What's wrong with copyright

Copyright makes sense doesn’t it? If you put your heart and your hard graft into making music, or writing a novel, or contribute to the production of a major film, shouldn’t you get to choose what happens to your work? Woudn’t it be an affront to justice to have someone do whatever they like to it? Author Phillip Pullman describes it as “theft, as surely as reaching into someone’s pocket and taking their wallet”. The argument is simple and clear.

As with many things however, it isn’t as open and shut as it first appears. The presentation of unauthorised sharing as equivalent to physical theft is inaccurate, as the analogy does not make the leap from analogue to digital. This is a problem of old metaphors, something that often crops up when thinking about technology (link to evgeny morozov, the net delusion). When downloading a file from a server, or in parts from many other people using bittorrent, the process is non-destructive and you end up with two copies. In the wallet scenario, Philip no longer has his bank cards and pictures of his grandchildren. Thus digital piracy is not a zero sum game since it’s possible to produce an infinite number of copies of any particular work.

The concept of a file as being the same as a loaf of bread is bizarre. It supports big record labels who have been pumping huge sums of money into ridiculous adverts for the past 10 years, while watching their empire crumble around them. We really have to rethink what a creative work is. The only justification for protection of copyright is the sustenance and reward of the author. There is an appropriate amount of money that should be directed towards the creator to enable them to live a decent life and produce new works.

There’s a moral indignation present in a lot of these arguments, not based on economic argument, but promoted by the thought of someone getting something for nothing, without having earned it. The reward for creating value and sustenance of that person should be our goal, rather than making an arbitrary determination about who deserves to have what.

Creative works join a pool of culture and improve it. A single artwork like a piece of music can’t exist in isolation. What would dubstep be without dub and hip hop? What would dub be without reggae? Copyright holds a choke chain on the ability of an artist to create since they cannot sample old works. While some art forms like rap beats make very explicit use of sampling, everything creative does to some degree. You couldn’t besmirch if Shakespeare hadn’t invented the word.

So what we need are an appropriate set of rights that reflect the interweaved network of creativity we call our culture. Property is a bundle of rights. It’s never total. So we don’t have to either make everything free or castrate file sharers. We can assign some intellectual property rights to creators but recognise what they’ve borrowed from culture and unlock some of the capital to allow future creators to do the same.

To this end copyright should have a much more restrictive time limit of 10 years with liberal exceptions for creative works that remix existing material. Of course the current logic of copyright is unsustainable. We are denying ourselves the opportunity for a greater culture that builds on itself over and over because of the desire to put a value and restriction on something that cannot be depleted. We are forced to do this because the material resources we depend upon to survive are arbitrarily divided, compelling artists to create things that make money, rather than using our collective resources to create things that enhance our spirits.

Streets need spirit

The great lakes and engineering structures, the large scale housing and employment areas now have a rawness that grates. They await the patina of the second-hand, the lived-in look

Derek WalkerThe Architecture and Planning of Milton Keynes

One of the things you get from learning a discipline is the ability to define the relevant characteristics that make something good or bad so you can more effectively articulate the hunch you have. Lately I’ve been trying to work out what turns me off about certain architectural spaces.

This was brought on by being in corporate managed pseudo-public spaces. They often have a manicured beauty to them, but it’s very still and lifeless. The form and symmetry will be very pleasing and elegant. The colours will have been chosen to be aesthetically pleasing but inoffensive. I went to view a flat once and the estate agent apologised because one of the rooms had eggshell blue walls. “Off white I told him…” Often the space will make heavy use of steel, glass and slate.

It’s not just offices but some new housing has this same effect as well. Other places have a sense of life and colour. I came to realise that its the artefacts of people’s lives that give it this impression. Plant pots, kid’s toys, bikes on balconies, worn bricks, posters in windows, garden sheds and scruffy front doors. What all these things have in common is that they result from people doing ordinary things and they convey that impression. Even a plant pot with dead yellow stalks hanging limply over the sides tells you something about that person within the walls, it gives you an insight into their character.

When I was in Pret recently I realised it had this lifeless quality. It’s like an Ikea showroom. Scrubbed clean of anything that might give it some idiosyncrasy. There’s an awareness that the staff are transplants; the gap between the till and the coffee machine does not belong to them but to a nameless corporate department whose personality has not graced the store. One assumes that there is a chain of command involved from board members to CEO, from the head of marketing to the fitter that installed the sign with a friendly but eerily impersonal reminder about freshness.

These chains remind me of self cleaning toilets. Anything not bolted down is to be flushed away, revealing a slick birch surface beneath the daily sediment of human activity. The signs of life from a person’s home don’t generally concern passion and tragedy, they’re simply reminders that a person exists and occupies a space with their humanity.

To combat this alienation from our surroundings, we should increase the amount of material in construction that pick up these symbols of activity. There is a limited amount of material we would find unsightly - a street with a burnt out car, old mattresses and dead vegetation would be unsightly.

