Viet Nam has a lot of great history. I like history. I like culture. I like different. I like to experience the differences. I like………………
Poetry – My Culture – a poem about the struggle for freedom and equality.
The society we live in did not come about by chance; it was fought for every inch of the way by people with vision and aspiration. The peasants and serfs were kept in poverty but they were not stupid. The robber barons stole the land from under their feet and they were powerless. The wealthy businessmen stole their products through guile. The State enacted laws to protect the establishment and keep the poor in their place.
With the coming of the industrial revolution ordinary people were kept down. They were paid a pittance in order to keep the profits high. The bosses creamed off huge wealth while the workers slaved. The owners and aristocrats lived in mansions and palaces with servants while the producers of the wealth lived in poverty and working conditions that were scandalous.
Gradually the ordinary people fought for representation, fair reward for labour given and justice. Ever so gradually the work conditions improved and the wages rose. Each step on the way was met with bleating and violence. The establishment was loath to give up its luxury; they feared the result of suffrage for ordinary people. They believed we might change the laws to create fairness.
They give us as little as they think they can buy us off with. Only through the unions was a living wage grudgingly conceded. Their fear is revolution.
This society we live in is the result of struggle. The freedoms we have are tenuous. The establishment claw back all they can. The wealth still sticks with the elite. The trickle down is as meagre as required to keep us docile. Zero hours contracts, austerity, unemployment and pay freezes are deployed while the rich get richer. We are all in it together is a lie. Information is biased and distorted – the Daily Mail and the rest of the press, even the BBC are all part of an establishment. He who tells the story controls the minds. The media moguls have a vested interest.
Democracy is a fragile thing and bought with blood – lots of blood.
This is my culture – the wisdom of my ways.
Suppression and oppression – the order of past days.
Freed into the sunlight – on a democratic wave.
Released from penury – and the status of a slave.
The blood of my forebears sinks heavy in this soil
They paid dear for a share of the profits from their toil.
They fought for their rights and freedoms against a selfish few
Who garnered all the wealth away and propped up many a pew.
This is my culture – the result of battles fought.
Standing up for rights – against a great onslaught.
Liberty and equality – to stand tall and not in fear.
Freedom from King and God – is a right that we hold dear.
From the wealthy, the bishops and the kings
We wrested back our freedoms, among a host of things.
They grudgingly relented to give the very least
And we seized the goods on offer from the Baron and the Priest.
This is now my culture – value it we must!
If once our eyes do stray away – they’ll fling it in the dust.
Rights and freedoms – are febrile in the light.
They’ll rip them away – they have the power and the might.
I give thanks to the Levellers, the Chartists and rebels all,
Without all their struggles we would not have a life at all.
The suffragettes and Wilberforce struck blows for equality.
They chipped away at oppression and left us democracy.
This is that culture – worthy of a fight!
Free of church and monarchy – valiant and bright!
A culture to be proud of in which I take delight.
Proud to be an Englishman and put the world to right!
Not as an exploiter, a victor or an owner with his fee
But as a friend, a fellow traveller, a champion of the free.
Together we could stand to create justice without tyranny
Take the best from all our cultures and live in harmony.
I offer the hand of friendship
But keep a wary eye.
Freedom is a very rare thing,
But seize it we must try!
There is something great about walking around a new city, particularly if it’s warm. Stopping for a beer and local delicacy. Watching the people. Everything is interesting – the art, history, culture and architecture. Love it.
Walking through the park at Shanghai through the hazy smog heading for a visit to the museum.
They showed us how it was really done – plunging hands into hot metal bowl over hot fire to stir the drying leaves.
It is fascinating to see a place from the river. You get a totally different impression. It is different, exotic at times, revealing poverty at others.
Between all the horrors is pride
Between the spew stains on the pavement,
The game shows and the squeals,
There’s a culture trying to be heard.
Between the concentration camps,
The genocides and arrogant superiority,
There’s a history to be proud of.
