Friday, January 20, 2012

Find me at www.resistanceandrenewal.net

After being in sporadic hiatus for a number of years you can now find me regularly blogging with Jon Kuhrt at http://www.resistanceandrenewal.net/

So come and visit us over there and thanks for reading.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Hustle's bubble

I knew my appetite for ideas had sparked into life when my first thought after watching a Friday night comedy-drama that doesn’t take itself too seriously was to link it to a major socio-religious theory. Theology buffs buzz in when you figure it out, the rest of you why not humour me – it is honestly quite interesting.

Hustle is a BBC drama in which a gang of successful, high living and smart mainly twenty somethings use their considerable skills to con successful, high living and fairly stupid people out of hundreds of thousands of pounds. It’s all OK though, because our metropolitan heroes only target people who really deserve it. Oh and everyone would do the same as them if only they were clever and brave enough.

The show is funny, enjoyable, interesting and well done, but the fact that it occupies prime time viewing on the BBC is culturally revealing.

In the mid 1980s author Walter Wink argued that ‘the Myth of Redemptive Violence’ is deeply rooted in our society and thinking. The distinctive feature of the Myth, he said was ‘the victory of order over chaos by means of violence’. P14 (Engaging the Powers)

Think of virtually any Hollywood action movie and this makes sense:

“An indestructible good guy is unalterably opposed to an irreformable and equally indestructible bad guy. Nothing can kill the good guy, though for the first three-quarters of the show he (rarely she) suffers greviously, until somehow the hero breaks free, and [violently] vanquishes the villain, and restores order until the next instalment.” (p17, ibid.)

The implication is that the violence is somehow cleansing and final. Our heroes are not morally compromised in employing violence. It's like the satisfying feeling of a swinging right hook without the implications and regret after.  Such black and white stories subtely give the green light to our desire for retribution whether we feel powerless (lash out in frustration) or powerful (eliminate enemies).

Away from action movies, compared to most societies we are relatively sensitive to ‘real world’ violence. However, in our money obsessed society it isn’t a surprise to see that we’ve transplanted the story to create a myth of redemptive finance.

Our hustling heroes take on the obnoxious, corrupt and exploiting, fleecing them for all they’ve got, leaving their bank accounts and their reputation in ruins. As the audience we get have our Satisfaction. We see the moment their ego filled bubble is burst – when they realise it was a wonderfully elaborate scam. Staring into their eyes the leader of our gang says “you’ll get everything you deserve”, before the team walks off, successful sheriff style confidently into the distance. Another case solved.

Except of course, it’s a lie. In real life we’ve only seen the beginning. We don’t see the bad guys who don’t ‘learn their lesson’ who become more bitter and twisted and wreak further financial or emotional havoc. We don’t see the escalating cycles of claim and counter claim that brings the fear and the violence even to the most chic of 21st century suits. We don’t see the way that innocent families and friends get pulled into a mesh of lies and ruined lives.

The myth of redemptive finance is so simple, so alluring, so beguiling ‘moral’. Yet however you dress it up it’s still as futile as its violent cousin. I like the show, but want to make sure I burst my own Hustle bubble.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Worth their weight in Gold: Long term tenancies must stay

The Coalition government has announced that it is considering ending life time tenancies for tenants of housing associations or local authorities. David Cameron’s reasoning behind floating this change is that:
“maybe in five or 10 years you will be doing a different job and be better paid and you won't need that home, you will be able to go into the private sector.”

The inference is that social housing should be only a safety net, not something that is potentially available to all.  That would represent a fundamental shift in the purpose of council and housing association properties.

Housing is a fundamental human need as every student of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs knows. Without security of shelter it is very difficult to think about working and contributing back to society. The stress of not knowing whether you’re safe staying in your house can be a massive emotional and physical drain. In a world where people feel that so much is changing and out of their control, security of tenure is a cornerstone in their lives.

If the coalition is serious about tackling the culture of benefits dependency by getting people back into work this is not the way to do it. Effectively penalising people by getting them to move from their home and pay private sector rents because they’ve got a job hardly helps incentivise people. It doesn’t matter that this might not be for years – the message it sends is that work still won’t pay.  Social Housing needs to be used more effectively and there’s room for reform, but redesigning it as a safety net is not the way to go.

