Further notes on the cultural hegemony of television

I have blogged before  on television’s rise, rather than fall, in recent years, to become (seemingly) the dominant cultural force. I am always struck, when logging onto twitter, to see that the trending topics are dominated by television (#latelateshow, #ptinvestigates, #cblive) or sport (which is on television) So much for the decentralising, do-it-yourself culture that the internet was supposed to bring to us.

I was struck while reading this somewhat ho-hum Daily Telegraph story by this:

The issue will be debated in the House of Lords on Monday and Mr Purnell says peers must back a an amendment to force television service providers to give top billing to the corporation.

“If we don’t update the rules, we’re at serious risk of losing something very special about our British culture,” Mr Purnell argues.

“This isn’t about forcing people to watch public service programmes, or stopping anyone watching American shows we all love. It is about making sure you can find them easily”


The line “American shows we all love” is perhaps not one I should overinterpret, but I am going to do so anyway – surely it is indicative of a kind of flattening of cultural interests. I have never really seen the appeal of a certain kind of glossy, slick US TV show which flaunts a kind of superficial realism and knowingness, a kind of self-congratulatory “good writing”, a kind of moral superiority… and is expertly packaged to manufacture a kind of cult-like enthusiasm. The endless one-liners, the monocultural worldview (with a superficial emphasis on “diversity”), the remorseless sense of a corporate agenda wrapped up in superficially rebellious dress.

I know I have used the word “superficial” quite a lot there.

And I have given no actual specific examples.

To hell with it – let’s just say that if you talk about “American shows we all love”, include me out.

“People who are not expecting to cry will cry.”

“People who are not expecting to cry will cry.”

I would not necessarily expected to have found an article on what will happen when Queen Elizabeth II dies as gripping as I did, but Sam Knight’s piece in the Guardian is a fascinating, and in ways disturbing read.


While Knight reveals some of the hitherto secret details – such as “London Bridge is down” as the code phrase to mark Elizabeth’s death – and discusses the immediate issues of Charles’ succession – the real interest of the piece is the psychological impact that the Queen’s death will have:

More overwhelming than any of this, though, there will be an almighty psychological reckoning for the kingdom that she leaves behind. The Queen is Britain’s last living link with our former greatness – the nation’s id, its problematic self-regard – which is still defined by our victory in the second world war. One leading historian, who like most people I interviewed for this article declined to be named, stressed that the farewell for this country’s longest-serving monarch will be magnificent. “Oh, she will get everything,” he said. “We were all told that the funeral of Churchill was the requiem for Britain as a great power. But actually it will really be over when she goes.”

Knight links this to Brexit, to the possibility (again) of Scottish independence. Elizabeth’s coronation, in ways, marked the beginning of television age in Britain, and her death and burial will no doubt be over-interpreted in ways, but Knight’s piece is compelling in its evocation of an inevitable event that will mark a more than symbolic watershed.

queen coinwarhol_2348861k

The most arresting line is at the end of this paragraph (though I do wonder how Brian Masters could possibly have come up with his estimate):

People will be touchy either way. After the death of George VI, in a society much more Christian and deferential than this one, a Mass Observation survey showed that people objected to the endless maudlin music, the forelock-tugging coverage. “Don’t they think of old folk, sick people, invalids?” one 60-year old woman asked. “It’s been terrible for them, all this gloom.” In a bar in Notting Hill, one drinker said, “He’s only shit and soil now like anyone else,” which started a fight. Social media will be a tinderbox. In 1972, the writer Brian Masters estimated that around a third of us have dreamed about the Queen – she stands for authority and our mothers. People who are not expecting to cry will cry.

No matter what one thinks of monarchy – or The Monarchy – this is one of those instances where I can only urge Read The Whole Thing. Knight writes that the life expectancy for a 91 year old is four and half years – but of course Elizabeth has very good maternal genes for longevity, and London Bridge is likely to have some years yet before falling.

George Steiner on secondary culture in 1989


Each day, via journalism, via the journalistic-academic, the inherent value, the productive powers the savings embodied in a creative currency, this is the say in the vitality of the aesthetic, are devalued. The paper Leviathan of secondary talk not only swallows the prophetic (there is prophecy and the prophecy of remembrance in all serious poetic and artistic invention); it spews it out diminished and fragmented. In the absence of the guarantor, a counterfeit mode of exchange, that of the review speaking to the review, of the critical article addressing the critical article, circulates endlessly. It is not, as Ecclesiastes would have it, that of “of making many books there is no end”. It is that “of making books on books and books on those books there is no end.”

