Category Archives: English-speaking world – Monde anglophone

I am not anti-capitalist, I’m pro alternatives.

I am not anti-capitalist. The same that I am not anti-communist. There are good and bad things on both theories. I am anti-definite solutions.

I am anti-black-or-white vision of the world, where two poles have to fight against each other to win over the other because as someone born in the early 1980s, I have been have living through this very situation and what we have been witnessing since is the radicalisation of each poles and the disappearance of alternatives.

I am against what I called “anglo-saxon capitalism” as much as I was against the “Stalinist communism”. I am against that type of extreme, objectivist capitalism that claimed to have been leading the Western World against the Eastern Block, that has created “World organisations” to serve its purposes (like the IMF or the World Bank), the one that has always disregarded and ridiculed the Third World as disposable resources, the one that claimed victory over the USSR in 1991, the one that saw the fall of the USSR as a confirmation of its own perfection, the one that has radicalised to such an extent that it has declared itself inseparable from the idea of democracy, that it doesn’t understand why the world still hasn’t fully embraced its objectivist vision and has declared all its critics as socialist terrorists.

The problem I have with this neo-classical capitalism is that it’s as corrupted and deceiving as the idea of communism and socialism promoted by the USSR. We are today, the “Western countries” – it’s quite revealing that we actually never stopped calling ourselves like this – we are in the same dysfunctional situation the USSR was 20 to 30 years before it collapsed, with a system that profits only a fraction of its elite and an increasingly policing and prohibiting State at the mercy of that very elite, a State that has forsaken its citizens it began to see as potential threats to the survival of its own establishment. The only difference is that this capitalism is giving us the illusion of choiceless plenty whereas that communism led to choiceless empty.

My problem with this type of capitalism is that it has declared its world domination, effective from 1991 to infinity so it should be applied to every aspect of everyone’s life across the world regardless of culture differences.

You will find out that the main actors of “anglo-saxon capitalism” shrug away the idea of culture difference, they are as intolerant and violent towards this idea as the Nazis were. It’s a chick thing…culture…nobody actually got time for that French philosophers crap. How European to be talking about culture instead of focusing on real issues, isn’t it?!

Culture is a major part of the problem because, although it is made to move and evolve, although it can change, discard bad aspects of itself and take the good ones of another culture, it takes time. It works on a time scale that has become foreign to the capitalism championed by the English-speaking world.

Everything is culture and the resistance that frustrates London, Washington and Canberra, the resistance they like to drag in the dirt, ridicule and humiliate is nothing but people looking at the alternatives, trying things out, leaving the negative on the side and embracing the positive of everything, anglo-saxon capitalism included. We hear sometimes the English economic establishment saying that it is childish from people to pick and choose when the economy is concerned, we either take or leave it, we either are on their sides or not. The world is a playground for the bullies. “You’re either with us or against us”. What a choice!

The issue today in the world is that London and Washington understand and define globalisation as “Do exactly what we do. Live like we live. Work like we work. Love like we love. Eat like we eat. And everything will perfect”. This is not globalisation, this is standardisation.

Globalisation has always existed. The movement of men, goods and economy have always been a human activity. To say that it is new is a mistake, goods have always been exchanged throughout the world despite languages and cultural differences, we always traded with our friends and foes, economic actors have always been moving around, especially in a world of constant war.

What is new is the standardisation, the idea that we all have to do, to be, to think the same and the model we are told we have to follow is the American way of life. This is the will for the whole of mankind to be fashioned to the WASP model and unfortunately, people are not ready to just do it. What we do, and what the Americans and British find very frustrating, is take what we like from the WASP way of life but refuse to embrace what we dislike. It’s not childish, it’s not condemnable, it’s not to be ridiculed, this is normal cultural behaviour. Forcing a culture on another one is the best to antagonise everyone.

The anglo-saxon capitalism has been mainly defined by Adam Smith and British or American philosophers. The neo-classical capitalists are saying that we should go back to the “birth of capitalism”, to capitalism in its genuine form. What they willfully ignore is that capitalism existed before, Adam Smith just defined it, he put some rules on it. The same way some people said that we needed to rationalise Nature. Evolution did not start with Darwin, he just explained it then we went from there. At the time of Adam Smith, there was also a need  to rationalise a normal human behaviour of making money and trading.

What we overlook is the fact that he defined it in catholic Scotland and protestant England, in the mid-1700s where people were desperately pushing the case for industrialisation. This was a world strongly dominated by single-minded ideas and censorship, a world where slavery and colonialism were considered normal, even a force for good, a world where Europe, divided and fratricidal, was ruled by absolute monarchs chosen by God with the right of life and death over anyone and everyone, and a wider world of which we knew almost nothing about. He put some ideas in his definition of capitalism that would be pleasing enough at the time so he was not imprisoned, exiled or censored and ideas that were current 300 years ago.

