Chapter 7 (Part 3)
Chapter Seven – Undermining The Machine (Part 3)
Undermining the Media Machine
Good journalism comes at a price; the price is usually the career and possibly the life of the good journalist. In 2006, Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian journalist and human rights activist was shot four times whilst in her apartment. There is no doubt it was murder, but murder by whom? The case has never been resolved, nor is it ever likely to be because the apartment was in central Moscow and the investigation team were employed by the main suspect: the Russian government. Politkovskaya predicted her own death in a 2004 Guardian article:
The media promote official views. They call it “taking a state-friendly position”, meaning a position of approval of Vladimir Putin’s actions. The media don’t have a critical word to say about him. The same applies to the president’s personal friends, who happen to be the heads of FSB, the defence ministry and the interior ministry.
[Russia is] an information vacuum that spells death from our own ignorance. All we have left is the internet, where information is still freely available. For the rest, if you want to go on working as a journalist, it’s total servility to Putin. Otherwise, it can be death, the bullet, poison, or trial – whatever our special services, Putin’s guard dogs, see fit.1
Such extreme measures are rarely necessary where commercial pressures and draconian editorial regimes dictate the output of virtually every “news” outlet; and so it has always been, albeit with a variety of different pressures operating depending on the particular situation the journalist finds herself in. When a journalist breaks ranks it is news, and that news is rapidly suppressed by whatever means possible. This could take the form of forcing a retraction from the journalist, the outlet making a retraction and dealing with the journalist themselves or the outlet simply distancing itself from the story, blaming “rogue” elements.
Often the story will never get near enough to publication or broadcast to necessitate this and it is rare that legal means or political suppression are brought to bear: the media outlet is so intrinsically linked to the functioning of the system that anything that runs counter to the desires of the Dominant Culture is unlikely to get a public airing. This is why individual blogging and other decentralised channels have become such an important outlet for electronic publication, and why the political pamphlet and the underground press are such powerful symbols of freedom from oppression. I will come back to this shortly.
Task 10: A Matter of Trust
In the previous chapter I spent some time looking at methods of undermining the various doctrinal messages the media propagates on behalf of the industrial system. In some ways we were utilising the system itself to get across alternative messages, such as taking a different “official” viewpoint on economic growth; indeed the media in its current incarnation can be a potential force for good if it is exploited cleverly. But beware! As a commercial entity, the mainstream media serves itself as much as anyone else, so before you think of using a “friendly” publication to expose some great institutional wrongdoing (I have lost count of the number of movies that end with the Great Exposé in the New York Times or suchlike) remember how powerful it is. You cannot mould the media machine to suit your own ends; you can only take advantage of its weaknesses. There is a huge difference.
One such weakness is the flighty nature of public trust. While the vast majority of civilized people have an almost religious faith in the goodness of the industrial economy and the need to maintain systems of power that protect the various tenets of civilization, fewer people have faith in the credibility of any one publication, or even any one sector of the media. For a while, certainly for the majority of the 20th century, newspapers – however trivial their content – maintained a reputation for generally telling the truth. For instance, the British tabloids, so loved of political parties to garner support at election time, managed to survive no end of scandals and legal cases as to remain a staple daily purchase of bus drivers, builders and bar staff. Despite many readers vocalising their concerns about the newsworthiness of the red-tops’ contents (“I know it’s all crap, but…”) they remained in their millions, dubious but hanging on almost every word so long as it reflected their own thoughts and prejudices. One man’s “Ten Million Immigrants Coming This Way” was another man’s “MMR Jab Causes Autism”.
Quick Win: The Headline Board
Whether this is a common occurrence elsewhere, you’ll have to tell me, but wherever I have lived the days have invariably been brightened by the “headline boards” outside newsagents and vendors’ stands providing a four or five word summary of the main (or most interesting) news of the day. Some papers pride themselves on absurd headlines (“Postman Beaten By Lavender Bush”, “Father Christmas Arrested”, “Nuns In Fight Against Strippers” are Brighton Evening Argus classics) but others are far more po-faced, and ideal undermining targets. You need to get paper the right size and enough printing ink to last a few pages, but it’s pretty obvious where this is going. Opening a headline board is easy enough; avoiding being seen less easy, though at night in a fluorescent tabard no one will question you while you are doing the rounds. Alternatively just do some fly-posting where existing newspaper posters are, or on the closed fronts of vendors’ boxes and stands. Something suitably biting, and counter to the editorial policy of the newspaper in question will be ideal – remember, headlines are crass by their very nature, so it will do no harm to swear or be otherwise insulting and rude. All the better to undermine public perception of the nature of the print media.
It wasn’t a deliberate piece of undermining that dealt a (perhaps) fatal blow to the “credibility” of the tabloid media in the UK; it was murder victim Millie Dowler, an overzealous detective and a political party trying to appease an angry public. The fall guy, for want of a better term, was The News of The World; but at the time of writing, the News Corporation “hacking scandal” that reverberated across the globe in the summer of 2011 was still making waves which threaten to flood a few more institutions. Where the undermining comes in is making the most of the opportunity. Not one to hold her tongue at the best of times, author and Member of Parliament, Louise Mensch used her position as a member of the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee to not only sharply question the actions and motives of various Murdochs, but also to publicly accuse the former editor of the Daily Mirror, Piers Morgan, of also utilising similar techniques as News Corporation in order to gather dirt on the subjects of the Mirror’s stories. Whilst later being forced to apologise, there is little doubt that (a) this helped broaden the scope of the public’s distrust of the tabloid media and (b) the Daily Mirror had been up to the same tricks as the News of The World and The Sun.2 Louise Mensch had no intention of undermining the media system, as far as I know, but the same cannot be said of comedian and actor Steve Coogan who, under the guise of his brilliant comedy creation Alan Partridge had the following to say about the editor of the similarly sordid Daily Mail, Paul Dacre, on BBC Radio 5Live:
“One thing that really bugs me is when people try to drag Paul Dacre from The Daily Mail into this…he has nothing to do with this. And yet people keep trying to drag him into it, saying ‘The Daily Mail must know about this’, kind of thing, and it’s rotten as heck, because I’m sure – I know Paul, he’s a lovely man – I’m sure he’d be more than happy to stand before a public inquiry and say under oath that his newspaper had no knowledge of these things; because he’s that kind of man. And I’m sure, equally responsibly, I know, I’m almost certain, and I’ll bet good money on it, that he’s told all his staff to preserve all the emails that exchanged over the last few years so that, should they become subject to any kind of scrutiny they’ll have all the information ready for the police. That’s the kind of guy he is.”3
Irony at its best; and a beautifully crafted piece of media undermining that went out on prime time national radio, unedited because it didn’t actually accuse anyone of anything. We can all learn a hell of a lot from the mock innocence of Alan Partridge, thinly veiling the biting satire of Steve Coogan. I mentioned not being too clever in undermining, but there is being too clever and there is simply being clever. This may not have triggered an immediate inquiry, but it certainly made the most of the prevailing public distrust of the tabloid media to imply that the media houses are all as bad as one another.
