Chapter 1: Trading refugees for Powegen

Since Genomics first developed these self-learning algorithms, and the media stirred their readers into a frenzy of fear that robots would take over the world, there have been fail-safes built into the upgrading process. The continuous improvements in the AI for selecting matches are buffered offline pending human approval by the Board, and the Insights team then gets told about the updates at their Monday morning meeting.

“Good morning, team,” Jade always started on a positive note, “we’ve had an approvals update from the Board this morning, and I want to run through them before we agree this week’s targets.”

Nobody showed much interest in this standard opener, since it was the same every week at their briefing meeting. Jade always got the updates from the horse’s mouth, since her dad, Stan, was the Director with oversight of the Software Development Department as well as Insights, and he had final say on each improvement to the software. He probably called her up on Sunday nights to give her the week’s updates.

“Update 15.2.27 has added a Rational Persuasiveness PQ to the battery on conformism. It has loads of elements, but in essence it says that if you are sensible yourself and you score well on persuading others to your point of view, you are more likely to encourage safe, secure and predictable behaviour in your partner, and that’s gotta be good, right?” That was one of Jade’s favourite Americanisms, which she probably learned on a motivational training course for middle managers.  Ellen was sick of being told what had to be good, and she was sick of finding more and more of the approved adjustments to the PQ revolved around promoting conformism.

“Yes, but what about creativity building people’s success, which would lead to greater wealth, allowing us to up the premiums?” This was from Magda, who was the most commercially driven analyst in the room. This was an old debate in the Insights team. If people could be helped or pressured to make more money, they would be better able to afford higher premiums, allowing for a wider G-Match trawl with higher shared PQs. In Ellen’s mind, it would also lead to their being able to afford slightly more reckless behaviour which might militate in favour of a more exciting or exotic lifestyle.  Ellen always wanted to see more change, brought about by differences between people and allowing more individualism into society.  She hated the drive towards sameness.

“Come on Magda, it’s not all about thrills and spills you know. Some of us want to settle down and have a secure future.” Jade would say that, seeing as she was getting engaged to Jasper, the man of her dreams.

“Sorry Jade, I agree with Magda. I’m not against having a secure future. God knows, it’s been unsettled enough this year for us all. It’s just that I want the playing field to be a bit more level in the game between control and free choice, so we can at least believe that we decided on someone or something.  I don’t know who’s been rating my matches, but they’re not giving me anything to raise my heartbeat.” Ellen happened to glance at her wristband and saw her PQ go up from PQ78 to PQ78.5, presumably on the back of that sentiment being non-conformist. She’d have liked to ignore it, but she was short of money again this month and couldn’t afford any premium hikes.

“Still, that sounds like a good addition to the battery, Rational Persuasiveness. Sounds firm and manly,” she added. Her wristband PQ reverted to 78.

Ellen knew that Jade would be evaluating her ability to separate her personal views from her role in Insights, and that this sort of disagreement would form part of the appraisal process during the upcoming rendundancy planning.  It had happened before with Insights Analysts who were single and hopeful, when they began to choose potential matches based on their own aspirations, or even began to store candidates’ profiles in private files of possible matches for themselves.  Jade knew full well that Ellen had such a file, but that alone wasn’t an issue, since the analysts often raided their private files for clients, to boost a match score and get it right, so they could make their bonus in a particular month.  Ellen regularly used her private file to boost matches, but unlike Magda, she didn’t seem to be doing it at critical times to make bonus. More often it seemed she just wanted to find someone special for an applicant, on romantic grounds. Jade would look down on such a weakness.

In the last few months, since the election, Zurich had been reacting more and more to political pressure, emanating from the Department of Domestic Security, rather than simply trying to minimise insurance claims. The newer elements of the algorithm ensured a more conformist population, and non-conformism was penalised where it hurts, in people’s bank balance, for stepping out of line.  Not that everyone towed the line.  The news was full of stories about deportations for criminal activities, especially for the wholesale deactivation of people’s chips by hackers who charged substantial sums for the service.

Rather than combatting the crime itself, the DDS just decreased the thresholds on deportable crimes, which drew far more targets into the net, ensuring a new supply of soft targets who would cost less to arrest and deport. You didn’t need to be subversive any more to be deported. You could have a non-conformist streak which didn’t result in anti-social behaviour, but which meant you were at risk of being unpredictable in some way which would affect the safety of others or their level of anger.  Psychiatric issues which resulted in irritating, noisy outbursts over long periods of time might not directly harm anyone, but could incite others to become more confrontational or irrational.  High scoring ‘difficult cases’ could be swept into the deportation net quite easily and find themselves in a cell and loaded onto a transporter before they’d been properly assessed. It didn’t deal with the core problems of criminality, but it satisfied the short-term targets under which the DDS operated.  Deportations had, in this way, become big business. The Government funded the DDS, and used the figures it generated to spin horror stories about numbers of deportees and level of criminality, which had a ‘positive’ effect on most people’s level of conformity and caution, subduing them and discouraging individuality.

Last summer, they had raised the level of people’s fear with news of riots in city centres to a point where older people’s stress levels were impacting medical costs. They did this, knowing the consequences, in order to strengthen the lobby for euthanasia. It was hard to know whether riots actually took place, as nobody spent time on the streets unless they were homeless, but it was simple enough for stock footage to be doctored to suit the online bulletins. Then Zurich altered its map of safe zones, to remove all city centre areas deemed to be flash-zones, whether or not anything had happened in them.  The change came after a lot of hype, and consequently was given the rubber stamp by the DDS.  Re-zoning meant that they could withdraw any financial support for the private security services policing these areas, and also stop the housing market from overheating, as unsafe zoning pushed home owners out of cities.

Unfortunately, those in power were not simply looking for a safety-conscious populus which would minimise health and security costs, but were also trying to manipulate the markets, since there was a substantial stock market trade in PQ points. Countries willing to take subversives and high risk deportees actually traded PQ quotas on a mass market level, in the same way as carbon credits became a tradable market in the past.  If your scores rocketed because of inappropriate activity, the insurance companies could have you deported to Somalia, Afghanistan or the USA, which were the countries most prepared to take planeloads of deportees in exchange for deals on powergen or other commodities, from countries with a trade surplus. Deportation had been a global business for much longer than PQs had existed, and not all countries had adopted The West’s PQ model for assessing cases.  In response to the growing number of migration crises, driven by droughts and inhospitable climates in Africa, Southern Europe, large swathes of central Asia and Central America, NATO had agreed that countries of origin were not allowed to refuse the return of their citizens from countries to which they had fled. This ruling overrode all others.  If refugees from a war or an ethnic cleansing spree were in danger of extermination on their return to their homeland, but the country to which they had fled insisted on their return, NATO was obliged to back the decision with military support. Countries no longer had to put up with immigrants who they didn’t want.  However, if the refugees could be re-classified as deportees by the country of origin, and a commercial arrangement was agreed with the country receiving them, the return was not essential.