The same fashion the laws of Nature have been written by men to suit their understanding and justify their dominance, capitalism have been defined by the British and the Americans who have made it evolve into a diktat everyone should follow because they won over their natural enemies, socialism and communism. These laws of Nature and laws of capitalism are extremely restrictive and definite because they had to serve a purpose at the time and had to be as unnegotiable as a religious dogma.

Thankfully, we have moved on from these so-called laws of Nature which were supposed to support the fact that the white man is the acme of evolution and that everything is nature is about fight for power and domination. We have sorted the good and the bad, we have understood that these laws were in fact bad reading of Nature made to justify our crimes, intolerance and present the powerful’s march to greater power as the way things are supposed to be, therefore fighting against it would be “naturally unlawful”.

Science has brought enough proof and evidence to show the complexity of Nature, a complexity we are still discovering and that makes writing ‘its laws’ virtually impossible. We could have stopped at Darwin and the ones who have badly interpreted some of its rushed work to understand nature and evolution, or Linnaeus to explain the human race but we did not. We scientifically looked for alternatives in the face of the atrocities committed in the name of their theory.

We have discovered that unlike what neo-classical capitalism is saying, not everything in Nature is about being the most powerful, that there is no such thing as the “jungle law” or “the rule of the most powerful” in Nature. Lions don’t kill everything, destroy and pillage everything in the savannah. There are rather endless expressions and mechanisms of solidarity between species, races and kinds because everything is about balance to ensure its own survival.

Only fire is eating until it dies. An apparent domination but Nature grows back after. Humans are fire. A fire who, in 18th and 19th century industrialist Britain, looked and defined an economy theory that would justify slavery, colonialism and the destruction of its own environment and today this theory is as obscurantist and deaf as it can be.

The failure of communism does not mean the victory of its strictly opposite vision. It means we should look at something else now, something less extreme, more including. Marx’s vision was just as aggressive and narrow-minded as the ideology he was trying to counter. It was: let’s see what capitalism do and let’s do the exact opposite. Its failure should have been a wake-up call for this type of capitalism.

It’s time we look at alternatives now. Not to capitalism as such because I believe it is inherent to human nature. We have to look at alternatives within capitalism, in the face of all the atrocities and suffering brought by the very narrow-minded, fossilised, aggressive, domineering and over-bearing anglo-saxon version of capitalism. We need cool heads to be able to see objectively what is good and bad in that vision of capitalism that is ruling the world, putting entire countries to their knees, sealing the fate of millions of innocent people for the profit of the very few, and reducing democratically elected heads of state and parliaments to irrelevance.

The fact that a single judge far away in the US forced into default Argentina, an entire, democratic country with 42 millions inhabitants, to the profit of American hedge funds without a flinch for the Western countries, the IMF or the World Bank shows how destructive this type of capitalism is. It’s 42 millions people facing unemployment, poverty, insecurity, for the profit of a hundred or so rich Americans. Baffling.

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Just sayin’ Monday III

“Men are afraid to be laughed at by women, women are afraid to be killed by men.”

Child-free spaces are essential to adult sanity and they should be protected. Why must couples take their baby to go to the pub? Since when has a place of smoking and drinking become a child-friendly place? Why do they have to be child-friendly?

Beyoncé is an adult who makes music for adults, not for six-year-old girls and she never pretended to do so. You have to be an adult to understand her lyrics and the meaning of her latest videos. A child will not see what you see: they will merely see a woman in a swimsuit dancing. You know sex, you see sex, they don’t. So she is not responsible or to blame for your child’s teenage promiscuity, your parenting skills are.

The Ebola has killed about 10,000 people in the last forty years. In 2012, Malaria infected 207 million people and killed up to 800,000; an additional average 1,5 million people die of tuberculosis every year but there is no emergency or masks given to the population, why? Because there is tiny, very little risk for these two plagues to infect the First World.

Today, civilisation is democracy, but one is as abstract as the other. So there is endless rivalry between the three oldest modern democracies, France, the UK and the US, to know who is the one to hold the truth of genuine democracy and therefore is the one entitled to enlighten the rest of the world on what it means. The first is a down-looking, self-righteous pompous bore with a penchant for intellectual masturbation. The second is an obnoxious old, perverted, corrupted aristocrat with a strong tendency of oneirism. And the third is a blood-thirsty, overbearing teenager who will never grow up.