Despite the cruelty, the belligerence,
Viciousness and self-righteousness,
There sits a worthy spirit of generosity.
It is the ‘betweens’ that I wish to focus on.
In the ‘betweens’ I can feel affinity.
The ‘betweens’ are where I feel at home.
Between all the horrors is pride
Walking through a city centre on a Saturday night with all the lads leering around with their shirts hanging out and the girls, made up to the nines in their tight micro-skirts, tottering around on high heels, on the pull in a world of drunken mindlessness, it is hard to find the pride in your culture. Sex, booze and incessant back-ground pop. It doesn’t add up to much.
Turning on the telly to the endless stream of game shows and competitions with their ubiquitous squeals, (an import from America where squealing is the norm), it is hard to find anything of substance.
Looking back through history with the ruthlessness of the British Empire, it’s suppression of the ‘natives’, the genocide on the non-compliant, the in-built superiority emanating from Rugby and Eton but infiltrating down to the most base and uncouth soldier, and the invention of the concentration camp as a weapon of war, it is hard to feel satisfaction.
Looking back at our past with its religious orthodoxy, intolerance, oppression, vile class system, terrible inequality, cruel torturing, war-like disposition and social injustice, it is hard to feel a sense of belonging.
Yet in between the shallowness, arrogance, stupidity, unfairness, victimisation, mindlessness, inequality and brutality, there are the glimmers of hope.
There is a spirit in the British that is proud and free. They reach out a hand to the underdog and find a way to respect those who are different. There is compassion and a history of standing up for justice. This was the country that abolished slavery that brought in trade unions that fought for democracy and social justice. This is a country that has produced more than its share of artists, writers, scientists, engineers, musicians and social reformers.
That is where I can take my pride. There is an in-between culture that has substance and worth that underlies the squeals, the drink and mindless garbage, the arrogance and superiority. That is my Britain.
Long ago we made a big decision; to give up our hunter gatherer way of life and embrace farming.
It changed us from a system of nomadic small bands of hunters into a sedentary group of farmers. It gave us ownership of land and tools. It put us against nature.
Agriculture enabled us to survive in large numbers and create civilisations. We developed trade and cities. We grew into huge social groups, developed kings, nations and religions.
Instead of being tribes of a few hundred we became nations of millions.
In order to unify people there had to be social cohesion. We invested in strong leaders – fearsome warrior-kings like Ghenghis Khan, Richard The Lion-heart, Saladin or Constantine. We invented religions – Islam, Bhuddism, Hinduism, Christianity, Shinto, Judaism. We invented Emperors, Kings, Queens and Ayatollahs. We invented political systems – capitalism, communism, anarchism, socialism, liberalism, democracy, theocracy. We invented national cultures and identity.
With people united behind a set of shared values anything was possible. It was possible to raise armies, conquer and loot, build cities, raise taxes and carry out monumental tasks such as the building of cathedrals, temples, pyramids, banks, cities, palaces and hydrogen bombs.
The millions of people within a nation were united by a shared identity. They wore similar clothes, spoke the same language, worshipped the same god, followed the same laws, had a shared history, looked the same, performed the same rituals, gave allegiance to the same leader, paid taxes and thus invested in the structure of the culture, and supported the political system. It unified people so that strangers could live side by side. It enabled people to live in huge cities with the minimum of violence and discord. It enabled wars and conflict with competing nations.
It also spawned great inequalities as powerful kings, aristocrats and religious leaders took a large chunk of the produce and merchants became wealthy at the expense of the working people.
Social cohesion has created the world we live in.
Social cohesion is very powerful. People believe in it.
It made gods out of leaders. The Japanese created Shinto – a religions cobbled together out of many sources in which the Emperor was deified as a descendant of the Sun God.
From the outside this looks absurd. But people felt strongly enough to sacrifice their lives for him in Kamikaze suicide missions.
Sunni and Shia Muslims follow the same Koran and the same prophet but a disagreement over lineage has resulted in extreme hatred.
To an outsider it is absurd. Yet inside the religions the doctrine is sufficient to have martyrs blowing themselves up in mosques full of women and children.
