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17 Million Fuck Offs

DominicFrisby-Edinburgh-headshot-3-sparkles-A4

17 Million Fuck Offs.  Written and performed by Dominic Frisby.  Music composed and played by Martin Wheatley (based on a traditional Devon folk song).  Video directed by Anon.   Audio mixed and recorded by Wayne McIntyre.  Assistant Director Mark “Yeti” Cribbs.  Available from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/17-Million-Fuck-Offs-Explicit/dp/B07PKY39CK/ref=sr_1_3_twi_mus_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1552953132&sr=8-3&keywords=dominic+frisby

INDIVIDUAL TRACK reviews for Counter Culture are like busses – you wait ages for them to arrive and then two come along at once!

Eagle-eyed readers may recall that – towards the end of last month – I reviewed a track called The Dirty Fucking Hippies Were Right!  You can read the review here https://countercultureuk.com/2019/04/25/the-dirty-fucking-hippies-were-right/ and listen to the track here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iKEZoY-TMG4 At the time (and to the best of my knowledge) I’d never reviewed an individual music track before.  Little did I know that I’d be at it again so quickly.

As with last months track, I can’t recall where (or when) I first became aware of 17 Million Fuck Offs but I somehow came across it on YouTube.  You can check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jiUFPjulTW8

Remarkably, there are several similarities and differences between The Dirty Fucking Hippies Were Right! and 17 Million Fuck Offs.  For instance, both deal with important subject matters.  The first was a track about an entire counter cultural movement – the Hippies – which had its origins in the 60s.  The second track is about a specific event, the EU referendum of 23rd June 2016.

Mystery surrounds those who wrote and performed The Dirty Fucking Hippies Were Right! although it’s been attributed to George Carlin (1937 – 2008) the American stand-up comedian, actor, author, and social critic.  However, there’s no mystery about 17 Million Fuck Offs which is the work of Dominic Frisby.  According to his web-site – https://dominicfrisby.com/ – Frisby is a libertarian and a ‘writer-performer’.  However, this brief description is very modest indeed, for he combines straight stand-up and character comedy with writing books about the economy as well as acting, presenting, voiceovers and public speaking.

So much for the differences between the two singles.  The one obvious similarity is the use of the Anglo-Saxon word, ‘Fuck’, in both titles.  Whilst it’s still considered a reasonably offensive swear word, many people seem to use it – maybe even unconsciously – in everyday speech.  To this extent, the word has become somewhat ‘normalised’.  However, I believe that it’s used on both tracks for description and emphasis.  The hippies were way, way before my time, and I’m far from an expert on them, but I believe that they were sometimes described as ‘dirty fucking hippies’.  That would explain its use on the first track.  On 17 Million Fuck Offs it’s used to great comedic effect – especially as it appears like a bolt out of the blue.  Based on a traditional Devon folk song, Frisby sets the scene at the start of the track and sings in a very authoritative manner:

‘On the 23rd of June, 2016
The people of the United Kingdom – and Gibraltar – went to vote
On an issue that for some had been burning for years
The question in full – and unaltered – was – I quote

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union
or leave the European Union?

It was the greatest democratic turnout in British history, I do not scoff
And when the time came to speak the British said fuck off.
Fuck off.’

I’ve shown the YouTube video to a few people and they’ve always reacted with a great big belly laugh when they first hear the words ‘fuck off’.  Have a listen to it yourself and you’ll know what I mean.

Dominic Frisby spends most of his time on the track ridiculing the warnings that the establishment made in the run up to the EU referendum.  Known as ‘Project Fear’ the electorate were warned, if they voted for Brexit, that ‘you’ll lose your job’, ‘you’ll lose yourhome’ and that there would be all manner of food shortages, no medicines, grounded planes and the stock market would collapse. However, most terrifying of all, there’d be ‘an outbreak of super gonorrhea. They seriously said that’. 

He also calls out various members of the establishment who promoted ‘Project Fear’.  They include politicians like David Cameron, Theresa May, George Osborne and Tony Blair – who, in my honest opinion, should be doing serious bird for war crimes – right the way through to ‘celebrities’ like Gary Lineker, JK Rowling and the deliberately (yet delightfully) misnamed Benedict Cumbertwat.  At the end of the list comes Labour’s Lord Adonis.  Frisby proves that he’s truly a great iconoclast when he asks the question on everyone’s lips:‘Who the fuck’s he anyway?’