The victory claimed in 1945 by the English-speaking world has allowed it to establish its domination over the world. Today, modern civilisation is defined by its ideas and vision of what civilisation is: the world’s economy has been ruled by its sole vision of capitalism since the Bretton Wood agreements in the 1950s, it was made worse since it also claimed victory over socialism; its language must be spoken; its definition of freedom and democracy as well as the defence of “its interests“ – whatever that means – are forced upon other countries with guns and blood, because (not ‘if’) necessary; disregard of international laws and institutions are common for they are said to be holding back their mission of goodwill and yet they are also used as an excuse to bully and bleed parts of the world. But it has not understood that the fall of USSR did not mean its victory but the beginning of its decline in a world that needn’t take sides between two extremes anymore. Its ever-more aggressive bullying, betrayal of its allies, its eagerness to wind up and play along with its adversaries, the radicalisation of its single-minded view show its desperation in finding a new reason to be, to avoid its demise. The increasingly erratic bully from the West has been standing alone in the playground for too long and just realised that other students are gathering rocks and stones behind their coat.

A life on mortgage.

One the reasons I left England is because I reached a point in my life in Albion where I could only move forward. However it meant a major cultural clash that I could not overcome: the long-term implications of settling down for, in England, it means one thing: living with the money you do not have, will never have and yet are made to spend constantly.

In the 1990s, when studying the US at school, I remember reading speeches from American politicians, even presidents and representatives, talking about the fact that a real American has to buy. Materialism is a blessing for it moves the economy forward, it helps the country. At the end of the Cold War, America has definitely merged patriotism and capitalism: buying is an act of patriotism. Saving, long-term things…that’s for commies, they have five-year plans over there, America lives in the moment.

Sarkozy tried that in France. Two months before the crisis began he told the French to “stop saving their money and buy instead”, a definite shift of the French right to the Republican American right’s view of the world. Nobody cared for that and we kept saving for later.

So as a Frenchman, I have always been absolutely staggered and left speechless by my English friends who seem to be spending and using money like it’s the most available, abundant thing found in Nature. How American of them, I thought!

I have had former Sixth-Form students (both 20) who were proudly displaying pictures of their new house on Facebook. A two-floured, semi-detached house in Birmingham that cost them more than £270,000 (for two 20-year-olds!!) when he’s a trainee engineering and she is at uni and they barely got engaged! My mother bought a huge, three-floured house with a massive garden in the historical, posh centre of Dreux for €125,000. That was after she saved for 20 years and looked for the perfect for five years. I did not understand.

Then I had a colleague who bought a brand new car as a gift for herself after she got her PGCE, she was not even a qualified teacher yet! Another colleague who bought a house with her five-month boyfriend, broke up, cried because she did know how she will cope with all the expenses, had to ask for money to the school and arrived on Monday with a big smile: “Look at that dress I bought this weekend. £600, I know shouldn’t have but it’s so cute…”.

WFT?

Where do they find all that money? I know, the banks are giving them the money but why? And why are people buying cars and houses when they are barely 20, just got their degrees or have just found a non-permanent job? The cultural shock.

In England, you don’t have to buy, you have the Right to Buy, created and hammered by Tories since 1980s. In a society where everyone tries to emulate the aristocracy (the highest reward is to be made a lord), ownership has become the symbol of freedom. You are a true citizen if you own what you have. You are a patrician. Otherwise you’re the plebe, you depend on somebody else, you cannot lift your condition. With Margaret Thatcher, the shift Sarkozy tried to apply in France did happen in England. The wealth-craving, rich-obsessed middle class came to power, bankrolled by richer than them, and so did their ideas of a Cold-war democracy that could only be understood through the spectrum of capitalism: the enemy of capitalism is the enemy of democracy. And their narrow idea of capitalism involves two things: owning and wanting more. An idea deeply rooted in the power-fading English-speaking world.

So in England, there are two types of people: the ones who believe that, to be free, you have to own, you have to spend without counting; and the people who don’t believe it but are resigned to it. At the end, they all follow the system.

When I asked my manager why she was buying so early (she was 27), she said: “Well, today, you have to go on the property ladder very early. You buy a crappy house for a lot of money, you take a mortgage, then you do it up a bit and after a few years, you can sell it for £20- to £50,000 more so you can get a slightly better house. And maybe, after 20 years, you’ll get the house of your dream.”

“Why do you sell it?” I asked, “Can’t you just make it your own?”.

“No because they are shit! The neighbourhood is shit, the schools are shit, the house itself is falling apart because no one wants it. It was quickly build for factory workers in the 1800! You don’t want to raise your kids in there…So you sell it for more to afford the next one”.

“So someone is going to buy the same crappy house but for £50,000 more?”