There are two elements of responsive architecture: the architectural elements that are designed to respond to the accumulation of people’s actions. The balconies that fill up with personal items are good examples of this. The other is the configurable element that allows people to deliberately modify their environment to express themselves. A community noticeboard with job offers, social groups or political rallies serves this purpose - it is a clear physical manifestation of society’s bonds and conflicts.

We have enough tech capability to permeate the world with even more architectural elements that pick up life through conscious and unconscious actions. We can create living spaces that truly reflect the people who inhabit them.

I’ve added a photo gallery below featuring some examples of these two styles. Without comment so you can make your own judgement.

3 words that need to die (or why I didn't take that job in advertising)


Picture ‘content’. A sea of grey goop flooding the corridors of an anonymous publishing company. A uniformly coloured substance splashes out of the sockets, light fittings and the keyboards of those employed to create it. What is content? It’s an assertion of blandness, explicitly bounding the reaches of a piece of writing, a photograph or music. An assumption that a short story is fungible with a how to article about talcum powder.

The problem with the term content is the lack of respect it has for a creative work. It becomes something wrapped in a cardboard box and filed with things wrapped in the same way so that they all become indistinguishable from each other. Those contents are then seen as a path to making money. It’s an asset. The person responsible for distributing that content then packages it in such a way that makes it most convenient to serve adverts around it. They have no regard for the art of the piece and through lack of concern advertently crush it. The author, robbed of the power to draw something that isn’t a rectangle, falls into line and pumps out dross that prods but never pushes.

When you watch a great film it invades your very being. It doesn’t respect the boundaries of what is fictional and your real life. It draws on the relationships you have with people and the world to invoke the drama of the scenes it portrays. In the process it twists these parts of your perception into something new, leaving you forever shaped by its narratives. Experiencing content is like taking a lukewarm bath.


A job so ludicrously empty of creativity, it needs to have the word injected into the title to reassure the undertaker that they’re not an accountant. A creative is a person who works for an advertising company that takes existing ideas from elsewhere that haven’t been seen much and creates a dead eyed carbon copy. In contrast to the venture of the unknown, they wield a promotional budget to rival a small country’s national debt.

It’s subsequently their job to peddle it to client and consumer alike with equally vacant buzzwords. They will generate content designed to drive passion from mobile consumers and ultimately create a unique experience.


The product of the creative. In my naivete I’d been led to believe that experience is something that occurs to us from moment to moment, the consequence of consciousness informed by sensation and impossible to opt out from. I now understand that an experience is something that has been created by someone who works for an advertising company and we owe them a great deal for giving us the opportunity of so many experiences on television, the internet and the sides of buses.

Were you aware that by the time you’ve taken a shower and had breakfast you’ve already engaged with more brands than you have fingers? Don’t worry, people are paid to think about this for you and optimise your experience. It’ll be a customised social experience that’s encompasses profound innovations. You’ll be engaging in a multi-channel collaboration with brand in an interactive manner. Is all this a little dizzying? Don’t worry, the brand you’re engaging with will be empowering you to make changes in your life.

Experience the experience.

Philosophy and suicide

Suicide is an interesting topic. Aside from the sticky subject of euthanasia, it has many meanings which are rarely discussed due to its sensitivity and the desire to maintain the dignity of the dead. While suicide has not been a crime for many years, people still use the word ‘commit’, suggesting an offence against society. It’s not uncommon to hear people describe suicide as a selfish act, due to those it hurts around the deceased, while the person in question takes an eternal rest.

Contradictorily, it can also be an act with great meaning. Gilles Deleuze killed himself in 1995 by jumping out of the window of his apartment. Some critics propose that Michel Foucault deliberately killed himself by having promiscuous gay sex. In the cases of these philosophers, something profound is often presumed. The reams written about their deaths discuss the philosophical basis of their decisions, portraying them as a knowing statement and a carefully considered and justified choice. I believe this is a mistake. Suicide is always a confused act of last resort and does not emerge from a position of strength and comfort. Even when these decisions are retrospectively justified in suicide notes, the attempt is often to hide the truth of overwhelming fear and desire to escape.

Jacintha Saldhana hanged herself after being on the fooled end of a prank phone call. There was a lot of press covering the issue at the time, mostly focusing on the tearful and sufficiently remorseful faces of the Australian perpetrators. The sensitivity of her death compels people to avoid any meaningful discussion other than castigation of those perceived to be at fault, doing her an injustice in the process. For most people, being made a fool of of is not sufficient humiliation to want to die. For Jacintha it was, and this points to the other factors like depression in her life that caused her to kill herself.

