Syntagma Digital
Editor, John Evans

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 He had little new to say and spoke mainly about minor issues of outdated policy and seemed very ill at ease.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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Saturday Ramble: Norwegian atrocity shakes the foundations of Europe

Templar Knight Like many folk this morning I have been trying to work out why Anders Behring Breivik murdered around one hundred people in cold blood in what he admits was an atrocity.

How could an educated, successful man from a settled culture, aware of the moral dimension, carry out such a despicable attack on innocent young people?

Events like this go beyond conventional decision-making and suggest the involvement of a deeper influence. My first thought was that a powerful archetype of the collective unconscious had been triggered by recent events.

It was hardly a coincidence that just four days ago the European Union agreed that northern states of the Eurozone should transfer massive sums of money to profligate countries in the south — in the middle of an ongoing recession. Many of the people who are paying for this largesse didn’t have a voice in the decision. It was a German-French stitch-up at the highest level cobbled together by Brussels. While Norway is not a member of the EU, the close affinities of the Nordic countries means it is affected by decisions in Brussels, especially by the free movement of people across Europe.

But, even so, the killing spree was beyond excessive. We need to look deeper for the motivation behind this inexplicable crime, for something that has been stewing for decades. The Nordic mentality is generally disciplined. It takes a great deal of pain to trigger an event of such horror and devastation.

What we know is that the brooding Scandinavian temperament has been awash with unease for years about the state of their countries and their ability to govern themselves.

It is closely connected with the continuing loss of national culture, sovereignty and a largely peaceful way of life. Oslo’s population is now twenty-five percent Muslim, thanks to the open borders created by the Schengen Treaty and a very generous welfare state.

The two policies are clearly incompatible. For the Norwegians, the end of the free movement of people around Europe is becoming the only option. Significantly, Denmark has recently reimposed border controls in defiance of Brussels.

The archetype finally made its appearance on Breivik’s social media websites: that old favourite, the Knights Templar.

The Templars were set up by crusading knights in the 12th century to protect the Holy Land, especially Jerusalem, from Islamic invaders. It grew into a mass movement throughout Europe, even reaching as far north as England and Scotland, then died out before being replaced by the Scottish Freemasons.

Events like yesterday’s can only be explained by the influence of apparently heroic causes and a sense of divine mission. All the elements were in place, it only needed a psychological mechanism for action.

Modern computers have a facility called Snap to Grid. It is the technology behind spreadsheets and CadCam design software.

A blank screen hides an invisible grid of small rectangles. As worksheets or technical drawings are prepared, new inputted data automatically “snaps” into the boundaries set by the hidden grid. The grid can be revealed by a keystroke. The facility can also be turned off completely. However, if you are not an expert, your work can appear rather messy.

The analogy in ordinary life is this: when we act with apparent freedom, our actions automatically, and without our being aware of it, snap to a grid. As we grow in awareness, we begin to discern the grid. A person with a high degree of inner awareness can turn off the grid and assume complete spiritual freedom. These are the three stages of psychological free will.

The “snap” stage is when we are ignorant of any predetermining factors on our actions. A powerful archetype can easily take over a person on this level of development, conferring an inflated sense of divine mission and absolute confidence. Adolf Hitler is the perfect example. It seems that Anders Behring Breivik was under similar “magnetic” influences during yesterday’s massacre of the innocents.

The second stage, the beginning of awareness (illumination), is when we can see the grid and, within limits, adjust its purpose. The third level (called unitive contemplation in the Christian tradition) is when we become one with the grid itself and are able to control it at will.

Real freedom is quite rare, which is why there are so many senseless atrocities in history. It is predicated on an ability to rise above internal and external impulses, which rests on the level of awareness attained by any individual.

Breivik thought he was fighting back against a culture of national decline, but he was just snapping to the grid of an ancient, tired mythology.

The only partial protection against such random outbursts is for a society to have a strong code of behaviour inculcated very young.

Norway has just such an unspoken culture of civility and good manners. That yesterday’s killing spree happened anyway shows just how far some individuals have been pushed.

I suspect this could be the start of many more incidents like this across Europe unless our feeble political class takes back democratic control of our nation states.

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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Saturday Ramble: Beansprouts — what will Gwyneth do now?

Gwyneth Paltrow

At this time of year the supermarket shelves are creaking with perishable soft fruits and salad items from all over Europe. Like most men, I don’t take much interest in them. This year is different.

The devastating e-coli bug found on organic beansprouts from Germany has hit Europe so suddenly that there’s speculation it could have been a terrorist attack cooked up in Pakistan as retribution for the killing of Osama bin Laden.

More likely, it’s a symptom of the unusual drought conditions across much of the Continent and the British Isles. When water sources are depleted, pathogens increase in concentration in slow-running streams and rivers. Farmers might be tempted to cut corners if water is restricted, taking it directly from local streams to spray on parched crops.

