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Ready the Fire Extinguishers: The Coca-Cola Olympic Torch is Coming!

Posted by keith on 10th November 2011

The Olympic torch relay does not have an auspicious history. The modern torch relay, as a symbol of local pride enmeshed in the Olympic ideal, was introduced in 1936 to herald the opening of the Berlin Olympics. It was nothing less than a propaganda exercise to show the world the superiority of Aryan athletes over the rest of the world:

It was planned with immense care by the Nazi leadership to project the image of the Third Reich as a modern, economically dynamic state with growing international influence.

The organiser of the 1936 Olympics, Carl Diem, wanted an event linking the modern Olympics to the ancient. The idea chimed perfectly with the Nazi belief that classical Greece was an Aryan forerunner of the modern German Reich, and the event blended perfectly the perversion of history with publicity for contemporary German power.

The first torch was lit in Greece with the help of mirrors made by the German company Zeiss. Steel-clad magnesium torches to carry the flame were specially produced by the Ruhr-based industrial giant Krupp.

Media coverage was masterminded by Nazi propaganda chief Josef Goebbels, using the latest techniques and technology. Dramatic regular radio coverage of the torch’s progress kept up the excitement, and Leni Riefenstahl filmed it to create powerful images.

Coca-Cola were there, a friend of Nazi Germany, as a major sponsor proud of its associations with the 1936 Berlin Olympics, and seemingly proud of it’s links with National Socialism and the Third Reich (Coca-Cola Gmbh remained producing throughout World War Two, and even invented a new drink – Fanta – when Coke syrup became unavailable). In 1925 the Coca-Cola Corporation, perhaps naively, produced a watch fob in the shape of a Swastika to represent “good luck”. It has since come to represent something far more sinister; as has the name of Coca-Cola.

The website “Killer Coke” has highlighted some of the abuses carried out by, or in the name of, Coca-Cola over the last few years. The 1936 shame of Coca-Cola’s association with the Nazi regime is no distant, shameful memory; it is kept alive and kicking by the corporation’s continued activities:

Colombia and Guatemala

According to “The Coke Machine,” by Michael Blanding, published in September 2010, “…the union members do look to the lawsuit and the Killer Coke Campaign as the reason they are still alive.”

Some find it unbelievable that human rights abuses — systematic intimidation, kidnapping, torture and murder — are occurring at Coca-Cola bottling plants in Colombia. But it’s not the first time Coke has committed such atrocities.

In a 1987 booklet, “Soft Drink, Hard Labour,” the Latin America Bureau in London said:

“For nine years the 450 workers at the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Guatemala City fought a battle for their jobs, their trade union and their lives. Three times they occupied the plant — on the last occasion for 13 months. Three General Secretaries of their union were murdered and five other workers killed. Four more were kidnapped and have disappeared. Against all the odds they survived, thanks to their own extraordinary courage and help from fellow trade unionists in Guatemala and around the world.

“A huge international campaign of protests and boycotts was central to their struggle. As a result, the Coca-Cola workers forced concessions from one of the world’s largest multinational food giants and kept the Guatemalan trade union movement alive through a dark age of government repression.”

The kind of violence directed against labor leaders at Coca-Cola bottling plant in Guatemala City in the ’70s and ’80s has been happening at Coke bottling plants in Colombia over the past couple of decades and unfortunately is being repeated again in Guatemala.

Turkey

In Turkey, in 2005, 105 workers at a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Istanbul joined a union and were terminated. They organized a lengthy sit-down strike in front of the main offices of Coca-Cola in Turkey. After several weeks of protesting, Coca-Cola workers entered the building to demand their reinstatement. While leaders of the workers were meeting with senior management for the company, the company ordered Turkish riot police to attack the workers who were by all accounts peacefully assembled, many with their spouses and children. Nearly two hundred of them were beaten badly and many required hospitalization. Lawsuits are pending.

El Salvador

In addition to abuse of workers, Coke has been involved in the exploitation of children by benefiting from hazardous child labor in sugar cane fields in El Salvador. This was first documented by Human Rights Watch in 2004 and in footage taken in 2007 for a nationally-televised British documentary and highlighted in Mark Thomas’s book “Belching Out the Devil: Global Adventures with Coca-Cola,” published in 2009 in the U.S.