  • George Steiner, “Real Presences” p. 48

Der Untergang (Downfall) – reviewed for SAU Blog, April 28th 2005

Downfall loomed large in 2005 as a cultural phenomenon. Perhaps, at that point, the fact that some of the survivors of Hitler’s bunker were still alive made it all the more vivid as a story. It is an intense watch, with a lot of suicides (the wikipedia article Mass suicides in 1945 Nazi Germany is worth reading for an overview of this phenomenon) which has, perhaps unfortunately, become best known because of the Hitler Reacts meme.

Here is my SAU review, which perhaps somewhat uncomfortably combines my evident enjoyment of the film with my recognition of the point made by Michael Burleigh forcefully in the TLS. It is also instructive to note Burleigh’s 2005 comment on Germany – “the economy limps along, and the great currents of history flow elsewhere” – the years since have heightened Germany’s power in the world considerably:

Der Untergang (Downfall)
Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel
certificate 15, 2004

Watching Der Untergang in the cinema, what is most striking is the sheer strangeness of seeing a believable Adolf Hitler incarnated on screen. The opening scene is set in November 1942, and four young German women are shepherded to Hitler’s headquarters in Rastenberg, East Prussia. One is to become Hitler’s secretary. One of these ladies is Traudl Junge, on whose memoir To The Last Minute, along with the historian Joachim Fest’s consultancy, the film is based.

The friendly guard knocks on the door to see if Hitler is ready to receive the ladies. Slowly, Hitler emerges. He shuffles across the screen, oddly reminiscent of Nosferatu in Murnau’s and Herzog’s films. His voice, too, when he speaks, is strangely vampiric; throaty, guttural and rasping South German. This, along with his courtesy, gives him a tired, grandfatherly air. He is kind to the young women, putting them at their ease and asking them to drop the “Mein Fuhrer” business, before selecting the Munich girl Junge for an individual audition.

In his office, Hitler first fondles his dog Blondi, before telling Junge not to worry about making any typing errors, as no-one could make as many mistakes as he does while dictating (so to speak). In a trial dictation, Junge freezes up. The pressure of the moment gets to her. Hitler notices, and gently asks her to start again.

The action then shift to April 20th 1945, Hitler’s 56th and last birthday. He is spending it in Berlin, discovering that Russian artillery is shelling the city from a mere 12 kilometres away. Hitler is considerably less kindly to his military staff on discovering this news. Later, we see his bitter regret that he did not imitate Stalin and wipe out his officers, who are now failing to manoeuvre various armies largely existing in Hitler’s imagination rapidly enough to bring them to bear on the situation.

One objection made to the film – most notably by Michael Burleigh in the TLS – is that, far from being brave and ground-breaking, it is very much in line with a certain Germany tradition:

Successive German ambassadors to Britain have chided us about this country’s unhealthy obsession with the Third Reich. In fact, much of this obsession is a response to Germany’s own addiction to the Nazi past, as anyone can easily establish by flicking through publisher’s catalogues, Die Zeit and Der Spiegel, or channel-hopping German television. The obsession seems to be growing, for as the economy limps along, and the great currents of history flow elsewhere, Germany’s artistic finest again and again try to freshen up the old brown gang to showcase their talents, going where Grass, Beuys, Kiefer, Syberberg and all the rest have been many times before.

Of course, Oliver Hirschbiegel’s film differs from the work of the artists Burleigh mentions in that it is in a popular medium, one bound to have a much greater reach than the works of Beuys or Kiefer. It has garnered enormous international attention as the first film to “humanise” Hitler, showing him being kindly to his dog and his secretary. Bruno Ganz’s central performance – praised for its brilliance by all critics I have read, including Burleigh – is remarkable. It is somewhat absurd to claim to find the portrayal of a man who died thirty-three years before I was born convincing, but based on newsreel footage and the simple fact that this portrayal is not that of a caricature Hitler foaming at the mouth, Ganz is an uncanny double.