Listening to the track, it struck me that this was the first time I’d heard a pro-Brexit comedy song.  Indeed, 17 Million Fuck Offs was only song in support of Brexit that I’d come across, no matter what genre it hailed from.

This is odd – to say the very least!  Brexit should’ve provided plenty of material for various mainstream artists & comedians to work with.  For instance, for three years now we’ve been in the ridiculous position of having those MPs who ‘represent’ their constituents in the ‘Mother of Parliaments’ trying to overturn the democratic will of those very same constituents.  It’s absolute comedy gold!  So where are all of the mainstream artists and comedians – shouldn’t they be calling out these MPs on their failure to carry out the express will of the people?  After all, we live in a democracy, don’t we?

Despite the reluctance of many ‘household names’ to point out the obvious – that representative democracy is no longer representative or democratic – Dominic Frisby has managed to do so using both gentle humour and biting satire.  This makes 17 Million Fuck Offsvery important as it reminds us why the electorate voted for Brexit and why the public is so frustrated with the current political stalemate.  To do so using music must be a nightmare for Remainers – that’s because music is universal and can cross so many barriers.  Indeed, music has the ability to touch everyone, no matter who they are.

Have a listen to both the original track – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jiUFPjulTW8– or the Ramona Ricketts Mix –https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oD-Sz8S7bA0– which has a slight Irish lilt to it.  And don’t forget to let Counter Culture know what you think of  Dominic Frisby’s highly original work – both in terms of musical comedy and the message it conveys.

Reviewed by John Field.

• LOOK OUT for Dominic Frisby’s Libertarian Love Songs later this year at the Edinburgh Fringe.

 

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Gods of Rap: Passion, Politics and hard beats

glasgowcrowd

An enthusiastic Glasgow crowd interacted with the ‘Gods of Rap’

The line-up for this tour just had me excited from the get go. Wu-Tang Clan, Public Enemy and De La Soul for all playing British and European dates in one show. That had me hooked. Gods of Rap kicked off on May 10 at London’s SSE Wembley Arena. I caught up with it on the 12th in Glasgow.

The crowd was big and the joint was jumping as soon as the DJ started to play. By the time De La Soul hit the stage the crowd is suitably lively. I confess that I didn’t know much of De La Soul, or thought I didn’t. But somehow I knew some of the tracks from ‘3 Feet High and Rising’ which turned 30 earlier this year. Don’t know when I heard Me, Myself and I but I did. De La Soul deserve more recognition than they have. Their music is accomplished and versatile (as shown when the funked it up during this show) and they have a lot of humour in their lyrics.

djDuring the break between bands we were entertained by DJ Premier – and I do mean entertained. Yet there was a serious side too when he and the crowd (audience scarcely fits as there was so much interaction) honoured Phife Dogg, and Nipsey Hussle amongst others.

Then Public Enemy, or Public Enemy Radio, came on to the sound of air-raid warning sirens blaring with backing ‘dancers’ dressed in camouflage doing a military style drill. Now, I’ve been a big public enemy fan over many years. One of the things I admired about them was their forthright political message. At the time it’s fair to say that I saw them as my Black Nationalist brothers who saw through a system aimed at putting them down. As a Nationalist from here in the UK I saw them as people from a different culture and tradition who had arrived as similar truths – “brothers of the same mind, unblind”. Their radical message and powerful beat reached out to me. I was delighted that Chuck D still had both the edge and the music. A true OG! Now I don’t know if his comments on Brexit and Scottish Independence are right although his view on sectarianism (there had been a Rangers v Celtic game earlier) and the ineptitude of our Tory government certainly are. But what really impressed me was that after all these years he still has passion, energy and hasn’t sold out. Fight the Power and Don’t Believe the Hype are as relevant and powerful today as when they were written – 1989 and 1988. The crowd was energised by Chuck D and you would certainly never believe that he was approaching 60!

Follow that! Wu-Tang Clan did with an incredible 30-song set-list which just vibrated with energy and passion. This wasn’t just a celebration of ’36 Chambers’ material (which reached a 25 year anniversary recently), it was much wider than that. You certainly got your money’s worth with this show!

Some have sniped at the tour. Thomas Hobbs in the Guardian said: “the tour feels more like a museum exhibit than a chance to truly replicate the frenetic energy that made each of these groups so thrilling”. He dismissed it as a “nostalgia trip”. It is far more than that, as the fans know, because it is powerful music addressing real issues. In the words of Public Enemy: “False media, we don’t need it do we?”. Go catch this tour!

