What is Britain for?

13 05 2009

This is a comment piece I wrote for The Times on the direction Britain ought to take and why I think the ‘age of austerity’ is nonsense.

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13 05 2009
Robert Hennecke

Modernized Craft Guilds as a solution to pervasive off-shoring.

My solution is provided at the end of this thesis as I find it firstly necessary to fully explain the problem of offshoring as not only an economic phenomenon as it has social and philosophical implications as well, so please bear with me even though it is quite long.

The idea of the dignity of man giving strength & courage for the many challenges of the past few centuries is challenged by the individuals ultimate powerlessness and relative insignificance in the face of the masses in the overpopulated regions of the world being exploited by opportunistic parasites taking advantage of the situation thereby undermining the gains achieved during the enlightenment and the very concept that an individual has the inherant right to be treated with dignity and respect.

The enlightenment taught man that he could trust his own reasoning and make sound judgements based upon what information he was able to aquire and simple well applied common sense. The general idea behind the enlightenment was that a man of sound mind needed neither revelation nor the authority of the church or other learned body (University etc…) to arrive at viable solutions to the problems presented to the individual in question. Indeed the catch phrase of the enlightenment was “dare to know”; in other words trust your ability to think for yourself and arrive at reasonably good conclusions and if not at first just keep on trying until you get it right. This became the starting point for true independant thought and enquiry leading ultimately to our modern complex industrialized/information
age society.

However along with that complexity has gone the handing over of authority intellectually speaking to the current high priests of our modern world the Universities which now act as the ultimate arbiters as to who has the adequate credibility on almost every range of issue. Essentially we have arrived at a point by which a sort of group think on a range of issues exist and only those with certain credentials have a right to a say as to how to solve a given problem. The group think results from those having been through the system having been adequately conditioned to not only think but behave a certain way in order to get the rewards they seek ie: diplomas and thus social acceptance, automatic credibility regardles of the content of their comments and a reasonable socio-economic standarding in society. People who for whatever reason missed the boat or were not adept at conforming or worse the system shoe horned into programs they were ill suited for are effectively left adrift and this applies even to those who have succeeded academically but are stifled creatively speaking by the way our corporate society is structured.

Those who are doing well within the current structure more likely than not assume that everything is as it should be and admire their status in the overall scheme of things and are most likely aloof regarding those who haven`t gotten their act together or who are just basically getting by. The problem facing western societies however is that the current existence of offshore labour on truly a massive scale is a relatively new phenomenom since the fall of the Berlin wall and China`s entry into the WTO. This has allowed those companies with good contacts overseas to crush their local rivals without the infrastructure and or the indifference to the implications of their decision to offshore.

This of course has been mannah from heaven for corporate managers who have new markets to tap (although less lucrative than they had believed) but far more importantly the vast army of eager to please cheaper labour which doubles as a club to keep those who haven`t lost their jobs back home in line. Computerization has also modified the field of manufacturing out of all recognition making formerly difficult to acquire skills requiring good hand to eye coordination more easily reproducible by anyone able to navigate a keyboard thus the creative worker on the floor is undermined in this respect as well.

It`s in this environment of managerial bliss that the creative individual is increasingly marginalized and his efforts muted. The Wal-Martization of the world means that corporations force inventors and artists to sign humiliating contracts resulting in them essentially handing over the rights to their creations for relatively little in return and without even a guarantee of long term employment and in turn offshoring the work to China etc..: the old social contract has definitely ceased to apply. I was once about to take a production job because of the need for the money even though I could have easily ran the entire facility but refused due to the terms of an employment contract presented to me just before starting at 6:30 in the morning. The contract entailed me signing over permanent ownership of any designs, patents, artwork, plays, books, films etc.. that I could create while emile employed and thereafter on company time or my own and this for a lousey 12 $ per hour. I was barely awake but told him that I had contemplated taking this menial job only to make ends meet and efinitely did not think of it as a career move as there was little I could learn from them and the reverse was most definitely true and told him to get ****ing lost and that I would be better off working at Mcdonalds. Unfortunately this is not an isolated case and worse the contract had a clause stipulating that I could lose my job at any time for whatever reason the owner felt reasonable so that in effect he could have complete lifetime rights to whatever creative thing I do for only employing me for several hours. There is also the homogenization of what is available as the most profitable items are spread over greater portions of the globe and even the urban landscape becomes filled with boxy cavernous out of scale retail outlets.