We have the same with Muslim and Jew, Capitalist and Communist, Catholic and Protestant.
All equally fabricated and absurd.
We look at other cultures with their silly costumes, strange rituals, dietary requirements, prayers, beliefs, pageants, uniforms, parades and shows of allegiance with a range of emotions. We are amused, interested, amazed, horrified, bewildered, astounded and in awe.
We find aspects quaint, absurd, ridiculous, impressive, worrying, bewildering and often beyond belief.
Do people really believe these things are are they playing lip service?
Yet we accept our own rituals, beliefs, absurdities and laws as normal and rational.
From birth we are indoctrinated into our culture. We are brainwashed by our family, our community, our schools, our places of worship, our rituals, customs, political leaders and social leaders, to accept the norm, work within the narrow parameters and follow the guidelines.
Through patriotism, religious belief, fealty to the monarch, national pride, racial unity and faith in the law of the land we allow ourselves to be ruled.
In a new country like America it takes the form of the daily ritual of the vow of allegiance and the symbol of the stars and stripes. In North Korea it is stringent conformity and shows of hysterical support to their leader Kim Jung-Un. We see similar fanaticism towards various political and religious leaders around the world.
There are undoubtedly good things that have come out of this ‘civilisation’. We have certainly prospered. Our numbers have greatly increased, our health has improved, our living standards are much higher (at least for many), we have glorious works of art and architecture and incredible science. Our technology is mind boggling.
All the result of social cohesion harnessing the power of millions of people.
On the downside it has created tyrants, mass starvation, war, poverty, extreme inequality, slavery and servitude, genital mutilation, nationalism, fascism, racism and genocide.
Would-be leaders have exploited social cohesion in order to gain power. They have exploited racism, religious doctrines and nationalism to create fear, hate and division in order to propel them to power.
Is it possible that in this modern age we are witnessing the breakdown of social cohesion?
With global travel, the internet and the mixing of races the demes of human culture are dissolving. It is hard for national or local groups to retain their customs and beliefs when there is no rational basis. Why should it be mandatory to wear a veil and be subservient to men when most women do not have to? Why should a black not not be president of the USA? The French girl I met last year was really nice – do we have to hate them all?
Religious beliefs are being questioned.
Political systems are being questioned.
National customs and dress are being questioned.
More mixing is taking place. We are no longer living in homogenous groups.
Of course, this has created great fear and concern. People feel secure within the customs they have grown up with. They want to hang on to them. They feel an affinity to them. They are afraid that their dearly held customs and beliefs are being discarded or, even worse, usurped by immigrants. They certainly don’t want to live under someone else’s patently ridiculous or draconianly restrictive, even barbaric, customs.
It has resulted in a spate of extreme nationalism founded on xenophobia and racism resulting in populist politics – Trump, Erdogan, Johnson, Bolsonaro, Modi and Brexit. It has resulted in ISIS, Boko Haram, the Taliban and Kim Jung-Un.
The question remains – is this a phase?
When people lose their faith in Kings/Queens, politicians, religions and even national customs, is there something better the other side of that?
It seems to me that we are at a crossroads.
Do we produce a new narrative that is more powerful than the previous narratives?
Do we create a global story that we can all believe in? A story that is rational, with a place for us all, that is tolerant, respectful, and allows freedom?
Astory that goes beyond religion, race, culture and nationality?
I think we have a choice.
We either create a global village that encompasses all humanity and nature and enables us all to flourish or the social cohesions dissolve and we end up with anarchy and destruction.
With 8 billion people we cannot go back to our hunter gatherer way of life. Without social cohesion we cannot live peacefully in communities. The breakdown of social cohesion would create chaos, power struggles, warlords and Mad Max. It would result in mass violence and starvation.
The present wave of populistic nationalism is causing immense environmental destruction and fueling international conflict.
I believe this is a unique period of history.
We have the opportunity to build something really great or descend into barbarity.
