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Now that he’s spoken, I’m reminded that I am, actually, trying to finish my PhD, and that I should probably get on with it.

So what’s happened in the fortnight since I returned to the office?

I had resolved to begin drafting out chapters and collecting my last bit of data immediately, but for a few different reasons, I haven’t been moving as quickly as I’d hoped. Firstly, I confess there’s been some procrastination. Sometimes I’m so overwhelmed by all the different things that need my attention that I can’t decide which one I should start with and how I should go about finishing. So all of them stay unattended to, and I wallow in the misery of feeling inefficient and incapable.

Secondly, I’ve realised it’s meaningless to start collecting data immediately, because since university students comprise my target population, I’d be wasting my time in searching for them when the semester has only just started. Undergraduates are milling around everywhere at the moment, like headless chickens, trying to find lecture theatres, working out timetabling abbreviations (“What does ‘TBA’ mean? What does ‘TBA’ mean??” one was screeching yesterday) and getting frustrated upon finding out they actually need to reach into their pocket, extract their student card, and swipe it on the card reader before the automatic door will open for them. What a drag. So I’m waiting till next week before I start my hopefully-not-much-longer-than-6-weeks surveying.

Another reason I can’t seem to move faster with my work is this feeling of not being ready. Chatting with a resident postdoc yesterday, I suddenly realised how unaccustomed I am to talking about my ‘thesis’, my ‘examiners’, my ‘viva’, and my ‘career’. These are things that happen towards the tail end of PhDs. I’ve become so used to being at the beginning and in the middle of my PhD, I can’t get my head around the end of it. What’s it like to actually have a fully written, edited, proofed and bound thesis? What’s it like to come face to face with your examiners? And have a viva? And, God forbid, what about my career? I’ve been a full time student since the age of four – I don’t know a thing about careers! I guess this is what causes many a PhD student nearing completion to dilly-dally and drag their feet, feeling comfortable with the way things are and needing a little more time to consider what they want to do next.

But we just don’t live in a world like that any more. We don’t have time to dilly-dally. While we’re dilly-dallying, other PhD go-getters, who aren’t necessarily smarter than us, but just more ambitious, are already out there, throwing themselves into competitive jobs, publishing, presenting, networking, globetrotting and getting promoted.

What a drag.

And then there’s this talk of postdocs. I always thought I’d take up a lectureship at the end of my PhD, and live happily ever after. Now I’m not so sure. I like research, and there are continuations of my PhD research that I’d like to do after I finish. And with all respect to lecturers, at least the ones I’ve seen, they work long hours for average pay and spend so much time managing ‘unskilled’ research methods courses they hardly have a moment to do research or even teach on specialist courses. I’m not sure I want that – I don’t want to have done all this research I’m really interested in, only to spend the next 3 to 6 years of my life teaching undergrads what a variable is. I respect that someone’s got to do it. I just don’t want it to be me.

Oh, woe to us on the brink of thesis submission. There is just so much confusion.

Whilst it’s a bit off topic, I found out today that a cup of coffee in Melbourne now costs $3.99:

Sometimes I’m glad I moved.

Now I can enjoy coffee for only £2.75 in London…which is currently about $4.30.

UN permanent representatives yesterday received an address by Assange in relation to human rights and the legitimacy of diplomatic asylum. The address came not long after both Assange and the wider WikiLeaks community were declared enemies of the state by the US, putting them on the same list as well-known ‘terrorist’ organisations like Al-Qaeda.

‘It is time for the US to cease its persecution of WikiLeaks’

So it’s a huge shame for that so-called ‘cradle of democracy’ that any American military personnel serving in the armed forces who should decide to express solidarity with the WikiLeaks movement by helping classified information be published in the public domain will now be at risk of indefinite detainment, charge, torture, and capital punishment for treason.

The same as Bradley Manning.

And it is amazing to watch the hundreds of thousands of ordinary people around the world rallying (for almost 2 years) for freedom for Assange, freedom for WikiLeaks, and freedom for all individuals in the pursuit of progressive change who act as their sources, and it is amazing to see how their screams continue to fall on deaf ears:

Protest in cyberspace

Protest in Melbourne

Protest in London

Protest in New York

Protest in Sao Paulo, Sydney, Amsterdam, and Lima

It’s amazing to think about the intellectually narrow, never-changing politics that continue to shape the way government authorities bind themselves rigidly to the ‘law’, even when the law is morally wrong. And at other times, it’s equally amazing how they ignore the law, even when the law is morally right.