Representatives of the International Labor Organization interviewed company representatives at Colombian Coca-Cola bottling plants in 2008 to ascertain whether they exercised any control of suppliers of raw materials (such as sugar) to ensure that they did not use child labor. The manager at the Coke plant in Cali said that their suppliers should not use child labor, but added “that the enterprise [Coca-Cola] did not yet exercise oversight over this issue.”

India

Of the 200 countries where Coca-Cola is sold, India reportedly has the fastest-growing market, but the adverse environmental impacts of its operations there have subjected The Coca-Cola Co. and its local bottlers to a firestorm of criticism and protest. There has been a growing outcry against Coca-Cola’s production practices throughout India, which are draining out vast amounts of public groundwater and turning farming communities into virtual deserts. Suicide rates among Indian farmers whose livelihoods are being destroyed are growing at an alarming rate. Every day for years there has been some form of protest, from large demonstrations to small vigils, against Coca-Cola’s abuses in India.

One target of protest has been the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Plachimada, Kerala, which has remained shut down since March 2004 as a result of the community-led campaign in Plachimada challenging Coca-Cola’s abuse of water resources.

The International Environmental Law Research Centre issued a report in 2007 that stated, in part, “The deterioration of groundwater in quality and quantity and the consequential public health problems and the destruction of the agricultural economy are the main problems identified in Plachimada. The activity of The Coca Cola Company has caused or contributed a great deal to these problems…The availability of good quality water for drinking purposes and agriculture has been affected dangerously due to the activity of the Company. Apart from that, the Company had also polluted the agricultural lands by depositing the hazardous wastes. All these points to the gross violation of the basic human rights, that is, the right to life, right to livelihood and the violation of the pollution control laws.”

It is not so much a case of Coca-Cola having hard questions to answer as people realising that this company stand in the unenviable position of being one of the most unethical corporations in history. In May 2012 the London Olympic Torch will begin its long route through the United Kingdom, raising publicity for the Olympics and giving an opportunity for thousands of people to share in the Olympic ideal. The London 2012 website states:

The Olympic Flame will come within 10 miles of 95% of people in the UK, Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey. It will enable local communities to shine a light on the best their area has to offer – including celebrations of local culture, breathtaking landscapes and dynamic urban areas.

The main sponsor of the Olympic torch is Coca-Cola. In 2011 the corporation ran a competition to select the young people who would bear the torch on its way around the country; in essence, if you wanted to bear the torch then you had to bare your soul to the Coca-Cola Corporation. The competition contained the following, stomach-churning propaganda, not a million miles away from the same propaganda that Joseph Goebells utilised so effectively in 1936:

The Olympic Flame is coming to the UK in 2012, and for the eighth time, Coca‑Cola will be a Presenting Partner of the Olympic Torch Relay. The route will stretch the entire length of the country, starting at Land’s End on May 19th 2012, and finishing in the Olympic Stadium in London on July 27th 2012. We’re using our involvement to shine a light on young people across the UK, and celebrate the great things they get up to every day.

Through our Future Flames campaign, we’ll be giving young people who are using their passions to inspire others the once-in-a-lifetime chance to carry the Olympic Torch next year.

Enough! It’s time we had another way of looking at the Olympics and opposing the way it and the torch relay has become a corporate party; a way that reflects the Olympic ideal, “to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practiced without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play”.

So how about being a Future Rebel? Young people who agree with the Olympic ideal, but disagree vehemently with the corporate ties that the modern Olympics are so ravenously embracing. These corporate ties are so embedded that if you so much as bring a soft drink into an Olympic stadium that isn’t made by the Coca-Cola Corporation you will, at best, have it confiscated, and at worst be refused entry. Now I don’t really care whether I can take my choice of soft drink to an Olympic venue – I won’t be attending because of the sheer scale of commercialism. But I do care about the drowning of the ideas of friendship, solidarity and fair play in the tide of commerce. If you are in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man, then as the Olympic torch passes through your neighbourhood I would love a band of people to be there, at every corner, on every street, subvertising the sponsors with alternative images; telling the press, radio and television reporters how commercialism is destroying childhood, sport and life in general; and generally pouring water on the brands that have come to dominate every aspect of our lives.

Or, for that especially ironic touch, you could use something other than water.

Posted in Corporate Hypocrisy, Exposure, General Hypocrisy, Human Rights, Sabotage, Subvertising | 1 Comment »

Switch Your Lights ON for Earth Hour!