I do not share Burleigh’s low opinion of the film’s artistic merits, but his suspicion of this film as part of a cult of Nazi-myth making is worth bearing in mind. Certainly considering the lovingly presented DVD packaging in Vienna I came across a few days after seeing the film in Dublin, (the film is already on DVD release in the Teutonic world) with its undeniable air of bunker-chic, I felt somewhat queasier about the whole enterprise. The Premium Edition DVD package features a cardboard case inside the main slip case, the dirty concrete colour of the bunker walls. The two DVDs nestle in this handsomely designed case, with little bits of bunker signage printed on the cardboard.

My queasiness is partly at the sheer power of the story. It would be one thing if it was a bombastic propaganda piece, filled with obvious national self-pity. The film is much more artful than that. As well as its considerable histrionic and artistic merits, any story of desperate men and women facing their last days on earth has a power to move. At various stages I found myself dabbing at tears, thinking at the same time that damn it, this is the end of Nazism, the end of the worst tyranny the world has known, here on the screen. Some of this is the simple, unsubtle power of the cinema screen. It is a rare film in which we feel the absolute absence of empathy with the protagonists. Some is the nature of what is being portrayed, and even the most ardent anti-Nazi would surely find the Goebbels children’s fate monstrous and tragic. But of course, that fate was chosen by Dr and Frau Goebbels, just as the fate of all the characters was chosen by Adolf Hitler.

There are many beautiful touches – the instant lighting of cigarettes all around the bunker when the Fuhrer expires, the burial party that has just hurled Hitler and Eva’s corpses into a hole to be consumed by petrol-fuelled flames forced to break off their last Heils to take cover from artillery fire – and, pace Michael Burleigh, it is a very impressive piece of film making. The music is striking, with its undertones of Wagner (Gotterdammerung seems never to be far from the imagination of those who deal with the last days of the Third Reich), but never overwhelming or emotional.

Some years ago, Simon Schama wrote in the New Yorker of the Hollywood films set in the past that betray a tin ear to the otherness of other times. He was writing about Amistad, Spielberg’s boring civics lesson steeped in modern mores and social attitudes, as well as the likes of Michael Collins. Mainstream Hollywood treats the past as a source of instant pseudo classiness, as opposed to a different world to be explored and chronicled with care and attention. Troy, with Achilles and Hector spouting sentimental and/or atheistic tosh that would have repelled Argives of any era, was a prime example.

Schama contrasted the usual Hollywood history with films like Aguirre, Wrath of God and The Return Of Martin Guerre, which truly inhabited the ultimate foreign country, the past. Of course, no film will ever be historically accurate in the pedantic sense of internet-based obsessives (and its worth noting that flatulent historical epics leached of anything that might trouble modern audiences in terms of morals or behaviour invariably employ legions of experts to ensure that the swords are the right length) but it is worth at least trying. Just as historical novels freighted with research flounder if they fail to capture an atmosphere or a mood of the past, an embarrassment of scholarly solecisms can be forgiven if this elusive atmosphere is captured.

Der Untergang, too, is a film which meets Schama’s test. It has an ear for the past that goes beyond the details of uniforms and weaponry. Aside from its emotional pull, the inevitable result of any filmed depiction of similar events, its power derives from this sense of being close to a documentary. Of course, no doubt a host of errors and conflations of facts are present, and this sense of historical authenticity is – always has to be – something of a sham. Burleigh notes, for instance, that while the film’s heroes are largely from the Waffen-SS, none of these are French or Latvian volunteers – which he identifies as a factor in making this:

a chauvinistic film with disagreeable undercurrents of German “victimhood”.

Burleigh also noted the coyness of the non-depiction of the Fuhrer’s suicide. I can’t recall seeing a film featuring so many self-murders in my life – indeed by the end so often have we seen SS men blow their brains out that it loses all impact – yet the central suicide is unshown.

We see a corpse wrapped in a blanket, and a bit of blood on the sofa, but not the annihilating moment. But then to show Hitler shooting himself might indicate a certain finality, the last thing anyone inadvertently collusive with Nazi myth-making seems to welcome.

It is the annihilating moment, and after Hitler departs the scene, the rest of the film is curiously flat. It is somewhat like, ironically, The Merchant of Venice, with things being nowhere near as interesting once Shylock departs in Act IV. Of what remains, the Goebbels family suicide is the most uncomfortable scene to watch. There’s a curious and disturbing sense that, having denied us the final sunset of Hitler, we are made to watch as if in compensation a mother’s infanticide of her own children. Interestingly, the camera cuts away too from Goebbels’ shooting of first his wife and then himself.

