Choice – the first casualty of Brexit


I read this article in the New York Times by Tony Blair avidly.

Let me state clearly my views about Blair: in my personal estimation he has the blood of thousands of innocent people on his hands. Along with George W Bush he cynically exploited public shock in the aftermath of a terrorist atrocity to pursue a fantasy of perpetual Anglo-American global dominance through trying to assume control over a region that contains most of the world’s oil supplies. In this he was aided and abetted by numerous corporate bodies and other powerful interests who all stood to reap untold rewards from this empire building project.

It failed. The carnage was immense. Vast numbers of people were killed. Millions of people were left with ruined lives, scarred forever thanks to what he set in motion. They will have to live with the horror of what happened to them for the rest of their lives. It is utterly appalling. I loathe everything he is and what he stands for.

What he helped orchestrate is unforgivable.

Tony Blair is a war criminal.

Tony Blair is a monster.

This was the view I held until last Thursday, prior to the results of the Brexit referendum.

Now, I agree with Tony Blair wholeheartedly.

He is absolutely right. I fully support his views. I need to do whatever I can to back Tony Blair and others like him.

There is no other choice.

I can hear you all shouting at me. I am over-reacting during a period of political turmoil and uncertainty. I have succumbed to the collective panic. I am being sensational. I am just courting controversy. I am trying to write an article that will go viral and raise my profile. I am playing some sort of angle for personal advantage. I am utterly cynical. I have lost my moral compass. I have no principles. I am a fool.

I fully accept that many people reading this will think those things of me. I am ok with that.

The internet is full of voices pandering to our emotions and cynically exploiting sensation for personal gain. We have become accustomed to it. Everything in the online world is taken with a pinch of salt – it’s all just marketing and branding really. Otherwise it’s just exaggerated scare-mongering put together by attention seekers. Why should this article be any different?

Give me the chance to try and explain how I arrived at this position. This is going to be a long post and the internet does not encourage you to read a 6,000 word article. But please stick with it. Give it a go. It will only take a few minutes. That’s hardly a great sacrifice is it? You’re obviously interested in the topic or you wouldn’t be reading this. Perhaps there might be something useful in here even if you disagree wholeheartedly with my position.

If, after reading this, you still think me a fool then at least you will have been entertained by the knowledge that I have spent a lot of time and effort demonstrating that fact to you.


Firstly let’s step back. Brexit – Britain voted to leave the European Union in a referendum last week.

Big deal. I mean it’s not as if they declared war. They are just going to take down that blue European flag. It’s yards, miles, inches and pints all the way from now on! There will be no more messy red tape and pointless bureaucracy from Brussels which is a great thing for the real economy. More money can be spent on hospitals and the other things that will make life in the UK fairer and better for everybody, particularly those who got a raw deal. Ok, so you’ll need to show your passport going in or out between the UK and Europe – a slight inconvenience. The same with trade. But all those other countries aren’t going to suddenly stop buying and selling things. They need the UK as much as the Britain needs them. They’re not going to shoot themselves in the foot just because Britain left the European Union.

Sure, the financial markets are messed up at the moment so that’s not good. The pound is low which is a bit of a worry for some and an opportunity for others. Some jobs will probably be lost so that’s also a bit of a worry. But other people tell us that new jobs will be created to replace them down the line. It’s nice to see all the politicians squirming around bickering among themselves. Serves all those Oxbridge cretins right. And it’s great to see the all big banks that caused the crash in 2008 freaking out like this. All those arrogant, overpaid London tossers living in their million-quid apartments who thought they were better than everybody else have been well and truly screwed over.

It feels good.

This is payback for all the years of austerity, all the cutbacks and all the injustices that have been visited on all the people who have suffered since 2008. Let’s see how the rich like it now!

But sooner or later things will come back to normal. It might be a bit messy for a few years but then it will settle down and things will go back to being the way they always were. I mean, really what’s the big deal about all this stuff? The UK has just taken back control of its future from a bunch of grey bureaucrats and meddling foreigners. Maybe it might even make society a better and fairer place in the long run?

You’re wrong.

So very wrong.

So very, very wrong.

We are in the very early stages of what could quickly turn into a massive global crisis. The ramifications of this has the potential to dwarf anything that has happened since the Second World War.

Your initial reaction will be that this is a big claim to make. This is just more sensationalist rubbish and scare mongering.

Let me try to explain my reasoning.


At the time of writing, the UK is leaderless. The Tories are fighting amongst themselves about who gets to be Prime Minister while Labour is imploding. UKIP are jubilant. The Scots are jumping up and down about a new referendum. Northern Ireland is frightened.

Half the British voting population are delighted to be free from the EU. They are overjoyed. People power has triumphed. This is real democracy in action not all that tedious Punch and Judy show rubbish you see in Westminster. England is great once more. Now money can be spent on practical things that really people need.

The other half of the population know that something big and potentially terrible has just happened. They are in still in shock, disturbed by the collective hysteria they see around them. But they haven’t really figured out exactly what has happened. The world has shifted under their feet somehow.

There are a number of various coping mechanisms that usually to arise in such situations.

After the initial shock fades, the dominant response will be to ruminate on the personal impact of Brexit. How does this new reality affect me? What about my job? My pension? My mortgage? My career? The future of my kids? These are all perfectly understandable and predictable responses.

Others will shrug their shoulders and switch off completely. This is just far too big and too complicated to bother with. They are going to crack some jokes and try to get on with things as normal and hope that all this crazy stuff will sort itself out soon without causing too much upset to their own personal arrangements. There are holidays and summer trips away coming up. Retreat into escapism will be the tactic of many as Brexit news-fatigue quickly sets in and the volume of information threatens to overwhelm their capacity to process it all.

On the flip side, others will become utterly obsessed about it and spend hours poring over every scrap of information they can find. They will get lost in a maze of details and confused by the sheer volume of frenzied voices screaming at them telling them contradictory things. They are desperately struggling to understand what has happened. They want an explanation and they can’t seem to put their finger on it. This is very frustrating and the longer this frustration goes on, the more appealing the loudest voices become. At least they are providing an explanation of some sort. Perhaps it might be worth considering?

Others will produce elaborate conspiracy theories that explain what is happening. They will develop complex arguments that weave together nuggets of information into something that appears to be a convincing theory. The basic premise underlying all these theories is that shadowy figures or organisations stood to gain from this chaos and have somehow deftly masterminded and manipulated everything and everybody in order to perpetrate a staggering power-grab. The fact that many powerful individuals and organisations will undoubtedly benefit from the crisis in the short-term only adds a layer of proof to their claims. Similarly, evidence of opportunism on the part of powerful groups and political figures as they stake claim to the new reality will be used to prove the theory that they must have been instrumental in the plot to create it. At the heart of all such theories is the idea that somebody or something is in control. There has to be a logical explanation for the situation we all find ourselves in now.

Many business leaders will lament the closing of borders and the possible impact on trade. They will fear the loss of their livelihood and the businesses they have built up over many years. They will be in shock and grieve for their losses or devote all their energies to saving what they can.

For many other people, they will see only opportunities. Freed from the shackles of the EU, they will preach new and exciting ways to make money – every crisis presents us with new challenges but innovation can overcome them. Disruption is the way forward. That will be all they will talk about in the coming weeks and months. They will be disturbingly optimistic, gleefully salivating over the untold riches to be gathered from the streets in the newly liberated Britain. Many others will latch on to the glimmer of hope they offer during this period of uncertainty.

Many, perhaps the majority, will just keep their heads down as the instinct for self-preservation takes over. These are turbulent times so it is wise to play it safe. They will spend their time constantly sizing up the situation and see which way the wind is blowing, ready to duck and dive as their workplaces start to reorganise to cope with the aftermath. Maybe they live in an area where everybody else voted to Leave – better not stand out from the crowd so it’s smart to keep your mouth shut and go with the flow. Determined to survive no matter what happens, it is response of this group that provides the illusion of inevitability to the final outcome of a crisis once it has been transformed into a historical narrative.

Later, a wave of reports will be produced by interest groups and industries analysing the impact of Brexit on them. These will swamp the news media. The airwaves will be filled with calls for the government to understand the uniquely special position in society every single interest group or industry has. They will all call for specific policies to be urgently introduced to protect them. The fact that it will not be possible to do this will fuel anger amongst those who are dependent upon them. This will help to create a widespread atmosphere of bitterness and rancour.


For a lot of people, this will be the limit of their horizons. They will see only what is in front of them and lose all sense of perspective. To quote another odious British politician, there is no such thing as society. We now live in an age of pure individualism. Narcissism is rampant. Celebrity culture has triumphed. Money is the only measure of success. Social media has simultaneously connected and isolated us like never before. All the old fashioned jobs have all gone to China so we all need to work smarter not harder. Innovation and technology are the way forward so we all need to embrace them without question. Clichés and buzzwords abound. The shady practices of the financial services sector and the big corporates are the dark side of this new world. We don’t like that. Neo-liberalism unsettles our innate human sense of justice and fairness.

