Things I don't do any more

I've never actively given anything up...

but every now and then I realise that I've not done something for a long time. Such a long time, perhaps, that I can't really say I do it any more, whatever 'it' is. This week, I've had a couple of days off work for Eid al-Adha. Now, extra days off in Doha can be quite long. Especially for one allergic to shopping malls and five star hotels. So, between sessions on the computer and sessions on the guitar, I found myself reminiscing over some of these things I never actively gave up but which just drifted out of my life, somehow. For example:

I don't run marathons any more

In fact, I don't compete in any road races. I used to. For about ten years, between the ages of 35 and 45, I pounded the pavements regularly, training and competing. I'd do about ten events a year, mostly half-marathons and triathlons, with the occasional marathon thrown in for good measure. I wasn't good, of course. My personal goal was always to finish in the top third of the field. If I ever made the top quarter, I felt I'd won the race!
My last competitive run was the Snowdonia Marathon, a pretty tough one with several serious climbs. And then, I didn't do any more. No particular reason. I continued to tell people that road racing was one of my hobbies, until I realised it wasn't. I still run from time to time, but for the most part, I've replaced that aspect of my life with walking. I reckon it's better for 59 year-old knees. And certainly in the extreme climate of Qatar, walking is exercise enough, and more than most of the locals attempt. OK, what else don't I do?

I don't play sax any more

except possibly to blast out Auld Lang Syne on Hogmanay. And this mainly comes down to dentition. Unless you're Jimi Hendrix, you don't need your teeth to play guitar, but you do to play sax. In particular, you need your four lower incisors, the very four that I lost through a gum disease, about ten years ago. Their replacements are cosmetic more than functional, and not up to the job of supporting the lower lip through extended passages in the upper register. So, the sax had to go the way of the road racing.
In fact, it's no great loss. I really only took up sax when a folk-rock band I was part of morphed into something much heavier and my flute wasn't really hacking it. I'm still well able to play flute, and as mentioned above, my guitars are my constant travelling companions, so my music is alive and well, if saxless.

And I've stopped growing hair!

Rather like the saxophone, this one wasn't from choice. It wasn't even that short hair is more sensible in hot countries. It's just that there's less of it growing up there than there used to be. Pity. I'm of the generation that reinvented long hair in the sixties and seventies. It was more than a fashion statement. It had a lot to do with peace and harmony, just as the skinhead look was all about aggression and militancy.
In the forty odd years since Woodstock, I've never really wavered from the idea that we can and should work for a fairer and more peaceful world. All that has changed is that I can no longer grow the 'uniform'.

Then there's poetry

Until five years ago, I was quite well established in the poetry scene, regularly reading in my home town and in London, contributing and moderating a number of on-line forums, and with a fair published portfolio under my belt.
The day the music died was when our son was killed in a motorcycle accident. When such tragedies happen, we recover as best we can. Family, friends, poetry, music and work combined to bring me through the worst times. Poetry itself remained important, but the poetry scene I dropped like a hot potato. I had to. People meant well, but I was being watched. Almost everyone was expecting a tragic magnum opus from me.
Well, tough. I'm not Alfred Lord Tennyson (who wrote In Memoriam for his deceased brother). My 'art', such as it was, was inadequate to express such depth of feeling. I wrote a prose obituary and abandoned poetry for a couple of years. I found, though, that I was happy writing prose, and HubPages proved a perfect vehicle for (much of) what I wanted to say.
Well, I'm back to writing poetry again, but rather like the road racing, I have no interest in re-entering the world of competitions and submissions for publication. I have nothing to prove.

The Bloodless Revolution

Do we need a Bloodless Revolution?

We don't need a re-run of the French or Russian revolutions. These were not marked successes in the history of societal politics. We don't want civil war or even riots in the streets if these can be avoided. But we do need a far more equitable distribution of resources than we have at present, whether we look nationally or globally. And, at a deeper level, we need a full overhaul of the monetary system.

This is not about Politics...

Or at least, it's not about party politics. It's not even about Europe or America. It's bigger than that. Regardless of your party affiliation, unless you've been lucky, or are one of the elite, the chances are that your standard of living and future prospects have been in decline in recent years. Younger professionals on the job ladder are the least likely to notice, because they may still be cushioned by annual increments and promotions and are unlikely to have accrued much in the way of retirement funds. But for the middle-aged it's not so rosy. My pension fund last year dropped in value by more than I can earn in two years and more than I can save in ten. So, aged 56*, I'm swimming upstream towards a retirement that I might never be able to enjoy. And I'm one of the lucky ones, in good health with a good job.
* (at the time of writing, 2009)

The Monetary System is not Broken

You'll hear folk say that the monetary system is rotten to the core and needs a major overhaul. I said it myself in my opening paragraph. But in fact, it is patent nonsense. The monetary system has never been in better shape. It exists not to distribute money to the needy but to funnel it upwards to the elite by the simple mathematics of compound interest coupled with fractional reserve banking. It is working so well that the elite have attained power (wealth) enough to demand and receive our children's and grandchildren's rightful share now, in the form of bailouts. That's a good machine, if you own it.
And the traditional leftists and rightists slug it out in the media and the blogs, blaming each other till the cows come home. Meanwhile, the elite, who own no party loyalty (since they effectively own the major parties) are laughing all the way to the privately owned bank.
But this is not just another rant about the evils of Global Capitalism. Anyone who doesn't already see that society is organised for the benefit of the few at the expense of the many will not be persuaded by one more article. If you fall into the category of being reasonably satisfied with the status quo, give or take a few minor tweaks, we might as well part company now, before I start to talk about revolution.

