A long walk

Late-capitalist, western society is not built for walking. We are filtered through non-essential spaces direct to where we can be productive – our desks or the shopping mall. If we want to walk we should do it in designated zones, heritage sites, national trust properties – accessible through the gift shop and tea rooms – you’ve got to keep contributing to the God of mammon after all. Walking in non-designated zones is treated with suspicion, and anyone relying on the privatized mess of our once public transport structure for any reason that other to get to an office in London is considered mentally ill.

Why is walking treated with suspicion? After all, there are regular exhortations for us all to lead less sedentary lives, so one would expect that choosing a 30 minute walk over a 5 minute car journey would be the norm rather than the exception. Is it just the lack of efficiency that means choosing to walk is frowned upon?

I suspect that this is part of it. We are under pressure to account for every minute of our lives – deliberately choosing to take longer to do something, and therefore limit the amount of time you have for other activities is suspicious to a society that worships industriousness. If you ran rather than drove, it wouldn’t be quite so frowned upon as running is considered an activity … walking is just something you do … a non-activity.

Walking as a non-activity is exactly what I like about it. When I am walking it means I am not checking my phone, not browsing the internet, not caught up in the 24 hour cycle of connectivity. Even if I start off the walk thinking about issues at work, it is very unusual for these worries to occupy my mind for the entire duration that I’m walking. I suspect this is part of the reason why so many writers and philosophers have been great walkers, as your feet walk so your mind picks itself up and roams free. Whatever problem you are stuck on, whatever nightmare is plaguing you, slips off somewhere as you walk, and suddenly you realise that what you’ve been worrying about is not the whole world.

Whilst you are walking you are in a state of non-time and non-place. Somewhere between where you’ve been and where you are going. Here lies walking’s potential as a radical activity. Whilst you are in this non-place there is the possibility that you might decide to change your destination. Many of my walks these days are circular during my lunch break from work. At some point on the walk the thought “what if I just don’t go back?” always pops into my head.

Walking always carries with it the thrill of departure, a sense of leaving behind, and part of this is generated by the uncertainty of where you will end up. If you get in the car and drive to the shops, you are herded by the road and your own muscle memory to your destination. There isn’t the time to change your mind. If you decide to walk however, you not only have time to change your mind, you often have a myriad of potential distractions to explore. Slacking off, discovering something new through just following an impulse or idle curiosity, these are some of the best things about being alive – but we are not supposed to admit it. There are countless different paths we can take in this world, we shouldn’t always take the quickest one.

If football clubs were political movements ….

I don’t support Newcastle but have been reading a fair bit about them recently, partly because of Pardew leaving – and also because of Mike Ashley’s attempts to strengthen his grip on the club formerly known as Glasgow Rangers.

Ashley’s Newcastle are a metaphor for wider austerity Britain. Celebrate mediocrity (8th place as a success) despite having the potential resources to do better (Newcastle have gates of over 50,000 and Ashley is one of the 5 richest men in Britain – although we’ll come to that in a second), sell off public property to private enterprise (the renaming of St James Park to the Sports Direct Arena), treating fans as mindless consumers who should just keep on paying their money and shut up about any demands they have for enjoyment (an attractive, attacking team, a cup run) as that is not the primary reason for the football club to exist. Generating a profit for Mike Ashley is.

Reading the back pages of the newspaper about Newcastle is like reading the front pages about coalition led Britain. Like Newcastle consistently selling their best players we are regularly told that we can’t afford benefits for the disabled, art centres, libraries, refuges for victims of domestic abuse, etc despite the fact that we have the 6th largest total GDP and have no problem affording Trident apparently.

Just as the government continues to sell off public assets like the Royal Mail, the NHS and the East Coast Mainline to their friends and family in the private sector so Mike Ashley treats the history of Newcastle football club as expendable in order to increase advertising opportunities for his business (Sports Direct). The worldwide exposure of the premier league increases brand recognition of Sports Direct on a global level – never mind the history of St. James Park the shareholders of Sports Direct need an increased dividend.

Invest little for maximum profit. Ashley’s Newcastle is pure capitalism that is probably a gold standard for sports business management graduates to emulate. It is also joyless, depressing, elitist, exclusionary and soulless. Just like ConDem Britain.

It’s nearly Easter…

…and I’m already fed up with the sheer number of “things” being marketed to me. It’s an endless rolling advertising frenzy now throughout the year, with barely a letup. Coming hot on the heels of Christmas and New Year, it’s not long before the adverts for Valentine’s Day appear (not forgetting it’s preceded by Burns Night for the Scots), quickly followed by Shrove Tuesday, St Patrick’s Day and then Mothering Sunday.

It would be nice if there was at least a brief period where we were not being bombarded with advertising for the next big event we really must by cards, gifts and food for – and if you don’t, you are (of course) a Really Bad Person.

For evil to succeed all it takes is for good people to work for charities

“The world of do-gooders is steeped in hypocrisy, and anyone who proclaims the contrary, or even asserts it, is either a subtle exploiter of humanity or an unpardonable idiot. Ninety per cent of the time we are up against subtle exploiters, ten per cent of the time against unpardonable idiots.”Thomas Bernhard

If you walk through any English town centre you can’t help but be confronted by an ever increasing number of charities competing for your money. From charity shops to  young people in branded jackets with clipboards exhorting you to sign up to a direct debit to help Oxfam, or Amnesty International, or Greenpeace, or the RSCPA or the Red Cross and so on and so on, the High Street seems to now primarily exist in order to fund the charitable sector. How is this a bad thing? Because charities and human rights organisations have become the acceptable face of capitalism, foster the belief that there is such a thing as responsible capitalism, encourage the death  of thought and take up the time and energy of people who should be looking to change the world rather than making small differences – and ultimately propping up a failed and corrupt system.

The truth is that capitalism and charity should be fundamentally opposed. Charity works to improve people’s lives, to give some of the most unfortunate people in the world a chance to build a self-sufficient, rewarding life. Capitalism looks to make rich people richer – and to hell with everyone else. Charity under capitalism instead just serves as an easy, and indeed false, way for corporations to demonstrate social responsibility, helps to boost the fading careers of celebrities who, revitalised in the eyes of the public, now have just the image needed to represent corporations and encourage us all to consume more useless junk, and perhaps most importantly charity, especially major campaigns like Red Nose Day and Children in Need help us all to salve our consciences and stop thinking about any uncomfortable issues. The reality is that charities and the issues that cause them are locked together in an eternal embrace.  Look at the recent news about Comic Relief. They can defend themselves for investing in BAE with no apparent sense of irony. You don’t even have to imagine that ludicrous example, it is real!

Whilst we live under capitalism we will always need charities to try and counteract the inequalities caused by the very nature of capitalism. It seems a sorry way to think that the best system for living we as a species can come up with creates an entire industry to try (and inevitably fail) to negate its excesses. If, instead of working for charities, or mindlessly donating money to charities we worked to establish a society that isn’t based around profit and exclusion, that isn’t doomed to wreck the planet chasing the myth of unlimited growth, if we succeeded in creating a more equal, more caring, less profit obsessed society – wouldn’t that be our truly charitable act?