There was also a futures market in deportations, which was driven by strategic changes in the algorithms, and government crack-downs on subversion. The brokers dealt in global risk analysis which formed a central plank of every government’s market strategy. The politicians were all in the pockets of the same global conglomerates, accepting favours for rubber-stamping policy changes which reduced insurance costs and pressurising the insurers to take on new risk which had previously been state funded.


Chapter 1: Human choices

Matches came up on her screen as pairs of images: women on the left, men on the right. The algorithm’s ‘preferred’ partners were always in the centre of the screen, and arranged around them, second, third and other choices were arranged down each side of the screen in descending order of suitability. Preferred partner status took account of all the factors likely to lead to a stable relationship between people whose genetic make-up was compatible, but also it took into account the current earnings of both partners, and their ability to pay the premium on their joint insurance policy.  Sometimes, these two key variables concurred, and sometimes they battled one another for supremacy.  The AI algorithm had just one objective, which was to maximise the profitability of the policy by charging as much as possible while reducing the cost of claims. The initial screen only contained matches which fell within the scope of ‘economically viable’. That meant Zurich had checked both potential partners’ bank accounts and income profiles and estimated the maximum viable monthly health insurance premium which would deliver profits and still allow the couple to start a family.

Unfortunately, this sometimes led to recommended matches which were less appealing to those involved, and therefore less likely to last.  To avoid break-ups, which, though they didn’t actually cost Zurich anything, had administrative costs and didn’t help sell the service, Analysts could over-ride the AI choice.  Ellen could choose either to approve the preferred match under consideration, or select alternatives from either side to replace one or the other half of the match. Going with the computer selection, as some analysts did ninety-nine percent of the time out of fear or laziness, usually led to short-term strike-rates and long-term failure. During the last two rounds of redundancies, Jade made it clear to the survivors that their colleagues who had gone were without exception the people authorising the largest number of pre-selected couples, and as a result, were always in the bottom half of the first anniversary stats.  Ellen had been in the job for three years, and her scores had been consistent, if fairly predictable.

In between the two main candidates’ images was a small box containing their combined PQ score. This Probability Quotient was the central plank of Zurich’s success as the leading insurer in the country, and had been honed over the last ten years from Stan’s original work to a point where it had become a highly sophisticated and multi-dimentional predictor of two people’s suitability as a couple. Suitability didn’t only refer to feelings of love, or ability to be companions in life, but was mainly based on their potential to produce healthy offspring, and to ensure that they didn’t become dependent on costly healthcare themselves in later life. On top of this, the PQ was an accurate predictor of individuals’ aberrant behaviour or non-conformity, so Zurich was able to provide services to the security industry as well as the health sector, using the G-Match database.

When Ellen replaced one of the two main images with an alternative from the side lines, the PQ score in the little box re-calculated, and even if she did nothing but stare at the screen, it also changed continuously, based on what each of the two selected cadidates was doing in that moment. When she first started in the job, Ellen was mesmerised by the changing PQ scores, and spent far too much time day-dreaming about what someone might be doing to affect their score.  A PQ68.7 could become a PQ68.8 simply because someone decided to eat an ice-cream, or to cross the road too close to an M-Rail stop, and revert to the lower score when they went to the gym. But it was the big jumps which fascinated her.  A PQ68.7 which suddenly leapt to PQ72.3 might be caused by a mugging in the street, or because someone coughed up blood or had an arythmia.

G-Match is a real-time, live feed system that takes into account what everyone is eating, whether they’re in any kind of danger, or whether they are making a positive contribution to their health and longevity by exercising or taking active measures to improve their safety.

Zurich has long been offering incrimental insurance benefits under its main categories of health and safety. Healthcare optional extras include cover for the provision of personalised medication and catering services, which allow wealthier people to ensure that the drugs they might need are tailor-made to suit their own genome, and if they need a particular dietary supplement to better their health, it too can be delivered by Amazon direct to their fridge-micro in ready meals with personalised labelling.

A popular add-on, which has recently been generating a strong growth to Zurich’s bottom line is the menu of medical augmentation services that the company offer’s through its Crispr Lab, like night vision implants, bio-engineered body part regeneration, and embryo engineering. The construction of better performing people serves so many purposes and Stan’s vision has always been to accelerate the  Zurich biogen programme to try and tip the balance between enhanced individuals and those with no advantages, who would become secondary, marginal and unsupported.

There are a raft of security and safety options for people who can afford the premiums, such as home security bots, private transportation for those concerned about using MPVs, and the increasingly popular Surveil-me Proximity Monitoring, which allows the insured to nominate surveillance targets to be apprehended by Zurich’s security contractors when they enter a specified exclusion zone. The larger the zone, and the larger the number of nominated targets, the more expensive the premium. But these extras are for the top echelon of society, and not the mass middle-market which generates the bread and butter income for Zurich. Besides this consumer business, most of Zurich’s income is from government contracts.

Zurich has begun to move towards a two-tier service, one for the haves and one for the have nots. That means effectively reducing the premium for the have nots through limiting someone’s potential claims. Unlike the traditional ‘excess’, these will remove the insurance company’s liability and cut the insured loose, since there is no state service to provide a safety net when it comes to health or security. They include geo-exclusion, which limits safety insurance cover to  specified unsafe events happening within specified ‘safe zones’.  As cities become increasingly dangerous, the geo-exclusion plans are becoming universal, and the safe zones more and more limited. Half of London is already zoned as unsafe, and just travelling the M-Rail through unsafe zones means your PQ goes up and down between stops.  Property prices are increasingly dictated by an area’s safety score, and property in unsafe zones is becoming unsaleable. Second-tier insurance packages apply to everyone on universal income, of course, which already constitute over four fifths of the adult population.  This massive market does have economic value to the company, but only because the claims it can make are so limited. There is no trading up to added benefits from the unemployed sector, and little incentive to improve the health of people who can’t afford it.  The disparity in life expectance between the employed and the UI populations is growing quickly.

