“Be fast, have no regrets… If you need to be right before you move, you will never win”, said Mike Ryan, epidemiologist at WHO, in March. Highly r/mend youtube Dr Mike Ryan in Conversation: Institute of Medicine Summer Symposium 2021 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9UqTjHK7k7I
In April 1349, as the Black Death swept through London, Mathilda de Myms drew up her will. Her husband, John, had died the previous month, leaving his tenements to his wife and entrusting to her the guardianship of their daughter, Isabella. But the plague continued to ravage the capital, and Mathilda – wisely, as it transpired – decided to get her affairs in order. Shortly afterwards she was herself struck down.
John and Mathilda had run a business making religious images and paintings. Mathilda’s will arranged for her apprentice, William, to continue his training with a monk in Bermondsey Priory, and bequeathed to him the tools he needed, together with one of her best chests in which to keep them. A brewery owned by Mathilda was to be sold to pay for prayers for her and John.
That will underlines the devastating impact of the Black Death on thousands of families across the country; indeed, the disease subsequently took Isabella’s guardian. But the document also offers other insights – specifically, into opportunities that resulted from the soaring death toll.
In this instance, Mathilda clearly had wealth of her own, and the freedom to write such a will. She was briefly an early beneficiary of a period of relative economic power for women created by the sudden dearth of skilled and trained men – an era that has been dubbed a ‘golden age’.
Even before the plague afflicted London, the capital’s customary law offered women freedoms that they rarely enjoyed elsewhere in England, except perhaps in York. For example, a woman might enter into obligations on her own behalf, take on apprentices, run her own business, rent property, and sue (or be sued) for debt in the London courts. A woman – especially if she was a widow – could even write a will, as Mathilda de Myms did.
But after the plague struck, sending London’s population plummeting to 40,000 from a peak of 80,000 in 1300, these opportunities multiplied. In fact, the mayor and aldermen, alarmed by a chronic shortage of manpower, began actively to encourage women to exercise their new economic rights.
Eventually, the rights went further: from 1465, a widow of a citizen of London, who was living there with him at the time of his death, would be made ‘free of the city’ (a citizen) as long as she continued to live in London and did not remarry.
City authorities were especially anxious to encourage the widows of London merchants and craftsmen to continue to run their husbands’ workshops or trading enterprises, to ensure that these businesses continued to contribute to civic prosperity and taxation. Thus it became compulsory for widows to train their late husbands’ apprentices, or to make proper provision for them.
In the years following the Black Death, girl apprentices became prominent in surviving records. Though this wasn’t a new phenomenon – as early as 1276, Marion de Lymeseye was apprenticed to Roger Oriel, a paternosterer (maker of rosaries) – but in the half-century after the Black Death, from 1350 to 1400, numbers of female apprentices soared.
Fathers sometimes specified in their wills that their daughters should be apprenticed to learn a trade. Robert de Ramseye, a fishmonger who died in 1373, left 20 shillings to his daughter, Elizabeth – for her marriage, and for “putting her to a trade”.
Records are sparse – only 30 apprenticeship indentures from medieval London survive – but about a third of them relate to girls, many training in the craft of silkwork or embroidery. Their indentures, like those of boys, had to be recorded in the apprentice rolls kept at the Guildhall, and the terms of the indentures were the same, usually for seven years.
Why the rise in female apprentices at this time? For boys, a completed apprenticeship opened the way to the citizenship of London, with all its attendant political and economic advantages and responsibilities. For girls, though, this was not the case – citizenship did not follow an apprenticeship, and most went on to marry.
A female apprentice lived in the household of her master or mistress (not always the case with servants), and was placed almost completely under their authority. The master or mistress had specific obligations to feed, clothe and nurture the apprentice and, above all, to train her in the secrets and skills of her craft. An apprenticeship provided girls with patrons and business contacts, and secured their status within the working community.
So parents from gentry families outside London knew that apprenticing daughters would provide them with the means to earn a living, and to run an independent household should that prove necessary. Unsurprisingly, then, most girls were bound by their father or brother, though one woman from Sussex bound herself as an apprentice to another woman in London.