To be a famous celebrity
Every now and then I catch a glimpse of Strictly Come Dancing, The Voice or Britain’s Got Talent and I am sickened all over again. Forty years ago I was sickened when the Americans squealed and went mental at dross. I thought it could not happen here. We were more discerning, more reserved.
But we are not.
The celebrity culture, support of trash, and desire for wealth is more pernicious than even.
Back in the sixties we thought we were actually building a better future based on values, where wealth, fame and elitism were banished. We thought we’d dispensed with the superficial and were looking for something deeper – friendship, spirituality, coexistence with nature, respect for difference, fun, enjoyment, relationship, music, dance, art, culture, equality, freedom…………………..
We recognised that fame and wealth does not bring happiness; that this mad rush for personal wealth and power (always at the expense of others) was no recipe for fulfilment. Life is not a race, it’s a sharing of spirit.
No lessons were learnt.
The game is played by a tiny minority who cream off the wealth and power, buy off the politicians, own the media and fool us all into slaving for their prosperity.
Nobody ‘earns’ a million pounds – let alone a billion or two. They accrue that by exploiting others.
The inequality of the world, the environmental destruction, war, poverty and desperation are the direct result of policies created by those who benefit!
We are fed pap in order to keep us quiet. We have carrots dangled so that we feel we can become one of them.
We buy lottery tickets and work like hell to join the ‘In Set’. We want to be on TV and be elevated.
I watched the Apprentice with its naked avarice and back-stabbing desire to claw their way to the top, to bend every rule and – WIN!!!
It’s disgusting, empty, vacuous and utterly destructive.
I do not want to live my life at the expense of every other living person and creature on this planet. I’m not worth it! Nobody is!
To be a famous celebrity
To be a famous celebrity –
Nothing less will do for me!
I crave for a penthouse suite,
A huge yacht,
And all that you’ve got!
I yearn for the fame and luxury –
Nothing less will do for me!
To get all that
I’ll rob the poor and even my old mum
And put a tariff on my bum.
I desire to join the Jet-set crew –
For me, nothing less will do!
I don’t care if millions starve and die!
As long As I’m not forced
To wonder why.
Wealth and fame for me is due –
For me, nothing less will do!
It doesn’t worry me
If we kill everything –
Every damn last tree!
Nothing less will do for me!
You know I’m worth it!
I deserve it!
More than you!
Nothing else will do!
Stuff the hole in your culture
I did not like or appreciate the regimentation or life. It looked mindless, unimaginative, empty and lacking in inspiration or creativity.
I wanted some awe, magic and wonder.
I wanted to rip the fabric of society apart and replace it with something that was more alive.
I watched my father go off to work on the same train, come back at the same time and follow the same routine. There was nothing to think about or feel.
The countryside was imprisoned in hedgerows and beaten down, tamed, ploughed and planted.
The streets teemed with people all looking straight ahead without a laugh.
The TV was short of poems.
I wrote a poem for the boring world of my father. I was afraid that it was one I might come to inhabit.
Stuff the hole in your culture
Stuff your neatness
Your ‘just so’,
Your street signs
In straight lines;
You rectangle homes
And concrete lives.
Stuff your tidiness;
Your squares of countryside
All neatly trimmed hedgerows
And pruned trees;
Your great productivity
And boring productions;
Your quantity of rubbish
And forgetfulness of quality.
Stuff your career;
Your conveyor belts
That feed machines
With human fodder
Stuff your nine to five,
Stay in line,
Muzak filled brains
That hum all day on nothing
And feel indifferent
When work is done.
Stuff your greediness
As you hoard the plastic trinkets,
The car and TV,
Stuff the values that are told to you;
All empty without purpose or reason,
The status quo
So your orderly life
Proceeds as yesterday.
Stuff your boring natures
That create the apathy you live in.
Where the effort of real life
Is too much
For your programmed existence.
Stuff your TV shows
That are on at seven every night;
Formatted into episodes
That are formulaic
Stuff the whole of this empty culture
And let me breathe.