Rebel Rules

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PART ONE: Reclaiming sanity

It began two years ago.

I had reached the age when it’s perfectly normal for a man to assess his position in the order of things. I began to consider what, if anything, my achievements to date were worth, the fundamental question being: Am I worthy of my space on this earth?

I questioned everything: my work, my possessions, my pleasures, and principles. Whether the culmination of my endeavours to that point was merely the veneer of success – a man successful at appearing to be successful – or was there substance to my achievements? Of course, in the process, I also wanted to see whether self-worth should or could be measured in secular terms of money and possessions or was there a more spiritual complexion to it, that my worth so to speak was a combined measure of satisfaction in my work and the extent of my well-being?

It quickly became obvious there were a few hurdles to straddle before I could get a clear run at the problem.

The simple act of day to day living, at that time, was becoming increasingly complicated. Without apparent reason, there was an escalation in unsolicited letters from organisations I had only ever heard from once in a blue moon all professing their undying devotion to my happiness – for me personally, their most valued customer! Some urged me to do the sensible thing and take out a £100 “New for Old” insurance policy on an electric toaster originally purchased for £39.99, they had pre-filled most of the blanks on the application form for my convenience. How kind. Others were embarrassingly needy, declaring their lives would remain without form or meaning unless I borrowed a staggering amount of money from them. To show how much I truly meant to them, they were prepared to make a “once in a lifetime gift” of zero percent interest for the first six months (terms and conditions apply etc. etc.). There were glossy brochures from Estate Agents imploring me to let them sell our house because people were queueing around the block to part with ludicrous amounts of money to climb ever higher on the “property ladder.” There were even a few rather jolly “Information Updates” from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs with a cartoon character cheekily explaining the reasons my tax code had changed fourteen times in as many months (but if I was dead I could ignore the letter and contact them by phone instead).

I was being letter-bombed by strangers to the very brink of irritation melt-down!

But, as if torture by means of the Royal Mail wasn’t enough, water-boarding through the medium of cold calls from Call Centres added a unique dimension. Some were selling different forms of energy efficiency, others accused me of allowing scurrilous scallywags to infest my computer with, I don’t know, ferret porn or something and demanded I hand over passwords or there would be hell to pay. Most, however, were just checking that my details were correct, in other words, they were gathering information to sell on to other cold calling companies so the whole damned circus could run for all eternity, round and around. I developed a way of dealing with that particular variety of intrusion which I shall share with you in the next instalment.

In the end: As this story unravels, I shall explain why I was worn out with dancing to other people’s tunes and how the idea was beginning to take root that I had no choice but to step off the carousel if I was to preserve my sanity.

>Location when written: Exmoor, Somerset, England<
>Music I was listening to: U-Roy ~ Natty Rebel<

© Rod McRiven 2017

   

* Gall, /ɡôl/noun
1.  bold, impudent behaviour:
“the bank had the gall to demand a fee”
synonyms: effrontery, impudence, impertinence, cheek, cheekiness
2.  the contents of the gallbladder; bile (proverbial for its bitterness).
synonyms: bitterness, resentment, rancour, bile, spleen


PART TWO: The Gall Centre

Witty banter with Trevor from the Gall* Centre.