The other thrust behind the coalition announcement on tenure is money. The communities department claims that Social Housing is subsidised to the tune of £35 per week by each tax payer.  If that were true there would be good cause to try and seek savings in economically tough times. In reality, housing association and local authorities fund all of their maintenance and running costs through rent receipts.

What the Communities department may be referring to is government subsidy for the building of new social housing – which stands at a total of £8.4bn over three years, although this still works out at considerably less than £35 per tax payer per week.

So what is the link between building new homes and the cost of renting one?

In the private sector when a building company has completed a new home they sell it (directly or indirectly) to the first owner. If the owner chooses to let the new property they effectively pass on the cost of the build, management fees and their mortgage through the rent to the tenant. Housing associations also borrow cash to contribute to new builds, but the full cost of the build isn’t passed on in rent because of the government subsidy. So the Communities department are right - social housing rents are lower because of the building subsidy. However, rents are also lower because Housing Associations don’t have to make a profit for their shareholders.

There’s another catch. Everyone seems to agree that we need more homes, but the private sector isn’t that willing to build them either and is crying out for – you guessed it – subsidy. Until 2006 the government funded, with some success the Business Expansion Scheme to encourage the private sector to build new residential homes and now the private sector are calling for its reintroduction. It looks like the tax payer is going to be forking out for new builds for some time to come. If the government is going to invest money in the new houses why not invest it where you know it will get passed onto those that most need it rather than ending up in the pockets of commercial builders?

If the coalition seriously wants to try and reduce public subsidy of new builds it could allow rents to go up in the social housing sector to allow greater reinvestment in new builds. This would mean people that were working in social housing were paying closer to the private market rent. It would also mean that it was paying more in Housing Benefit, but there would be the incentive for the coalition to get more people into work without having to end secure tenancies. However, the Housing and Council Tax Benefit system needs reforming because it is a massive disincentive to work because it effectively taxes a new worker at 85%.

Ah, what a tangled web. What was it Palmerston said about the number of people who understood the Schwelsig Holstein Question? Maybe subsidising social housing isn’t such a bad idea.

Social Housing secure tenancies are worth their weight in gold. They improve the quality of life for millions of people in this country by meeting a basic human need for the long term. Treating the national stock of four million Social Houses as a safety net by forcing people to leave their homes when they get work is short sighted, unlikely to save money or increase the total housing stock. Tackling the culture of welfare dependency is and should continue to be a top priority of this government, but ending security of tenure will damage, not contribute to this aim.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Down at the Sally

I very rarely mix work with the pleasure of blogging, but if you're interested you can read a few of my job related thoughts at the (slow loading) Salvation Army website here

Sunday, August 22, 2010

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier

Shakespeare had Hamlet and Othello and the legend of Faust has been worked and reworked through modern literature, but Daphne Du Maurier’s tragic heroes will stick just as long in the memory.

Du Maurier was ahead of her time. Her gothic settings in rural Cornwall may look back to the Victorians, but her strong female characters and rich, sometimes shocking plots belies an author writing as early as the mid 20th century. Du Maurier loves to holds her readers in suspense and her characters are full of unsettling ambiguity and anxiety.

My Cousin Rachel is a sinister love triangle between the bachelor Ambrose, his adopted ‘son’ Philip and the beguiling jet-setting Rachel. The centre of the story concerns Rachel’s motives. Is she devoted and vulnerable wife or devilish deceiver and fiend? It is to the credit of the author, but apparently missed by most of the reviews I’ve read, that the answer is both. As Mr. Kendall, the straight laced godfather of Philip states
‘There are some women, Philip, good women very possibly, who through no fault of their own impel disaster.’

Du Maurier unravels the tragically flawed personality of a woman shaped by the harsh male dominated world of the 19th Century. Seeking to protect herself after a failed first marriage at a young age she learns to manipulate and control those around her using her intelligence and beauty. She pursues security and enjoyment in financial wealth and will go to great ends to achieve this. However she desires company and needs to love and be loved deeply, if on her own terms.