Lots of people in the UK got a raw deal in this new global order. Older people who couldn’t cope with technological change were left far behind. Similarly, areas of traditional manufacturing industry were devastated during the 1980s as Thatcher dismantled everything in a doomed attempt to reverse the decline of British importance as Britain struggled to reconcile itself to the loss of Imperial power. A small army of Filofax wielding crooks in red braces divvied up the proceeds and left social carnage in their wake. Afterwards, all the national eggs were put into the one London basket as the financial services sector became more and more important.

The excessive displays of arrogant bankers provided us with role models to either emulate or despise.

Understandable anger and resentment built up as inequality grew and significant sections of society were left further and further behind. This was bad enough before 2008, but the crash imposed cutbacks and austerity on those who could least afford to cope with it. Impotent rage against those who held power grew in many of these areas.

Politicians were increasingly viewed with complete cynicism. They were opportunists and liars. The news showed us how they fiddled expenses and engaged in freakishly bizarre sexual activities. Politicians are all just a bunch of corrupt and sleazy wierdos. They played their games while the poor were forced to endure more and more cuts to their basic standard of living and you couldn’t trust anything these pathological political liars said or did. They preached one thing in opposition but went back on their word as soon as they took office. It didn’t matter what party they were from – they are all the same and nothing ever changes. There was no point in voting. Why bother?

During this period of prolonged economic collapse and uncertainty, people searched for a concept or a big idea that provided some degree of comfort to them. Our age is utterly cynical. We believe in nothing. The ultimate symbol of this age of individual success, money, offers no solace when you have none. Then it produces only envy.

Neo-liberalism has discredited everything apart from unfettered capitalism, which disproportionately benefits those who have lots of money already. People searched for something that gave them hope as they silently raged against all the rich and powerful who got away with it.


Nationalism provided hope.

Nationalism would somehow reassert control over what had become a very confusing and frightening world for many on the margins. It was no mere coincidence that the Leave side kept talking about taking back control. For many of their supporters it meant not only taking back the power to make decisions in British interests, but also to reassert control over a society that had alienated them completely.


With some terrible exceptions, the continent of Europe has been free of conflicts between nations since the Second World War.

It appeared that nationalism had been tamed and controlled. It had been consigned to the football terraces or to that ultimate spectacle of camp, the Eurovision song contest.

We have forgotten just how destructive it can be.

There are no boundaries with nationalism.

There are no limits.

None whatsoever.

Once you unleash the forces of nationalism, it corrupts everything it touches. It brutally simplifies all situations. Nationalism allows no grey areas. There are no nuances.

Nationalism transforms everything into a simple Them and Us situation. If you are not one of Us, you must be one of Them.  If the crisis is large enough, or emotions run high enough, often They become less human than Us. The normal rules no longer apply. As They are a threat to everything we stand for then any action we take, no matter how extreme, is completely justified.

Nationalism is a form of virulent racism that blinkers how we see the world. Difference is everywhere. Categories of superiority and inferiority are unconsciously internalised and are deeply embedded in all aspects of culture and discourse.

So the Brexit side won. The forces of English nationalism triumphed. They have a new spring in their step. Now they will seek to implement their vision of a Britain outside the European Union.

Unfortunately, forty-plus years of membership of the EU has meant that it is impossible to make a clean break. Everything is interconnected to everything else in our globalised world so it is impossible to take back control unless you are willing to turn the UK into a Europeanised North Korea. Thinking that you can turn the clock back to 1973 and expect that everything will stay the same, or get better, is utter fantasy.

Again, because everything is so interconnected and woven together in the increasingly complex fabric that holds society together, it is impossible to predict the results of a sudden dramatic shock to the system. All sorts of unpredictable consequences will arise that will produce ripple effects of their own. These mini-shock waves will then produce unanticipated changes in other variables. And so on. The cumulative effect will be to produce a palpable sense of society being in a state of flux. Nothing is settled, the boundaries are in the process of being redrawn and our sense of control has been lost. There will be widespread anxiety during this process because it is bewildering. This will create and sustain a prolonged climate of anxiety and all pervasive dread.

As has already become very evident, the Leave side made promises that they knew to be utterly false. Lies. They promised that by voting Leave there would be more money for healthcare and less immigrants coming to Britain. But the costs of implementing these policies are just too high. These promises cannot be kept unless the North Korean option is pursued.

Those who voted Leave solely based on these promises will be heavily disillusioned. Their support for the Leave agenda will melt away. That is because this section of the vote made a choice that they thought would produce a better society or they stood to gain personally. Essentially they sincerely believed that they were doing the right thing by voting Leave. They are also in a state of shock, stunned by the fact that they have been duped by yet another group of lying politicians. This group of people will become increasingly angry and bitter.

The other main group who voted to Leave based their decision based on the idea of recreating British/English greatness and/or screwing over the establishment. Members of this group will be far less inclined to reappraise their decision. Their vote was essentially based around deep seated negative emotions. The euphoria of victory and being part of a marginalised group that has taken control for the very first time will be intoxicating. The fear or hatred that others will show towards them will only serve to make them feel stronger. In a society undergoing a traumatic shock the old rules no longer apply to those who think that power has shifted into their hands. It is from this group that the racist attacks reported will probably have come from. This group of voters will be the most resistant to coming to terms with the fact that they have been duped. In many cases, they will simply not care. This new situation is exciting and they will search out new opportunities for conflict in order to experience the rush of power once again. Any attempt to change the referendum result will only increase their sense of anger.

Some who voted Leave will have been motivated to do so because they thought it would further a very different political agenda. In a brilliant leap of counter-intuitive cunning, they will have thought that by aligning themselves with the forces of nationalism they could exploit the forces of the radical right to drive social and political change in the opposite direction. In full knowledge that the promises offered were utterly fanciful, they assumed that they could at one stroke discredit the nationalists. Then opportunities would arise to exploit the resulting disillusionment of the Leave voters. In the aftermath, the sheeple would have an epiphany and finally wake up and discover where their best interests truly lay. Thus, they conclude, it will be possible to create a fairer and more just society once it has been freed from the stifling control of undemocratic elites in Westminster and Brussels. This group are blinded by their own ideology and worldview. They will be unable to grasp the fact that their contorted scheming has helped create this crisis. Instead, they will rail against the sheer stupidity of the population who cannot see the better world that they were trying to create for them.

At the same time, the Remain voters will start to feel increasingly angry. They will rage against all those who voted Leave. In the tense pressure cooker of a society in transition, everybody who voted Leave will become an Other. They will all be transformed into racist bigots or deranged ultra-right wing lunatics. The sheer number of Leave voters will produce a sense that they had been blind for years about the uniquely thuggish nature of British society. Disgust and revulsion towards the group who voted Leave, alongside their grief over their personal losses, will produce bitterness and anger.


When politicians and commentators use bland terms like polarisation what they really mean is that society has become a powder-keg ready to explode. Anger is everywhere. Defusing all this rage is a very difficult and complex process that requires calm and a willingness to compromise with your bitterest opponent.

That is because the consequences of not defusing all that anger are very dangerous indeed.

Any attempt to not follow the democratically expressed will of the British people to leave the European Union is in danger of providing the one spark that can destroy everything.

If the anger reaches boiling point then a potential cascade effect occurs. All options disappear. If calm vanishes then panic will rush in to fill the vacuum. Panic will lead to increased economic turmoil, leading to even more political and social chaos. This has the potential to add fuel to the smouldering fires of barely suppressed fury. These will inevitably burst into a conflagration. Violence will erupt. Under these circumstances, the risk of this spreading is very high. If it does then the authorities will struggle to contain it. In these circumstances, their only priority will be to reassert order and control over an unruly and resentful population. If the violence grows too large the normal rules will be dispensed with and some form of mild quasi-authoritarian rule will have to be imposed, at least on a temporary basis to deal with particularly troubled regions. This will only serve intensify the mood of national crisis and will sap the energy of political leaders who will struggle to negotiate with all the other European leaders and institutions from a position of strength.

Fear will then start to spread to other countries as they quickly scramble to protect themselves from what appears to be utter chaos in Britain. With a weak and distracted British leadership trying to desperately cope with social turmoil at home there will be no choice but to largely accept conditions imposed by the EU and other countries. Foreign governments will be keen to cut some sort of a deal quickly in order to limit the damage to their own economies and societies. The actual details of the deal won’t really matter. The ultimate result will be wounded howls of betrayal from all sides in Britain. Large numbers of people in a highly emotionally charged state will react angrily to the fact that foreigners have forced them into signing a deal that impoverishes them. The cry of treason will be heard.