In view of that rather bleak description is the marginalization of novelty which is viewed by these homogenizers as threatening unless it can be harnessed to their ends. The reason it is often viewed with trepidation is that it undermines their ability to anticipate events. However psychological experiments in the field of motivation and behaviour has shown that novelty is an inducement to action. The creative process embodies a tension that petty bureaucrats most definitely find threatening even if their long term survival depend upon it. People distinguishing themselves in artistic, scientific and business creation are typical of the seemingly contradictory themes of integration and diffusion, convergence and divergence, thesis and anti-thesis. Psychological studies of highly creative people has led to descriptions of this tension in terms of intellect and intuition, the conscious and unconscious, mental health and mental illness, conventional and unconventional, complexity and simplicity.

Professor Bergson`s theory of creative evolution expresses one of the basic fundamentals of the creative process. Intellect according to him finds it`s purest application in the mastery of the hard sciences and in everyday form the effective use of common sense. Intuition is it`s opposite in that it is non-rational as it `knows` by feeling and arrives at conclusions in an empathic immediate manner rather than analytic detachment. Freud referred to three seperate states of mind that being the unconscious, pre-conscious and the conscious. The conscious being largely rational, the unconscious being basically irrational and the pre-conscious being where the wild and primitive thoughts of the sub-conscious exist in a kind of highly mobile way station to be either rejected or accepted and sent forward or upward to the conscious.

The creative person is typically intelligent in the ordinary sense and functions reasonable well along those lines but he refuses to let his intellect rule, relying strongly on intuition and hunches as well and thus respects the dichotomy of the irrational in himself and others. If one accepts Freuds`above stated theory then we can see that the creative person more open to the more unconventional and even primitive aspects of their own thought processes and how they relate to their environment. Therefore being in tune with the unconventional and following one`s intuition increases the probability for creativity to occur.

The German chemist Kekule solved the vexing Benzene bonding problem when he dreamed of a series of snakes alternatingly biting each others tail in a circle. Upon awaking he realized it`s applicatbility to what in reality would be considered a hard science problem typically only solvable through empirical logical analysis but the problem appeared totally illogical. Kekule was open to his intuitive side and thus employed his illogical vision from his sub-conscious to create a logical solution to a real world problem. This was not a minor case as this was a major breakthrough for organic chemistry and the scientific and economic implications have been enormous. To allow a little space and time for irrationality the creative person is therefore able on occasion to transcend the limitations of the known and create something new to the world. Disorder, contradiction, imbalance and assymetry are often viewed by creative people as a challenge and by rejecting the tendancy by the majority of people to reject these thoughts prematurely they help improve society as a whole even if it means that they should be allowed free reign within reasonable limits so that they are not obligated to surrender their unique fundamental state of being.

Societies can become more creative if certain criteria are met such as freedom of expression, a willingness to break with customs, a spirit of play and yet a fervent dedication to one`s work. Crusades of a social or technological type can spark great creativity in a given society and it may be advisable to enlist the publics`advice on how to best solve vexing large scale problems in the most cost effective manner for prize money. There is a great deal at stake as those societies which engage wholeheartedly in creative endeavours stand to be in the best position possible to deal with the plague of off-shoring. Now it may be more understandable that even intelligent and creative people can fall through the cracks in society and even if they are doing ok financially could still feel unfulfilled creatively.

On the spectrum of economic and social constructs is fascism in the capitalist extreme and Stalinist type communism in the public sector extreme with the individual in the center. The black market and piracy have always existed and most likely always will to varying degrees depending upon circumstances. The basic assumption would be to place the individual at the capitalist end of the spectrum but my observations and history actually dictate otherwise. The individuals at the top of these enterprises may be doing well for themselves personally (Enron executives, Bernie Madoff etc…) but in reality most corporations are run as petty dictatorships so in reality are quite fascist in reality. The corporation of limited liability with shareholders expecting the best possible return on investment along with globalization obviously leads to corporations like Wal-Mart combing the globe using their arsenal of capital and highly efficient logistical management to run a large segment of the economy but systematically undermining the income potential and dignity of the small and medium sized businesspeople.

