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Adam Curtis | 15:43 UK time, Tuesday, 31 January 2012

At every moment there are hundreds of thousands of Americans and Europeans floating around the world on "Funships" - superliners like the Costa Concordia that crashed and capsized off the coast of Italy.

These ships are extraordinary creations, millions of ordinary people pay not very much to spend weeks in an offworld pleasure bubble, surrounded by vast replicas of pictures and architecture from the glories of past civilizations.

Italian Navy

I want to tell the story of the rise of the modern cruise ship industry from its beginning in the 1960s - how it promised to make a world of aristocratic luxury available to everyone in the west, but also the hidden story of how that promise was achieved.

In many cruise ships there are hundreds of workers from some of the poorest countries on earth who are paid minute amounts of actual wages - sometimes less than two dollars a day - to attend to the passengers' needs.

Many of the ships' workers can only get a living wage on the whim of the thousands of passengers above them - on the tips they choose to give them. And in the strange fun-world of the superliners the waiters, the cabin staff, the cooks and everyone else who serves, live in a state of continual vulnerability - unprotected by most of the employment laws that apply on land. Meanwhile many of the companies that own the vast ships pay practically no tax at all.

But it wasn't always supposed to be like that.

The biggest company in the cruising world is the Carnival Corporation, based in Miami (the Costa Concordia is owned by one of their subsidiaries). Carnival has its roots in a small company set up in the 1960s which had a utopian vision that cruise liners could transform the world. One of its founders believed that the giant ships were machines that could help bring about a new era of world peace.

The liners would, he was convinced, unite the rich westerners and the poor from the "third world' by bringing tourists to new and remote destinations. This would foster a new enlightened understanding of each other that would bring about equality and justice throughout the world.

But it didn't turn out like that. And this is the story of what happened - and how the very opposite resulted.

It is also the story in miniature of one of the central consumer phenomenons of our time: the democratisation of luxury. How one half of the world all began to live as though they were aristocrats, while the other half became their servants. And how this allowed the real elite aristocrats of our time - who had become wealthier than any group ever before in history - to disappear, and become invisible.


The idea of elegance and aristocratic indulgence of an ocean cruise was born out of the image of the rich men and women who ruled the British Empire slowly sailing to India and the Far East while sipping gin and tonic on deck - served by men in white jackets.

But with the growing democratisation of Britain after the second world war, more and more ordinary people wanted to experience this, and what was called "the Cruising Revolution" started. In the 1960s the "one class cruise" was invented - passengers were promised that the experience would still be "ultra deluxe", but anyone could go, there were no class divisions.

In reality the idea was born out of desperation. Jet airliners had stolen many of the transatlantic passengers, which meant the shipping companies had nothing to do with their liners.

In 1966 Alan Whicker made a wonderful documentary about one of these cruises. It was on a liner called The Andes, and it is a very funny picture of Britain's postwar class structure in miniature when they are all thrown together in a boat. Everyone claims to be getting along together - but they all bitch about each other and everyone hates the Nouveaux Riche.

Here they all are, enjoying their genre fiction.


And there's always one:


I love the fact that there is a mysterious child on the ship that everybody complains is going round telling the passengers to "shut your cakehole", but Whicker can never find him.

There is also a woman who in one sharp line points to the problem that would bedevil the democratisation of luxury. "I came because I expected millionaires" she says - "but all I found was a load of Huggets". The Huggets were a fictional working class family from a famous radio sitcom.

If exclusive places are open to everyone then they are no longer exclusive.

Here is some of the film.

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But it was the Americans who took the cruising revolution and turned it into a global phenomenon.

In the mid sixties the American cruise industry suffered a terrible disaster. An old converted troop ship called the Yarmouth Castle was on a cruise to the Bahamas when it caught fire and 91 people died. It was a terrible scandal, the sprinklers didn't work and the public address system failed. And the captain, it was alleged, jumped into one of the first of the lifeboats with four other passengers and sped off into the night. He later claimed that he was going to get help.

Here is a postcard of the Yarmouth Castle along with a picture of it on fire.


An Israeli-American businessman called Ted Arison saw an opportunity to regenerate the cruising industry - by using modern boats.

In the mid 1960s Arison was working in the airfreight business in New York, but his family had run shipping lines in Palestine and Europe in the 1930s, and he wanted to start a cruise line.

Arison found a Norwegian called Knut Kloster who had a suitable boat. Kloster also came from an old shipping family. They had made their fortune shipping ice to Europe from Norway, and they now ran a vast fleet of tankers. In 1966 Kloster and Arison set up a company called Norwegian Cruise Lines based in Miami.

Kloster and Arison are today seen as the founders of the modern cruise industry. Their first boat, the Sunward, started taking middle-class Americans on week-long cruises to Jamaica from Miami - and it was an immediate success. They also became close friends.

Kloster believed that the aim of capitalism was not just to make money but to use its power to improve society. He saw the world as divided between the rich, industrial west - and the "third world" which was struggling to escape from the debilitating legacy of colonialism, and the still vastly unequal distribution of global power.

So his cruise ships were going to remedy that.

Kloster hated the idea that his liners were just going to take white middle class Americans on cheap holidays in other peoples' hell and misery. He supported the left-wing politicians in Jamaica who said "Tourism is Whorism".

Here is a picture of Kloster, his wife, and a very big boat


Kloster held brainstorming sessions in the company to come up with new ideas that would provoke the American tourists to engage with the lives of those they were pointing their cameras at. One brilliant suggestion was that women workers in a Jamaican coffee factory should be given instamatic cameras so they could take picture of the passengers as they toured past them. The aim was to make the tourists feel what it was like to be watched and snapped as if they were animals in a zoo.

In a wonderful and perceptive history of the cruise industry called Devils on the Deep Blue Sea, Kristoffer Garin has described another scheme that Kloster dreamt up. It was called "New Experiences", and involved having a "Jamaican Family in Residence" on each cruise.

The New York Times described what was supposed to happen:

"The passengers will be invited to meet the Jamaicans informally, to dine together, drink, dance and play together, to ask questions and pump them for all kinds of information in friendly conversations with no holds barred, including political and racial problems."

And then - when the ship arrived in Jamaica - there was going to be the "meet the people experiment" where passengers would go and spend a day with middle-class Jamaican families who were like the passengers - doctors would meet doctors, teachers would meet teachers - people Kloster believed would be "articulate enough to communicate".

The only problem was that they couldn't find enough Jamaican middle class families, and many of those who were deemed suitable thought it was incredibly patronising. Plus Kloster found that behind his back in the Miami offices the experiment was called the "Take a Nigger to Lunch Program"


Kloster was helped in his vision by his vice-president of public relations, called Herb Hiller who was a bit of an early countercultural management theorist. In 1970 Hiller wrote the greatest company mission statement of all time:


But then it all went wrong, because Kloster discovered that his friend, and business partner Ted Arison wasn't a nice capitalist, but a ruthless one.

Kloster claimed that Arison had been taking the advance payments he was supposed to be holding from the bookings and doing all sorts of odd and dodgy things with the money. Plus a lot of it was missing. Kloster accused Arison of cheating him, Arison denied it and there was an enormous row - and Arison left the company taking with him all the future bookings. So Kloster broke into Arison's new offices late at night and stole them back.

Arison set up a new company to try to beat Kloster - it was called Carnival Cruises, and it was funded by a great character called Meshulam Riklis.

Riklis was one of the earliest of the takeover kings of the 1970s and 80s who used junk bonds to build  a giant financial empire. He is also famous for lavishly wining and dining the judges of the Golden Globes awards in 1981 - which some believe led to the unlikely triumph of his actress wife, Pia Zadora, for her film Butterfly.

Here is a picture of Ted Arison.


To make Carnival Cruises grow, Arison went downmarket - offering the cruise experience to people who would never have considered it before. Then he had a massive stroke of good luck in 1977 when ABC TV began the Love Boat series. The series was an instantaneous hit and it transformed the image of the cruise liner. It not only portrayed it as a sexual paradise, but crucially a paradise that was open to all. It was the opposite of the exclusive and unattainable world portrayed in Dallas and Dynasty.


But to make the cruise affordable Carnival had to cut costs - and Arison did this through tough management. Just how tough was shown on Easter Sunday 1981 when 300 crewmen on two of Carnival's "fun ships" in Miami decided to strike. They weren't unionised, it was a spontaneous outburst against the harsh world they were forced to live and work in, and the low wages.

Ted Arison's son Micky was now second in command. Garin's history describes what Micky then did. He waited four days, and then invited the strikers' leaders to come ashore to talk. But it was a trick.

At the same time Micky sent a fake news helicopter to fly down the side of the boats. The strikers rushed to the deck to wave banners at the helicopter - while at the same time a force of private security men wearing helmets and holding clubs rushed onto the ship. They cornered the terrified strikers, pulled them off the liner and gave them to the immigration authorities waiting on the deck - who promptly deported them back to Honduras.