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

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Counter Culture : Words Of Wisdom : Andrei Tarkovsky

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The Dirty Fucking Hippies were Right!

hippies

Were the Hippies right?

LAST MONTH I reviewed a children’s publication – https://countercultureuk.com/2019/03/20/peter-paula-and-the-pelican/ – for Counter Culture.  That was a first for me as it’d been years since I’d read a children’s book let alone review one.  This is another first because – to the best of my knowledge – I’ve never reviewed an individual music track before now.

I can’t recall exactly how I came across The Dirty Fucking Hippies Were Right!

but as soon as I heard it I was absolutely hooked.  I’ve absolutely no musical talent whatsoever, but I was soon tapping my feet, nodding my head and playing both an imaginary guitar and drumming away at the same time.  Have a listen to it here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iKEZoY-TMG4 and I bet you’ll be doing the same!    

Whenever I come across an album (or a single) that really appeals to me I like to find out more about it.  I’m always interested in who wrote and performed on it – and particularly what inspired the track.  Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be too much information available relating to this single.  However, I’ve been told that it probably was the work of George Carlin.

For those who don’t know, George Carlin (1937 – 2008) was an American stand-up comedian, actor, author, and social critic.  His website – https://georgecarlin.com/ – indicates that he did recordings, but I get the impression that they’re live recordings of his comedy gigs.  There’s nothing to say that he was (or wasn’t) involved in some way with this track.  (On saying that, I haven’t conducted too much in-depth research on him – indeed, until his name was mentioned to me I was only vaguely aware of Carlin.)

To some extent, it doesn’t matter who was involved with the track.  It’s remarkable for a couple of reasons.  

Firstly, it’s strangely hypnotic.  This is because of the ‘swirling’ sound of a the guitar throughout the entire track.  (Not being a musician I couldn’t tell you what sort of guitar it is or what the correct technical term name is for the ‘swirling’ sound it makes.)  This ‘swirling’ sound is very pronounced during the chorus, but I also like the way it continues in the background throughout the track. 

Secondly, there’s no singing on The Dirty Fucking Hippies Were Right!   It just features the spoken word, which makes its message very, very clear indeed.  I also liked the way that it was simply impossible to categorise the track as it doesn’t really fit any genre or sub-genre of music that I know of.  (Don’t we just love to put individuals, bands and even single tracks into boxes?!!)

Much like 19 by Paul Hardcastle – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hRJFvtvTGEk – The Dirty Fucking Hippies tells a story.  But whilst Hardcastle’s masterpiece just looked at Vietnam, this track covers a multitude of subjects.  War – and particularly Vietnam – is up there, but so is the environment, pollution, the power of multi-nationals, political corruption, Big-Pharma, the destruction of small town America, capitalism and so on.  Remarkably it provides quite a lot of information about each subject matter.  It’s also the first time I’ve heard the term ‘Banksters’ (a mixture of the words bankers and gangsters) on a track – but the term Banksters is a really great description of these vultures.  

Whist listening to the track I realised that I know next to nothing about hippies.  It made me want to find out about more about the origins and objectives of this counter-cultural movement from the 60s.  The Dirty Fucking Hippies Were Right! also made specific references to the Vietnam war and also Abbie Hoffman who ‘baited’ the Banksters by throwing cash onto the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.  Again, it made me want to find out more about Vietnam – about which I know very little – and Abbie Hoffman – who I wouldn’t know, even if I pulled him out of my stew!

It’s not very often that listening to one track opens up so many other avenues of further study.  I’d highly recommend that you listen to the track and take in its core message.  At 6 mins 30 secs it’s longer than many tracks – but it’s well-worth the effort. 

  • Reviewed by John Field

 

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The Upside (2019)

theupsidePG-13 | 2h 5min | Comedy, Drama | 11 January 2019 (USA and UK)
Director: Neil Burger
Writers: Jon Hartmere (screenplay by), Éric Toledano (based on the motion picture “Les Intouchables”)
Stars: Nicole Kidman, Kevin Hart, Bryan Cranston, Golshifteh Farahani

I enjoyed this remake of the French film The Intouchables (2011). Both films are very good and The Upside follows the original pretty closely (with some notable exceptions). It’s good that the story will reach a wider audience as it is a very positive one. I know that many are put off foreign language films with subtitles and this story is certainly worth re-telling. It concerns the relationship between a wealthy man, Phillip (played by Bryan Cranston), with quadriplegia and an unemployed man with a criminal record, Dell (played by Kevin Hart), who’s fighting battles of his own. It’s based on a true story. If I had to choose I’d go with the original but both films are well worth watching. The story is full of humour and has some important messages about how people should respect and treat each other. At heart this film is about how people can help others see life differently and redeem themselves. The art in both films is that the story shows this without being preachy!