Whichever part of civilization you are in there is a manipulative media waiting to be undermined. The British examples aside, there might currently not be such obvious weaknesses exposed in the system, nonetheless weaknesses do exist, particularly in the area of trust. A forum I occasionally visit had a discussion about the absurd way Anonymous are often portrayed, which led to the following idea: “But, you know, if you want to fuck with them by feeding them obviously fake celebrity stories that they’ll probably run without checking, which you can then expose, or have a lulz contest to see who can get them to run the most stupid story about Anonymous or some shit like that, go for it.” This relates to the earlier ideas that exploit poor background research, but extends into the public realm whereby a very open, very obvious competition to spoof celebrity, technology, political, sports or any other types of writer would create a flood of fake stories, leaving the recipient in a complete mess. A well orchestrated campaign would ensure no more than a steady stream of fakes from a wide range of sources – carefully spoofed to look like the real thing. The outcomes of something like this are numerous: libel cases; discredited writers; discredited outlets; confused readers / watchers / listeners, and so on.
A related option could be the fake PR company that feeds marketing materials to unsuspecting tabloids and special interest programmes. Marketing PR is big business, relied upon for essentially free advertising by a huge number of corporations. A “reputable” (if there is such a thing) PR company can feed a promotional story about a company and see it in a newspaper the very next day, or on the web a matter of minutes later. The following is not a fake press release, although you would be forgiven for thinking that. This apparently absurd story found its way into three national newspapers, including a broadsheet, with combined sales of 3.2 million and approximately 7.8 million readers:
Too busy to eat puddings
Eight in ten Brits are too busy to eat puddings a new survey revealed yesterday. After long days at work, a stressful commute home and then endless domestic duties 1 in 6 reckon they NEVER eat puddings after a meal because they are too tight for time. And 40 per cent of adults rarely eat desserts during the week because they are too hectic to prepare anything.
The findings emerged in a poll by family pub restaurant operator Fayre & Square to coincide with National Pudding Week which runs from 29 October to 4 November and is being supported by TV family favourite Lynda Bellingham.
It seems lazy Brits prefer pre-prepared puddings with the average Brit never making a pudding from scratch. Nearly half of those polled said they would love to be able to eat a hearty pudding every night of the week but claim to be too tired or too busy to eat it.
Lynda Bellingham said: ‘It’s a shame that people consider themselves so short for time that they can’t enjoy a pudding every now and then. But Britons work the longest hours in Europe and by the time we finish a stressful day at work, battle through traffic, deal with children and homework and domestic duties it’s hardly surprising that desserts fall by the wayside.
‘We are also being told to watch our waistlines and puddings are considered an indulgent treat. But pudding doesn’t have to be complicated or even unhealthy; a yoghurt with added fresh fruit and granola topping is very easy and could constitute being part of your five a day.
‘However, with the night’s drawing in and another cold winter being predicted, we should embrace good hearty meals, which includes a warming pudding. That’s why I’m supporting Fayre & Square’s National Pudding Week’
Fayre & Square’s head of food Paul Farr added: ‘It’s comforting to know that traditional puddings, such as Apple Crumble, are regarded as Brits favourite. It’s a classic British pudding that has stood the test of time. To celebrate we are offering puddings for £1 during National Pudding Week, so that time stressed families can enjoy a sweet treat. Let’s face it with the days becoming shorter and colder we need something to make us smile and I personally can’t think of anything better than a warm pud.’4
This is a perfect example of a press release that pushes all the buttons. I’ve never heard of Fayre & Square (apparently it’s yet another chain of cheap pub / restaurants), but then that was probably the point of the press release. A tabloid newspaper or commercial radio station would be happy to relay at least part of this to their audience, giving the company great free advertising, because:
• It has celebrity interest (Lynda Bellingham used to be the “Oxo Mum”);
• It is topical (winter approaching);
• It has the air of authority (research findings);
• There is an event attached to it (“National Pudding Week”, albeit created specifically by the company in question);
How easy would it be to create something equally “absurd” and get it in the hands of a lazy food reporter desperate for something to fill their empty copybook? Obtaining lists of contacts in the media is child’s play: just search for “newspaper contact lists” or “radio contact lists” for instance. One too many mistakes on the part of the media outlet and you have a double-whammy: one industry (media) undermined by continual dodgy reporting, and any number of other industries (the subjects of the press releases) unable to submit their own material because they are no longer trusted by the media.
All of that is easy to do from the comfort of a desk, occasionally popping out to the mailbox to post the results of your non-electronic deeds, and to get a bit of well-earned fresh air. Other forms of undermining are less static, and require a great deal of guile. What I am about to describe is not exactly dangerous, but is probably only suitable for a very small number of people. It concerns carrying out a media sting, or more accurately a sting of a sting. A number of cases have emerged in recent years of sports stars and their agents being lured into agreeing to fix matches for money, arrangements which have been recorded and then reported, sometimes leading to criminal proceedings. In civilization we are all swung to a greater or lesser extent by the lure of money, even if we would like to think otherwise; if I got a call from a friend saying the local shop was giving away large denomination notes to the first 100 customers then I would almost certainly stop typing and nip round there, just in case – and why not? The same goes for journalists wishing to entrap someone in the hope (one example of why hope is dangerous) of a well-paying story.
So how about a bit of counter-entrapment?
As a concerned political staffer, one of a team of Underminers starts to send out whispers that a certain politician (pick one with a particularly odious record of environmental and/or human rights abuse) is accepting money in order to push bills through government to pay off some whopping, and undisclosed personal debts. As a concerned employee of a destructive corporation another team member suggests to certain “whispered” reporters (choose only those that have a record of supporting destructive activities in their writing) that some executives are in the habit of meeting said politician in a particular place to talk through mutually beneficial deals, and here are the details of the person who can arrange the meetings. As the intern secretary of said politician (a few business cards, a convincing email address and some headed paper should do the trick) another team member will receive the contacts from the reporters and also turn up to the meetings with a handwritten apology from the politician and the willingness to act on their behalf. A recording device is, of course, always switched on. Should the meeting come to fruition and a story appears then, once again, there are several outcomes, all of which are damaging to one or more major pillars of civilization: political damage – though probably short-lived; damage to the reputation of the industry-cheering journalist, and the outlet they work for; damage to the industry for which the reporter was pretending to lobby, as such things do happen all the time.
A good Underminer will see any number of variations in this fictional tale. A good Underminer will be far more creative than me. One person who does not deal in fiction, and qualifies in anyone’s books as an Underminer is the British journalist David Edwards, co-founder of the Media Lens website and author of Newspeak in the 21st Century. In this exclusive essay, David presents here a brilliant and very practical take on why we should, and how we can undermine the corporate media system.
The Corporate Media – Undermining The Silence
By David Edwards
Even the word “media” is deceptive. It suggests a neutral, disinterested carrier of information. Journalists never define their employers as “corporate media”, which is, by and large, what they are. This matters, of course, because the world is dominated by giant corporations – the “neutral” carrier actually involves one part of a greed-driven corporate system reporting on itself. If this sets alarm bells ringing, the process of undermining has begun.