Posted by keith on 24th March 2011

Earth Hour Sucks tower block

Once upon a time there was just greenwash: corporations and governments went to great lengths to convince a concerned public that they were doing everything they could to help the natural environment return to its former glory. All the time they were filling their bank accounts and pumping up their career prospects. You could be green and profitable and no one would suspect the former was nothing but a lie.

Then the non-profits got involved and things started to become complicated. Partnerships were drawn up between the biggest “environmental” NGOs and the most destructive corporations on Earth, all for a tiny sliver of the corporate pie, and a large wad of environmental fuzziness. The corporations looked good; the NGOs got their funding; the planet continued to fry and die.

And then it went even further. Greenwash became partnership became parody as the NGOs fully embraced both the corporate world and the trivial activities they put forward as symbols of their committment to a better world. And a better world it would be: if all you cared about was making money, that is.

Earth Hour 2011 is nearly upon us, and it stands as the ultimate parody of this great coming together of all that is evil in the world of greenwashing. I don’t use the term “evil” lightly. A person cannot be evil; an action can. Earth Hour is evil because it not only allows corporations, politicians, urban sprawls and industrial monoliths to look good in the eyes of a naive public, it actively attacks genuine attempts to try and undermine the very things that feed off Earth Day. An ordinary person in the thrall of industrial civilization cannot fail to be impressed by the sight of a thousand buildings simultaneously switching off their lights in the name of planet Earth; how can something as mundane as building non-dependent communities compete with such glamour.

How can supergluing the valves on the Las Vegas fountains compete with the casinos on the strip switching off their lights for an hour?

How can setting up a community barter scheme compete with Canary Wharf in London switching off its lights for an hour?

How can creating food self-sufficiency compete with Sears in Canada switching off or dimming its lights for an hour?

How can groups of people finding that time spent embracing their local environment rather than jetting across the world compete with Skycity in New Zealand switching off its lights for an hour?

Well, exactly. It’s bullshit, all of it!

And that is why, for Earth Hour 2011, at 8.30pm on Saturday 26th March, if you are doing nothing more important then switch all your lights on. Every single one.

You might have to fight with that part of you that says, “This is wasteful!” but you need to fight it. That one hour spent consciously doing the exact opposite of what the industrial system would like you to think is the right thing to do is what will help cut that link between the machine and your own individual humanity.

Earth Hour is Evil.

SWITCH ON YOUR LIGHTS ON MARCH 26TH.

Posted in Campaigns, Corporate Hypocrisy, NGO Hypocrisy, Political Hypocrisy, Sabotage, Symbolic Action | 22 Comments »

UK Census 2011: Why I Will Be Breaking The Law on March 27, 2011

Posted by keith on 28th February 2011

On Sunday March 27, 2011 I will be breaking the law.

If you live in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland then I would also like you to break the law. We can do it together, and I know for a fact that an awful lot of people will be doing the same.

The UK Census 2011 is being held on that date, and everyone is expected to have their details recorded and sent back to the government for processing. Except it won’t, because it is not the job of the government to do the processing – and that is the key to why I will be breaking the law.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland the Census data will be recorded and processed by one of the largest arms manufacturers in the world. In Scotland the Census data will be recorded and processed by a company wholly owned by a military services contractor. The following extract from the 2011 Census Security Report puts the two contractors in context:

The review team are aware that this has been a matter of public interest and note that the use of UK and EU subcontractors places Lockheed-Martin UK at arm’s length from the data gathered in England and Wales, and Northern Ireland. Once the data capture infrastructure has been completed. there will be a ‘scrubbing’ stage in which all routes of access for Lockheed-Martin UK employees will be removed and the Census Ofices will formally assume control, with Steria, an EU company, undertaking the necessary data management and administrative functions. There have been public assurances that the contractual arrangements have been structured to ensure that only sub-contractors registered and based in the UK, and either UK or EU owned, will have access to personal census data. No Lockheed-Martin staff (from either the US parent or UK company) will have access to any personal census data. The approach adopted by GROS [General Register Office for Scotland] has been similar, and GROS will play a major role in controlling access to the infrastructure used for processing data supplied in the 2011 Census. It is a condition of the contract with CACI (UK) that personal census information will not leave the UK. GROS have confirmed that CACI (UK)’s sub-contractors with access to 2011 Census data have no US links and that the Act, therefore, does not apply to them. GROS have also given public assurances on contractor confidentiality in this area.