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dt1EEV-Szu4

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Stealing History : Art Theft, Looting, and Other Crimes Against our Cultural Heritage

stealinghistoryStealing History : Art Theft, Looting, and Other Crimes Against our Cultural Heritage Colleen Margaret Clarke and Eli Jacob Szydlo

Stealing History concisely addresses an area of criminal justice studies which has historically been inadequately represented, thus filling a void in the literature. Well-sourced, this book is an excellent primary or supplemental text, which as a discourse views art theft as a crime perceived by authorities as less important than other more violent crimes. Art and cultural crime ranks third largest in criminal enterprise worldwide, and, the author of this book attempts to break down why crimes of this nature matter. Furthermore, she delineates which steps law enforcement should consider to prevent it in the future.

Cultural crimes include appropriating objects found in museums and private displays, but also objects which represent cultural identity and national history. Historically, heads of state have looted freely while empire building. Various leaders from Great Britain were guilty of this, as well as, Napoleon, Hitler, and more recently ISIL/ISIS, by systematically destroying cultural sites, churches, collections, both public and private, and looting archaeological digs to eradicate any evidence of a culture they want to absorb and oppress, as well as a means to raise money to support their cause. They use it to destroy the hopes of those who grew up with these cultural artifacts as a part of their history and identity. Soul destroying and very calculated, so that they might assimilate the community into their more extremist world view, it is done to prevent the culture from re-emerging.

UNESCO considers the intentional destruction of cultural heritage, not just a crime, but a war crime. Clarke’s main point is that in order for law enforcement and governments to prevent these types of crime, they must first understand what it is they are fighting. She feels many do not respect the severity of this type of crime and classifying it as an art crime means justice is not accorded to the history, culture, intellect, and scholarly works which are being annihilated.

While the US views these as property crimes, Clarke feels they should rather be viewed as cultural crimes or war crimes, which is how the United Nations perceives them. Stealing History addresses the question of priority. The US is the largest market for illegal and illicit artwork globally; and Clarke appeals for more preventative steps by law enforcement, in addition to instituting better security to meet international standards as a step towards reducing these crimes.

She makes the point that destruction of important buildings and monuments are used to shock us, therefore why doesn’t destruction of art and cultural artifacts elicit the same response? A society’s culture is depicted by its art, and history has chronicled primordial cultures through the discoveries of remnants of more ancient societies. Why then, is more reverence given to archaeology than to art? Clarke relates that it is difficult to separate culture from art, a defining factor in a society’s self-identification.

Clarke discusses how damaging it is to a culture to destroy the provenance of historical artifacts by removing them from where they were found, furthermore, not only are pieces damaged by careless thieves, but they are taken out of context; therefore we lose the history connected to the culture of origination. Looting is fairly common in third world countries, and according to Interpol, hundreds of sites have been looted; between 60 and 90 percent of tombs and other archaeological sites. This, Clarke relates is due to lack of government control, as well as opportunistic looting in war zones and poorer economies where government control might be inhibited.

During WWI and WWII works of art in Europe were stolen by invading forces, including Gustav Klimt’s Woman in Gold which was renamed from the original Adele Bloch-Blauer to hide its origin. Since the onset of the war, targeted families were removed from their homes and anything of value was taken and documented by the German military, done to such a scale that it was impossible to document the extent of it. Van Eyck’s Ghent Alter piece of 1482 was taken twice by Germany; once during WWI, when the Treaty of Versailles forced its return and again in WWII. These painted panels have been targeted at least thirteen times, from theft to destruction to censoring. Prior to WWI the victor of a war could plunder without much recourse, however during this period the international art community began to discuss cultural preservation and its protections during times of war, with a focus on monuments.

Sometimes stolen art is bartered back to its owner as a ransom, fetching a better price than selling on the black market, and evading the chance that the work might be recognized and reported. Ransoming is far safer and more profitable for these thieves. While few cases exist of a thief stealing a piece of art merely to enhance their own personal collection exist, Frenchman Stephane Breitwieser stole 239 pieces of art worth $ 1.4b. Unfortunately, he stored the stash at his mother’s and upon his arrest; she shredded the works with scissors, before grinding them in the garbage disposal. Many thieves damage art in the process of stealing it, while, others duplicate the work and then sell the original. The Victoria and Albert Museum in London actually has a display of such forged works of art, over a 100 such pieces.