Anyone on a macrobiotic diet, such as Gwyneth Paltrow, is going to be massively put out by the loss of her staple foodstuff. Organic alfalfa munchers must be chewing the table cloth.

I’ve always had a natural distaste for beansprouts. For starters, they resemble blanched worms. They even taste like worms probably do. I’m convinced humans were never meant to eat beansprouts. In Gwyneth’s case, she’s probably having them flown in from California.

We don’t know yet what got into those German beansprouts, causing dozens of deaths and hundred of cases of very serious illness. The Germans have been uncharacteristically clod-hopping in getting a grip on the outbreak. As often is the case, the inefficiencies of Brussels, which has a bossy finger in every pie, has slowed down the process of finding and eliminating the source of the bacteria.

Germany’s lander system of regional government has not helped either, as sleepy local labs wake up to a continent-wide scandal on their doorstep. The blaming of wholly innocent Spanish cucumbers has devastated Iberian growers across the board.

However, if you drive east from Malaga along the Mediterranean coast to Alicante, you will spot some elements of the problem. Acre after acre of fields are covered in vast plastic tent-like structures. Here’s where Europe’s winter and early season fruit and veg comes from. It’s a massive industry supported by grants from Brussels, our money. It might be worth it if not for the obvious dangers.

All that plastic creates a steamy environment in which nasty disease germs flourish. When I lived near there I was told you couldn’t just pick a pepper inside the tent and eat it without being poisoned by the huge load of sprayed insecticide on each fruit.

You don’t have to be a microbiologist to know that those conditions are ideal for the growth of resistant superbugs and new virulent versions of old disease forms. As it happens, that is exactly what the new variation of e-coli is.

Spain is not the epicentre this time, we are told. A single organic farm in northern Germany, selling organic beansprouts to local restaurants in Hamburg is the official source of contamination. But Spanish growers, many very poor, have suffered grievously.

You would guess that the German authorities will be paying out hundreds of millions of euros in compensation to the traduced Spanish. Not so. Brussels has stuck its sticky oar in and pronounced this an EU matter, meaning we too, the innocent British, will have to pay compensation to all and sundry. Anyone would think booming Germany could not afford it.

One thing stands out from this mess for me. My new-found fascination for trawling the fresh fruit and veg shelves of the supermarkets has uncovered some interesting facts. The amount of what used to be called “import substitution” in foodstuffs is gathering pace.

My favourite salad crop, tomatoes on the vine is now more likely to come from Suffolk or Norfolk than Italy or Spain. That is a real turnaround and a welcome one. If this is “global warming” bring it on.

However, the almost supernatural efficiency of the big supermarkets’ “just-in-time” distribution system is beginning to groan.

Don’t imagine I’m a trendy, but I do enjoy raw blueberries with my breakfast. Unfortunately, at this time of year they all come from Spain, so no-go areas for the past month or two.

Last week, a giant Sainsbury’s near us had shelves of blueberry packs all on the day’s date and marked down to half price. There weren’t many takers. You can imagine the pile ups in the storage depots right now.

I predict there will be thousands of blueberry plants popping up all over the countryside as the crop is either ditched or fed to animals.

Everything has its compensations.

John Evans

John Evans 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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DIARY: Big Beasts, Poppycock Watch: Antimatter, Euro fantasies, Book of the Week, Thought of the Week

Labour Is there a quota system for the number of “Big Beasts” a political party can have? Another EU directive, perhaps?

I ask because ConservativeHome’s Tim Montgomerie wrote the following in Saturday’s Daily Mail: “A few big Labour beasts including Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander and defence spokesman Jim Murphy are quietly muttering in the corner …”.

Do Big Beasts mutter in corners? And quietly?

Douglas Alexander, “wee Dougie”, is a personable fellow who made a rather good joke in the Libyan debate, although I can’t for the life of me remember what it was.

Jim Murphy talks very quietly on aspects of defence, but I’m not sure I recall any details.

Nowadays, parties are defined by their Big Beasts and their roars. Ed Balls certainly roars, and is very beastly, but “Big Ed”?

Don’t you get the impression that Labour is the Incredible Shrinking Party?

* * * * *

Poppycock Watch
So CERN has captured antimatter — antihydrogen atoms, to be precise — for 16 minutes and 40 seconds. What are the implications of this for the rest of us?

For science it’s a chance to reconstruct the beginnings of the universe. Isn’t it always?

What though if the universe didn’t have a beginning? Is it inconceivable to the boffin bonce that not everything has to start somewhen?

It’s interesting to the mystic mind because it gives physical validation to one of its profoundest tenets: that matter is really “mind” or rather, consciousness.

