Syntagma Digital
Editor, John Evans

DIARY: The slow road to freedom, Brian Cox’s wonders, Equality is beige, Knowledge workers, Poppycock Watch, Profundity of the Week

Brian Cox

David Cameron’s big speech on Europe last week was intended to be blue in tooth and claw. It came out beige.

That’s not to say there were no good ideas in it, no splendid rhetoric, nor sterling aspirations, just that it projected everything so far into the future they all but disappeared in the mists of time.

Realistically, we’re looking at a treaty signing around 2019/20, in the last gasp of the next Parliament. It seems this will be the same document that creates a fiscal union from most of the rest of the EU, giving the Commission endless opportunities for mission creep into British interests.

The timescale can only mean one thing: forget it. It will be Harold Wilson all over again.

* * * * *

Particle physicist, Professor Brian Cox has produced another visual spectacular in his new TV series, Wonders of Life. This follows Wonders of the Solar System and Wonders of the Universe.

He’s beginning to run out of wonders, I fear. Perhaps his next series could be: Wonders of the Spiritual Universe?

I’m serious. He opens his first episode in a remote village in the Philipines at a festival where locals are celebrating the spirits of their ancestors who are thought to be living in the rocks around the houses.

Contemplating why so many people believe in a spiritual reality and survival after death, he remarks, “it feels right.”

It doesn’t last though. The day job kicks in and suddenly he’s claiming that life doesn’t need a mystical spark to get it going, just the First Law of Thermodynamics.

Laughable, you might think, but he does have a point. The law states that energy is neither created nor destroyed. In other words, energy is constant in the universe. Moreover, he equates energy with life itself. And it’s certainly true that energy animates living things, while death disperses it, leaving creatures inanimate and crumbling.

But that still doesn’t explain the crux of the matter. There is a point where physics gives way to metaphysics and the former loses its force. I would much prefer the terms, mystical or spiritual rather than metaphysics, which suggests a carry-over of methodology that does not happen.

Cox’s esteemed colleague, Stephen Hawking, put it best: “I understand how the universe works, but not why,” he wrote in one of his books. To equate energy with life still doesn’t explain what motivates energy, the “why” conundrum.

Somewhere in the back story, there is a force that creates intention. Intention is what animates life, especially higher forms like humans. We are not totally reactive creatures. No law of thermodynamics can explain the works of Shakespeare or the Upanishads.

The famed British astronomer, Fred Hoyle said that a hurricane blowing through a scrap yard for a million years will never create a jumbo jet. While his colleague, James Jeans asserted that the universe is “more like a great thought than a great machine.”

To be fair to Brian Cox, he does say in Wonders of Life that there is a strong chance “that the universe is alive”. Now we’re getting somewhere. The infinite monkey cage is not as deceased as we thought.

Coupled with his statement that the notion of a soul leaving a person at death feels right, that is a lot to wring out of a physicist in one hour of television.

* * * * *

What will the new unified Europe be like? I’ve let my imagination run riot in the following assessment:

A recent television item showed a house that had been left untouched since the early 1950s. Almost everything, from wallpaper to paintwork to furniture, was beige.

Beige is the colour of the future thanks to Brussels’ obsession with conformity — in the shape of the notion of equality — and control of every aspect of life.

I can see it now in my mind’s eye: mass immigration will mean there will be only one skin colour, beige, while rising populations will increase pollution so much that both sky and sea will be beige.

Eventually, there will emerge a new seat of world government in the vast conurbation of Brussels/Geneva, shortened to Breneva, which will set the pace on equality legislation around the globe.

To avoid class differences, nobody will be allowed to wear coloured clothing. All will don beige trouser suits, reducing individuality to a minimum.

Education will be identical for all, regardless of intelligence or aptitude. A new law abolishing war — to avoid winners and losers — will be hotly contested by women’s groups claiming that their new “right to fight” alongside men on the front line had been breached.

How soon “rights” become imperatives.

It will also become apparent that, to avoid such clashes in future, gender must be abolished. Castration will be voluntary at first, winning the participants a gold medal for services to the State. Then it will gradually be compulsory, with sexless children produced in Person Laboratories.