Married women in London could choose to trade separately from their husbands as femmes soles. At the time when her husband, Thomas, was serving as an alderman, around 1380, Maud Ireland traded as a femme sole silkwoman. “According to the usage of the city [she was] bound to answer her own contracts,” and she was sued for a debt owed for white silk bought from an Italian merchant.
Women were expected to make a public declaration of their sole status. In October 1457, Agnes Gower stated to the mayor and aldermen that she practised the art of a silkwoman and no other, and asked to be allowed to “merchandise” without her husband John, and to answer sole for her own contracts according to city custom. This was granted and recorded.
Some of these independent London women were doing business on a large scale. Agnes Ramsey, daughter of the noted architect and mason William Ramsey, ran her father’s business after his death in 1349 (see sidebar, left). Mathilda Penne ran her husband’s business as a skinner for 12 years after his death; she trained her own apprentices and employed male servants and, possibly, a female scrivener to keep the accounts.
Twice during the 15th century, the substantial bell foundry outside Aldgate was run by widows. The household and workshop of the bell-founder Johanna Hill, who died in 1441, comprised four male apprentices, two female servants, 10 male servants, a specialised bell-maker, a clerk and the daughter of a fellow bell-founder.
Other widows continued to run the financial side of their husbands’ businesses, if not the trading or craft aspects; they pursued debtors, sorted out accounts and saw to the execution of their husbands’ wills. These women were active in maintaining their households, bolstering the welfare of their souls and managing the upbringing of their children, as well as other endeavours. Another Agnes, the widow of Stephen Forster (mayor of London 1454–55), saw to the rebuilding and reorganisation of the prison at Ludgate.
These were remarkable women who made their mark in the commercial world of London and won respect within their social milieus. The records of the craft guilds and companies acknowledge the presence of women, but their role was not a formal one – rather, they shared in the religious, charitable and social aspects of company life.
However, several crafts and trades recognised the contribution of women workers. In the early 15th century, for example, one-third of all brewers paying dues to the Brewers’ Company were women. Some of these were single, while others were widows or married women trading sole; one Agnes, whose husband Stephen was a draper, paid her dues independently throughout the 1420s.
Though women were seemingly marginalised within these organisations, limited to social and charitable roles, they were able to make contacts with other workers within their craft. They could also achieve recognition of their credit-worthiness and could share in, and contribute to, the material resources of their societies. To offset the imposed limitations of their role within guilds and companies, and to supplement the formal craft relationships, many created important informal networks of friends, servants, apprentices, dependants and patrons.
However enmeshed women may have been in the social and economic networks of London life, their professional advancement was still constrained. For example, there is scant evidence of a woman holding any public office in which she might have been placed in authority over a man – such appointments would be vigorously resisted.
In 1422, the men of Queenhythe ward complained that John of Ely, the local measurer of oysters, had subcontracted his office to women “who know not how to do it; nor is it worship to this city that women should have such things in governance”. No doubt most Londoners shared the view of the men of Queenhythe; certainly, women never served as ward officers, common councilmen or, of course, aldermen. The delegation of authority to women was extremely rare, but it did happen: for more than 20 years following the death of her husband, Nicholas, in 1433, Alice Holford held the office of bailiff of London Bridge (see sidebar).
The century and a half between 1350 and 1500 could reasonably be considered a ‘golden age’ for women in London – but it was short-lived. As the population swelled once more, an acute manpower shortage was replaced by a glut, and women were pushed out of the labour market. In 1570, the Drapers’ Company refused to allow a member to take on a girl apprentice “for that they had not seen the like before”.
Women continued to work after that period, of course, but in largely informal and dependent positions. London merchants were transforming themselves into country gentlemen, and it was no longer suitable for their wives to be seen trading sole. Moreover, Protestantism created a specific role for women – as godly domestic teachers within the household.
Throughout the 15th century, English society remained deeply patriarchal. The opportunities that had been available to women had been purely economic: women had no handles on power and no way of influencing political decisions. So the ‘golden age’ was golden only briefly, and was most apparent in the economic capital, London.