In these circumstances, the only way to assert long term control over a deeply wounded and traumatised population will be through nationalism. Political parties will have no choice but to embrace policies and ideas they once vehemently opposed. All the latent anger in society will be directed towards outsiders and foreigners. They are the ones who conspired against Britain and punished it for voting the wrong way. The result will be a sudden lurch to the right in mainstream social attitudes. Nationalism will have become normalised. As time passes, it will seep into every pore of society. What it means to be British or English will be very narrowly defined and allow for no ambiguities. Tolerance and openness will slowly seep away because they pose a threat to the new national identity being constructed. Even if many do not privately believe in this new ideology, the peer pressure to conform and outwardly express such attitudes will all operate to maintain and perpetuate the façade of a unified nation standing alone in the face of adversity. Cultural values will now be defined in opposition to outsiders. British exceptionalism will be stressed. Foreign countries and their populations will be defined using terms that present them as untrustworthy rivals or enemies.

Add to this the fury in Scotland and their demand for an immediate independence referendum. This is a perfectly understandable reaction on the part of many in that region. After all, why should they go down with the sinking ship? This adds to the overall pressure and sense of crisis as the anger builds and builds. Anger will be directed towards the distant Westminster elites who are holding them back from their national destiny. Scottish nationalism will deepen and intensify. England will become the enemy and in the terrifying logic of nationalism, Scotland will, in turn, become England’s enemy. Compromise completely disappears and bitterness takes root.

If Scotland is frightening, Northern Ireland is terrifying. Despite almost 20 years of peace, deep divisions lie at the heart of this society, still deeply traumatised by the collective memory of bloodshed. It would not take much to tip this society over into war once more. The wounds are still very raw.

Then we have the Republic of Ireland, my own country. In theory what happens to the UK should not affect us to the same degree. But we are tied too closely together to fully escape being dragged into the maelstrom. We will find ourselves in the same terrible position as the Remain supporters do now, except we will be incandescent with rage. This had nothing to do with us whatsoever! The British did this to themselves! Why should we go down with them? People died so that we could have our freedom! It’s just not fair.

The Republic has its own landmine to contend with; the politically poisonous issue of abortion. Right now the nod-and-a-wink compromise is that pregnant women travel to the UK in order to get an abortion because it is constitutionally prohibited in Ireland. This touches on the two core issues of the Leave campaign: travel to the UK and the health service.  You can draw your own logical conclusions from that.

Irish Republicans, buoyed by the centenary commemorations of the Blood Sacrifice that was the 1916 Easter Rebellion, will see this as an opportunity to complete the job of reclaiming Northern Ireland. After all, they will cry, England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity. This rhetoric will only stoke fears amongst the Loyalists of Northern Ireland. Doomsday scenarios of ethnic cleansing will grip their imaginations. They will feel that they are on the cusp of being betrayed by Westminster and abandoned to their fate as a weakened Britain falls to pieces. They will therefore feel that they must lash out and assert their power before they are overwhelmed by events. In another horrible coincidence, 2016 is also the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, an integral part of the Loyalist foundation myth. They proudly commemorate the slaughter of their ancestors in defence of Britain during the First World War, a stark contrast to the treasonous back-stabbling Easter Rebellion that their enemies perpetrated. A further complicating factor is the imminent arrival of Marching Season in July, a prolonged period of volatility and violence at the best of times.

Events in Gibraltar or the Falklands/Malvinas could similarly lead to instances of conflict and a wounding of British national pride.

Tensions like these all darken the mood and push everybody to extremes.

That is why the Remain side needs to get over its loss quickly. It needs to accept the referendum outcome and salvage what remains of social solidarity. Calm must prevail. Everybody needs to take a deep breath and somehow build bridges that will heal divisions.

We in Ireland need to do the same. We need to accept what has happened and try to act together in order to salvage what we can.

It’s not fair. I know that.

But there is no other choice.


Those who live in other European countries have their part to play in how the crisis unfolds.  The confusion about what Brexit will mean to those who live in the 27 other countries of the EU adds even more fuel to this very volatile situation. Just as in the UK, millions of people will be frightened about how Brexit will impact upon their jobs and futures. They can see more cutbacks on the horizon as the markets go crazy. A period of recession and despair will loom large in their imaginations. They will be afraid. Events are beginning to get out of control. Can we really limit the damage being done to us by Brexit?

Fear will quickly turn to anger as economic prospects decline and the future looks increasingly bleak. National governments and the EU institutions will be under pressure to cut a quick deal with Britain just to cauterise the gaping wound and limit the damage.

People in Europe will be angered by the kid-gloves treatment that Britain appears to be receiving. We will understand that things appear to be going badly there, but that is still no excuse for giving them too many concessions while we get nothing but cutbacks in return. After all, Britain voted for this. Now they must accept the consequences.

How could the British have done this to us? How could they have been so selfish and arrogant to think that they could stick two-fingers up to the rest of us and just walk away?

Bastards, the whole lot of them.

To control this growing public outrage European governments be forced to direct it where it will do least damage. Otherwise the potential for social turmoil throughout Europe will grow. They will have no choice but to play their own nationalist cards. They will have no other option but to point towards Britain and scream that the inhabitants of that island are to blame for everything.

And most people will believe them because it appears to make perfect sense.

Over time, other European countries will lurch to the right as nationalism becomes increasingly normalised. We will need to protect whatever remains of our jobs and economies so we must look after our own interests first. Fear and insecurity will become the norm and in response we will accept less accountability from our national governments and the European institutions. The alternative is complete chaos.

The collapse of the European Union or the Euro would unleash hell on earth if the forces of nationalism rush in to fill the vacuum.

We all need to prevent this from happening at all costs. Calm needs to prevail. The British are not our enemies. We need to help them to salvage their society so that they can retain their dignity and national pride. We need to accept the new situation and work together to rebuild. There must be a functioning civil society left if all the inequalities and festering social injustices that lie at the root cause of this crisis are to be addressed. The rest of us living in the EU need to forgive and forget, just as the British must learn to heal their own internal divisions make unpalatable compromises with their political opponents. They are a proud country with a long history that is an integral part of their psyches. The sudden and irreversible decline in their global status and power will be a bitter pill for them to swallow. As a nation they will grieve for this loss. We need to understand that.

Furthermore, Donald Trump needs to be defeated by a large margin in a scrupulously fair presidential election. The views of his supporters must be respectfully disagreed with. Then Trump needs to become a figure of gentle ridicule and mockery before fading into absolute obscurity.

In this crisis it is essential that democratic values and the rule of law survive intact. With those in place it is possible to rebuild.

Without them, we have entered a very dark place indeed.


So I’ve set out my stall and tried as best I can to explain my reasoning. I fully admit that much of this is based on speculation and I outline a scenario that I hope and pray will never happen. This is all based on my own reading of events and my interpretation of human nature and the dynamics of crisis situations. But there are a myriad of other variables that can intervene to change predicted outcomes. These variables are utterly impossible to account for. Predicting the future in such circumstances is impossible for anybody. Everybody is just guessing.

On a more positive note, the world has emerged intact after calmly dealing with far more serious crises. The Cuban Missile Crisis, the Collapse of the Berlin Wall and the fall of the USSR were terrifying moments in recent history. Yet we emerged from them bruised but largely intact.

So I will ask you to assess what I’ve written. Look for gaps in my logic. There must be some. After all this is just my interpretation of one possible outcome based on sketchy information during the early stages of a fast moving and evolving situation. I will probably have missed something. Or maybe I have misread everything completely. But it is the logical progression of what may happen once options are narrowed.

Perhaps your scepticism is due to your proximity and familiarity with the stable world that has just passed. Anarchy, martial law and violence were something that belong to thinly-plotted Hollywood action movies or on TV news reports from some distant country. In the twenty-first century, it is simply inconceivable that such things could happen in a highly developed and tolerant society.  Utterly impossible. Is it?

Let me ask you a question. Take a deep breath and use all your common sense, instincts, life experience and all your critical skills before you answer this. Think long and hard for yourself rather than being swept along by the background noise that feeds the emotional roller-coaster of everyday life.

Can you tell me that something like the scenario outlined above coming to pass is completely out of the question?

If so, why?

If there is even the remotest possibility that a fraction of what I have outlined might come to pass then that should jolt you.

Try to think clearly for yourself. Use your brain. Do not be somebody who gets swept along by the whirlwind of instant outrage and shrill voices. Think.

