Who am I? (And why write?)

12 Jun

As threatened sixteen days ago, I’ve resumed meditation – as a daily practice – after a gap of close to two decades. I sit for an hour each morning, very early, and let my thoughts – all with a greater or lesser emotional charge – rise and fall: not fixating on any, not pushing any away. It surprises me how swiftly and naturally I’ve picked up where I left off. It’s like I never stopped.

To remain impassive as the mind-stream, with which I habitually identify and to which I attach the label, “me”, burbles on in its highly inconsequential way – to detach from it as though from a conversation faintly overheard in the next room – would not be possible if its content really was me. To meditate in this way is to place on the table the biggest question of all.

Who am I?

I’ll let you know if I get any answers. Meanwhile the peace is divine.


A week ago I took to the water for three days and two nights: my first ever multi-day canoe trip with a pal, as opposed to solo. Richard had no previous experience so I took the lead. A lapse of judgment – a fraction of a second’s miscalculation – I made on night two, as we glided into my chosen overnight location on the Trent after battling head on winds for hours, could have cost me my life. Worse, since the friend I’ve known close to half a century moved with unhesitating courage into the danger zone to help me, it could have cost him his.

Since then I’ve dreamed, not every night but several, of being parted from my canoe and pulled down by the undertow. Some call it the washing machine effect, after the relentlessly turbulent roll of the rip below a weir.

But it isn’t weirs that frighten me.

It’s how easily a moment’s lapse of attention – behind the wheel of a car … stepping into a busy road without looking … letting go of a paddle at the wrong moment – can end a human life.

It’s me that frightens me.


At a bus stop a friend tells of a Graun journo pal who knew Julian and found the man obnoxious. There are several responses I could make. For one thing, when these tales do the rounds – in a bar as the Johnny Walker wisdom runs high … at some Islington dinner party … via water cooler exchanges in a zillion office settings – such ‘insider’ titbits are invariably conferred at one step removed by someone who knows someone who Knows.

For another, the recipients seldom ask the key question; cui bono?  Whose interests are served by such unfalsifiable tittle-tattle? So credulous a failure on the part of a liberal intelligentsia which habitually confuses scepticism with cynicism – and its consequences for a very brave man (whatever else he may or may not be) deserted by what should have been his staunchest support base – are what make such bone idle gossip so toxic.







Most disturbing of all: for the Marina Hydes and Suzanne Moores of this world, and more to the point for their readers, the question of whether or not Julian is “an arsehole” counts for so much more than whether or not he spoke truly, and at great personal cost, about the appalling crimes of Empire and its servants.

(Spoiler alert: though all are highly specific, not a single Wikileaks claim has been refuted. But who cares? The single most salient aspect of Planet Guardian is that empire is invisible to its columnists and core readership alike. On the dark side of its moon, so to speak.)

But we’d had a couple of beers and I was in too good a mood to be baited. Just before our bus turned up I gave my blandly laconic response to this friend-of-a-friend sagacity.

“That’s perfectly irrelevant.”


So now the inflationary consequences – of a proxy war on Russia which Washington has craved since at least 2014, and responsibility for whose dangerous continuation I lay firmly at its door – are biting. The Puppet Biden has taken to calling those consequences, Putin’s Price Hike.

And those who deem it more important that Julian Assange has unpleasant habits (real or not) than that the planet is run by gangsters who will stop at nothing to shore up their assumed right to plunder the earth and all that’s in it? Trust me, these are the very people who’ll buy, in large part if not in its entirety, the reality-inverted twaddle about a Putin price hike.


Walking with my friend Sue two days ago I confided that I’m struggling with this site. Why do you do it, she asked. That’s a good question. I’d like to say I believe it makes a difference, and that’s not entirely baseless since a handful of people over the years have said they’ve changed their views on important matters – China, Russia and Syria – on the basis of arguments and evidence presented here.