Nonetheless, when given the chance, these women demonstrated their ability to do men’s work. In doing so they set an important precedent, to be followed by women in the two world wars of the last century, which led directly to the greater economic and political emancipation of women today.
What were the symptoms of the disease known as the Black Death? And when did the first recorded quarantine take place? Test your knowledge with our Black Death quiz…
Golden girls: four women who exploited the opportunities presented when the plague struck
Agnes Ramsey, Mason
Agnes, who never used her husband’s name, was the daughter of the famous architect and mason William Ramsey, who was killed by the Black Death in 1349. Though married to another mason, Robert Hubard, Agnes continued to run her father’s business, entering into a contract with the dowager Queen Isabella of France, widow of Edward II, to build her fine tomb at the enormous cost of £100. 2
Alice Holford, Bailiff
Alice took over the post of bailiff of London Bridge on the death of her husband, Nicholas, in 1433, and continued in office for over 20 years. The bailiff collected the tolls due from boats passing through the bridge, and from carts that crossed it into London. The task was a complicated one – charges varied according to the goods and the person transporting them – and Alice must have had some literacy skills. 3
Johanna Hill , Bell-founder
On the death of her husband in 1440, Johanna took full charge of their bell-founding business till her own death in 1441. Seven of her bells still exist as far away as Ipswich, Sussex and Devon. Johanna continued to use her husband’s mark – a cross and circle within a shield – but surmounted with a lozenge to indicate that the workshop was now under her authority. 4
Ellen Langwith, Silkwoman
Ellen, who died in 1481, was a London silkwoman. When her first husband, cutler Philip Waltham, died she was left to train their three female apprentices. She later married a tailor, John Langwith, but continued with her own craft. She was recorded as buying gold thread and raw silk direct from Venetian merchants, and in 1465 supplied saddle decorations and silk banners for the coronation of Elizabeth Woodville, wife of Edward IV. She was courted by both the Cutlers’ and Taylors’ companies.
Caroline Barron is professor emerita at Royal Holloway, University of London, and a specialist in late medieval British history, particularly the history of women
When it comes to major types of real estate investment, the obvious contenders are residential property and commercial real estate. Therefore, it might come as a surprise that social housing has actually become one of the most popular investment options in Ireland in recent years.
According to CBRE’s Ireland Bi-Monthly Research Report published in May 2021, the Irish social housing market continues to record large transactions, including the recent sale by Ardstone Capital of a portfolio of five multifamily and single-family assets for €450 million, and the acquisition of 39 units leased to Dublin City Council at Blackhall Street in Dublin 7 for €20 million. The report also noted that several annuity funds and impact funds are now specifically targeting opportunities in this sector, and the social housing market is expected to thrive going forward. So, why are so many institutional investors keen to invest in this sector?
Data published in November 2020 showed that there were 61,880 households on the housing list in Ireland, while only 9,028 social homes are currently onsite. The social housing supply falls far short of demand, not to mention that last year’s pandemic battered global construction sectors with Ireland being no exception. The likelihood is that the housing list is now considerably longer than the data published.
The undersupply of social housing did not happen overnight. A significant legacy of the 2008 financial crisis was substantial under-investment in Ireland’s real estate projects, causing the real estate supply to plummet.
Ireland’s economy has regained its momentum in recent years and maintained the highest economic growth rate in Europe for six consecutive years. Thousands of migrants are flooding into this new European financial centre, especially Dublin, and this has further encouraged a rise in rent and demand for private and social housing.
Long Term Social Housing Leasing Scheme
To accelerate social housing delivery, the Irish government has committed more than €6 billion under the “Rebuilding Ireland” campaign. Under Rebuilding Ireland, one of the targets is to deliver 50,000 social housing units by 2021, of which 33,500 units will be exclusively built as social housing, 6,500 units will be acquired from the market, and the remaining 10,000 units will be secured via lease agreements. In other words, the Irish government is encouraging property developers to build properties and lease them to the government.