I thought long and hard before writing this article. This is my own way of coping during this time. After all to write about panic and sketch out bleak apocalyptic futures during a time of crisis runs the danger of actually intensifying the panic I am trying to calm. It created a moral dilemma for me that I justified by reasoning that the only people who are likely to have such a reaction are the kinds of people that we all need if we are to avert chaos. To use a cliché, if you aren’t part of the solution then you’re part of the problem. If you’re part of the problem you’ll just fling abuse at me in the comments section below.

But how can I, a mere powerless individual, do anything to avert this collective sleepwalking? It’s all too much.

To that I answer; this crisis was caused by the actions of millions of people who set a train of events in motion that they did not fully understand.

This crisis will only be stopped by the actions of millions of people who collectively act together in order to maintain calm.

To further assuage my moral dilemma, I will therefore make some very simple suggestions for you to think about. Come up with something better yourself – I certainly don’t have all the answers.

Remain calm. Don’t give into anger and bitterness. If you lash out in anger then the middle ground disappears and options evaporate. An angry reaction now will defines all the future choices you have left.

A simple anaolgy: Your boss is being a pain. You’ve had enough. This is a terrible place to work! You’d be able to find a better job in an instant! You jump up tell him to stick it and walk out the door. That felt good. All the simmering resentment you felt towards your obnoxious boss has been released in a single burst of anger. Power momentarily shifted into your hands. You are also chuckling to yourself about how bad your boss will look to the top management. Ultimately, of course the company will survive. Or it might not. But that will not matter to you anymore. The chain of events you have set in motion through acting out of anger now takes on a momentum of its own. You are now unemployed. How are you going to pay the rent? How are you going to buy food? You need to live. And it’s suddenly very scary. Everything feels different now. But because of your anger you can’t go back. Your old job is gone. This is the new reality. And the really terrible thing was that your boss really was a pain. He asked you to do stupid things. You were in the right. Your boss was in the wrong a lot of the time. But none of that matters now. You are in a new situation. You veer between optimism and dread because everything has changed. It’s confusing. But options have been closed off. Choices are stark. Now you need a job – any job is better than nothing. You begin to panic. Your entire future is in jeopardy because of that single event. You start lament all the things you once took for granted in the recent past. The old job was bad but at least you knew where you stood. There were lots of other important issues you cared about back when you were in your job; the environment, education, poverty, the injustice in the developing world. All these things mattered to you and you felt strongly about them. But now you don’t have time to think about them. Everything is uncertain and your only concern is to find a job. It’s been a long time since you were out looking for a job. You didn’t expect things to be so tough. Everything is different now and it’s hard to adjust. You start thinking that your old job wasn’t all bad. There were good things to working there. Maybe if you’d stayed calm you could have figured out some way to make things better in your old job. You get angry with yourself and lose focus on what’s important. People exploit your vulnerability because they know that you have no options. You have burned your bridges. You have no choice except to accept the sweatshop conditions on offer in the only job you can find. This is the reality. That single event has changed your life forever. But you cannot be bitter or angry about it because that will lead you nowhere. You need to stay calm and think things through. If you start beating yourself up about how stupid you’ve been you’ll drive yourself crazy. You’ll get distracted by stuff that doesn’t really matter. Instead you need to calmly figure out how to improve this situation and build a better future for yourself, your family and all the other issues you cared about.

A second referendum is not going to happen because there is a new reality now. There is no going back.

Do not overreact to those who disagree with you – we will need to work with them in the future. If you act in anger you are not only closing off your options but theirs also. They will have no choice but to respond to your anger with anger of their own and positions become more and more extreme. If somebody is pushing your buttons or provoking you, just walk away. Let it go. Many people will be suffering from shock – they will need time and sympathy to come to terms with the new situation they find themselves in.

Accept what has happened and try to do something positive. This is part of the new mindset we all need to develop in response to what has happened. It’s better than nothing. Reconciling yourself to new alliances will be more difficult but it must also be done. We need to return to a world where options and choice are open to us again. Once this happens it will be possible to address the festering injustices that underlay how the new reality came into being.

If we succeed, history will forget us all. In the years to come the stories and drama will all revolve around Cameron, Farage, Johnson, Merkel and all the other main actors. There will be heroes and villains. That much is inevitable. We will forever remain anonymous bit-players in a vast historical drama.

At least this way you get to play some tiny part, however insignificant, in influencing how the drama ends.

In fifty or a hundred years time lets hope that “2016” or “Brexit” will be the answer given to some light-hearted trivia question on the equivalent of whatever passes for a daytime TV game show in the future.

This is why I am forced to fully agree with what the murderous war criminal Tony Blair says in the article I mentioned at the beginning. If I can agree with him on this one specific issue then the forces holding back the rush pressing us all forwards towards a less-democratic world are strengthened ever so slightly. Later, when calm returns, I will have the luxury of being able to criticise him for the horrors he unleashed. But for now, as Blair states:

“The center must regain its political traction, rediscover its capacity to analyze the problems we all face and find solutions that rise above the populist anger. If we do not succeed in beating back the far left and far right before they take the nations of Europe on this reckless experiment, it will end the way such rash action always does in history: at best, in disillusion; at worst, in rancorous division. The center must hold.”

There are no other choices. There are no other options. The crisis has removed all nuance. We live in a time of stark binary choices. Unpleasant alliances must be made with those we once disagreed with. We all need to adapt quickly and accept the new reality in order to work positively for the future.

There is no alternative.

If you still think me a fool after reading this, so be it.


The Brexit Power Vacuum

unionjacklampThe globe is undergoing a seismic shock at the moment. As I wrote previously, the world has changed utterly. Much of the UK population seem to be exhibiting signs of collective trauma – they are angry, bewildered and fearful about the future. All the old certainties have disappeared overnight.

At the same time you have a political power vacuum as both the main British parties have gone into complete meltdown.

British politicians and parties are more concerned about protecting their careers and maximising their electoral success. They have completely lost sight of the big picture.

Events are slipping away from them. Instead, it’s business as usual for political figures who do not really appeared to have grasped that the world has shifted under their feet.

This is an extremely dangerous time.

Right now, the panic is contained. But this situation may not last for long. The continuing uncertainty about the future direction of the UK is absolutely toxic. Time is not on the UK’s side. Big decisions need to be made and policies formed immediately.

The longer this British power vacuum lasts, the greater the panic it may produce. Once it reaches a certain point then other countries and institutions will be forced into adopting positions in order to protect their own interests. All other options will have been removed from the table.

This will not only be bad for Britain but intervention like this will undermine the democratic values of the European Union. We all need those to survive intact after this crisis has passed.

For other governments and institutions, the immediate need to deal with the crisis will trump any consideration about the potential long term consequences of decisions made in haste.

In the middle of a massive crisis situation like this the horizon shrinks. Everything is devoted to surviving today. Tomorrow is an eternity away. Next year does not even exist.

Right now there is a window where there is the ability to calm things down. Cool heads need to prevail. The UK needs to produce a credible leader fast and formulate some sort of policy. Right now. It needs to strike a deal with the EU and bring a degree of certainty to the whole Brexit aftermath. If it does this soon it will retain some ability to control events and salvage something from this mess.

The longer the period of uncertainty goes on, the more corrosive it will become and the weaker the UK’s position will be.

If the UK does not act quickly then it will have no choice but to accept whatever policies are dictated to it by others.

That would be the worst possible outcome from all the bad options available.

Brexit – the EU response


Europe changed last Thursday.

It doesn’t matter that the result was very close.

It doesn’t matter that Cameron has resigned or who gets his job next. The Machiavellian schemes of Tory politicians are no longer of any consequence. Ditto the Labour party meltdown.

It doesn’t matter if millions of British people sign petitions, if the referendum is run again, or not adopted by the British Parliament.

It doesn’t matter if the UK breaks up or if Scotland gains independence.

For the rest of the world, what happens next to Britain is now utterly irrelevant.

It is just local news.

Right now the only thing that matters is shoring up the Euro and preventing another currency crisis. Protecting the interests of the 338 million people in a very bruised and battered Eurozone area from the ripple effects of Brexit is the only priority.

That’s it.

Every other European country will have no choice but to adopt policies that will do just that. The dynamics of the situation allow for no other alternative. And if that means giving Britain a very raw deal then they will have no hesitation is doing that. Protecting their own national interests is all that matters for the rest of the world now.

Britain has long defined itself as a major power and for much of history it skilfully used divide and rule tactics, playing one country off another, in order to maximise its influence over the various European powers.

That game is done.

Every Eurozone country has an interest in stopping contagion and preventing the Brexit result from causing another currency crisis. The sense of barely suppressed panic is palpable. There is real fear throughout the rest of the EU, and beyond, about what might happen next.

In this situation, firm leadership will be demanded and expected from national leaders and the various European institutions.

Real power will be wielded with a firm hand without the slightest compunction. There is no other option.