It’s time to free not only Assange from his political persecution of over 600 days, but the truth from its forsaken grave deep in the classified vaults of world governments.

Assange will speak to the United Nations via videolink today. RT apparently has exclusive rights to stream the talk live:

One only hopes he will be free.

Any history documentary or modern biography of Marx you consult will invariably claim his prediction of a proletarian revolution in Western industrialised nations never came true (although his prediction of one in Imperial Russia was more accurate). It never came true, because, they say, instead of the upper classes maintaining their power over the forces of production and the working classes being squashed under the pressure of poverty and unfairness, the working classes began to become wealthier as GDP was more evenly spread, and material living and working conditions improved as technological progress meant less need for manual labourers in factories. Thus, there was never a need for a proletarian revolution, and the great political and social upheaval that Marx called ‘inevitable’ never came to be.

I think that’s wrong.

Because once the human need to be equal has been met (as much as it can be, in an inherently unequal society), other needs become apparent, and thus the inequality of social classes continues.

So what are these other needs?

In the last decade the world has taken a sharp turn away from business as usual in the worlds of politics, finance and economics. The downfall of formerly ‘cornerstone’ banking institutions first in the United States, then in the UK, and elsewhere in the developed world kickstarted a widespread mistrust of the financial establishment and so ensued the financial crisis that still exists today, despite the premature optimism spread by governments about minute fractions of economic recovery.

The economy is up shit creek without a paddle.

To aid ‘recovery’, governments (be it the US government, the UK, or any of the locomotive European administrations – primarily Germany and France) have supplied forsaken banking institutions with billions of pounds, dollars and euros out of taxpayers’ pockets, only for said institutions to effectively stay the same. Bailouts have done little to revolutionise the way banking works or increase the accountability financial management carries towards the modest wealth of the working classes. Isn’t there still a disparity between the working classes and the politically powerful? Don’t the government and the financial establishment have a good thing going, keeping each other afloat at the expense of working taxpayers who aren’t nearly as wealthy as they are?

We have seen far too many expensive and unjustified wars started under the pretext of ‘spreading democracy’ around the world. Can we really argue that everyday life for working people is safer, happier, more prosperous in Iraq and Afghanistan than it was before the governments of the US and other Western allies decided to conduct invasions there? Don’t we still hear about bomblasts, civilian deaths, single-soldier massacres on the news nearly every day? Apart from the thousands of needless deaths in these nations, haven’t enough personnel in Western forces died in these forsaken wars? Haven’t the taxpayers of these Western powers spent enough on killing? Do we still need more? Couldn’t that money be better spent on education, healthcare, transport and infrastructure for the working people of America and Europe?

In the last decade we have seen an increasing demand on the part of ‘the people’ for transparency in government and in social institutions. There has been an explosion of interest in freedom of information, in institutions and public authorities being accountable to ‘the people’. In other words, there has started an intense public desire for truth – particularly truth from governments. We have seen the advent of social media and global information exchange platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. We have seen the inception of the concept of ‘whistleblowing’ – of stepping away from complacently going along with institutional authorities and revealing the unethical activities they conduct, often secretly and at the expense of less powerful people. Today, WikiLeaks has become the prime example of platforms that operate anonymously and globally to publish authorities’ unethical activities in the public domain to reveal the truth to all people. Now that we know the inside stories of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, and of the CIA and other Western superpower organisations, and of the illegal detainment of individuals without charge or trial, aren’t we eager to demand accountability from those that ‘govern’ us? Don’t we find it unfair that so much injustice has been done and kept secret by the powerful?

I think to deny that Marx’s prediction of a proletarian revolution ever came true is a fallacy. Yes, there was no workers’ revolution in the sense of physical upheaval and bloodshed in the 150 years after the Communist Manifesto was published. But that is not the type of revolution you would expect in Western countries today. We are too tame, too civilised, too comfortable in our one-bedroom flats with central heating to spill onto the streets and slay the politicians and the bankers and institute a ruling workers’ class.