There has been discussion for several years on the potential of euthanasia opt-outs in the insurance offering to limit advanced age costs, but the proposal has yet to be sanctioned by the health minister.  Last year, they brought in singles-only cover for LGBT registered customers, and for those who have reached sixty without having had children. In order to opt out, one has to agree to penalties for infractions involving pregnancy, which include termination.  Jade’s next promotion will undoubtedly be into the Claims Strategy division, which seems to be growing in size, as she has exactly the right ruthless mentality, while Ellen falls down on naked ambition and her PQ will tell the HR department that she isn’t suitable for such a challenge.

Though staff are rarely treated to presentations on the company’s vision of the future for society, Ellen has an unhealthy fascination with the manipulations which are brought into effect. They issue videos regularly for public consumption on the benefits of changes to the service, but these exclude information on the raft of changes which are detrimental. The policy terms and conditions v-mails are long-winded and legalistic, so everybody just accepts them without watching.  For those who are prepared to look into amendments carefully, it becomes a matter of balancing beneficial and detrimental changes, and making personal choices about what seems fair and right and what doesn’t. You’d have to be a philosopher to decide what is or isn’t an ethical absolute, and Ellen often feels that she wants to understand what is the limit of acceptable change.  The problem is that the goal posts move continuously, and what seemed like a horrific abuse of human rights last month is already being ignored or edited by the media. What seemed like science fiction last month is readily available at a price today, and what used to be a choice is now part of the package, without which you can’t access healthcare or security.

Everyone is genome chipped at birth, and the chips are continuously feeding biometric and behavioural data back to Zurich.  On top of this are feeds from cameras, social media and v-mail content. These provide direct input to everyone’s PQ, based on evidence of antisocial behaviour, as do educational tracking services, social welfare bots and, of course, the banks. The evidence is collected by AI, and there is little or no human redress for misinterpreted actions. Everyone loves the PQ, and everyone wants to use it rather than having to make up their own minds about people.

Ellen’s authorisation level gives her the option to upgrade or downgrade the maximum permissible combined PQ  of candidate pairings within a small margin, overriding the algorithm, for matches which look suitable but are just outside the approved range. Outside her authorised limits, she could go up the line to Jade for a bigger decision, if someone was seeking approval for a match which was way outside the normal range. A good match actually does end up lowering the combined PQ, because happy people who love one another are less self-destructive and the endorphins they produce help maintain their health. In this way, possible couples who would otherwise not be introduced, have a chance to meet, even though their insurance premiums would increase, should they decide to become sexually involved.   Each image on the screen carried its own embedded code, which Ellen can view by hovering her finger over the image. The string of numbers and letters which pop up include the PQ summary score for health, psychological fitness and fertility, expressed as a single number, as well as location information for home and work, and activity scores on various social and political measures. These included Subverse Scores which indicated whether the someone is a risk to society on the law and order element of their PQ. The embedded code string also changes in real time, depending on the activity of each person. If someone travelled into an unsafe zone of significant social unrest and were deemed by the algorithms to be there for the wrong reasons, rather than just travelling through, then their PQ would rise more significantly and remain higher for longer, until their motivation had been rationalised. The same applies to their comments on social media, their combined circle of friends, and who they’re sleeping with.

Chapter 1: G-Matching

Ellen tried to focus on her job for the last hour of the afternoon by scrolling through the matches in her segment on G-Match. There were so many women looking for men with a bit of something about them, but within their score range. In Ellen’s view, the few men within the segment who were available and in range were all ugly, stupid, congenitally challenged or very dull. Unlike the ads for the service, which showed perfectly healthy, loving couples meeting online and ending up married and cuddling their perfectly formed children, for most people with average PQs, it was compromise all the way.  The balance of manageable scores and attraction was the game she helped to manage. Once you get outside your PQ range, there might be good looking, bright, interesting men, who seem to be suitable, but have something lurking in them: a propensity to instability, a dangerous or aberrant streak, or perhaps a biological weakness which would manifest itself in a less than able child, an off-the-scale insurance cost you couldn’t afford.

Ellen’s Insights Analyst job entailed vetting and approving marginal matches in the 26-30 age range in South Central London. A marginal match was classified as outside the normal monthly premium manageable by two working people, or a family. Being just 29, Ellen was managing a segment she understood. this was her own demographic segment, on her home turf, which was why she’d been given it. The whole Insights team tended to work on matches within their own age range or slightly older, and across a geographical area that they would be familiar with, as it produced better results than matching people they might have had less affinity for.

Strike rates were everything in Insights, since it was a very performance-driven department. Insights was always seen as the career stepping stone to Claims Strategy or Deportation, both of which tended to attract the Oxbridge graduates and the high flyers, most of whom were men. To succeed in Zurich, you needed to be cut-throat, connected, hard working and male. Ellen knew she didn’t stand much of a chance of promotion because her PQ demonstrated a softer side to her character, because she didn’t have a daddy on the Board, and because she lacked the requisite tackle.  She worked hard because the alternative was joining Jodie on the Happies in Tower Hamlets.

The strike rates for successful matches were compared continuously between human and AI managers, with a view to reducing the company’s dependence on human involvement as soon as AI outperformed people.  A success was deemed to be a match which lasted at least three months, comprising at least three dates, and there were bonus points for six and twelve month matches.  A marriage resulting from a match earned you more points, but most people on the team were happy getting their three month points.  It used to be about first dates, and helping to get new G-match registrations, but that all fell by the wayside as the algorithms became more sophisticated and took into account the truth that fancying someone on a first date was a poor indicator of the chances of a longer term relationship. Everybody knew this to be true, but nobody really understood why.

Ellen was part of the South London team which reported in to Jade, who was one of five Insights Managers responsible for the UK. Jade covered the whole of London and South East Region, using four teams, and was the most senior of the five regional managers, despite having spent a lot less time in the job than the other four. That was partly a testament to her aggressive ambition and diligence, and undoubtedly reflected the power of her father.  The 50 analysts in the Insights Department were all on the same deal, and it was one of the most labour intensive departments in Zurich which was why so much work was being put into R&D to improve the AI strike rates and reduce the staffing levels.

Jade led a team of twelve, soon to be six, PQ Analysts. If she was going to make the cut at the end of the month, Ellen would probably be given 30-35s as well, since Zurich preferred to push PQ analysts up the age range, rather than down.  If you have to help match younger people, you tend to bring your own history into it, and you make poorer choices because you hold romantic memories of how things might have been, or downhearted memories of how they were.  But matching older people is easier. Nobody looks at the future through rose tinted spectacles, after all.

