Once more into the blue-green-red,
dear friends, once more into the spectrum
This is it, the final part in the trilogy, the end of my speculations. And, I am going to warn you, many of you are going to feel cheated, particularly those of you who think that they already know what the end is.
And those of you who want to read that this is it, doom, gloom,
"bye-bye empire, empire bye-bye", you're going to be even sorrier than the preceding class, because I won't be saying that, not at all.
And those of you who want me to spout out complex financial and economic or socio-political doctrine to prove with rigorous accuracy and geometric certainty that this, that or the other are our options are going to be even more disappointed than the "let's all crash back into the dark ages" group, because I am talking not of facts and figures, but of ideas and concepts. I will not dot the I
or cross the T
in history, mathematics or politics just because you have an anal-compulsion to be able to prove something is right and shut up somebody else whose idea you do not feel comfortable considering.
And, finally, those of you who are hoping to be able to watch groups of people lined up against the wall and shot, or who are applying for the firing-squad posts, are going to be even more disappointed than the "I am right, therefore I am, (and only I)" group, because I am not even going to allow you to stay and watch your visions fade before your very eyes, I am going to tell you now, impolitely, to fuck off, don't bother to close the door behind you because I am not even going to take the time to open it in the first place to throw you out, you are going to be defenestrated, here and now.
And as the last few panes of glass stop tinkling on the cobble stones below, I glance around the room, and see that it is almost empty. Only a few remain. But those of you who do, I gladly choose as my companions. Better to be one small fish in a select shoal than a gigantic water-buffalo in a mad stampede at the waterhole.
We're going back in time today, so I hope you've come prepared. There are no mobile masts where we're going, so don't bother setting your handsets to flight-mode. Oh, and there are no flights, either, so don't bring anything more than you'll be comfortable holding or carrying, there are no overhead lockers, or under-seat stowage. We are going back to a time when your baggage traveled outside the passenger compartment. We are going back to the time of the Navvies.
I feel a kinship with these people, those who built the canals and railways, (which I shall explain in more detail later on). They took part in a great adventure, without the usual bloody slaughter and subsequent ritual enslavement of the survivors (called bringing Christianity and civilisation into dark places)
. No, these men used nothing more vicious than a pick or a shovel and a wheelbarrow. and if they fought, (which some of them did, frequently), it was with fists and against each other, either on matters of principle, or for money. But, and here is the first part with which I feel an affiliation, they transformed the landscape and transformed the way we moved around in it. The Industrial Evolution changed us all irrevocably. It brought knowledge and enlightenment, opportunity and advancement. For the Navvies, it gave them the opportunity to move around the landscape while they worked. Unlike the weavers who clustered in the new streets of the new towns, the navvies still lived in tents and huts wherever it was convenient for them to do so. (The yurt is back, again, again.)
I shall explain about the weavers shortly. But first, I think we ought to focus on the revolution just briefly, to get it out of the way now. There are already people starting to mutter "Oh come the revolution" (with or without a comma, either before or after the word "come", any or all of the three meanings will serve my purposes here)
; The revolution's coming, "Up against the wall, all who have offended", who's going to be shot first? They don't realise, the revolution is here, now. It's been here for a little while. It's been quietly happening, very much un-noticed, much as the Industrial Evolution, when it occurred, wasn't an "up against the wall, itinerant workers, bang-bang-bang" type of revolution; it was very much hidden behind the marvel of the new machines, and the wonder of where the world was going as a result of the machines and their creations which was spread around by the advent of cheap papers and journals, themselves a product of this new revolution. (And, a word to the wise, much of what is occurring now is being hidden amongst the outrage and the scandals and the advertisements of glittering dreams.)
But let's step back in time, (again,) and consider what happened when the Industrial Evolution meant that people could no longer earn a living weaving in their little cottage homes. They had to up and move, and go into the towns to where the big factories were, where all the weavers were now congregating together. They had to go in and do something they had never done before, they had to work in a place with lots of other people, instead of sitting in their little home. There was noise, true, there was clocking in and clocking out, they had to be there at set times, such as start at nine and go at five, or whatever the hours were in those days, and they were effectively slaved to a regime, a timetable, a common pace of working. They had, in fact, to cooperate with large groups of other people, both managers and fellow-workers. But, they then had something that they'd never had before either; they had spare time in the evenings with divertissments all around them, and they had spare money to exchange for these entertainments and other services. They could go to pubs and clubs and theatres and congregate with other people, they could buy papers and read things, (other than the bible), if they were literate, or they could go to evening classes to improve themselves. All of these benefits were available to those who had suffered the pain of being uprooted from their remote cottages and villages and moving into the growing towns. As compensation for the loss of the comforting simplicity of their rural life, they now had the bustle and throng of other people's ideas all around them. So, although the Industrial Evolution sounded the death-knell of arcadia (up against the wall, in-bred yokels)
, it rang in the changes for the modern world that we have been living in.