I think there’s still a revolution pending. It’s a little way off, not fully visible to us yet, and in fact we may be in its beginnings right now and not even recognise it. There is a revolution of ordinary working people on the way, a revolution in search of open governance and transparency in all public authorities, in search of heavy accountability in governments both in the decisions they make and the money they spend, and in search of truth. This revolution will not spill much blood, nor, perhaps unfortunately, will it kill many of the authority figures that continue to behave unethically. Instead, it will be a digital revolution – of ordinary, working people taking to Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter to denounce closed government and secret-keeping and to support all organisations that gainlessly act for the exposition of truth. Not satisfied with “#freedom” or “#truth” trending in cyberspace, these people will spill onto the streets not to kill or to take power over the forces of production, but to engage in protest for freedom of speech, freedom of information, and freedom for Assange.

Though not in quite the way he might have intended, Marx’s revolution will come true. Just wait and see.

It’s raining in London today.

Actually, it started raining on Sunday morning, and continued to rain the rest of the day, and all through the night, and so on until this morning, when it mercifully ceased for just long enough that I could get into the office without needing to wrestle with my umpteen bags, umbrellas and raincoats.

And now it’s started again.

I have always associated rain with research because during the winter time, which is when I do most of my research (or at least data collection), it is almost constantly raining, and even when it isn’t, it is permanently overcast, meaning it always looks as if it might start raining at any time.

The view from my office, which I share with an alternating group of temporary and semi-permanent research staff, is decidedly quite mundane. For a start, the office is on the ground floor, meaning anything we can see is also at ground level, and anything slightly more exciting is blocked from view by the various other buildings around us. A great place to see London is actually from the window of the 3rd-floor ladies’ restroom, if you fancy a trip up in the lift.

Sometimes when it rains during the day, the clouds get so heavy it becomes dark, almost like it is night, and you are surprised to look at the clock in the corner of your computer’s desktop to see that it is only lunchtime.

The rain is relentless, either pouring, drizzling miserably, or stopping up occasionally to let the puddles dry up a bit before starting up again.

This is going to be one of the wettest data collection periods ever, in my thesis.

I can only hope the validity of my results is as abundant as the rain descending on us.

We shall find peace. We shall hear angels, we shall see the sky sparkling with diamonds. -Chekhov

September 21st is annually observed as International Day of Peace, also known as World Peace Day. Many national and international peace organisations hold campaigns across the world to promote peace among people of all colours, creeds, and classes. Although these campaigns are held throughout the year, special attention is given today, as a way of highlighting peaceful resolution of political and other conflicts over and above war and resolutions made by force or coercion.

Whoever we are, we all have an opportunity to contribute to peace, whether it be personal peace with those around us, or social peace in our communities, nations, and internationally. More than ever, peace is an idea whose time has come.  

Some interesting resources about World Peace Day:

I was once at a conference in London and got to talking to a mid-career researcher from Ireland about the nightmares of PhD life. “Childbirth is easier!” she implored, urging me to ease the pain by working hard and finishing on time.

I’m inclined to take her word for it, as we only had one child between us, and that was her small son.

And it’s true, too. The daily anti-climaxes of doing research, writing, teaching, and (and this is the bulk of it) dealing with a million other mundane errands eventually gives way to a kind of mental sluggishness where you trot along slowly, doing a little work here and there, sometimes feeling unsure if you are really even in the right place, at a university, trying to be a researcher. Writing, rewriting, editing, then realising you still feel dissatisfied with what you’ve written, and then rewriting it from scratch again. Hypotheses being refuted. Experiments going wrong. Papers rejected, software failing, and a general, relentless feeling of disillusionment!

It’s a shame there isn’t a mental epidural for the birth of the thesis.

He must be set free.

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’ll just try to forget the blunders and absurdities of my crazy, nonsensical research journey and focus on the fact that today is a new day, and today I can get back to work.

So here I go.

Friend of WikiLeaks

September 2012


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The Final Countdown

Submission of PhD ThesisMay 1st, 2013
The big day is here. Joy to the world!