Monthly Archives: June 2016

What next?

The political landscape of the UK has changed, possibly irreversibly. (Much depends now on what the Scots choose to do about the situation). Already a violent xenophobia – in part the result of years of government by and for the wealthy and in part unleashed by the ‘Leave’ campaign – has resulted in an increase in racist abuse and violence on the streets of Britain.

So what’s to do? As someone with depressive tendencies, I have to avoid being drawn any further into anger and despair, which in turn always take me to a place of helplessness. None of which is going to help the situation.

I’m currently in Dublin waiting for a lift – I’m on my way to a conference on place, praxis and governance in Galway – and have spent the morning reading Tom Cheetham’s Imaginal Love: The Meaning of Imagination in Henry Corbin and James Hillman (Spring Publications, 1915). It is the perfect antidote to the emotional pull into my habitual response to the increasingly uncertain  state in which we find ourselves.

As always, it’s simply a question of continuing to do what I know I need to and can do, only better, more attentively, more openly. Without fear – other than the fear that’s useful – and with as much openness of heart as I can muster. Guitar’s mic-politics if you like, or Hillman’s notitia, it really doesn’t matter what we call it.

On not being a ‘real’, ‘ordinary’, ‘decent’ person?

What does it mean when Nigel Farage declares that Britain’s exit from the EU is: “a victory for real people, a victory for ordinary people, a victory for decent people”. Taken literally, this would seem to imply that those of us who wanted to remain in EU – 48% of all those who voted – are somehow not ‘real’, ‘ordinary’, or ‘decent’. Is this just the same kind of divisive rhetoric used by Michael Gove when he said the British public had had enough of experts getting it wrong or claiming that economists warning against leaving the EU were comparable to scientific experts in the pay of the Nazis Party? (Gove later apologized, although Boris Johnson claimed his remarks were justified). Or do all these statements point up something we need to attend to? 

Natalie Bennett, who leads the Green Party in England and Wales, has sent a personal email to all party members that locates our departure as an event prompted by the fact that: “People in Britain are angry with the status quo” and asks that, despite the disappointment of those who, like the Greens, wanted to remain, we now “turn our attention … to unifying our divided communities after an extraordinary bitter period in British politics”.  She goes on to write:


“This referendum campaign was carried out in a manner which does a disservice to the people of Britain. It was a Tory leadership campaign fought out over an issue of huge importance to this country and to Europe. People will have been turned off politics to an even greater degree than before. To help fix this democratic deficit we need electoral reform for the House of Commons to help build a more representative, inclusive democracy”.


While I think there is a lot of truth in this, I don’t think it’s anything like the whole story. There is a real danger that we will risk trivialising what has just happened if we reduce it to the consequences of “a Tory leadership campaign” played out via an anti-European agenda. I think Natalie Bennett is absolutely right that we face a massive democratic deficit, and that electoral reform is vital to building “a more representative, inclusive democracy”. But I think we also need to understand what social forces this political campaign has unleashed and so focusing on unifying divided communities is not enough. We also need to understand why the divisions have become so deep and so bitter. 


It’s clear that the ‘exit’ vote is, in one sense, just another example – albeit a disastrous one – of a long tradition of British protest voting. A Government that imposed ‘austerity measures’ as a means to effectively wage economic warfare on the very sick and the very poor, is run by people too certain of their own entitlements to listen to the less well-off and less educated, has understandably prompted a massive negative reaction to itself and its natural suporters. (Albeit a reaction apparently blind to the fact that there is nothing substantial, ideologically speaking, to choose between the politicians leading each camp). Thanks to the cynical politicking of individuals like Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Michael Farage, aided and abetted by an increasingly toxic approach to politics in the media, this sense of protest has been channeled into various easy forms of xenophobia, with the EU providing the ideal scapegoat for all that’s wrong in our society.

But the real causes of our current divisions do not lie simply with the Tory Party. They are also the result of the fact that “we” – whether that’s the Greens or the Labour Party – have as yet failed to create a credible alternative to the dominant ideology of possessive individualism – an ideology maintained globally by vast levels of expenditure through the media, advertising, etc. The only alternative on offer for those who can’t compete on that ideology’s terms is, as it now turns out, the myth of Britain’s “national greatness” (as celebrated by events like the Olympic games and in the type of history book Michael Gove was so keen to impose on schoolchildren when Minister for Education). So while the ‘Remain’ camp’s arguments appeared in the media to hinge almost exclusively on maintaining economic prosperity – something the Government has already brutally denied to a substantial element of the electorate – their opponents were able to exploit the powerful emotions underlying the call to restore “national sovereignty”. As a consequence, the majority of the British electorate has been induced to throw away it’s chance to help reform the EU and to build on the social and environmental rights and opportunities it has given us. All so that it can bask – very momentarily indeed I suspect – in the warm glow of the myth of ‘plucky little Britain’ (or more accurately England and Wales) “going it alone” like we did under Boris Johnson’s hero Winston Churchill. A myth that carries with it in the minds of some, given what has been said during vox pop interviews, an embittered nostalgia for a lost empire mixed with outrage that “we should be told what to do by Germans”.            