Economists typically argue that everyone benefits from this system and it is only a matter of retraining those displaced workers. They also state it`s only a matter of finding niches to exploit the only problem being that if little countries throw all their effort into niches they could be in serious trouble if those niche markets collapse. All of this is beside the issue of the social implications of being told that a way of life for you has come to an abrupt and painfull ending and that you should look forward to the promising opportunities of fork lift driving or truck driving after having been a tool designer/dies maker and ship repair designer/draftsman. To some people that would be soul deadening and I believe that it is more than half of those affected in the manufacturing sectors feel this way. Truck driving and being an import clerk or whatever may be usefull to society as a whole but it is less than thrilling to people wanting to take charge and make a dent in the Universe and can easily be interpreted as a sentence of hard labour for being out of step with the majority viewpoint of the society in which that person lives. It is particularly galling to me to see people I know of considerably less skill doing great as a result of having be doing essentially clerical jobs such as SAP database management which is something I could learn in a week and people who scraped through high school doing extremely well selling lighting fixtures made in China.

My proposed solution

De-industrialization and a falling birthrate have resulted in a surplus of industrial and educational buildings to be available and are frequently owned by the state. My solution would be to provide these buildings to a new type of social construct called craft guilds that would have temporary non-profit status for a ten year period in order to permit them to aquire the equipment, machinery, educational liasons and infrastructure necessary to get started and off the ground. The ideal craft guild would be an asemblage of architects, engineers, artists and production technicians who would enter upon mutual contracts respecting their individual rights and not excessive in their demands. Patents, copyrights and designs would be owned by their creators with a 10 % royalty fee for the first invention etc…reverting to the guild enabling the continuity of the guild`s existence. Guild types can cover the entire spectrum of creative activities but the special status of the guild would be dependant upon their being engaged in creating goods and services not readily available and not simply being job shops which in reality would have them compete with existing companies and be disruptive as a result. It should also be an objective of the guilds to disavow any government assistance whatsoever except for the building and renovation assistance of it and donations if possible and the tax benefits to society for donations of capital and machinery etc…that would be available from the ten year tax free status.

I believe these guilds can be operated within the current capitalist system as another type of entity just like the corporation as a creation by government decree but of course with different objectives and methods of achieving their goals. Guilds can offer society the benefits of invention and creative production in order to combat the flood of cheap imports unethically produced by having limited production capabilities as part of the guilds`structure. Marketing can be carried out via the guilds direct internet marketing over Craigs list, Kijiji and Ebay in order to bypass the Wal-Mart phenomenom. This would be a closed loop between creator and the end consumer thus guaranteeing the integrity of the design and manufacturing process. A seal of the guilds`approval along with details as to how the product or service was created/mfd. could be given giving the consumer that cares the peace of mind that he/she is part of the solution and not part of the problem.

All members of the potential guilds should be able to have had a proven track record of creativity without any financial assistance completely independant of any institution so as to demonstrate the ability to think outside the box and survive with limited or even no resources as anything is possible with money but things get far more difficult without it. This is about creativity and not getting on a gravy train, it`s tough love and sink or swim. The original craft guilds didn`t have a steady stream of government handouts to rely on they managed to bring about some pretty crafty innovations such as the Chartres cathedral and the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, London Bridge, the Gutenberg press and the Sistene chapel etc….

The impact of creativity should not be underestimated as it has taken a single mother scraping by in England to being a powerfull billionaire. How many other J.K. Rowlings have yet to have their creations see the light of day because of narrow corporate interpretation of what society would be interested in which in reality can be totally off the mark as it is more often than not plays to the lowest common denominator. I believe modernized craft guilds can be a medium by which society can be enriched and the rights of the creative better promoted and protected. This way the current prevalence of societies begging and bribing corporations to invent things and employ people in the western world when in reality they are merely re-inventing the wheel and buying off the shelf items instead of `researching` and then offshore the production to the PRC or wherever as soon as no-one is looking can be remedied to a certain extent.

Thanking in advance for your consideration.

Robert Hennecke.

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