The media is compelled to spin a narrative of tragedy around the affair. Because of this, her actions become a symbol of strength, a righteous action against an oppressor that we should stand behind. In this narrative our only choice is to support her death as a rightful action. With Jacintha and the philosophers by seeing their acts as symbols we fail to see them as humans. Something else the narrative does is to paint suicide as an inevitable consequence, rather than something we had a hand in and could have prevented. They are all actions spurred by confusion, irrational thoughts and emotions that spiral out of proportion. Preventing someone jumping from a bridge is not a futile act leaving the person to subsequently gas themselves in their cars, it’s been shown to prevent them from trying again. It’s only with this view that we can help those with similar troubles who are not masters of the universe but temporarily crushed by it.

I don't read the news

I don’t read the news. I haven’t read a word for about six months and my life is much better for it. I have three reasons spanning the personal, the political and the philosophical.

For me the amount of content is just overwhelming. I’m addicted to lists. I’ll consume anything numbered from one to infinity. There’s something about the need for completion that drives me to look at more and more news. I feel compelled as a good citizen to know about ‘the state of the world’, an oft used phrase. The proliferation of content and inherently continuous nature of the news meant that I was trapped in a never ending cycle of checking and rechecking, desperate for more new content. Since I gave up the news I don’t have to do this anymore, I don’t have the option to swing over the guardian, the bbc and see if there’s anything new up there. I now have to consider what to do when I have a free moment which tends to lead to doing something more productive.

There are some downsides. Someone mentioned Syria and I panicked and responded with something along the lines of, “oh yes it’s absolutely terrible isn’t it”. It seemed to satisfy my conversation partner. I’ve realised that mostly when people bring up the news, it’s in order to tell you at length about their opinions on something. It’s rare that people will spontaneously dig into your thoughts on the matter. Even rarer is a challenging pop quiz on this week’s headlines.

I don’t believe there is such a thing as the state of the world. It’s easy to imagine as a concept - a sense that you understand the shape of events. That you can structure and perceive it in your mind. In some ways it’s a way of getting a grip on things that are out of our reach. But having this image in your mind doesn’t mean all that much except for a feeling of security. The media taps into this very human desire to get one’s hands around the world by feeding us narratives about the way the world is. These narratives lead us down a particular path of understanding, pushing out others. I’ve written more about narratives in life.

To read the news is to soar like a bird, seeing the world from that 10,000ft drop and being able to encapsulate it all within your perspective. As I’ve said this perspective is comfortable but delusory. You’re really only looking at the map that’s been drawn out for you, a simplified system. What we really need in the news is not narratives and top down views, but a proliferation of metaphors. The many-to-many communication of twitter exhibits this perfectly. There is no overall story.

Following a live stream of news on twitter means seeing a number of different perspectives all at once with no attempt of coherence. There isn’t any definition of what the news is or should be, a ‘story’ about a mass murder is as contained within 140 characters as is someone’s breakfast. Certainly, there are events that happen in physical locations that affect more people more significantly, but what’s important to us isn’t necessarily defined by that. Because of this, Twitter is a more honest medium which more accurately reflects our limited ability to report from a limited view, the validity of anyone’s perspective as reporter, and our ability as news understanders to assemble a coherent picture of the world out of many metaphors. Ultimately, this will serve us better as it continues to develop.

I also resent someone taking control of the narrative. Even to look at a headline is to have the order of the day imposed - a statement that declares that this is the most important thing that has happened for everybody. We can have many different viewpoints and fragments of experience. We can’t have this single, linear top down perspective. It doesn’t make sense to view the entire world in chunks of specific navigable narratives that have starts and ends. It’s a form of self reinforcing social control - the yarn spun by the masters of narrative who dominate the chain of distribution - whether that’s digital or paper. Many to many is just an infrastructure. Lets make the story itself purposefully schizophrenic.

24 hour news is the worst manifestation of all of these issues. It’s an unpleasantly persistent stream of sex crimes and murder. The problem is rather than being a dip in service which adjusts itself to the amount of things available to be reported on it’s become a distinct product itself. Because of the vastness of the programming it has to be filled arbitarily with compelling narratives.

However, for the first reason of the addiction to permanent instant gratification I don’t check twitter either. For all this, it just makes me happier not to know some events have happened.

A templating language for expression

“Give us adequate images. We lack adequate images. Our civilization does not have adequate images. And I think a civilization is doomed or is going to die out like dinosaurs if it doesn’t develop an adequate language for adequate images.” –Werner Herzog

I wrote previously about a concept of full stack communication. Based on the notion that what really matters to us, and often what matters in political arguments are qualia (experiential states that can’t effectively be communicated using public language - link to wittgenstein), I proposed that we dig deeper and try to communicate the subjective emotive and value driven layers that lie beneath our arguments to find a common frame of reference understandable by all humans.

There are some people in society who are exceptionally effective at communicating these more intuitive layers. They’re so good that we pay money to experience their output in film, books, paintings, music and so on. They have either a natural or well developed talent for turning their inner world into something tangible. Unfortunately, we don’t all have such skills.