I have every sympathy with those in the UK who have reacted in this way to being disenfranchised by global capitalism as aided and abetted by a Tory Party inseparable from the social and economic elites who have most to gain from that system and from the possessive individualism on which it depends. But “we” cannot pretend that it is just the Tory Party that has failed to listen to these people or to offer them a credible alternative value system. As Gove’s comments about experts suggest, one major cause animating the ‘leave’ protest was fear and incomprehension about the way the world is changing. (It’s highly significant that many who voted ‘out’ regard Feminism and Environmentalism as negative forces in society). Gove’s comments about ‘experts’ have a basis of sorts, in so far as they reflect popular awareness of the failure of those with the intellectual capital to influence State education to provide our children and young people with a comprehensible account of how the world works and how they can engage with it as active citizens. (Let alone with the skills and opportunities that will enable them to earn a reasonable living). And ‘experts’ do indeed regularly make this situation worse when they claim authority that exceeds the remit laid down by proper professional objectivity, sell themselves to support Government ideology in return for knighthoods or professorships, or use scientistic jargon to enhance their personal power at the expense of the public whose best interests they should serve.  


There is another reason why we should not focus too much on the Tory Party and its power struggles – namely Nigel Farage.

Farage is not just a former member of the Conservative party who once voted Green, he is also a former commodity broker with substantial funds invested outside UK jurisdiction. The leader of the UK Independence Party has, since 1999, earned a very comfortable living as an MEP for South East England. (In May 2009, Farage said that over his period as a Member of the European Parliament until that point he had received a total of £2 million of taxpayers’ money in staff, travel, and other expenses). He is also a man who regards legal tax avoidance as “okay”, perhaps as a result of being asked on one occasion why £45,000 of his income was paid into his private company rather than a personal bank account. (He has resolutely refused to publish information on his own financial affairs and attached david cameron for doing so). He is a climate change sceptic and in favour of licenced hand gun ownership. In short, he epitomises the values and attitudes of the dominant culture of possessive individualism in its USA Republican form, an ideology that is as much social and cultural as it is political in the narrow Party sense.

With all due respect to Natalie Bennett, it’s our ongoing complicity in maintaining that ideology, and not just the Tory Party, that has brought Britain into the present divisive situation in which we find ourselves. If we value the best that the EU once offered us – the possibility of building a more humanitarian and empathetic politics for example – we had better provide a new and persuasive narrative able to fill the gap that will be left when economic realities demonstrate just how hollow claims of national sovereignty are in an age of global capitalism.     

Waiting on the vote

Avaaz has just informed me that:

“Today we could beat a record of the most people ever voting in Britain on one day!”

Well, I guess that would be a small good in itself, regardless of the outcome. And, again regardless of the outcomes, this whole business now reminds me of something I’ve just read in Ursula LeGuin’s wonderfully sparse yet compelling novel The Telling – which, like most of her work, I would highly recommend.

Towards the end of the book she has her main character – Sutty – say of her people (who are the inhabitants of the earth in some distant future) that their self-destructive adoption of a particular fundamentalist idea was a protest: “an assertion of our God-given right to be self-righteous, irrational fools in our own particularly bloody way and not in anybody else’s”. Somehow that says it all for me with regard to this whole referendum on the EU. It seems to be just that, an irrational protest that, if the exit camp wins out, will be profoundly damaging in almost every way, both to the British and to Europeans more widely.

Waiting on the British public

Like everyone else, I’m waiting on the British public to see if they will blow the entire country out of the water by taking us out of the EU. My daughter Anna sent me this link today. It’s for a really good easy to follow video from an EU law expert at Liverpool university who is employed to fact check for the BBC and explain to them to government committees. As she points out, it goes into both how the EU works and what we have to re-negotiate worldwide if we leave and how much evidence there is that it is useful. As she says, it’s worth watching and sharing if you can.

While I wait I’ve been reading the first half of Dick Russell’s two-part biography of James Hillman – The Life and Ideas of James Hillman: Volume One The making of a Psychologist. It’s an extraordinary and inspiring story and I hope he finished and publishes the second half soon. Although I’m never sure how much of Hillman’s work I understand and only spoke with him once – he bought me a drink at the Watershed in bristol after I’d arrived late for a talk he did there – he’s been something of a mentor. I can highly recommend Russell’s book to anyone with an interest in ether the man himself or in the whole background to Archetypal / Polytheistic psychology.

The murder of Jo Cox

I keep wondering whether it is wrong to think that Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and their ‘Brexit’ friends are directly responsible for whatever seems to have happened in the mind of the man who murdered Jo Cox?