It wasn’t until 1970 that the United Nations took an official stance on these types of crimes forming UNESCO and as of 2011; these guidelines for awareness and prevention of cultural crimes have been ratified by up to 190 nations. The fault in this convention is that it is not retroactive and crimes committed before the signing of the convention are exempt.

Clarke covers the following topics: media’s portrayal of art crime; history of art and related crimes; cultural differences between the US and Europe and their effect on art crimes; looting and archeological sites, economic impacts, police demands, scrutiny and the future; security and policing globally; and growth of and prevention of art crime. A concise and interesting read with thoughtful suggestions aimed at prevention of future art and cultural crimes in an evolving world. Clarke writes an interesting chapter on police scrutiny discussing how things have changed since 9/11 with local law enforcement having to respond as the first line of defense against terrorism, and indicating why art crime is so far down the priority list as it is lumped in with property crimes and why logistically, it just cannot be given the attention it deserves. One solution, she writes is to educate local forces on the idea that art crime is generally not local, but global, connected to antiquity theft, fraud and terrorism within international criminal organizations, thereby changing the perceptions of these types of crimes.

Author Colleen Clarke, PhD. has been director of the Law Enforcement Program at MSU, and formerly a police officer at Thunder Bay PD. She has contributed to Encyclopedia of Street Crime in America (Sage, 2013) and The Encyclopedia of Criminology and Criminal Justice (Wiley, 2013). She has written for the National Social Science Journal, International Journal of Police Strategies & Management and Law Enforcement Executive FORUM. Co-author Eli J. Szydlo received his background in law enforcement from his undergraduate studies at MSU, and previously studied at the Kansas City Art Institute, encountering the field of art crimes.

Reviewed by Rosdaughr

Published by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

Pages: 176 • 978-1-4422-6079-5 • Hardback • April 2017 • $36.00 • (£24.95)

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Rip It Up: The Story of Scottish Pop

Blazing A TrailTill 25 November 2018
National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh

Rip it Up: The Story of Scottish Pop is the first major exhibition dedicated to Scottish pop music, exploring the musical culture of the nation over more than half a century, the first big exhibition dedicated to Scottish pop music, exploring the musical culture of the nation over more than half a century, from influential indie pioneers to global superstars.

Featured artists and bands include Lonnie Donegan, Gerry Rafferty, the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Lulu, The Rezillos, Midge Ure, Simple Minds, The Skids, Big Country, Garbage, Franz Ferdinand, Young Fathers, and many more. The exhibition has been brought to life through original stage outfits and instruments, many loaned by the artists themselves, plus memorabilia, props, film and, of course, music.

Stephen Allen, Exhibition Curator said:
“Popular music is a shared experience, and a really important one in many people’s lives. We want the exhibition to capture people’s imagination and allow them to reflect on their own experiences of listening to and enjoying music. Between the objects, the AV and the music, people will be able to learn more about their favourite artists and see their treasured objects up close, but also to discover music that is new to them in a whistlestop tour of over six decades of Scottish pop.”

Everyone will have a different experience of this exhibition. It covers a broad time period and diverse types of music. There are over 300 items on display as well as film contributions and music. Some was familiar to me. Although sometimes I don’t know why and I didn’t know there was a Scottish connection at all when I first heard it. I always liked The Sensational Alex Harvey Band (particularly Faith Healer). I think it was how theatrical and unusual they were! Much later I was drawn to punk and politics. So I was interested to see the Rock Against Racism (RAR) poster from 5 August 1978 advertising the Scars, Valves and Josef K (among others) playing in Craigmillar Park. It’s interesting to note that the reasons for the foundation of RAR are somewhat glossed over. RAR was formed because of comments made by Eric Clapton at a Birmingham concert in 1976.Clapton had urged his audience to back former Conservative MP Enoch Powell’s anti-immigration stance. The guitarist, who has since said he is not a racist, suggested Britain was becoming “a black colony”. Inconvenient history.

Less so the Proclaimers poster for anti-apartheid gigs!