The details can be tidied up by lawyers at some later date.

Britain can howl with protest and complain bitterly about the unfairness of its treatment. It can call for more time to sort everything out in advance of negotiations and get a new prime minister. The Daily Mail can rant all it wants about foreigners trying to destroy the UK.

Nobody’s listening. Nobody cares.

Right now, Britain has no power, no friends and no influence. Zero.

The economic, physical and psychological trauma will be immense. Over time, of course, things will settle down. The crisis will play itself out and everybody will adjust to the new reality. Trade deals will be struck and geographical proximity means that it is in no one’s best interests to prolong the pain for any longer than necessary. Britain is too big and too important to ignore in the long term.

But right now for the EU and the Eurozone, it is a matter of existential survival. The pressing issue of reform and the many, many dismal failures of the EU that contributed to this crisis are irrelevant at this point in time.

In order to stave off disaster, the EU and the Eurozone countries have no choice but to be seen to be strong, decisive and united in the face of this crisis.

Anything less would make them appear weak and vulnerable. They are not going to let that happen.


The Moskvich Automobile Factory (Автомоскбиц)


Cars are powerful symbols of progress and modernity. As well as symbolising personal freedom and choice for individuals, they also conveyed an aura of industrial sophistication, national pride and power for countries that were able to produce them. In the Soviet context, the crash industrialisation of the 1930s and the demands of war production during the 1940s meant that making automobiles for ordinary people was not a priority. Cars were reserved for important officials, not mere mortals.


That all changed after the death of Stalin in 1953. People were sick of unrelenting terror and exhausted by hard-work and violence. They wanted to see the tangible results of all the sacrifice, death and destruction that had occurred over the past two decades. The idea of scrimping, saving and making-do in order to help build some glorious communist future had lost its appeal to a new generation. People wanted the good things in life and they wanted them now. This became all the more evident as consumer culture took off in the West and began to slowly seep in through the cracks of the Iron Curtain. Thus car production served as a way to demonstrate that life was getting better and it was capable of competing with the shiny wonders being churned out in the West.


As part of the reparations after the Second World War, much of the Opel factory and machinery was dismantled and taken back to the USSR where it was used to update the MZMA car that had been turning out copies of Ford Model A cars and vans since 1929. The new German equipment was used to update the line and the factory soon began to turn out rebranded copies of 1930s Opel Kadett’s, now called the Moskvich 400, for the Soviet market. From this a new line of models evolved during the next four decades of the USSR’s existence. Moskvich cars were small, rugged and cheap, designed for the average respectable Soviet citizen who didn’t rock the boat. In a society where money had little meaning (because the dysfunctional Soviet planned economy was incapable of producing things people actually wanted, there was nothing much to buy in the shops) the possession of consumer goods signified your importance and status in Soviet society. It showed that you were well connected and had influence. Ever since they were invented, cars have always been a very public way of showing off to the neighbours.

The book has a traditional company photobook format: it’s designed to showcase the product, the modern, efficient factory and the good care it takes of its employees. Published by the Ministry of Automobile Production, the cover of red leatherette with the company logo stamped into it is designed to impress. As part of a corporate rebranding exercise in the late 1960s, the MZMA name was ditched and an equally awful name chosen – AZLK (Avtomobilny Zavod imeni Leninskogo Komsomola or Leninist Communist Youth League Automobile Factory). Sadly the rest of the book design does not do such a good job. Using randomly chosen bright primary colours as page borders and for text printed over the photographs doesn’t work very well. The word kitsch springs to mind. I’m tempted to suggest that these represent the different colours the car was available in but somehow I don’t think so. The cars depicted appear to be the final model produced, the Moskvich 412, which rolled out of the Moscow factory between 1967 and 1976 before production was transferred to the huge IZHMASH weapons and motor manufacturing plant. No details of the photographers or even the date of publication is given but a photo caption proudly states that the 16 of August 1974 saw the 2 millionth Moskvich produced.


Beginning with a lineup of the different models produced over the years, the book moves into the factory itself. Here we see industrious workers and supervisors presiding over all aspects of the production within a bilious green environment. Once we move into the assembly line the colour palette lightens, helped by the addition of brightly coloured car bodies that serve the same purpose as the strategically placed figure in the red jacket used by postcard photographers of old. Like most company photobooks, the shop floor in such imagery is remarkably spotless; not a hint of clutter or rubbish that might hint at problems. The vastness of the factory is continually emphasised in the images to show the power and might of this industrial powerhouse. Everything is neat, tidy and clinically efficient and many of the images are remarkable for the absence of people in them, all adding to the hi-tech feeling the book tries to convey. Once the final cars roll off the line, a disapproving image of Lenin glowers down from above, undoubtedly dismayed at the sight of such consumerist frippery.



Just like corporate propaganda in the capitalist world, it’s important in such photobooks to have a section showing how well the company looks after it’s loyal workers. Again, we see interior shots of bright, clean and modern dining areas, corridors, classrooms full of eager young workers ready to do their bit for the glory of socialism. A couple of pages later we get to the middle management who look a decidedly more serious bunch, shown doing serious party political work that culminates in a trip to the war memorial to lay a wreath. Images of swimming pools, sports facilities, kindergartens and toy Moskvich pedal cars rolling off the production line are all used to show that a Soviet company, unlike those in the West, really cares about it’s employees.


The 1970s were a pretty miserable decade for design all round but Soviet products of that era are particularly crude. Everything from cameras to cars became clunky, blocky objects as if they’d been designed by a kid in a kindergarten using crayons. In fairness, the Moskvich wasn’t as ugly as the Lada which really just looked like a cavity block on wheels. But the wider point is that any attempt at making an object look aesthetically pleasing disappeared. In part this was down to the creeping malaise that took hold in the USSR during the Brezhnev era. Everybody just stopped caring during this prolonged period of economic and social stagnation. This book with its brightly coloured borders, full of images of cleanliness and order tries hard to project an aura of success at a time when the whole system was slowly rotting away from the inside.

P.S. The AZLK company went bust following the collapse of the USSR and the factory was abandoned. Some urbex photos of the site can be found here.


Photomontage and Religion during the 1930s – the J.O.C.


As part of the general malaise of the 1930s (a decade characterised by uncertainty, political extremism and widespread unemployment) mass political movements sprang up on both the left and right throughout Europe. During periods of social flux there is always an increased tendency for people to affiliate themselves with groups that provide mutual support and direction when confronted by an uncertain environment. But the mass political movements of the 1930s did not emerge in a vacuum; they adopted tried and tested strategies to recruit and bind a diverse range of people to their cause. Indeed, many of the outward rituals, processions and insignia of mass political movements copied the strategies successfully used by the Christian church for thousands of years. This made sense; people would have been familiar and comfortable with such religious symbolism, rituals and concepts due to the high rate of religious observance in Europe during this time. Not to mention the fact that European society is built upon countless references to Christian doctrine that has shaped its evolution. Therefore, it made sense to exploit this familiarity by creating your own versions of the symbols, rituals, processions, martyrs, mass-gatherings, saintly figures and messiahs that people were already comfortable with. All the mass political movements of the 1930s privileged concepts such as discipline, order and the collective good. Individualism was regarded as anathema to their political philosophies. In essence what you saw at this time was the emergence of politics-as-religion. But instead of putting your faith in God in heaven, you were expected to place your trust in the party and the leader who was destined to lead society to a happy future.

Jocistes 1937

But this blurring of the boundaries and the growth of politics-as-religion was also reflected in new structures emerging from within the Catholic church. Early in the twentieth century, a Belgian Catholic priest, Joseph Cardijn, had founded a movement called the Jeunesse Ouvrière Chrétienne, which translates as the Young Christian Workers (or JOC for short with members known as Jocistes). This organisation has a distinctly socialist slant to it, combining trade union and labour activism with ideas of social-justice, alongside Catholic religious teaching. As such, it was remarkably popular and received official Papal blessing in the mid 1920s, before quickly expanding to other countries and is still in existence today. In part, the growth of this organisation can be regarded as the church responding to the changing priorities of those living in a modern, industrial world. Previously, social values based on outward respectability ensured automatic compliance. Deference to authority and outward conformity to religious dogma were the norm in societies heavily influenced by Catholic doctrine. But this was all changing. Social trauma and widespread loss of faith after the horrors of the First World War, industrialisation, urban alienation, mass unemployment and political turmoil all meant that change was in the air. Young people were looking for meaning and purpose. Thus the JOC can be regarded as an attempt to recapture the dissatisfied youth of the 1930s who were slowly drifting out of the orbit of the traditional Catholic church. Here, the anxieties and concerns of the young were framed in a way that was made compatible with Catholic doctrine and an organisational structure created to give meaning and certainty to individuals during a period of uncertainty.