Three-time US presidential candidate Ralph Nader got it right when he said of the US political system:
We have a two-party dictatorship in this country. Let’s face it. And it is a dictatorship in thraldom to these giant corporations who control every department agency in the federal government.5
Much the same can be said of UK politics. And the corporate media reporting on this system is not just controlled by profit-seeking corporations, as is sometimes claimed; it is made up of corporations. These media are in turn owned by giant parent corporations or wealthy individuals; they are dependent on corporate advertisers and on state-corporate sources for subsidised news; and they are highly vulnerable to state-corporate criticism and punishment or “flak”.
A key role of the media is to label this corporate tyranny “democracy”. But the labeller must also be credible, so the media labels itself a vibrant “spectrum” of opinion, stretching from the Tory Telegraph on the right to the Guardian and Independent on the “liberal left”. We are to believe that, oddballs aside, all life is represented here – the media spectrum allows a free society to talk to itself.
In reality, the idea that the right-wing press is counter-balanced by a rational, compassionate, peace-loving “left-wing” press is a key deception maintaining a system of highly restrictive thought control – one that rivals, and even surpasses, more overtly totalitarian, Big Brother-style systems of control. Corporate media across the “spectrum” help facilitate Permanent War against Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Iran. They sell corporate tyranny as “democracy”, endless economic growth in an age of climate crisis as “progress”, and the corporate but “free press” as genuinely free.
In the same way that New Labour masqueraded as an invigorated left option for voters while in fact destroying any vestige of serious choice between the two major parties – both now of the right – so the BBC, Guardian and Independent feign dissent while restricting choice to a fundamentally corporatised, elite view of the world. (A further, subtle deception is to describe this extremism as “mainstream media”).
The Independent, in fact, is not independent of Russian oligarch owner Alexander Lebedev. Like the Guardian, Observer and other “quality” titles, the Independent is also not independent of the advertisers on which it depends for 75 per cent of its revenues.6 Even BBC stalwart and former political editor Andrew Marr, no radical, recognises the truth:
But the biggest question is whether advertising limits and reshapes the news agenda. It does, of course. It’s hard to make the sums add up when you are kicking the people who write the cheques.7
The Guardian is also an elite operation, managed by editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger who earned £455,000 in the last financial year, while chief executive Andrew Miller took home £572,000.8
In 2005, even after the West’s invasion of Iraq – one of history’s premier war crimes – the Guardian urged voters to back Blair:
While 2005 will be remembered as Tony Blair’s Iraq election, May 5 is not a referendum on that one decision, however fateful, or on the person who led it, however controversial…
The Guardian editors concluded:
We believe that Mr Blair should be re-elected to lead Labour into a third term this week.9
Corporate Dissent – The Fig Leaves
In a bitterly critical article that focused on the Guardian’s warmongering, John Pilger concluded:
The role of respectable journalism in western state crimes – from Iraq to Iran, Afghanistan to Libya – remains taboo. It is currently deflected by the media theatre of the Leveson enquiry into phone hacking… Blame Rupert Murdoch and the tabloids for everything and business can continue as usual.10
Pilger has described his own role at the New Statesman as a ‘fig leaf’. The same is true of Robert Fisk of the Independent, and George Monbiot and Seumas Milne of the Guardian. Award-winning former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook made the point:
However grateful we should be to these dissident writers, their relegation to the margins of the commentary pages of Britain’s “leftwing” media serves a useful purpose for corporate interests. It helps define the “character” of the British media as provocative, pluralistic and free-thinking – when in truth they are anything but. It is a vital component in maintaining the fiction that a professional media is a diverse media.11
Really, it should be obvious that corporate interests are the dominant influence determining US and UK foreign policy in attacking countries like Iraq and Libya. As economist Alan Greenspan – former Chairman of the US Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve – commented in his memoir:
I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.12
But it is no less obvious that the corporate nature of the media is a crucial issue in evaluating the reporting of these business-led wars. And indeed, analysts commenting from outside the corporate media – Noam Chomsky, Edward Herman, David Peterson, Robert McChesney, Julian Assange et al – do place the corporate nature of the media front and centre in their analysis. Clearly, we cannot sensibly discuss the contents of the media without reference to the nature, bias and goals of the media themselves.
John Pilger and rare exceptions aside, the above-mentioned corporate dissidents have nothing serious to say about the deeply compromised nature of the corporate media by which they are employed. They focus on issues like Libya, Syria, climate change and the economy, often with considerable honesty. But if the media is mentioned at all, it is in general terms and in passing. There may be a swipe at Murdoch, at the tabloids, or the BBC – but not much more.
This is important for Underminers because it means that even commentators viewed as the nation’s most honest analysts of current affairs are silent on the fact that the media communicating their analysis – the corporations by which they themselves are employed – are structurally corrupt. The corruption lies in the fact that, with the best will in the world, it is simply not possible for profit-maximising corporate media owned by giant corporations and wealthy moguls, and deeply dependent on other corporations, to tell the truth about a world dominated by exploitative corporate power. It is obviously a problem. And yet for the best corporate journalists it is not even an issue.
This matters because the media is the key labelling machine that labels corporate tyranny “popular democracy”, war crimes “humanitarian intervention”, and the US and UK governments as “fundamentally benevolent”. The corporate media are the ultimate “Tools of Disconnection” separating people from the truth beneath the labels – their bias and hidden priorities are therefore strictly taboo subjects. Undermining the media means undermining this silence. It means undermining the claims to honesty made by the best corporate media and the best corporate journalists working within them.
Demanding The Impossible
An Achilles’ heel of the corporate media system is that it is made up of often well-intentioned journalists who have been recruited because they think the right thoughts and hold the right values. In other words, their vulnerability lies precisely in the fact that they are not cynical liars – they sincerely believe they are doing good, honest work.
By emailing journalists well-sourced, credible arguments, activists can quickly and easily challenge their bias, nudging them towards greater honesty. The core message behind almost everything we at Media Lens send can be summed up as: “You claim to be unbiased and honest, so why have you not discussed X, Y and Z?”
In response, some journalists appear to experience considerable internal conflict – they realise that, for whatever reason, they have not been as honest as they had imagined. But they may also have a keen sense that to be more honest, to write about the excluded facts and sources we mention, might threaten their job security and career prospects – they may become “radioactive”, “one of them”. What to do? If they are to maintain their conception of themselves as basically honest and sincere, they must respond rationally to the criticism – they must incorporate it in some way. This is one way of undermining the silence of the media.
The Guardian’s George Monbiot is a classic example of a journalist who is not quite as much of an “unreconstructed idealist” as he would like to believe. In a June 2007, Guardian online debate, we asked him about the Guardian’s hosting of fossil fuel advertising:
Doesn’t this make a mockery of the Guardian’s claims to be responding to climate change? Is it really credible to expect a newspaper dependent on corporate advertising for 75 per cent of its revenue to seriously challenge the corporate system of which it’s a part and on which it depends? Why don’t you discuss this inherent contradiction in your journalism?13
Because Monbiot perceives himself as a truth-teller, and because he does have considerable integrity, he (partially) answered our questions:
Yes, it does.