The standard leasing scheme offers a lease term of 10-25 years. The Irish government (the lessee) will pay 80-85% of an agreed market rent which will be reviewed every three years and is linked to the Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices (HICP), an indicator of inflation harmonised across EU countries.
In 2018, the Irish government launched the Enhanced Long Term Social Housing Leasing Scheme as an addition to the existing leasing arrangements. The enhanced scheme offers a 25-year lease term with up to 95% of the agreed market rent, but in return, each proposal has to include a minimum of 20 property units, and the lessor (developer) is obliged to provide management services.
Bartra was interviewed on RTÉ One, Ireland’s national broadcaster about Government long term leasing of social housing
Backed by the Irish government, the leasing scheme provides high investment stability for social housing investment. It also explains why institutional investors such as pension funds and annuity funds are acquiring long-term leased social houses from developers. Nonetheless, the benefits of investing in social housing go far beyond stability:
No RTB registration As required by law, property owners must register each tenancy with the Residential Tenancy Board (RTB), costing €90 per tenancy with a late fee of €180. For long-term social housing leasing agreements however, there is no such requirement.
No maintenance needed According to the standard leasing scheme, the property owner (the lessor) is not be responsible for maintenance after the first six months of the lease. *Not applicable to the enhanced leasing scheme
No rent loss due to vacancy For private property owners, there is a rent loss each time a tenant leaves as they need to find a replacement, which comes with advertising costs. For social housing, while vacancy is unlikely given the length of the housing list, there is nevertheless no rent loss due to vacant periods as the rent is guaranteed.
No property tax The local authorities or approved housing body are liable for property tax if the lease term is more than 20 years, not the property owners.
Bartra’s Social Housing Projects
As one of the leading developers in Ireland, Bartra is committed to providing high-quality social housing for families in need. All of our social housing projects are located in Dublin and are constructed by seasoned professionals including architects, planners, quantity surveyors, and construction companies. Majority of our projects will be leased to the Irish government for 25 years, therefore the income is guaranteed.
Bartra’s latest social housing development is Colmcille House, in Stoneybatter, Dublin 7. Completed in April 2021, the development is located in a prime area of Dublin, within walking distance of Smithfield LUAS stop, and offers a total of 23 apartments situated less than 2km from the city centre. It has wonderful views over the city. At Bartra, we believe that every resident deserves a high quality of life, so every unit in Colmcille House is beautifully designed and 15-20% larger than most apartments in the area.
Bartra’s complex in Stoneybatter was funded by the IIP
Despite the benefits of investing in social housing, it is difficult for individual investors to participate. However, there is the opportunity to participate in Bartra’s social housing projects through the Immigrant Investor Programme (IIP). At maturity of your three-year investment period, your total €1 million investment will be returned, along with Permanent Residency status for you and your family.
Fill in the form below and you’ll receive the guide in your inbox. IIP application requires the main applicant has net worth of minimum €2 million, to invest €1 million in IIP qualified projects for at least three years investment term.
The invisible addiction: is it time to give up caffeine?
Caffeine makes us more energetic, efficient and faster. But we have become so dependent that we need it just to get to our baselineby Michael Pollan
Tue 6 Jul 2021 06.00 BST
Last modified on Mon 12 Jul 2021 14.28 BST
After years of starting the day with a tall morning coffee, followed by several glasses of green tea at intervals, and the occasional cappuccino after lunch, I quit caffeine, cold turkey. It was not something that I particularly wanted to do, but I had come to the reluctant conclusion that the story I was writing demanded it. Several of the experts I was interviewing had suggested that I really couldn’t understand the role of caffeine in my life – its invisible yet pervasive power – without getting off it and then, presumably, getting back on. Roland Griffiths, one of the world’s leading researchers of mood-altering drugs, and the man most responsible for getting the diagnosis of “caffeine withdrawal” included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the bible of psychiatric diagnoses, told me he hadn’t begun to understand his own relationship with caffeine until he stopped using it and conducted a series of self-experiments. He urged me to do the same.