What’s needed is a templating language for expression. A template is a step inbetween infinite customisation and something completely packaged and employed without control. It uses various simplified components as building blocks to achieve a limited level of articulation compared to manipulating something at a more fundamental level. Templates can exist on a very broad spectrum of complexity, depending on the number of decisions that have already been made by the time the user comes to put elements together.

Mass amateurization is about the destruction of professional categories that exist as a consequence of there being a barrier to entry created by unequal access to resources or skill level. There are few barriers preventing people from picking up a paintbrush or opening their mouth to sing, but there is clearly a gulf of difference between a novice someone with years of practice.

There are many processes in the world that can be simplified using technology, but the best point of mass amateurization is vastly lowering the barriers to communicating visions. Ideas and visions are things that exist inside people’s heads, created billions of times each day, naturally and spontaneously as people go about doing what they do. Sadly, the vast majority of this creative vision is lost because its authors lack the disciplined skill to put it into practice, or perhaps even the awareness that it would be possible to do so.

Vision is not necessarily correlated with skill, and the greatest visions often require talent to outline the first step of production. I can describe the features of my ideal home, and someone else has the skill to design that. I can stipulate the requirements for a piece of software and a programmer can build something that meets those needs. Unlike other things in which blueprints or outlines can be produced for someone else to take further, someone else cannot write a poem that expresses exactly how you feel, because there is no intermediary blueprint step. The translation of the intangible into a blueprint requires the poet’s skills, so it’s only the poets mind that is expressed on paper.

It’s not the poets mind, feelings or thoughts that are of such value. We all have strong and profound emotions, but when most people try and express them, much of the signal is lost, and the output is reduced because of the technical skill.

These expressions are not valuable only because of culture, because of the need for our society to build up a record of its emotional and introspective self, or to express the zeitgeist as a call to action or reflection. Culture and entertainment are of great value, but communication between people is what matters most. If we all have access to them it improves the access to each other’s minds. Because that’s what these expressions really are, its’ a carrier of information from one person to another. There will always be a loss of signal in the process of conversion, that’s inevitable. But we can increase the volume and get to that lower level. As stated in the other article, to understand each other and overcome conflict, we need to express something that our language currently fails to do, because we attempt to convey the surface level, superficial rationalisation of our thoughts, rather than something deeper and more difficult to express.

Art is not something that is reserved for a specific group of people. It is not the manufacturing of chairs or the answering of phones in a call centre. It cannot be outsourced. It is a act that is productive of society, much like voting. To be a member of society, you have to make art.

Parade of the harlequins

A focus group is unpleasant on so many levels. First, it’s something that props up the foul smelling capitalist system. I’m bouncing into the realm of the advertiser. The advertiser is a strange hybrid, halfway between hipster and corporate. Slighty tighter jeans than usual but with the edges trimmed off. A tie could descent at any moment onto the thoughtfully buttoned up shirt.

While I’m sitting in reception the panel drips into the waiting room. This is my first day of Zoloft and I’m still getting used to the side effects of anxiety so my heart is threatening to burst through my chest and I imagine that if I try talking to someone I’ll either silently gulp in terror or launch into a mile a minute intense discussion about something horrendously mundane. Fortunately nobody engages me. We file into the main room, which has several tables, two mirrored walls and some sandwiches. The issues with buffets is that they tend to be overambitious. If you’re going to put red pepper in there, you need to do it properly, otherwise just stick to peanut butter. I’ll have to put the cheese and jam combo down to a computer virus in the automated sandwich creation facility.

What disgusts me most is the sympathy that people have towards brands. I hate brands. When I encounter brands in my daily life I feel revolted and angry. I have violent thoughts towards the creators and the brand itself - which is a mythical beast, it has no form except for the identity fraudulently invented for it by the aforementioned advertisers.

The topic today is electric shavers. You know that bullshit about 5 blade, rotating shaft, MicroFuckTM they plaster over various razers which are all identical except for the amount of absolute cock peddled with them. Some people buy into that. That’s not a disorientating waste of time for them, it’s an essential part of their process in choosing a product. MicroFuck forms part of their experience with the product. Who knew.

They organise us into four groups and set us a variety of tasks which involve writing on A3 sheets of paper. I’m in a suitably ethnically mixed group of four people. The first task is to introduce ourselves by way of our interests. In this stage I learn how utterly dull the entire world is including me. Here’s a tip: exercise is not an interest. New wave French cinema is an interest. Painting airfix is a hobby. Huffing marker pens outside WH Smith counts. The fact that you either do exercise or get some satisfaction from it says nothing whatsoever about you except for the fact that hold a preference against being fat and coronary heart disease. Football just about gets a pass, but if you announce it to me I will file you in a category marked ‘a lot of people I probably won’t like’ and you will become so indistinguishable to me that I will cease to be able to pick you out of a lineup.

