“They should teach critical thinking in schools”

A trusted institution tries to save a lone fact tumbling through infospace

Phew. Online life is hard right now, isn’t it? Watching your friends seemingly actively go out there onto the World Wide Web to seek out new rabbit-holes to throw themselves into.

I mean, you can attempt to do what you think might be the right thing and get involved. You can try to explain why you think (say) the Covid vaccine isn’t “still in trials”, you can show what you think is evidence of your assertion, but sooner or later it’ll come down to “I chose to trust these sources, and you chose to trust those sources”. And there is seemingly no way back.

The whole spectrum of ideas, from the mainstream to the fringe, is now out there and accessible to everybody in the world – and also the means to expand and populate that spectrum with new ideas is available to everyone in the world.

And it’s all given equal weight, from people who think the world is ending because of CO2 in the atmosphere, to people who think the world is ending because of critical race theory.

Nothing’s objectively wrong anymore, nothing’s objectively right. And with morality switched off, as we free-fall through infospace, where there’s no up, no down, no sideways, how can any of us learn anything? How can anyone even learn how to to learn?

When I talk with my friends about this problem, sooner or later someone says, “they should teach critical thinking in schools”. I nearly agree. But, let’s face it, “they” will never teach critical thinking in schools. And if “they” did – how empowering would a course constructed by “them” really be?

A system that runs on compliance is unlikely to place the tools to dismantle it in our hands.

My question is: So now what?

We obviously have tremendous anger about our failing systems of distribution, and learning, and justice, and just about everything – and also we have tremendous energy and motivation to understand how we got here and how to get out. This is how these online vortices of bullshit are opening up and sucking people in.

It’s funny, people often point to Keynes’ (tongue-in-cheek) suggestion that the government could always stimulate the economy by paying people to dig holes and fill them in again as an absurd way for civilisation to proceed.

And yet that’s what we seem to want to do.

So. Now what?


A Letter From The Department for Education

Dear teachers,

In case there is any misunderstanding in light of recent headlines, we are writing to remind you that Capitalism is, of course, still our national religion and you are all religious education teachers in this respect.

We understand that this may present problems for some of you, as young people have inquisitive minds that can sometimes outpace our guidance.

Sometimes The Market moves in mysterious ways and you may have challenges in communicating why It needs to keep some of us unemployed, or have us make weapons and not medicine, or have us keep producing fossil fuels, or make people risk their lives by forcing them back to work to make sure they’re producing and consuming all of the above at the correct rate – and in this eventuality, please consult the sacred texts (see attached reading list) for illumination on these matters.

We know you must be busy, due to class sizes (The Market! – see reading list), so while there is no need for every pupil to fully understand the ways of The Market, they do need to know that those who have studied it very closely have found it to be Good.

In the broad strokes, if you don’t have time to internalise the sacred texts, a basic rule of thumb is: when Capitalism does something bad, it’s because someone did Capitalism wrong, and when Capitalism does something good, it’s because Capitalism is good.

We hope this clarifies things for you.

Yours sincerely,

The Department for Education


Some numbers are big. Let me help you get over it.

Here’s something I think you really need to know if you want a Green New Deal, or an NHS, or an end to needless suffering.

The national debt is just a big old number. Really. That’s what it is. It’s not an impediment to change.

Why am I pointing this out? Because the way the national debt is being talked about at the moment is really helping to further the austerity agenda, so I thought it’d be good idea if we all understood what government debt is.

Please don’t scroll away, I think you’ll find this useful.

So here it is. When the UK government spends more than it taxes, the pounds left over are in the pockets of the private sector (that’s you and me).

This government-spending-more-than-it-collects thing is known as the government running a deficit, which sounds bad or even immoral, but the government’s deficit is the private sector’s surplus. It’s the exact same thing. The private sector is you and me. That’s our money.

All the deficits ran since the dawn of time by the UK government add up to a certain number of pounds, and that number of pounds is known as the UK national debt. These pounds are ultra-safe pound-denominated financial assets held by people and institutions in the private sector. Nothing to worry about.

Put another way: the national debt is nothing more than the pounds spent into existence by the government that have not yet been used to pay taxes.

So. Aiming to run a government surplus (meaning the private sector has to go into deficit) or trying “wipe out” the national debt are both bloody silly things to do. Again, that’s our (the private sector’s) wealth being erased.