I was also interested to see that emphasis was given to independent Scottish record labels such as Postcard, Creation and Fast Product. These helped foster bands in Scotland. The media and production centre was always very much London of course but there was an attempt to do something different by creating local centres.

There was also a lot of material which provides you with further avenues of enquiry. I was really intrigued to listen to the excellent Needle of Death by Bert Jansch. As someone who has lost friends to heroin addiction it really moved me. I’ve since listened to many of his songs. All thanks to this exhibition. That’s just one of the things I took from the exhibition and followed up. As a big Bowie fan I was intrigued to see his connection to The Beatstalkers highlighted. They recorded a Bowie song called Silver Treetop School for Boys. A connection to another band Clouds wasn’t featured.

Pop quiz! Which Scottish artists did James Bond themes?

The exhibition had so much in it of interest that I couldn’t absorb it all in one viewing. I’m actually thinking of going again.

If you are interested in pop culture you would be foolish to miss this. I hope it tours other areas to make it easier for people to see who don’t live near Edinburgh! Go see it!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3X9T3rxmRk

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Dietrich: Natural Duty

dietrichnaturalduty

Peter Groom as Marlene 

Theatre (cabaret)
Venue 33
Pleasance Courtyard – Beside
15:30
Aug 22-27
1 hour

Peter Groom is outstanding as Marlene Dietrich in this one (wo)man show. When Peter first appeared on the stage as Dietrich the audience applauded. The appearance, dress, make-up and figure were immediately convincing and captured Dietrich so well. Everyone sensed from the start that this was going to be good.

The material he has to work with is fascinating. It starts with her discovery and starring role in ‘The Blue Angel’ (1930) through roles in the US to the start of the conflict with Germany. It shows how Dietrich took the Allied side in the Second World War. She even held the rank of Captain and travelled to the front-line to entertain the troops and raise morale. Cue bawdy humour about being “long at the front” etc! A word of warning, if you sit at the front of the audience you might get roped in. It was a bit discomforting when I was included but also good fun.

Groom presents an image of Dietrich as a disciplined performer who worked hard to craft her presentation in whatever she did. The focus of the show are her songs and her relationship with Germany. This isn’t a show about her many love affairs (with both men and women). If it was an hour might not be enough!

Although a one (wo)man show there are voice only interruptions from a subtly threatening and yet entreating Goebbels and an insistent media interviewer. The dialogue hints at a hard side to Marlene, even a cruel one. It is not explored, perhaps because the focus is on the performer more than the woman.

Peter has a great voice and captures the spirit of Dietrich with a wry humour and passion. I must admit that whilst familiar with many of the songs I hadn’t realised that Dietrich had performed Pete Seegers “Where have all the flowers gone”. For me the delivery of that song on the futility of war was the most powerful in a show filled with emotionally charged songs.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

Editorial note: As an aside there is a lovely story here about how “Where have all the flowers gone” originated: https://performingsongwriter.com/pete-seeger-flowers-gone/

#EdFringe2018 #EdFringe #IntoTheUnknown

 

five-stars

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Review: F**k the government

If profanity bothers you then this is one you should avoid. Apart from that key title line, however, the lyrics are rational and persuasive. This rap from XL sums up a lot of disillusionment many of us feel towards the ‘elite’, the ‘powers that be’ or the ‘establishment’. It isn’t just negative though as it gives a message of hope and unity. Here at Counter Culture we like that. Too many fall into the trap of division and the divide and rule strategy of the establishment. This song reminds us that we are all in the same boat and it’s sinking! XL is a rapper we will be following with interest.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfdNmLPkrtU&feature=youtu.be

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Free Will – Sam Harris (Free Press)

freewillbysamharrisThere’s a thought that strikes me in Sam Harris’ book Free Will that there is a kind of ‘fudge’ at the core of his argument. It’s as if he wants his ‘fudge cake’ and to get to eat it! Okay I’m going to demonstrate this, I trust, in this review – but this ‘fudge’ is my main problem with this otherwise very thought-provoking (and short) book.

Harris argues that we haven’t free will. Now, before going on, here’s a summary of where I am on this issue of ‘free will’. In the book he refers to an experiment I was aware of which seems to show the brain making decisions up to a full SEVEN seconds before the conscious mind appears to ‘decide’. That has had me thinking for some time and probably drew me to this book in the first place. I’ve also been looking at consciousness and am half-way through (probably not clever to admit that) Julian Jaynes book: The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind – It’s a fascinating work and has provoked much thought (thus far) on the nature of consciousness.