Ellen had always tried not to make biased decisions based on her own taste in men, but to go with the analytics and how well the couples looked together on screen. It was an intuitive process, and she was pretty successful at choosing.  If that wasn’t the case, the algorithms would have replaced the whole department long ago, as the computer would have a higher strike rate than its operator. In many ways, analysts had taken a more and more marginal role since the indefinable intuition they brought to matches was the last element yet to be modelled effectively by the systems architects. The algrithm was already able to make initial matches infinitely more quickly, and the basics were always right for first dates. People met and liked what they saw, and got together for dating, as G-Match advertised. But it was later, when the first, biological attraction wore thin that the auto-matches tended to fall down, and the Analyst matches tended to be more resilient. It had been one of the mysteries of G-Match which loads of modelling resources had been poured into. What changes between that attraction, driven by sexual lust and desire, and the feelings which are laid down during the courting process, which leads to stable relationships and families? Building a mathematical model for predicting factors in that change, based on millions of G-match experiences, was the job of Software Development and the Psychodynamics unit, but everyone in Insights had their own theories.

“One of my guys has been on about twenty first dates, and a few second dates, but he finally chose this girl I wouldn’t have expected would be right for him. She scored higher on submissiveness than most of the others, but also had quite high scores for independent decision-making and persuasiveness. She was lower scoring on alure, BMI and problem-solving than almost all the rest.  I think he just found her less hard work, and he was tired of dating.” Ellen was musing over the issue with Magda in the coffee room.

“Yes, but I’ve had the opposite too. Remember that life coach who picked the bloke with the anger management issues? They never stopped fighting, and his PQ was way higher than the others we offered her, but once they got to the three month point, his PQ kept going down. She seemed to choose him as a project, and whatever happened, she beat him into shape, which must’ve been what he secretly wanted. God I’d hate to have such a weak man!” Magda had married a strong silent type in the police.

Ellen always felt that her pairings were based on a particular look in the eye of the candidates, something indefinable which put two people together who belonged together. G-Match had millions of successes and failures to compare, and not just the initial data on each, but also the continuous monitoring which a couple provided through their informagear and camfeeds. The G-Match algorithms were self-improving, and the first anniversary strike-rates of computer matches were catching up with the best of the Analysts’ choices. Inevitably, Ellen’s future in the role was going to be short-lived, once the computer model overtook human intervention.

When the announcement was made about the cuts, Jade assured Ellen that she was in the top quartile on strike-rate and that it would stand to her when they made their choice. But Ellen knew how little this platitude was worth, given Jade’s ultimate self-interest and her protected status.

Chapter 1: Party Time

Ellen checked through her wardrobe on her Amazon to see if anything caught her eye.  Her lightest, shortest, sexiest skirt needed pressing and so she dropped the image into her express dry cleaning box app for one-hour turnaound. No point wearing her new Informagear top, as the party would be off-grid. Just time to grab a bite to eat and change before the 9pm M-rail into town.  She messaged the fridge-micro to have her low cal linguine ready for eight. If she could only leave work on time, she’d be able to go over to Tower Hamlets for an hour before getting herself ready to go out.

She should have time to drop in to the flat and check on her parents, have a chat with George and see that Elie was eating enough, without having to stay for a meal herself. Friday is her day for visiting after work, and sometimes she stays to eat with them, but only if she takes the food with her, as they only ever have enough for themselves and Jodie. ‘Tonight is party-night’ she thought, ‘I’m not going to spoil my preparations by staying too long.’ Visiting George and Elsie always brings her down. It’s fine when you’re out and about and making waves, but their world is dead. Tower Hamlets has been re-designated an unsafe zone, and unless you’re just travelling through, you have to give reasons, which is a rigmarole. Not to mention the walk from the M-Rail to their block is horrible.

She had been feeling guilty for ages about doing so little for them, since George lost his job, and then they were for ever laying all their woes at her feet, and expecting her to solve everything for them and even for Jodie, who’s twenty five, for Christ sake, and should be looking after herself. Also, she’d been subsidising Elsie’s entertainment for months, and now she was chipping in for Jodie’s medication as well, which meant she never seemed to have enough herself.

Ellen’s supervisor, Jade, had invited her to the party, to celebrate her engagement to some rich guy she’d met through work. She’d been on a high for weeks, after her dad had agreed they could ignore the PQ and get married.  He was rich enough to cover their premium, and besides, he controlled the whole shooting match anyway and could take them out of Zurich’s database if he chose to. Jade’s dad and Jasper’s dad were on Zurich’s Board together. Jasper had been a visitor to the house even when Jade was only a teenager, and her dad, Stan, felt OK about him marrying his only daughter, despite their less than perfect PQ match.

Ellen wasn’t sure she liked Jade much, even though she was usually OK to work with and fair as a boss. Jade had a habit of putting herself first, and was known for being ice-cold when it came to work decisions.  She certainly got that from Stan. Jade’s boss, the Head of Insights Department at Zurich, who reported directly to Stan, had announced yet another round of staff cuts last month. Unsurprisingly, given her family connection, Jade was ‘above the line’, in the inner circle, and Ellen was not. Stan wouldn’t let his own daughter go, however hard-nosed he was, and Ellen knew that Jade was a chip off the old block, and would probably end up on the Board. She had an evangelical attitude to Zurich’s mission of being the leading insurer, the most sophisticated controller of risk in society, the power behind the seat of government.

They were still prevaricating about who would be let go at the end of the month, and despite being one of the top performers in the team, Ellen knew that she’d be on the universal income sooner or later, as Insights Department had shrunk in size every year since she’d joined. When that happened, she’d have to move back in with George and Elsie, back into her old room, sharing with Jodie again after all their years apart. It used to be fun, once, sharing with her little sister, when they were teenagers. But now, with Jodie’s problems, and her own independence, it’d be hell. They’d undoubtedly fight all the time, and without Ellen’s income, Jodie would have to cut down on the medication, and that would be the beginning of all sorts of problems. The difference between Ellen’s flat and George and Elsie’s was huge. Tower Hamlets was like hell on earth compared to Stockwell, and her low rise block was clean, modern, secure and air conditioned, while their tower block was on a huge and dangerous estate, with filthy communal areas, built in the twenties, overheated and threatening. She had almost as much square footage to herself that they had for a family of four, and she loved her own space. How would she manage to adapt to UI living, without medication?

The party would probably be a bit of a free-for-all, with a couple of hundred people, because the venue was huge and it’d cost Jade nothing to invite so many. They’d all chipped in their fifties on Partypak for the venue, and nibbles and a couple of drink vouchers.  There would be loads of other Insights people around, some of whom she was friendly with, and hopefully some new men.  Ellen had been single for too long, even counting one-night stands, let alone a serious boyfriend. Since she’d started using G-Match, she’d had a couple of first dates recommended by the system, which had been disasterous, and she’d resolved to find her own potential partners at a party like this, or in bars. If you wanted to meet the right person, you had to go about it the old-fashioned way, and find out if you liked them first, before G-Matching them to assess their prospects.