Mass medicalisation will eliminate all illnesses and psychological complaints except one: Boredom, the new plague.

A wide range of drugs will be prescribed to keep it under control: uppers and downers, cannabis, heroin, skunk, cocaine, all are available on prescription at no charge.

As the human population becomes ever more incapable of serious work, an increasingly robotic workforce is developed to take over. Humans will be the drones of the new world order.

However, in one little lonely outpost of the world designated, Rebel Colony 47b, once known as Great Britain, a freedom movement has survived.

Its population maintains all the old traditions of marriage, family and freedom of conscience. Children are born naturally and educated according to their talents and inclinations.

The colour beige is strictly forbidden.

* * * * *

A few years ago, Business Week journalist, Stephen Baker, had a thought-provoking piece over at Blogspotting. Its title is a telling Knowledge workers: We’re on our own, and it means what it says.

Face it, knowledge workers, if we’re not already freelancing, we’re heading in that direction. I’m typing this on a company-owned laptop, but Gartner predicts that within three years, one in 10 companies will be forcing employees to provide their own laptops. I’m surprised the number isn’t higher.

He painted a grim picture : “Increasingly, we’ll be on our own.” Grim for some, at least. Personally, I’ve always been “on my own”. All authors are. But I can see it would be tough for the gregarious types who are addicted to office politics and the water-cooler mafia.

He continued: “Why is this happening? Companies have the data and the intelligence now to cut the jobs they need done into tiny slices, each one going to the person best equipped to handle it anywhere on the globe. It’s a virtual assembly line.”

This is my long-held theory that each critical decision should be taken at the point of maximum competence, regardless of job title. I call it “superdemocracy”.

Now comes the juicy part of Baker’s idea. For those who write online more in hope than expectation, this is a Business Week endorsement:

So what do we do? For starters, we blog. That way we build our individual brands, our knowledge, and our network of connections. These are going to be ever more vital assets in the years ahead. If we do a good enough job building them, companies may decide to bid for our services fulltime, even throwing in insurance and a 401K.

Soon, in the “ecosystem that’s unfolding, one teeming with knowledge entrepreneurs, I’m betting that most of us, by choice or circumstance, are going to be running our own show.”

This is happening now. Many of my friends are peeling away from the corporate system, and those who are not, would like to. Interestingly, as Stephen says, blogging is the centrepiece of that effort. It puts you out there and up there, in the neon lights of a business Broadway that’s tapping its way into the 21st century, as the hoofers of old tap-danced into the 20th.

* * * * *

Poppycock Watch
All mergers and acquisitions are based on the idea that economies of scale will drive down costs across the board and produce synergies between organizations. This assumption is so ingrained in our thinking that few people stop to ask why most takeovers fail.

In any group activity there’s a hierarchy of decision-making. Each person in the structure (we won’t say “node”) gets a bagload of responsibilities based on various assumptions, and the empire-building of their predecessors. Like cream in a milk bottle, decisions have a strong tendency to rise up the hierarchy, stopping only when the number of assumptions needed to take them exceeds common sense.

Notice the word “exceeds”. This isn’t a rational process, it’s pushed purely by ego and vanity.

The result is that most decisions in any organisation (business or governmental) produce a one-size-fits-all outcome which gives a false sense of synergy, while destroying efficiency and particularity.

“Particularity” may sound odd here but, in reality, it’s the crux of the well-being of any complex infrastructure. It means decisions are made with few assumptions and with a “size”, or scale, that fits the need of every case.

Modern Western countries are one-size-fits-all societies. It’s our weakest link and the point where our enemies concentrate their attacks. They know most decisions, whether laws, regulations, red tape, whatever, are unpopular and largely unworkable, because they lack particularity.

Thus we need armies of lawyers to sort things out, over long periods of time. We also have to throw huge amounts of national and business capital at problems just to keep them afloat.

Politburo orders are always wrong. EU “directives” are never right for most people. Decisions taken on 10 Downing Street’s sofa have been proved disastrous time and again. White House decisions are hardly spangled with success. Microsoft, and even lucky Google, make crass moves all the time which go totally pear-shaped.