For the most part, however, I doubt I make any major difference when, as I say so often in these scribblings, overarching narratives put out by the most powerful interests and deepest pockets on the planet trump reason and evidence at every turn. That seems to me an immutable truth of the human condition. How else explain those fatuous and monumentally ignorant yet dismally widespread judgments on Julian? How else explain on the one hand the sheer scale and ease of rebuttal of the lying, on the other its wholesale acceptance, in respect of Ukraine?

Instead I gave two reasons. One, I like to write and, while I may be deluding myself, believe I’m getting better at it due to the sheer frequency with which I practise the craft on this site.

(I’ve a ways to go, mind. I’m often too complicated: a consequence of thinking-by-writing – a tell-tale sign being my overreliance on bracketed or dashed asides like this – in contexts where I don’t always have time for iterative revision. Simplicity comes at high cost, though those who write but occasionally seldom get that. I like the way Mark Twain allegedly closed a letter to a friend by apologising for its length on the ground he “didn’t have time to write a short one”.)

The other reason is that I don’t know how to stop. Years ago, at start of my blogging ‘career’, I learned that knowledge, however ugly and however inconveniencing, cannot be ignored – not without a hit to mental wellbeing and intellectual sharpness – just because it would make life in some ways easier. There’s a ton of stuff I didn’t know back then, but that early discovery holds truer than ever now.

And since I can’t unknow what I know, I’m driven to channel it on pain, given that gap between my perceptions and those of the majority of my fellows, of madness. I know therefore I write.

Even if I don’t know who I am.

* * *

15 Replies to “Who am I? (And why write?)

  1. The reference to a near kyaking calamity is worrying Phil. Relieved that you were both OK (and look forward to hearing the details on a future walk). You mention that this happened after a day battling in to strong headwinds. In my experience mistakes / errors of judgment happen most easily when tired – I guess for fairly obvious reasons.

    • Yes, I was extremely tired Bryan. And I’ve long known that, should some river ever take me, it would likely be aided by an insane error of judgment made through fatigue; in this case a result of battling onto the first available bivvy spot downstream of Nottingham.

      We were very lucky that night.

  2. Glad you and your friend made it OK.
    As for why you write this blog – that’s easier than you have mentioned.
    You know the truth of matters that are being misrepresented and you want to right the wrong and at least give others the opportunity of learning the truths in defiance of the lies.
    In short you have a conscience. You have integrity. You have a strong sense of morality. You are an unwavering and diligent pursuer of facts and truths.
    None of which define who you are, but they are certainly a beginning.
    You are not omniscient and therefore not a product of divine intervention, but as people go, you are as close as I can determine or need, to a state of well balanced thought, logic and observation.
    And I don’t know where I would go to find your equal. Why do you think you attract the likes of Dave Hansell(no small tribute)and a few others to your site?
    I read Niesche(don’t know if I understood him)and asked myself who is he to presume to know the minds and missions of people?
    If I leave this world better informed than I might have been, given my lack of any great talent or gift, then I have at least done something useful with my life. If I could impart that which I have learned or come to understand then I really would consider myself someone who has made a difference.
    You have!

    Very best,

    Susan 🙂

  3. I think that I used to know who “didn’t have time to write a short” letter and it wasn’t Mark Twain. At least that is my vague recollection. It’s a funny thing, and I think it is a measure of the influence of the United States on our culture that Mark Twain- who, and he’ll be chuffed at this, I very much admire- has become the go-to source. He always used to be credited with Disraeli’s “Lies, damned lies and statistics” quip.
    As to your blog-it is one of the best on the internet. Whether it is popular is another matter but I find it difficult to believe that the audience, much if it here no doubt for my occasional comments, isn’t growing.
    The truth is that there were in the UK a few decades in which Trotskyism was a very important influence on, especially, young people. The net result of that, and the vast amount of energy (not to mention material contributions) it evoked from us has been profoundly disappointing. I was in IS and its decline, coincident with its apparent rise, over a fifty year period has been unbelievably banal. The usual tedious story of careerism and the sort of inter personal relationships that neanderthals in caves used to blush about, the intellectual dishonesty and the collapse into authoritarianism and other forms of cowardice… I could, as you have guessed , go on and on and..but I won’t.
    The point is that the nest result of all the energy, the commitments, the early mornings and late nights, has to be more than Paul Mason, the counterfire crowd, the WSWS and the like of the Labour Left, shivering in fear of Keir Starmer. Or even the Morning Star, which is still not telling the obvious truths about Ukraine.
    Which is where I came in: you are generally right, most recently about Ukraine. And very few bloggers are. Being honest and perceptive-at the same time- is a rare quality on the internet, and we can’t afford any less of it.