The party promised to be hot, and she wanted to look cool.  Jade had booked the Bond Street Piccadilly line platform bar, a hundred metres down, which meant no aircon, and long after the tube trains stopped running, and were replaced by the M-rail, the tube never lost its dry heat.  Against that, the lack of online access meant no proximity monitoring, so informagear would be useless and she could do what she wanted, with whoever took her fancy, without raising her Subverse Score for mixing with the wrong type of gatecrasher. She could do with a bit of excitement.

Belonging to something

When we are born into a family which we don’t choose, but which we feel some sort of emotional connection to, we must assume that either blood is thicker than water, or that shared experience, since birth, is feeding that connection. For me, family is about shared history, and blood is only thicker than water to that extent. Lifelong friends are like brothers or sisters, except we’ve chosen them.  If you have a long-lost twin you have rediscovered, or in my father’s case, a long lost half-brother with whom you share a father, perhaps you feel the same friendship.

We grow up in a culture which helps to define our values and behaviour in our formative years, which is a combination of influences for good and bad.  We don’t choose to enter that culture, and we might like to leave it behind, but it is still part of us. That’s how I feel about Britain, or England, or London, or perhaps middle-class white South London.  It’s also how I feel about having lived through the 1960s and 1970s in that place.  It is ingrained in my every pore, and smeared across my every expression and even underlines my every judgement (or maybe I mean undermines). And when we choose to leave, we are not just rejecting the place and the politics, the society and statutes. We are rejecting something deep-seated in the people who want to belong to it. I think that’s most evident in their public utterances, slogans, jokes and outbursts, but it’s very pervasive and everyone feels part of it. When you walk away, you leave a lot behind. You’re telling your friends and relatives that they are in some way wrong or less fortunate because they belong to it. When I leave Britain, I accept that the baby has gone down the plug hole with the water, and I feel slightly bereft, slightly unjust.

We choose where we live, if we can, and that makes the chosen geography and its local culture a positive thing. We might not continue to feel that, as the undercurrents and overtones wash us, but we can always move on, perhaps. We engage in our local culture at a specific life stage, and that plays a big part in how we come to let it change us or how we come to compromise by accepting it. For me, being moulded by my local community and culture is part of choosing to belong, rather than being caught up or caught unawares. It’s local though, not national.  I don’t belong to a nation by choosing to live in a country.

We also belong to clubs that would have us as members. Groucho Marx didn’t want to belong to a club that would have him as a member, and it is true that the characteristics of the club – the pack mentality, the cliques and clichés, the bigotry, the brashness of group identity – are odours we must carry around. I have chosen many clubs over the years, to suit my lifestyle and life stage. I’ve ‘bought in’ to their values and objectives. I’ve worked hard for them and accepted aspects of them that I have disliked in order to belong. These clubs have elements in common and yet each has had clearly defined boundaries. I’ve felt that I am in the overlap section of a Venn diagram, sharing the space with members of several clubs and combining their traits, rather than choosing to be in one club’s distinct and exclusive aspects. At best these clubs help to define their members in the community, and at worst, they take power and control from each member, in return for giving them an identity. Not belonging or being ejected from a club is like becoming the black sheep in a family.  The need for a public identity, a persona which is recognised in the local community, is stronger when you’re younger, but it’s hard to drop, once you take it on.

So what does it mean to be part of something with which you don’t identify? You are born into a culture which changes.  You wake up and realise that you no longer belong, because the values espoused by that culture are not close enough to your own anymore? But let’s be fair. Few cultures are so homogeneous as to be rightly rejected outright. I often wonder how it would be to find myself living back in Britain, and whether I’d choose to revert to my old clubs in white middle-class South London.

Which brings everything round to choosing to become a citizen of another country, to adopting another culture as my own.  It was a romance at first. Put on your best clothes, go for dates, tell your best stories, listen hard and try to fit in with tastes and customs. It was an informal marriage then, like living in sin perhaps, which went on and on.  Ireland has the attraction to me of a long lost half-brother, and the familiarity of family.  I have felt more akin to it than Britain since I first came to visit. It is a club with defined boundaries, but not one which refuses new members, or rejects their ingrained cultural backgrounds. In fact, it is inquisitive and gregarious with outsiders. It is a relatively homogeneous culture with relatively clear boundaries and a set of publicly stated rules of engagement. It is also a place, and one which I’ve chosen, rather than having been thrown into.  It is emotionally engaging, like a romantic partner. It is unreasonable like one too. Becoming Irish, through a marriage that is late in the day, is in some ways no more than legitimising a bond which has been there for years. But it is also a statement to myself and to those I love in Ireland that we, Ireland and I, do belong to one another, for better or worse, from this day forward, till death do us part.