We are the great-great-great (enumerate)
grandchildren of that Industrial Evolution. We, or our ancestors, were not the victims of it, but instead, those who benefited from it. Yes, I know, the capitalist robber-baron factory owner financier class also made fortunes out of it, and if you insist on seeing the world as nothing more than a profit and loss statement then they gained, financially. But, looking at it in another way, those at the bottom ultimately gained more personal freedom than those at the top, because those at the bottom gained much of what those at the top had already had, knowledge and opportunity, while those at the top simply gained more money, and little that was new or liberating.
(And, stepping aside slightly from the big picture, I was intrigued to discover, in my readings of and about the Victorians, that the shareholders; that shadowy class of figures lurking behind every board of directors,( used by them to justify every penny-fiddling employee-cutting measure); were not the money-guzzling black-fur-coated cartoon figures that the Marxists often drew them as, but were instead widows, clerks, spinsters, vicars, all of them small people, everyman and everywoman, who had a small inheritance or a few savings which they wished to invest. I was also intrigued to read of the numbers of well-off people who were also bankrupted by incautious speculation, or by not adapting to the changing circumstances. It wasn't just the poor country people who went to the wall in the Industrial Evolution. In some sense, it was a leveler, bringing a new wealth and freedom to many, taking wealth and power and privilege from others, throwing down old establishments and people and systems which couldn't adapt, and creating new systems to support those who could.)
And it threw up another class of people, the navvies. They built the infrastructure by which the Industrial Evolution could ship that which it was making to those who were buying, to do the fetching and carrying and tripping and traveling which those whose eyes had been opened by contact with new ideas soon became addicted to. And then, when it didn't need them anymore, it threw them down, it let them go. Many of the navvies went off abroad and continued navvying on other projects, canals, dams, sea-reclamations and airstrips. Many more of them had to settle down into more humdrum lives doing whatever they were fortunate to be able to find, and dreaming of the good old days when they worked all day and drank all night. (Actually, many of them were sober religious men who sent as much money as possible back to their families in Ireland and similar places too small to be able to have their own Industrial Evolution. The drinking and fighting was, although not a myth, largely exaggerated by the newspapers who knew that stories of fights and furores sell better than those of peace and love and harmony).
Time to come back to now, to here, to this-when.
I, and many others like me; came, worked, and are now going; just as the navvies did. We laid down fibre cables around the country and under the oceans, around the world even; we set up networks of point-to-point microwave radios, we programmed computer systems to model and monitor and maintain power distribution systems and communications networks. And now that it's done, we're not needed any more. IT work is now being done in places like India, where it costs much less, because the heads at the desks do not have to pay such large bills and therefore do not need such large salaries. We built the infrastructure which helped globalisation to come about, and fell victims to the results of our own labour.
It wasn't that we weren't wanted anymore, it was more that we weren't wanted at the cost we had to charge any more. At or around the Millenium, the then IT minister, Patricia Hewitt, flew out to India to address them on the potential markets for their IT workers, because she was worried that America was taking all of them and Britain was being left behind. Her message to the Indians was that Britain was their friend of old times, and she begged them to "think of us first". And they did, and then some. Fast-track-Visa workers poured into this country, replacing nationals at a third of the cost. Ultimately, a lobby group pointed out to the government that it was wrong to have IT skills on the list of requirements that could not be filled locally and therefore could be filled by the Fast-Track-Visas, because more than a third of their membership were out of work. They won the battle, IT skills came off the list, but by then the damage had been done to the local IT workforce. Just like the disadvantaged cottage-based weavers of the Industrial Evolution, however, very little heed was given to their pleas. Evolve, or die. Become a plumber, or go to India and work there.
And then the UK began to outsource more and more functions to India. After the software, came the call centres. I, still bemoaning my own loss of contract opportunities, nevertheless felt deeply for the families up in Newcastle. Their menfolk had been thrown out of work when the pits and shipyards closed, but the women had then found work in the call-centres. Now that too was being taken away from them. This outsourcing was probably the biggest mistake of all, since the change was so very obvious, and for once, the public did take notice. Complaints rocketed, and after a few years businesses advertising on the television were making a point that their call centres were staffed by people who knew England well and only spoke with a regional accent.
Globalisation is not an "embrace-me or forget-me" concept, it can be derided, but it cannot be ignored. You cannot huddle down in your little village and forbid any visitors to cross the parish boundary for fear of them bringing in the plague, or taking away with them the jobs as they leave. Just as the Industrial Evolution impacted on all classes in society, so too will the globalisation brought by this Brave New Mobile World. Just as the Industrial Evolution introduced the concepts of knowledge and travel to many, so the new changes are going to remove the geopolitical boundaries which up till now have partitioned the world into areas of local government, beliefs and societies. Globalisation is one of the new gifts being handed out to us by the changes.