This was much to Monbiot’s credit – criticising the host media in this way is something journalists are not supposed to do. He later emailed us:
I am taking your request seriously and looking into the implications of the newspapers not carrying ads for cars, air travel and oil companies. Like you, I believe this is necessary if we are to have a chance of preventing runaway climate change.14
Monbiot clearly gave the issues some thought. A subsequent column challenged the press, including the Guardian, to cut fossil fuel advertising. He wrote:
Newspaper editors make decisions every day about which stories to run and which angles to take. Why can they not also make decisions about the ads they carry? While it is true that readers can make up their own minds, advertising helps to generate behavioural norms. These advertisements make the destruction of the biosphere seem socially acceptable.
He also asked:
Why could the newspapers not ban ads for cars which produce more than 150g of CO2 per kilometre? Why could they not drop all direct advertisements for flights?15
Three months later, the Guardian also published an article by the readers’ editor, Siobhain Butterworth, discussing “the contradiction between what The Guardian has to say about environmental issues and what it advertises”. Butterworth wrote:
This summer the editors of MediaLens website began an exchange with George Monbiot, which led to him writing a column in which he advocated boycotting some advertising.
Butterworth then reported Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger’s response:
It is always useful to ask your critics what economic model they would choose for running an independent organisation that can cover the world as widely and fully with the kind of journalism we offer… As long as the journalism is free and we allow George Monbiot to criticise us and we feel free to criticise people who advertise, that is more important than the advertising.16
In reality, Monbiot’s challenge was a gesture – there has been minimal follow up to the discussion, and no action. But our challenge did bring the issue to the attention of readers, and it was an example of how even the most taboo issue for the media can be challenged by polite, rational activism.
In the last ten years, we have seen innumerable other examples where journalists have improved their coverage in response to rational challenges in similar ways. These are small gains, but they are gains – they do help expand public awareness on key issues.
Critics quite often challenge us, asking: “But aren’t you in fact being unreasonable? If the better journalists do as you ask – if they criticise their own media, their own newspaper, their own advertisers – they will be kicked out. Is that what you want?”
We are well aware that we are sometimes demanding the impossible. In fact that is the point we are making – that it is impossible when it should not be. A truly free and independent journalist should be free to criticise the system and organisation hosting his or her work. It is clearly disastrous for any media system to be unable to engage in rational, honest introspection and self-analysis. Our hope is that, to the extent that our readers perceive a collision between what we are asking and what journalists are able to deliver, they become sensitive to the need to challenge and transcend the corporate media.
While it is important to achieve incremental improvements in media performance – articles on the problem of fossil fuel advertising do matter – the deeper goal is to undermine public faith in the corporate media so that they choose to demand and support more honest, non-corporate media instead.
The End of the Internet
Is life without the Internet that absurd a thought? Go and watch Local Hero, one of my favourite movies; a beautiful piece of film making and a morality tale that trumps anything that has been made since Bill Forsyth’s masterpiece was released. An insignificant but deeply meaningful scene centres on a discussion between “Mac” and Danny as they walk across the low tide sand of Ferness Bay, backlit by the evening sky:
Danny: Aye, it’s some business.
Mac: It’s the only business. Could you imagine a world without oil? No automobiles, no paint…
Danny: And polish…
Mac: No ink…
Danny: And nylon.
Mac: No detergents.
Danny: And Perspex, you wouldn’t get any Perspex.
Mac: No polythene.
Danny: Dry cleaning fluid.
Mac: Uh-huh. And waterproof coats…they make dry cleaning fluid out of oil?
Danny: Ah yes, d’you not know that?
Mac: No, I didn’t know that.17
Can you imagine a world without oil? It’s a tough one; almost doesn’t bear thinking about, until you think of all the destruction that has been wrought because we do have access to oil. As well as all the things mentioned above, can you imagine a world without the Internet? If it were not for oil there would be no Internet – no plastic cases, no durable cable coatings, no transportation of components or running of those same cables…actually, no components at all. Write a short list of all the things you do via the Internet as well as all of the things that you would not easily be able to do if the Internet were not around.
Now look at that list and cross off anything you do just because you are passing the time and/or could be doing something better. Then cross off anything that doesn’t have a genuinely practical use, including providing resources for undermining. Finally cross anything off that isn’t essential to your short or medium term survival. If my calculations are correct then your final list will consist of absolutely nothing. That doesn’t mean the Internet doesn’t have a useful purpose at the moment, but there is little evidence to suggest that it is of vital importance to anyone’s even short term survival – there are always alternatives.
You have just taken part in an exercise that can be applied to almost every piece of civilized infrastructure: have a go with school; the legal system; global food distribution; in fact anything you think you couldn’t do without – it’s tremendously therapeutic.
Two things worth raising here are whether the Internet does have a genuinely useful purpose, and to what extent it would be a cause for celebration or sorrow if it were to disappear. For the first instance we return to the words of Derrick Jensen. In his finest work, Endgame, he discussed at length the concept of “not using the Masters Tools to dismantle the Master’s House” and why it’s a stupid concept that has about as much relevance to resistance against the industrial system as waving a flag in a hurricane. Essentially, and I have had this thrown at me many times, activists are accused of being hypocritical if they use, as tools for activism, any of the things they are opposed to. As someone who wishes to see the end of the industrial age should I even be wearing mass produced clothes to keep warm while I write, let alone writing this screed on a computer, let alone hosting it on the Internet for others to read and possibly use to create a huge amount of positive change? Well, yes, actually. For the time being, while those things are relevant to how we live and how we can fight back.
Jensen makes the following observations:
And who is it that says we should not use the master’s tools? Often it is Christians, Buddhists or other adherents of civilized religions. It is routinely people who wish us to vote our way to justice or shop our way to sustainability. But civilized religions are tools used by the master as surely as is violence [and other forms of resistance]. So is voting. So is shopping. If we cannot use tools used by the master, what tools, precisely, can we use?18
It’s an excellent point and one that cannot be answered satisfactorily, obviously because of the absurdity of the original accusation. Come at me with fists flying and if I can’t run, I will turn and fight. Come at me with a weapon and if I can’t run, I will find something equally potent to fight back with; which, of course is what anyone with an ounce of sense would do.
There are major questions to be answered about the North African uprisings that took place in 2011 and which are likely to continue for some time to come, such as whether the “Arab Spring” was truly a wave of popular unrest, or whether it was planned by forces way above those that took to the streets in agonised protest. Another question is whether the Internet played an important part in allowing this to happen, for whether the uprisings were planned by Western powers or not, they could also provide a useful model for future mass rebellion. Navid Hassanpour, a Yale scholar, argues that the role of the Internet in the Egyptian uprising was considerably overstated, and may have even been a negative factor:
In a widely circulated American Political Science Association conference paper, he argues that shutting down the internet did make things difficult for sustaining a centralised revolutionary movement in Egypt.
But, he adds, the shutdown actually encouraged the development of smaller revolutionary uprisings at local levels where the face-to-face interaction between activists was more intense and the mobilisation of inactive lukewarm dissidents was easier.