After assessing my companions I deem it acceptable to offend them so I loosen my trousers and my tongue and let the crude jokes fly. Something else I’ve noticed about people in general from these sorts of situations is how shy people are. An extremely noticeable way to pick up on this is when people desperately feign knowledge of something that they have absolutely never heard of and couldn’t care less about. This happens to me sometimes when I talk about where I’m from. “Is that near Newcastle?” they might say, straining for some common ground, a geographic tie that will form the first of many bonds of friendship to come. My village is nowhere near Newcastle. I’ve never been there. “Yeah it’s actually sort of near… I think I might have been there … kind of similar” I’m tugging at the map in my mind, trying to will these two places closer to each other to save embarrassment. Fuck off Barnsley you’re impeding my charisma.

On the whole, people will do anything to please you. It’s only by virtue of us all being so fucking scared of our imagined versions each other that society manages to hold itself together. Politeness is why dictators rule the world. My dream is to burst from my seat and turn to the double sided mirror that forms the end wall of the room and deliver an impassioned speech about the poison of advertising, maybe borrow a directive from Bill Hicks. They’d raise the lights in their little viewing room, making themselves visible to me as they slowly nod their heads, standing up one by one to give me a miniature standing ovation. I salute them before leaping through the window onto a prepared zipline and… ok fantasy over. This didn’t happen of course, mostly due to my not wanting to offend anyone with my distasteful beliefs.

The other issue is that in my fantasies, the enemy is brutal and unremitting, they deserve to be vanquished. They’re not a human being, just a foil for my heroic identity. The other issue is that the man running the course is a visibly nervous man who starts to sweat and stumble through his words as we progress through the three and a half hours the task entails. He keeps asking about prices in euros instead of pounds. I still want to wave my revolutionary flag, but it seems unfair to impale him with it, given that he’s just an ordinary guy like me, rather than the ideological menace I’d hoped for. The other man running the course is totally silent and it’s difficult to know where he stands. He might be a comrade so I let him be.

I’ve done some interviews before for work related reasons. This is a fucking terrible way to go about it. It’s virtually impossible to gather the opinions of more than one person at a time. It can’t be recorded because there are too many people in the room - you might as well leave your dictaphone on in the office while you go for lunch. Groupthink is evident. Electric shavers are not things that people have strong opinions about (though the scant attention my colleagues pay is disturbing enough for me). The kind of preferences I have about a razor are easily swayed by a casual, “I think that having two blades is better than one”. You know what, I think that two blades are obviously superior. I always thought that, I always will. If you control history you control the present. Can you prove I ever held any contradictory opinion?

Equally, putting 30 blokes into a room together is a recipe for smut. In one exercise we’re asked to write a break up letter to our old shaver and a dating advert to seduce the new one. I say, “I think these exercises are horrible and useless” but nobody listens so I give the criticism a break and try to think of some jokes. We fill in in our A3 sheets with answers to bizarre questions that not only try to anthropomorphise hair removal tools but also equating them with something that I would want to love and have sex with. “What first attracted you to this inanimate object?” Each group gives a presentation to the rest of the group, which is entirely for the benefit of a camera in the middle of the room. Predictably this turns into a euphemism competition which all but ends in fist pumping and chest bumping. “easy to turn on… removable sheath… self-lubricating… works best in a steamy environment… has a big pair of tits….” Ok I made the last one up. But the creatives or board room execs who sit round and watch this DVD will learn very little about people’s preferences on shaving and a lot about why men should never be trusted with anything ever.

During the series of presentations - of which there are many, one after every laborious task we do. I feel like I’m supposed to care and pay attention. I feel like I’m in school and that although boring, there’s probably something I can learn from the hard work these guys put in studying chapter 4 of the biology textbook. There isn’t I realise and I look up Sir David Frost’s profile on wikipedia to see how he died. It was a heart attack.

We were asked to bring our shavers with us. During the discussion we’re asked to get them out, for reference or something. Apparently shaving has moved on leaps and bounds since I bought mine, which is the size of two cans stacked on top of each other, something for which my status within the group takes a beating. Conrad sitting next to me has something very dainty indeed, with a thin neck and a long and narrow blade at the end. Other specimens resemble alien technology. The way we grip the shafts of these beasts in front of us and discuss their relative merits makes me feel like we just ought to go the whole hog and get our penises out to compare.

I have never thought this much about shaving. I never want to again. After being invited to write on a post it note one last message to ‘the shaving industry’ we hurriedly join the queue to receive what is euphemistically referred to as our incentive. We have been suitable incentivized. There are no goodbyes in the cutthroat world of focus groups. No tearful hugs between people who have survived the ordeal, we simply file out into the busy street to continue our separate lives having granted an unwarranted amount of access to our presumably soon to be exploited insecurities.

How to convince people

There’s a common flaw in most arguments. It’s that they never go deep enough. There’s often passion, shouting and vehement critiques of one’s opponent. But most debates, especially political ones stay on a superficial high level. If you already agree with the argument, this high level can provoke strong emotional reactions, and if you’re experiencing those emotional reactions you’re likely to wonder how anyone could hear such words and fail to be compelled. On the other side, the exact same words provoke profound disgust.