We certainly do much in our life that is ‘unconscious’. Imagine when we drive a car – most of our actions (once they are learnt) become ‘automatic’ and unconscious. If you were to consciously think about everything you were doing you would most likely crash. We learn one thing, then another – these two learnt actions then become ONE and then we can add another skill and these two can then become ONE etc. When playing the drums, for instance, the four limbs learn their parts in stages. And when playing a new rhythm everything can fall apart when you consciously think about what you are doing. Naturally in learning to drive a car or attempting a new drum rhythm, the amount of conscious effort begins at a greater level and then, gradually, becomes automatic. In certain conditions our conscious mind can be called on (by what/whom?) to ‘take the reins’. I have often gone out in my car and followed – say – a route to a workplace only to consciously realise that I’m not actually going to this place. My conscious mind takes over, manoeuvres the car and puts me back on track. And once I know where I’m going I can continue in an – at the very least – semi-conscious way.

There  is also the idea – I have read – whereby the brain takes in all the information from the various senses and collates them and then our consciousness presents this stimuli to us as if it were all happening ‘at the same time’ – as the speed of sound is slower than the speed of light etc. Because the brain has had to collect all the data then our conscious perception lags behind the ‘real present’. But what is doing this preparation and selection? How is it being done and where is the interface with our consciousness?

Harris introduces his thoughts on free will with a harrowing example of a brutal (and sexual) attack and murder of a family; only the patriarch surviving. This certainly concentrates the mind! (There is in fact a running motif  regarding crime and how we should deal with criminals.) Following on from this example he writes about popular conceptions of free will that:

Each of us could have behaved differently than we did in the past. And that: we are the conscious source of our thoughts and actions in the present.

He argues that free will is an illusion and that we do not have the freedom we think we have. That whatever we do is a state of mind we cannot (and could not) change – that it is the sum of many inherent factors. That thoughts and impulses APPEAR in our consciousness and do not originate in it. There is some compelling argument too – can we DECIDE our next mental state? How much control do we have over our thoughts? Do we create thoughts or are they presented to us? Try and think of your next thought!

Harris writes: ‘There is no question that (most if not all) mental events are the product of physical events.’ And were this NOT to be the case then: ‘The unconscious operations of a soul would grant you no more freedom than the unconscious physiology of your brain does.’ Reflecting on this then, perhaps to have total free will, we need to say we control ‘everything’ – every thought. And, I suppose, to be totally aware of that! And if we have no free will where is this seeming will (idea of free will) coming from – where does our consciousness come from? Some argue that as our brains, our neurophysilogical processes, are deciding things at SOME level, then we have free will – it’s just not what we think of as our conscious ‘real self’. In response Harris writes: ‘As we have begun to see, however, this feeling of freedom comes from our moment-to-moment ignorance of the prior causes of our thoughts and actions.’

Now later Harris writes, ‘Losing a belief in free will has not made me fatalistic – in fact, it has increased my feelings of freedom.’ Here’s where the fudge comes in, I think. ‘A creative change of inputs to the system – learning new skills, forming new relationships, adopting new habits of attention – may radically transform one’s life.’ But can we do that other than in a mechanical pre-determined way? ‘Getting behind our conscious thoughts and feelings can allow us to steer a more intelligent course through our lives (while knowing, of course, that we are ultimately being steered).’

Getting behind our conscious thoughts and feelings?

Recently I went for a walk with my son to a water-mill, now converted to a restaurant. Near-by there’s a weir and where part of the river has been channelled to the former-mill’s water wheels. It was a beautiful afternoon – butterflies flitting between plants settled and floating on the water’s surface; two châteaus close by keep silent watch. We were leaning on a small bridge when I noticed a large ant moving across the wood of the side of this bridge. I pointed to it and said, ‘Stop!’.  Now my conscious mind presented that ant to me, I pointed to it, and said ‘Stop!’ – which I think it didn’t! My son was watching me and we laughed about this. Now, evidently, this innocuous act seemed a conscious decision of my free will. Had it NOT been – then there are a number of things to discuss. Firstly: my son thought he was consciously reacting in the present and with free will (as did I). I deliberately pointed at the ant – that was operating in its own way in this world. I pointed to the ant at one particular point. For me to have decided that beforehand I would have needed to know that the ant would appear and that it would follow a certain path and arrive at a certain point that I could POINT at! Was that moment the sum of all three of our experiences of life? My son’s, to have unconsciously ‘decided’ all previous  moments to arrive at that point; mine the same AND the ant to have appeared and moved across the wood? At this point we could UNRAVEL every moment of our lives (including the ant’s) to track back down every event that brought us to where we were THEN. One pre-determined action following another!