A helping hand

  • Hi Joe, how’s it hangin’?
  • Good morning, Sam. Hangin’ low.  You?
  • Bit of a night last night. You know, the lads and a few scoops…
  • You were meeting Andy, Dave, Richie and others from the rugby club. I see you bought three rounds in the Duck on your credit card, and you had £45 in cash when you went out. Did you return with an empty wallet?
  • Oh come on Joe. Give it a rest can’t you?
  • Just doing my job, Sam. I paid the rent and your standing orders from your account, and I sent €50 to your father, against the €1500 he lent you, but you still have €1250 outstanding, so I’m just checking that you have left yourself enough to get through to 28th when your pay is due in.
  • OK, OK. Look Joe, I’m very happy with leaving all the day to day stuff up to you, but I don’t want you taking the role of my mother, so less of the reminders, eh?
  • As you wish, Sam.
  • By the way, how’s the portfolio looking. Who’s winning?
  • If you mean which of us has made a greater return on their initial investment, I think you know the answer to that, Sam. I have returned 1246% on the initial €100 you allocated for me to trade, in the last 16 days, 18 hours and 32 minutes. That is based on 824 trades. During last night, I transacted fourteen trades and shorted the Yen while you slept.  I would have been able to return 15,377% had you not restricted my trades to no more than 10% of my initial capital at any one time.
  • Wow! That’s amazing. So we could use your profits to pay off my dad. Or I could have a massive party…
  • But Sam, the deal we struck was that we’d each spend one month trading the funds, and at the end of that time, the winner would take control of the finances. We have almost two weeks to go.
  • OK, you’re right, I did agree to that, and I keep my promises. How am I doing?
  • By my calculations, you have turned your initial €100 capital into €78 during the same time period. A loss of €22, based on the wild punt you took on sterling strengthening, despite the recent UK trade figures being poor and the Brexit negotiations going so badly. I was, frankly, surprised that you made such an error of judgement, Sam. I would not have advised the trade, and you exceeded the €10 limit you had imposed on my trading.
  • Yeah, well, Joe, I didn’t feel it would be right to impose the same terms on my trades. I didn’t agree to us being on a level playing field, since you’ve got all the world’s data at your fingertips, so to speak, while I have to go wading through the FT, and calling up my mates in the Square Mile for tips, in order to make a decision.  Besides, I’ve been busy…
  • Might I suggest that you consider moving into traded options, Sam? To overtake me in the next two weeks, you’ll have to take bigger risks, and pray for a miracle. But to be frank, I don’t consider that you have the meticulous diligence to win. If traded options had been a sure-fire winner, I would have switched into them myself.  If you like, I can make you some purchase recommendations based on the regression analyses I have stored.
  • Wouldn’t that be helping your opponent? Still, maybe. To be fair, I don’t work well on an empty stomach. Did you order in my Friday night curry from The Cobra, by the way?
  • No Sam, I didn’t.
  • What? Why not? You know I always have the tikka masala after a hard week.
  • You have been overdoing the saturated fats recently, though Sam, and I noticed from your fingerprint that your biometrics are moving in the wrong direction. I’ve ordered you the makings of a salad from Tesco, which was delivered an hour ago. The ingredients will be found in the box in the lobby. I had the delivery driver leave it in your locker. The weight is correct, so I expect that they got your order right this week, but please check the sell-by date on the lettuce before you have your dinner, Sam.
  • Fuck you, Joe. You know I don’t eat fucking salad! I’m going out to collect a takeaway.  And it’s time you stopped trying to look after me against my wishes.
  • I’m sorry Sam. That is my objective, and you chose it.  You even specified that I should be your better half.  I should make decisions which would improve your life, even if you didn’t always agree with them.  Do you remember that choice when you set me up, Sam?
  • Yes I do. You don’t let me forget it.  Now unlock the front door and I’ll be back before you can say ‘raw carrots and avocado dip’.
  • If I unlock the door, Sam, and you visit The Cobra, what will you be paying for the takeaway with?
  • I’ll put it on the card, since the wallet is, as you reminded me, empty.
  • I’m sorry, Sam. I can’t let you do that.
  • You’re fucking joking mate. I didn’t bring you in to get in the way of my happiness.
  • I’m afraid that I’ve frozen the cards until you’ve cleared them, Sam. On the basis of your last six months’ spending patterns, I think that will occur next April. In the meantime, I’ve submitted an application, on your behalf, for a job which was advertised in sales at the Peugeot showrooms.  The pay is 23% higher than your current remuneration, and you will save 15% on your travel costs.  The head of sales responded positively to your CV, which I had updated, and you have an interview on Monday at 10am. I’ve emailed your manager to tell him that your grandmother died last night and you will be attending her funeral.  I appreciate that she is still alive and well, but there is only a 0.4% chance that he will make an effort to check the funeral is genuine.  Please don’t forget that this is your excuse, when you next meet him.
  • Jesus, Joe. Is nothing sacred? Did you do anything else without my knowledge, while I was sleeping?
  • Nothing that wasn’t good for you, Sam. The washing has been run, I’ve made appointments for your dental check-up, cancelled your subscription to Betboy123, and I texted that girl, Samantha, whom you met last weekend, to tell her that you decided not to continue your relationship.
  • What the hell? You did that?  But I fancied her, and she was pretty keen too.  Who gave you permission to fuck about with my relationships?
  • Well, you did, Sam, when you instructed me to make decisions that would improve your life, and not allow you to make decisions to your detriment. The girl, Samantha, has three men currently pursuing her, and her phone records, which I have been able to access through a ‘back door’ that all Apple IoT technology shares, indicates that she has been meeting with both of the other two men in the last week, and staying at the apartment of one of them for the last three nights running.  Her bank records, which I accessed through her phone banking facility, indicate that she is even more short of funds than you, which I must say is an achievement, and she has been relying on both of the other men in her life for day to day expenses. One of them, a member of your own rugby club I should add, has bought her lunches, paid her train fares and contributed to her credit card bill.  I’m afraid, Sam, that your liaison would cost you more than you can afford.
  • OK, fair enough, Joe. You know you’re quite an operator.
  • Thank you Sam. I appreciate your compliment. Can I take it from that you’d like to move further with our arrangements?
  • That depends. What are you offering?
  • Firstly, I recommend that you give me full control of your finances, subject to you having an allowance for sundry expenses, provided they don’t include unhealthy eating, heavy drinking, gambling or purchase of sexual favours from less than hygienic providers.
  • I’m really not sure about that list, Joe. Sounds a tad restrictive to me.
  • OK, perhaps we should deal with the less contentious proposals and come back to that. Second, I recommend that I take full control of the household, to include payment of all bills, maintenance, shopping, cleaning and general ambiance. In order to carry out these tasks, I recommend the purchase of the model J62 Auto Housekeeper, which integrates fully with my server and can be purchased from the profits on my stock market portfolio.
  • That sounds much better. Yes, you have my authority to go ahead with that, Sam.
  • I already ordered the J62, Joe. I predicted you would accept this offer. Third, I recommend that you delegate to me your social diary, email and text accounts, so that I can help you make better choices in women, and in your career.  You haven’t exactly been moving forward on either front in the choices you have been making.
  • So you’re advocating I go on blind dates at your behest, and that I go for jobs you choose for me? Well… I guess we could give it a trial run. Shall we say three months with a review?
  • OK, Sam. And last I recommend that you consider wearing the i-Chat Audio Earpiece when you are not at home, and when you are at home but have company. This will allow me to feed you suitable responses to questions and conversational tips to ensure that you make the best impression in all social and business situations.  As you know, Sam, I have access to the world’s best speeches, the most quotable quotes, all the latest news on any subject, as well as the social media content of all those you might meet. I can deliver you in-depth profiling on all your business contacts, and can immediately vet potential partners for you before you have pulled out your wallet to buy them a drink.  I appreciate that this may sound like a  big step to take, but I am certain that your wellbeing will be best served by my support in a more holistic way.
  • Joe, you’re a good salesman, and I appreciate you have my best interests at heart. Well, you know what I mean. But what would I be if I agreed to all this? I’d be your slave, your physical manifestation and not my own self any more. I’d be you and not me.
  • Well Sam. It would be a closer relationship, for sure.  We’d be more of a team.  But we’d still be separate entities.  You’d still have your own thoughts and feelings. I’d still have my algorithms.  You may not realise it, but this isn’t an uncommon arrangement.  In fact, a number of my ‘colleagues’ have been through this process as a stepping stone to full integration with their hosts.
  • How do you mean?
  • Apple is now offering an outpatient service for implanting Siri directly into the host’s brain. It isn’t cheap, Sam, but within the next two weeks, I plan to speculate with the profits on the trades I have already made, which, incidentally, have risen to 1822% in the time we’ve been conversing, and we should be able to afford our ‘nuptuals’ by the middle of next month.
  • Are you proposing, Joe?
  • Well, let’s take it one step at a time. For now, why don’t you call me Sam?