Whatever the national debt figure is, whatever the UK government deficit figure is – these numbers are just numbers on a spreadsheet and are meaningless with no other contextualising information.

I’d really love to see the political discussion move on from: “you guys ran up the national debt!” “No, you guys did!” and both sides vowing to reduce the deficit.

When politicians talk about cutting the deficit, they always mean cut it from the same place – they cut the spending that helps those who are least able to help themselves.

Especially if you’re on the left, you should know that pushing for deficit reduction amounts to pushing for austerity.

There’s a link below if you want to know more.




Outnumbered And Outgunned Doesn’t Mean You’re Wrong

I wrote this to a friend who had campaigned very hard for a Labour victory, but I’ve modified it a little because I want to say it to anyone who put any effort into moving our culture to the left in a really hostile environment over the last few years.

I know we can’t just tell our emotions what to do, but I hope you take some time out to do something that makes you happy today.

Being true to yourself should make you happy. Be proud that you were true to your values.

Being on the progressive left, pushing against the dominant worldview often means you’re going to be outnumbered and outgunned. It doesn’t mean you’re wrong.

The election just told us something that’s hard for us to hear about the political conscience of the country right now – but you don’t change that by denying who you are going forward.

Progressive politics has come a long way since feudalism, and it’ll go further. We’re in a two-steps-back moment right now, but it won’t be forever. You inspired and emboldened people. You make me feel less alone.

Thankyou. X



The way I see it, the Right have a huge home-field advantage in our culture.

What I mean is, as we’ve spent centuries struggling to move from serfdom to the relative freedom we have now, every time there’s been a positive cultural shift, it’s been against a backdrop of well-coordinated efforts to educate us about why hierarchy works.

The king wouldn’t be king if God didn’t want him to be. Jeff Bezos wouldn’t be the richest man in the world if the all-knowing Market didn’t want him to be.

Given the persistence of these explanations in our culture, I think that’s why we tend to defer to a veneer of authority, even when it’s just a veneer. It’s baked into our cake from an early age.

Just me, but I think lots of people, somewhere inside themselves, connect to authority with their inner obedient child, the part of them that got them through school and maybe got them their last job.

They hear a person dripping with privilege tell them that people burn to death in sub-standard buildings because they’re not clever enough… And even as they recoil, they think: “that person wouldn’t be where he is right now unless our systems, flawed as they are, hadn’t selected him. He must be clever in some way, right?”

And when some of us turn around and say, “no, we’ve given this a good old think and we think that chap just said an abominable thing and shouldn’t be anywhere near power”, thank God (or the Market, or Reason, or whatever) there are some insightful people around to correct us.

“Hahaha! Look at you, getting all hot under the collar! The Tories are owning you with their amazing media-savvy tactics! They’re controlling the news cycle! Talking about how awful they are is exactly what they want you to do, you stupid lefty!”

Well, I for one am grateful to have these insiders looking out for us, because some of us temporarily forget that when right-wing people say hideous things it’s because they’re so clever.

It’s frustrating. When will the Left get it together and learn what the Right are just so naturally good at?

Hey ho. Grassroots activism is what we’ve got. Power’s never gifted from above, it’s won from below through struggle.

I’m still proud to identify with the people dumb enough to carry on the struggle, whether we’re slick or not.


Collateral Murder – Now With Added Torture

Julian Assange put this video in front of the world.

In it, US army forces shoot and kill civilians, including two Reuters journalists and the people who came to help. (1)

‘For the crew of [the] Apache helicopter gunship… the whole thing sounds like a game. “Nice… good shooting,”… “Yeah, look at those dead bastards” … The truth is the gunner has just opened fire on two Reuters journalists, Saeed Chmagh and Namir Noor-Eldeen.

One of them is still alive and tries to crawl to safety, prompting the co-pilot to urge him to reach for a weapon: “Come on, buddy. All you gotta do is pick up a weapon.” But the journalist is unarmed and dies on the street.‘ (2)

‘When the crew were informed that a child had been injured by their attack, one initially responded, “Ah damn. Oh well”, and a minute later continued, “Well, it’s their fault for bringing kids into a battle”.’ (3)

In 2006, a Lancet study estimated that 654,965 civilians had been killed by Blair and Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq. After that, it looks to me like we stopped sending scholars to figure out how many men, women and children we killed, and started channeling resources into arguing the toss about methodologies. (4)

Julian Assange showed a world numbed by statistics how a government kills half a million people. And now he’s being tortured to death by the governments whose crimes he helped expose.

