Monday 29 September 2014

Code May Drive Modern Life, But The Colour Code Does Not.

Colour is a limiting descriptor

October is  Black History Month throughout the UK, but we should mind our language, because we are all more than just a colour!

In the old days it was Physics, Chemistry and Biology. Now we call it Science. In the old days , it was civil, mechanical and electronic engineering, now we call it Tech! In the old days
everything was colour coded including people, now the only code we talk of are the strings of instructions that drive programmes. Language should change to suit the needs, perceptions and understanding of the times.
Its time for the language describing people to change too. The idea of people as  "black", "white" or "brown" is just too limiting; way too yesterday to be meaningful. Once we impose a colour label on people we actually help create a problem we then have to solve. Invoke colour, and you invoke stereotypes based on recent political and social histories. In the hierarchy of modern times, white folk self perceive as superior , followed by the brown folk and orientals (once called Yellow - how cringe making is that ?),with the dear old black folk bringing up the rear at the foot of the totem pole of social worth. These stereotypes  prescribe how people should be perceived, and quickly become a self fulfilling prophecy in social and global outputs.

Different levels of worth according to the colour code

The lives of the rainbow coalition of humanity assume different levels of worth, and this is often reflected in official policy and its impacts in everything from the judicial system, through to international policy initiatives. So called "white" people seem to  behave as white people are expected to behave at one end,while black people do the same at the other. Even when they want to change, the tag of colour becomes an albatross round their respective necks.White people usually enjoying greater wealth and privilege, don't even notice others, until something goes seriously awry, like a riot, or a war! And until the parties read an article like this, all these dynamics seem to run in the background without anyone's conscious awareness or guidance. Its a kind of autopilot that few have front of mind at any time. Put Black people at the head of the totem pole and there is no reason to expect them to behave differently.  Nevertheless, the driver of behaviour is not colour for any group. Economics and the resulting politics are far more powerful drivers of behaviour than colour.

If you're not "black" or a council worker during October's "Black History Month", or an executive in an enterprise that's been approached for sponsorship of a "Black History Month" activity, it will likely fly blithely under your radar. The month has become an increasing non-event year on year and I'm sure the moniker we give it is in part to blame. I can see everyone shouting about Fashion Revolution, or Bringing Back our Girls or, Standing up for Cancer. I can't however, hear any but the die hard "community activists", long a dying breed, getting excited about Black History Month.

Geography is a far bigger driver of behaviour

 I'd be tagged as black , but the colour of my skin drives nothing in my life. Even the genes I carry and my physiology, are probably more the result of my geographical origins than my colour. Colour does not affect the way I think, the way I feel, or the way I behave. Those things are driven a lot more by where I've lived, the kind of upbringing I had, and a thousand formative experiences related more to time, place, geography, education and life philosophy. Thus I struggle with the value of the title "Black" History month. Its the wrong label. The label should have a lot more to do with the geography and history of the human ideas and histories recounted or reviewed in "Black History Month". 

The air war Britain is already involved in is abou
t economics and geo-politics. It is being framed as a religious war by those who need the PR mileage such framing confers. This would be analogous to say a hyper active thyroid being diagnosed as a nutritional problem because the victim presents with weight loss. Without the right language, we look for the wrong solutions and misdirect our efforts.

So forget the colour spectrum, I'm going for the human spectrum. Join me if you dare! Call it African Diaspora Month. Its far more descriptive, or can you suggest a better name?

Saturday 27 September 2014

It’s War... We’re Re-sitting That Exam

Parliament yesterday Voted 524 for, 43 against airstrikes on IS  (Islamic State) targets. Prime Minister (left) Cameron's motion was carried. This means War (by air strikes, without troops on the ground). There is not a nice way to put it, and the majority in Parliament in support, is overwhelming. Britain joins the Coalition of Nations including local Middle Eastern States that will commerce hostilities against IS. It’s as if we were re-sitting an exam we have failed several times before.

RAF Tornado GR

Tornados could be bombing their targets within 24 to 48 hours.