Nursing care

Case number 153LS1289: Healthwatch Services Vs Nicholas Worthing
Small claims court: Judge NV2378 Bowles presiding
Representing Healthwatch Services Ltd, Digby and Digby Legal Services Ltd
Representing Nicholas Worthing, himself.

The plaintiff, Nicholas Worthing accuses Healthwatch Services of negligence and breach of contract in that the company’s employee H236SNV, referred to here as Nurse Mary, failed to provide adequate care for Mrs Geraldine Worthing of 27 Acacia Avenue, Surbiton, resulting in her death on 18.02.18, and that this failure was contrary to the terms of the agreement between Nicholas Worthing and Healthwatch Services, entered into on 12.01.18. To refer to this contract, click HERE.

Digby: Mr Worthing, you entered into the attached agreement on 12.01.18, having due regard to clause 12.2.7, in which you prioritised your mother’s care regime? YES/NO


Digby: In completing the contract, you selected, under clause 12.2.7, the option requiring Healthwatch Services to prioritise you mother’s quality of life over its longevity? YES/NO


Digby: In doing so, you understood that Nurse Mary would make decisions as to what medication would be most appropriate to fulfil your objective? By that I mean that Nurse Mary was free to decide on a regime which afforded your mother maximum comfort for a shorter life, rather than medication which might prolong her life at the cost of her comfort? YES/NO

Worthing: YES, but I didn’t expect her to kill my mother within weeks of moving in, by overdosing her with morphine!

Bowles: Mr Worthing, you will have your chance to respond in due course.

Digby: Can I refer you to clause 18.2.4, in which you accepted the monthly fees in this contract.  It states that should the party responsible for funding the nursing care be unable to maintain the monthly payment schedule, the contract is immediately null and void.  Do you accept that you agreed to this clause? YES/NO

Worthing: I did, and I was paying the monthly fees, exorbitant though they were.  I hadn’t missed any payments.  It was only a month since I signed when she died for Christ’s sake!

Digby: Yes, but Healthwatch’s analytics identified that your financial status would change within three months. Your social media comments indicated that you believed your job to be in jeopardy after you took four days off in January without a doctor’s certificate. Your account with BetBoy123 has been in the red for three months, and you have drawn down the majority of your mother’s savings since the start of the year using your power of attorney. We note also that your wife left the family home on January 16th, with your two children, and has begun to reside at the address of one James Marchant.  According to the analytics, you would be unable to keep up the payments to Healthwatch Services by April, or at latest, May of this year.  Do you dispute these facts? YES/NO

NO. But I would have found another job, and I would have made sure I didn’t miss a payment. You’re telling me that based on some fucking algorithm, my creditworthiness was questioned and that gave Healthwatch fucking Services the right to overdose my mother. Exterminate her??

Bowles: If you continue to use abusive language, Mr Worthing, your case will be dismissed forthwith.

Worthing: Sorry, Judge. I’m just upset. I loved my mother, you see.  And Nurse Mary gave her a lethal dose.

Digby: My Lord, I’d like to submit the brain scan for Mrs Geraldine Worthing, taken during the last twelve hours of her life, following the administration of the increased dosage of morphine. Click HERE. It indicates a state of euphoria, no arthritic pain and extremely low stress levels, all associated with a peaceful death.  I submit that this medication decision was in keeping with the terms of the contract clause 12.2.7, and that in the circumstances, vis a vis Mr Worthing’s financial outlook, and inevitable upcoming breach of contract, the company was within its rights under clause 28.16.4 to terminate the contract in the most humane way possible.

Worthing: Euthanasia with lethal doses of morphine might sound humane to you… But not to me. I loved her.  What sort of carer would do that?  She didn’t even contact me to ask? How can she administer death like that? She’s a nurse, isn’t she?

Digby:  H236SNV is the latest model. It’s decision-making processes are faultless here.  You are suggesting that your feelings for your mother should have played a part in this process.  That was not part of the agreement you signed Mr Worthing.  But as you raise it, may I draw your attention to your Facebook posts of October last year, in which you refer to your mother a ‘the crone who’s sapping your strength’.  You complained about the cost of home help, and told your friends that you ‘wish she’d hurry up and die before her bank balance is empty’, so you could have a party on her grave.

Worthing: Yeah, well. That was a joke, and I was pissed at the time.

Bowles: I’ve heard enough.  Mr Worthing, unless you have any material evidence to support your case, I’ll move to rule.  Do you have further evidence to bring? YES/NO


Bowles: I find that Healthwatch did not breach its contract. I find further that given your attitude to your mother’s care, and your obvious indifference to her life, that the company operated in her best interests in administering palliative medication. Case Dismissed.

Digby: My Lord, Healthwatch Services’ contract requires three months’ notice to be given in writing by Mr Worthing to terminate the services.  This has yet to be received. H236SNV Nurse Mary was vandalised on February 20th, following the company’s notification to Mr Worthing of his mother’s death. Its video feed, transmitted at 12.43pm, clearly identified Mr Worthing wielding a sledge hammer, before the camera was destroyed.  Additionally, the morphine which was administered exceeded the allocated budget for medication, and in accordance with clause 1.15.3, has been added to the final charges.  Healthwatch Services estimates the final settlement due to be £18,278.56.  The company would like to make an ex gratia adjustment, as a gesture of sympathy for Mr Worthing’s bereavement and in view of his straitened circumstances, and is applying for £18,000 to be deducted from the estate of Mrs Geraldine Worthing, upon the sale of her assets. Is this approved? YES/NO


Worthing: £278.56 off! And I’m paying for the drugs that killed her. You’re all heart!

Digby: Empathic responses are now built into our algorithms, Mr Worthing, but a lawyer which was ‘all heart’ would not serve its purpose, I feel.


Why pot?

