John Harris

Journalist & Author

Archive for December, 2018

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From freecycling to Fairphones: 24 ways to lead an anti-capitalist life in a capitalist world

Monday, December 10th, 2018

We asked readers for their thoughts on ‘non‑capitalist living’ and were deluged with replies. Here are their ideas for everyday ways to buck the system

As the new Amazon advert goes, can you feel it? Amid the encroaching dark and increasingly foul weather, December is synonymous with stampedes to the supermarket, endless online clicks and the massed roar of delivery lorries – or, to be reductive about it, capitalism at its most joyful and triumphant.

Clearly, though, such things are only part of who we are, even at this time of year. As the American activist Rebecca Solnit puts it in her short but brilliant book Hope in the Dark: “Vast amounts of how we live our everyday lives – our interactions with and commitments to family lives, friendships, avocations, membership in social, spiritual and political organisations – are in essence non-capitalist or even anti-capitalist, full of things we do for free, out of love and on principle.”

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Brexit? Britain’s divides run far deeper than that | John Harris

Monday, December 10th, 2018

Tensions have been bubbling away for decades. Political parties have smoothed them over – the Brexit vote exploded them

Underneath this country’s worst political crisis in 80 years and the Westminster drama that looks set to reach a crescendo lie deep cultural and attitudinal divisions that will sit at the core of this country for decades to come. For millions of people, a basic stance on Brexit runs much deeper than any affinity they might feel with a political party: recent work by the psephologist John Curtice found that 77% of us identify with either side of the debate to a strong extent, as against only 37% who feel a similar allegiance to a party, with the respective figures for “very strong” put at 44% and a miserable 9%. This is not a country essentially split between Labourites and Tories: we are now either leavers or remainers, with large swathes of each camp motivated by boiling passions.

Obviously, the Brexit divide is only symptomatic of even more fundamental differences. Not long after the referendum, it was no great surprise to read that how voters felt about Europe slotted into their opinions on multiculturalism, social liberalism, the internet, globalisation and immigration; nor that such factors as age, class and education had been central to how people voted. Indeed, when I was out on the road during the campaign, it felt as if an even simpler question would decide the outcome: whether your view of the globalist, liberal future into which the country seemed to be inevitably heading was optimistic, or whether prejudice or a pessimism rooted in deep economic insecurity (or both) had pushed you to the opposite conclusion.

Related: Divided Britain: study finds huge chasm in attitudes

Related: A party at war: could Brexit split spell end of the Tories?

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Forget Zuckerberg – the tech giants don’t have to own the future | John Harris

Wednesday, December 5th, 2018

Facebook, Google and Apple make the headlines, but there are many inspiring startups to dissipate the sense of techno-dread

A quarter of a century ago, the Canadian author Douglas Coupland published his third novel. Microserfs was the tale of a group of young Microsoft employees who decide to exit the realm of Bill Gates in Washington state and chase a dream of their own in California places that, back then, sounded like the epitome of futuristic magic: Palo Alto, Menlo Park. As well as prescient flashes of the world to come – “Beware of the corporate invasion of private memory,” warned one of its protagonists – what always stuck with me was its air of techno-optimism, perfectly crystallised right at the end, when the central character’s mother has a stroke and is rescued from silence by a set-up attached to an Apple Macintosh. She communicates via such staccato sentences as “I am here”, and “I feel U”; the novel’s closing pages capture her and her family marvelling at the fact that she has become “part woman/part machine, emanating blue Macintosh light”.

The book was published in 1995, when computers suddenly offered an ever-expanding window on to the world. Many of us had no doubt that the leap from old to new represented nothing but progress. By the start of this decade social media platforms were being hailed as a means of individual and collective emancipation. But where has this faith in the future gone?

Related: The rise of technology in care: how will it affect workers?

Related: ‘My life is spent in this car’: Uber drives its Indian workers to despair | Amrit Dhillon

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