It couldn't have been more different from Knut Kloster's utopian capitalism.

But Knut was about to have another vision that was going to make everyone in the cruise industry rich beyond their dreams.

Kloster was still running Norwegian Cruise Lines and, in 1986, he came up with "The Phoenix Project" which was going to build a giant ship like nothing else ever seen in the world.

The journalist Kristoffer Garin described Kloster's vision:

"Phoenix would carry a staggering 5200 passengers and an additional 1800 crew - a number that rivalled the entire fleet capacity of any of NCL's competitors. Brochures spoke breathlessly of a ship designed for the 21st Century - a 'floating metropolis" a ship with a skyline.

Phoenix's superstructure would consist of several towers each of them eight or nine stories high, built atop a giant hull spanning the length of four football fields. It would feature beaches, palm trees and a retractable harbor at which smaller ships could dock. Its amenities would include nearly a hundred thousand square feet of convention space"


And true to his beliefs, Kloster still saw it as a way of helping create a better world - the brochure described:

"On this particular day, CEOs of Fortune 500 companies land their helicopters on the middle tower to join a conference on capitalism and third world development."

But the board of NCL thought he was mad - and in 1987 Kloster left the company. In his final speech he compared himself to John deLorean and finished by saying "business in America is impersonal" - and disappeared off the scene. Or so it seemed.

Meanwhile in the following years all the other cruise corporations in Miami, led by Carnival, did exactly what Kloster had dreamed of. They built giant superships that were just like the "floating metropolises" he had wanted to build.

The modern world of the cruise mega-liner is remarkably like Project Phoenix - except for one difference - no one comes on a cruise to discuss the problems of the developing world and how to create world unity.

That bit of Kloster's vision didn't make it into the modern cruising world.

Instead the ships became floating palaces where everyone became like an aristocrat on a sea voyage.

In the 1990s the BBC made a docu-soap on one of the new giant ships - the Galaxy, which was owned by Royal Caribbean Cruises who are also based in Miami. Here are some bits from a couple of episodes - it gives you a very good picture of the world on board, and its extravagant weirdness.

I particularly love the "midnight buffet". At midnight the doors to a vast restaurant open and passengers stream in to gorge themselves on elaborate food sculptures, while one of the staff stands above them with a microphone telling them over the speakers the amazing statistics of how much they are consuming on a voyage.

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But in the series there are also glimpses of what life is really like below desks. I have cut together all the bits of Edward who has just been promoted to "butler". It gives you a very good sense of the intensity of the job. Edward works eight months straight, very long hours, 7 days a week, with just two hours off every other day.

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The modern giant cruise ships that rose up in the 1990s are far more than just boats, they are really floating societies. But those societies are extremely strange.

Many of the liners work like a pure vision of capitalism. The floating worlds pay hardly any tax, most of the workers are protected by very few laws, and often many of them can only survive if they satisfy the needs and desires of the passengers well enough for them to give them a big tip. Free enterprise at its freest.

All this happens because of The Flag of Convenience. It was an idea that the Americans came up with in the early days of the second world war to allow them to send help to Britain. Roosevelt was worried that Hitler might declare war on the US - so a law was passed that allowed American ships to be registered either in Panama or in Liberia.

The Flag of Convenience was born out of altruism, but it is now used for purely selfish reasons. Many of the cruise companies register their ships in countries such as Panama and Liberia, this mean they do not have to pay corporate taxes in the US and aren't bound by many labour regulations.

Journalists and historians who have written about the industry have described the result. On many ships thousands of workers below deck work often 7 days a week, sometimes for fourteen hours a day. They are paid two to three dollars a day - depending entirely on tips to earn a living wage. The work most of them are asked to do on their shifts is impossible for one person to complete, so they in turn have to pay others to help them.

And a weird underground economy often results.

In his history of the industry, Kristoffer Garin has described how many of the workers also have to pay bribes to others elsewhere in the complex hierarchy of the ship - waiters have to bribe the cooks to make sure the food is hot, the cabin cleaners have to bribe the laundry chief to get clean sheets on time. He describes a world in which the cruise lines:

"take full advantage of their Flag of Convenience liberties when it comes to labor. Squeezing the most out of workers in return for the least possible pay is one of the keys to the industry's profitability, and the cruise lines have become extremely adept at it."

In response to such criticisms the cruise companies argue that great improvements have been made in the living conditions for their crews. And they say that the minimal wage - big tip system is the only way to keep the cost of the cruises affordable. They also point out that if a worker gets a lot of tips he or she can make a reasonable wage. But they also admit that it is a tough system

In 2001, the then CEO of Carnival Corp, Bob Dickinson, agreed to be the guinea pig of a BBC Back To The Floor documentary. Dickinson went to work at the lowest crew levels on the Fun Ship MS Imagination on a Carnival cruise in the Caribbean.

You have to admire him for doing it because it gives an amzing insight into just how exhausting and terrifyingly uncertain this world is. The person who is the real star of the film is Alina. She is a Romanian who cleans cabins and is paid $45 a month, and she works with Dickinson in the film.


Alina knows Dickinson is the boss, and you can see her holding back. But despite that she knows what she is up to - and she gives you a very clear idea of what life on Carnival's giant "fun ships" is really like.

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But at the very same time Knut Kloster returned  - with yet another vision.

He had spotted the central problem with the way the giant cruise liners had developed. They had been created as giant floating theatrical bubbles in which ordinary people could enter and feel for a few days that they were experiencing a luxurious indulgence that previously had been the privilege of just the rich and the upper classes.

But where should the really rich and powerful go - if all the Huggets were behaving as though they  now ruled the world?

Knut Kloster came up with a solution. He was going to design the most luxurious floating metropolis ever, where only the really rich could come aboard. They could buy luxury apartments for millions of pounds and float around the world free of the hoi polloi.

Here is a report from BBC Breakfast Time in 1998 when the dream-boat project was first announced.

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Kloster unveiled the ship in 2002. He called it The World. Just like everyone else he appeared to have abandoned his previous visions of world unity and compassion for the poor and downtrodden - this was strictly a utopia for the rich.

Journalists were allowed on for a look - and Oliver Burkeman described what he saw:

 "This is not a private yacht, nor is it a cruise ship," Kloster announced. "It's a vacation lifestyle concept that goes beyond anything that has ever existed."
The World - 644ft long, 12 decks high, built at a reported cost of $ 532m - redefined the meaning of exclusivity. For prices from £1.5m to £5m and above, the ultra-wealthy could purchase homes on what was, in essence, a floating city-state, complete with shopping streets, six restaurants, the only full-sized tennis court at sea, a church, several pools, one of which doubles as a dancefloor, a running track, a 7,000 square foot spa, a helipad, a retractable marina, and one staff member per resident.

The apartments sold really well. Many billionaires were obviously attracted by the fact that the World's multi-denominational chapel was designed by a member of the Norwegian group Ah-Ha.


But as the deadline for the setting sail came nearer, something like 30 of the 110 apartments remained unsold. So the company running the ship did something without telling the residents. They let the apartments out to "very rich" people who wanted to go on a sea cruise.

In mid-2002 the World sailed off around the world. And it all started to go wrong - the "very rich" cruise passengers had obviously been attracted by the free drink and started to fall over and vomit. They were behaving like Huggets.  The residents were outraged - and there was literally a mutiny on the ship. In 2003 the residents got together and bought the boat from the banks who owned it.

All the passengers were kicked off - and The World sailed off into mysterious exclusivity.


When Knut Kloster and Ted Arison invented the idea of modern cruising over forty years ago - at least one of them had a vision that it could help create a new era of world harmony and peace.

As the cruise-world developed and mutated over the next forty odd years it mirrored the changes in modern capitalism - from a naive utopian belief in transforming the world - to a harsh, narrow utilitarian vision of the free market where everyone above and below decks is expected to behave as "rational utility maximizers"

And today the world of the modern cruise liners also mirrors the present structure of our global society. Millions of people live in a world where they expect the luxuries which were previously only offered to the few. At the same time millions of others around the world struggle daily to create the platform that holds that fake luxury world together.

Meanwhile the small elite who are genuinely rich and powerful float off into the distance on their own boat - and kick anyone off who dares to get drunk and call it a cruise.

Our leaders tell us that we are all in the same boat.

But what will happen if our boat sinks? Will those same leaders be among the first to jump in the lifeboat and speed off into the dark telling us they have gone to get help?



  • Comment number 1.

    Great stuff Adam. But I'm surprised that you missed the biggest twist in this story -- that is, the rise of a new ideology. That of seasteading.

    Libertarians -- the last Utopians who cling to a dream of unlimited freedom accessed through the capitalist system -- have come up with a concept. They want to create new political systems -- floating on the water and so untaxed and ungoverned.


    What's more, to add a very interesting twist, one of the leading lights is... Milton Friedman's nephew, Patri Friedman who is not only an avid 'seasteader' but also a 'transhumanist'.