In other words, closing down the internet made the revolution more diffuse and more difficult for the authorities to contain.19
Not all societies worthy of an undermining revolution are high-tech (North Korea and Burma are two good examples) but all societies that are victims of Industrial Civilization are, by definition, industrialised. To wit, a great deal of undermining is going to be aimed at and based around high levels of technology. As discussed above, some commentators will claim, and have claimed, that using technology against technology is simply playing into the hands of the system. I call bullshit. This is appropriate action. The point is that undermining is most effective when it reflects the nature of what is being undermined. A society controlled by smartphones and iPads may be vulnerable to more basic forms of attack; but without knowing how smartphones and iPads work then the effort is doomed to failure. The same can be said of a society that is dominated by digital and cable television and radio; analogue television and radio; letter-drops and billboards; orange crates and public assembly; word of mouth. The forces of domination choose whatever level of complexity and sophistication is necessary to propagate the message best. Thus, Underminers must choose the levels of complexity and sophistication in their toolkits that best serve to undermine those forces.
So, assuming that the Internet has at least some potential to provide useful resources and tools for undermining, I have no problem with anyone continuing to use it, as long as the person using it understands that there are many, many other means of creating change – and as long as the same person is also prepared for it to one day stop working.
This brings us onto the question of the impact of a failed Internet. Dave Pollard addressed this very well in an essay called Living Disconnected20 which I quote from here, and which is also relevant for the later chapter on community. Rather than directly say whether the loss of the Internet – which, incidentally, he feels is inevitable as cheap energy becomes less available – is a good or a bad thing, he looks at the things we would have once done using the Internet and what we can do instead:
• Instead of downloading music and film, create our own music and theatre, in live performance;
• Instead of taking photos, draw, paint, sculpt;
• Instead of blogging, write a journal, and meet in our community and share stories and ideas, cook together, rant, organize, build something together;
• Instead of playing online games, organize a real-space scavenger hunt, eco-walk, or bicycle rally, or play board games;
• Instead of taking online courses, unschool ourselves in our own communities, and learn about our place… or show/teach others what we know (including, most importantly, teaching children how to think and learn for themselves);
• Instead of organizing online petitions and complaining online about the state of the world, go visit our local politicians, get involved in community activities that make a difference (disrupt, show our outrage, satirize, or create something better);
• Instead of looking for health information online, set up a local self-help health co-op, offering preventive care, self-diagnostic and holistic self-treatment information;
• Instead of porn… well, use your imagination.
As a connected person looking to help others connect to the real world, and undermining the forces that keep us attached to the Culture of Maximum Harm, the question of whether the loss of the Internet is a bad thing neatly answers itself. Of course there are things we would miss, just like we would miss going to the cinema or being able to pick up a bar of chocolate after midnight in a convenience store, but none of them are critical to life and clearly the things we would be losing are more than made up for by the things we would be gaining. There is no need to feel guilty about your aunt no longer being able to Skype her sister on the other side of the world; what did she do before, and how many people stopped feeling guilty about moving thousands of miles away because they would so easily be able to stay in touch? A friend wrote the following on the same subject: “After an individual on my ‘friends’ list chose to thank the internet for making their life easier, I feel the need to thank the Internet as well. So thank you Internet for further degrading all aspects of human community and face to face interaction that we have with each other. Thank you for further alienating us from each other and the land to which we should be a part of and allowing the production of ever more products that put ever more toxic products into the earth and exploit ever increasing numbers of third world peoples. I appreciate it. I truly wish for your collapse, the sooner you do, the sooner more people can get to seeing how truly beautiful the world outside of you is, and get back to living their lives.”21
I think that is deeply moving and, in itself, a good case for undermining the Internet at the earliest possible opportunity. We have to keep in mind the history of the Internet (and why it has a capital “I”) as first a military tool, then a military/academic tool, then a commercial tool and finally a commercial tool with a great deal of personal intervention. Web 2.0 as it has so quaintly been called, does not herald a great revolution in individual online liberty; Web 2.0 is just a way of keeping the commercial Internet fresh and dynamic, while still being primarily a way of making money at all levels. In effect, by undermining the Internet you are undermining a very large and brilliantly executed trade network.
As the Internet goes we still might be able to use it for good, but the opportunity for global activism will wane, as will the influence of the multinational NGOs who depend as much on the Internet as their corporate counterparts. No longer will a hacker in Sweden be able to bring down a corporation in the USA; but then why would it matter? Without the Internet, the corporation in the USA will, at this point in the global economic lifecycle, have little or no influence over the Swedish people.
Task 11: Undermining The Internet
By undermining the Internet you undermine a key element of global commerce: I cannot state this strongly enough. You do not need the Internet; the Internet needs you.
Nevertheless a single dramatic removal could be a first step too far; what would be more beneficial, allowing for a less traumatic readjustment in peoples’ personal circumstances and means of relating to each other, is a stepped approach: first concentrating on the major trunks that keep the globalisation machine running and the commercial hubs that allow corporations to remain in profit at the expense of all else. Trunks, like transnational cables and satellite communication systems; and hubs, like major network nodes and corporate data centres. That’s where the most damage can be done in the shortest possible time.
This is a section of a global telecommunications network map22. I have removed any trade names and other commercial labels, not because I could be accused of commercial terrorism (well, ok, that was partly it) but because it demonstrates a number of weak points that are common to all major telecoms networks:
The weak points will immediately be evident to anyone who knows something about physical geography, network topology and political dynamics, but for those still in the dark, first have a look at the way the network gravitates towards certain hubs. These hubs look like population centres, and roughly are, but are actually major Points of Presence (POPs) which on the ground tend to be large buildings studded with air conditioning outlets and full of network equipment. There are also a number of deep sea Landing Points, and the multitude of cables across the Atlantic suggests that this is a fairly resilient network between North America (primarily New England) and Europe (north east France and south west England). Now see where the network passes through places that have, or have the potential for, great political unrest; in this case mainly the Middle East. Finally, notice the single trunk routes that join together geographically distant locations that may be difficult and expensive to reinstate. Sometimes undermining is the same as direct action, though you don’t need to necessarily cut anything to stop something from working. Power failures, routing issues, accidental shut downs and a host of other technical difficulties can at least provide temporary respite from the Great Disconnecting Network. Sometimes the corporations just screw things up themselves:
BlackBerry users in Europe, the Middle East and Africa have been cut off from their online services because of a major fault at Research in Motion (RIM) in Canada. Irate owners haven’t been able to get into their emails, browse the web or use the service that is most precious to them – instant messenger BBM.
The users took to Twitter to vent their frustrations at the outage. A BlackBerry owner named carrryn said he or she was “HYPERVENTILATING RIGHT NOW” over the problem, while mild-mannered ex-government spin-meister Alastair Campell tweeted: “‘my BlackBerry’ trending ought to be good news for BlackBerry in these techie days. But it’s not. My BlackBerry in blackout mode. Sort pls.”
[BlackBerry makers] RIM’s co-CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis, as well as David Yach, the CTO of RIM, went before the media to explain the series of outages. Lazaridis expanded slightly on the cause of the problem in the briefing, describing it as a hardware failure. He said a high capacity core switch designed to protect the infrastructure had failed, causing cascading problems as a data backlog took down service centres across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.23
Two points of interest here are (1) the users were furious that their precious networking tool had been taken away from them, thus revealing the hold such communications have over a large number of people (this was front page news for days!); (2) an apparently resilient network had failed, as it turned out, multiple times. Every network and every computer system has its points of weakness; you just need to know where to look.