One can also sympathise with Burleigh’s observation that:

Rather than watching Hitler morosely shovelling down mashed potatoes and pulses in his claustrophobic underground empire, we could have had more ideological insights or something to give clues as to how this possessed nonentity came to power. The quotidian trivia are so distracting that you might almost miss the fact that this wreck of a man has slaughtered 6 million Jews.

Normally I have little sympathy with those who demand that directors achieve “balance” in their films, confusing filmmaking with coalition building. But I do in this case, firstly because of the enormity of the Nazi crime, and secondly because Hirschbiegel himself pulls away from the claustrophobia of the bunker to try and give us a sense of “balance”. In the only overtly mawkish touch in the film, we see a father desperately try and persuade his son, one of the children decorated by Hitler for their tank-busting endeavours, to abandon the struggle. The boy treats his father with contempt, until his companions are killed and he runs crying home to Papa. The vignette does tell us something of the destruction rained on the German people by the tremulous wreck incarnated by Ganz, but one feels that, if we are shown this, why not something of the horrors suffered by the Russians, or the Poles, or the Jews?

Der Untergang is a potent piece of work. As a work of cinematic art, it has much to recommend it. Any recommendation, however, has to come with an injunction to read about the men and events portrayed in it, and more especially the actions of those men which led to those events. Its power is impressive, but also proof of the superiority of the written word to visual drama to the achievement of an understanding of history.



2008: “Driving in my car” -Clive Thompson on erasing traffic jams

Having recently rediscovered my postings on the Stirling Behavourial Science Blog, I am finding some interesting (well, to me anyway) posts I wrote and totally forgot. Such as this:

Clive Thompson’s always-interesting blog links to a great video illustrating how traffic jams form:

Thompson writes:

This also puts me in mind of William Beatty, the electrical engineer who — while stuck in traffic in 1998 — figured out a way to hack traffic jams and erase them. Basically, when he was stuck in a jam, he’d slow down until he had a really large amount of space between him and the car in front of him. Then he moved forward in at very slow, uniform speed, so that he no longer stopped and started. Sure enough, the wave stopped at him: Everyone behind him began driving at a uniform 35 mph. “By driving at the average speed of the traffic around me, my car had been ‘eating’ the traffic waves,” he wrote. The only problem, of course, is that he himself was stuck traveling at the average speed of the wave in front of him, which — at 35 mph — is pretty pokey.

I can recommend from recent experience not to try this in Dublin. At least not in the city. There are two many traffic lights which totally ruin the exercise (and attract much ire from one’s fellow drivers) But the concept Thompson describes – that driving in a kind, respectful, letting-the-other-guy-in way reduces traffic and thereby is in all our interests – is an interesting one from the behavioural point of view?

Here’s a video of Beatty describing his technique:

Janan Ganesh on “history’s luckiest generation” and J G Ballard on the moon landings

In today’s FT weekend there is an interesting column by Janan Ganesh (who I previously featured on this blog) on how, given our times are in so many ways disconnected from the way we evolved – physiologically, culturally and socially – it is a wonder that our psyches are not more discommoded than they are:

For most of the time that our species has been around, a man in his thirties had a fair chance of being dead already; a woman, too, often through childbirth. Evading violence, hunger and the elements was a human’s daily lot. Even in modern history, people were bonded to the state through conscription or to the land through serfdom.

Within memory, there was one role for women (mother), one for men (provider), one permissible sexual taste (straight), and even that was consecrated within marriage. All the while, evolution was wiring us accordingly. Our mental processes — our expectations, instincts, biases, heuristics — have formed over tens of thousands of years to handle a short, joyless life. We are coded to survive, not to choose, indulge and frolic.

Then, in the last century, the pace quickened towards my friend’s “it”, a life of widening choice for large numbers of people, until two undistinguished men loping woozily down the Holborn Viaduct in 2015 could wonder at their own miraculous fortune.

To live in this phase of history, in this part of the world, is a happy accident. But why does it not drive us mad? Our mental processes — our expectations, instincts, biases, heuristics — have formed over tens of thousands of years to handle a short, joyless life. We are coded to survive, not to choose, indulge and frolic

If we are designed for the struggle that was all our species knew for most of its existence, why are our minds not frazzled by opportunities that have only been around for the historical equivalent of a few seconds to midnight? The gap between modern lifestyles and our vestigial programming seems too large and too recent to bridge comfortably. Yet we do — at least most of us, at least on the surface.