If every decision were taken at the point of maximum competence, or very near to it, there would be few assumptions to make, and the outcome would be as close to perfect as it’s possible to reach.

So here’s The Syntagma Principle: Particularity means never having to make assumptions. If you’re making assumptions, the decision shouldn’t be taken at your pay grade.

* * * * *

Profundity of the Week
The more shared past there is in a relationship, the more present you need to be; otherwise, you will be forced to relive the past again and again.
Eckhart Tolle, in Oneness With All Life

John Evans

… who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.

Coming up: Mystology: A different way of looking at the world. Also a website,

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Saturday Ramble: Towards a grown-up Europe

David Cameron

Playing politics causes wars, doing business creates peace. What Europe and Britain need now is more business and less politics.

In fact much less politics outside the boundaries of the democratic nation states, which alone have the legitimacy to make policy for their people. All cooperative activities should be achieved through simple time-limited agreements, never by central diktat, and certainly not by irreversible treaties.

That really would be a civilised and grown-up Europe. It might even re-introduce the competitive edge that made the continent undisputed leader of the world, culturally and economically, for centuries.

Today Western and Central Europe are in steep economic decline compared with the newly emerging states of the East and South. All things change, of course, and power moves away from the complacent and the lazy, which is what Europe has become under the whiplash of Brussels.

Ah, Brussels! Always a slightly dotty city of little consequence in the world. Now its mighty beating heart specialises in the production of hundreds of thousands of headache-inducing regulations on everything from the shape of bananas to the prohibition of couples knowing the sex of their unborn.

If your town has rolled cheeses down English hills for centuries, or you’ve walked under chestnut trees without mishap all your life, they will be banned not because it’s dangerous, but because the slightest possibility exists that you might hurt yourself.

Why do they care about us so much? They don’t, it’s the thrill of exercising control that drives them, like a rapist on the prowl. That alone should warn us to dump them fast.

The list of prohibitions spewing out of Brussels is endless, yet European and successive British governments have stood by as the competitiveness of their industries has been shredded by people we don’t know, and whom we would certainly not invite into our homes.

Just look at the two people who have put themselves forward for the post of President of Europe — the real thing, not just head of a committee: Tony Blair and Herman van Rompuy.

We know Blair only too well and revile him for what he did to this country as Prime Minister. Pope Benedict was absolutely right in his recent “moral vacuum” remarks about Britain in the wake of the riots. As for Rompuy, I’ll allow Nigel Farage’s assessment of him in the European “Parliament” to stand.

The whole edifice of the EU is beginning to disintegrate, as everything falls apart at once. The Germans have lost faith, other countries are refusing to play ball. Finland is balking at the Greek bail-outs, Denmark is disobeying Schengen by reintroducing border controls in protest at the vast tide of Muslim and African migration.

A crucial point has now been reached in the collapse process. It’s when the forces provoking disintegration exceed those holding the edifice together. Centrifugal forces overcome centripetal tendencies. The die to some extent is already cast.

What’s needed now is for the nation states to forge an orderly retreat from this destructive and soul-destroying organisation which has turned into a ravenous beast.

For Britain, Foreign Secretary William Hague yesterday set in motion just such a move. In midweek David Cameron played a straight bat, clinging to his red lines. It’s time for the Conservatives to speak with one voice — William Hague’s.

Playing politics causes war, doing business creates peace. What Europe and Britain need now is more business and much less politics.

John Evans

… who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.

Muscular Mysticism is coming soon.

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Political Snippet: Europe: It’s all going wrong at once

Family The world economy is on its knees, and it’s all going wrong at once. A major depression must now be the most likely outcome.

David Cameron appeared before the Pariamentary Liaison Committee today sounding like a lightweight holding onto “red lines” and old nostrums. He had little new to say and spoke mainly about minor issues of outdated policy and seemed very ill at ease. One hopes there is more behind the front than we heard.

Tonight, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, did all he could by holding to his deficit reduction plan, but there’s not much new thinking going on right now.

As I wrote some years ago in my piece: Up-to-a-pointism, humans lose control if things get either too good or too bad. They lose the ability to act normally and get carried away by tides of enthusiasm or despair. We are entering that territory now — on the side of despair.