Personal use of the Internet is addictive. You are probably addicted to some aspect of the Internet whether it be social networking, gaming, chatrooms and forums, video calling, email, watching videos, sharing photos, the list just keeps getting longer. Addiction is a strange beast, for you often don’t realise you are addicted until the thing you are addicted to is taken away from you: like a cigarette, a bottle of brandy or a shot of heroin. The Internet may not provide the external chemical stimulus of narcotics, but it certainly generates a whole lot of internal stimuli that make us want to keep coming back.
There are two ways to deal with addiction. The first is enforced withdrawal, taking away the source of the addiction; something I have alluded to above, but which has many other variants. Parents may come under a barrage of verbal abuse for switching off the wireless router and locking it away for a while, but it might just be worth it in the end – not forgetting the parents who may also be addicted without even realising it. This “cold turkey” approach isn’t as dramatic as it sounds. How many times in the last 5 years have you just left every means of communication at home and gone to someplace else? Try it. If you have the people you really care about with you, or they are with people you trust, then why do you need to communicate anyway? The urge to check emails or update your status falls away rapidly because you are away from temptation: it really is that simple. Anti-smoking guru Allan Carr was determined that smokers (or non-smokers, as the correct designation for anyone really wanting to stop should be) get rid of everything to do with smoking on the day they give up; no half-measures, no substitutes, nothing that might provide a slippery slope back to an addiction state. If enforced withdrawal is to work then it will necessarily take this form because there are so many other things the unwilling (at first) withdrawee could substitute their addiction of choice with.
The second method is personal liberation. Undermining has to start with yourself, but especially in the case of the Internet, weaning yourself off it will bring other people with you. It may be that half-measures, like switching off social networking accounts one by one, and spending progressively more time away from the computer can work for some; and this does not necessarily contradict Allan Carr’s philosophy. The Internet is not one single addiction, it is a range of addictive activities rather like a cabinet full of prescription drugs: all perfectly legal but each one of them potentially harmful.
“Can I chat to you on Facebook?”
“Do you want to Skype me?”
“What’s your email address?”
A reply in the negative might get an incredulous response in a peer group dominated by technology, but how else are you going to let people know that you would prefer to be contacted in other ways: by telephone (it’s a start); by letter (better, and slower – good things come to those who wait); visiting in person. This stepped approach mirrors how an overall removal of technological communications could manifest itself, and also suggests a drawing in of peer groups and family. You may have to just say goodbye to people forever, leaving them with an address they might find you if they happen to be passing. Painful.
We are moving into the realms of the community and the individual; just a peek into the future: chapters and lives. We will come back to this later on because we must. For now let’s assume that with our collective efforts, progress can be made weaning ourselves and others off things that we really don’t need: shopping, fashion, debt, jobs, a global economy, a global Internet. While they are still around to tempt us back (are you still salivating over that pair of shoes?) we need a few distractions. No, not distractions; we need some reality, wherever we happen to be, and as it stands the majority of us live in large towns and cities. If that’s where you are then you need to start looking around and seeing what you can do about it.
Creating Urban Connections
The city is a symbol of our industrial past and our – according to the powers that be – bright, urban future. But there is no future in cities as they exist now; they are ravenous consumers, blind to the source of their energies – a macrocosm of the typical city-dweller. Reclaiming cities will not make them “sustainable”, for they cannot ever be so in their externally dependent state. But creating ecological partnerships with the rest of nature could blow apart the city mindset. The concrete shrouded, light-drenched, 24 hour wakened world that represents everything nature is not, needs a dose of connected reality.
I find the approach of groups that talk about “greening” or “transitioning” urban areas into something more sustainable blinkered at best and dangerous at worst. They are almost never trying to undermine the urban mindset, and they are in many ways making us feel good about living in these hubs of civilization. Cities as we know them are not, and can never be, sustainable. As the global population slips and slides past 7 billion it is no surprise that the vast majority of growth in the last 20 years has been in urban areas. Part of that can be attributed to immigration from rural lands in search of jobs, although in that sense the urban areas have not just taken up any excess, they have encouraged in-migration as part of a cultural paradigm shift. Remember the etymological link between civilization and cities? Industrial Civilization is an urban phenomenon; every formerly non-civilized person that moves to a city becomes civilized by default. In the cities themselves there is little perceived need for population limits as the connections are broken between scarcity and destruction outside the Urbanosphere, and the city dweller’s consciousness. Corporations and their government puppets need willing workers close to core production and service areas, so cities must keep growing at a rate that matches whatever economic growth is desired. Only in the worst slums and ghettos is the reality of city living an all-pervading nightmare; there aren’t brick walls to hide behind and curtains to close. There really isn’t anything that would dignify human existence.
The global population is passing 7 billion because of cities. Without cities it would be impossible for so many people to exist, and to remain ignorant of the destruction being wrought on the world outside. I don’t want to suggest that cities need to undergo some enforced collapse and the populations within somehow deal with the consequences. I need to say that cities are going to collapse because there just isn’t the energy, food and infrastructure to support their continued existence.
Urban populations need to prepare for the consequences before they occur. The short term realities will have to include stocking up on food, medical supplies and the means to remain comfortable into the near future. For some there may be the immediate opportunity to move into areas with far less population density, for others that will be a distant dream, but at least those that move out will provide breathing space for those that have to stay. Urban communities have to be created and strengthened, providing necessary connections with others, giving both physical and psychological support. Mental preparation for loss and change will make a huge difference to how people deal with urban collapse. Families may be a great comfort in such times, but if you are living in an urban area and are likely to be there for some time then you should think very carefully about whether having children is the right thing to do – it’s as much for the newborns themselves as for you and the population as a whole. These are just rough pointers for dealing with the inevitable consequences of living in a city at a time of collapse.
We can prepare, but we can also challenge the brutality of living in cities while they remain centres of population for vast numbers of people. There is no place for undermining the infrastructure of urban areas at times of extreme population and resource stress; that would be as unethical as suddenly shutting down the nuclear power station in Chapter 5. But we can utilise undermining to do a great deal of good: using tough times to reveal connections within and beyond the cities; connections that in the chaos of city living have been absent for so long.
Task 12: Seeds of Change
The apple pie I made in the middle of October was the best I have ever made. I can cook a bit, although it’s taken a while to get to the stage where I can make good food by seeming to throw together whatever happens to be available. My sister’s family were walking with us through a small Scottish town in search of the last remaining orchard, a remnant of the very many orchards that existed before the town was built. A veritable harvest of windfall Coxes Orange Pippin lay on the island of grass encircled by roads; the joy of being able to fill bags with fresh fruit that would so tragically have otherwise lain unclaimed was tangible. I smiled all the way back to my parents’ house and then proceeded to cook that splendid pie. Someday that orchard will be gone the way of the others; though I would like to think that someday that orchard will once again be one of many others, accompanied by groves of hazel and sweet chestnut, tangles of blackberries and Tayberries, gooseberry bushes alongside raspberries, all being enjoyed by families like ours. Every piece of wild food picked is a connection made; a small discovery that can light up dormant enthusiasm for the real world.