    Here's an article written by a journalist who featured in your last piece on stagnation in the Soviet Union:


    And so a new Utopian is born involving the cruise ship. But one that looks disturbingly like an attempt to avoid taxes while siphoning wealth off various countries through complex financial instruments.

  • Comment number 2.

    P.S. Adam, you've got to check out Patri Friedman's other... erm... venture:


    Seriously, this stuff is gold.

  • Comment number 3.

    @ Philip Pilkington:

    Wow, it was last week or the week before I was shooting my mouth off over the Costa Concordia, its lousy top-heavy design, the concept of passenger liners as Biosphere-type contrivances and how passenger liners make no small contribution to resource wastage and environmental pollution on a sleazebucket moral-desert newspaper website, and making modest impact on the commenting rabble who could only keep on blaming the hapless captain for the sinking ... and here was AC hard at work putting this effort together!

    I did whinge too about the potential such ships have for people wanting to evade taxation laws and the jurisdiction of countries where they may have committed other crimes.

    Wikipedia also has quite a good article on seasteading plus internal and external links for anyone wanting more information.

    I was thinking also that J G Ballard must have written a novel in his later years about people's (mis)behaviour on a cruise ship - it would have something along the lines of "Cocaine Nights" or "Kingdom Come".

    PLus it would be easy for such floating colonies to register with Greek authorities as under the Greek taxation system, if you derive your income or part of it from ships or shipping, that income is tax-exempt. (Yes, it says so on the Wikipedia article on taxation in Greece.) Might play some part as to why Greece is in such dire straits because shipping is a big business there yet the income earned from shipping is not subject to taxation.

  • Comment number 4.

    Another thought I've just had: I've been reading Chalmers Johnston's book "Dismantling the Empire: America's Last Best Hope" which has chapters on US military bases around the world and it's occurred to me that these giant passenger liners are very like these bases and also artificial towns like the Disney-created town Celebration.

    Soldiers and their families based in US bases need never venture outside (and in Baghdad, Iraq, it would be too dangerous to do so - and in most countries, the locals would prefer they keep to themselves as US soldiers in these camps often prey on women and children) as they are often the size of small towns. Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo is so huge it's become the major employer of the people in the town that hosts it. To get an idea of the size of the place, see this link at World Socialist website:

    Not so very long ago too, one of the TV tabloid current affairs shows interviewed a woman who had applied for a job working on a Scientology cruise ship and ended up working as a slave in degrading conditions for over 10 years. Here is a link to the ABC-TV show Lateline's coverage of the story:

    It would be very easy for organisations like the Church of Scientology to try to evade the law in many countries by establishing more cruise ships in its name if eventually governments decide it's no longer a religious organisation and can no longer apply for exemption from taxation on this basis.

  • Comment number 5.

    The links Phiiip Pilkington put in his first comment should be read by everyone after reading this great piece from Mr Curtis, thanks for posting those, the SeaSteading group seem like a dodgy bunch to say the least. The PayPal founder has so many dodgy stories linked to him that it's hard to keep up! Good to see Mark Ames writing that article on alternet (https://bit.ly/pxxYd3%29, I loved his Exile book (https://bit.ly/AmSKFp%29 and always look out for articles from him now.

    The CEO (Bob Dickinson), who has now retired (https://bit.ly/wKaQjE%29, didn't seem to have too much sympathy for the struggling workforce and seemed to take the whole placement as a bit more of a nice fun way to meet the guests and drop his favoured 'I'm a rookie' line. The huge irony in the video was the fair wage that Alina paid her helper (a fixed & decent amount) regardless of the tips she received herself, you can imagine Bob thought she was an idiot for this and probably would have liked to suggest she sorted out a free market style arrangement instead (e.g she pays her helper a base 0.50c a day and then 10% of any tips she receives at the end..). In all there were plenty of labour slaves on show in the videos here, how the butler managed his working schedule without a breakdown is a mystery to me.

    "How one half of the world all began to live as though they were aristocrats, while the other half became their servants. And how this allowed the real elite aristocrats of our time - who had become wealthier than any group ever before in history - to disappear, and become invisible." - Sums things up perfectly, although this part "How one half of the world all began to live as though they were aristocrats" is clearly and unfortunately ephemeral for that one half through faux aristocratic experiences such as cruises!

    Finally, the videos are further proof to me of how a cruise would be my least favourable way to spend my fleeting holiday time - Maybe it's my inner "Meanwhile the small elite who are genuinely rich and powerful float off into the distance on their own boat - and kick anyone off who dares to get drunk and call it a cruise." snobbery coming out but they look like cattle markets...

  • Comment number 6.

    Are these the new capitalist buccaneers? Like Radio caroline but on steroids.

  • Comment number 7.

    Thank you for the insight into the rich and foolish and the people whose blood they suck.A seamanship question:What was going on in the mind of the captain. Was he trying to recreate the landings at Normandy? It takes an enormous contagion of stupidity to park a boat that size, that close to shore.

  • Comment number 8.

    L Ron Hubbard was another fan of high sea living

  • Comment number 9.

    @ James Morrison:

    Lordy me, you are right, he did organise a naval force within the Church of Scientology:

    And I have noticed from some of the videos that AC posted, and from Johnston's description of US military base life in his book, that the culture on the cruise ships (the American ones anyway) and military bases looks peculiarly American small-town Christian-fundamentalist, or at any rate has some of that self-satisfied, insular flavour.

    Presumably what was going to pass as culture on the Costa Concordia before it crashed would be LCD (lowest common denominator) Euro-disco / techno-trance culture or some updated version of it.

  • Comment number 10.

    This is staggering. The World didn't quite sail off into mystery. They publish their route and even have a kind of estate agents front window where you can view apartments for sale. The route is here;

  • Comment number 11.

    Thanks to Philip Pilkington and BFKate's contributions (and thanks also to Adam Curtis for the original post), this whole fantasy cruise ship business gets dodgier all the time. Can barely hold back the rising vomit!

    But I believe in balance and keeping the sick stuff at bay so why don't I just throw in an anchor to the latest World Socialist website rant on the Costa Concordia shenanigans, the cynical move of Carnival Corporation's HQ to Panama to avoid US labour laws and the increasing risk to passenger and crew safety of over-built passenger liners plying ever more treacherous waters in ... the Arctic and Antarctic of all places?

    Don't forget that some time in April, 2012, is the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic due to piloting error and a misplaced iceberg.

    And here is news about Shari Arison, heir to the whole Carnival Corporation circus, owner of Bank Hapoalim, the largest commercial bank in Israel and one of the world's "greenest" billionaires. She even has her own eco-spiritual website.

    There is a huge cognitive disconnect in people like Shari Arison and Patri Friedman who present themselves as caring and having sustainable values yet have lifestyles based on exploiting people at some level.

    Now please excuse me so I can barf!

  • Comment number 12.

    It all coheres. The main character in 'Wild Palms' (which I was talking about in reference to the last blog!) is a manipulative guru/politician based on L. Ron Hubbard, and you know what, he has his own private navy, and spends half his time in naval uniform!

  • Comment number 13.

    I've just purchased an apartment on The World and gifted it to Ian Bone.

  • Comment number 14.

    Sometimes it's contended that even wealth distribution would still leave everyone fairly poor, but I think that this ignores the tremendous wastage involved in a world ordered around conflict and hedonism. The energy spent on warfare alone could probably multiply living-standards.

    But if not through coercion, how else can we ensure people work hard? I think coercion figures large even in creative, personally fulfilling pursuits, as well as in potato-picking and in bedpan-changing. Hard work is necessary to maintain civilisation at current population levels, and at the moment it mostly happens under some lash or other.

    I'm as idealistic as the next man, but I can laze around all day until I think someone will get disappointed or angry with me, or fire me, if I don't do my duty. Humans do not consistently work hard for purely good reasons, and can produce their best work and ideas when under stress. Utopian conditions can make people soft and lazy. And bored beyond satiability.

    Any thoughts on this?

  • Comment number 15.

    @ G: If you have to coerce people to work hard, that's because often the nature of the work, the way it is structured or the conditions under which people work offer no intrinsic satisfaction.

    Change the work, change the way it is done or change the conditions and you'll find people's motivation will change. Many if not most people are doing work that's not suited to their personalities, talent or skills: they're doing it under sufferance from need, family pressure, cultural pressure. The work may be fragmented: you could make a car for example by getting one group of workers to make the whole thing from scratch, in the manner of a craft; or you break up the manufacture into lots of meaningless repetitive jobs and assign each job to a different worker to do day in, day out. How much control does the worker have over the design of his/her job or the final product? - that's a major issue in motivating people. Then there is the work context: how is the worker rewarded, how many hours does the worker put in, is the factory safe to work in, does the worker have to travel long distances from home to the factory, is the worker happy doing the same thing day in, day out, with no prospect of advancing in the work hierarchy.