The problem is that words are not precise carriers of meaning. There is no central agency in charge of defining how a word must be interpreted. Dictionaries are just representations that scrabble to keep up with changing public thought and usage. Words are our only means of representing something from the complex and emotive imagery in our minds, so we make them fit our purposes, rather than vice versa. What makes some academic writing so dense is that it’s packed with terms that have meanings that depend on knowledge of other terms. Understanding the written work as a whole relies on your bringing in a number of other mental models that have been learned previously.

Similarly, most arguments operate in the same manner. They depend on terms that have implicit meanings that are known both to the speaker and the listener. Terms that mean much more than their simple dictionary definition. The problem is that the listener thinks he understands these terms, and interprets the argument based on his own perception of the components the speaker is using to build it. So with the same words, making use of the same logical components of argument, two entirely different pictures emerge in the mind. Unlike the confusing academic text, the listener is not aware of his lack of understanding of the mind of the speaker. The speaker too, realising his message has not been hard, repeats his argument louder and stronger, often turning to authority to bolster her message in the absence of agreement.

This goes right down to the core of who we are as human beings. At the root of thought, there are many confusing things some of which are impossible to articulate and share in any meaningful way. Between this low level thought and the high level terms we use to communicate ideas, lies the many layers of the mental models we assemble to understand the world. Often the reason we’re using these high level terms is because this structure of meaning which starts from basic human instincts is emotive and challenging to communicate. The lower layers can be implicit and not based in rational thought, usually experiential or sometimes handed down by an authority figure in our lives. So it just seems so basically obvious and true that there seems like no need to communicate these values.

The free market is a divisive concept. It underpins much of our daily activity and invokes strongly polarised feeling. It’s also a concept where one’s experience is crucial to the way it is perceived. Technical arguments on this matter are generally irrelevant to convincing people. What really matters is the listener’s concepts of freedom. What does freedom mean to you? What does earning money and paying for something mean to you? For some people it means being unfairly separated from what is naturally theirs, then being forced to toil to get it back. Paying for something is a hideous compensation for someone who has gotten what they have through force and greed. For others it means seeing that everyone is fairly rewarded for their innovation and graft, meaning that every payment is gladly handed over to a decent honest person, as to not do so would be to upset the balance of fairness in the universe.

It’s difficult to argue rationally at this level. Neither of the positions taken on economics can be empirically proved true or false. Yet to the speaker, they inherently are true because they’ve seen them in the world. They inform their actions; to the anti-capitalist, any businessman will have an ugly hue to them, an imagery of evil that makes sympathy impossible, and any argument based on the image of a just and smoothly functioning system will fall at the first gate. We should be arguing based on the a prioris of human nature, we simply forget to do this since we don’t consider these perceptions of value as reliable evidence.

In fact, it’s the only evidence we have. The great myth of conventional economics is that it’s rational to its core. At the root of much economic theory lies homo economicus, a person who takes actions based on a perfect rational calculus. While everything on top of this has internal coherence, there is nothing to support the root assertion except belief. We depend on mental models to make sense of and act in the world around us. Since the universe is infinitely complex, we have to simplify it down into models and images. These mental models are not rational, nor are they generally perceived as thought. Einstein claimed to perceive the abstract spaces he was dealing with in feelings in his muscles, rather than through mathematical symbology (for more on why pictures are important, see Bret Victor who demonstrates this point brilliantly: http://vimeo.com/66085662). In the process, we can end up with images that are vastly different from others with different experiences.

I recently watched this video (http://worrydream.com/LearnableProgramming/) and although I found it moderately interesting, I switched off after a few minutes. Some time later, I was having a discussion with my friend Calum, when the topic came up. When Calum discussed it, he talked about a vision of being able to simply talk to computers without having to learn a specialised language. This point tapped into something I found exciting, an image built at some point in my life, rooted in some deeper aspiration common to all humans. These images are not expressible in words, but ‘learnable programming’ is an attachable concept, something that I can now be excited about, that motivates me to find out more and work in that area. I’ll forget about this attachment to a higher value, while the feelings live on, but if I want to excite someone else, I’ll have to go through that same process of attaching it to the root for them.

We should make an effort to dig deep, rather than keep fighting in an effort to convince with high level terms. I believe that since these terms ultimately tap into a lowest common denominator of human thoughts - images we hold in common - it’s possible in many seemingly intractable cases to find harmony with this manner.

I have a strong fascination with public transport. I enjoy reading about it, hearing about new infrastructure projects, seeing new train lines open. This doesn’t make any sense to most people. My interest in turn is based on a love of maps, systems and diagrams. Systems like London’s network of underground lines are a way of understanding and making sense of the world. I seek to understand and make sense of the world because of the basic human desire to find significance and control in an infinitely expanding and confusing universe. It’s only the last point where I have something in common with most members of the human race, and without this point, communicating my interests is fruitless.

