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Undermining in 2010: How Did I Do?

Posted by keith on 27th December 2010

There is something very human in looking back over a specific period of time and reflecting on what you have achieved, failed in or could just have done a bit better. It’s part of the learning process that civilization discourages, because if we really did look back and reflect upon what really matters to us, then we would – me included – have more than a few regrets as to how little we actually did. All that time spent shopping, watching TV, social networking, being taught pointless bits of information at school so we can end up doing pointless things at work in order that we can shop, watch TV and socially network…a boon for the industrial economy; another nail in the coffin of life.

But among that monotony and technologically-assisted repetition are signs that change is happening: that the system is creaking under the joint pressures of material shortage, financial instability and – how it warms my heart to write this – a determination from formerly benign quarters to no longer take this toxic existence lying down. The impact of WikiLeaks on the psyche of people who previously might have considered freedom of information a luxury, is perhaps the most high-profile indicator of this change; but there are other signs, such as targeted rioting across Europe, an upsurge in on-the-ground direct action in the Americas, and a not-too-insignificant backlash against the mainstream environmental movement’s stubborn intransigence. In parallel with that is the growth of survivalist and anti-civilization groups, and a widespread move towards self-sufficiency.

This is just a tiny taster of what is perhaps a much wider air of discontent with the industrial system, but there is no room for complacency – it is just as likely a reaction to financial hardship, rather than altruistic, or communal, desire; nevertheless, the light of humanity does seem to be flickering back into life.

For my part, I have been involved in a number of external and internal struggles that have manifested themselves in all sorts of unexpected outcomes. The Unsuitablog has provided a frosted window for peering into some of these, and given that I made Undermining the focus of this blog in 2010, I think it only right to explain, as far as I can, how I think I did in this area. As I made clear in the opening salvo of this year-long campaign, being an interested bystander was no longer an option. We all had to, and could do something significant:

“One action a month, by every person who reads The Unsuitablog: that’s a lot of actions that could really drive some terminal nails into the coffin labelled “Hypocrites”, helping to free up the minds of a misled and brainwashed public.”

The rule I set myself was that for every Monthly Undermining Task article posted on The Unsuitablog, I would do at least one of the tasks contained therein. I don’t believe in passing the buck; we all have a part to play, and if dramatic change is to happen we have it within our gift to provide the environment where that change can take place.

January‘s “The Great TV Turn-Off” was the opener, partly because television is such a ubiquitous and usually negative influence on humanity, and partly because I wanted to provide some ideas that everyone could carry through with immediate impact, and without great risk to themselves. After a few forays in local shopping malls with my TV-B-Gone, I decided to upgrade to a high-powered TV-B-Gone model (my first soldering project) that was so effective I had to make quick exits from a number of stores. On Christmas Eve 2010 I discovered, to my delight, that Burger King menus were now on LCD TVs…I didn’t hang around to see the chaos. Sadly I never had a chance to use my Grid Key Switch, but will try my best in the new year.

February‘s “Time To Break The Ads” saw a sudden outbreak of torn billboards in my hometown, along with AdBlock Plus becoming a staple of every computer I tuned up in my work. Again, I wasn’t ever in a position to switch off lit billboards, but did a fair bit of poster “reconfiguration”.

March saw the joint campaign called “Throwing off the Shackles of Debt“, which featured prominently in the ouvres of three writers of far greater significance than myself, creating a huge amount of fuss in one particular place. As a family we, even with a move from England to Scotland, reduced our spending and reinforced our desire never to be indebted. That month I sent a fake press release on behalf of a major retail bank to dozens of radio stations in the UK outlining the bank’s plans to go loan-free. As with most undermining activities, I have no idea whether this came to anything, but on the other hand did it with no comeback whatsoever (partly due to posting the letters in a different part of the country).

In April I targeted the school system, and it’s brainless testing regime in “Sack The SATs“. This coincided with our move to a place that does not have the regime I railed against, but while in England there was time to persuade a few parents not to subject their children to extra-curricular cramming classes, and steadfastly refused to give any time to pre-SATs homework. It was wonderful to learn that a quarter of schools had, for their part, decided to boycott English SATs – a serious blow for the testing regime. Immediately after moving we learnt about the joys of unschooling with one of our children, though haven’t quite got to the point where it’s necessary to take them out of school altogether – they need to make friends, after all.

In May it was time to “Mind Your Language“, for which I took a more analytical approach towards, publishing a major piece on The Earth Blog, which was republished in far more high-profile locations. Subsequently I have been a lot more careful with my own use of loaded words, but not being in more public-facing role there hasn’t been a lot more I could do.

June‘s “It’s The Freeconomy, Stupid!” coincided with the profile raising of the Freeconomy movement, particularly the Guardian’s featuring of Mark Boyle’s work – so I can’t take any credit for that. However, my barter-based computer servicing business has been quite successful, both in terms of work and the number of people in our village taking a renewed interest in bartering and sharing of goods and skills. In the 5 months since the business was established I have worked for: vegetables, the services of an electrician, some shelves, the labour to build a chicken fence, a loft full of sheeps wool insulation, a hand-made scarf and all sorts of knick-nacks that were offered.

July encouraged people to “Escape The Tourist Trap“, but I have watched in dismay as people close to me seem to have taken more overseas holidays, not less; although we have come across an array of neighbours who think close to home (or at home) is the best place for a holiday. For my part, we steadfastly refused to go any further than back to where we used to live, and even paid for a (relatively cheap) holiday next year which included people who might have otherwise gone far further afield. Fortunately for society in general, icy weather and industrial action stopped an awful lot of needless vacations in 2010, which is some comfort.

In August I wanted people to “Crash The Mainstream Environmentalists’ Party“, which saw a major ally in the form of the Cochabamba Agreement that made clear which NGOs were actually on the side of Earth and the people. It turned out that few were – the presence of the Agreement can only make things increasingly uncomfortable for the mainstream. I’m afraid I was distracted from doing anything really effective myself at the time, apart from becoming the bane of the Nature Conservancy Facebook Group, and publishing a few blogs about NGO hypocrisy here; but I have a couple of irons in the fire which will become apparent in 2011.

I was 40 in September. Just thought I’d mention that, and the fact that it just made me more determined to get stuck into things. I started writing a new book all about Undermining, but can’t really put that into the mix until its published. I did take a swipe at the fashion industry in that month, and October, making “Unfashion” the priority. Being a distinctly unfashionable person, there is little more I can do to change things at home, though I am working with a friend who produces goods from scrap and offcuts, and doing my best to imbue everyone with a love of the second-hand. Unfashion is more a state of mind than an activity, but if you fancy taping up any new year sales as a crime scene then be my guest…

The last published MUT was in November. Entitled “The Online Infocrunch” it was a shout-out to everyone with a taste for online activism to subvert and correct the skewed worldview given to us by the internet heirarchy. I have carried out a few subtle corrections to Wikipedia, helped out with a few bits of online subterfuge and – earlier in the year – created my own fake online announcement which made it to the front page (as a refutation) of the target company’s website. To my sheer joy, the company involved later pulled out of the relevant activities, although I probably can’t take much credit for that. I guarantee that more of the same will be happening in 2011.

Finally, I intended the December Monthly Undermining Task to be related to WikiLeaks, with a call for people to help the site, and to leak information wherever possible. Then I got involved in a bit of hard reality, and with the help of a few other people, EnviroLeaks was born. This is ostensibly an extension of the call for information from readers of The Unsuitablog, but with the stakes so much higher now that information leaking has become mainstream news. EnviroLeaks is not a substitute for WikiLeaks: we hope instead it will complement that offering with a more conversational and also targeted approach to environmental malpractice.

2011 may be a bit more barren on the pages of The Unsuitablog due to this and other committments. We all have so much to do – and even if we can’t or shouldn’t write about it, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. Have a great and very active 2011.

Keith

Posted in Exposure, Monthly Undermining Tasks, Reviews, Sabotage, Spoofs, Subvertising, Unsuitablog News | No Comments »

Monthly Undermining Task, November 2010: The Online Infocrunch

Posted by keith on 9th November 2010

Where do you go for information? I guess, because you are reading this as a web page, then your primary resource for information that you need in a hurry (and aren’t we all in a hurry nowadays?) is the Internet. As far as corporations go, online presence has now eclipsed printed and television media as the primary location for information. Well, I say “information” but that would be crediting the corporate world with far too much honesty: what I really mean is that the Internet is the primary location for propaganda. Call it PR, corporate information, spinning…whatever you like, but what the corporate world presents to the public is always going to be propaganda.

The Internet is manna to business, not particularly because it presents new opportunities for selling stuff – after all, the richest man in history (John D. Rockefeller, whose fortune is still being used to fund organisations like 350.org) made his fortune in an era when newspapers were king – but because the “information” can be so much more tightly controlled. Want to know about ExxonMobil, and most people will just type “Exxon” into Google and, at the time of writing, the three top hits will be ExxonMobil corporate links. The fourth proper link, not unexpectedly, is to the Wikipedia entry; something I will come to later. By controlling the portals of “information” ExxonMobil are able to control the message that is sent out to the world – to wit:

And a lovely spinny molecular graphic which, presumably is some kind of hydrocarbon.

What if the logo changed?

There, that’s a lot more accurate – it would really piss the company off, and take the rosy hue from the public perception that ExxonMobil have been so careful to cultivate. But here’s the thing: no one is going to see my new logo because (a) it’s not on the official ExxonMobil websites, (b) my own website doesn’t have much presence compared to the other links, (c) even if it did, it wouldn’t fool anyone that this is the real ExxonMobil logo because it’s not on a corporate web site. And that’s besides the obvious problem of being sued for passing the logo off as genuine.

That said, spoofs are most definitely part of the game on the Internet, which is why none of mine have ever been subject to a “take down” demand; the corporations are far too savvy to draw any attention to something they really wouldn’t like in the public eye, whether it’s a more truthful logo, the wording on a pretend “genuine” website, or a Wikipedia entry. Which brings me to the next point: I bet from time to time you have wanted to change something on Wikipedia; you might have even made a change, only to find that the article reverts back to the original as soon as your back is turned. Moderation exists on Wikipedia – by far the most referenced source of general information on the Internet, if not the entire global information corpus – to prevent vandalism; regardless of how well-meaning changes may be, if a change is made for nefarious reasons then it is considered to be vandalism. This isn’t looking very easy, is it?

So what about creating a new website that will be referenced as much, if not more than the corporate propaganda one? You’ll be lucky. It can be the finest example of the genre; it can be Digg-ed, Like-d and Reddit-ed to the hilt, but to hit a major corporation with a Googlebomb is asking for a minor miracle. There have to be easier ways to undermine the world of online information.

Well, there are; but you can also do all of the aforementioned as well – you just have to be smarter than smart about it, which is what I am going to try and help with here. I may not be clever enough to actually execute all of this, but I reckon the two of us (and anyone else you want to work with) can do a pretty good job screwing up the online corporate propaganda machine if we set our minds and hands to it…

Quick Wins

The following Undermining actions are low risk and easy to do, so there’s really no excuse not to do at least a couple of them when you have a moment to spare. The first one, is one that sticks pins in corporations’ feet. Social networking has been monopolised by Facebook – and there are plenty of bad things to say about Facebook now, including how it makes people feel they have achieved something useful, when they haven’t – and many corporations, along with the more corporate-friendly NGOs (like The Nature Conservancy and WWF) have created Fan Groups to give themselves a wider online presence. If you have a Facebook account, then I would encourage you to look for these Groups, join them and make mischief. The worst that can happen is that you get blocked, but as with the Nestle group, enough people who “Like” but don’t like has completely destroyed their social networking presence, despite Nestle recruiting hundreds of people to make positive comments.

You might like to try the same with The Nature Conservancy and Chevron; keep your eye out for more, because the corporations would love to control social media as much as they control the mass media.

Talking of the mass media, virtually every newspaper in the industrial world now has a web presence, and in very many cases it positively loves people to comment on stories. Some papers like The Guardian have a very high level of comments per article, but some – like the New York Times, surprisingly – get very few comments on the articles they open up. This one on BHP Billiton, is crying out for a few negative comments. The point is that you and I are almost certainly not going to get enough web connectivity to attract readers to blogs about companies; the big newspaper web sites, on the other hand, are highly syndicated and reposted, so that’s the place to do the Undermining.

Some of the more widely read blogs, such as Huffington Post and Mashable, cover corporate stories on a regular basis – again, negative comments, correcting the assumption that growth and profit are a good thing (amongst other lies) are always worth a shot. Even if you get flamed, you will have still made a point in a place where lots of people are likely to see it. The Technorati list is a good place to start looking for potential Undermining targets.

The following three Undermining Actions are a little more involved – in fact they can be very involved if you want them to be – and are listed in approximate order of both risk and also effort. There is no real correlation between risk and effort, and often the more effort you put into something, the less risk you entail; but if something requires more effort full stop to attain, then there are more opportunities to make mistakes, so be careful if you find yourself biting off more than you can chew: it may be that you are not up to the task, and that’s no bad thing to admit.