    There is also the issue of extrinsic motivation versus intrinsic motivation. If you are doing work that is creative and personally fulfilling, you probably don't need much extrinsic motivation like money, status or acclaim. Probably the person to read is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who has done work on creativity and flow, and there is a branch of psychology known as positive psychology that looks at how to make life more fulfilling. And other people to read include Abraham Maslow (hierarchy of needs) and Daniel Kahneman (hedonic psychology).

    As for Utopian conditions, I don't know if I would enjoy them for very long. I had a look at the Utopia Residences website www.utopiaresidences.com - Utopia is the name of the US$1 billion passenger liner being built by Samsung in Finland and is due to set sail in 2014. "Residences" can be bought for up to US$26 million a unit(that's a 3-4 bedroom unit measuring 530 - 614 sq m). Activities for passengers include on-shore excursions, art appreciation, sport, meditation, as well as the usual cinema offerings, nightlife, casinos and shopping.

    I think I would get depressed as well as bored and have to depend on tranquillisers to survive such a lifestyle but I don't really know. I might even feel like sabotaging something as well and end up getting thrown off!

  • Comment number 16.


    "If you have to coerce people to work hard, that's because often the nature of the work, the way it is structured or the conditions under which people work offer no intrinsic satisfaction."

    I have heard this view, and am at least vaguely familiar with the authors you cite, but I think that this view should be presented as a possible truth, not a certain truth.

    I agree with the view that people should not be alienated automatons in their working life, but I do not want to jump to extreme wishful conclusions about the extent to which this can be achieved.

    To get fit you need to endure painful exercise. To lose excess fat you need to experience hunger. There are better and worse ways of going about these but discomfort and some form of coercion (even if only from one's on conscience or from awareness of medical necessity) will always be involved.

  • Comment number 17.

    @ G: I don't know that to be fit, you need to endure painful exercise. Pain would indicate that you have injured something and you need to reduce your exercise, not keep going.

    As for athletes, they have different motivations which make them willing to endure pain. Whether they perceive the pain as "pain" is different. I heard the news about the men's final at the Australian Open tennis championships: the finalists played for over 5 hours and both would have needed 2 - 3 days to make a full recovery. Will they play that kind of marathon tennis if they happen to meet in the next major tennis championship final (Wimbledon most likely)? I would say they will and are prepared to. As for what motivates them, it is difficult to say but money, fame and beating Roger Federer in how many major championship titles they can collect may be the least of their motivations.

    As for losing fat, that's a more complicated issue because Western diets are skewed towards foods that are cheap to make (and so cheap to buy) and can be produced in bulk or in large amounts but actually have very little nutrition. If you look at this map of obesity in the US, you'll see the states with the highest percentages of obesity as a proportion of the population are poor states like Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and others in the southeast part of the country:

    This phenomenon has been noted in the UK and Australia as well, that the fattest people are the poorest because they can't afford to eat well and usually eat the cheapest foods which are energy-dense, industrially produced foods. These foods contain a lot of salt or sweeteners (natural or artificial), the latter being highly addictive.

  • Comment number 18.

    This your best article for ages, great stuff! One criticism - the structure, and certain turns of phrase you employ, are becoming a little repetitive. For example, I'm pretty sure you say this in nearly every documentary/blog post you've ever made -'But it didn't turn out like that. And this is the story of what happened - and how the very opposite resulted.'

  • Comment number 19.

    Ironic that the measures for getting operational feedback from the waiters & cleaners that the undercover cruise ship chairman proposes at the meeting, are one of the roles that trade unions should perform. Only when he's seen it with his own eyes can he trust that measures to help the staff are not just a waste of money, but a way of getting everyone working to their best. Sad really, that industrial relations are so poor; it would be good if Unions and bosses could work together for the benefit of all, rather than just trying to win unfair advantages for their side and unbalancing the commercial operation one way or the other. We need fewer buccaneers in the boardrooms and leading the Unions, so that we can get working, not conquering and living pretty at others' expense.

  • Comment number 20.

    This is all very well, no pain no gain, but when the pain is being inflicted by an external agent from a position of relative comfort and immunity vis a vis the subject, what guarantees can you give that the line into sadism will not be crossed? Has it not occurred to you that people who take pleasure in harming others may well find themselves in positions of authority, and indulge their whims/prejuduces/perversions under the cover of the sort of rhetoric you espouse? You speak of utopia, but what of it's polar opposite, dystopia? Do you not agree that even if utopia is unobtainable, we should still take measures to ensure we do not end up in "120 days of Sodom" territory? It seems to me that the line you are taking leads to learned helplessness, which is why I for one reject it.

  • Comment number 21.

    Actually I think the notion hard work is some pre-requisite to maintaining current population levels is a distorted view of why we have so many people to start with.

    If you actually look at civilisation most of the heavy lifting is done by machines powered by fossil fuels, moreover the numbers of people employed in food production and distribution is tiny compared to the overall population levels.

    The sad fact is most of us are employed in jobs that do nothing but produce consumptive roles for each other or employ the lower strata of society to do our bidding.

    These cruise liners redistribute wealth from the developed world by people [who do work of dubious merit] to people of the developing world who essentially slave to provide luxury for lazy patrons who in the main suffer from some sort of narcissistic entitlement delusion.

    The entire construction of these ships and its faux luxury is non essential in theoretical terms when it come to sustaining civilisation. It is a completely superfluous endeavour.

    a redistribution of labour along with wealth would IMO not be a bad thing. why shouldn't everybody have to spend a few days a year cleaning toilets?

  • Comment number 22.

    I suppose in a sense I agree with G. Coercion has its place. We should all be made to some of the sXXt jobs.

  • Comment number 23.

    @ G: I just remembered from my university days back in the Palaeolithic times (ie before year 2000) reading something about W Edwards Deming and his philosophy of Total Quality Management which was rejected by US manufacturers back in the 1950s but eagerly embraced by Japanese firms in the same period. One implication of TQM was that it involved workers in the process of product design and the design of work processes needed to bring the product from raw materials to its finished state. You can have a look at this quick summary from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._Edwards_Deming

    The philosophy may have been abused later by Japanese firms and certainly much of what Japanese companies achieved during the 1970s - 80s depended very much on subcontracting work out to small firms who for all I know were subjected to coercion and threats if they did not do their part of the work. But it's worthwhile checking out the TQM philosophy because it offered an alternative to the traditional Western management model based on Frederick Taylor's scientific management philosophy which has been exported across most of the world.

    As for "hard work", is there any proof that coercion gets better results out of people than treating them well and giving them control of what they do and produce? I know of course that people in factories in China work hard but you must surely be aware that there is a huge level of industrial strife in that country, especially in the coastal provinces around Shanghai and Guangzhou. Unsurprisingly, very little of that conflict is reported in the Western media.

    As for growing enough food to feed the world's current population, I don't even think "hard work" comes into the solution. In the old Soviet Union, something like 25% of the food produced was grown on private plots which made up 3% of the land under cultivation. Most of the food grown on private plots was fruit and vegetables. The people who grew that food and sold it did so in their spare time after work. Did they have to be forced to do that?

    Some people argue that if we got rid of grains like wheat or corn and based our diets around fruit, vegetables (leafy vegetables, root vegetables, nuts, legumes) and some animal protein, and relied much less on cereals than we do now, we would be much healthier and more fit. The fat people around us would not exist because obesity in Western society stems in large part from the industrial food production systems we have and the companies that control them.

    The problem of fee

  • Comment number 24.

    (continued) The problem of feeding people is in part a problem of distribution and how that is distorted by governments, corporations and agencies that try to control what we eat and how much we eat, and that also determine what is grown and where it is grown. In some countries there are either laws or legislation under consideration that try to restrict people's freedom to grow fruit and vegetables for themselves and families and friends even if they only intend to grow food in small plots, as in pots on a balcony. In some places you're not even allowed to collect rain-water!

    Anyway ... did you put up those remarks in Comments 16 and 17 as a curveball or are you finally expressing your inner fascist?

  • Comment number 25.

    I think that's a tad unfair. The question of motivation and justice in a modern economy [or any] has not been resolved IME. So raising the spectre of coercion is not completely absurd. It certainly promotes discussion.

  • Comment number 26.

    @G @Nausika
    Whatever way you look at it, some jobs are plain crap no matter what way you want to re-imagine them. Try wiping crap off a bathroom wall. Ultimately - corny as it sounds - love has got to be the ultimate motivation to do any work. I am not saying love is for the actual task at hand (I am presuming most people do not have an inherent yen to wipe crap off walls). In any case, most jobs have some sort of crap element to them. But if you have a positive sense of self-esteem and self-worth (which is, in part, brought about by being treated well in your job i.e. I am also *not* saying that it is okay to treat people/employees badly), there are still going to be crap jobs to do and once people realise that their self worth is not reflected in the tasks they do but recognise instead that the work needs to be done, that - out of love - they want to contribute, then we might be able to get somewhere.

  • Comment number 27.

    For a lighter look at modern cruising, follow @AlexAboard or visit www.spottednovel.com

  • Comment number 28.