We need to argue based on the full stack. be experiential. Communicate the whole body of thought in your expression, not just the superficial end point. This should inform the way we go about both politics and protest. It’s tempting to base protest in shouting as loud as possible. Sometimes this works if your message is simple or you have the power of numbers. But this strategy is based in the desire for personal satisfaction, to win. If we want to act pragmatically to build a better future, we need to learn to be better communicators in all areas of our lives.

“Advocates of ‘free trade’ want to push this process to its logical conclusion: a
few industry monopolists with ultimate control over everyone else. Advocates
of ‘fair trade’ want to mitigate this process via government regulations, which
superfi cially impose ‘humanitarian standards’. We despise both positions.
Private property – and capitalism, by extension – is intrinsically violent and
repressive … When we smash a window, we aim to destroy the thin veneer
of legitimacy that surrounds private property rights”

Above is an example of a statement that convinces nobody but the choir. The paragraph is dense because it relies on definitions of other things which are not clear: free trade, private property rights, fair trade.

This is a lot easier when people have a lot of experiences in common. Hence why people with similar backgrounds tend to enjoy each others company, by confirming each others beliefs and having the same aspirations sprout out of them. The bigger the gap between experiences, the more likely disagreement becomes. Thinking does not precede fighting. Thinking is the fight. Physical force, the ultimate mover, relies on approval of those in whom power is invested. If the powerful actors no longer approve, no action will take place. By using physical force of your own you’ll just be tilting the scales, readying them for their inevitable swing back to the other side when your opponent fights back, since no individual can stand to have the world be in opposition to his aspirations.

“I can’t talk to them because they won’t listen to reason”, is a likely retort to this argument. This statement is not even wrong. They won’t listen to reason because your terms carry meanings for them which makes your argument nonsensical. Equally, you must open yourself up to the experience of others, to understand their full stack and how it depends on emotive imagery. Only then can we truly communicate.

Practical exercise: try explaining something to someone you know well that you’ve previously disagreed upon or something you love but holds no interest for them, but for every time there is a disagreement or lack of convincing explanation, dig deeper to what that term means to you, notice what imagery appears in your mind when you explain that term.

Hypotism and me

Have you ever wanted to surf an astral plane or regurgitate your inner conciousness in front of a group of strangers who’ve paid £5 each to see somebody embarass themselves. Maybe you’d like to dance like a chicken to satisfy the whims of a man who wishes he was Derren Brown but lives in Ottery St Mary. I have wanted none of these things, but you have to do something with your life and sometimes craigslist is the source of such thing.

For the uninitiated, craigslist is a listings site. Most of it is fairly mundane buying and selling. It’s the personals section that is most intriguing. There’s a casual encounters section full of men begging for sex, a dating part full of men begging for sex and a strictly platonic section which, defiantly, is full of men begging for sex. Among these ten-a-penny requests, there are some gems.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be hypnotised? Or perhaps you’ve seen a show and wondered what effect hypnosis would have on you? It is a unique and interesting experience quite unlike anything else you will ever experience.

Also included is this admonition to that section of viewers who prey on kindly hypnotists:

Please be genuine about meeting. Getting too many replies from guys who are unreliable

I am eager not to waste his time, so I fire off a friendly request and get back to my essay. He replies within half an hour. If this were dating it would seem desperate, but I suppose hypnotism is an entirely different business. His name is Vince, and his email address is worryingly anonymous. The first image I conjure up is of a man with a thick monobrow in a string vest swinging a tightly gripped timepiece in a shabby attic while I’m tied to a chair. My mental image then turns to a slick, consummate professional with a bowtie and white gloves who will delight and entertain me. I have a mild fear he may murder me with an axe.

After an exchange of emails, we agree to meet at the Euston Travelodge. I text a friend, last known location: euston travelodge, 4th floor. Pressing send, I shudder, it’s not so much my death that would bother me, I’d just imagined it would happen in a more glamorous way. Preferably in at least a 3 star hotel. On a sofa in the lobby of the Travelodge, I watch guests come and go, looking out for signs that they might be hypnotists. I’m disappointed to note that none of them have a hypnotic air to them, not even Vince, who spots me first and reaches out his hand. He doesn’t fit either of my preconceptions, being a portly Irishman with a soothing voice that sounds like soft rain. I tell him this and he grins.

We take the lift to his room, which I’m pleased isn’t 101. The room is a classic budget hotel with stark white walls, a small television and a print of some extremely bland art. As Vince puts his bag down I study it for the outline of a hatchet. Vince leans over and removes a twix from the bag. I silently wonder if the twix will be part of the hypnosis. He notices my expression of concern. “Some people have said they wonder if I’m going to be Jimmy Savile!” he says jovially. There is a silence.