“That’s how it works and that’s why you have to go early, otherwise you find yourself buying a shit house for £300,000 when it would barely be worth £70,000 in France.”

I can’t. I could not. I will never be able to live like that. These people are not free: they are bankers, estate agents. Their whole life is about planning the next financial move, checking property value and not just living in but owning a place they don’t like just because there might be what they actually want at the end of the line. That’s the idea of freedom?

And the money! A life on mortgage, they think they are free because they are called “owners” and the government only speak to and about them. The nation is all about them: the house-owning people, the ones who own land, like the aristocracy. It is baffling to see Westminster’s complete disregard for renters: “If they were hard-working, they’d have a house by now” is the mantra.

The others have made it, they lifted their condition but at what price? Their freedom to decide for themselves because unlike the aristocracy who manages to stay afloat, they have been sucked in the system, are now stuck in the speeding wheels, tethered by their mortgage and loans for decades: a real Damocles’ sword above their brand new IKEA throne in the living-room.

When I mentioned that I was changing careers at 30, every teacher in the school was telling how they wished they could do the same. “Why not?” I would say. “There is the mortgage”, they’d reply. And I understood, they are free because they have the things: a car so they don’t have to rely on public transports, a house so their money is not wasted away to some stranger. When in fact what they actually have is a mortgage on the car, a mortgage on the second car, a mortgage on the house and a couple of loans to pay back on the money they borrowed to go to Spain and the new I-phone 5 for the kids at Christmas. A life build on numbers that seem to add up to infinity, they feel. They could not afford Spain and the phones but it’s not about what you can afford, it’s about lifting your condition, aspiring to higher grounds, and the banks and Wonga said they will always help you. Who rents? Who uses public transport? Who goes caravaning in Dorset? Who offers action figures for Xmas anymore? The lower class. God forbid!

In France, it is notoriously difficult to find a mortgage, sometimes to the point of ridicule, but at least companies like Wonga are not allowed to advertise for quick loans during children programmes or advertise all together,  there are caps and restrictions everywhere on borrowing money so we don’t lose control because we are not all bankers for a living. But it’s mostly so we don’t get to think that ownership is the only way to freedom.

We are not the only ones in fact, a rich country like Switzerland will see 70% of its population renting when the poorer countries in the world can boast 80 to 90% of house ownership. The fact is: regulating on renting demands a very high-level of democracy and state organisation so people in richer countries will tend to rent whereas people in poorer countries will be the owners of their run-down house.

In England, renting is a nightmare. I had done it for seven years: flat on my own or with an actual friend, house sharing, live-in landlords…Only for one year when the agency told us they were managing the flat did I feel safe and secure. The reason is, there is no regulation in England: no laws, no office, no institution that dictate some basic rules, some rights and have-tos between landlords and tenants like we do in France or Germany, where a very large proportion of the population is renting. In England, it’s not uncommon to have a landlord that comes to see you after a year and ask for an extra £100 every month for the next year and if you don’t think it’s fair, you’re out.

From the landlord’s point of view, the demand in renting is so huge, and the offer and regulation so weak that there will always be someone ready to pay that price, so why not? From the politicians and rulers’ point of view, if the landlord asks for an extra £100, he must have a good reason. Capitalism regulates itself and its agents know where the boundaries are so every is fine. When they don’t, the bubble bursts, but that’s normal, it’s how capitalism regulates itself.

No! That’s how Cold-war, Britain’s and former colonies’ capitalism works and now that it stands “undefeated”, this form of capitalism has become as genuine and honest as Stalinist communism. It became some kind of negative of the what it was fighting.

In France, a landlord will have to justify it. Being an apparent provider in capitalism doesn’t make you unaccountable.  If the landlord wants an extra monthly £100, he will be asked to prove he did some improvement to the place, for instance, something that would amount to costing an extra £100 every month for the people who live there. You cannot just ask for some more money like this!

If the landlord kicks you out, who are you supposed to talk to in England when only owners are considered and praised? In France, the state has various institutions where you can go and ask for help for free because it’s a matter of social peace, which is the first mission of the state. In England the state believes “people will be reasonable”, i.e. it can’t be asked, so there is nothing, you just take your stuff and find some other place. For an immigrant, even “just from France” who has no family in England and lives in Birmingham, when all his friends are in London, this is a terrifying prospect.

I am not saying that everything is perfect and rosy on the continent. If a place were perfect, everybody would be living there already but in England, I was stuck between the uncertainties of unregulated, overlooked renting that burdens your life, and becoming a “real citizen” tethered and unable to make decisions for myself because of the money I spent, yet never owned, for I was afraid to be perceived as lower class.

So I left.