme. I am a problem solver and technician. I enjoy the challenge of making things work or of uncovering the underlying problems. However, I found frequently, I was being pushed to take on managerial roles or in the role that I was in, they have added a whole swag of managerial type tasks. In nearly every case, I have rebelled by moving on or in some cases getting in and doing the technical work that was required rather than the managerial work. Most of my managers never understood and I suspect still don’t. Promotion systems rely on people seeking to move up the ranks into management but not all want to be managers. Quite frankly some of us don’t want management roles at all.
Let me give some examples. In the late 1980s I was working for a company that ran a computer bureau operation. I initially went in as a programmer supporting a bank. The asked me to manage the introduction of IBM’s new AS400 into the bureau. A bureau operation is different to how these machines were used within companies so we needed to ensure that they were configured to match our security requirements. Those who supported these systems contended that we could not achieve what we wanted to achieve because what we wanted wasn’t how they did things with these machines. I was supposed to be the manager but I demanded the manuals and set about verifying whether they were correct. I quickly discovered that they weren’t correct but that the conventions in the use of these machines was to use the super user to maintain all the software on the system. I set about setting up what we wanted partly because the people who were supposed to do it for me flatly refused. The technician in me loved solving the problem. I didn’t enjoy the management issues of getting someone else to get it right.
Later in education, I was asked to prepare a proposal for the introduction of a degree programme. Once we had it through the approval processes and were implementing it, I was asked to manage the programme. Sorry managing the programme isn’t me so I found myself a position that would allow me to return to the technical work and when that migrated back to managerial tasks, I resigned again and moved back to a teaching role.
I look at why I am not getting a large number of research outputs in my current role and I could argue that it is because the role is focused on teaching but there is a deeper problem. Research roles once you get past the original qualifying work (i.e. obtaining a PhD and getting a base research history) are not about doing the research. They are about obtaining research funding, recruiting novice researchers, and managing the research process. Although I have seen a number of things achieved through student final year projects and with a PhD student, I find myself frustrated because the ideas that I have are not being implemented. They are being distorted. I find my knowledge base is secondary knowledge and not primary knowledge (although I admit for teaching preparation, I do experiment with the ideas and technology so I have a practical working knowledge). I love the experimentation that goes with learning new things. I enjoy the challenge of experimentation and implementation. I do not get that as a manager or in the roles that I find a university wants me to be. I can not be a teacher who teaches from someone else’s materials. I have to teach from what I understand and know. This means there is a huge overhead when I am asked to teach something that is not part of my background and it becomes worse when what I am asked to teach is not something that interests me. I teach from my knowledge base which I work to expand and through interaction with the learners. In the process my knowledge and their knowledge grows.
As I watch crowds of people going to and from work, and receive calls from people being paid to pester people with marketing that they don’t want to receive, I am not surprised by the problems that we have in this world. How many of these people are actually finding fulfilment in the work that they are employed to do? They work because the system says that this is the way to earn money. They don’t work for enjoyment or to improve things for others. Each day is the same old drudge just to earn a little more.
I suspect in my retirement that I may need to supplement my income from time to time with work but I am determined that the focus will be on things that I want to do and see as valuable and not things dictated to me by a system that I no longer see as valuable or support.
If you are a manager and reading this then please give your workers space to be themselves and to explore things that they want to do. Let them find out who they are and give them space to develop some of the characteristics that make them who they really are. If you work for a funding agency then give the movement you are funding space to be able to keep those people involved who set the movement going even if they don’t have the qualification and credentials you desire. You will get more from people if they find that what they are doing allows them to be who they are and to find enjoyment in what they are doing.

References


 Francis, D. (2010). From pacification to peacebuilding: A call to global transformation. England: Pluto Press.