The first part of the session is a consultation where he tells me a variety of things about hypnosis and the sort of things he’s going to do to me. You can’t hypnotise anyone unless they’re willingly involved. And did you know that you need a license to perform hypnosis onstage? Fascinating. When he asks some questions about my mindset, I say to him, “I’m an extremely tense and neurotic person and I like to maintain control over my surroundings”. He reassures that this won’t be a problem. I can feel my aching muscles relax already.

Hypnosis starts with an induction, a kind of ritual used to put you into a state of increased suggestibility at which point the hypnotist can tell you stop smoking, berate you about your excessive burger consumption or make you rob a bank. Most of this is fairly simple stuff. Vince delivers his patter with smooth and easy professionalism and I have to say, I am quite enjoying myself. I close my eyes as he begins.

There is a hooting from the street as some football fans exit the pub opposite. I open my eyes again. Vince sighs, goes over to the window and rolls down the blind. As he does so I notice a giant stone eagle with its wings spread on the building opposite. I start thinking about the Nazis. Then which is the best Indiana Jones film, then… OH GOD SHOULDN’T I BE RELAXING RIGHT NOW? I give Vince my most apologetic but serene expression. He looks pleased and says, “well hopefully that’s all the interruption we’ll have tonight!”. As he sits down an extremely loud siren bursts into life. He sighs an even longer sigh. I’m somehow reassured by these disturbances, I feel like I’m with a gritty, urban hypnotist dealing with real life problems, not one of those saccharine, white teeth, Hollywood fantasy-relaxers.

We get back to the induction. The first technique involves me watching him and copying his actions. He moves his finger up and down his face and does a strange twitchy thing with his eye which makes me think he might be a David Icke style lizard. I make a mental note to look out for any shapeshifting. I have trouble replicating his eye movements, but I make a good go of spasming. Some breathing exercises, and then, “you’re stepping into a luxury elevator … going down … 4th floor… 1st floor… you feel your muscles start to relax.” Next he lifts my arm and lets it plop onto my thigh. He does it again. This is the signal for me to enter a deep state of relaxation. And I do, a little bit. Sort of. Right before I get my mind blown.

“Now, I’m going to let you in on a little secret.” he announces boldly, while I still have my eyes shut, apparently in a trance. “There’s no such thing as the number four. Once you come out of this state, you will simply have no recollection of that number.”

He asks me to open my eyes again. He’s holding up his hand. “As I put my fingers up, I want you tell me how many there are”.

“1, 2, 3…” I pause for a moment, wondering how hypnotised I am. “5?” I say sheepishly.

“Are you sure?”

“Well, no, not really. There is a number 4. I don’t think that one worked…”

We try some more inducing. After Vince has been talking for a few minutes, describing some peaceful paradise, I hear him get up and cross the room. A door creaks. Maybe he’s going to play a cool prank and get his twin brother in. A steady tinkling indicates this is not the case. I tentatively open an eye, as I do so the door of the toilet on the opposite side of the room swings open and I meet his eyes in the mirrored wall. His eyes widen and we have a brief moment of contact before I squeeze mine closed again. There is a hurried zipping and he quickly returns to the chair. I hope that I can act bleary enough we can both pretend I was too hypnotised to notice anything.

“Ok Tom, I’m going to bring you out of the trance state now. When I get to zero, open your eyes again…”

“Wow, I was totally under there Vince! I didn’t know what was going on!” I say, convincingly. I think I can detect Vince quietly breath away his tension.

In spite of my enthusiasm, the first attempt at hypnosis hasn’t been particularly successful. Since I have such an impenetrable mind, I briefly consider trying to hypnotise Vince, the old turning the tables trick. But I figure he’s probably pretty wise to the signs by now. Instead I suggest moving things to the bed. The Travelodge sofa seems to have been designed by someone who had a contempt for people who enjoy sitting, and it’s hardly conducive to letting yourself go. Vince consents, so I lie down and stretch out. He brings his chair over to the side of the bed and starts a new induction. The imagery of this one is quite dark. He describes walking through a wood at night, towards a still lake. Nevertheless, I actually feel myself drifting off for a while. After I awake, he tells me I was under for half an hour. He claims this is something called the Esdaile state, an extremely deep trance where the subject is not responsive to any stimuli. I am skeptical and I express the thought that perhaps I just fell asleep. Vince says this is not possible.

I sit up on the bed and we have a few more minutes of lingering chit chat. Vince tells me that I’m the only person his hypnosis hasn’t worked upon. I feel some pride for my rigid mind, but also a tinge of shame for being different. I think this is how the X-men feel.

Overall, I enjoyed the experience. It was interesting to see how it all works up close. Sadly I didn’t really get to experience what it’s like being hypnotised. Still, I recommend it. Perhaps you’re not as intensely controlling as I am and will be able to relax in the company of a stranger in a cheap hotel room.

As the Travelodge doors gracefully slide open to permit my exit, I have to admit to feeling a little bit less on edge. On the way back through Euston station I buy a family size lasagna from M&S. While waiting for my tube, I wonder if he hypnotised me to do this.