For most of us, to be caffeinated to one degree or another has simply become baseline human consciousness. Something like 90% of humans ingest caffeine regularly, making it the most widely used psychoactive drug in the world, and the only one we routinely give to children (commonly in the form of fizzy drinks). Few of us even think of it as a drug, much less our daily use of it as an addiction. It’s so pervasive that it’s easy to overlook the fact that to be caffeinated is not baseline consciousness but, in fact, an altered state. It just happens to be a state that virtually all of us share, rendering it invisible.
The scientists have spelled out, and I had duly noted, the predictable symptoms of caffeine withdrawal: headache, fatigue, lethargy, difficulty concentrating, decreased motivation, irritability, intense distress, loss of confidence and dysphoria. But beneath that deceptively mild rubric of “difficulty concentrating” hides nothing short of an existential threat to the work of the writer. How can you possibly expect to write anything when you can’t concentrate?
I postponed it as long as I could, but finally the dark day arrived. According to the researchers I’d interviewed, the process of withdrawal had actually begun overnight, while I was sleeping, during the “trough” in the graph of caffeine’s diurnal effects. The day’s first cup of tea or coffee acquires most of its power – its joy! – not so much from its euphoric and stimulating properties than from the fact that it is suppressing the emerging symptoms of withdrawal. This is part of the insidiousness of caffeine. Its mode of action, or “pharmacodynamics”, mesh so perfectly with the rhythms of the human body that the morning cup of coffee arrives just in time to head off the looming mental distress set in motion by yesterday’s cup of coffee. Daily, caffeine proposes itself as the optimal solution to the problem caffeine creates. https://www.theguardian.com/email/form/plaintone/the-long-readSign up to the long read weekly emailAdvertisementhttps://e80ef70dfb10d56de613b0b502418087.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
At the coffee shop, instead of my usual “half caff”, I ordered a cup of mint tea. And on this morning, that lovely dispersal of the mental fog that the first hit of caffeine ushers into consciousness never arrived. The fog settled over me and would not budge. It’s not that I felt terrible – I never got a serious headache – but all day long I felt a certain muzziness, as if a veil had descended in the space between me and reality, a kind of filter that absorbed certain wavelengths of light and sound.
I was able to do some work, but distractedly. “I feel like an unsharpened pencil,” I wrote in my notebook. “Things on the periphery intrude, and won’t be ignored. I can’t focus for more than a minute.”
Over the course of the next few days, I began to feel better, the veil lifted, yet I was still not quite myself, and neither, quite, was the world. In this new normal, the world seemed duller to me. I seemed duller, too. Mornings were the worst. I came to see how integral caffeine is to the daily work of knitting ourselves back together after the fraying of consciousness during sleep. That reconsolidation of self took much longer than usual, and never quite felt complete.
Humanity’s acquaintance with caffeine is surprisingly recent. But it is hardly an exaggeration to say that this molecule remade the world. The changes wrought by coffee and tea occurred at a fundamental level – the level of the human mind. Coffee and tea ushered in a shift in the mental weather, sharpening minds that had been fogged by alcohol, freeing people from the natural rhythms of the body and the sun, thus making possible whole new kinds of work and, arguably, new kinds of thought, too.Advertisementhttps://e80ef70dfb10d56de613b0b502418087.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
By the 15th century, coffee was being cultivated in east Africa and traded across the Arabian peninsula. Initially, the new drink was regarded as an aide to concentration and used by Sufis in Yemen to keep them from dozing off during their religious observances. (Tea, too, started out as a little helper for Buddhist monks striving to stay awake through long stretches of meditation.) Within a century, coffeehouses had sprung up in cities across the Arab world. In 1570 there were more than 600 of them in Constantinople alone, and they spread north and west with the Ottoman empire.
The Islamic world at this time was in many respects more advanced than Europe, in science and technology, and in learning. Whether this mental flourishing had anything to do with the prevalence of coffee (and prohibition of alcohol) is difficult to prove, but as the German historian Wolfgang Schivelbusch has argued, the beverage “seemed to be tailor-made for a culture that forbade alcohol consumption and gave birth to modern mathematics”.