The Coalition

The debate in Parliament yesterday was robust and deeply thoughtful. It lacked the arrogance and haughtiness of earlier debates in Tony Blair's days, characterised as they were by the attitude that the civilised West was entitled to direct the destiny of the less "civilised" people in the Middle East. The economic motives of the key actors in those days seemed to calibrate their moral compass. Politicians this time considered the legality of the war, the ends sought, mission creep, and the wider impacts in the Muslim world and its reactions. If the economic motive has not entirely disappeared, it seemed from the debate to have been moderated by humanitarian and other considerations in the face of the undoubted brutality of IS actions in the occupied territories.

Syria will not be attacked, though there are significant IS assets there; another example of the allies caution round the boundaries of their military action.
Map of Region via Daily Mail, UK

IS Objectives
But, IS has achieved one objective. Despite the involvement of Muslim States in military action, it will no doubt cast the war in the mould of an attack on Islam by the West. There will be many takers for this argument based entirely on the regions historical experience of the West, and deeply held, sometimes irrational fears. 
How can the impacts of the actions that will follow be minimised? What lessons are we yet to learn about dealings with the region? These questions will not go away. Until they are answered we are in for a world of pain and destruction, mostly of entirely innocent victims of the war to come.

What must we learn? What must we do to pass this exam?

Saturday 20 September 2014

Plausible Deniability - The Meme That Drives Modern Exclusion

The sky should be the limit
 Ever try swimming without water, or playing tennis on your own? Both are zero sum games that go nowhere. It’s the water that provides the buoyancy and if you partner does not return your serves you run out of balls, the game has to stop.

Tidal wave of impacts
Modern discrimination is not about calling people nasty names or epithets. That is so yesterday. Use the “N” or “P” word and most modern fascists would go “tut tut” and all liberals would jump down your throat. Such blatant abuse is universally despised and indefensible. Modern discrimination is not like this at all, on the contrary it is plausibly deniable. It manifests as little actions which taken individually have little weight, and which if responded to make the actor look hyper sensitive or even paranoid. Examples, say in the context of a meeting would be; repeatedly forgetting a participant’s name; not making eye contact; not listening or paying attention to what they say, followed by not referring to anything they say; not inviting their views on the subject; not inviting the subject to participate in the group conversation; being distant from them or sometimes being over familiar in a way that violates their personal boundaries. None of these actions are on their own sufficiently weighty to merit a response without looking aggressive or defensive. Together however, they form a tidal wave of impacts that exclude the person from the meeting literally as if they had never been there.

Plausible Deniability
Because none of the individual actions are strong enough to merit a response they become plausibly deniable. Plausible deniability was a doctrine first devised by the CIA in the fifties as a tactic for protecting senior officials from the consequences of official malfeasance. If the senior officials knew nothing of what was being done they could publicly plausibly deny whatever they were accused of thus protecting themselves from any legal or political blow-back. In this world of smoke and mirrors no one knows what is going on or indeed if anything is going on at all. If there is no discriminatory behaviour then there is no problem to solve. The denial and deniability of modern discrimination is its very defence.

Exclusion always impacts performance (pic by Blogman)
The impacts of exclusion by tiny acts of non-acknowledgement, each plausibly deniable, for a business, an institution or a society is always catastrophic. The excluded party‘s performance declines as the motivation to participate drops following habitual exclusion.  Jane Elliot and her controversial Blue Eyes Brown Eyes experiment with third grade American schoolchildren dramatically shows what happens to performance when people are stereotyped and systematically excluded. I found it a powerful tool for teaching management skills to very adult senior executives of multinational corporations round the world, and the lessons are clear. This decline in output or performance by the excluded party provides an excuse or rationale for further exclusion, after all they’re just not pulling their weight. After a while the victim of exclusion is presented as the cause of their own downfall if not the perpetrator of their own “self” exclusion.