Wikicorrecting

I’m not one of those people who generally looks at Wikipedia and thinks, “That’s completely wrong, it must be changed!” Part of the reason is that as a media form, Wikis are supposed to be self-regulating, and the more people involved in the Wiki – in general – the better the self-regulation. Ok, there are some Wikis, like the infamous Conservapedia, that have such a bulk of prejudiced users that any attempt to correct information is doomed to failure (that said, it would be fun to try…) but in the main, a good Wiki, like Wikipedia is going to end up about as balanced as it’s possible to be in the context of Industrial Civilization. You can’t really expect it to go against the tenets of the industrial system, but you can make it more objective.

As an example, I stumbled across an article (presumably) posted by an employee of either IBM or one of their PR firms. The article in question was promoting the virtues of IBM’s Green Computing, and was a blatant advert. Simply by marking the article with the appropriate “Speedy Deletion” tag – in this case {{db-promo}} – the article was deleted by an administrator, never to be seen again. One bit of greenwash consigned to the virtual dustbin.

Of course, there is more to Undermining than just correcting obvious bias: what about exposing the real truth behind the corporate system? Yes, you can do it on Wikipedia, but you need to tread lightly…

It is easy for a person to vandalize Wikipedia. Since anyone can edit any page, the possibility is always there. The vandal might add profanity or inappropriate images to a page, might erase all the content of a page, etc.

However, there are tools that make it easy for the community to find and remove vandalism. There are also other tools available on Wikipedia to help corral users who are persistently destructive. For example:

* It is easy for anyone who sees vandalism to revert pages back to a pre-vandalism state.
* It is easy for any user to alert the rest of the Wikipedia community to vandalism that is in progress.
* It is possible for an admin to block or ban users (or IP addresses) who are persistently destructive.
* It is possible for an admin to protect a page temporarily to keep people from changing it.
* It is possible for an admin to delete an inappropriate page.

Tools like these make it easy for members of the community to quickly eliminate vandalism and prevent vandals from coming back.

(from http://computer.howstuffworks.com/internet/basics/wiki3.htm)

It’s no good just steaming in with a rant as, certainly in the case of higher-profile pages, the changes will be undone. Therefore, you have three options:

1) Make sure the changes you make are evidence-based, referenced and written properly. Anything that suggests vandalism will be reverted. You have to justify inclusion of new information, and removal of someone else’s, so you might need to refer to “reinstating balance” or suchlike in your notes.

2) Make subtle textual changes that alter the meaning of entries, undermining any positive image the company or organisation may benefit from. Always mark changes as “This is a minor edit”, and explain it is for clarity.

3) Make changes to unwatched entries. From the point of view of a Underminer, the most useful Wikipedia page by far is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Database_reports/Most-watched_pages (this is probably second: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Database_reports/Pages_with_the_most_revisions) as it indicates those entries you cannot “vandalise” (a.k.a. make more accurate) without comeback. Also, look for the last edit date: if it is more than a year ago then you should be able to get away with more nefarious changes, even blatant hacking without the change being reverted.

In all cases, make changes either anonymously (for minor edits) or under a disposable alias.

Online Subvertising

Subvertising is the act of undermining the message that advertisers wish to present. There are many ways to do this, and I have gone into a great deal of detail elsewhere on The Unsuitablog. Here is the related Monthly Undermining Task, here is the Subvertising Gallery, and here is the Earth First! guide to subvertising billboards for anyone who wants to take it to a more practical level.

Assuming you have a new, more accurate graphic, the wider the coverage of it, the better; this does not mean getting a few mates to post it on their blogs – unless those blogs are read by thousands of people* – it means that the subvertising has to effectively usurp the advertisers’ message in situ, just like a subvertised billboard does. The difficulty is that, as I said above, you can’t just change the corporate web site (I’m sure there are a one or two people willing to hack sites just to change a logo, but it’s a big risk for a change that will likely only last a few minutes); you need to find places where the logo or advert is normally placed online and find a way of replacing it. Wikipedia is, of course, one such place – with the provisos above; and as an experiment I have changed the logo on the Rainforest Alliance entry:

Somehow, I don’t think this will last long, but are there better places for subvertising? What about getting your logo on Google Images? Google Images is often used as a place for people to download corporate graphics. If you have a fairly well connected blog, like this one, or are able to contribute to something like that then you could be onto a winner at least with smaller companies, organisations or campaigns. The Avon “Hello Green Tomorrow” campaign was something I blogged about, and as a result it immediately went to near the top of the Google search rankings for “hello green tomorrow”, but the graphic I used didn’t do so well in the Google Images ranking. What I did wrong was not to include anything in the Alt Text – so as another experiment, I have inserted the following: “Hello Green Tomorrow Avon logo”. Prior to making that change, the logo languished on page 3. Almost immediately, the image search has placed it; well, here you go:

I’m sure you can be more creative than that.

*You can check how many visitors almost any site has by going to compete.com.

Spoofing

The final action, and no doubt the most complex, is the act of Spoofing. “Spoofing” means pretending to be somone or something you aren’t, but appearing on the surface to be that thing; a very common spoofing method is usually known as Phishing, which you will no doubt have encountered from time to time and, I’m sure, not been fooled by.

The basic techniques of phishing are certainly valid in spoofing a company or organisation, but like any method in this arena, they are not for the faint-hearted. However, by using a generic example of spoofing a corporation, including the option of phishing – not for money, but to damage their reputation – I can give an insight into at least the fundamentals of carrying out a large-scale spoof.

The best recent example of a corporate spoof (in both senses of the word) was that carried out by The Yes Men on Chevron in October, 2010. The non-technical details have been blogged by Andy Bichlbaum; but in a technical sense, what they did falls pretty much within the scope of the following, give or take a few steps.

1) Create your web page(s): make it as close to the look and feel of those of your target as works with the nature of the spoof you are carrying out. Ideally you should use as much of the source code of the original web site as you can, as well as (for all that you are not changing) using the original links. Test your page(s) thoroughly in every common browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera and Safari should cover it).

1a) If you are doing a complete bait-and-switch, i.e. presenting something completely different than the original, then the code is up to you; though be aware that anything more than a fake “holding” page will immediately be seen as a spoof.

2) Work out your hosting and URL redirection methodology. I’m assuming here that you have bought an appropriate domain name, such as www.chevron-weagree.com, otherwise your spoof will have to be of the Phishing variety (see 2a) If you have admin rights where the web page(s) will be hosted then you can control the way the URL displays, but will need to change the DNS record for the domain, and anyone with a bit of nous will be able to find out the details of your server(s). Alternatively, you can just set up a Framed Redirection via your domain provider, which will mask the URL of your spoofed page(s).

2a) For a straight Phishing attack you will be using what appears to be the official URL to go to the spoof page(s). Most anti-virus software will detect phishing in emails, but you could always use this technique in forums and blogs where you can edit the HTML. Even if you use phishing, you will probably still need the redirection or DNS change in place.

3) If you are not sending out a press release or invitation to view and just relying on the spoof, then that’s all you need to do; but you won’t get much traffic unless you have a really convincing URL (see www.vedanta-resources.com) so you will at least need to publicise your efforts as in 2a) above. If you are sending out a press release then you will need to set up at least one mailbox under your fake domain name, otherwise your information will lack credibility. If you can use a third party email client then that will protect your personal details (and the security of your own computer); most domain providers have that facility for a small additional fee. Be aware, though, that this is a form of abuse, so you may lose your account if you are found out.

4) Send out your press releases: make them as similar to the official press releases as you can, including embedded logos (proper ones) and contact details as appropriate. It is up to you whether you respond (the Yes Men don’t tend to), but if you do then keep all responses in the official form of the original. Telephone numbers are not recommended unless you have a call centre to hand.

5) Follow up. As per the Chevron spoof, a good follow up, turning the tables, can really extend the life of any spoof: my own blog on this contains the original text of the Yes Men emails.

Note that I have been fairly light on technical detail: if you are not technically adept at something like this then you either need to learn, or find someone who is and you can trust to help you. This is also only a rough template – there are so many ways of spoofing that are more complex, but I think this provides as least a starting point for those of you who may, very soon, be undermining the very fabric of the online corporate propaganda machine.

Posted in Advice, Monthly Undermining Tasks, Spoofs, Subvertising | 4 Comments »

Monthly Undermining Task September/October 2010: Unfashion

Posted by keith on 19th September 2010

Fashion! Turn to the left
Fashion! Turn to the right
Oooh, fashion!
We are the goon squad
and we’re coming to town

(“Fashion”, David Bowie)

The Unsuitablog is being fashionably late in publishing the latest Monthly Undermining Task; the main reason being that I wanted leave the previous one up as long as I possibly could, particularly in light of an article by Javier Sethness, which included the following phrase that I couldn’t possibly disagree with:

“Just as the hegemonic system McKibben mystifies—capitalism—must be dislodged and abolished, so must McKibben himself come to be displaced as leader/father of contemporary movements against climate catastrophe.”

So there you go – it’s nice not to be alone.

This month (I’m skipping into the next month too, as this is so important) we are targeting something that should be the antithesis of every environmental group, and environmental activist on Earth – but it’s not and, in many cases, is embraced by so-called environmentalists for the very reason given in the above quote. Fashion is the artificially generated desire for change. Note the word “artificial”: as humans we do, to a certain extent, desire change in order to achieve fulfilment; but only in civilised society are we bound to the idea that we should change constantly, driven by a system that ensures we are never fulfilled.

Fashion exists to keep humans in a state of psychological flux: malcontents always looking for the next thing to desire. What is especially evident in the destructive monster called Industrial Civilization is that the idea of fashion is increasingly becoming the driving force behind economic growth. Where once it was enough for industry to ensure that everyone had what most people in the industrial world would consider to be basic goods, such as a shoes, a warm coat, a television and a refrigerator; the saturation of the Western economies with such “basic” goods, along with ever-shrinking profit margins (only partly supplemented by using slave labour) means that baseline consumption has to be augmented by a constant desire for different versions of the same thing.

Once you have a computer, you don’t need another one for a long, long time; unless companies bring out software that is constantly “upgraded” to ensure that at some point you will have to buy new hardware in order to run the new software. You don’t need the upgraded software, but you are sold it in a very convincing way – to such an extent that it becomes highly desirable. At some point you feel that you do need the new software; and in order to run the new software you need to upgrade your hardware. Of course, you might be given the desire to change your hardware before you “need” to, for instance to take advantage of faster performance you never realised you needed.

Remarkably, this is only a simplified version of the full story – leaving out built in obsolescence and withdrawal of support – such is the nature of computing. More transparently, but in essentially the same way, are we given the desire for new clothing and footwear; new ways of listening to and watching things; new ways to communicate; even new ways to read books – by doing away with the books themselves. The superficial driver may be practical: personal betterment, convenience, speed, scale; but beneath all of this, including the computer example, is the idea that someone, somewhere has something you have not got, and which you have become in need of.

Fashion cannot exist without this “need”. The industrial economy, increasingly, cannot exist without fashion.

Of course, once you have the thing which you desire (or rather, “need”) then a new desire has to be created. The incremental “upgrade” – be it to a different colour or style of coat, or a more convenient way of recording television shows – is readily attainable providing you are prepared to spend the money, and ideally take out a loan; and if the upgrades are just significant enough, and just affordable enough, then you will never realise that what you desire is actually completely unattainable. It must be, otherwise consumption would eventually stop.

The iPhone 3 became unfashionable immediately upon the release of the iPhone 4. There was no need for anyone to buy an iPhone 4 if they already had an iPhone 3; but very many people were persuaded in contradiction of such an obvious point. There will be an iPhone 5 soon.

So, how is this desire for the unattainable maintained in a society where we are, apparently, so market-savvy and educated? I’ve given one of the key reasons away: the idea that the unattainable is seen to be attainable. I’ve also hinted at a deeper psychological trick: the personalisation of desire, by which a “need” that is external to the individual, eventually becomes internalised, and thus what is perceived to be a genuine need. This is nothing short of psychological manipulation; and it is one of the most powerful forces existing in modern society.

The methods by which these two con-tricks are pulled off are many and varied, and you will probably be familiar with the vast majority of them.

A very powerful – possibly the most powerful – method by which fashion is imposed upon people is social peer pressure. The idea that someone important, and possibly influential, to you has something you do not have is more than enough to create personal “need”. This factor is heavily exploited by industry, most obviously in the form of advertising that suggests collective desire (notice the number of adverts that use happy crowd or friend scenes), but increasingly through virtual social networks such as Facebook, and direct viral networking.

More subtly, but on a larger scale, is the use of targeted media such as technology and clothing magazines (who will readily promote product x in exchange for advertising revenue) along with newspaper supplements, that show new products as being “essential” or at least highly desirable. Far more cheaply, as far as industry is concerned is the blanket press release to kneejerk bloggers, desperate to be the first to report on the latest big thing – well, big in terms of potential income – and extremely willing to publish these press releases verbatim.