Richard Reynolds has taken the idea of green spaces on a canvas of grey and created a vibrant, barely legal movement that in turns creates unexpected joy for the city-dweller and threatens the institutional idea of cities as places to merely live, work and shop…
By Richard Reynolds24
Spotting potential for growing stuff on land that’s not yours is the instinct of an enthusiastic gardener. Whether it’s a neighbour’s unloved patch or an unremarkable corner of grubby public space, if you like growing things then it can be hard not to resist doing something there. As for permission, well that’s something quite a few people these days are not troubling themselves with getting. After all, what could be the harm of doing some gardening there if whoever should be is so obviously not? It can’t be so hard to do something better. That combination of creativity, optimism and mischief is at the heart of what drives many guerrilla gardeners, and the results can be remarkable.
People have been guerrilla gardening for years, (there’s even an obtuse reference to it in Matthew’s Gospel), but in the last decade they’ve become much more visible. Whether as lone operatives as I was to start with or in organised groups, whether just for the joy of gardening or to make an explicit environmental statement, there is now a loose global network of guerrilla gardeners around the world. My role within the movement has become something like an accidental international spokesperson and rabble-rouser as my blog of activity in London got noticed and I began making connections with other guerrilla gardeners around the world. The guerrillas I meet usually tell stories of delight, of reaping far more than they expected when sowing. And they’re not on the run. In most cases the landowners either don’t care or don’t know, and gradually the garden can become more formally recognised as the wider benefits are obvious and the fears recede.
There’s probably a guerrilla garden not far from you: New York, Chicago, Berlin, Paris, Zurich, Amsterdam, London and Moscow – the locations read like the lists of outlets found on the windows of global retailers. But the form these gardens take varies much more than those clone stores. New York really is the big apple, the grand daddy of guerrilla gardens, where sizable derelict lots in the 1970s were transformed into community gardens by the Green Guerrillas who today are a grown up group providing advice to community gardeners. In Chicago the activity is more recent and the form more sporadic by the likes of Trowels on the Prowl who plant up street corners and embrace the social and fun side by adopting pseudonyms. In Zurich, Maurice has scattered hollyhock seeds into the capacious open space around trees for nearly thirty years and made an unavoidable impact on the city during June and July. In London my pride is a pair of traffic islands in the middle of a dual carriageway intersection that we have mostly planted with lavender. This nature-friendly idyll also provides us with a cash crop, as we harvest the lavender and sell it in fragrant cushions to fund more planting. It’s six years old now, looking better than ever, and while there’s still no formal agreement or anything in writing to say we can continue, since our visit from the Duchess of Cornwall and a big friendly press-pack last summer we’re pretty confident the battle has been won there now and we can garden care free to the law. Having legitimacy from the royals was a bemusing development and slightly uncomfortable at first. I’d always assumed one day the local authority would just formalise what was informally tolerated anyway, as happened to guerrilla gardeners in New York and had already happened to me for the beds I first tended outside my high rise home. But here was an HRH, a member of Team Royal, turning up instead; a far bigger authority keen to convey to onlookers that our activity was legitimate and impressively dismissive of my gently pedantic reminder to the royal staff that it actually wasn’t authorised (I suppose this kind of cheerful confidence is possible when you’re in the team that actually, when it comes down to it, on paper owns the whole of the British Isles and 6,600 million acres across the globe).
So by just being incessantly enthusiastic and obsessive about gardening the public realm, cheerfully belligerent about occasional obstacles and confidence to trust the media would look favourably upon the actions I, with the help of other guerrilla gardeners, had secured some pretty satisfying chunks of south London for our pleasure as well as for all those pondered upon it when passing by.
I’m not sure how many of the seed bombs I have given away have been intentionally used as counter-urban weapons of life, even less sure how many of them have made it through a growing season; but the idea of the seed bomb is such a powerful metaphor that it deserves a quick instruction manual right here25:
1) Get a load of soft clay. Red clay is best, but any clay that naturally occurs in or close to your neighbourhood will be suitable. The main thing is that it can be rolled into balls and stay that way. The easiest way to get clay is from a pottery supplier. It comes as dust ready for mixing with water, and tends to come in sacks that will set you up in clay for a lot of seed bombing
2) Get some compost, ideally some you have made yourself and put that, together with a load of seeds native to your area (avoid quick growing grasses unless that is all you are using) into a bowl. You can also roll the compost ball around some dry seeds so it has a crusty coating which some seeds will like.
3) Take a small handful of clay and lightly flatten it into a circle. Place a smaller amount of the compost / seed mix in the centre then form the clay around this mix into a tight ball.
4) You can throw them straight away or let them dry out a bit so they’re cleaner to handle. As well as throwing them yourself, give them to all your friends and family with instructions to throw them anywhere that needs to be brought back to life.
That final instruction is important; the vague nature of “anywhere that needs to be brought back to life” will exercise peoples’ imaginations. For one person it will be the obscenely vast car park on the edge of town; for another it will be a vacant lot behind a security fence; for another it may be the “garden” of the neighbour obsessed with block paving; for yet another it may be the flat roof of a shopping mall. Seed bombs don’t always work in practice, particularly if the environment is inhospitable and constantly changing, but for the person throwing them that simple act of wanting a place to come back to life is a connection that has been made. Undermining the urban mindset may just be a case of giving people the chance to think for themselves.
Richard Mabey is the grandfather of wild food in Britain, and someone others look to for guidance in many other areas of ecology and natural heritage. There is something rather splendid about his approach to what constitutes a “weed”, and not surprisingly his view deliberately contradicts that of the authorities who would rather anything not specifically planted for a purpose be kept down, preferably by chemical means.
The development of cultivation was perhaps the single most crucial event in forming our modern notions of nature. From that point on the natural world could be divided into two conceptually different camps: those organisms contained, managed and bred for the benefit of humans, and those which are “wild”, continuing to live in their own territories on, more or less, their own terms. Weeds occur when this tidy compartmentalisation breaks down. The wild gatecrashes our civilised domains, and the domesticated escapes and runs riot. Weeds vividly demonstrate that natural life – and the course of evolution itself – refuses to be constrained by our cultural concepts.26
In some parts of the USA and Canada it is illegal to grow vegetables in your front yard; or rather it is not considered normal and therefore is in breach of various arcane zoning regulations put in place to ensure everyone behaves the same. In effect, vegetables are treated the same way as any other “weed” because they are considered by those who like to play with power to be in the wrong place. A few people in the more tightly-packed parts of our village grow the most amazing crops in their front gardens – some of the biggest leeks and swedes you have ever seen – and it would be unthinkable, and probably very foolish, for a council official to send them a letter requesting they turf over their source of fresh food. But it happens in some of the most “developed” parts of the world, which just goes to show that certain words should really not be taken seriously.