“Good morning, may I speak to Mr McRiven please.”
“Yes, speaking.”
“Good morning Mr. McRiven, my name is Trevor and I’m calling from your bank. Before I proceed I need to ask a few security questions.”
“OK.”
“Thank you. Am I speaking to Mr. McRiven?”
“Yes.”
“May I check your date of birth.”
“Go ahead, knock yourself out.”
Silence . . . “I’m sorry sir, please may I check your date of birth?”
“I’ve already told you it’s OK.”
“Yes, but will you confirm it for security.”
“For security, yes, I certainly will.”
“Thank you sir, and your date of birth is . . .”
Silence . . . and then eventually I have to say something, “With that introduction, I was half expecting a drum roll, what happened? I thought you wanted to confirm my date of birth.”
“I do sir, but you must confirm your date of birth, not me.”
“Oh, I thought you wanted to check you’ve got my correct date of birth. I waited for you to tell me so I could confirm it or, well, not confirm it depending upon whether you’re right or not.”
“But sir, I already know your correct date of birth.”
“Blimey, that’s a coincidence, so do I!”
Silence . . . “Well, sir can you could please confirm it for me?”
“I thought it was for security.”
“It is for security, sir.”
“OK then, you go first because I definitely know what my date of birth is, but someone at the bank might have written it down wrong or you could be telling me fibs and trying to trick me.”
“I’m not tricking you, I’m just not allowed to tell you your date of birth sir.”
“Oh.”
“Yes, you see it’s against The Data Protection Act.”
“Oh, so you’re protecting my information from me because I might not be me, I might be somebody else pretending to be me.”
“Exactly sir, that’s why you have to tell me your date of birth so I can make sure it’s really you.”
“But if I tell you my date of birth won’t I be breaking the law too, you know, the Data Protection Act.”
“Well, no, not exactly sir. You can tell me your date of birth, that’s fine because it’s your information, but I can’t because it’s the law.”
“So, let me recap just so I’m clear, what you’re saying is that it’s OK for you, someone I have never met in my life, to have my information but it’s against the Law for you to tell me what that information is even though I already know it.”
“Yes sir.”
“I’ll tell you what, seeing as it’s my information we’re talking about and nobody else’s, what would you say if I give you permission to tell me my own date of birth and anything else about me you need. Would that move things along?”
“It doesn’t work like that, sir.”
“How do you mean? Is it my information or not?”
“No, yes, it is your information but you just can’t tell me to tell you what it is.”
“Why not?”
“I just need you to confirm a few little bits of it so I can make sure you are who you say you are.”
“But you already know who I am because you called me and I answered the phone”.
“But I have to be sure it’s you, sir”.
“Well, how did you know my name and telephone number when you called me?”
“It’s here on my screen.”
“And my date of birth?”
“Yes sir, your date of birth is here too.”
“So, if when you called me and asked if it was me you were calling and I had said “No, it isn’t Mr McRiven speaking,” would you have still asked me, or whoever it was who answered the phone, to confirm their date of birth?
“Probably not sir, no.”
“But why not?”
“Because the date of birth on my screen wouldn’t have been correct for that person.”
“So, how come you’re convinced it’s correct for me then?”
“But, it might not be correct for you, sir . . .”
“So, you’re telling me there’s a good chance the information you hold about me is wrong! This gets worse by the minute . . . I suppose when someone in the bank wants to get hold of Mr. McRiven all they have to do is look me up on the system?”
“Yes sir.”
“The same way you did.”
“Yes sir.”
“Anyone?”
“It’s the normal way of getting in contact with our customers.”
“Well if as you say any Tom, Dick or Harry can look up my private information on your computer any time they like I can only say that I’m deeply shocked by your bank’s attitude to security, it’s bordering on criminal. I could be anyone! You did say this call is being recorded didn’t you . . .”
“Thank you very much for your time sir,” Bzzzzzzzzzzzzz . . .

In the end: Despite their insistence to the contrary, my time and my family’s time is more precious than anyone else’s. I now have all calls screened. Unknown callers, banks and a few other organisations of a similar ilk are automatically blocked.

>Location when written: Exmoor, Somerset, England<
>Music I was listening to: Placebo and David Bowie ~ Without you I’m nothing<

© Rod McRiven 2017

*  Gall, /ɡôl/noun
1.  bold, impudent behaviour:
“the bank had the gall to demand a fee”
synonyms: effrontery, impudence, impertinence, cheek, cheekiness
2.  the contents of the gallbladder; bile (proverbial for its bitterness).
synonyms: bitterness, resentment, rancour, bile, spleen


PART THREE: Corporations? Ignore them

On the ground, beneath the radar are cigarette butts, biodegradable bags of biodegradable dog shit, newspapers curling in the breeze like unravelling bandages, scraped yoghurt pots, torn pants, and condoms. But at least it’s quiet.

Raffles Place, Singapore 1910

Continuing the theme of becoming invisible.

The thing with the big businesses most people use to run our homes – utilities, banks, and communications – is that they believe their needs take priority over everything else in our lives.

They’ll call you up any time of the day or night, bury you under a mountain of letters and emails, accost you in the street and vandalise your towns and villages with billboard advertising. When you don’t jump to attention the instant they snap their fingers, they become neurotic and spiteful. They shout ever louder, the typefaces of their letters become more aggressive, bigger and redder like Soviet Revolutionary propaganda screaming at you through letterboxes, inboxes, the telephone, radio and TV. Reminders become commands: renew driving license! renew passport! get house insurance! get car tax! upgrade now! don’t miss the deadline! verify now! don’t miss out! send the meter reading now! List upon list of obligations, some demanding fines for non-compliance, some threatening excommunication.

You want what they do to make your life easier and nothing more.