One could dispute many aspects of this. The casual use of “coded”, “designed”, and “programming.” And while our ancestors may have had shorter lives, were they really “joyless”? At the kernel of the article is a certain complacency – that a life where Ganesh’s friend has 100 dates organised for him each year by a smartphone app is obviously better than one with only one lifetime sexual partner, for instance.

Ganesh, who is falling into the category of columnists I do not particularly agree with but find enlightening and interesting to engage , with summarises his thesis thus:

Given the suddenness of our freedoms, there should be more psychic disruption, more Patrick Batemans, more versions of Bruno from Atomised, who is deranged by sexual nihilism and the fraying of such old tethers as family and God. Instead, there are mostly sensible people making the adjustment to lifestyle choices that would have stupefied their forebears. Some exercise restraint, some fill their cup, but not many fall to pieces.

Reading Ganesh’s column I was reminded of the  passages in some of J G Ballard’s short stories about the moon landings, and their purported impact on the human psyche. Ballard’s “Cape Canaveral” fictions (and the critical reaction to them) are usefully summarised here on the superb Ballardian page maintained by Simon Sellars. My favourite of these stories is “A Question of Re-Entry”, which has a closing line with a similar impact to “And someone else too” in The Lost Leonardo (it would also be a major spoiler so I won’t quote it here) This passage – from a book written in 1963 – neatly summarises the Ballardian speculation underlying the Cape Canaveral fictions:

He would have liked to remind Pereira that the successful landing on the moon, after some half-dozen fatal attempts – at least three of the luckless pilots were still orbiting the moon in their dead ships – was the culmination of an age-old ambition with profound psychological implications for mankind, and that the failure to find the astronaut after his return might induce unassuageable feelings of guilt and inadequacy (if the sea was a symbol of the unconscious, was space perhaps an image of unfettered time, and the inability to penetrate it a tragic exile to one of the limbos of eternity, a symbolic death in life?)

Similar passages recur throughout Ballard’s fiction, and they can seem overblown from today’s knowing perspective, with their Jungian echoes and rather portentous wording. And yet, and yet … Andrew Smith’s fine book “Moon Dust” , a sort of collective biography of the moonwalkers, explored Ballard’s speculation when investigate the lives of this dwindling group of men who walked on another celestial object to our own. Ganesh’s article, while it makes a valid point, exemplifies a certain complacency about our increasingly technologically-mediated experience of life – passing allusions to “the political salience of mental health” and a slightly odd reference to “low-level diva behaviour” aside.

Decomplexifying Society – Joseph Tainter, George Monbiot, Paul Arbair, John Harris

A while back I posted some thoughts on Joseph Tainter’s “The Collapse of Complex Societies”. which, coincidentally, I finished in the week of the Brexit poll. The French writer Paul Arbair commented on my post and linked to his far, far more worked out version.

Paul’s post was picked up by George Monbiot in the Guardian:

And, as the French writer Paul Arbair notes in the most interesting essay I have read this year, beyond a certain level of complexity economies become harder to sustain. There’s a point at which further complexity delivers diminishing returns; society is then overwhelmed by its demands, and breaks down. He argues that the political crisis in western countries suggests we may have reached this point.

And, in the Guardian again, John Harris also picks up Paul’s essay 

There perhaps was a time when the idea that increasing complexity would benefit most people just about held true: the 1990s maybe spring to mind. But now? As we all know, wages are continuing to stagnate. Across the UK, Europe and the US, there are increasing worries about sluggish-to-flatlining productivity and disappointing economic growth. Automation is already disrupting millions of working lives. Therein, of course, lies huge opportunities for the insurgents now defining the political zeitgeist. Their basic approach is: a withering look at the labyrinthine realties of trade, technology, population movement, international agreements and the rest, followed by the simplest of answers: “Take back control”, “Make America great again”.

All this began to sit in my thoughts as I was putting together a radio documentary about the new populism, and reading a book by the US anthropologist and historian Joseph Tainter, which brims with implied parallels between far-flung periods of history and more recent events. It may be some token of our turbulent times that it’s titled The Collapse of Complex Societies: I was alerted to it after reading a brilliant post-Brexit piece authored by French writer Paul Arbair, and I have been dipping into it ever since.