At a more formal level, but clearly in response to the corporate desire for continued economic growth (profit), is the relentless push by civilised governments for continual consumer spending. This can manifest itself in political speeches that ask citizens to support industry and maintain a “healthy” (ironic, considering it is destroying the global ecosystem) economy; and even government policy that may give tax breaks for consumer spending – providing that spending is on new products and, ideally, the very latest of everything. On the surface this may be suggested as promoting “eco friendly” products, when it is actually ensuring we keep the economic machine grinding on.

Incredibly, despite our knowledge of these methods, we all – at some time or another – fall for them. We fall for them because they exploit some of the most primal aspects of humanity: the need to be wanted and loved; the desire to belong; the willingness to follow strong leadership. It may just seem like a small word – fashion – but it encompasses a Pandora’s Box of manipulative methods that exist in order to keep us buying, and thus allowing the ravenous industrial machine to keep eating up the very ecosystem we depend upon for our survival.

This can be stopped.

During 2010, I have detailed all sorts of methods for undermining different aspects of industrial civilization: from mind numbing television and behaviour altering advertising to life destroying debt and child enslaving school testing; from the civilised corruption of language to the all-embracing cash economy; from the addiction of mass tourism to the placatory, fake greenness of the mainstream environmental movement.

Contained within those articles, along with the three original Unsuitablog anti-greenwashing guides are literally hundreds of potential avenues for undermining a way of life that will lead to our ultimate demise. As London Fashion Week ramps up to a screaming crescendo, and the fashion world’s commercial clock makes us once again feel inadequate in a new season – one that wild nature has been happy to repeat in resplendent glory every year since humans first colonised seasonal lands – I am turning to my readers, and fellow Underminers, to say how you would undermine the system that turns artificial, unnecessary commercial change into something we feel we need to have.

How would you create a world of Unfashion?

Suggestions can be sent to news@unsuitablog.org, posted on the Anti-Greenwashing Action Facebook Group, or posted as comments below this article. All suggestions that have a decent chance or working, and are practical for ordinary people to do will be published here.

Away you go…


From DVD:

Anti-peer pressure: make sure you don’t perpetuate social peer pressure and act as the opposite dissenting voice for people you know. Move against the trends too, downsize and simplify rather than buy in to them.

Adbusting: consumer advertising does a huge amount to create the unhappiness in people to need constant change – consider ways to fight back against it (http://thesietch.org/mysietch/keith/2010/02/09/monthly-undermining-task-february-2010-time-to-break-the-ads/)

From LS:

For my part I opted out of the “fashion” game a long, long time ago. My solution embodies the principle of: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. And that is pure poison for the fashion industry. I do the following

1. Buy the highest quality garments that I can find (which is increasingly difficult of course). Don’t buy clothing that is clearly rubbish, it just encourages the retailers to replace good quality clothing with more rubbish
2. Only wash clothing when it actually needs it (not just because your wore it yesterday) and dry it on a cloths line. Washing wears out clothing faster, especially if you tumble dry
3. Repair garments to increase their lifespan
4. “Retire” clothing to wear while working in the garden as it ages and becomes unsuitable for wearing in public
5. Wear garments until they can’t be repaired any more
6. Convert unwearable clothing into rags for use around the house

I have also stopped buying new clothing to a large degree. So much perfectly good clothing is available second hand that I can provide most of my needs (often in very high quality once expensive garments) just by browsing a few second hand stores.

From Knutty Knitter:

I don’t buy fashion either and my sister who loves fashion now makes her own and does lots of swap sessions with friends. As for computer stuff – if it isn’t open source I mostly don’t have it.

All my appliances including computers are old – my stereo system is 30 years plus! It works really well so why would I need a new one.

I will have to purchase a new oven because I don’t have one yet (the last one was left in the previous house as part of the fixtures). Thats a total of one new appliance every five years or so – am I annoying enough yet?

I do buy art supplies but I don’t look at ads for that – I just go with what I actually want. Anyhow I don’t watch tv unless its recorded so I can skip the ads, don’t buy magazines or papers and don’t accept junk mail so I never know whats hot anyway :)

My friends like me for who I am not what I possess and that is the way I’ve always been – just more so since I started seriously into green. Keeping up with the Joneses was always overrated anyhow :)

From Sarah:

We’re not green. We just live simply. We’ve never used a credit card, and only have a loan for schooling of debatable use and a house that we couldn’t afford otherwise.

We cloth diaper, using a plain Chinese Tri-fold and waterproof liner. We gift handmade stuff. We sell handmade, hard-wearing kitchen stuffs. We go for weeks on end buying only groceries. (I’ve heard of “Year of no stuff” people doing that, and thinking it was some great thing, but the Amish and the Mennonites in our area have been doing that forever.) For that matter, why not take a page out of the Amish handbook, and take some sort of pious pride out of being simpler than everyone you know?

Instead of shopping for relief of that marketing-induced guilt of not being worthy on our own merit, we try to spend the time making something. We’ve made bramble baskets, all sorts of kitchen and bathroom items, painted pots and vases, made up-cycled denim bags, re-buttoned dresses and coats, pillow forts with children, hats, scarfs, Renaissance Festival Gear, campfires, s’mores, pies, sheds, crackers, and baby slings (among others). The point was we found worth in developing ourselves (like ladies of accomplishment in the Jane Austen novels) rather than just celebrating how much money we could make at a job we hate to buy things we don’t think we could make ourselves because we’re too lazy or scared.

The big thing for us is that only one of us works outside of the home (by choice and a strong in-home childcare market in our area), giving us time to make things. And if it isn’t made by our hands, it isn’t cool or worthwhile.

Thanks for all these so far.

Posted in Adverts, Government Policies, Monthly Undermining Tasks, Revenge, Sponsorship | 7 Comments »

Monthly Undermining Task, August 2010: Crash The Mainstream Environmentalists’ Party

Posted by keith on 9th August 2010

They (350.org) refuse to countenance the idea that industrial civilization is the problem – every action leads to the Senate, even requests to non-US “members” lead to the Senate. They are like a stuck record – a really dated record, like Alice Cooper trying to down with the kids when he spends most of his time playing golf. Bill McKibben may once have bitten the heads off proverbial bats, but now he’s just trying to get a clean shot down the fairway with all his mainstream buddies waiting in the clubhouse.

Not a day goes by when the words of the representative of some Environmental Group or other isn’t contacted by a newspaper or television station asking for comment on the story of the day, whatever will happen to sell the most papers or garner the most viewers. Without fail the comments offered are words of the most ineffectual sort, gently admonishing this or that company or politician, and offering the kind of advice that would sit comfortably in the pages of any corporate enviro-speak manual. Only today, a representative of Greenpeace Netherlands referred to the export of thousands of tonnes of electronic waste using the execrable phrase: “The fundamental problem with electronics is that it’s designed in a very bad way.”

Not, “The fundamental problem with electronics is that it is a symbol of an ecocidal consumer culture”, perhaps adding, “and the tide of toxic waste won’t end until that consumer culture comes to an end.” You won’t hear that from Greenpeace, or any other mainstream environmental group.

Not a week goes by without some campaign or other being launched to prevent environmental destruction, or make efforts to put right that destruction. The vast, vast majority of these campaigns are based upon the same “logic” as the vast, vast majority of people who make comments to newspapers or television stations: this is the system we have, so we have no choice but to make it behave itself as best it can. That, of course, is bullshit.

As I have written time and time again, it is an utterly pointless task trying to make Industrial Civilization sustainable or “environmentally friendly”, because the nature of civilization is to destroy, to take what it wants to achieve its aims and only stop when it runs out of energy, people or space. It only stops when it collapses – it never stops of its own accord.

The mainstream environmental movement has never got this, and never will, because its very existence depends on the support of a large number of people both for income and staffing. It also depends on the good will of the system itself, that permits it to protest peacefully, speak freely and generally operate within the Law of the Land. There is an invisible line that separates the words and deeds of the mainstream from the words and deeds of the “extremist”; that same line separates that which is pointless, ineffective action from that which will actually achieve the kind of change humanity requires in order to survive.

This line is never crossed.

If you want to see this entire movement in microcosm, look no further than 350.org and the work they do which has come, in recent months, to define environmental symbolism. I have written about them before, but was moved to write again by the following email that purports to originate from the desk of Will Bates, one of their key campaigners:

Dear Friends,

On the morning of April 21, 2009, as people rallied in thousands in the city of Cochabamba, a young woman walked to the center of the conference, took a deep breath, and improvised a 350 banner, joining a new worldwide call for climate action.

She had worked the previous day to try and convince her friends at 350 to join her, but in the mainstream NGO community, taking REAL action on climate change is a risk that few larger NGOs are willing to take. This was one the smallest actions that day, but one of the most powerful.

And she didn’t stop there. Determined to make a difference, she overcame even more challenges at Cochabamba by calling for no NGO to undermine 300ppm in the plenary sessions and calling for action on behalf of millions of people in Bolivia and around the world.

Unfortunately, not all representatives of 350.org shared her bravery and failed to fight for a fair, ambitious and binding international people’s agreement steering us towards safety below 300ppm.

So she, the activist, with other activists, went back to work.

I spoke to the woman on the phone last week, and she relayed the news that she’s found a group of activists who were inspired by her actions, and together they’re planning to keep calling for support of the people’s agreement out of Bolivia. Temperatures must not exceed 1C and we must get back down to 300ppm.

But we’re not waiting until October to Get To Work–we’re starting now. Ambitious climate action takes a bit of planning–that’s why we’re coordinating a week of local “Climate MeetUps” at the end of August calling for 300ppm. The meetups will be short and casual meetings we can use to make big plans for the coming year.

Think of it as a synchronized, global planning meeting. At your Climate MeetUp in August, you’ll be supporting real activists around the world in unveiling the new 300.org campaign — a Global Work Party supporting the position finalized in Bolivia:

“On a shared vision for long-term cooperative action, the submission calls for developed countries to “take the lead and strive towards returning greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere to well below 300 ppm (parts per million) CO2eq with a view to returning concentrations to levels as close as possible to pre-industrial levels in the longer-term, and to limit the average global temperatures to a maximum level of 1degree Celsius with a view to returning temperatures to levels as close as possible to pre-industrial levels in the longer-term.”

The Global Work Party, supporting our new campaign for 300ppm will be a chance for all of us to show what leadership really looks like — together, we’ll get to work creating climate solutions from the ground up and demand our politicians do the same.

Thank you for making us see the light,

Will Bates on behalf of the entire 350.org/300.org team.
_____________
350.org is an international grassroots campaign funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. It aims to build and protect their brand at all costs. It mobilizes a global climate non-movement united by a common call to protect the current economic system. By not sharing the real climate science with citizens and supporters, and by protecting the status quo, we will ensure that the world’s most vulnerable will not succeed in establishing bold and equitable solutions to the climate crisis. 350.org is what we like to call “ The most powerful brand in the world”.

What is 350? 350 is the wrong number that we tell supporters is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. Scientists measure carbon dioxide in “parts per million” (ppm), so 350ppm is not the number humanity needs to get below as soon as possible to avoid runaway climate change. To get there, we need to get back to pre-industrial levels of 278. However – 278 is a different kind of PPM- this is a number which would only be possible by embracing a new economic system based on people, not profits as we build a zero carbon society. Unfortunately, this model representative of social equality is not a model that compromised, well funded mainstream NGOs embrace.

I have no way of verifying whether Will Bates wrote this or not, but if so it would be an extraordinary turnaround by an organisation that was originally set up using a grant originating from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, a bit of guilt-shedding “philanthropy” funded from a long history of global oil, construction and banking interests.

Actually, looking at the 350.org website, I see no evidence of this turnaround as yet, and am not the slightest bit surprised because any organisation that would take its seed-money from the same fund that founded the conservative free-market thinktank, the American Enterprise Institute is not likely to bite the hand (or rather system) that feeds it.

The upshot of this is that nothing 350.org – or for that matter WWF, Conservation International, The Sierra Club, Greenpeace and any other mainstream environmental group you wish to name – do, is going to upset the system from which that group gets its money and its support.

One sees occasional glimpses of light, but just as soon as something chances to suggest a genuine desire for real change from the mainstream, the heavy fist of popular support comes crashing down. No wonder all anyone is ever asked to do on behalf of these Groups (often called NGOs) is make a symbolic gesture.

When you take part in a protest that does not directly threaten the thing you are protesting against, you are simply sublimating any anger you might have into whatever symbolic acts you have been led to believe will lead to change.

This process of sublimation is repeated in all facets of Industrial Civilization, from the Government Consultation and the Parliamentary Process through to apparently useful tools as Judicial Review and industrial Whistleblowing; all chances of real change are prevented by an array of gaping holes, channelling our anger into “constructive” activities. Because we followed the recommended course of action – the peaceful alternative – we feel sated and content that right has been done, even when nothing has been achieved.