It is important to note that under Patriot Act rules, any data processed by a US company for any reason can legally (under US law) be utilised for the purposes of National Security. In the case of the UK Census it is of great interest to National Security who has whatever name, living in whatever place, having whatever religious beliefs, holding whatever passport and having whatever country of origin (and maybe staying in whatever country for more than 30 days a year). This information is being collected, and there is nothing any foreign government can do to legally stop the US government and its agencies from using that data if the data gets into the US-based processing facilities of either Lockheed-Martin or CACI International Inc.

This fact has been recognised by the Office of National Statistics, revealed in a startling passage:

Concerns expressed about the possibility of the US Patriot Act being used by US intelligence services have been addressed by a number of additional contractual and operational safeguards. These arrangements have been put in place to ensure to that US authorities are unable to access census data.

The ONS know they have no legal powers to prevent the access to data, so they are merely going to try and do their best to make sure it can’t happen. Yeah, right!

And that isn’t even the major issue. As mentioned above, both of the companies involved in gathering and carrying out the initial data processing are involved in providing arms (in one case) and services (in both cases) to military operations.

The Office of National Statistics has awarded the England, Wales and Northern Ireland contract to Lockheed Martin, one of the largest arms companies in the world. From their own website:

While a pilot engaging an enemy in armed conflict is a defining moment, air power is more than just aircraft. Air power includes actual aircraft, training, focused logistics, munitions, and even targeting and navigation systems – all the interconnected pieces necessary to complete their missions successfully. Lockheed Martin is a global leader in the design, manufacture and support of military aircraft.

Lockheed Martin provides high altitude airborne reconnaissance that includes state of the art imagery sensors that collect intelligence in all weather and light conditions. This enables the warfighter to download and transmit data in real time via satellite to multiple ground stations and other manned and unmanned aircraft around the world.

The General Register Office for Scotland has awarded the Scotland contract to CACI (UK) Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of CACI International Inc. From their own website:

In support of DISA CACI also provides global net-centric solutions to our nation’s warfighters under all conditions of peace and war. CACI is the predominant IT services provider supporting a highly sensitive DISA agency that designs, operates and maintains presidential communication systems. CACI integrated computer network security solutions that formed a network which the National Security Agency (NSA) evaluated as one of the most secure government IT networks in the U.S.

Missile Defense Agency (MDA) – As the market leader in contracting and acquisition support, CACI has supported the MDA since 1993 by providing complex contracting and acquisition services. CACI’s expertise has been pivotal in evolving and transforming MDA’s mission over many years. CACI’s services are essential to awarding multiple billion dollar missile defense systems and associated services contracts. This cornerstone program has led CACI to become the premier contracting and acquisition support contractor and for the entire DoD and federal civilian marketplace.

Having companies like this deal with public census data is rather like having Monsanto carry out your gardening. They might be able to do the job, but do you really trust them to do the right thing; and do you really feel comfortable paying them to do the job given what they routinely do to the natural ecosystems of the world?

So that is why I will be breaking the law on Sunday March 27, 2011. And that’s why I will be explaining to the census-taker when they come to my door to collect the form that, for both data security and ethical reasons I wish to have no part in the Census. I will not be filling it in.

I know for a fact that I won’t be going to jail, despite what some media sources have been claiming, and I probably won’t even get a fine*; but if push comes to shove, here are some other things I might be trying to avoid giving any satisfaction to the peddlers of blood gathering the data:

1) Spoiling the Census form by making it illegible;

2) Filling in vague data that provides no useful information, but is not false in any way;

3) Filibusting on the doorstep, so that the census-taker runs out of time;

4) Claiming the rights of a Conscientious Objector given the business of the business of the companies involved (particulaly useful if this ever goes to court, for more information read this article).

I don’t think I will be the only person doing this…

— ————

*From the Census Act 1920

Penalties.

(1)If any person—

(a)refuses or neglects to comply with or acts in contravention of any of the provisions of this Act or any Order in Council or regulations made under this Act; or

(b)being a person required under this Act to make a statutory declaration with respect to the performance of his duties, makes a false declaration; or

(c)being a person required by any Order in Council or regulations made under this Act to make, sign, or deliver any document, makes, signs, or delivers, or causes to be made, signed, or delivered a false document; or

(d)being a person required in pursuance of any such Order in Council or regulations to answer any question, refuses to answer or gives a false answer to that question;

he shall for each offence be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.