Consider: with mobile phones you are now no longer forced to stay home with the land-line when you want to talk, you can press the buttons anywhere you get a signal. And with the right package, that could be halfway up in the Himalayan foothills whilst fishing for the giant mountain carp. So what's new, you say? It is now possible to sit at home on the end of a broadband line and work, if the nature of your occupation permits it. With mobile broadband, you could be sitting away from home and still working, whilst not actually being in work. That's new. And so, from there, to another small concept: you could be living in Britain, but working for a company in India, which is actually selling the software it creates to a company in America or Brazil, while you are halfway a mountain in Wales. And that small problem of your Indian salary being insufficient to pay the local taxation bills? Well, supposing that you were registered as an employee of that Indian company, with Indian taxation rights. Your local tax bill would not be for Merionithshire rates, but for Mumbai rates.
You think that won't happen? Can't happen? Shouldn't happen? Local economics and local laws would override the remote ones? Well, think again. Already, last year, in England, serious consideration was given to allowing Muslim communities in England to apply Sharia law to their daily activities, in addition to or sometimes instead of the local law. Could Cornwall or the Shires have the same degree of devolution as have Scotland and Wales? Globalisation is not just the distribution of services and products to the lowest bidder around the globe. It is going to affect far more than that, just as the Industrial Evolution affected far more than just a few weavers and factory-owners. And, here I am laughing gleefully, (just a bit), because I do not think the current government have fully seen the implications of what they have signed up to. If they have, they've kept very quiet about it, but then, they are good at trying to slide stories under the carpet on days when everyone is walking on the ceiling in outrage. Perhaps they have seen where it will go after all, and are now jockeying to get jobs on the global stage, not on the local one, and it is the Tories and the Lib-Dems who are going to be the dinosaurs who congregate in the pit at Butte Ridge and lay down to die.
The writing's been on the wall for a while now, put in between newspaper columns on sex and sleaze and celebrity misbehaviour, so that the reader will not spend too long on it, or it has been dressed up inside a joke so that the true implications are missed in the mirth or scorn which the journalist and editor contrived at. For example, a labour politician said, a few years ago, speaking about the plans for the railways, that what they wanted to see was a first-class service for the business men, and a cheap and cheerful service alongside it for the clerks and secretaries. A labour
person said that, and if I hadn't told you that, would you have instinctively felt that this was a typical right-wing politician speaking? I would have. But there it was, their vision for our new mobility was dividing us up into the old classes of which the Marxists had fumed and ranted on about.
There will, of course, always be classes. Most people do not want to be the lone wolf, the wandering jew, the nomads who come and go like the sandstorms in the desert, they want to be in the flock. But, if you are going to play the settled game, you have to fit into one or some of the principal groupings, you cannot dance to your own tune for fear of colliding violently and frequently with the more organised dancers on the floor, or of looking "out-of-place". (Kick a youth to death for dressing as a Goth)
. One very obvious new class is going to be those who are mobile. Not nomadic, but connected to the rest of the world by telecoms and small portable devices. There will, of course be a reactionary group, (as always), of diehards running 486 machines with DOS prompts and dialup modems. There will still be some people who will refuse to fill out their tax forms online. But the majority will be right in there with their 2Mbit connections; shopping, playing, working, voting, participating in the Brave New Mobile World; possibly even electing government officials or voting innocent or guilty
in a virtual court.Valediction
There are some who have been telling me that I need to wake up, smell the coffee, be serious and appreciate how bad things are really becoming. The world is going to come to an end, they say, and this is no time to be larking around.
To those, I say that my world came to an end, with a creeping catastrophic suddenness, five years ago. I and many others found ourselves without a daily employment because of the globalisation of Information Technology activities. Our screams and protests went unheard, brushed off by a government that insisted it was all going to be for the good of the country in the long term, and ignored by the very people who are now spluttering at me that I should wake up and take things seriously, because then
it was only my
world that was ending, theirs
was still OK, and perhaps even benefiting from my misfortunes, (which was just how the governments spelled it out the the great un-outsourced majority). Now, they've suddenly seen that it is their turn to walk over the cliff.
But I do not want to say it nastily, vengefully, gleefully. I am not going to say "it's your turn now". I am going to say, "look, my world ended, but I'm still here. Don't worry. Don't fall screaming, dive, swoop, fly and dance".
But if they still choose to ignore me, as they ignored my plight earlier, then there's little I can do.
What I can, and will do, is to point out to those who can understand the meanings behind and within words and sentences, that every birth involves some waiting, some pains, and then a lot of mess before everything settles down. I would like to re-iterate, as I have done elsewhere, that creeping bureaucracy and diminishing personal freedom is far more damaging to individuals than are fat bankers waddling off with enormous penguins. Don't focus on the gory tales in the media, look behind them to the lesser bits of news, and think, not about what it might mean to you, for you, should every email and phone call you send be logged and available to anonymous scrutineers, but instead, pick someone you like or love or admire, and think about what it might mean to them to be put into Room 101.
As I have said elsewhere, they are picking us off one by one. And I think that the least we can do is look out for each other.
I am glad that my bitterness has gone. It was not doing me any good.
Labels: save someone you love - not yourself