About 3 years ago, talking to a friend, I had what I thought was a pretty good idea: I would take it upon myself to show the environmental mainstream up for what it is; show to people that groups like WWF, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace are a big part of the problem, not part of the solution. It occured to me that simple exposure of these double-standards might be enough to change the public’s perception of “environmentalism”.

Of course I didn’t realise at the time that I might be falling into the same trap as everyone else in my position, and that simple exposure would not be nearly enough. True, if you tell someone something enough times then they will begin to believe it is true, but all the while these groups have big incomes (often from corporate funding) with which to publicise their work then the small voices that say, “but this won’t change things,” will be constantly drowned out by the mainstream desire to stay within the confines of the ecocidal industrial system.

I say again: it is an utterly pointless task trying to make Industrial Civilization sustainable or “environmentally friendly”. The big environmental groups don’t get this and they never will.

What is needed – if you are willing to do this with me – are a range of different tactics that will inject a hefty note of dissonance into the pitiful messages of “change” that the mainstream perpetuates. I will give you an example: let’s suppose that the email above was a fake; produced, in fact, by someone who wanted to show the truth behind the nice, civilised press releases that 350.org churn out. It would not take a huge effort to alter an existing email, then forward it on – thus masking the original email header – as a piece of “news”. How many false press releases would need to be circulating before people started asking questions of the originators of those messages?

I consider this to be low risk, for how can such an act be libellous if it contains more truth than the original message – the one that said that small reductions in carbon dioxide over decades are sufficient; the one that said that writing to or petitioning politicians would change things; the one that said we can continue having a growing economy and also protect the biosphere? That’s three lies that are commonly written, or at least implied in huge number of press releases. How can your amended version be libellous if it contains more truth than the original message?

Plus, who would want to admit that they had been lying in the first place?

As the Environmental Groups pat each other on the back – notice how they hardly ever criticise each other, that would be like criticising yourself – tell each other what a great job they are doing, and pouring another glass of celebratory fizz, they might not spot who is sneaking in the door, switching the music off and turning on the bright lights of reality.

Low Risk

Ok, there’s a small chance you might get lynched, but what about starting at a real party, like the one Greenpeace is holding near to Heathrow Airport on Saturday 28th August. Here, you can have my personal invitation if you want. There are all sorts of events like this, celebrating pyrrhic victories, such as the cancellation of a third runway west of London (is this really a “local” party, considering WWF, Greenpeace and RSPB are involved?), at the same time as as airport expansion pushes ahead in Edinburgh, Bristol, Cardiff, Manchester and to the east of London. Plus what about campaign launches, updates and anniversaries – there are so many to choose from all over the world.

Perhaps the most subversive thing you can do at these events is to ask questions of as many people as you can; questions like, “What will/did this achieve?” “Why are you doing this?” “Why do you think it will work?” “What’s the point if the system stays the same?” and so on. Creating uncertainty is the key here for, certainly at every meeting I’ve ever been to, the attendees are in search of answers, but rarely ever question the ones they are given. For instance, events to organise marches – as though marches ever achieve anything – are always framed in such a way that the march will happen anyway, and it is just the detail that is being discussed. Ask the questions – challenge the received “wisdom” that marches change anything: create uncertainty. Then leave.

I want to make it clear, I have plenty of time for the research work and dissemination of information that many groups do, even WWF produce some excellent papers. What I have a problem with is what happens when we know this: what do we do? We do what we are told, because we have been led to believe change will happen…and it never does.

Local and national radio stations are ripe areas for undermining the mainstream message of inaction. Care is, of course, necessary here because you don’t want to be undermining the fact that environmental destruction is taking place; but right from the off, the message that a representative of Greenpeace or Sierra Club will give is that humans are causing the damage – not civilization, not the industrial system, but humans. In many cases a news story based phone-in will welcome a representative of an environmental group, and you can be that representative. As the show starts, call the station, let them know that you represent whichever Group is relevant to the story (all the better if the story is about the group itself!), give a false name if you like, and then go on the show.

Remember, what you are getting across is essentially what the group is afraid of saying: that there is no point appealing to politicians and businesses, there is no point marching, signing petitions, holding candlelit vigils; all of this is just grist to the mill. No, your Group is going to change its tactics and denounce the entire industrial system because the industrial system is the problem. You will refuse to work with politicians and business, and embrace communities; give the say back to the people, not tell them what actions to take from some head office. In short, you are telling the world that you have failed and something entirely different is needed.

(On a specific note, and one that really rankles with me, if you can go on as a spokesperson for PETA, then mention that you are no longer going to use sexist, misogynist campaigns that focus on bare female bodies – that ought to stir a few pots.)

Even lower risk, there is always the option of sending a letter to a newspaper, magazine or journal playing the “representative” card. Most publications don’t follow up on letters, so you can use the published addresses of the mainstream group you are choosing to (I was about to use the word “defame”, but in the circumstances I reckon you are simply showing them the light, as it were) undermine. Friends of the Earth have conveniently produced a guide to getting your letter printed – just remember the salient points that civilization is what is destroying the planet, and no amount of pandering to the system is going to change things; and away you go!

Medium Risk

This article cannot hope to cover more than a tiny number of the possible actions, so please take some time to read this list for more ideas – and send me some more if you have them. But now it is time to move on to a few higher-risk actions, that aren’t for the faint-hearted, but which could really undermine the mainstream message.

One such type of action – a logical step on from pretending to to work for mainstream groups – is actually working for them, then turning the cards. It’s dead easy to volunteer to work at a Group and get involved in small scale public-facing activities like street stalls and leafleting – in my experience, though, because such activities are so ineffective, it is likely that simply telling the public the truth about campaigns (i.e. they are just making people think the Groups are on the case, when they are not) will be even more ineffective. The real undermining as a volunteer is to be done in group meetings or at conferences – which you will need to work at to get invited to – when you will have the opportunity to strike at the heart of the “activist” community, and lead a few people to a better place. The risk comes if you get a chance to speak on behalf of a local branch – and will therefore make quite a few people upset – and then tell the truth about the way the group is operating. If you want to really speak on behalf of the Group itself at conferences etc., with bona fide credentials, then you will almost certainly need to already be working for that group: trust takes a long time to build up. Once in a position of trust, though, the opportunities for telling both the people inside the Group and the public in general the truth about mainstream “activism” are considerable. If you want to hang around for a while, then you might be best concentrating on subtle messages or “accidental” slip-ups in press releases and speeches; but if you are already sick and tired of working for the Man, in the guise of an NGO, then you can be as blatant as you like.

You may only have one shot at this before being unceremoniously dumped, and be unlikely to ever work for such a Group in the future; but then why would you want to work in the environmental mainstream if you consider them to be acting hypocritically? Then again, your bona fide newpaper article, or radio / television interview could completely change how the environmental mainstream is viewed by both the corporate and political world (“One of us”) and those people who really want a future for humanity (“Not one of us”).

Many mainstream Groups work with, and get money from, corporations. The largest groups like WWF, Conservation International and The Nature Conservancy take money from large companies as a matter of course, and there is no doubt at all that such a relationship has a deeply adverse effect on the modus operandi of the groups themselves. Johann Hari puts it like this:

The green groups defend their behavior by saying they are improving the behavior of the corporations. But…the pressure often flows the other way: the addiction to corporate cash has changed the green groups at their core. As MacDonald says, “Not only do the largest conservation groups take money from companies deeply implicated in environmental crimes; they have become something like satellite PR offices for the corporations that support them.”

It has taken two decades for this corrupting relationship to become the norm among the big green organizations. Imagine this happening in any other sphere, and it becomes clear how surreal it is. It is as though Amnesty International’s human rights reports came sponsored by a coalition of the Burmese junta, Dick Cheney and Robert Mugabe. For environmental groups to take funding from the very people who are destroying the environment is preposterous – yet it is now taken for granted.

I went through a period of masquerading as corporations in order to find out what steps NGOs would be prepared to take in order to get finances with which to continue their operations. What I found was often revealing and disturbing. Up to now I have not linked directly to a phone call that I made to The Woodland Trust, but feel it is time to demonstrate how easy it is – by nature of the cosy relationship with corporations – to get such information from hypocritical NGOs. The recording can be found here:

http://www.archive.org/details/WoodlandTrustAcceptDubiousCorporateSponsorship

There is something exhilarating about getting such blatant admissions from what is apparently a “green” group; and if you are able to carry out such subterfuge from the comfort of your telephone (the techniques are described here) then I can assure you, you will remain hooked. If you are not willing to publish your findings to the wider world, then you can always send the recordings to me and I will publish them on your behalf, with as much negative publicity for the Group as I can muster.

Finally, you might have noticed that a number of activities listed in “100 ways” go beyond what most of the Mainstream Groups are willing to do; but that doesn’t mean these actions cannot be carried out “on behalf of” such Groups. We are talking about the kind of things they would not condone themselves, such as barracading shopping malls, or send out radio or TV blocking signals during advertising breaks – to undermine the consumer society. If you can leave a relevant “signature” in the course of your action, then two advantages come into play: first, you are less likely to be found out (it won’t incriminate the group as there won’t be sufficient evidence) and, second, it will force the group to admit they wouldn’t do such a thing, thus undermining their own credentials as activists*. The risk of this area of activism depends on the action being carried out, and is only limited by your own imagination.

I suppose it is fortunate that there are no truly high risk undermining actions that can be taken against mainstream environmental groups – assuming that you are not dealing with psychopathic supporters – but in the event that the combined efforts of Underminers does lead to the downfall of such organisations as wish to see the burgeoning power of corporations and their political puppets continue; to anyone still in awe of the Sierra Clubs and WWFs of the world this is a hugely risky strategy. As far as I’m concerned, it’s about bloody time millions of genuinely caring people stopped being relentlessly asked to carry out pointless tasks on behalf of these groups: it’s about time we decided for ourselves what real change looks like.

*Make sure the action is effective, not just symbolic: hard-core activism that does not have a useful outcome is no better than softly-softly symbolic action.

Posted in Advice, Exposure, Monthly Undermining Tasks, NGO Hypocrisy, Sabotage, Sponsorship, Spoofs, Subvertising, Symbolic Action | 20 Comments »

Monthly Undermining Task, July 2010: Escape The Tourist Trap

Posted by keith on 8th July 2010

Here is a picture of a cat in a deckchair, probably relaxing as cats are wont to do from time to time. The cat could be anywhere but I can bet you anything that the cat didn’t travel thousands of miles to wherever it is relaxing in the deckchair especially in order to relax in a deckchair; that cat is just chilled, in the deckchair, being a cat.

I know why many people take vacations (holidays, vacances…), and it’s for a reason that would be absurd if it weren’t so tragically true: it’s to get away from the place where they live. Not to go somewhere else – although that is often cited as the reason – but, to put it another way, to be in a place other than that where they spend most of their lives so as not to be reminded of what they do for the rest of the year. Oh, there are plenty of people I know – myself included – who go on vacations solely to see other places and/or meet other people, but they are in the minority.

You see, the vast majority of people living in the civilized world are stuck (so it seems) with a life that only releases them from its industrialised grip for a very short time once every year; or maybe twice if you can arrange things that way. Weekends, for most people, are spent doing the things that couldn’t be managed during the rest of the week because there wasn’t the time or energy to do them. Stuck in the spin-cycle of sleep-work-eat-watch-sleep-work-eat-watch…sleep-shop-clean-eat-watch-sleep… then the vacation becomes that slowly brightening light at the far end of a long, long shift that the industrialised and their families pinpoint as one of their few realisable aspirations.

What a bloody hopeless existence!

A few years ago I authored an essay called “The Problem With…Tourism” that set out the basic environmental and humanitarian issues of this pernicious industry. Here’s an extract:

As with many large-scale commercial ventures, the users of tourism are being promised a dream. That dream comes with few strings attached. That dream can be expensive, but the potential returns are good memories for life. And we are addicted to that dream; the one fantastic holiday that we want to repeat over and over again; the sense of “getting away from it all”, enjoying better weather, great entertainment, a chance to meet different people, and the cachet that goes with having done all this; all essentially selfish things, but none of them harmful as such.

As we continue to be enchanted by the riches that tourism has to offer, we fail to see the stream of people coming with us that grows ever wider, feeding on the same dream, taking advantage of the richly polluting cheap flights that deposit the hoards of people who engulf delicate habitats with concrete and suck dry the natural riches that so attracted them in the first place.

Does it have to be this way?

Do we ever stop and think of the reasons we go where we do? Do we actually consider the impact that our travelling, accommodation and entertainment are having on planet Earth?

The impact of tourism on the natural environment is huge, and growing at an enormous rate. With a current annual growth rate of about 5% in the western world, the emissions from flying are expected to triple in less than 25 years – far more if you consider the potentially enormous growth expected from China and other rapidly developing nations.

And on the surface, it is the act of tourism that seems to be the real problem – the pollution of travelling and the seasonal populations of travellers, along with the concentration camp-like existance of tourists, shut off from the outside world, economically unreachable by the people who are supposedly set to “benefit” from this tide of humanity. But as becomes clear when you analyse the way the civilized world is run – for the benefit of the corporate elites and their toadying political makeweights – tourism is even more sinister than this: it is a way of screwing every last drop of humanity from civilization’s willing slaves in return for a few weeks in the sun and, if you’re really unlucky, more opportunities to hand your money over to the corporate world.