    @ G, mididoctors, ohgee

    Ohgee's remark brings back what I said in Comment 15 about job design and structuring and how that affects people's motivation.

    The crappest job I can think of is collecting nightsoil which is still done in India and in some parts of Japan, and was common in China. There may be ways in which this job can be improved or redesigned so it doesn't pose a health hazard for collectors and minimises their physical contact with the waste: it can be treated a bit at the outhouse source before collection and technology can be invented or adapted to its collection. The collectors could take the waste to a sewage treatment plant for further composting before it is used as fertiliser.

    The job can also be redesigned so it pays well and is linked to other jobs in a job rotation scheme for the collector. The stigma attached to being a nightsoil collector might reduce in some societies where "untouchables" do the job. You could also include incentives for people using the outhouse to leave it in a hygienic condition eg make it a coin-operated outhouse where they leave a coin deposit and get the coin back after using the outhouse. This would involve redesigning the toilet to eliminate or minimise smells.

    The collectors themselves would be encouraged to own their work through suggesting ways of improving the collection, seeing their ideas taken on board and implemented, and being able to design their work tasks where this is possible.

    Come to think of it, collecting nightsoil isn't the "crappest" job: I think being a soldier trained to kill people would be the crappest job. No way around it: coercion is required to get people, often young people straight out of school, to kill others who may be young like themselves. I need not go into any real-life examples, I think you know what they are. If you force young people to do this kind of job, they will suffer serious psychological consequences even if they are not physically harmed.

  • Comment number 29.

    @ G, mididoctors, ohgee

    The other thing that can be done with nightsoil which removes the stigma of its collection and disposal is for everyone in the community where this is done to collect their own nightsoil and take it to a central repository. They could be paid for doing this and the payment based on the dry weight of the nightsoil. They could collect animal waste as well and also be paid for it.

    I managed to find an article about nightsoil collection in Japan during the Tokugawa period (1603 - 1868) which you all may find enlightening - it even mentions people fighting over who "owned" or "produced" nightsoil! That's taking the "love" a bit far.

    I hold that if you have to force people to do work, that "work" may not be of benefit to them or to anyone else and people will resist either passively (they won't do a good job, they dissociate themselves from it by taking drugs or getting drunk, they lose passion for life in extreme situations) or actively (by being violent). By "work" that is of no benefit, I mean work done in slave-like conditions where all the benefit or profit goes to an elite or work that designed to break a people's spirit, wrecks their culture and removes their identity as a people (eg forcing First Nations people, for want of a better collective term, to become farmers or industrial workers, accept a foreign religion and having their children taken away from them).

  • Comment number 30.

    There's a simple service one can do for important conversations, and that is to see where thinking has become imbalanced and offer a counter-weight. It is in this spirit that I made the remarks earlier.

    I think it's good to encourage people to imagine and discuss better possible worlds, but an imbalance as I perceive it is that the idealistic people who participate in such discussions tend to want worlds without hardship, or worlds where hardship is unfeasibly minimised.

    A main theme of this article is how the bottom of the social pyramid has to suffer in order to (however imperfectly or even illusorily) save the top of the pyramid from suffering. Even however if we take luxury to be an entirely false consolation, we must admit that even the most austere provisions of survival require people digging in mud up to their elbows to pick rice, tending to victims of revolting contagious diseases and personality disorders, sweating over pneumatic drills, fighting against criminal maniacs and dangerous animals, and performing daunting creative tasks and deadly dull administrative tasks. These can never be entirely pleasant or 'fulfilling' no matter how the work is organised.


    No matter what kind of revolution takes place.

    I'm no Spartan for sure, but to me this other extreme of pursuing a total hedonistic paradise seems low and unworthy. When you think it out to its logical limits it also seems absurd and impossible. There are notions of 'the good life' that allow for pain and difficulty as a reasonable constituent. Religious societies had conceptual space for a worthy life full of suffering, but to modern people this is an oxymoron. The religious societies were wrong about a lot of things, but not this.

  • Comment number 31.

    @G: I have not said from my comments from Comment 15 that I would get rid of "hard work" or hardship entirely. There is a difference between hard work that arises from the nature of the work itself, what the worker perceives the rewards at the end to be, the worker's motivations for undertaking that work and what the worker understands the sacrifices involved to be, on the one hand; and on the other hand, hard work that may not be associated with the job but is because of its social / economic / political context.

    I know if I work hard at something I enjoy, it doesn't feel like hard work at all. I know what it's like to pick up jobs other people won't or can't do since the time when I was a 16 year old kid in biology class, the teacher divided us into groups of four and gave each group a dead rat to cut up. Guess who cut the rat up in my group while the other kids were turning green and sick?

    (I cut out what I thought were the rat's ovaries but the teacher came along, glanced at my achievement and said they were the rat's testes so make of that what you will!)

    And I was just told at work that a job I used to do for a couple of years until late 2010 will fall back on me again because the people it went to, one after the other, neglected doing it: keeping names, phone contact numbers and various details up to date in the firm's national and international disaster plans, reminding all the firm's national and international offices to maintain their influenza kit supplies and sending information about minimising mosquito exposure risks to the Southeast Asian offices every time a typhoon hits.

    Dull administrative tasks to some people but necessary, and I don't mind doing those at all.

    I vaguely remember crying over accounting assignments when I was getting low marks in the first semester of my undergraduate course but I stuck out the course, got my degree and, unlike most other students I knew doing the course, I enjoyed it!

    Someone on another blog forum suggested to me that if money were no problem I would not hesitate to live on the Utopia passenger liner. I told her I couldn't see myself living in an environment where everything is sanitised and controlled, happiness is pre-ordered and pre-packaged for you, and if you are not seen to be enjoying yourself or keeping busy with the activities organised for you, the staff will force you to conform, and you have to consent to being made infantile whether you like it or not.

  • Comment number 32.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 33.

    @Nausika: Haha, rats have extremely prominent testes so unless it was very young that's a hard mistake to make...

    In my initial post I was not directly addressing you or accusing you of wanting to abolish all hardship. Just asking a question. I would like to see Eudaimonia on Earth, of course, but right-wingers are not just cartoon bad-guys; their concerns about chaos and idleness should at least be addressed seriously.

    @niallation: Belated reply:


    Please read and respond to what I actually wrote instead of assuming that my arguments must be the tip of a Nazi iceberg. You are arguing with your own imaginary fascist, I am not one.

  • Comment number 34.

    The band is called A-ha rather than Ah-ha.

    * Insert comment about journalistic standards at the BBC *

    In other news I've also realised I have too much time on my hands.

  • Comment number 35.

    13, That made me laugh! And whenever it pops into my head , I'm sure I'll at least grin again.

    Regardless of what one thinks of his politics, or even aspects of his conduct, a young man who started out as a steward on the type of ship shown in the Alan Whicker doc from 1966, just a few years before that film, ended up as a MP, then Minister, then de-facto Deputy Prime Minister of the UK. Even to the House of Lords.
    John Prescott.

    (Who in the Commons was for years the butt of Tory MP's shouting out 'waiter' whenever he rose to speak, which of course only made Prescott dislike them more).
    But Prescott was in his sailing days in a Union, which was a springboard into politics and even further education.
    How likely is it that those slaving away for a pittance on today's ships have the remotest chance of improving their life chances, not in the same way as Prescott maybe, but much at all?

    Even allowing for the mass use of staff from developing nations (granted staff like the East Europeans on the Carnival documentary are not from the 3rd world so have better chances generally), will we ever see another British MP who started out as a ship's steward amongst the hordes of ex 'Special Advisors', Lawyers, City Traders in the political class today?

    While Prescott will be remembered for thumping someone who threw an egg at him, for his love for Jaguar cars and for a rather grubby affair with one of his staff, once in government he did work to try and improve the lot of British Merchant Mariners.
    (And pushing through not only the first new rail line in the UK since 1899, the HS1 for the Channel Tunnel link, which would at last match rail speeds on the UK section of the line to that of France, on time AND on budget. But you'd struggle to find THAT mentioned anywhere in the media).

  • Comment number 36.

    What the ...? My comment at 32 was killed! It was a general observation to G about how firms "save" money by turning employees into subcontractors or "consultants". A sneaky way of cutting back on employee entitlements like health insurance, super, sick leave and holiday leave and of circumventing worker safety laws. It's not a rare phenomenon. Not nice! BBC moderators, bring my comment back!

    I just heard that IBM in Germany is trialling a project in which external IT people are employed on temporary global work contracts to do work in the cloud. They would compete for work projects advertised on the Internet and do all their work entirely on cloud platforms. After the work is done and they receive their pay, they become unemployed and have to compete for new cloud-based projects.

    The full details of IBM's pilot project can be read here: https://www.wsws.org/articles/2012/feb2012/ibmc-f11.shtml

  • Comment number 37.