Consider, if every particle in the universe has an antiparticle which destroys both on contact, and therefore the sum total is Zero, ie, the universe only exists physically as a state of tension between equal but opposite and, crucially, separate electrical charges, an overview of all of it would reveal nothing but emptiness. A void, in fact.

Once again, scientists reduce everything to nothingness, but miss one important element: Intelligence. The aliveness of space, in its general and particular senses, completely eludes them.

At its heart, the universe is made up of consciousness alone, or what used to be called Spirit. That is the mystic’s view. It actually explains everything so much better than science does, because consciousness/spirit displays “intelligence,” something science claims as its own yet denies to the void that is the universe.

The problem has always been that consciousness/spirit is so close to us, all-pervading in fact, that it’s possible to stumble through life without ever knowing it exists. It’s easy to view life as just a barrage of thoughts.

Look at existence through a telescope and spirit/consciousness is invisible. View life through a spiritual lens, by creating a silent space within, and all becomes clear.

And when you see it, everything makes sense. Scientists appear as primitive creatures, rattling around and making a lot of noise in a universe beyond their understanding.

Mystics try not to laugh. They are basically compassionate people. They would not be mystics if they didn’t have all-embracing temperaments.

But sometimes it’s very hard not to.

* * * * *

I spend a lot of my time tracking one of the great tragedies/farces of our age. I refer, of course, to the fate of the euro.

I’m not sure why, especially since Great Britain — as we should now get used to calling our homeland — avoided it by the skin its teeth. The “great and the good,” as is usual, unerringly chose the wrong option, loudly proclaiming that staying out would be disastrous. Tut, tut.

There is a fascination in observing a slow-motion system wreckage in real time. Most economists — not the most accurate of prophets — now fall on the side of pessimism about this wonky, schizoid currency group.

The psychology of the process is even more interesting than watching the gradually disintegrating Heath-Robinson contraption.

Politicians are in an enormous quandary, damned if they do, and obliterated if they don’t. Eurocrats are chasing what tails they have left after the kicking they’ve taken by the forces of history. The astonishing part is that most of them have yet to budge from their pre-set positions. It’s as if they are frozen in a prehistoric landscape unable to summon the will to awaken.

Most interesting is observing those few who do come round from the Brussels Trance and either slink away into obscurity, or shrug a pair of pragmatic shoulders and carry on as if nothing had happened.

The pachyderm in the tool shed though is the European Central Bank (ECB) which is so stuffed with almost worthless Greek and peripheral countries’ debt that it is effectively bankrupt. It daren’t let Greece default because its balance sheet would collapse.

Prognosis? Some species of disaster, ranging from a devastating bust up, to total collapse of the system, leading to another calamitous global financial crash.

China might then emerge as the dominant power in the world, and we will dance to a Communist tune. The Marxist-Leninists will have won after all.

Britain might at least break away from this self-inflicted tragedy by calling the promised in-out referendum on the EU.

It would, at minimum, show a direction of travel that is inevitable at some point.

* * * * *

Book of the Week
The travails of many big political projects remind me of one of my favourite books:

Back in the 1970s Shunryu Suzuki (not to be confused with D.T. Suzuki), was then Abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center. He wrote a classic of Zen and world literature called Zen Mind, Beginners’ Mind.

The theme of the book was that “experts” have closed minds with few possibilities, while “beginners” have open minds with many possibilities. Therefore it’s better to be a beginner than an expert.

It’s a wonderful book, full of wisdom and terrific writing. But is it true? In our society, experts are the ones who make the money. And money is the measure of success or failure. Beginners: students, interns, rookies, greenhorns, apprentices, newbies … are the ones we pass over in silence, and often without pay.

What Suzuki was really getting at is that beginners view everything as if it were new, fresh, and deeply interesting. Their minds are focused ferociously on the matter in hand, like a child with a new toy. They get more out of every experience because they are fully present to it — the essence of Zen.

Experts, by contrast, take a rather jaded, “seen it all before” view of the same events. Their minds are turning to “more important” matters like their diary for the coming week, upcoming meetings, papers to be written and presented, dinner parties to attend, boards to chair …

Suzuki felt that “attention” is the most important aspect of any person’s life. Attend fully to the matter in hand and you are fully alive. Split your mind by putting some things on autopilot and you’re not present to the moment, so partially dead. Marriages often suffer from this tendency and don’t last long once the robot takes over.

I’ve read Suzuki’s book a number of times in the past few years and I’m always amazed at the influence his simple message continues to have at the highest levels, especially among experts.

Steve Jobs, legendary founder of Apple, advises: “Stay hungry, stay foolish”.

* * * * *

Thought of the Week
Plan A supposes a Plan B. A plan is just a plan, but an A without a B is superfluous and misleading. If George Osborne is set on only one plan for the economy, he should say, “There is no Plan A, just The Plan.”

Any philosopher worth his hemlock will tell you that.

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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