And they call this a holiday?

Do you know the simplest way to short-circuit this horrible facade? Simply refuse to do what you are told.

I don’t have a detailed list of Undermining tasks of varying risks to offer you this month: just a simple set of ideas. Only you can make your mind up how risky they are, and whether you want to do them. But if you do take them, you may find yourself escaping far more than just the Tourist Trap…

If you are being sold something, don’t buy it.

If you are encouraged to go somewhere, don’t go there.

If you are offered incentives to make journeys or experience thrills you wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise, throw them back in the faceless faces of those that offer them.

If there is a way, any way, to get out of the spin cycle, slow down and take control of your life then take it!

Enjoy time your way, not the way of the machine.

Posted in Adverts, Advice, Company Policies, Government Policies, Monthly Undermining Tasks, Revenge | 4 Comments »

Monthly Undermining Task, June 2010: It’s The Freeconomy, Stupid!

Posted by keith on 12th June 2010

“The only ‘honest’ living available to the homeless in general is scavenging – and in general they’re quite content to make that living. It’s work they can do without having an address, submitting to supervision, punching a clock, or maintaining a wardrobe of socially approved clothing – and it’s flex-time all the way.”
– Daniel Quinn, Beyond Civilization

I have to let you into a little secret – and I’m sure no-one will really mind, although in the short term at least there is understandably going to be a certain amount of resistance – about a dream I have. You might know that in April 2010 we moved to a village in southern Scotland to get some distance away from the hyper-consuming culture that dominates the area we had lived in as a family for many years. Two things transpired that we didn’t quite expect: first, that it was very easy to slip into a “village” mindset, whereby your entire life slows down and you need to change your opinion as to what you consider “essential” to life; second, that neither of us have found paid work, despite having long careers in our respective professions.

To most people reading this, the second thing would seem like a real problem, but it is counterbalanced – overriden in many ways – by two more things. The first of these is the result of the changed expectations that have manifested themselves so quickly: we haven’t been to the cinema or had a meal out as a family yet, nor have we suffered just because we can’t get precisely what we are looking for in the shops – we have, even more than we would have done in the “always available” culture, gone down all sorts of different avenues, or simply decided to forego what we might have previously had. The second counterbalance, is longer-term, but centres around the focus of this article: we are entering the Freeconomy.

This dream I have is evolving all the time, but the advert below should explain things quite well:

The key is not the computer work, but the words “Payment by barter or kind can be negotiated if you are a freeconomist.” In essence, I can repair your computer, and you can pay me money; alternatively, you can give me a bag of tomatoes, lettuce and radishes that you have grown yourself, for the amount of time and effort I would have had to invest in growing these things is probably the amount of time and effort you would have to invest in working out how to fix your own computer. I can do this easily, as you may be able to grow things more easily than me – I am growing things, but could always do with more local, fresh food – or you may be able to quickly fix the door in my house that is bowing very badly; or you might play the fiddle, and be able to give my daughter a lesson.

The variations on this are almost endless, as exemplified by this list from the Freeconomy web site, Just For The Love Of It:

Cleaner, Shiatsu Practitioner, Hedge Grower, Swimmer, Dancer, Beer Maker, Food Forager, Ecologist, Reverential Ecologist, Spiritual Seeker, Thinker, Hedge Maker, Yurt Constructor, Compost Toilet Constructor, Freecyclist, Research, Medicinal Plant Gatherer, Yoga Student, Feltmaker, Natural Dyer, Felt making, Plant Spirit Med. Practitioner

The holder of these skills lives just over 7 miles from us, according to the map – but I wonder what a directory of all the useful skills the people who live only 100 metres from us would look like…

An interesting side-effect of using the word “Freeconomist” on this advert, which I have put in the window of the local Post Office and hairdressers, and am also putting in the village newsletter, is the seed of an idea that might be planted in the minds of the people reading it: “That’s interesting, someone is prepared to accept something other than cash for work – I wonder if…” Already, there is is some Undermining going on here: the economic system we have been taught to believe is the only way that anyone can do business – in the loosest sense of the word – is being threatened, both physically and culturally, by the idea that there are other ways to do things that don’t involve money, and by extension, don’t involve the exploitation of humans and the wider environment.

Mark Boyle, author of “The Moneyless Man” puts it like this:

I feel the environmental movement has got it’s head in the sand over the money issue…I believe that as long as the degrees of separation between the consumer and the consumed stay so wide, symptoms such as environmental destruction, sweatshop labour and factory farming will always exist, as people will remain as oblivious to the repercussions and consequences of what they consume as ever. Without money, you know the embodied energy and suffering that goes into all that you use. Until we face up to this fact, the symptoms will remain, because why would they change?

So what is this “Freeconomy” thing?

Essentially, it is a way of trading physical artefacts, skills and knowledge that doesn’t involve a symbolic intermediate stage, such as exchanging symbolic IOUs (cash), accruing interest (loans) or hoarding any type of representative currency.

Don’t be confused by writers who say Freeconomy is just “giving stuff away”: the big element missing from such a description is that Freeconomy does not fit into any conventional system of macro-economic behaviour – nothing is being accrued, there is no profit being made, there are no meaningful “economies of scale” beyond a few as opposed to one person making a job easier to manage. In actual fact, the label “Freeconomy” is a bit of a misnomer, for such a way of operating does have enormous intrinsic value, which is why we will probably have to think of a different name for it soon, or even more powerfully, just say, “This is how we live.”

There are many other labels for similar things operating at a variety of different scales or aspects of life: “localism”, “freeganism”, “slow food”, “self-sufficiency”, “resilient communities” and so on, and not all of them have the same value in achieving long-term, sustainable living; but all of them have some elements that, in one way or another, are undermining the destructive global economy, either directly, or by offering people a different way of thinking that doesn’t involve exploitation.

Whatever you call it, we can all do it to a certain extent – probably a greater extent than we realise. I offer below a short list of activities that can kick-start a Freeconomy wherever you happen to be, and perhaps deal a blow to the forces that claim, “If it don’t make a profit, it ain’t worth a bean.”

No Risk

The first stage on the path to Freeconomy is doing it yourself, rather than paying someone to do it for you. I explored this in an Earth Blog article some time ago:

Yesterday I took the children up to our neighbour’s house, and we filled up two wheelbarrows with logs – offcuts from their tree-surgery work. My brother-in-law also delivered some floorboards he had been asked to remove as part of his bathroom fitting work – they will make fantastic kindling. This year we may not have to use the gas-fired central heating at all: a little bit of pain for the gas company and the industrial machine, and a lot less pollution because the burning of logs in an efficient burner is a lot less polluting than my central heating.

Leaving my well-paid job to do full time environmental work was a step; learning to cook with just local, seasonal and dried produce was a step; starting to grow my own food was a step; switching off my central heating, after progressively turning it down further and further was a step; switching off the television and deciding to talk, play cards, read and just enjoy each other’s company was a step. But here’s an interesting thing: almost none of these steps will be featured in the countless lists you read in newspapers and magazines for “turning green” – they are all too big for the mainstream media, and even the mainstream environmental groups to propose to an “unwilling” public.

Aside from leaving my job, all of the other things I mention can be done by very many people with no pain. To someone indoctrinated in the necessity of money, these actions are selfish – you are apparently benefitting no-one but yourself and your immediate dependents; but to that I would ask the question: “What is the point of paying someone to do something for you, when you can do it yourself?” More pertinently, at what point was it deemed unacceptable for people to grow their own food, repair things, cook and bake from scratch, provide your own energy, and not rely on a network to provide your entertainment?

And then it gets even more subversive: you can start working with other people to share any excess; utilise each others’ skills and knowledge; provide support and company where it is needed…gradually the hooks the economic machine has dug into your flesh are eased out and thrown back. Not sure what other people need or what other people have that they can offer? Start talking; build communities within the place you live; share…

I came across a wonderful project recently: Aaron Newton had plotted his immediate neighbourhood, not by house price, crime rate or voting intention, but by the potential for community food growing:

I started by going across the street and asking my elderly neighbor if I could garden in her backyard. Then I recruited Eric who grows food in his backyard and is transitioning into a career as a farmer. Next I was able to start a garden in the backyard of the rental house next door to my property. It was part of a bartering arrangement whereby the landlord agreed to take down a few dying trees and in return I now grow food on her property. All of these active gardens are shown in dark green.

For many people, simply talking to neighbours is an alien concept – we have become ever more isolated as state and media-induced paranoia encroaches upon our psyches; everyone “out there” is a potential threat rather than a potential partner. Talking to your neighbours undermines this. And, of course, you don’t need to plot everything on a digital map – although that might be useful if you want to make the food sharing more organised; just keep a mental map of who is who and what you each have, then make sure you keep talking.

Referring back to my advert, someone noticed that I had an undue emphasis on Windows which, of course, is a commercial product. Windows is what I am best at (for shame!), but what Graham wrote below has encouraged me to suggest free alternatives to people:

It’s been said that future archaeologists will be able to identify a ‘Vista Upgrade Layer’ when they go through our landfill sites as thousands of tonnes of monitors, video cards and whole computers that are unable to run Microsoft’s latest operating system are being dumped as ‘obsolete’. So what better time to break out of the Windows’ ‘upgrade cycle’ by switching to Open Source alternatives such as Linux and taking back control of your computer? Ubuntu Linux for example is a completely free operating system in all senses of the word – that is, you can download and install it at no cost, and you are also at liberty to develop, modify and redistribute the source-code as you see fit. As well as being able to run on older computers, Ubuntu comes with pre-installed with many Open Source applications such web browsers, word processors, spreadsheets, graphics and photo editing programs, etc, the proprietary equivalents of which such as Microsoft Office or Photoshop could cost hundreds of extra pounds to buy.

I made the change to Ubuntu about 2 years ago, after being introduced to it at a skills sharing and permaculture workshop event, and despite being in no way a ‘techie’, found it incredibly user-friendly and easy to get along with, and a refreshing change from my old Windows desktop that was constantly trying to get me to buy something or ‘upgrade’ this or that. However, there are many other ‘flavours’ of Linux including Damn Small Linux and Puppy Linux that will even run on ancient 386 machines. Linux development tends to be community rather than corporate driven, thus is designed to meet the needs of users instead of big business. So as well as keeping otherwise obsolete computers out of the waste stream, the ethos of the Open Source software movement strikes me as being far more in accord with permaculture’s ethics and principles. Most Linux distributions can be run from ‘live’ CD’s, which means that you can try them out to see if they meet your needs before making any actual changes to your computer, so there’s nothing to lose in giving it a go!

And if that doesn’t make you want to consider Open Source software, perhaps this article will.

Low Risk

That last, small selection of ideas consisted of things that I would consider to be “No Risk”, and this is where it starts to get interesting – because I really want to categorise this next section in the same way; yet because we are all, to a certain extent, still dependent on money, the really positive things that come out of taking financial “risks” (in effect, creating negative risk) will undoubtedly cause some short-term pain.

Here’s one example: suppose you have a decently-paid job, but work long hours and genuinely haven’t the time to get involved in a community sharing scheme, or even growing some food so that you might swap things with your next-door neighbour. In order to gain that time back you have to work fewer hours, and thus take a wage cut. You could ask to work from home, thus cutting out travelling time, but few companies offer this option (though wouldn’t it be a real boon for so many workbound people to get back a part of their lives?) So, a time and wage cut it is. The immediate effect is relative financial hardship, regardless of your attitude to money.

Bridging the gap will be hard if you consider everything in your life to be essential; but think of it like this – how much of what you spend money on is the result of being urged to spend that money? When you have worked this out, then everything else is what is actually essential to you at the moment. If you don’t spend money on the “non-essentials” then I reckon your gap will disappear pretty quickly.

So now you have some time to use constructively, you can start being part of or even creating a community that shares things Just For The Love Of It. That could easily take up all of your time – the time you have left after perhaps spending more time with yourself, your family and your friends: your immediate community. If you feel comfortable working towards a moneyless community, without rocking the boat too much, then you have my wholehearted support: never think what you are doing is not entirely worthwhile, because what you are doing is far more human than living a life dependent on the industrial economy.

But you might want to do a bit of boat-rocking; perhaps bending the law, or kicking the money economy where it hurts. Some of the lower risk options were covered in a previous Monthly Undermining Task called “Throwing Off The Shackles of Debt“, and if you do have any debt, or would like to take the debt burden off others, then I recommend you start there.