Why a Bloodless Revolution?

I would shed no tears if some terrible fate befell certain members of the elite. Those who reap huge profits from war, armaments, disease, pollution and despoliation- "They'd none of them be missed!" But I wouldn't stand in line to be Lord High Executioner. Enough blood has been spilt already. Besides which, history shows that violent revolution may start out with the highest ideals but nearly always loses its way in the fog of war, replacing the bad with the just as bad, or worse. No, what we need is not one bloody revolution but a groundswell of social and personal realignments in attitude, behaviour and expectations. We are not equipped to storm the Bastille, even if we could find it. But we can all play a part in eroding its power, reducing its influence in our lives and finally laughing it to scorn. Here are a few ideas:

The Bloodless Revolution's Five Point Plan

Revolution 1 - Awareness

An apathetic or confused populace is easily controlled. And while you may be the honourable exception, you surely see around you many people who either have no interest at all in anything beyond their next soap, sleep or shag, or who claim an interest but are nothing more than spokesparrots for one or other of the old, tired, failed ideologies. The first group are the apathetics; the second are the confused. And both represent a triumph of the elite. Focused either on little sensual fulfilments or petty party squabbles, they do not see that their true purpose in life is passing money up the chain to its natural home at the top. Awareness of the true situation is the first step in changing it, But the odds are stacked against change, through wholly owned media and virulent, omnipresent advertising. Spread the word!

Revolution 2 - Conviviality

Conviviality, literally living together, is the key to reinventing society from the bottom up. Ivan D. Illich was first to pioneer convivial communities and technologies in the early seventies. He was a great thinker whose time has come. A convivial community is one that shares resources and skills without the need for money, on a barter basis, or perhaps with a local currency. The unit is still the family household; we are not talking about communes. But in a convivial community, cooperation replaces competition as the driving force. Illich's work was mainly in the developing third world, and the irony is that his third world ideas are becoming ever more applicable in the 'developed' world, thanks to the failure (except for the elite) of the present order. A convivial community does more than look after itself. It strikes a blow at the heart of the elite machine, by denying it sustenance and increasing its irrelevance. For this reason, don't expect much help from the state in setting one up!

Revolution 3 - Non-Consumerism

If you don't need it, don't buy it. The less we spend, the less gets produced and the less raw materials are consumed. Of course we need things, but as consumers we should fight against stupidity. No-one needs a car with a 5.5 litre engine. Unless you live in Perrier, you don't need their water. Unless you are a serious runner, you don't need $150-worth of air-sprung torsion system. Just do it, but not in Nikes. Or why help Tiger Woods to become a little richer when all you want is a sweat shirt? We should not deprive ourselves of essentials or specialist goods that we genuinely want and will use. But we, collectively, are being taken for a ride. It's time to jump off.

Revolution 4 - Pacifism

We've had all the war we need, and more. The valid reason for the existence of a military is defence against direct attack on sovereign territory. Also, by virtue of its training and facilities, the military is often best placed to carry out humanitarian work following a natural disaster. But that should be the limit of overseas intervention, unless as part of a United Nations task force to prevent atrocities against helpless people. It is not disloyal to condemn military adventurism abroad, especially when it is clearly commercially driven. Military power is the executive arm of the elite and should be recognised as such. Pacifism is a dirty word in some quarters, but if qualified by unless under direct attack, what is the possible objection? As revolutionaries, we should speak against, and vote out where possible, all who support military adventurism. We should be more discerning in differentiating between high command and serving soldiers. It is wholly consistent to condemn the former while respecting (but not glorifying) the latter.

Revolution 5 - Expectations

It is time to re-examine our expectations for our lives For years they have been far too low: typically fifteen years institutionalised full-time schooling, forty years full-time work, fifteen years retirement on reduced income. a few holidays, a few hobbies, a few luxuries if we're lucky. We've allowed ourselves to be defined by the machine, to do what the machine requires us to do. In straightened times, when the work dries up, we find ourselves wishing the 'good' old days of plenty-of-work would return. But instead we should be raising our expectations - reaching out for the possible, our birthright. To do this, we need to rid our minds of false equivalences: transportation does not mean private car, schooling is not education, employment is not work. And food is not McDonalds. Our birthright, earned for us by the genius and philanthropy of our previous generations should include: lifelong learning, the best of art, literature, music, recreation, a clean and healthy environment, peace and personal safety, convivial communities, and contentment, punctuated by joy. Anything less is sub-human. We already have the technologies and knowledge to bring this about, but it will not happen while we remain in thrall to the elite and their machine. They will fight every inch of the way. They will divide us, left against right, Christian against Moslem, man against woman, young against old. They are cunning but they are also ridiculous. Laugh them to scorn and demand your birthright.
These are only a few of the many ways we as individuals and collectively can work to gradually sideline the elite and reclaim control of our lives. We need to recognise each other as friends united against a numerically small but disproportionately powerful common enemy. We need to forget our differences in pursuit of this common goal.
Thanks for reading. Spread the word!