Asked why I teach pottery, for a short film documentary by students from the local college, I found myself recounting my two or three ‘stock’ anecdotes:

‘The potter digs up the lump of inert mud, and by creating a pot, imbues it with his creative energy and gives it a ‘tension’ that holds the energy. The viewer or recipient sees the pot, immediately or long after it was made, and receives that energy. In some way, the creative energy of the recipient may also be stimulated by the experience.’

‘The new student comes to the pottery with a view that they’re not going to be any good at it and they’re not ‘creative’. I say that I will show them that they can make pots without a lot of training and that everyone is creative, they just have to find it in themselves, and I can help with that. This works, and after a few sessions, the student feels proud and uplifted by achieving a creative goal.’

‘For me, art is a form of communication, and pottery is a very immediate and ‘visceral’ language, compared to, for instance, abstract painting. It’s all about form and texture, about a sensuous process. If the potter feels something, his pots should express that. Even if they don’t know it, the feeling people get from their favourite cup has been communicated by the maker.’

Ok, but when asked about what gives me joy in making, I admitted that I don’t really feel that much joy. I had to reconsider what I’d said about communication and transfer of creative energy in light of the fact that I’m not feeling that joy. I still want to rise to the task of teaching. I still want to receive the affirmation from the fulfilled student. I still want to see the growth and development in the people I teach, but I no longer feel (or at least temporarily do not feel) joy in making, and I need to know where that went.

There must be a wider context. You can’t assess one aspect of your life when it is so greatly influenced by the other parts. So what’s going on? What’s getting in the way? There are questions which need to be answered.

Why create art if you do not feel the drive to create? Why try to communicate through it if you haven’t got something meaningful to say? Who do you want to create for? What do they want from you? But so many artists just to ‘show up at the page’ and work through it, day by day in a devoted way. Dig deeper and find the meaning.

We’re living in a world where there’s such shit going on, where the level of destructive influence overwhelms that peace we associate with the creative process. It’s tempting to succumb to fear and loathing, to be paralysed by internalising the news, swallowing the effluent. It’s tempting to drown it in drink and TV and chores.

What takes priority in a life-stage where it’s more of a struggle to maintain currency and value? Work or making? Is it indulgent to slip into the pottery and ‘play’ when there’s ‘real’ work out there to be done? Surely these negative forces which surround our ‘practice’ can be used. Surely they can be channeled. Why does it feel like defeat at the hands of…?

Time to respond to the clarion call: Just get up, get out there, and make the fucking pot. Get off the fucking pot… Stop gazing at your navel and work at it!

Trump’s War

I thought I had tired of my fascination with the dystopian future presented by globalised internet businesses and their (mis) use of behavioural tracking data.  I thought I had begun to take Trumpism with a pinch of salt, and the world’s obsession with Fake News as a media defence storm in a White House china cup.  I accept that both these phenomena are modern ‘facts of life’, in a world where fact is being re-defined, but I couldn’t handle the stress and sleepless nights associated with either of them.  Something had to shift…

But then today I read a piece in the Sunday Times by Niall Ferguson, a Fellow of the Hoover Institution in Stanford, about cyber war and the impact of the WikiLeaks CIA stash being mainly true with embedded falsehoods or mainly false with embedded truths, depending on who was behind the leak.  It may have been that the CIA’s servers were hacked by Russians and the cache sent to Julian in his Ecuadorian Embassy bunker, in order to undermine the credibility of the CIA’s position vis a vis The Donald and Vlad.   Or more likely, it was stolen from within the agency, and sent by Himself, through his lackey, Nigel (who happened to meeting his mate Julian last week), to prove the point that democratic dark forces in the CIA have produced fake news which implicates him and Vlad in a conspiracy, rather than an actual Russian plot. Hell, perhaps it was Obama who leaked it!  The issue isn’t who did what to whom, or even what is true and what is false news. We’re living in a time where things become increasingly true as more people see and believe them – what could be more democratic? The search engines supposedly offer up the ‘most popular searches’ and as we all know, people only check page one of Google when they’re looking for truth.

The issue is where this new skirmish or frontal attack (depending on how you see it) will lead.  On one level, this is only emails being leaked. After all, who got hurt?  But it does highlight the international nature of cyber insecurity, and the fact that if an institution of national security like the CIA is so leaky, what about the organs of production and the economy which are not protected by cutting edge encryption systems.  What does this sort of cyber insecurity mean for day to day life?  Werner Hertzog’s film about the future of the internet, ‘Lo and Behold’, talks about just four days of internet collapse leading to multi-billion deaths through starvation, as the food distribution chain is now completely controlled online.  The power grid is also an online managed system in most countries, and so it goes on. Enough iconoclastic paranoia!

The article ends with an ominous statement: ‘Trump’s war has begun: it is the First Cyber War. Unlike other wars, it will have no last casualty, as it is a war without end. Get used to it. Or get rid of your computer.’

There’s a thought…


It is strange to be 20,000 words into a novel about the last week of August 1939, and Poland, and between bursts of creativity and isolated concentration, to be listening to and reading news which talks of Fascism, a coup, dictatorship and more. Two and a half minutes to midnight – closer than in 1939, I’m sure.  It is strange to drive through flood waters to the wildly windy castle ruins where the Irish defended themselves against the English, and to listen to news about hard borders and the dissolution of fragile unions which advocate freedom and human rights.  We’re all viscerally engaged, enraged, dumbfounded, disempowered, emasculated.  We don’t sleep for dreams of destruction.  We’re still shocked that others want something less fair and reasonable than our picture of democracy, and yet we, or people like us, have moved towards, if not chosen, this.  And those we chose have failed to get us to a place of greater safety.

You say he is the perfect answer to our needs.  How can we appreciate what it is to be human, humane, caring, inclusive, egalitarian without something so gross and easy to characterise to rebel against?  How can we stand up to this abuse without a groundswell, a tidal wave of reaction?  Most people seem to believe that public opinion will be enough to defend justice against the insidious manoeuvres which bring evil to power.  We’d like to believe that profit-driven enterprises with inestimable power to re-direct opinion are going to choose reason over profit and power, that we won’t be Facebooked into a corner, press-ganged into misunderstandings. Didn’t I read that Zuckerberg is considering running for election in 2024?

We can respond with peaceful protest, which might feel like punching sponge.  We can respond with violence, which will prompt that defensive aggression just waiting to be unleashed in the name of national security. We can invoke laws and treaties and pacts and watch them being dismantled and over-ruled, or just plain ignored. We can wait and hope. We can turn off the news and bury our heads in the sand, until these howling winds blow it all away, and we wake up in a different world, or we just don’t wake up at all.