In Ambrose and Phillip she finds two men who offer her the love she craves, but because of their naivety do not threaten the dominance and control she needs. Power unbridled is badly used and does indeed ‘impel disaster’. Her ‘will to power’ is sometimes viciously victorious over her caring love for her men, but at other times touchingly checked, often with the help of the one man she truly respects – the hard headed Italian, Rainaldi.

Daphne Du Maurier captures the contradictions so often inherent in the human condition and her mystery detective style make My Cousin Rachel a page turning, but provoking read.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Prayer adapted from an Indonesian creed.

 Thanks to CORD. I like the final verse the best.

I believe in God, who is love and who has given the earth to all people.
I believe in Jesus Chris who came to heal us, and free us from all forms of oppression.
I believe in the Spirit of God, who works in and through all who are turned towards the truth.

I do not believe in the right of the strongest, nor the force of arms, nor the power of oppression.
I do not believe in racisim, in the power that comes from wealth and privilege, or in any established order that enslaves.
I do not believe that war and hunger are inevitable and peace unattainable.

I believe in human rights, in solidarity of all people, in the power of non violence.
I believe that all men and women are equally human, that order based on violence and injustice is not order.
I believe in beauty of simplicity, in love with open hands, in peace on earth.
I dare to believe in God's promises.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Running off the edge of solid ground?: Farewell to the election

The election made my typing fingers itchy. After two months of high political drama that itch has been well and truly scratched. The leaders' debates, the Lib Dem surge, Bigotgate, election night and the flux and surprises that came as the nation negotiated its first hung parliament for 35 years.

As I wind up this chapter of my blog it's led me to reflect not just on the experience of the nation, but also my own interaction with the political process. As someone who figures that they mind find themselves heavily involved in big P*  Politics one day it's vital that I understand the impact that engagement has on my own wellbeing.

I normally shy away from using the term 'spiritual' as it smacks of decartesian dualism: mind versus body, the physical self pulled away from the soul. However, there's been times when I've noticed that near obsession with polling data and live up-to-the-minute updates have damaged my spiritual health. The silence and centring on who I am in God get lost in the chitter chatter and turning over in my mind of the latest twist and turn.

CS Lewis writes: "Nearly all that a boy reads [in newspapers] in his teens will be known before he is twenty to have been false in emphasis and interpretation, if not in fact as well, and most of it will have lost all importance." (Surprised by Joy)

In a 24 hour news world what is reported as fact in the morning will have been proved false by lunchtime. Was there a point of following polls showing a Lib Dem surge which dissipated into a nothingness that will not merit even a footnote in history?

A loss of God-centredness also makes me less effective in making the arguments that I want to put advance. Losing the link with the passions and motives that helps sustain my views in the first place means losing sight of the larger perspective. Just as cartoon characters run off the edge of a cliff and then look down to find no solid ground beneath them I run the risk of forgetting why I believe the point I am promoting. The big picture gets lost and it's easy to get tangled up in threads of little consequence or to miss the perspective that opens or subverts the debate.

Unless I stay rooted in who I am by keeping time for silence, prayer and calm I will get sucked into a maelstrom of mediocrity and have nothing distinctive to offer our public life.

Walking in God given gifts should overall bring energy not drain it away. Sure, there will be seasons of hard, tiring work, which sometimes last months or even years, but there is also something invigorating and a deep inner contentment that tells you you're in the right place.

I love talking with people about issues that really matter to strangers on the doorstep, people at church, work and friends.  I love challenging people's preconceived ideas and finding good ways to disagree. I love attempting to articulate a vision of positive change. All this is good, yet I need to fiercely guard my spiritual health and say no to lie that if I must be absolutely uptodate on the latest developments to make a contribution.

It's easy to jump from obsession to obsession to avoid facing ourselves. I'm having a rest now...although there is the World Cup just around the corner...


* most of us are involved in little p politics - when I go to a meeting at work with outside agencies to talk about the way we interact or want to work together - that's politics.

Skepticism and cynicism

Skepticism examines each question on its merits; cynicism doesn't bother to look. 

Skepticism assumes mixed motives; cynicism that everyone's snout is in the trough.

Cynicism knows that we're going to hell in a handcart; skepticism holds out the possibility that something new might work.