    @18 ... Alby, this is Adam's theme and unifying concept: Things never work out as planned.... :-D

    Some people I know who do this cruising lark (on ships you understand) have told me that they now pay a "Tip" up-front, before they embark. Then, onboard they need tip no more. I have also heard that the unlimited booze angle has been modified. The cruise methodology has been replicated on-land by the "All-Inclusive" resorts nowadays, and many guests never set foot off-campus in those.

    On the old Andes footage I was struck by how well-spoken one of the Stewards was, he sounded posher than some of the guzzlers upstairs. I was also struck by the statistic that 9,000 bottle of booze had been consumed by 450 passengers. It didn't sound like nearly enough by today's standards.... :-D

  • Comment number 38.

    Dear BBC Moderators,

    I'm beginning to wonder at what passes for acceptable discourse and what doesn't on this and other BBC blog forums.

    Isn't peculiar that on this comments forum alone I've been able to discuss nightsoil collection and the indoor and outdoor plumbing of rodents without censure but when I move onto the issue of businesses forcing or persuading their employees into accepting subcontractor positions at lower rates of pay and with reduced benefits - a worthy topic for disquisition, I would have thought - all of a sudden, BANG! ... this topic is torpedoed into the stratosphere and becomes verboten for further inquiry?

    Perhaps if I were to raise any of these topics for discussion:

    - the breeding behaviours of Indian snub-nosed fruit bats
    - placentophagy in traditional Chinese medicine
    - Octave Mirbeau's 1899 novel "The Torture Garden"
    - Georges Franju's 1949 film "Blood of the Beasts"
    - cannibalism as a form of class warfare and revolutionary insurrection during the Cultural Revolution in China
    - medical and scientific experiments at Unit 731 in Manchuria during the 1930s-40s
    - the effects of California corn lily consumption by pregnant cattle, goats and sheep on their foetuses
    - whether if you shoot the TV remote control the pressure of the bullet causes data to transmit to the TV and change channels while the gadget explodes
    - and with this year being an Olympic Games year: pankration fighting techniques used in the ancient Olympic Games

    you would all cast your cool gaze over them and think, we will pass whatever excites these commenters' tiny little minds 24/7 as long as it takes them off the streets, out of mischief and away from the front pages of newspapers and the TV screens.

    Now I shall step aside as I observe the stampede I have just unleashed among you and my fellow commenters here to the nearest PC or laptop to Google-search information on the breeding behaviours of Indian snub-nosed fruit bats ...

    Yours faithfully,

  • Comment number 39.

    I was a mod once. Sometimes it's quick-n-dirty, and mistakes are made - I wouldn't necessarily read too much into it.

  • Comment number 40.

    @ G: I did see the funny side of what happened which is why I posted my whine at 38.

    Having noticed what niallation wrote earlier, I remembered an old friend who went back to Singapore to live and who had Indonesian maids working for her and her husband. She complained about them a lot whenever we corresponded and they never lasted very long in her employ. I have a feeling that my friend was frustrated that she never had any real work to do and was venting her anger on the maids. In Sydney, she had a real job to go to but in Singapore she either was not allowed to work or her qualifications weren't recognised, and her husband was earning enough that she didn't need to work.

    Similarly when I read accounts of Filipina and Indonesian maids working in places like Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong and Taiwan, and hear of the abuse they suffer, it often turns out that much of that abuse comes from their female employers who are kept as ornaments by their husbands or the families they marry into and are discouraged from doing any real work inside or outside the home. Of course, I'm not discounting male employers who see the maids as sexually available.

    I also recall reading some literature on the treatment of slaves and indentured labour in the southern US states before the American civil war. I can't remember the author or the title of the book but it compared the treatment of slaves with pets. Domestic slaves were often treated much worse than field slaves even though field slaves might have had tougher, more arduous work to do in sometimes extreme weather conditions and were given rags or even nothing to wear. It wasn't unusual for female domestic slaves or indentured labour to be beaten badly by the master's wife if they made the slightest mistake or bothered her just by being what they were: often young, attractive and available to the master. (What many accounts of Thomas Jefferson's mistress Sally Hemmings leave out is that she was the very much younger half-sister of his wife.)

    Of course the fact that domestic servants are usually seen as lower on the social/racial/biological scale by their employers has some influence on their treatment. At the same time, it is difficult for employers to treat domestic servants as their equals. I did hear of an actual case in Taiwan where the employers actually invited the maid to eat with them at dinner-times but the maid always refused; part of the reason may have been that her contract prevented this but another, more likely reason could be that she needed psychological space away from the family and didn't wish to be too closely tied to them.

    The utopian life as stereotyped isn't an ideal life for the beneficiaries either. I suggest that such a life-style of collecting wealth, luxury and toys and competing with others for status could actually encourage cruelty and warped tendencies in people. In other words, psychopathic people aren't drawn to that life-style, it's the life-style that makes them psychopathic. They are similar to celebrities who through their fame and wealth are insulated from the rest of society by sycophants and groupies and end up rather strange to us ordinary mortals.

    @ BBC Moderators: You're absolved of responsbility for kapowing my comment - you were just doing as told by someone!

  • Comment number 41.

    I have a sneaking feeling that my comment at 32 was guillotined at the request of none other than ... the person to whom it was addressed. ;-)

    The perpetrator should be made to read this:

    Forced work is the enemy of true work, as in the work that arises naturally out of the nature of the task and is in itself reward and the source for satisfaction and contentment.

    Slackers of the world, unite and take time off! You have nothing to lose but your energy and creativity for the joy of life.

    I think that's being fair ... and let no-one kill this comment off!

  • Comment number 42.

    I feel foolish because I am still capable of being disappointed by people's craziness on the Internet.

    Nausika, a) I did not report your comment and b) Many of the sentiments in your instructive link there could have come from my own mind - both before and after I was first exposed to Anarchist theory.

    Building an entire illusory picture of someone from a few of their comments is partly due to the limitations of the human mind and the medium of communication here, but it's also crazy. When every remark or posited hypothetical is taken to encapsulate your entire outlook, that is really crazy. And where did this 'sneaking feeling' arise from if not pure paranoia?

  • Comment number 43.

    @ G: Am I crazy and paranoid? Perhaps - I'm human as well (last time I looked in the mirror, the reflection was there so I'm not a vampire at least) and it's human nature to suspect the worst. On a recent previous AC post, I had two comments deleted but at least there I was given the opportunity to express a formal complaint.

    I myself am surprised that I still need to let off some steam over the issue after a week and this might say something about the depth of emotional investment I put into the comment as well as the mental effort. I am sure I'm not the only one here who gets a bit emotional and even aggressive sometimes in posting a comment. Do I not detect a little anger and peevishness in your comment at 42?

    Still I didn't think there was anything I said at 32 that would offend anyone or be considered provocative; I made the comment so general that it looked artificial. The experience I described was a common one, more or less. At the very least it could have been ignored and I could have accepted that. (Well I think I could have accepted that!)

    It was just yesterday actually while reading the Sydney Morning Herald that I saw a reader's letter describing an actual situation: Bank A contracts Private Firm 1 to do some IT work but PF1 doesn't have enough staff to do it. Bank A and PF1 arrange for PF1 to take over Bank A's staff so they effectively work for a new employer. In this scenario, PF1 accepts Bank A's obligations to the transferred staff with regard to providing sick and holiday leave, salary and superannuation entitlements, all the staff's accrued entitlements and benefits, and any other unique benefits the staff may have enjoyed which were not available to Bank A's other staff. Whatever PF1 pays to the transferred staff in the way of salaries and entitlements, it is paid back by Bank A ... plus Bank A also pays PF1 what is owed to PF1 for doing the job that Bank A requires. The ultimate costs eventually trickle down to be borne by the bank's customers.

    Although in this scenario the staff got all that they were entitled to get, there is no suggestion that if any one of them were to leave and be replaced, the replacement staff might receive the same pay and benefits that his/her predecessor enjoyed.

    I was being playful at 38 and 40 as well - I think in a forum as this, having a playful attitude helps to transmute any feelings of aggression and hostility.

    I will give up my terrier pursuit of the lost comment and let the grievance pass.

  • Comment number 44.

    @ G: I apologise for the insinuations I made against you at 24 and 41.

    It occurred to me that you are or have been a university academic and that what I described at 32 before it was deleted might have matched your experiences and caused discomfort to you. That is why I had that "sneaking feeling".

    I don't know what the situation is with higher education employment in other countries but here in Australia most university workers work on fixed-term or casual contracts. After hospitality and picking fruit, higher education is the most casualised industry in Australia. It is one of the country's biggest export earners yet universities here never have enough money to employ most people as permanent staff.

    As the American saying goes: Go figure. Or you could read this:

    As for picking fruit: I was visiting another blog forum where the discussion turned to picking grapes for ice wine. The grapes have to be picked while frozen and must be picked by hand at midnight or during the early hours of the morning, usually between 2 am and sunrise, in cold conditions, usually in early January in the northern hemisphere. Germany and Canada (southern Ontario especially) are the main producers of ice wine as they alone consistently have the proper condtions for growing ice wine grapes. Not surprisingly the pay has to be high to attract workers and this translates into high prices for the wine.