Posted in Advice, Human Rights, Political Hypocrisy, Sabotage | 6 Comments »

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 »

What I Am Doing For 10/10/10

Posted by keith on 9th October 2010


After all, it is a special day.

Posted in Advice, Sabotage | 3 Comments »

10 Things That Will Actually Make a Difference On 10/10/10 (and Any Other Day)

Posted by keith on 5th October 2010

As I write, thousands of activities are being planned around the world to coincide with the date 10 October 2010, which has been fortuitously chosen for its parallels with the aim to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 10% by the end of 2010 (well that’s one plan blown, then).

Anyone on any mailing list of any mainstream “environmental” group will, in the last month or so, received at least one email and/or letter, imploring you to take part in some event that demonstrates your willingness to be part of a great movement for “change”. I put that last set of quotes in on purpose, because I too received an email from 350.org:

Dear Friends,

I don’t quite believe it.

I’ve been double-checking our numbers, and it’s beginning to look like we might shoot past the total of events from last year’s International Day of Climate Action. As I type this message, the counter is at 5203 events.

You might remember that there were 5248 events in 181 countries last year, and you can watch the compilation video from that day for a reminder of just how beautiful it was. And how massive it was: CNN said that it was “most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history.” I was worried we couldn’t top that for the Global Work Party on 10/10/10–in part because “experts” kept saying people were too discouraged after the failure of the UN climate talks in Copenhagen.

But it’s looking like “experts” were wrong, and this movement is more energized than ever. When we see our leaders failing, we want to show them how it’s done. We want to get to work. We’ll let you know the minute we set a new record–you could help by emailing friends far and near to encourage them to take part.

And in case you needed a tiny bit more motivation to spread the word, this video just arrived from a friend of ours–Ellen Page.

Ellen is not only a great actress (you may have seen her in “Inception” or “Juno”), she’s also a devoted student of permaculture and sustainability. She wrote me the other day to say that Los Angeles had just set a new all-time temperature record, 113 degrees. From Los Angeles to Laos, it seems that we’re all in this together.

We’ll be in touch soon, but I have the feeling the next bit of news I send will be very, very good indeed.

Onwards,

Bill McKibben for the 350.org Team

Regular readers will remember the last big event that 350.org organised; the one Bill proudly quotes as being called, the “most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history.” Not that we would want to make comparisons with, say, the No War For Oil protests in 2003 (around 2 million participants in the UK alone, in dozens of separate marches), but I think it’s a pretty good comparison if hyperbole is what Bill McKibben wants: one day of mass “action” across the globe, a real feeling of genuine achievement amongst the participants…and absolutely nothing achieved.

The war took place.

The emissions continued.

I responded to Bill, obviously knowing that my email would get nowhere near him:

Well, that’s nice Bill. And what has 350.org achieved so far – and what is it likely to achieve? I’m talking real change not number of events, banners, signatures, petitions, participants…whatever – I’m talking real change.

Please enlighten me.

Keith

The response was surprisingly quick, and from one of the senior people in the 350.org office:

Keith,

What does real change look like to you?

Thanks,

Phil Aroneanu

This was actually a very good question – what does real change look like? I thought for a while what appearance real change would take, and it became clear that, like the act of Undermining, Change (with a big “C”) invited nothing symbolic. It is something that fits into a neat progression towards humanity having a survivable future on Earth. Here is my response, highlighted, as I think this is critical.

Hi Phil

Success is:

- Atmospheric greenhouse gas levels back to pre-industrial levels (280ppm CO2e)

- All global ecological biomes functioning at full efficiency

- All synthetic chemicals removed from biosphere

- Species extinction and evolution rates returned to pre-civilized levels

Anything between the current situation and “Success” can be considered “Progress”; the process of achieving that is “Change”.

Change and progress are tangible. Action is not.

Why celebrate anything that is not tangible?

Makes sense to me.

Keith

The conversation continued, with Phil clearly not having understood the gravity of our current situation; nor the massive gulf between the symbolic level of 350.org’s goals and Bill’s celebration, and that which I stated above.

Keith –

Still unclear why people planting trees, painting bike lanes, installing solar panels…etc. on 10/10/10 alongside citizen lobbying isn’t action towards reducing CO2?