Regardless of whether you know the legality of front garden produce growing in your area, I would strongly recommend you do it. Not only is it a good use of space (many people only have front gardens, if a garden at all) but it is a visible use of space. I have seen people stop and comment on the wonderful vegetables grown nearby; there is something going on here that is interesting and different. For every ten people who notice a front garden crop, maybe one will seriously consider growing something for themselves, maybe somewhere even more visible. The numbers add up, especially as the area of ground turned over to produce increases and it becomes almost impossible to ignore what is going on. Here we have an example of something connecting at all sorts of different levels; engaging different people in different ways and having an outcome that is undeniably positive. Not only are people becoming more connected with the land and the source of their food, they are undermining the industrial system of food production and retailing. Not only are they undermining the industrial system of food production and retailing, they are becoming more resilient, and that is increasingly what we need to be, especially in the cities and suburbs that one day will stop being able to provide in more civilized ways.
And while you are at it, catch rainwater and use it in any way you can; dig a composting toilet, or at least make a compost heap which doubles as a pissoire; get some chickens (though watch out for foxes, the true rulers of the city); switch the lights off, and start getting used to the future. If you really plan on remaining in the city then your concept of what comprises a “city” will have to change completely.
Maybe the idea of getting out of the cities before they collapse isn’t entirely black and white: an apt term if ever we needed one to describe the current state of a crumbling and spontaneously blooming Detroit. Since the industrial heyday of Motown the city has lurched its way down the economic staircase coming to something of a tangled heap at the bottom. But it’s only the “bottom” if you consider the deafening howl and reeking stench of full-throttle industrial production as being the “top” – the pinnacle of what we are told humanity should be aiming for. Halfway down the stairs was where Kermit’s nephew, Robin liked to sit, and for a young frog taking a break maybe that’s fine; in the long term, though, maybe the bottom is a good place to start again:
As you listen to the buzz of cicadas amongst the wild flowers and prairie that have reclaimed one-third of the city it is possible to feel you’ve travelled a thousand years into the future, and that amongst the ruins of Detroit lies a first pioneers map of the post-industrial future which awaits us all.27
Most of the white people have fled inner-city Detroit, headed for the suburbs and much further afield, perhaps to reinstate their urban succour. A large proportion of the non-white population, often much less able to make such a costly move, are forced to remain where they are. Ironically, in the absence of those who left, they may be the ones that got the best of the deal. That’s the thing about undermining; the solutions are never quite as obvious as people try and make out.
CLICK FOR CHAPTER 8 (PART 1)
1 Anna Politkovskaya, “Poisoned by Putin”, The Guardian, 2004, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/sep/09/russia.media (accessed October 2011).
2 Feel free to sue me; I await a detailed investigation.
3 Personal transcript of a recording from The Richard Bacon Show, broadcast on BBC Radio 5Live, 6 October 2011 (recording available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/mediamonkeyblog+phone-hacking: accessed October 2011).
4 “National Pudding Week”, 72point media, http://www.72point.com/coverage/too-busy-to-eat-puddings (accessed November 2011). The range of press releases lapped up by the gutter press is astonishing. This company’s “Coverage” page is full of wonderful lessons in how to get your fake story into the press or onto high profile blogs. I particularly liked the paragraph in a press release about a shopping mall, that went: “Spending time with girlfriends and hitting the shops, or stopping for a coffee and a chat, can lift a woman’s mood and I certainly believe in the phrase ‘what we can’t solve in real life, we can solve through retail therapy.” FFS! The phrase quoted was just made up by the PR company, as was the entire quote; yet four national newspapers published all or part of this piece of PR-puff. The same company also happen to run a “proper” news service, which is just as easy to duplicate if you have the right contacts.
5 The Real News, “Ralph Nader speaks on an Obama presidency”, http://therealnews.com/t/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=2718 (accessed December 2011).
6 Peter Preston, “War, what is it good for?”, The Observer, October 7, 2001.
7 Andrew Marr, My Trade, Macmillan, 2004, p.112.
8 Dan Sabbah, “Pay of top Guardian Media Group executives published”, The Guardian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2011/aug/01/pay-top-guardian-media-group-executives (accessed December 2011).
9 Leader, “Once more with feeling”, The Guardian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2005/may/03/election2005.comment (accessed December 2011).
10 John Pilger, “Once again, war is prime time and journalism’s role is taboo”, http://www.johnpilger.com/articles/once-again-war-is-prime-time-and-journalism-s-role-is-taboo (accessed December 2011).
11 David Edwards and David Cromwell, Newspeak in the 21st Century, Pluto Press, 2009, p.2.
12 Leader, “Power, not oil, Mr Greenspan”, Sunday Times, September 16, 2007.
13 Media Lens, “Melting Ice Sheets and Media Contradictions: An Exchange With George Monbiot Of The Guardian”, http://www.medialens.org/alerts/07/070704_melting_ice_sheets.php (accessed December 2011).
14 Email, June 25, 2007.
15 George Monbiot, “The editorials urge us to cut emissions, but the ads tell a very different story”, The Guardian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2007/aug/14/comment.media (accessed December 2011).
16 Siobhan Butterworth, “Open door – The readers’ editor on… the contradiction between what we say and the ads we run”, The Guardian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,2200887,00.html (accessed December 2011).
17 From “Local Hero”, Warner Brothers, 1983, directed by Bill Forsyth. Get hold of a copy immediately, you won’t regret it.
18 Derrick Jensen, Endgame, Volume II: Resistance, Seven Stories Press, 2006.
19 Lawrence J. Saha, “Dictatorship 101: killing the internet plays into the hands of revolutionaries”, http://theconversation.edu.au/dictatorship-101-killing-the-internet-plays-into-the-hands-of-revolutionaries-3254 (accessed November 2011).
20 Dave Pollard, “Living Disconnected”, http://howtosavetheworld.ca/2011/08/20/living-disconnected/ (accessed November 2011)
21 It could be considered ironic that this was written on a Facebook “Wall”, but we return to the question of the Master’s Tools and using what we currently have to the best of our abilities. It’s clear that this person has little to fear from the Internet being a thing of the past.
22 Maps like this are readily available from the web sites of almost every telecommunications provider. You have to be careful not to directly associate such maps with undermining actions, but on the other hand if you know where to get the information it doesn’t have to be explicitly associated with an action. I would recommend also using Wikileaks and the Cablesearch engine to find more information that is now in the public domain.
23 “BlackBerry BBM, email downed in epic FAIL” and “RIM: ‘Faulty switch took out faulty-switch-proof network’”, The Register, http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/10/10/online_services_fail_for_blackberry/ and http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/10/13/rim_how_faulty_switch_took_out_blackberry_network/ (accessed November 2011)
24 Richard Reynolds is the author of On Guerrilla Gardening (Bloomsbury, 2009) and blogs regularly at the Guerrilla Gardening hub, http://www.guerrillagardening.org.
25 This concept has been developed and refined across the civilized world by all sorts of people, ending up in a fluke of convergent memevolution as products you can buy off the shelf (known as “Boms” to calm the nerves of the paranoid) that are almost identical to the version you can produce yourself just by following this guide. Richard Reynolds kindly finessed some of the details for me.
26 Richard Mabey, Weeds, Profile Books, 2010.
27 Julien Temple, “Detroit: The Last Days”, http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2010/mar/10/detroit-motor-city-urban-decline (accessed February 2012). The movie Requiem for Detroit, about which this article is written, is well worth seeing.
Version 1.01, published 24 October, 2012