The Glass Ceiling - palpable but deniable
Just like the lottery, you've got to be in it to win it. Without  a paid ticket there is no chance of scooping the jackpot. Without participation in the meeting, the business, the society, the discussion, there is no way of constructively influencing it or maintaining your performance. Any more than you could swim without water. Now think about politics. How do disenfranchised groups feel and what forces are at play in their disenfranchisement? Think about why as many as 45% of Scots voted to become independent in the recent   referendum. Think about how women feel in the work place - are they really included, and how does this affect their output? Think about race and how minority ethnics are included or excluded in the work place. I became self-employed when I realised I’d reached a glass ceiling in the UK. The stereotype of an articulate, cultured, well-travelled, well-educated black male who was focused and determined just did not exist in the popular imagination. The presence of the very few prominent non-caucasian men in senior positions just feeds the plausible deniability of the possibility of discrimination. My work environments responded by just ignoring my existence and then very plausibly denied it. If this ever happens to those who are less thoughtful or life experienced, the consequences can be far more dire. Younger men with less life experience are infinitely more vulnerable to extreme, uber-radical ideas that give them a sense, however fantastical, of belonging and being worthy. It will of course always be their fault for falling prey to nihilism in the case of religious fanatics, but let’s not imagine that the environment played no part in this awful scenario.

The big issue is the plausible deniability of how exclusion works, for with denial comes the option to not take responsibility for the tiny acts which together create a tidal wave of impacts.

Friday 19 September 2014

The Scottish Referendum - No One Heard Their Screams

Referendum Day
Tonight Scotland will decide to continue or end its 307 year membership of the UK. With the latest polls suggesting a narrow win for the “No” Vote, it’s been a close run thing, far closer than anyone ever thought possible. (Ipsos Mori: Yes 47%, No 53%). I’ve gazed into my crystal ball, and writing 4 hours before the results, am inclined to call a narrow win for the “No” vote.
There will be no exit polls for TV pundits to support or refute, prompting James Ball of the Guardian Newspaper to speculate: “Why no exit poll for such a momentous and consequential vote? The first possibility is that no one thought the vote would be close, and so deemed it as not interesting enough to be worthy of the spend.”

Things will never be the same again.
Whatever the result, things have changed and will never be the same again. If the Yes vote polls more than 40%, then we have a nation deeply divided and not a happy member of the United Kingdom.
Ever hear the one about the married woman who cheated on her husband and had an affair? Everyone called her a traitorous adulteress, ungrateful, irresponsible, selfish. Then she told her story of the lack of attention from her husband for years, focussed as he was on career and maintaining their family lifestyle. His wife’s pleas for him to listen went unheard, or was responded to with the occasional perfunctory gesture of a night out, half of which he spent checking his messages on the smartphone.

Understanding Scottish Feelings
Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, "Yes" Campaign
Those who have most passionately pleaded for this nation to stay together among my friends have been English. I don’t think they know how the Scots feel. I don’t think they understand that economic analysis won’t change a feeling though it may frighten a person to do what he does not wish to do. That is not free will, that is coercion by circumstances. This election will be won or lost on the basis of people’s feelings and I don’t believe any of the nation’s leaders have understood what the Scots feel about their situation. If they had, they would have made the broad and still unclear offers of greater autonomy by the leaders of the political parties about week ago, several years back. Those gestures sound a lot like the husband who offers dinner out with a wife whose affections have slowly withered possibly beyond the point of resurrection, after years of neglect.
The Start Of The Federation
Even if Scotland stays in the Union, nothing will ever be the same again, and the consequences will indeed be enormous. I can see the UK heading towards a federation of regional states. When that happens the groups within it will have to re adjust their identities and loyalties to fit. Most Asian and Afro-Caribbean Brits are happy to call themselves Brits, but few see themselves as English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish. Their presence in the UK was a function of the British Colonial phenomenon with a strong Imperial British identity. I don’t expect the non-colonial populations to understand this. It’s an irrelevance to them, but it sure as hell defines many key facts of life for those of colonial origin. If the notion of “Britain” as such declines in importance, with the regional states assuming greater identities, what happens to those new members of the old UK’s population?
The Union Jack would probably change with a "Yes" win

One thing is for certain, the days of listening and not hearing are over. It will be a difficult transition, for the English as a people are notoriously shy of expressing what they really think. The English fear coming across as bullies, or too strident. People talk of Orientals as being inscrutable, but in many ways the English reserve reflects a similar social shyness. I believe those days are over. England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, but most especially England must find its voice and have the courage to speak it. Perhaps then it will also be able to listen to others as they speak what is true for them.
Pic via the Guardian Newspaper. & Lib Dem Party