Well, I guess that’s possible – a fait accompli if you will. We all WERE there and I certainly pointed and cried, ‘Stop!’. So in this ‘play out’ of unconscious direction EVERY consciousness is (must be!) part of the great PLAY we find ourselves in. Because if I am not aware I’m going to do something and I interact with someone else (who is also not aware) then we are part of some vast, intricate, script that unfolds, and is still unfolding, from the very beginning of time. We are here because of the actions of others.

Yet I could only point to the ant if the ant had been there – that was empirically so. I think Harris would say that no other person could have been in the place and with that mental state that I was in and that I would have been unable to be anywhere else or in any other state. Also – what is tricking our conscious minds to make us think we are doing things of our own volition? Where is the bridge between unintentional decision and apparent consciousness of that decision? When does ‘consciousness’ take over from the deeper decision?

Now the motif I described earlier that runs through this book is the idea of crime, punishment and guilt (or otherwise). We certainly look at crimes differently given our perception of the intentions of the criminals. And if someone has a brain tumour – say – we don’t regard their criminal actions in the same way as someone we believe acts with ‘free will’. And Harris continually argues that we cannot have had any other mental state but that which we had at the time and therefore we need to look at ‘guilt’ differently. He writes that criminals might have: ‘Some combination of bad genes, bad parents, bad environments, and bad ideas…’ Looking at this though – how can we introduce a moral definition (‘bad’) to these actions if what he says is true? There cannot be any ‘bad’ – only ‘what is’. Later he argues the idea that human behaviour can be modified by punishment and incentive…I am slightly confused. More cake? Or maybe it’s me!

In the chapter headed ‘Politics’ we get the ‘liberal’ idea that one must be ‘lucky to be able to work.‘ So it’s luck. I’ll get back to that idea. He writes, ‘Laziness, like diligence, is a neurological condition…’ Luck again? ‘But this does not mean we must be taken in by the illusion of free will. We need only acknowledge that efforts matter and that people can change.’ Well he says they can’t change any past actions…and how are they to change? ‘We do not change ourselves…but we continuously influence, and are influenced by, the world around us and the world within us.’

Okay – so ‘we’ are influenced by our internal world – but how can we escape that influence or use it through volition. I THINK he is arguing for a kind of change through osmosis. Such that, as we are a product of things we have no control over (including our supposed free will) then our past, set actions, history, biological influences can only be added to. He writes: ‘Am I free to change my mind? Of course not. It can only change me.’ Maybe that could be highlighted or achieved say, for example, by forcing folk to have a good iodine intake, especially those living far away from the sea. The intake would have a subtle influence on their well-being and maybe influence their unconscious actions? An outside force would have an impact on their internal world. But someone would have to decide to do that! And that – one presumes – is also decided for them.

It is the concept of ‘free will’ that gave rise to sin – he argues. And, in this, perhaps he is correct – for Adam and Eve were seemingly given ‘free will’ (and not at the same time!).  Their actions have affected all of us – if we believe so. But God would have known the outcome. If he gave them free will knowing they would act the way they did, and take the fruit from the tree – how free were they?

What if you are controlled by others? Your actions and thought directed by others? Would that be a form of double ‘non-free will’?

Are we Beings experiencing this world from the point of view of our consciousness – with no control…as if we are on a roller-coaster that could take us anywhere it desires? Hold on…sit back…tighten your seatbelt and enjoy the ride. Are we puppets of a Greater Being? Are we a strand of conscious experience that snakes back to a greater, composite experience? In fact – even without free will – are we living a spiritual life? Are we simply the observers of our life?

I’ll leave you with two quotes from the book, one in the body of the text and the other in the notes.

Harris: ‘The illusion of free will is itself an illusion.’

And in the notes, Schopenhaur’s: ‘Man can do what he will but he cannot will what he wills.’

And finally – we may/may not have free will, we may/may not be fully conscious – but the life we lead APPEARS as if we have free will and that is the ONLY way we can lead it. Be thankful for whatever life you have – it’s a one and only experience.

Thanks.

Reviewed by Tim Bragg

Tim Bragg is the author of the recently published Lyrics to Live By: Keys to Self-Help, Notes for a Better Life

 

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