Whichever way the German Constitutional Court reacts on Wednesday, it will only make things worse. We are into a “least worst” place now, which is probably to declare the bail-out mechanism illegal. That at least will force a major retreat from monetary union and the whole process of undemocratic political federalism across the Continent.

It will be very painful for everyone, but the truth is always preferable to lies and deceit. Let’s hope we can avoid war this time.

I wrote about optimism recently. That can only come from a massive re-evaluation of the postwar international political settlement. It’s long overdue and is worse because it has been held up by the inertia of vested interests, mainly of political fantasists.

It’s time for realism and a little faith in the future. It’s not difficult if you clear the slate of the exhausted ancien regime.

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Political Snippet: Managing elephants

Elephant The trouble with baby elephants is that although you can get them through the door of the room, eventually they grow so big you can’t get them out again.

I allude, of course, to Britain’s membership of the European Union.

Such is the size of our grey eminence in the corner, our politicians won’t even talk about it. “Shhh,” they hiss, “We prefer not to mention that. It’s the elephant in the room.”

In Germany, politicians and people are talking about nothing else. On Wednesday, the Constitutional Court is due to rule on the legality of the Brussels bail-out package. If they declare it illegal — which it is, and a majority of Germans think so — the Eurozone will rapidly unravel, spreading contagion to British banks holding the debts of the peripheral nations. Yet another banking crisis looms imminently.

This is far and away the most serious situation we face right now. Even if the Court hands down a neutral judgement, allowing the half-hearted procedure to limp on, it’s not going away and will be with us until it’s finally resolved one way or the other.

David Cameron is making a statement in the House this afternoon on Libya and Syria. Shouldn’t he be addressing the massive financial implosion waiting to happen?

Some serious elephant management is called for now.

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DIARY: Let there be lightbulbs, Autumn cometh, Red letter day, Red Arrows, Voice of Knowledge, Profundity of the Week

Moon Manufacturers say that they intend to raise the price on “energy-saving” lamps by 20-25%, following today’s EU ban on 60-watt light bulbs.

Who do these people think they are, dictating what type of lighting we must use?

Their preferred alternative is a variation on the phosphorescent strip lighting that is notorious for causing “sick building syndrome”. That they also contain the deadly poison mercury seems not to matter to them. You would scarcely believe the health and safety instructions issued for their use.

These are not rational or freedom-loving people. It’s not just sick buildings we have to fear, but sick politicians and bureaucrats who think they have the right to impose their neurotic opinions on the rest of us. Are you listening Ed and David Miliband?

Happily, I’ve stocked up on crates full of the old type, enough to last until I’m at least 150. You can never be too careful.

* * * * *

September 1st and autumn has arrived, at least according to the rigid timetable of the Met Office.

Actually, here in the Westcountry, our local Met Office chap, David Braine, believes autumn began in mid-August this year, a full month earlier than usual. He could be right, although I’ve been able to detect autumnal stirrings in mid-July for some years.

Just as the Open Golf Championship hoves into view, a sense of mellow fruitfulness settles over the land. Remember the Open this year? It was blown away by gales and lashing rainstorms — and that was over on the more settled East Coast.

Here in the West, as I wrote at the time, I spotted spring on February 11 this year. That’s when birch pollen allegists got the first whiff of those annoying little particles.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the seasons are moving backwards. Like the precession of the equinoxes (which takes 26,000 years, by the way) they begin earlier every year.

When I moved to Devon 14 years ago, the first snow — then a rarity — hardly ever came before Christmas. Two years ago it hit us on the first of November. Last year it was early December, setting off a Scandinavian winter in which the River Exe froze over and the temperature fell to minus 6C in the centre of Exeter at noon on Christmas Day. The occasional ground frost turned to regular air frosts as facial skin tingled and began to freeze.

What was that recent news item about a mini-Ice Age? It’s not boding well for 2011/12.

Perhaps the Met Office could actually publish its long-range forecast this year … without mentioning barbecues, of course.

* * * * *

It’s always a Red Letter day when an author finds his latest book* sitting on the shelves of the County Library. Thus it was for me today.