Jocistes 1937

The first publication, Une Date Dans l’Histoire Ouvriere, was published in 1937. This booklet celebrates the tenth anniversary of the founding of the French branch of the JOC, which saw a mass gathering of 85,000 members in Paris on 18 July of that year. Our familiarity with the mass-rallies of the left and right that occurred during that decade does resonate when looking at these photographs. Lines of uniformed Jocistes, banners and flags being carried, torchlit processions, rows of people standing to attention in stadiums immedately evokes how political ovements of the period presented themselves. Discipline and order was in the air. Individualism is bad. And fun is most definitely not part of the equation. The narrative structure of the book is fairly straightforward: photographs show members at work, then travelling to Paris from all over France, congregating for the mass rally and being addressed by their leaders. This is all designed to showcase the great strides the movement has made in just ten years. Design wise, this publication reflects the influence of this period. There are some nice design touches and the photomontage works well to provide some drama to what could otherwise be a rather static visual narrative.


Entitled Croisade Ouvriere (The Workers Crusade) this second softcover magazine is a very interesting publication produced by the JOC two years later. This time it commemorates a mass gathering/pilgrimage they made to Rome in 1939. Obviously, that was a momentous year for Europe and the storm clouds had been gathering for some time and the date on the back cover of the book is September of that year, the same month that Germany invaded Poland and World War 2 began in Europe. As can be imagined, peace is an recurring theme of the book. As is solidarity and the unity of mankind, another hot topic of the period. Again, like the previous publication, the basic narrative is a simple story about members of the organisation, from all walks of life, coming together to celebrate their beliefs publically by travelling to Rome. Where it differs from the previous publication is the production quality and the graphic design which produces a real sense of energy and drama in a strong package.

The book begins with a cloudy seascape which is then followed by a close-up of an apartment block, a black-framed view through a window of St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City, followed by a montage of male and female industrial workers over a series of train tracks, before finishing with a view of a railway station, with a waiting train belching steam, all viewed through the prison-like bars of a railing. The accompanying text is spread over the five opening pages. Translated (my own – so this is open to correction) from French it reads: “In this troubled world – through our obscured horizons – clarity – people from all industries march to Rome.” This initial image-text combination sets the tone for the rest of the book and clearly sets out the main ideological message promoted by the JOC; that in the midst of turmoil people should can rely on the spiritual guidance offered by the Catholic church.

A page then offers us a strange cartoon of St Francis of Assisi superimposed upon a photograph of a town (presumably Assisi?). The relevance of this figure here presumably has more to do with his renunciation of his inherited nobility and his concern for the poor and downtrodden rather than animal welfare issues. On the facing page is an image designed to resemble a Roman tablet with an inscription stating that twenty thousand people young people left their factories, workshops, offices and cities to participate in this gathering. Both of these images are designed to reassure viewers that this relatively new mass movement was firmly located at the heart of the traditional, and familiar, structures of the Catholic church. This is reaffirmed by the images on the following pages which depict St Peter’s Basilica and images of a beaming Pope Pius XI engaging with an appropriately deferential and scruffy looking Parisian train engineer, complete with Charlie Chaplin moustache.

After that we get into some of the strongest visual images in the book which serve as a link between Christian iconography and the workplace. Entitled Who Knows how the Workers Live, this section shows the factories and mills of the young workers who, thanks to adherence to the values espoused by the JOC, are helping to create a better society for all. Bordered by chains, we have a montage of male and female workers in factory settings, linking this work to the slavery of the past. These images are accompanied by quotes from various popes, showing their understanding and concern for those who work in the mechanised world, asserting that they are working to liberate the oppressed from the conditions they toil under. This is followed by a montage of an infant bordered by newspaper cuttings that catalogue the breakdown of social values (as defined by the Catholic church naturally) including such items as divorce, infidelity, suicide, infanticide. The shrill newspaper headlines contrast with the peaceful image of the baby in order to produce the message that the JOC will assist in creating a better society for our children and our children’s children (a standard claim of every social organisation that ever came into being).aJOC07

Reinforcing the message of peace, an image of birds in flight (presumably doves) is juxtaposed against dark images of aeroplanes in an ominous prediction of the death and destruction that would soon be visited from the air. In a family of man moment, a photomontage shows the different people of the world all united by the church while the opposite page shows a seated Pius XII presiding over a religious institution that has, according to the caption, provided 20 centuries of stability. Other images show beaming workers looking to the future superimposed over images of fields, technology and blueprints, demonstrating that the movement had fully embraced the innovations of the modern world in building a better future. The final page, the past and present are linked through pairing a Roman triumphal arch with a modern factory worker. Much of the rest of the book is devoted towards the architectural glories of Rome, including an acetate map showing the highlights. These images serve to bridge the gap between the old and new. The JOC were offering a new version of the church that the young could buy-in to while at the same time reassuring them that their message was firmly rooted in the traditions of the past. This emphasis on continuity was probably also designed to satisfy rivals within the Catholic hierarchy who in the internecine office politics played out within this organisation were undoubtedly heavily resistant to anything that even looked like change. Parallels with the present are evident. A two thousand year old institution carries a lot of baggage.

Jocistes 1939

The JOC movement of the 1930s can be regarded as an attempt by an old religious institution to come to terms with the pace of social change. Older forms of automatic deference were breaking down during a period of social and political turmoil so they needed to change the way they did business in order to maintain their relevance. The days of simply being able to awe the peasantry with the power and majesty of gold encrusted buildings whilst simultaneously preaching the benefits of passively accepting a life of squalor were over. A key part of getting their message across was the use of modernist graphic-design and photomontage techniques to engage with a younger, media savvy audience who had little time for the stuffy old ways of the past. The JOC needed to tread a fine line between emphasising their coolness and relevance whilst also ensuring that links to the past were maintained. In many ways, this movement can be regarded as a forerunner to the social activism and the ideals of Liberation Theology that emerged amongst the Catholic clergy in Latin America after the second world war. In both cases, the traditional structures and institutions of the church were regarded as remote and irrelevant to the real concerns and injustices experienced in everyday life. A new purpose had to be found that would get people to buy-in to the ideals of the Catholic church. This constant need to reinvent itself in order to remain relevant to its membership at a time of rapid change is something that the Catholic church, and other religious groups, still struggle with to this day.

Some personal thoughts about the state of art photography


Much of what this blog does is discuss how powerful people try to manipulate and control others through the use of images and propaganda.

So lets apply this to how the art photography world works.

There is a lot of noise out there these days about the current state of photography as a whole. It feels as if there is a huge weight pressing down on us. Anybody who cares passionately about the medium can sense it. Behind the bluster and self-promotional aggrandizement there is a palpable sense of malaise eating away at the heart of photography.

This crisis goes far deeper than stale, circular debates about visual culture, changing technology, an image-saturated world or the crisis of representation.
Right now the photography scene is rightly convulsed by a sexual harassment scandal. Various institutions and bodies that only a couple of weeks ago were fawning over a self-proclaimed guru are now scurrying around trying to distance themselves from him. The issue of sexual harassment within photography has been well and truly been put on the map.

Not before time.

The basic dynamic is this: a powerful individual preys on weaker and vulnerable people. He uses his position of power and influence to intimidate, silence and manipulate others for his own selfish ends. By associating himself with influential institutions and other individuals who are capable of making or breaking careers he produces an aura of being untouchable. They effectively enable him to continue his predatory activity.

According to Brian Martin there are 5 common tactics used by perpetrators to evade responsibility for their actions:

1. Cover up what has happened
2. Use official processes and channels to give the appearance of justice
3. Outright intimidation and bribery
4. Reinterpret events through lying, blaming others, and re-framing the incident
5. Devalue the person who speaks out by undermining their character or reputation using gossip or by labelling them as being unstable

The other common tactic that a perpetrator will use once they are cornered is the pity-play. Here, they try to turn the tables and make you feel sorry for them. Think about all the apparently heartfelt Oprah-style confessions and crocodile tears you’ve seen.


Stepping Back

But lets take a step back. Why did this individual wield so much power and influence? Is there something rotten within the structure of photography that allowed him to build a network of power and intimidation? I would argue that there is. And it has to do with the types of people that rise to the surface in an intensely competitive environment.

There has been an increased awareness about the prevalence of sociopathy in society. This is a term that many people have heard bandied about on cop-shows (interestingly, the term psychopath is the same thing as a sociopath – it has nothing to do with actual violence or chainsaws). But what does it actually mean? Well, it’s defined as an anti-social personality disorder in which a person has no inhibitions or conscience. They do not feel guilt or remorse for anything they do or the consequences that their actions may have upon others. This means that they feel that the normal rules don’t apply to them. They actually consider themselves to be superior than the rest of us. We are looked down upon as idiots; mere pawns to be used and manipulated by them for their amusement. All for kicks. And they feel no guilt about doing this. None whatsoever.