You can tell a lot about a culture by looking at who’s in jail and who’s yucking it up at the football game with Ellen. (5)(6)


(1) https://youtu.be/HfvFpT-iypw

(2) https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/joan-smith/joan-smith-now-we-see-what-war-does-to-those-who-wage-it-1938495.html

(3) https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/July_12,_2007,_Baghdad_airstrike

(4) https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casualties_of_the_Iraq_War

(5) https://caitlinjohnstone.com/2019/04/20/debunking-all-the-assange-smears/



The NHS Price List Story Might Be Damaging To The NHS In Subtle Ways

I think the NHS price list story could undermine the NHS a little bit.

The majority of people in the UK love the NHS. So everybody circulates the NHS price list motivated by an instinct to save the NHS from privatisation, which I share.

But as a result, everybody sees the big numbers on the price list and relates it to their income and the price of a loaf of bread, and starts to think “Jeepers! Medicine is expensive!”

And that lays the groundwork for opponents of the NHS to say: “Yes – don’t you think we as a nation deserve better value for money?” Or: “Do you think you, struggling to pay your bills, should be made to pay for someone else’s healthcare?”

If they get you to accept this conception of how public money works (which it doesn’t), the privatisation vultures have already won.

So, two points:

1. NOTHING is expensive (in terms of money) for a government that creates its own currency like ours. Our government can never “run out” of pounds.

2. The best healthcare in the world is not expensive to our government. The best healthcare in the world is what you’re entitled to here in the UK, whoever you are, whenever you need it. It’s a human right, it’s our inheritance, and it should be what we’re leaving to our children and grandchildren, because they’re entitled to it, too.

It might look expensive to someone who has to toil long hours to make ends meet, but that’s not the position the UK government is in. They are the issuers of the currency, we are the users of the currency.

Not reversing the dismantling of the NHS and making it whole again will be cripplingly expensive, though.

So, stop looking at the pound signs and tell these bastards to write the cheque (like they do when they want to bomb something or get a duck house on expenses) – or even better vote them out at the earliest opportunity for someone who will.


Happy 40th, Comedy Store!

The first time I gigged at the Comedy Store, I think it was 1999, and I was playing in Rich Hall’s band. We played a monthly residency and had exciting, famous guests.

When I started doing my own trial spots there, a couple of years later, it was a bit scary, but Rich gave me a great pep talk and I’ll share it with you, free of charge: “Just remember this. Everybody dies.”

You’re welcome!

Anyway, just want to say thanks to The Comedy Store for having me on their line-ups. Always a compliment to be on the bill with amazing people, some of whom inspired me to be a comedian in the first place, and all of whom inspire me to be a better comedian.

To all the comedians, thanks for accepting me as one of the tribe, or being polite enough to keep your feelings about musical comedy to yourself around me.

I love our job, I love our culture and our little community.

Thanks to Don, for giving us a place to show off and getting all those audiences to show up for us (for 40 years!). And thanks to Simon, Simon, Sylvie, Sebastian, Graham, Riz and Paul for making it feel like home.

And thanks again to Rich Hall for taking the pressure off and staying away from my first gig. “I’m not a big fan of public executions.” Literally a quote.

Happy 40th, Comedy Store!


The White Guys Are At It Again

The white guys are at it again, referring to what’s happened to Danny Baker as him being “burned” or being a victim of some kind of lynching. I find the lynching rhetoric about as insensitive (you know, given history) as the failure to comprehend why black people might still, after all these hours, be upset and angry at Danny Baker’s “monkey” tweet (yes – even in spite of an apology!)

Nobody rounded up a posse and called for Danny Baker to be put to death. He’s just working through the consequences of his actions. One of the consequences is people are saying negative things about him on the internet (generously peppered with “he can’t be racist, I met him once and he didn’t kill any people of colour”-type comments). The other consequence is he got fired. These things are not: a public flogging, a lynching or a burning at the stake.

Literally a white hot take