It looked well-thumbed, with dog-ear bookmarks near the end — a good sign — and had been taken out by at least four borrowers.

As the book crosses a number of categories, I was pleased they hadn’t slotted it in under Whacky Religious Freaks. The kindly Devonshire librarians had placed it demurely in the main Philosophy section next to the giants of world thought. Well spotted.

* * * * *

I’ve long been an avid follower of the Red Arrows flying display team, especially as I’ve lived in three houses along the South Coast which have been right on their flight path.

However, this year has been a sad one with the death of Flight Lieutenant Jon Egging at the Bournemouth Air Show. Bravely, he stayed at the controls of his stricken plane guiding it away from people and houses before it crashed into a river bank, taking his life.

Here’s a little tribute to Jon and the team I wrote last year at the time of the Dartmouth Regatta:

It’s the sound that gets you every time.

It starts with a bulldog growl, then in seconds becomes a mighty cacophony of noise that scrambles your nervous system. Almost instantly, the Doppler Effect kicks in — appropriately called the Red Shift — when the tone changes as the flight of nine aircraft passes overhead.

Then they’re gone.

For a moment you feel like an omlette, before the exhilaration sets in. You have experienced the Red Arrows.

They usually fly very low, demonstrating their attack posture when going into battle. I’ve been “privileged” to live in three houses directly on the flight path of this troupe of daredevils and their flying machines. Once in Bournemouth where I could watch the entire display from a balcony, then in Dartmouth overlooking the River Dart estuary.

These days, my house in Exeter witnesses them overhead as they shoot down to the Dartmouth Regatta and other Westcountry venues. They seem determined to pick on me.

Last week I experienced the familiar roar of jet engines right above the house. For a moment I imagined a stricken airliner from the local airport crunching into the street unannounced. Then I remembered. The Arrows were back.

This morning I saw them again, heading out Dorset way for more displays. A perfect “V” in the sky, with one plane following behind. Along the way, sheep and cows will scatter with fright, and householders cower beneath their beds imagining the worst.

Don’t you just love them?

It’s the sound that gets you every time.

* * * * *

Book Review: The Voice of Knowledge — A Practical Guide to Inner Peace, by Don Miguel Ruiz.

We each have a personal myth; a story that builds gradually from our parents’ stories, our cultural myth, and many other factors. In this story, we are the main character, other people are secondary characters. They, however, have their own stories, which are usually radically different from ours.

Society is built on resolving the clash of these personal myths. Civilizations are constructed to preserve collective and national myths. When powerful people’s inner stories meet in dissent, whole continents can dissolve into war. Such is the power of our personal story.

Most people are not in command of their story because it’s formed from a ragbag of inherited ideas and pressures from all manner of influences. This leads us to snap to grid rather than act with personal freedom. It also devalues ourselves and splits us from our essential authenticity. Instead of living in a heavenly realm at peace with ourselves and the world, we create our own hell on earth.

That is the thesis of Don Miguel Ruiz, a Mexican medical doctor and surgeon, who grew up in the ancient shamanic tradition of the Toltecs. A near-death experience in a car accident led him back to his ancestral roots to try to explain this “Nirvanic experience”. The result is a compelling synthesis of 21st-century psychology and perennial wisdom.

In his book, The Voice of Knowledge, Don Miguel, distils the entire tradition of his people into four principles, or Agreements, as he prefers to call them. At first sight, they could be taken for a boy scout’s creed : tell the truth; don’t take things personally; don’t jump to conclusions; and do your best. But this would be to miss the point. Used as talismans of action, the Four Agreements become a powerfully transformative path to happiness.

1. Be impeccable with your word.
2. Don’t take anything personally.
3. Don’t make assumptions.
4. Always do your best.

The crux of this philosophy is that everybody’s story is a tissue of little relevance, even lies, which undermines our authentic heart. It distorts our lives into grotesque defence mechanisms against perceived enemies “out there”.

There is no need for this. By using the four Agreements to connect with our authenticity, we become the creators of our personal lives. We transform ourselves into artists of our own existence.

Don Miguel Ruiz has produced a classic of transformative literature.

* * * * *

Profundity of the Week
Mysticism is not just for Christmas.

John Evans

* who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.

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