    A good example of a job from which the work that arises is repetitive and arduous and which can't be done any other way. The alternative is to pick grapes and then freeze them artificially which is done in Australia and New Zealand but the result does not taste as good as wine from naturally frozen grapes.

    I just heard another crazy bank story here in which Bank 2 is abolishing 1,000 jobs making 1,000 staff redundant, announces stunning profits, is raising interest rates to safeguard profit levels AND has decided to send 200 staff on a LUXURY CRUISE for 5 days costing over $1 million.

    I may be crazy but other people are crazier still.

  • Comment number 45.

    the internet....

    It strikes me that this call for us all pulling together because we are all in the same boat is not only hypocritical because it is not true but also very odd because it is an appeal to the socialist idea of collective issues where we are supposed to recognise we share the same problem and therefore have interests in common. Given that it is the spokesmen for the free market making this appeal? .... tragically comic?

    In other news I see Lord Lucan's ghost has popped up.

  • Comment number 46.

    @ mididoctors: Not tragically comic ... it is like appeals to patriotism and to one's sense of community with others whether in sport, religion, entertainment, work, family squabbles or other endeavour.

    Anyone who begs to differ becomes an outsider and likely to be sidelined or ostracised.

    It's not unusual for corporations to co-opt the language and imagery of radical movements or youth culture developments: the entire history of rock music, hiphop and many other music genres shows that these forms originate as platforms for expressing dissent against oppressive forces and tendencies in Western society but over time their symbols and personalities are co-opted by the forces themselves. (Think of people like Bob Geldof, Sting and Bono - I never took them seriously as musicians or activists in the first place but others did and still do.) Politicians and corporations go around touting their environmental credentials and support carbon emissions trading markets, which I find just another form of speculation and waste of resources, while continuing with policies and activities that damage the environment. In most countries where Green politicians have been voted into power, the Greens prove just as keen on supporting policies destructive of the environment as other politicians if advocating environmental initiatives might lead to job losses or economic downturn.

    The Pirate party in Germany has won seats in various state legislatures there but I can't see that it's capable of becoming anything other than a Green party Mk 2 or a pro-capitalist party.

    This is the dilemma facing the Occupy movements in most countries: they are aiming for inclusiveness and appeal to people's sense of outrage against elites and their behaviour but beyond those appeals, they become vague and therefore don't command sustained support from the wider public.

  • Comment number 47.

    After reading the news about Facebook outsourcing its content moderation to people in Third World countries through an agency, paying the moderators US$1 an hour and providing very little counselling or psychological assistance to the moderators for having to trawl through loads of garbage and filth, I suppose I should be kinder to our Totalitarian Overlords ... oops, our BBC moderators who police this blog, keep us well-behaved, identify and assassinate any potential trouble-makers, quell any peasant and worker uprisings with the utmost severity ... oh, there I go again.

    Looking at what Amine Derkaoui and his fellow moderators got paid to do (https://gawker.com/5885714/%29, and the guidelines they were given, I am really shocked at how they are treated and what their treatment and the guidelines together say about the dead-zone morality that exists at Facebook and in much mainstream Western culture generally.

    But I shouldn't have been surprised: Facebook is out for profit after all and its Board of Directors includes Peter Thiel who funds Patri Friedman's Seasteading Institute which itself represents a near-perfect medium for people wishing to evade their responsibilities to the society and country they are citizens of while wanting all the privileges and benefits. Thiel also funds the free-market think-tank Pacific Research Institute which itself is linked to similar libertarian think-tanks American Enterprise Institute and the Cato Institute.

  • Comment number 48.

    Another great post from Adam - it's like turning over the stones of history and seeing what's crawling beneath.

    But there's a fascinating spin-off to this cruise culture that is, I think right up your street. Have you ever heard of the Ship of Spies?


  • Comment number 49.

    Another great post Adam - this is like turning over the stones of history and seeing what's crawling underneath!

    But there's a whole sub-culture spin-off to this cruise industry that is I think right up your street to investigate. Have you ever heard of the Ship of Spies?


  • Comment number 50.

    Fantastic post and fascinating comments.

    @G - with the greatest respect I think a lot of things you say about people and the inherent limitations with any future society can't be upheld, others have dealt with them on here. And I realise you are trying to provide a counter-opinion to some of the 'utopian optimism' on here. But in a time where There Is No Alternative and we are trapped by the stifling norms of the current system, do you really think that countervailing voice is needed? It's not like we're lost as a society in the unrealistic dreams of impossible fantasy worlds - the opposite is true.

    We've managed today to create a society where selfishness and suspicion and isolation and banality and disempowerment are normalised. This has led to unhappiness and emptiness in 'civilised' countries, and an abysmal existence for most of the world. We're prone to these tendencies. But we're also capable of cooperation and selflessness and tolerance and empathy and love - why can we build a world than reflects these virtues? There are barriers, clearly, but one of them is not innate human nature. I don't care what people have to say IN CAPITALS.


  • Comment number 51.

    @ theartteacher - Don't normally resort to capitals, but I was struggling to make myself understood.

    I think it's futile to oppose without understanding - it only results in the same old endless pendulum-swings. If you're interested in a world with little or no coercion, understand the arguments for coercion and deal with them bravely and honestly. Don't just flee from the unpleasant into some vision of the pleasant.

    There are people who believe in authoritarianism who are not evil or stupid. Therefore I should consider the merits of authoritarianism. This does not mean I am selling out to the Man; I am far from authoritarian or powerful, but I try to deal with life in an adult way, seeing it as it really is. I try, anyway.

    Wolves can't live in groups without bullying each other; it's not known - I repeat, not known - whether humans can. It's a scientific question, in a way, but too big to tackle experimentally, so everyone just has his own opinion.

  • Comment number 52.

    @ theartteacher2, G:

    There are countries where authoritarianism has been preferred over democracy and these are often countries with a recent history of extreme political instability and war: China, South Korea and Russia come to mind.

    Authoritarianism need not be synonymous with "police state": many east Asian countries practise soft authoritarianism and could be described as nanny states. People actually seem to enjoy being conformist and panic if there are no rules to be obeyed. There may be strong underground subcultures which allow young people and outsider individuals and groups to express themselves in ways not usually condoned by mainstream society. Japan, South Korea and Singapore are the best examples and China appears to be moving in this direction.

    The common cultural factor could well be Confucianism which prioritises loyalty to family and government but is not big on individual expression. Some people suppose there is a biological factor too: compared to other groups, east Asians are said to be low in testosterone and low testosterone levels could affect the extent of their motivation to challenge and rebel against their rulers.

    You can have what is called managed democracy which is what is practised in Russia and which Colonel Gadhafi tried to do in Libya in a different way.

    At the same time it's possible we are making much more of innate violence in humans and animals than we should as a way of giving up on changing human societies to be less violent. By accepting the opinion of "experts" that humans are "naturally violent", we are also likely to accept rationalisations of the violence we commit and resort to punishment when instead we should be examining the causes of the violence and seeking to reform or eliminate these causes.

    I don't know if wolves can live together without bullying: how much of wolf interaction is instinctive, how much is actual bullying and how much looks like bullying but might actually be something else? If you see two wolves meet and one cringes before the other, is that evidence of bullying and which animal is the bully? It could be that the animal doing the cringing is playing the other, apparently dominant animal for a fool but then I have never studied animal psychology.

    You could try reading the articles referenced by these links:

  • Comment number 53.

    @ theartteacher2, G:

    I forgot to add that in the case of Libya and probably other countries in Africa and Asia, tribal loyalty has traditionally been stronger than loyalty to a higher power and individualism and states have often resorted to authoritarian methods of rule to overcome the power of tribes or clans (which may or may not be ethnically based; Somalia is nearly 100% ethnic Somali but is hardly an ethnically homogeneous paradise due to the strength of clans) which can have the effect of destabilising the state and leading to conflict.

    Colonialism is another factor that might encourage authoritarianism and in this respect, British colonialism in Africa may have unwittingly encouraged a strong-man approach to politics. My own impression from the shallow reading I've done is that most tribes in Africa spread political power among their members so it wasn't concentrated in one person, it was usually concentrated among a group of people and political power was separate from military power. When the British arrived in the 1800s and sent anthropologists into the areas they colonised, they insisted on imposing a monarchical structure on the various tribes because that was what they were used to. War chiefs who otherwise had no other power often ended up as "kings" and acquired power as a result of being feted by the British. I think this is how the Saud family in Saudi Arabia originally came to power.

    I do not know how other European colonial powers dealt with their colonies in Africa and Asia although I do know Belgium treated its Congo colony in an extremely vile way.

  • Comment number 54.

    @ theartteacher2, G:

    Ha ha - looks like theartteacher2 may get the last laugh here!

    That statement "wolves can't live in groups without bullying each other" - what is that based on and what is the justification?