Scattered around both urban and rural spaces are all sorts of food sources, in the form of fruit and nut-bearing trees, as well as other plant sources heaving with nutrition. There is a USA-only directly called Neighborhood Fruit which specialises in pointing out completely legal options; but going beyond this, there are often huge opportunities for scrumping in public parks and pseudo-private land where you just have to be a bit careful how much you take, and when you take it. The haul of apples below was from a local park, gathered in just over an hour:

Most of us have heard of “dumpster diving” and the Freegan movement – the simple act of taking disposed food from company skips is a grey area, hence why it is “Low Risk” – but how much other stuff is just left lying around, ready to be used in a constructive way? (N.B. This set of links, from the UK Freegans site is a wonderful source of Freeconomy related sites). Here is a list of things I have taken for subsequent use from public and not-so-public areas (avoid private homes, please, it’s just not fair) after a period of watching to make sure it wasn’t actively being used:

- Bark chippings from a country park
- Wooden pallets from a disused shop front
- Apricots from a pub car park tree
- Cast-off timbers from a construction site
- A wooden filing cabinet from a business skip

In effect, this is theft, so if you don’t want to do this yourself you could start a directory – as local or global as you like – of things that are simply waiting to be taken. It would need to be kept bang up to date, but could be a very useful addition to the money-free economy. I haven’t come across anything like this on my travels, but if you do know of an existing setup then please let me know.

Medium/High Risk

There is sometimes a fine line between recommending things that are borderline illegal, but which you could probably get away with, and things that you are almost certainly going to be arrested and charged for if you get caught. The following may not necessarily be illegal where you are but have to be approached with care, however positive the outcomes may be.

The single largest outgoing for most people is the cost of their home, whether in terms of mortgage or rental, or just the cost of running it and the various bills and taxes that enburden anyone who occupies a property – even one they have built themselves. Squatting is one option which, which not strictly an Undermining activity, can often be a vital way for people to get the financial freedom necessary to start a new kind of life. Opening up a squat for a number of people can be a very powerful statement, and trigger the creation of moneyless communities, but can also be risky both in terms of the law and personal safety. The Squatters Handbook is a vital resource and, while only covering English law, can undoubtedly be adapted to suit local conditions.

There is nothing new about squatting, and it is always worth reflecting on the story of The Diggers; a group of people in 17th century England who took it upon themselves to reclaim land they rightly believed had been stolen from the people. All they wanted to do was live, without having to be subservient to the systems of power and abuse. Take ten minutes to watch this film, and then another ten to think about what it means to you:

There is an increasing number of groups who have set up Intentional Communities, often under constant threat of eviction and other legal action being taken by those who purport to own the land upon which they are trying to live in a far more sustainable manner than the majority of people who live legally. The community web site known as “Diggers and Dreamers” takes its name from Gerrard Whinstanley’s brave band; and that is just one example, for there are all sorts of communities that are both highly sustainable (whether intentionally or not) and also removed from the industrial economic system to a great extent. The IC Wiki is the place to start if you want to take things to the next level.

Finally, something that is simple but a bit risky – again in a legal sense – but which could be wonderful if pulled off effectively. Retail companies exist to sell stuff for money – and the bigger the company, the more money they have made, and the more they have exploited people and the wider environment to make that money. So it makes you wonder what would happen if that model could be undermined, even for a short period: the company certainly wouldn’t change, but the people using the store or mall (think big!) might think again about what they are doing, spending wads of cash on things they don’t need, or often don’t need to pay for. What would happen, for instance, if under cover of darkness, someone were to affix a few signs proclaiming that everything was free? Not 10% or 20% off, but entirely free!

It would be bedlam, especially if someone had arranged at the same time to place an advert in a newspaper saying the very same thing. Can you imagine the impact of an advert in your local paper, saying that for one day only everything in one particular Walmart, Tesco or Carrefour was being given away for free.

Sometimes it’s worth spending a bit of money, just sometimes…

Posted in Advice, Monthly Undermining Tasks, Sabotage, Subvertising | 7 Comments »

Monthly Undermining Task, May 2010: Mind Your Language

Posted by keith on 10th May 2010

Libraries gave us power
Then work came and made us free
But what price now for a shallow piece of dignity

- A Design for Life, Manic Street Preachers

Could these be the most ironic lines ever written, or just a dumb piece of worthy lyricism?

Take them apart and any scholar of European history will see the translation of the second line etched in their mind and still remaining above the gates of Auschwitz: Arbeit Macht Frei. If work made us free then the Caribbean and Deep South slaves must have experienced a rare level of freedom, only now being reclaimed in the sweatshops of China and India. I suspect, though, Nicky Wire didn’t write the second line in complete naivité…

But it is the first line I take real issue with; for while the knowledge gained during the free gathering of information in the libraries of South Wales – which inspired the lyric “Libraries gave us power” – may have allowed many people to take work opportunities in areas they may not have previously considered, or been able to, there is little chance of a person reading the texts available to them differentiating what is relatively balanced from what is explicit cultural-brainwashing.

Nowhere does this brainwashing exist more than in the definitions handed out by dictionaries.

“You know some may not like to hear it, but history is not on the side of those who manipulate the meaning of words like revolution, freedom, and peace.”

- Ronald Reagan, Hambach, West Germany, 1985.

You want to put money on that, Mr Reagan? The history of conflict, suppression and imperialism shows that language is one of the key weapons in the arsenal of anyone that wishes to take control of a population. I took this subject on in a recent Earth Blog article:

Words are enormously powerful; in many ways they are a defining feature of our culture, not only because of the number of ways that they can be used – in the form of poetry, debate, story-telling, song and innumerable others – but also because we have become conditioned to accept certain words as having significance beyond their physical incarnation. These words are more than just symbols – they are tools that can be, and are, used to manipulate the way we think and act.

“They behaved like animals!”

The use of the word “animal” in that context is not accidental; it derives from the Enlightenment view that humans were above the common animal whose screams were “the mere clatter of gears and mechanisms”. Despite us clearly being animals, the adopted viewpoint is that to behave like an animal is to be less than human. Is this your viewpoint, or were you taught to think like that?

It is some small relief that the German philosopher, Wittgenstein took the view that our internal experiences were isolated from what we would normally understand as language. He explained this in the context of pain, in that a person could reasonably question (through our use of language) whether we were in pain or not; but we could never doubt whether we are in pain or not – the experience is not subject to communicating that experience. This suggests that our internal self is isolated from the outside world by the lack of a useful interface, thus providing us with some protection from cultural interference.

Nevertheless, as we strive to communicate our experiences through words (among other things) such that others may understand them, we open up a door to these experiences, and in doing so allow a dialogue to exist. The interface between our internal experience and the external manifestation of these experiences is not a one way street. Words affect our emotions, they can hurt, they can heal, they can change who we are.

“I hate you!”

“I love you.”

Why do politicians make speeches? One could make the argument that they simply like the sound of their own voices, but in that case why not just talk to an empty room? The point is that politicians understand the nature of this interface between the external and the internal only too well. Rhetoric can sway opinion; true oratory can create lifelong beliefs: once more unto the breach brothers and sisters, fight them on the beaches and be the change you want to see.

Just words, surely?

No, not just words – ideas enshrined in policy and broadcast through the mouths of the common man, the paid-up celebrity and the pages of your children’s schoolbooks. Orwellian speak seems quaint and almost harmless compared to the ideas we are being asked to swallow – from the joys of wage slavery to the wonders of the infinite growth economy, via the imposition of “freedom” through the barrel of a gun. If you can dress it up in the right words then people will accept almost anything.

As part of my attempt to redress the balance, in favour of language that provides a more objective view of the world, I suggested that we start defining certain key words in terms of their predefinitions; in short, it is imperative – in a culture that succeeds to suppress any vestiges of true thought-freedom – that we use words in a way that benefit humanity rather than the systems that control humanity. We need to reclaim these words for ourselves.

But it is not just definitions that matter. In a society where there are scarce opportunities to present more accurate definitions of the words we use, we need to utilise a variety of means in this difficult struggle to free peoples’ minds from the tyranny of the civilised lexicon. What follows is a range of tasks, some of which everyone will be able to take part in; some of which are more challenging, but all of immense value in the war of words that must begin…

No Risk / Low Risk

The key action in this category is Word Substitution and Predefinition, with Substitution probably being the more effective in the short term. As described in the Earth Blog article (linked above) there are a fairly large number of words that have been changed by civilised society in order to effect cultural change among the general population, the definitions of which we have learnt to accept as the norm. All of these words have a Predefinition, which I would ask you to become conversant with, so that you can decide whether your use of a word in normal conversation and writing is appropriate. If you ever have the opportunity to discuss their definitions – perhaps you could write a blog or three about these words – then do so.

But because of the extent to which their meanings have been changed, what happens is that simply using these words in their civilised context acts to reinforce their civilised meanings. If you are having a conversation with or writing an email or letter to someone who has no idea of the difference between the civilised world and the uncivilised world, then your words will automatically be taken with their civilised (a.k.a. conventional) meaning. Therefore, all of the words need some form of Substitution that can be used when communicating with a civilised person.

The table below gives suggestions for each Civilised Word – they are not all exactly synonymous, but should provide sufficient scope for normal communication:

Related to this is something more subtle, but potentially even more powerful: that is the adoption of E-Prime in your communication. I became aware of this whilst reading “Rewild or Die” by Urban Scout, where I discovered, to my astonishment, that the entire book had been written without the verb “to be”. Scout goes on to explain some of the rationale behind using such a way of communicating:

Our linguistic world eats itself and arguments ensue. “To be” prevents us from experiencing a shared reality; something we need in order to communicate in a sane way. If someone sees something completely different than another, our language prevents us from acknowledging the others point of view by limiting our perception to fixed states. For example, if I say “Star Wars is a shitty movie,” and my friend says, “Star Wars is not a shitty movie!” We have no shared reality, for in our language, truth lies in only one of our statements and we can forever argue these truths until one of us writes a book and has more authority than the other. If on the other hand I say, “I hated Star Wars,” I state my opinion as observed through my own senses. I state a more accurate reality by not claiming that Star Wars “is” anything, as it could “be” anything to anyone. Similarly one could say, “I’ve seen Urban Scout act like an idiot before,” while another person could say, “Man, Urban Scout has really made me think. I really appreciate him.” We have two perceptions that do not contradict one another, but came about from different perspectives.

“To Be” plays god. It attempts to chisel reality in stone and works as the backbone of the civilized paradigm. Of course it does, its birthplace lies in the land of economic commerce, not a biological community. English works to domesticate the world as much as tilling means to domesticate it. Every element of our culture urges for domestication, for slavery. If language shapes how we perceive the world, nothing stands more fundamental (aside from the practice of agriculture itself) to this process of domestication than our own language.

You will see that, apart from the quoted sections, those two paragraphs do not contain the offending verb at all; and notice how much more deliberate and less confrontational the words come across. Not that everyone will find it easy to communicate in a way that omits such a fundamental piece of such a widely adopted language, but I have managed it in this paragraph, and it does feel rather good – wholesome even. You could go further and explore an even more naturalised form of English (if you speak that language) – E-Primitive – which Willem Larsen has written about in this piece (see link); again, exceptionally difficult for someone deeply encultured by civilization, but a fascinating concept.

Now, I have no experience of the impact such a way of speaking is likely to have in practice and it may be that simply eliminating the verb “to be” will be nothing more than a talking point – nevertheless, even as a talking point it raises important issues about the nature of our relationships with the rest of nature and between each other; and it may trigger a change in the nature of these relationships…

Medium Risk

Now we have the basic tools for undermining the civilised theft of language (and don’t forget, there is no reason such activities should be limited to English – I just don’t have the linguistic capabilities to take this on) we need to explore a range of different environments in which they can be used.

As a method of Undermining, the aim of this task is to tip the balance back towards natural, uncivilised language; therefore it is not just a case of taking a neutral viewpoint, but instead using words and word structures in the opposite sense to that desired by the civilised world. This is where the risk comes in for those in a professional capacity, for if you are in one of the roles that can potentially change attitudes in this area – such as a journalist, teacher, broadcaster or politician (ok, maybe not a politician) – then you are also subject to a range of highly oppressive social norms: you have to speak, write and behave in a certain way. Step outside of these norms and you risk your position and, more importantly, your potential to be influential.

I do understand that this may seem a controversial position to take, but I take the view that if we didn’t have the problems we currently face, then we wouldn’t need to use the methods that are often necessary. A teacher or journalist can use their, albeit civilised, position to make a real difference – at least while they are permitted to. If you hold a position of influence with regards to the way people use language, then your act of using “civilised” in a negative sense, or your refusal to describe a frenzied attack as “wild” or “savage” is a powerful act indeed.

There are all sorts of actions possible besides merely speaking one-to-one – here are a few suggestions, which I will be delighted to add to should anyone suggest them to me:

Teach in E-Prime: Very tricky without practice or a lesson script, but then you could tell your students that you are doing it, why you are doing it, and ask them to help out with the “experiment”. Don’t forget to involve your trusted colleagues in your “experiment” too.

Read the news, substituting natural words for those in the script: How far you can get away with this depends on the nature of the reports, but maybe no-one will even notice, except subconsciously.

Write articles that turn word meanings around: This will almost certainly go against the editorial policy you are subject to, but you could always claim you slipped up when referring to workers as “wage slaves” or consumers as “economic units”.