Like me, you want to heat your home, to enjoy the convenience of a telephone, from time to time I want to watch TV and buy things on the internet. What I don’t want is all the fuss and intrusion involved in every interaction with these corporations. I don’t want their newsletters, add-ons, apps or personal managers, I don’t even want to be asked and I certainly don’t want to be tricked into accepting or not accepting when I’m instructed to tick or untick a box so as to not receive or to receive whatever it is I actually don’t want.

Why all the personal assaults, the letters, and phone calls, can’t they just accept they’ve trapped me and leave me alone? Why all the advertisements in newspapers, posters at bus stops and infomercials on television? Everywhere we look every available space is taken up by one or other of these corporations cajoling us to do something. Even government licensing has become ludicrously commercialised with a hefty part of the fees we pay handed over to advertisers and marketers. I wonder if corporate executives ever ponder the impact on the business if they were to stop advertising altogether, stopped cluttering up our environment with their banal expletives? Should we tell them that there’s so much advertising pollution it’s become nothing but white noise?

Mostly, advertising is as effective as pitching to a shoal of goldfish.

All we want is for them to supply us with whatever we need with the minimum of fuss.Raffles, Singapore. Six weeks in 2001

The Rebel Rules: Corporations have no mechanism for dealing with individuals who will not engage with them.

Insist they put whatever they’re calling about in writing.

Return official-looking letters unopened, marked “Not Interested!”

Block their telephone numbers*.

Result: It took three months for the tide to reduce to a dribble. Shutting them out had absolutely no adverse impact on day to day living.

* Blocking numbers is easy with mobiles. Blocking numbers on a land-line require either a blocking service or a special phone, neither of which costs much.

>Location when written: Raffles Place, Singapore<
>Music I was listening to: Visage ~ We fade to grey<

© Rod McRiven 2017


PART FOUR: They really don’t care if you break their rules

When this dream is dreamt, does the dreamer repent his desire for sex and violence, does he fold the hills and buildings, the gentle skins and car-crash bed-heads into felted pouches and file under Business Unfinished? to be taken up on the next incarnation. Will he pat the pockets of his midnight coat? locate a note reading: “Redeemed: 1 soul. Returned to the substance of shadows” and shall he ask, “is that the measure of existence?”

Every corporation, every government department imposes a ream of Terms and Conditions upon us without fear or favour.

The thing is, so-called red tape is totally acceptable when, for example, safety is an issue or the risks of doing something might not be immediately obvious. But increasingly, private organisations and government agencies shelter their shoddy practices and underhand dealings behind these Weasel Words which we realise, often too late, are for their protection, not ours.

Intricately contrived and often nonsensical their rules of engagement hijack common sense and transform even the simplest transaction into something pointlessly complicated whilst ensuring they squeeze as much money out of us as possible. For example, when someone marries, an insurance company will demand the name is changed on the policy and will charge £20 administration fee for the privilege thank you very much!*

It seems to me that meek compliance exposes their casual contempt for my time, energy and money. Therefore, to all intents and purposes, it’s more in my interest to ignore their Conditions because so long as my money continues to be paid in return for the original purchase, that is as much as I require of them. If I give them an inch they would have me jumping through hoops and in the end, they would surely renege on our agreement whilst eating my liver with an indifferent Chianti.

The Rebel Rules: You are no more their Valued Customer than they are your Valued Supplier.

Take as much interest in their Terms and Conditions as they do in yours.

*Despite the small print, you are not obliged to change your name on any policy, investment or insurance document.

Keep copies of your Birth Certificate handy in case it suits you to prove your identity when making a claim or cashing in a policy.

When writing never ask, always instruct (there are nice ways of doing this).

It’s worth emphasising that citizens of the United Kingdom are bound only by Common Law and as such are not obliged to comply with any other regulations, statutes or terms and conditions (unless the individual so desires).

Result: The impact on household affairs was zero. The impact on my quality of life has been positive and massive.

>Location when written: Empire Hotel, Jerudong Park, Darussalam, Brunei<
>Music I was listening to: Killing Joke ~ Love like blood<

© Rod McRiven 2017


PART FIVE: The System

“Life is a slate where all our sins are written; from time to time we rub the sponge of repentance over it so we can begin sinning again.” George Sand (who was a woman Also Known As Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin. In the late 19th Century she wrote about the social conventions that bind a wife to a husband against her will.)

~

The System conspires against we who made it.

It’s absurd, but something generally referred to as The System really does exist, furthermore, it’s an entity we have all been complicit in creating. It’s one of the fatal flaws of Social Democracy.

The System is defined as a group of interacting, interrelated, or interdependent elements forming a complex whole and its purpose is to control, at both the macro as well as the micro level. Depending on circumstances, the elements in play at any given time may vary person to person.