What is clear is that her murder is indicative of what follows on from the kind of near-Fascist anti-immigration sentiments expressed by Farage, aided and abetted by the low, popularist Nationalism of the Brexit camp. Their toxic mix of political opportunism masked as patriotism, Little England xenophobia and their tapping into a repressed post-colonial resentment – the trigger for the endless cant we have been hearing about ‘British sovereignty’ – is now set to drag a country already deeply divided by the unfettered consequences of our culture of possessive individualism into what is starting to look uncomfortably like a replaying of the Fascistic abyss of the 1930s.


A Parent’s Perspective; ‘Lost Voices’ as the years past.

The title of this post is that of a talk my wife Natalie Boulton gave in Belfast on June 6th this year. The full text of her talk – which I very much hope you will read – appears as a post under the title Presentation for Belfast. 6th June 2016  on the Voices from the Shadows website. The talk reflects our mutual concern – I helped her with aspects of it – but it’s very much her voice that speaks.

As a family we are haunted by this disease. Natalie’s  mother had ME until her death, which followed a severe relapse 11 years ago. Both one of my cousins and my nephew (my half-brother’s son) have suffered from it. Natalie and I are carers for our daughter. who has been severely ill with ME for 26 years, and for our youngest son (who was diagnosed with ME last year).

hidden_wars_for AB_2009u

One of the first wall map pieces I made, back in 2007, was called Hidden War, with and for Anna Biggs, about which I wrote at some length in the collaborative book These Debatable Lands: Debatable Lands Vol. 2 where it’s also reproduced.

The part of that text relevant here reads as follows:

“On the 16th June 2006 Eileen Marshall and Margaret Williams published a detailed report  – in which they reflect on the Brighton Coroner’s inquest into the death of 32 year-old Sophia Mirza. Sophia, although seriously ill with medically diagnosed Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), had been wrongly sectioned under the Mental Health Act before she died”.

“The circumstances leading to her death were set down by her mother Criona Wilson as follows:  ‘In July, the professionals returned – as promised by the psychiatrist. The police smashed down the door and Sophia was taken to a locked room within a locked ward of the local mental hospital. Despite the fact that she was bed-bound, she reported that she did not receive even basic nursing care, her temperature, pulse and blood pressure (which had been 80/60), were never taken. Sophia told me that her bed was never made, that she was never washed, her pressure areas were never attended to and her room and bathroom were not cleaned’. [I cannot watch her reporting this in the film Voices from the Shadows without weeping. Not only because of the appalling degradation to which this chronically young woman was subjected, but because it reminds me forcibly that, when push comes to shove, our society is quite capable of behaving like Stalin’s USSR].  “As the Coroner’s report makes absolutely clear, Sophia Mirza died because she was suffering from ME or, to be more specific, her death from ME/CFS was in part caused by the illness and in part because she was denied medical intervention and then forcibly removed from her home and locked up in a psychiatric ward. Her death was not a tragic accident. Sophie died because of the calculated and pre-meditated actions of official bodies acting in open defiance of World Health Organisation’s formal classification of ME as an organic disease of the central nervous system in 1969 (code G.93.3) and of the 1978 symposium of the Royal Society of Medicine at which ME was accepted as a distinct medical entity. As a parent I know that informed ME patients and their carers are fighting the official policy being developed to address ME – essentially the same policy that was executed in Sophie Mirza’s case – and based on attempts to reclassify a medical condition as a psychiatric problem. [A reclassification that is making universities millions of pounds in research funding and allowing certain academic researchers to build themselves ‘glittering’ careers]. As Marshall and Williams testify, this policy has and is resulting in psychiatricaly-condoned abuse of ME patients, a situation aided and abetted by the “arrogance and ignorance” of the British medical establishment. This has created a situation in which ME patients are ’treated’ by people happy to submit them to extremes of physical and mental anguish that rereperably damage their health. They do so because it is “financially and politically convenient and profitable”, given the psychiatric collusion with “a number of extremely powerful corporations and government departments”.

“It is ultimately against the power of these corporations and government departments that those who care for ME/CFS patients must fight if we wish to make it clear that in the UK we are faced with a systematic, state-condoned campaign of abuse and cruelty towards those who suffer with the medical disease of ME. My difficulty is that I know all this not from the position of an academic specialist but as a father whose partner has devoted all her spare time to discovering why our daughter has continued to suffer from ME for the last 19 years. My difficulty is also that I fear that what happened to Sophie Mirza could one day happen to Anna and that as things stand at present there would be very little I could do to prevent such a situation fro occurring.”

Two things appall me re-reading this text now. One is that not only has the situation not improved, it has actually got worse – and that despite the fact that a number of scientists have been deeply critical of the poor science on which this whole situation rests. The second is the degree to which universities and academic researchers are implicated in the perpetuation of this situation for their own ends.

It’s a situation that would reduce me to despair if it were not for the simple fact that, as a family, despair is a luxury we simply can’t afford.