    • First and foremost, thanks bevin. I really do appreciate that!

      I too am a Mark Twain admirer, and whether or not he said that about the long letter, his legendary simplicity of tone surely came at great if hidden cost in time, effort and energy.

      Third, I had intended to write about the depths to which Paul Mason has recently sunk but couldn’t bring myself to so wretched a task. Both Grayzone and Caitlin have in any case done the necessaries.

  4. Dearest Phil, it’s a relief to read that you lived to tell the tale xx. Just be a little more careful in future given that we aren’t as strong as we were some years ago. Being the same age as you, I’ve finally reconciled to accept that there are certain things I can’t do anymore, which to tell you the truth, still hurts. You turned me on to Grateful Dead who used to say “Keep on trucking”. I’d like to say to you, dearest friend, that you should ‘keep on writing’, and of course, keep on delighting readers with your photo essays of adventures in England’s countryside. Take care – I love you such a lot. Jim

    • Aw shucks, jim – thanks man!

      As regards turning one another onto music, the bigger debt is mine. Aged 17 I was crashing on the floor at your mum’s place when I first heard the greatest poet rock ever produced via such as Bird on a wire, The old revolution, It seems so long ago and Joan of Arc. Thanks again man!!

  5. Yeah. Glad you survived Phil. Water is a dangerous environment. My advice: paint a pair of eyes on the bow – it’s traditional. I built a canoe once and it worked for me

    As for the blog – sure there are other sites – in the UK Media Lens, Sodium Haze, the Canary, and US – Consortium News, Moon of Alabama, – Russian – Strategic-Culture, Vineyard of the Saker, but while all are indispensable for what I call ‘Real News’, they are all either impersonal or rooted in an alien culture. SCS is both warm, personal and local (ish to me). Plus your leavening of the heavy political stuff with the occasional canoe or photo excursion, and your personal asides to people you know gives the site a unique human feel.

    What you are doing deserves the readership of the Guardian, but of course that isn’t going to happen – yet anyway – maybe in a few years when the EU and NATO have collapsed! Keep on keeping on.

    • Thanks Jams. Am bathing in the glow of well wishers like you and the others.

      Eyes on the bow, huh? The steel city war canoe?

  6. Sitting here in south east Wales looking out at the grey sky, I take pleasure in reading your blog Phil. I generally agree with your analyses of current political events and admire you for making that which often seems obvious to me, available to the world. I often share your writing with a couple of friends, hoping to encourage them to learn and think beyond the drivel served up the BBC, Chanel 4 and The Guardian. I also love your photo tales and especially your smashing photos of birds. Finally Phil, I just love your humanity! Please keep sharing your thoughts with us.

  7. Your site makes a big difference, Philip. As does every honest site i.e. the ones not “put up” by the big money concerns, of which I am convinced there are multitudes. I heard about two decades ago that 90% of the world’s media is in the hands of six companies. Can’t recall all their names but I’m sure one was the ever present Disney. If anything, the situation now may be even more dismal. So the more of these “little sites” there are, the better – and I include even the ones I disagree with. We so need some kind of genuine interaction. And reassurance that there are still some real people out there expressing real opinions. Not just regurgitating news programming.

    • Speaking of which, here is one quote definitely from Adorno – and one of the most beautiful things I ever read:

      “Tenderness between people is nothing other than awareness of the possibility of relations without purpose.”

  8. Thanks George.

    Nice quote by the man from Frankfurt.

    The name Disney reminds me that, while I focus mainly on the systemic corruption of news media, the mutually reinforcing matrices of arts, culture, education and entertainment all do their bit to make capitalism – now in its advanced and most dangerous stage of imperialism – seem entirely natural.

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