All those years ago, when I set out to reclaim my sanity, it was important to understand The System’s impact on my life, its strengths and weaknesses.

First, I made a list of all the organisations and “set ups” I dealt with either directly or indirectly. There were the obvious candidates – banks, credit card companies, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, utilities, insurance companies and so on. There were also a few not so obvious ones – loyalty cards, gym membership, library cards, magazine subscriptions and so on.

Second, I ranked each one in three ways. Firstly, the stress each caused. Secondly, the degree to which I depended on each of them to enrich my life. Thirdly, the ease with which I could dispense with or ignore them and still have a fully functioning household.

Finally, I connected those organisations with shared dependency – car insurance to car tax to road license, bank account to direct debits to credit cards, debit cards, store cards and bills, electoral register to Credit Reference Agencies and so on.

It was a very simple exercise but the image of my life’s infrastructure was truly enlightening. I saw, unsurprisingly perhaps, most of the elements linked back to financial networks in one way or another. Also, even though I considered some of my lifestyle choices (gym membership, magazine subscriptions etc.) were a low priority I found they are managed by The System at the same level as my more critical suppliers (utilities, insurances, etc.).

The System does not prioritise according to my needs or the needs of my family but rather in the collection of data about the way my life is run to control me and maximise their revenues.

The scariest, yet most obvious discovery was that the common link between them all was my data (and I hadn’t even begun to explore social media yet!) Most organisations, and almost every aspect of my life, could be linked to Credit Reference Agencies.

The Rebel Rules: What I did: Due to their sheer financial might I knew from the beginning it would be well-nigh impossible to tackle these organisations head on so, taking a leaf from my grandfather’s book, I started to draw up plans to confuse and obfuscate them. These plans included:

Breaking the link between me, my supplier organisations, Credit Reference Agencies and other Commercial Data Gatherers.

Inventing a persona with a name similar to my own. AKA (Also Known As) names must never be used on official documents (Inland Revenue, Passport Office, DVLA etc. which are quite safe in any case because none of them has a direct connection with Commercial Data Gathering organisations.*).

In the UK, you are perfectly at liberty to go by whatever name you want. The only document which must carry your real birth name is your Birth Certificate which may, believe it or not, represent you in Court because under Common Law, your Birth Certificate is you. It’s also advisable for a Marriage Certificate (which confirm status rather than identity) to carry the same name as the Birth Certificate.

*Except Electoral Services.

>Location when written: Dubai<
>Music I was listening to: System of a Down ~ Toxicity<

© Rod McRiven 2017


PART SIX: Debt is the Black Heart of The System

Come on you guys, get off your spotty behinds and get out there! Make Britain great again. Buy stuff. Buy a new car, splash some cash on a few trips to the hotspots of Europe, Asia, the Caribbean. Get those fancy threads you’ve always wanted, get loads more stuff, get jewels, get gadgets, it doesn’t matter if you need them or not because the more you spend, the more you borrow, the better the economy of the UK does.

BlackHeart#2

It’s a fact.

Personal debt at over £200 billion is at financial meltdown levels, but that small fact doesn’t stop the UK Office of Budget Responsibility stating, “a strong contributor to economic growth is ‘private consumption’.”

The same figures are used by Government to calculate both measures and although both are bad in their own way, how they’re perceived is down to the way they’re presented: for personal debt figures they say “Look how crap you, the public, are!” and for economic growth figures they say, “Look how brilliant we are!” Ludicrous! They’re the same numbers!

These spurious measures are all we have because the United Kingdom doesn’t make anything of any significant worth anymore. Once upon a time we did. We dug the coal from our own soil to power our power stations, in fact, there was a time when we even built those power stations rather than franchise their construction out to foreign business. We produced much of our own food and clothing and practically all our own cars, furniture and houses.

When you make tangible stuff that other people pay good money for, they’re called assets. When you take away any debts and other liabilities from those assets what you’re left with is hopefully a positive number which is a true measure of how well the country’s economy is doing.

The problem with using Consumerism as a measure of economic growth is that it hides some very unhealthy, human, considerations. Personal Debt makes people miserable. It promotes an economy of fear where people won’t rock the boat for fear of losing their job no matter how unfairly treated. It stifles creativity, kills romance stone dead and makes for a very dull existence. But, most dangerously, it encourages vast swathes of the population to accept absurdity as normality.

It is absurd to work all the hours there are to make insufficient money to feed your family, for a company that makes mega profits, pays it’s managers millions and contributes nothing to the economy of the country in which it operates.

>Location when written: Holborn, London<

© Rod McRiven 2017

BlackHeart#1