Refuse to follow any script that uses civilised meanings or conventions: When I was a McDonalds wage slave, in the early 1990s, I refused to say, “How may I help you Sir / Madam”. Firstly, I objected to using the submissive personal title; secondly, I substituted “may” with “can”, as I explained that anyone coming into the place obviously wanted to buy something! Needless to say I was taken off till work, but it was quite enjoyable while it lasted.

Make editorial changes to articles or news: If you are a sub-editor for a small newspaper or magazine – you are much more likely to avoid editorial oversight with small titles – then you will have considerable licence to edit down and change submitted pieces in an uncivilised way. A good editor could get away with stripping out every pro-civilization word without being noticed; a really good editor can tip the balance the other way…

While the sword may be mightier than the pen when face-to-face in a duel, there is an awful lot you can change simply by minding your language. And what could be more empowering than wresting control from the machine of the words that are rightfully yours to use how you see fit?

Posted in Advice, Monthly Undermining Tasks, Sabotage | 8 Comments »

Monthly Undermining Task, April 2010: Sack the SATs!

Posted by keith on 1st April 2010

“Before school really starts to mould and shape you — and these days the assessment and unnatural selection begins just the other side of the cradle — you remain a primal being, attracted by the good earth.”
Andrew Collins, Where Did It All Go Right?

In a few week’s time we will be packed away and ready to move to Scotland. The timing is perhaps serendipitous, for at the beginning of May, in England alone of all the parts of Britain, approximately 300,000 children aged between 10 and 11 years will be sitting examinations in English and Mathematics. My younger daughter would have been sitting them too, had we not been moving to Scotland.

The aim of these examinations (these are not “tests” – they are sat under exam conditions) is ostensibly to assess the level of understanding that a child has of the subject being examined: given that knowledge in only two subjects is being assessed, this seems like a rather narrow view of what “education” means, but that’s not the worst of it.

It was while watching a fascinating television programme about the teaching of mathematics a few weeks ago, that I came across a phenomenon I had not experienced at first hand before: the dropping of virtually the entire school curriculum for 11 weeks in order to concentrate on passing SATs. When my elder daughter took her SATs last year — which also included science for the last time — the school sent home a few books for the children to read, and a few past papers were looked at, more for technique than anything else; yet, as I have since learnt, this is unusual. At this time of year, across England, schools are cramming students’ heads with probable exam questions, tips for passing using intelligent guessing, imposing additional targeted homework on children, and running “after school clubs” for those children who are on the borderline between grades.

And here the crux of the matter emerges: the schools (my younger child’s included from this year) are not running extra classes for the least able students, nor those likely to breeze through the exams – no, they are trying to ensure as many as possible get to Level 5. The statistics of most interest to parents of prospective students are the ones that show how many children achieved Level 5 in Year 6. Here is a vicious feedback loop working at full-tilt, for the more parents obsess with SATs results, the more the schools push the exams onto children as essential, and consequently the more the parents become obsessed by SATs results.

Have you any idea what this level of pressure does to the mind of a ten or eleven year old?

The Cambridge Primary Review, a four-year study covering all aspects of primary education in England had the following to say about SATs:

It is often claimed that national tests raise standards. At best their impact is oblique, says the Review. High stakes testing leads to ‘teaching to the test’ and even parents concentrate their attention on the areas being tested. It is this intensity of focus, and anxiety about the results and their consequences, which make the initial difference to test scores. But it does not last; for it is not testing which raises standards but good teaching.

Concern about stress levels is rife on parenting discussion groups; one such comment on Mumsnet was interesting, not only for highlighting the stress, but also raising a very interesting possibility:

The problem is not necessarily her academic progress, Her English is in the top 1/4 of the class and her maths is in the bottom half.

My concern is the stress that this will cause her. Worrying about them consumes her, and I’m worried that exam nerves will cause her to get a very bad mark in the exam, which will then destroy her confidence in her ability.

So the question is more to do with people who have experience of withdrawing their children from the test, is unauthorised absence the only way?

It seems odd to me that parents have the “right” not to have their children vaccinated but there does not seem to be a clear procedure for opting out of these potentially damaging tests

It is possible that the examinations may be boycotted by a large number of teachers in 2010, because of the disruption they cause to the curriculum in general. This would be a good thing for all concerned – except perhaps those head teachers and parents obsessed with getting “the best” for their children (or rather, their school’s reputations) – but in the event of the SATs not being put down with a terminal strike, there are quite a few things you can do to both remove the unnecessary levels of stress on your children, and also undermine the idea that “education” is about rote learning and cramming of useless facts.

Note: Although the text and actions specifically apply to the English school system, there is no reason they cannot be adapted to whatever part of the world and “educational” system you fall under. It is really just common sense.

Low Risk

Most children in Year 6 are being sent home with revision papers and given access to online resources in order to “brush up” on their technique. Why not spend that time with your child, learning how to grow food in the warming soil, or perhaps do some sewing, knitting or cooking as the sun goes down. Then again, you could play a game of cards, or just let them go out and have fun with their friends.

In summary: forget the revision homework and ignore the online tests. What’s the worst thing that could happen? Your child will get a mark that is based on their current ability – that is, if they sit the exams.

We had a great time last year purposefully ignoring the revision books – in fact we sent them back to the school in order to make the point that we had better things to do.

Medium Risk

If you are a teacher then anything rebellious you do, in such a high-pressure situation, may harm your career, so tread carefully if you value your pay packet; nevertheless, there are a couple of things you can do. The first is to ease up on the pressure; if not only for your sanity, but for the good health of the children you teach. Just because you have been told to drop lessons in order to concentrate on SATs it doesn’t mean you have to set mock exams or give extra homework – just teach the subject in hand, and if complaints are made the ideal response would be: “But surely it’s better to teach English / maths than to teach children how to pass exams.”

And you always have your union to fall back on; speaking of which, if your union does call for a SATs boycott, then you are in a much better position to not get involved in the SATs than if you had acted unilaterally (which is definitely a High Risk move).

As a parent, I believe you are within your rights not only to refuse SATs revision for your child, but also to refuse your child entry to the SATs exams themselves. Withdrawing from school entirely on the day(s) of the exams is – strictly speaking – illegal, although I would like to see this come up in court one day! Withdrawing because of an unexpected illness(!) may be another option, or maybe a special outing as described by the Anti SATs Alliance:

In some instances, groups of parents have made a further point by arranging educational visits or experiences on those days. This has always been as the result of getting together with other parents – usually starting with nothing more grand than a chat at the school gates.

Oh, and if you are a student who has the threat of SATs over your head (I like to think The Unsuitablog has a wide demographic) then there is no real reason that you have to put pressure on yourself. Take it easy; if you’re given a mock exam then do the minimum amount of work possible so as not to be noticed – life isn’t about exams, it’s about having a life.

High Risk

Whether you consider this High Risk or not depends on your attitude to Home or Community Schooling, but if you really want to make a statement about examinations, and the aims of the schooling system in general (turning children into nicely-rounded economic units ready for a life of wage slavery) then one strategic withdrawal will not be enough. Examinations are part of school life and, love them or loath them, if you attend a mainstream school then you will be taking exams, and the only way to avoid it is to not attend a mainstream school.

That’s a discussion for another day, but it is undoubtedly an option for quite a few people.

Finally – although with a bit of creativity I’m sure you will be able to think of more undermining actions – try a bit of concerted rebellion across the whole school; simply refuse to take the SATs as a group of parents and children. Go into school with a purpose, and make it clear that none of you want anything to do with SATs and that your children will not be sitting them, making clear the reasons for your refusal (see the introduction to this article). If the school insists that there is no way they can countenance this, or that supervision is not available so they have to take the exams, then withdraw the children from the school for the precise times the exams are taking place.

Of course, the risk you take is your decision, but one thing must always be clear: education is not about school, and it is certainly not about exams – it is about learning the skills and knowledge necessary for the future. The way things are going, that future is anything but certain, and there are some skills we will all be needing that you won’t find taught in any school…

(For more background information, read “The Problem With…Work” on The Earth Blog)

**UPDATE**

This, from The Observer, May 9 2010:

Thousands of primary schools will boycott national tests for 10 and 11-year-olds tomorrow, treating their pupils to class trips and lessons in creative writing instead.

Teaching unions have predicted that half of England’s 17,000 primaries will lock up their test papers in protest, affecting tens of thousands of pupils.

Some 600,000 pupils are due to sit the tests, known as Sats, in maths and English every day this week. Unions argue that the tests disrupt children’s learning and are “misused” to compile league tables, which they say humiliate and demean children and their schools.

Teachers said that in some parts of England, such as Calderdale, Hartlepool, Barnsley and the London boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Kensington and Chelsea, more than half of all primaries have refused to administer the tests.

A survey conducted by the Press Association shows that in 37 local authorities alone, an estimated 1,010 schools have already said they will be boycotting the tests. More are understood to be still considering what action to take.

In Kirklees, 83 out of 152 schools will take part in the boycott, while in Dudley 50 out of 79 will. Manchester city council said half of its primary schools – about 60 – will be taking action.

The unions said a letter from Ed Balls, the schools secretary, warning school governors that it was teachers’ statutory duty and professional responsibility to carry out the tests had backfired and spurred more teachers to join the boycott.

Both Labour and the Conservatives have insisted Sats should not be scrapped, although Labour has said the system is “not set in stone”, while both the Tories and Lib Dems have promised reform.

Headteachers from across the country told the Guardian they would use the boycott to take pupils on trips and have classes in subjects such as creative writing.

Teachers in London have organised a giant anti-Sats picnic near the London Eye. Its organiser, Sara Tomlinson, predicts at least 20 schools will bring their classes. The children’s author Alan Gibbons will tell stories and pupils will bring their favourite books.

Pupils at Bromstone primary in Broadstairs, Kent, will prepare for a local schools’ writing competition while 10 and 11-year-olds at Lindale primary in Cumbria will spend their week going on school trips and being taught orienteering. Children at Westfield junior school in Hinckley, Leicestershire, will visit Beaumanor Hall, a stately home used for military intelligence gathering in the second world war. Other schools said they would continue lessons as normal, but without any test preparation.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “We know that schools will be using the boycott as an opportunity to do things they wouldn’t normally have time to do, such as trips to museums and parks.”

Nigel Utton, headteacher of Bromstone primary, said Sats were “unbelievably unreliable”. “They are inaccurately marked, the quality of the questions is very poor indeed, they skew the curriculum horribly and they give unnecessary stress to the children. We already assess pupils ourselves.”

Michael Rosen, the former children’s laureate, told parenting site Mumsnet that Sats reduced children to machines and “units of productivity”.

In a question-and-answer session on the site, Rosen wrote: “I think we are obsessed by giving kids scores, measuring them and producing research that is based on statistics. This biometric approach to human behaviour is to my mind corrupting. It tries to reduce the variability in human behaviour. The difference between humans and machines is that with machines, you can keep all the variables in your test constant … you can’t do that with human beings.”

According to BBC News on Monday 10 May, something like 25% of schools in England due to take the tests, are not running them:

The data is not complete, but the councils which have given information cover 73% of England’s 17,000 primary schools.

Among the schools of which the BBC has details, nearly 1,900 (15%) say they will boycott the tests and about 5,650 say they will not (45%).

The councils say they do not know the situation in the remaining 40% of schools.

Posted in Advice, Government Policies, Human Rights, Monthly Undermining Tasks, Political Hypocrisy, Sabotage, Subvertising | 4 Comments »

Monthly Undermining Task, March 2010: Throwing off the Shackles of Debt

Posted by keith on 1st March 2010

by Guy R. McPherson, Keith Farnish, Dave Pollard, and Sharon Astyk

Indebtedness is a form of involuntary servitude and, in extreme cases, involuntary imprisonment. Consider, for example, the current usurious rates of interest (versus what savers earn on their savings in the same banks that charge that interest). Many religious organizations loath interest rates as immoral and criminal. According to all four gospels in the Christian bible, even the normally passive, peaceful prophet of Christianity got so worked up about usury in a temple he started acting like Alex Ferguson on the sidelines of a Manchester United football match.

Purchases by consumers (this awful word is used here only because that’s what we have become – involuntarily) drive the world’s industrial economy. And purchases by consumers depend on the confidence of those consumers, so that consumer confidence underlies commercial success. If a potential consumer has no confidence in her ability to purchase an item, then she won’t. If enough potential consumers lose confidence in their ability to purchase and pay for any particular item, the sales of that item will plummet, causing the manufacturer and sellers of that item to fail.

Considering the current financial situation, which will no doubt crash again within the next year, we can help create a situation that will both change behaviour for the better and prevent people from getting into financial trouble. The latter portion is vital to getting wide support for such activities, and will be a huge challenge for hopelessly optimistic, reality-challenged members of the industrial economy.

How do we convince people they definitely cannot afford to take out loans to buy things? More impact will be realized by targeting luxuries such as houses, cars, and appliances than small “goods.” Governments throughout the industrial world recognise this, and have therefore rewarded people for purchasing houses, cars, and — most recently – appliances, by giving them huge financial incentives (i.e. taxes on other taxpayers who might not even be tempted to play the “consumer” game).