However, they are very, very good at emulating emotions and projecting charisma. This is very useful in manipulating others. They also tend to need constant stimulation and get bored easily. Manipulating others and game playing provides endless entertainment for the constantly bored psychopath who craves excitement and the rush that controlling others provides. Because of these traits they tend to rise to positions of power and responsibility. Politicians, lawyers, surgeons, bankers, CEO’s and heads of various institutions  can all be safely be regarded as exhibiting sociopathic traits insofar as many preside over, or conceal, predatory behaviour where the powerful abuse the weak.

Indeed, as Clive Boddy has argued, the current global economic recession can be attributed to the activities of  what he terms corporate sociopaths.

For simplicity’s sake, the common traits of sociopaths/psychopaths are:
• glib and superficial charm
• grandiose (exaggeratedly high) estimation of self
• constant need for stimulation
• pathological lying
• cunning and manipulativeness
• lack of remorse or guilt
• shallow affect and superficial emotions
• callousness and lack of empathy
• poor behavioral controls
• sexual promiscuity
• lack of realistic long-term goals
• impulsivity
• irresponsibility
• failure to accept responsibility for own actions

Recognise anybody you know?

Obviously, some of these features can be more pronounced than others. But as a rough guideline, if somebody exhibits a number of these features then they may be a sociopath/psychopath.

What do they get out of it? Why do they behave this way?

No reason. Simply because they can.

That’s it.

There’s nothing deeper to it than that.


Psychopathy and Photography

It is no surprise that such psychopathic individuals would thrive in a loose, unstructured photographic world based largely on smoke and mirrors. They are able to use their charm and manipulative abilities to assume positions of power. They then may use their position to prey on weaker individuals within the photographic community. Or manipulate them as pawns in whatever scheme they have cooked up to amuse themselves today. Just because its fun.

The art photography sub-culture is actually quite similar to athletics or cycling. These are highly competitive “sports” dominated by money where ruthless individuals are rewarded for behaving badly.

For a start, photography is an intensely individual pursuit and it takes self-belief and confidence to assert your vision through the medium. Obviously if you are an individual with psychopathic characteristics then you have no self-doubt whatsoever. You utterly believe that your photographic work is the best the world has ever seen. Or that your opinion is the most important and influential ever. Psychopathic charisma works wonders for your career. That probably goes a long way to explaining some of the huge egos you encounter within photography. A generous helping of narcissism adds to the flavour.

Of course, some of it is probably learned behaviour; if successful people do it then others will emulate it.

But without a disfunctional anti-social personality it is impossible to sustain such behaviour for any length of time.

Why this works so well within photography is because there are just too many people chasing too few opportunities. Because of this, people who occupy influential positions can wield immense power over emerging photographers. This lends itself open to abuse.

Like many other jobs or professions, the photography world is pyramid shaped – there are a very few places at the top and lots and lots of people at the bottom. The problem is that the vast majority of them won’t succeed. And mostly it has nothing to do with talent, ambition or vision. It is simply because there are not enough spaces available at the top. This has huge implications for how the art photography world behaves and treats people.

But the higher you climb, the harder you fall.

Fear permeates the entire photography hierarchy.

Patronage is used as a way to control those beneath them and prevent dissent or a wider discussion of the arbitrary nature of this bizarre photography sub-culture which we inhabit.  Thus, emerging photographers are strung along and a few crumbs are strategically doled out to keep them quiet and compliant. As well as fostering a sense of dependence it also serves to confer immense power on those who claim to be able to make or break careers. The rampant industry-wide exploitation by magazine editors and newspapers who pay a pittance and expect struggling photographers to work for free in return for vague promises of raising your profile is a classic example.

There are many other examples.

It also works to explain the cliques and bitchiness that is rampant within the photography world. Gossip and innuendo are used to sow doubt and undermine others for the purpose of maintaining control.

These processes all work to prevent challenges. The result is toxic – it pits a small group of privileged insiders against outsiders.

A key part of this process is to ensure that the vast numbers of photographers who fail to climb the pyramid (simply because there aren’t enough places available) internalise this as a personal failure rather than as a result of the system itself. This ensures that they will not pose a challenge to what is a very flawed structure.

But it’s all just an illusion. It’s a social construct that only works if people accept it. With cutbacks and economic downturn, the competition for funding within the photography and arts scene is getting more and more cut-throat. Behind the bonhomie, people are increasingly turning on each other in a ever more desperate fight for the few crumbs left on the table.

Let’s get even more depressing – the problem is that this short-term self-interested behaviour is undermining the future of photography itself. Ruthless sociopaths/psychopaths are very good at ensuring they get what they want. But they are not so good at the big picture. And this is a massive problem. A central aspect of the psychopathic condition is that they get bored easily and need constant stimulation or excitement. Therefore they will always privilege short-term immediate games (that often serve no purpose whatsoever other than the rush of “winning”) over long-term outcomes. And if many of the people who occupy places of power within a system exhibit psychopathic characteristics then it is doomed to inevitable collapse. Superior and arrogant, occupying positions of power, surrounded by lackeys and protected by a culture of silence, poor decisions are the inevitable result. They overestimate their abilities. They push their luck with one scheme too many. And then the entire house of cards comes tumbling down around them. Think FIFA, Enron, UCI (the cycling federation) etc.

The entire system stagnates. Lip service is paid to creativity and encouraging new talent but in reality the rules of the game are structured to preserve the insider-outsider dynamic.


What is to be done?

So lets end this on a more positive note: what is to be done? Well, these problems are nothing new under the sun. Frustrated artists have long battled against the old-regime and the vested interests of a stagnant academy who were holding them back. But the problem is that once the avant-garde take power they quickly turn into clones of the narrow and conservative people they once fought against.

So, my advice (for what it’s worth) is as follows; don’t follow the rules of the game because they are rigged against you. Talent and ability will get you so far but they’re not enough. Being a sociopath will increase your chances of success but even so there is a hell of a lot of competition for the few remaining places left on the pyramid. So don’t bet on success just because you’re a schemer and a manipulator – there will always be somebody better at it. Don’t expect a miracle to happen and be discovered by an art world which is obsessed by money and superficial shallowness. Don’t depend on kingmakers to pluck you from obscurity.

If you want to succeed in photography, do your own thing. Be smart. Don’t follow the herd because nobody really knows what they’re doing and they’re too frightened to admit that the emperor has no clothes. Besides, if you’re part of the herd then you’ll never stand out in a world where individual vision is supposed to be valued. Find a niche and go for it. Don’t be too swayed by the opinions of those in authority – many are pursuing their own agendas and relish the power and control they wield and use it for malicious purposes. Be suspicious of them. Be sceptical.

At its core, photography is about telling stories through images. If you have an interesting story then find way to tell it and stick with it. Find something different. If you’re reading this then you’re a creative person – so create! Without people who are committed and love their art the entire photography sub-culture will collapse. The dirty secret is that the people sitting at the top of the pyramid are only there because creative, passionate photographers allow them to stay there out of fear. Unless we encourage more people with fresh perspectives, passion and enthusiasm, then I fear photography is doomed to a bleak future of endless introspective navel-gazing, stagnation and slow decline.

The various institutions and the diminishing number of people they support will stagger on in a zombie-like daze, propped up by inertia and the vested interests of a few. But they will be hollow at the core because there will be no real purpose to their existence. And inevitably, they too will decline.

But by that time nobody will care because all the committed and passionate people will have left.

P.S.  Absolutely nothing I have written here is meant to distract from the very urgent need to address sexual harassment within the photographic community. 

These are all my personal views. Not everybody is a psychopath so don’t get paranoid. Just keep your eyes open.


Kaiiki – Hiroshi Uemoto


The fact that thousands of Japanese people were willing to commit suicide in a vain attempt to influence a war that was already lost is something I have always found puzzling. Attempting to bridge the distance of time and cultural difference is a very tricky thing and everything written below is my attempt to interpret the motivations and processes behind the kamikaze phenomena. As this is a highly charged subject about which people have a number of understandably different views I’d just like to say that no offence is intended on my part whatsoever.