Phil

Because tangible progress towards the things I stated below has not been achieved.

As I said, action does not equal change.

Keith

No response was forthcoming, but rather than let this disappear into the ether as another lost opportunity to connect, I am being completely mercenary and hitching something onto the back of so-called 10/10/10 by giving you 10 things you can do any day of any year (until, perhaps, they are no longer needed) and really make a tangible difference:

1) Deface and tear down or otherwise remove commercial advertising.

2) Start paying for things, and offering the things you might sell, by barter.

3) Send fake press releases to newspapers and radio stations telling the truth about corporate activities.

4) Switch off televisions in public places, remotely if you have to.

5) Set up a knowledge sharing scheme in your community to counter pro-consumer schooling.

6) Cook something fresh or make something from scratch and give it to a neighbour or friend, unbidden.

7) Make a nuisance of yourself whenever you see a politician being interviewed.

8) Relabel museum exhibits to reflect the true history of Empire, Colonialism and Exploitation.

9) Lock up already locked retail premises and car parks with your own chains.

10) Start a meme using the words “Economic growth is ecological death” by any means possible.

And that’s just ten things; there are many more here and here. Have a great time, but don’t restrict your fun to just the one day – real activists are always active, not just when we are told to be.

Posted in Exposure, Sabotage, Spoofs, Subvertising | 4 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 »

Hackers Shut Down EU Carbon-Trading Website [From The Guardian]

Posted by keith on 28th July 2010

Sorry for all the reposts recently, but it’s been a very busy time at Unsuitablog HQ, and I also can’t top this bit of news from The Guardian covering an excellent example of Undermining. Emissions Trading, like all forms of offsetting, is a method of ensuring that the industrial system can keep operating.

Anti-carbon trading activists shut down the website of the European Climate Exchange (ECX), over the weekend, replacing the site with a spoof page lampooning the industry.

The website of the London-based carbon credit trading platform was hacked at close to midnight on Friday and showed the spoof homepage for around 22 hours. It then took technical staff another day to restore the official homepage.

Instead of its normal rolling ticker data listing bids for carbon credit futures, the ECX website blared: “Super promo – climate on sale: Guaranteed profit!”

Explaining the “carbon trade scam”, the spoof site decried how the EU’s flagship environmental policy is “susceptible to corporate lobbying,” offers industry “licences to pollute so they can continue business-as-usual,” and “generates outrageous profits for big industry polluters, investors in fraudulent offset projects [and] opportunist traders.”

On Saturday, shortly after the ECX website went down, activists announced their handiwork on a number of environmental discussion groups, saying: “In a public act of digital direct action, the ECX website was taken offline and replaced with our message in an effort to try to raise awareness about carbon trading as a dangerous false solution to the climate crisis.”

One of the activists responsible, from the online activist group, Decocidio, told the Guardian: “We feel the EU Emissions Trading Scheme is not well understood by the general public or even within the environmental movement. It is a major fraud touted by the mainstream media, politics, industry and lobbyists as the main solution.” The group is part of Earth First, a radical environmental protest organisation.

“Attempting to cause as much inconvenience, economical loss and image damage as possible, we deliberately tried to maximise the virtual damage,” said the hacker, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A spokeswoman for the European Climate Exchange, Kelly Loeffler, said: “We have no comment relating to the incident as there is nothing to report publicly.”

The exchange was also targeted by activists from Climate Camp last summer. They dubbed it a “climate change casino”.

Damien Morris, of Sandbag, a self-described “critical friend” of the EU ETS said: “It’s very unfortunate that this sort of infighting over emissions trading has developed within the environmental movement, especially on the radical end,” he said. “There seems to be a large grassroots following and public presence of these sorts of ideas, but not at the more technical and realistic, solutions-focussed part of the movement.”

“There is certainly a place for criticism of the ETS, but the problem with those who disagree with carbon trading is that they oppose it in principle, not in practice. It’s a good idea when done properly. There are many problems with the ETS, but there is a clear pathway as to how it can be made more effective and robust.”

The weasel words of Sandbag reflect their mainstream credentials; clearly Earth First! and Decocidio are so far outside their awareness bubble that anyone who opposes emissions trading must have some kind of theoretical issue, rather than the far more obvious fact that it’s all part of the ecocidal global economy

Posted in Corporate Hypocrisy, Good News!, Offsetting, Political Hypocrisy, Sabotage | No 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 »