    I can't find any information online or in print that wolves bully each other in natural situations. According to the Wikipedia article on wolves, wolves will only fight and bully one another if they are thrown together in captive packs of unrelated animals; this implies that their environment is man-made or is an artificial one resulting from overcrowding, perhaps as a result of human activities encroaching on their natural territories and compressing them. In the wild where there is room to disperse freely, wolves form nuclear families of a mated pair with two generations of pups. In such cases, "alpha males" are no more than the male parents which would be expected to be dominant over the pups. How would the pups survive otherwise/

    The reference is here:

    As the author (I think it's L David Mech) rightly notes, the terminology of "alpha" individuals imposes a rigid hierarchy based on force on a species where none exists.

    The only examples of bullying in non-human species I can find online are ones of bottlenose dolphins and orcas beating up porpoises and pilot whales by head-butting them repeatedly, either for fun, practice for hunting or out of boredom. Adult male dolphins are known to gang-rape other dolphins, male and female, and have even pestered humans for sex.

    For examples, see here:

  • Comment number 55.

  • Comment number 56.

    @G - fair play. But Nausika is right - hey, G, leave those wolves alone:

    "They pair for life, they are faithful and affectionate spouses and parents, they show great loyality to their pack, great courage and persistence in the face of difficulties, they carefully respect each other's territories, keep their dens clean, and extremely seldom kill anything that they do not need for dinner. If they fight with another wolf, the fight ends with his submission; there is normally a complete inhibition on killing the suppliant and on attacking females and cubs. They have also, like all social animals, a fairly elaborate etiquette, including subtly varied ceremonies of greeting and reassurance, by which friendship is strengthened, co-operation achieved and the wheels of social life generally oiled."

    I loves wolves.

  • Comment number 57.

    Humans are not fairies who have been tricked into living the lives of goblins. Beyond opposing stories, there is the reality. We don't know what it is and can't find it or live it so long as we cling to the stories.

  • Comment number 58.

    @ G: It's arguable that beliefs about humans being innately violent and aggressive are themselves stories constructed to prevent people from pursuing peaceful means to resolving conflicts. These beliefs often go together with other beliefs about the enemy being "primitive" and "savage" when they are not. An underlying agenda to the dehumanisation of the other side is that the "good guys" covet their land and its resources.

    The colonisation / imperial project that the major European powers pursued from the 1500s on and which still goes on in various forms requires the belief that humans are born to be violent in order to justify the project to its intended beneficiaries and the take-over of other people's lands, bodies and minds so that the project can continue.

    A big problem also is that our societies have been war-like for so long that not only have we forgotten or failed to record methods and strategies for achieving peace that people in the past used but we have internalised psychological and possibly even biochemical states of being or thinking that predispose to violence and war. So we are locked into this imperial project even though its usefulness, if it had any, has long since gone.

    Every new generation of people born has to be trained to be violent even if passively through watching mainstream TV shows and movies that emphasise cathartic and violent resolution of conflicts instead of negotiation and diplomacy. Technology can also be co-opted in training people for violence: if it removes people from seeing the consequences of their actions, it can encourage them to behave in more extreme ways. The use of military drone technology in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, in which people sit at consoles watching screens and use joysticks to operate the drones' firing mechanisms, is such an example.

    A Swiss university undertook a study that found that stock-brokers behaved more recklessly and were more manipulative than psychopaths. Although the article I saw didn't go into details about the study, I don't consider that stock-brokers are a breed apart from the rest of us: they are the way they are because they work in an environment that forces them to be competitive and which rewards them intermittently (in the form of bonuses) on the basis of how much money they make for others who can make or break their careers. The technology they use which forces stock-brokers to make decisions on the spot might encourage extreme behaviour as well.

    A link to the study is here: https://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/0,1518,7884

  • Comment number 59.

    I repeat: we don't know what it is. Everyone seems to want to say they know what reality is, but they don't. We don't know what degree of utopian peaceful life is possible for humans, so we have to proceed with alert attentiveness, and not draw up plans in advance based on speculative ideals, whether these are the ideals of the right or of the left.

    Ideals at loggerheads produce a lot of heat and noise.

  • Comment number 60.

    @ G: I haven't said I know what reality is. I have said only that the case for human nature being intrinsically violent and inclined to conflict may be overstated and that people, organisations and governments may have a vested interest in pushing that point of view.

    What that interest is could vary: to deflect popular discontent away from government to an imagined enemy; to prepare people for war; to instil the belief that the country is surrounded by hostile enemies - but the ultimate aim is to keep control over the population.

    So we shouldn't dismiss the possibility that societies are violent because their leaders or rulers select only those ideologies and values that privilege violent solutions over diplomacy and negotiation. Popular culture plays a role in training people, especially young people, for violence; it's not purely a reflection of human nature.

    This is quite apart from people fighting or bullying because they've had too much to drink or their cars clipped each other or they had a hard day at work. Although even here the cultural context can be important. Everyone complains about bullying at school and at work, and all schools and workplaces are supposed to have policies and procedures dealing with bullying, but it continues to occur in these places because the leadership or managers condone and encourage it still. Bullying can do the work of enforcing social conformity and hierarchy and helps to instil fear of authority.

    There are scientists now who assert that human nature is not naturally violent and that even animals thought to be violent aren't as violent as assumed. These scientists get very little attention in the media. It seems that the media as well has an interest in perpetuating a myth. See here: https://www.fragmentsweb.org/TXT2/innatetx.html

    You can still disagree with me and say that humans can't live together without inflicting violence and stress, as opposed to having spats that be quickly resolved, but you'll need to support your argument as I've done mine. What's your justification for saying that humans can't live without violence and dehumanising others, what is the basis you're proceeding from?

    Even if the notion that humans aren't basically violent becomes widespread, we still need to be vigilant anyway in creating a peaceful society because as the example of the peaceful baboons in the second link shows, it only takes a freak accident or the coincidental arrival of power-hungry psychopaths to upset a community's power balance.

  • Comment number 61.

    "You can still disagree with me and say that humans can't live together without inflicting violence and stress, as opposed to having spats that be quickly resolved, but you'll need to support your argument as I've done mine. What's your justification for saying that humans can't live without violence and dehumanising others, what is the basis you're proceeding from?"

    I'm not making that argument, am I? I'm asking the question, but you keep responding like I'm giving my answer to the question. I don't know what the answer is. No one does. This is my point. I can't assume that it's possible for people to live peacefully; I simply don't know that.

    I tend to think that groups are like individuals. In fact, a view I often espouse is that if one person can be selfless and good - and I think that this is something that occasionally does happen - then a group can also be selfless and good. After all, a group comes together as a kind of single unit, and an individual mind can be said to be a kind of multiplicity of 'selves' or pseudoselves with an emergent 'individuality'. So they should have similar potentialities.

    But I'm sure many would accuse me of being too generalising and simplistic in my thinking. It's a tentative view I have a certain wavering confidence in. I don't think that all that potentiality will be ultimately limited by a few brutal instincts, nor by hard realpolitik considerations, not always and forever. But I don't know this, I just think and hope it.

    I think that our primitive instincts will ultimately be like rocks that used to block the river, until the water built up around it and eventually flowed around it, almost like there's no obstruction at all. I think this is the nature of intelligence.

    Now if you respond ONE MORE TIME like I'm actually advocating fascism here, after you made me do what I wanted to avoid and espouse all my own views here, I will EXPLODE. Stop it.

    I don't want to blab my views all over the Internet, with lots of links to back them up, and a nice echo-chamber of others with the same views - I want to explore an issue without rushing to any conclusions.

    By the way, you should check out a show called Terry Jones's Barbarians - I think you'll like it, it's brilliant.

  • Comment number 62.

    @ G: Sure, I will check out the series if I see it in the shops or it comes on TV, thanks for the tip. I need to finish reading T R Fehrenbach's "Comanches: the History of a People" first, it's an astounding work, heroic and tragic at the same time, but pulling no punches about the violence and limited worldviews of both Europeans and the Amerindians of the Great Plains region.

    I only stated that if we make assumptions about human nature, we end up cutting ourselves off from options that would help us survive and repair societies in the event of global political / economic / social collapse, and stop us from giving in to demagogues or ideologies that advocate war.

    I know you're not fascist and I know that fascism and authoritarianism are not the same thing. I just like pushing your buttons!

    An authoritarian government may be a bulwark against corporatism / fascism in a context in which clan, tribal or other loyalties are very strong and corruptive, and having a democratic government in such a society could rip it apart and expose the country to exploitation by criminal networks and foreign governments and corporations. Over time, the government can relax its hold and permit people some political freedoms as new social structures and loyalties replace the old. Such a government can also be progressive technologically and socially, investing in education, health and social welfare benefits and building infrastructure and projects that benefit people and preserve the environment, without being beholden to corporate lobby groups as often happens in Western democracies. In addition, if there are both federal and state governments within the country, the state governments may provide the "political opposition" that counters any extremist ideological tendencies of the central government.

  • Comment number 63.

  • Comment number 64.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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