The book was published in 1988, just before the fall of communism was about to offer another case study in what it describes. One key pattern, it argues, applies to whole chunks of history: the way that increasingly complicated systems initially deliver big economic benefits, only for diminishing returns to set in, as systems of power and control become overstretched. Ever-increasing burdens are not matched by material rewards, and popular resentment kicks in.

Tainter’s text covers the demise of ancient Rome and collapse of Mayan civilization in the 9th century, the Minoans and Hittites, and the Chinese Zhou dynasty. He talks about common features of these societies’ fall: “revolts and provincial breakaways”, the end of long-distance trade, resource depletion, declining economic growth, and a point many societies have eventually crashed into: when they are “able to do little more than maintain the status quo”. Currencies become debased; “bridges and roads are not kept up”. Precipitous changes in climate often underlie what happens.

Harris contacts Tainter directly:

I got in touch with Tainter, and though he cautioned me against generalised comparisons, he agreed that complexity held the key to a lot of current developments. “The simpler past seems more attractive than today’s complex reality, and so people vote [thanks to] inchoate frustrations,” he told me. “They choose simplicity and locality over complexity; identity over internationalism. Politicians promote themselves by giving voice to this. Hence, in addition to Brexit, we have calls for Scottish independence, Catalan independence, and so forth.” If complexity and globalisation gave recognisable benefits, he said, the phenomenon would not be so widespread. Quite so, but this is the exact way in which modernity is failing.

Visions of imminent social collapse might be taking all this a bit too far. Or maybe not, for as Tainter writes: “Civilisations are fragile, impermanent things.” Are modern societies vulnerable? It’s a common belief, he says, that our technological capacity, energy resources and our knowledge of economics and history mean our civilisation should be able to survive “whatever crises ancient and simpler societies found insurmountable”.

But as a corrective, he then quotes the revered German classicist Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff’s sobering take on the lessons of the Roman empire. Gin and Radiohead at the ready, then: “Civilisation can die, because it has already died once.”

Of course, one of the nuances which Tainter was thinking of when he warned Harris against “generalised comparisons” was that the collapse of the Roman Empire, was, for those who lived through it, probably experienced as a good thing rather than the apocalyptic, disastrous collapse we think of it as. Nevertheless, it is interesting to see Tainter’s influence as a prism to think about complex societies begin to gain traction – as well as the I-knew-him-before-he-was-famous factor (well, I don’t actually know him, but you get the point) which makes me glad to see Tainter’s name in print.

One would hope that perhaps there can be a movement from seeing this phenomenon of the diminishing returns of complexity in purely fatalistic terms. For these Guardian writers, the election of Trump and Brexit are expressions of inchoate, irrational forces which need explanation. (Personally, I would turn to Homer) As I noted in my prior post, Tainter has considerable sport with the civilisational-decay rhetotic  of Spengler and Toynbee, holding a passage of Spengler up to particular ridicule (although this is also one of the most stirring pieces of writing in the book), and it would be ironic if his work was simply used to buttress cultural pessimism.


Tainter’s framework is an attractive one as an explanatory model; I am increasingly wondering how it could be used to inform policy in a  creative, positive way. Basic guaranteed income, for instance, could be a way of decomplexifying the labyrinthine workings of welfare systems, as well as the other possible benefits  which were enumerated by Monbiot in a column:

A basic income (also known as a citizen’s income) gives everyone, rich and poor, without means-testing or conditions, a guaranteed sum every week. It replaces some but not all benefits (there would, for instance, be extra payments for pensioners and people with disabilities). It banishes the fear and insecurity now stalking the poorer half of the population. Economic survival becomes a right, not a privilege.

A basic income removes the stigma of benefits while also breaking open what politicians call the welfare trap. Because taking work would not reduce your entitlement to social security, there would be no disincentive to find a job – all the money you earn is extra income. The poor are not forced by desperation into the arms of unscrupulous employers: people will work if conditions are good and pay fair, but will refuse to be treated like mules. It redresses the wild imbalance in bargaining power that the current system exacerbates. It could do more than any other measure to dislodge the emotional legacy of serfdom. It would be financed by progressive taxation – in fact it meshes well with land value tax.

I am sure there is much that could be said about the basic income concept and, for the purpose of this post, I am not writing about it specifically, but as an example of how a goal of de-complexifying society could be concevied and achieved.