Undoubtedly patriotism and national fervour played an important role, just as it did in every other country during the Second World War. While the older residual beliefs of a traditional warrior-based society that valued death over dishonour and presented suicide as a honourable option certainly played their part, I would suspect that these had a lot more to do with rationalising a decision after it had been made. But I would certainly not dismiss the bushido code and the samurai tradition as motivating factors for individuals and for producing a culture of self sacrifice at a time when all appeared lost. By selectively emphasising a powerful legend from Japanese history – the original divine wind that had deflected the Mongol invasion during the 13th century – it was possible to produce a seductive narrative in which the mythology of the past was used to rationalise the actions of the present. In cloaking their actions with the trappings of historical legend, the Japanese leadership (who had led their country to absolute disaster) sought to maintain their grip on power in a society now stretched to breaking point. Another aspect is to do with how the Emperor was regarded at this time; he was not only a royal person and head of state in the Western mode, he was also at the apex of the Shinto religion. Whereas some sources state that he was regarded as a living God, in reality the closest comparison is to the European idea of the Divine Right of Kings. This theory appeared in Medieval Europe in order to give legitimacy to the dynasties of monarchs who had (usually) grabbed power in rather a grubby fashion. Obviously, I’m simplifying things; Japan in World War 2 was not the same as medieval Europe. However, in a strictly defined hierarchical society such as Japan this gave the edicts and commands issued in the Emperor’s name an importance that went far beyond the orders of a mere politician. This sense of absolute loyalty to the Emperor created a wartime culture whereby anything other than complete sacrifice in his name was presented as shameful. Surrender was a disgrace. Also, for much of the 1930s Japan was at war and militarism pervaded social and media discourse throughout. This meant that for those who came of age in the mid-1940s, who made up the bulk of the kamikaze, their formative years would have been dominated by a culture in which death and glory was presented as an inescapable and inevitable duty, one not to be shirked by a true and loyal member of Japanese society.


By the last years of the war, Japan had effectively boxed itself into a corner. The frenzy of militarism that had stoked the public mood for conquest turned into a double edged sword; it had worked well in mobilising and motivating Japanese society and had contributed to the spectacular victories of the 1930s and early 1940s. But once the war turned against Japan it meant that they were trapped by their own extreme rhetoric and couldn’t back-peddle. In the heightened emotional state of a country at war, surrender was presented as beneath contempt. Similarly, once you wind up the war machine then it is very difficult for anybody to call a halt, particularly if a lot of blood has been spilled on your side. While the momentum of total war kept most people passive, busy and silent, it would probably be a mistake to think that everybody was a blind follower. In a rigidly conformist society such as Japan at war, peer pressure would have ensured that dissenting viewpoints could not be expressed in public (any doubts would be confined to the private realm or to a few trusted confidants at most). This would have created a self-reinforcing cycle where the inability to publicly express doubt or dissent meant that the rhetoric of victory or death grew and grew until it appeared that there were no other options available.

While the images of aeroplanes crashing into ships are the best known (probably because they were the most visually dramatic aspect of this tactic caught on camera), the kamikaze phenomena permeated all forms of warfare, from the soldier on the ground to the largest battleship in the world being sent on a suicide mission. There was a sort of twisted logic to all this; once the sheer scale of the Allied offensive in the Pacific reversed the gains made in the early part of the war, the military commanders looked for ways to redress the balance. Kamikaze tactics were designed to both shock and disorientate those on the receiving end of them and, more importantly, to send the message to the Western powers that Japan would fight to the last. But this message was not only intended for the enemy; it was also used to keep a grip on the Japanese population at home. As part of the domestic propaganda campaign for their own people, those who committed suicide in this way were termed gyokusai or “shattered jewels” and the process of diving a plane into a ship was termed “a cherry blossom falling”, linking it directly to one of the iconic signifiers of Japanese culture.  When combined with a propaganda campaign that valorised such Special Attacks (i.e. kamikaze), the entire process operated to normalise suicide in wartime. As a good citizen it was now your duty. Furthermore, if everybody is expected to die for Japan, then there is no room for dissent – you were a disloyal coward who had betrayed your fellow countrymen and women who had all (outwardly) accepted the idea of suicide rather than surrender. The Japanese leadership knew the writing was on the wall (even if they could not say so publicly) but by throwing wave after wave of suicide attacks at the enemy they hoped to break the Allied resolve. In a desperate attempt to delay the inevitable the Japanese leadership hoped that they could somehow wear the Allies down and cut a deal in which they could preserve their positions. Or, if Japan hung on long enough it was hoped that the Allies might start fighting amongst themselves and create an opportunity to might provide a route out of the quagmire. The net effect of these delaying tactics was counted in countless lost lives on all sides.


This brings us to the book; published by Sokyu-Sha in 2013, Kaiiki (translated as “sea area” or territorial “waters”) is an exploration of the base where sailors were trained to attack enemy ships with manned torpedoes called kaiten. As can be imagined, if you were sitting on top of a torpedo and steering it towards an enemy ship the chances of survival were nil. Due to Japan’s island status, any invasion would have had to come by sea and so a lot of desperate energy was devoted to disrupting the Allied juggernaut as it moved across the Pacific. As such, the kaiten programme was part of the Special Attack forces and the waters around the island were used for training purposes before combat. After training was completed, the kaiten and their pilots would have been loaded on to larger submarines for operations in the Pacific Ocean against Allied ships. As more than ten percent of the total morality rate for kaiten pilots occurred during training accidents, surviving this stage appears to have been an ordeal in itself. Presumably, the rationale behind manned torpedoes was that it would improve accuracy; if this was the case it failed miserably. For all the expenditure of Japanese blood and treasure on this programme the results were negligible; only two American ships were ever damaged by kaiten attacks.


According to the photographer, Uemoto’s first encounter with Otsushima island (the training base for the kaiten) occurred many decades previously while he was in his twenties, around the same age as those who piloted these torpedoes. But it took him that length of time to process the significance of this space which has since been turned into a museum. Like other photographic representations in the malevolent landscape genre, representing events that occurred in the past is a difficult task to carry out successfully. Normally, a photographer can focus on features within the landscape, often commonplace, which then become powerful to the viewer once they become aware of the horrific context. Obviously, this is impossible when confronted by an expanse of open water that has no such features. Instead, Uemoto attempts to produce a psychological portrait of his personal response to this place in an attempt to come to terms with what those who trained here may have felt. For anybody who grew up in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, a period which saw massive social change in Japan, reconciling the recent past with the present is a challenge to say the least.


Uemoto shows us the Seto Inland Sea, the semi-enclosed body of water between the main Japanese islands of Honshū, Shikoku, and Kyūshū, the home waters to which the title refers. The book begins with a series of apparently straightforward images; cherry blossoms on a path and floating in the water on the island evoke the idea of Japan as a sacred space. Calm, placid images show us the sea, first with trees from the island in the foreground, small boats and the mist-shrouded features of other islands on the horizon. The mood quickly darkens as the sea and sky merge into an ominous dark grey with occasional beams of light coming through the clouds. Uemoto uses the cloud and fog as a metaphor for the mood of psychological confusion and uncertainty he is trying to convey with his work. In this context, the Inland Sea now occupies an ambiguous position; it is both a sacred place, because it was an integral part of the Japanese homeland, and also a source of constant danger to those who practiced there for their suicide missions. The ships in Uemoto’s photographs grow larger and more defined; ordinary container and cargo vessels on the horizon within these eerie seascapes start to resemble the targets the kaiten were launched at. We see some of the training complex next; endless underground tunnels stretching outwards and an abstracted image of a circular object (the front of a kaiten torpedo) are the few remaining traces of what this place once was. The concrete piers stretching out into the sea show us the link between the land and sea or, in this case, between life and death beneath the dark waters. Immediately afterwards the seascapes become much darker as Uemoto attempts to convey the immensity of what people were expected to do on this island at this time. The competing ideas and ideals of glory, patriotism and sacrifice are locked in conflict with the competing urge to survive and the will to live; this, I believe, is at the root of what Uemoto is attempting to convey with his work. The grey shrouded seascapes darken as night falls and beams of light weakly flicker through the fog and cloud in places, illuminating the placid sea as it descends into darkness. The denouement of the narrative appears in some very powerful nocturnal images of the sea now transformed into blurred and indistinct abstractions where all the boundaries collapse. Relief is found on the next page in a pair of images; small pieces of debris float on the water and clouds float above us, signifying release from this psychological drama.


Sucked deeper into a web of illusions shaped by dreams of martial glory, nationalistic hubris and imperial conquest, large numbers of people in Japan found themselves presented with no other option but to sacrifice their lives in a futile attempt to win a war that was already lost. Like any form of psychological manipulation, convincing people that they have no way out makes them much easier to control. This book also demonstrates the impossibility of recapturing the attitudes and memories of the past. History is always viewed through the prism of the present. Our experiences and our attitudes colour our perception of the stories we tell about the past. Attitudes, ideologies and states of mind that appear utterly alien today were interpreted as being perfectly rational and normal for those immersed in a society dominated by leaders who demanded that large numbers of their own people die on their behalf. Dark and designed to unsettle, this book is a complex meditation on the consequences of actions taken more than seventy years ago that still echo to this day.