Loans are required for most people to purchase these “durable goods” (which are no longer durable or good). Loans traditionally are seen as safety nets, but it has become clear they really represent traps. Never mind the psychological or ecological implications of consumerism — there exists no evidence suggests anybody has minded so far — the focus here is on the trap into which each potential consumer falls by taking out a loan to mindlessly invest in transient baubles. Every loan is a bad deal for the borrower, whether a straight money request, an HP deal, a mortgage or a credit card payment.

The system needs you to keep borrowing; if you don’t then who knows what could happen…

Note: The risk levels indicated below are approximate and will vary according to your personal situation and the jurisdiction you operate in. Always take legal advice if you are unsure.

No Risk:

Don’t take out a loan for anything. If you need it — and probably you don’t — save your money and buy it, barter for it, or borrow it.

Encourage others to join you. Start by sharing your car, your garden, your tools, even your clothes. Pass stuff on; give stuff away. You don’t need that loan and neither do the people you care about.

If you already have loans, and most recent students do, then seek deferral under economic hardship. Odds are pretty high you’re actually experiencing economic hardship, so this is no big deal. And even if you’re not, there’s no sense feeding the beast if the beast defaults down the road.

Low to Medium Risk:

Start a “misinformation” campaign (from the point of view of the loan companies):

1) Via snail mail, send out false press releases from loan companies and banks to media outlets such as local radio stations, local press and even the nationals if you are brave enough. These press releases should discourage people from taking out loans because, after all, people don’t really need all the toys they buy on credit. If you make the “press releases” as complete as possible, and word them so that responses are not required then there is a good chance they will be run without questions being asked.

2) Do a bit of subvertising, on the internet or (for a little higher risk) on billboards: focus on loans companies and banks changing the messages to emphasise the theft aspect of loans. Alternatively, just remove loan adverts entirely. For more information on techniques, read this post.

Other potential actions along these same lines include:

- Organising “default-ins” along the lines of the “love-ins” and “sit-ins” of the 1960s,

- Devising and publicising satirical fake get-rich-quick schemes that exploit government mortgage subsidies and the overvaluation of real estate: “Get £1 million in property free from Government mortgage subsidy scheme with no risk or money down!”; “Sell property short before the crash and make £1 million with no risk or cash!” and

- Helping to organise and formalise the exploding “grey” market for overpriced property: Thousands of people are moving or retiring and unable to sell their homes at anywhere near their mortgages, so they are renting out their homes for a fraction of current market rents, and likewise renting others’ homes in areas to which they are moving at far below market rents. Everyone hopes prices will somehow bounce back and save them from default. Eventually these homeowners will have to threaten default to get mortgage companies to write off the excess of mortgage value over real property values. We need to help them do that, and also help them find “grey” market properties in the meantime.

Obvious satirical routines can be developed for a variety of venues. This strategy should hold particular appeal to artists.

Medium Risk:

This is taken from Dave Pollard’s article ”Walking away from your mortgages”:

Many people are now living in homes with mortgages that are greater than the value of their property. Why would anyone continue to pay a debt that is higher than the asset it secures? After all, big corporations view pulling the plug on unsuccessful ventures and sticking the debtholders and shareholders a key business strategy. The whole idea of “risk capital” is that the interest and other fees you earn for lending to risky borrowers compensates you for the risk, so that if the borrower defaults you accept the loss and chalk it up to experience. Yet for some reason homeowners feel some moral obligation to throw good money endlessly after bad. This of course is exactly what the corporatists, who have no such moral compunction, are counting on, what economists call moral asymmetry. The logical response would be to tell the lender to write off the excess of the mortgage beyond the property value, and refinance the mortgage accordingly. Apparently in some US states (called “recourse” states) this moral asymmetry is institutionalized — that is, lenders can go after a mortgagee’s personal assets if they default. There is, of course, no recourse when the corporatists walk away from debts, offshore their operations, and stiff the taxpayers whose subsidies and bailouts paid for the corporatists’ ventures.

Where is the sense of outrage here? Have the education system and media so dumbed down the citizens that they can’t see this scheme for the cruel and criminal con it is? If everyone with a mortgage greater than the value of their home either walked away from it, or was legally empowered to require the excess to be written off as the “bad debt” it is, then of course there would be many bank failures and plunging profits. That’s how the market system is supposed to work. The lenders, of course, want it both ways, and Obama and the citizens seem blithely willing to let them have it.

Walking away from your mortgage entails medium risk because it will damage your credit rating. Obviously, this doesn’t matter in the long term, but it still causes concern for many people.

On the same lines as the lower risk snail mail press releases, via electronic communications, send out false press releases from loan companies to media outlets. These press releases would discourage people from taking out loans because, after all, people don’t really need all the toys they buy on credit. This requires a level of technical expertise as the instigator would need to hide behind an alter-ego and fake domain.

High risk:

Taking a step beyond abandoning your underwater mortgage, don’t pay off your mortgage even if you’re not underwater. Simply default but continue to occupy your house. Ditto for other loans. The lenders cannot afford to tell their stockholders about it, so the borrower gets the loan for no payments while the lender gets stuck. This idea was encouraged by the reporter who writes about housing issues for the New York Times when he stopped paying his mortgage (and wrote about it, nine months later, in the Times, by which time nobody had asked for a payment). At this point, the idea is receiving plenty of attention, and even CNBC is on board.

These actions are high risk because they could bring criminal proceedings related to fraud. Probably they won’t. But stranger things have happened, so we issue the following disclaimer:

The authors and the host of this web site do not condone any actions which break the law under the jurisdiction where the described activity is taking place.

Which, of course, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do them at your own risk.

What we’re trying to do here is help bring down a house of cards: People feeling forced to pay debts far greater than the real value of the assets that secure them. People seduced into getting into debt needlessly. People paying usurious interest rates and fees because the banks own the politicans. It’s a debtors’ prison without locks and doors, and it’s immoral. Help us bring an end to it.

________________________

This essay is part of a larger collaboration between the authors. It represents the third month of the Monthly Undermining Tasks.

Posted in Monthly Undermining Tasks, Sabotage, Subvertising, Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

Monthly Undermining Task, February 2010: Time To Break The Ads

Posted by keith on 9th February 2010

“The peasants, living lives which to us seem indolent and shiftless, are invariably carefree and contented; but, if they are to be citizens of an independent self-governing nation, they must acquire…a new set of wants.”

Greenwash inevitably starts with advertising. The image of desire projected into the mind of a seemingly independent human being makes them so much more open to suggestion; the machine has us where it wants us by virtue of just clever words and clever pictures. We are so easily led…or at least we have become so easily led. So, if a corporation wants to appear green it just uses the same tricks it uses all the time, to suggest whatever it wants us to believe. Invariably, it gets what it wants.

Life would be so much more carefree without advertising. The quote at the top of the page was spoken by Arthur Millspaugh, an advisor to the US government in 1929. This was made with reference to the people of Haiti, the country that the USA was occupying then, and now desires to occupy once more. Whether with guns, the promise of aid or those clever words and clever pictures, the people at the top of the chain will do whatever it takes to occupy our minds, our lives and, of course, our wallets.

And who needs guns or aid when you have billboards, ad breaks, in-store advertising, promotions, junk mail, pop-ups…the power of the global marketing machine?

How would you like to help people get their lives back?

No Risk

For someone who wants to move away from a technological existence, it would seem odd for me to promote a particular technology, but this is well answered by Derrick Jensen who defies those who selectively quote Audre Lorde in saying: “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house”. There is no reason at all why certain, effective technologies should not be used in defence of humanity and the wider world, so long as the doctrine of technology as a universal force for good is resisted. You are almost using a web browser to read this. If you are using Internet Explorer, then stop using it and install Firefox instead.

Now you have done that – and wasn’t it easy? – watch the following video, which will explain how to install AdBlock Plus:

Working with the AdBlocked browser might not seem different, but we are surprisingly poor at noticing things that are not there – maybe news sites feel a bit cleaner; pages load a little quicker; you aren’t getting all sorts of messages asking for permission to open this and that. The critical difference is that you are being exposed to far fewer advertisements; and if you do see and advert, all you have to do is right-click (or the Mac equivalent) and select “Adblock Image…”. Click “Add Filter” and you will never see it again.

Unless you are using someone else’s machine, in which case, ask them to install Firefox and AdBlock Plus, and get them to ask all their friends to do the same, and so on. Very quickly, with virtually no risk at all, you have a lot of people who are being brainwashed that bit less. What’s not to like?

Low and Medium Risk

I am genuinely unsure of whether defacing or damaging an advertisement in a public place is a crime or not. Speaking for English Law, which is the jurisdiction under which I am forced to live, if a billboard is operated by a private company then any “negative” action taken against the advertisement is taken against the private company alone. Any prosecution would have to be taken out by that company (ClearChannel, JCDecaux or whatever) upon the individual, and as far as I know, it never has been. That’s why I consider any non-destructive (speaking from a structural point of view) actions that do not directly harm another person to be Low Risk.

However, the comfort factor is important, so there are a number of variables that determine your personal risk, whether real or perceived. First, where and when the action is taking place: in broad daylight in a busy shopping street is bound to get you at least some attention, although this can be mitigated (perversely) by the wearing of a fluorescent yellow tabard, making methodical actions at least seem official. Under cover of dark, next to a place usually only busy during the rush-hour is perfect for avoiding any trouble.

Second, how much you do: rip off a small part of a poster, which is quick and less obvious than a complete removal, and you probably won’t be noticed; as will just a subtle change to a word or image (which can often be more effective) compared to a complete spray-job. I have found, to my delight, that removing a corner of even the largest billboard is often followed up by local teenagers finishing the job for you; similarly, scribble a bit of hair beneath an Immac-ed armpit, and you are inviting even more creative additions.

Thirdly, the nature of the change, if you are not simply removing the advert. There is one thing I personally would avoid, just because I have children, and that’s swearing as part of the defacement, as well as the use of sexual or overtly violent images. The addition below is great fun, but you can see (where I have smudged, just in case kids see this) the problem if it’s near to a school, for instance. Just keep it appropriate – by all means draw in a person crushed by the car on the advert, but avoid drawing a massive penis on a Coke bottle, as much as you would probably like to, if you want to keep it low risk.

The key to these low and medium risk actions, is the physical removal of the message intended by the advertiser. If you can reverse the message, as often portrayed by groups like Adbusters, then that’s great too; but the main thing is the release of people’s minds from the grasp of the corporate system. Just one advert removed from the eyes of a thousand people is a very good thing indeed. And don’t forget, this includes televisions, as featured last month.

High Risk

I’m putting these things under High Risk because whilst being incredibly important, they are almost certainly illegal, and may even pose some kind of direct risk to yourself in executing them. Because of that, I have to issue the following disclaimer:

The author, nor the host of this web site does not condone any actions which break the law under the jurisdiction where the described activity is taking place.

Which, of course, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do them at your own risk.

An Unsuitablog staffer had a chat with David Lambert of JCDecaux, the largest seller of high-tech billboards in the UK, to discuss their Première range of backlit behemoths, and he was relatively forthcoming on the subject of power sources to their units (listen towards the end):

RECORDING: JCDecaux Premiere Billboard Range (opens in new window)

Obviously if the power were to be removed from these units then the advert would be pretty useless; all those drivers no longer being urged to spend, spend, spend!

For billboards that are rather more inert, particularly the suburban and rural variety, I hand over to the peerless “Ecodefense: A Field Guide To Monkeywrenching” (a mirror of which you will find on the A Matter Of Scale website). In particular, Chapter 8, which deals with the removal of Propaganda:

Propaganda-psychological warfare-has been around ever since the early agricultural cities of the Fertile Crescent began quarreling and pushing each other around. Half of your battle is won when your enemy is afraid of you.

Propaganda is a good way for the monkeywrencher to not only present her message to the public, but also to cause sleepless nights for the black-hearted Freddies, developers, subdividers, gutless politicians, sleazy advertisers, and others. Besides the well-known act of cutting down billboards, other entertain­ing ideas in this chapter can leave the evil ones sweating and sleepless in their beds.

The relevant section includes details on tools, tactics for avoiding detection, and safety (for yourself and others) – you really don’t want one of these things falling on you!

As well as felling, Ecodefense goes into a great amount of detail about the various types of defacement and revision I have only touched on here. All of this is pretty high risk stuff, but certainly not beyond the ability of smart and careful people.

Whether you just install AdBlock Plus on your computer, remove a sheet of advert from a billboard or do something more permanent, you are giving both yourself and many others back their liberty; indeed, their basic right not to have their thoughts polluted by the desires of other, more nefarious, parties. Advertising is not freedom of speech or expression – it curtails this in favour of a corporate-driven message that defines how we should life our lives.

Now go and break those ads!

Posted in Advice, Monthly Undermining Tasks, Sabotage, Subvertising | 4 Comments »