A coffee house in 17th-century London. Photograph: Lordprice Collection/AlamyAdvertisementhttps://e80ef70dfb10d56de613b0b502418087.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
In 1629 the first coffeehouses in Europe, styled on Arab and Turkish models, popped up in Venice, and the first such establishment in England was opened in Oxford in 1650 by a Jewish immigrant. They arrived in London shortly thereafter, and proliferated: within a few decades there were thousands of coffeehouses in London; at their peak, one for every 200 Londoners.
To call the English coffeehouse a new kind of public space doesn’t quite do it justice. You paid a penny for the coffee, but the information – in the form of newspapers, books, magazines and conversation – was free. (Coffeehouses were often referred to as “penny universities”.) After visiting London coffeehouses, a French writer named Maximilien Misson wrote, “You have all Manner of News there; You have a good fire, which you may sit by as long as you please: You have a Dish of Coffee; you meet your Friends for the Transaction of Business, and all for a Penny, if you don’t care to spend more.”
London’s coffeehouses were distinguished one from another by the professional or intellectual interests of their patrons, which eventually gave them specific institutional identities. So, for example, merchants and men with interests in shipping gathered at Lloyd’s Coffee House. Here you could learn what ships were arriving and departing, and buy an insurance policy on your cargo. Lloyd’s Coffee House eventually became the insurance brokerage Lloyd’s of London. Learned types and scientists – known then as “natural philosophers” – gathered at the Grecian, which became closely associated with the Royal Society; Isaac Newton and Edmond Halley debated physics and mathematics here, and supposedly once dissected a dolphin on the premises.
The conversation in London’s coffee houses frequently turned to politics, in vigorous exercises of free speech that drew the ire of the government, especially after the monarchy was restored in 1660. Charles II, worried that plots were being hatched in coffeehouses, decided that the places were dangerous fomenters of rebellion that the crown needed to suppress. In 1675 the king moved to close down the coffeehouses, on the grounds that the “false, malicious and scandalous Reports” emanating therefrom were a “Disturbance of the Quiet and Peace of the Realm”. Like so many other compounds that change the qualities of consciousness in individuals, caffeine was regarded as a threat to institutional power, which moved to suppress it, in a foreshadowing of the wars against drugs to come.
But the king’s war against coffee lasted only 11 days. Charles discovered that it was too late to turn back the tide of caffeine. By then the coffeehouse was such a fixture of English culture and daily life – and so many eminent Londoners had become addicted to caffeine – that everyone simply ignored the king’s order and blithely went on drinking coffee. Afraid to test his authority and find it lacking, the king quietly backed down, issuing a second proclamation rolling back the first “out of princely consideration and royal compassion”.Advertisementhttps://e80ef70dfb10d56de613b0b502418087.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
It’s hard to imagine that the sort of political, cultural and intellectual ferment that bubbled up in the coffeehouses of both France and England in the 17th century would ever have developed in a tavern. The kind of magical thinking that alcohol sponsored in the medieval mind began to yield to a new spirit of rationalism and, a bit later, Enlightenment thinking. French historian Jules Michelet wrote: “Coffee, the sober drink, the mighty nourishment of the brain, which unlike other spirits, heightens purity and lucidity; coffee, which clears the clouds of the imagination and their gloomy weight; which illumines the reality of things suddenly with the flash of truth.”
To see, lucidly, “the reality of things”: this was, in a nutshell, the rationalist project. Coffee became, along with the microscope, telescope and the pen, one of its indispensable tools.
After a few weeks, the mental impairments of withdrawal had subsided, and I could once again think in a straight line, hold an abstraction in my head for more than two minutes, and shut peripheral thoughts out of my field of attention. Yet I continued to feel as though I was mentally just slightly behind the curve, especially when in the company of drinkers of coffee and tea, which, of course, was all the time and everywhere.
Here’s what I was missing: I missed the way caffeine and its rituals used to order my day, especially in the morning. Herbal teas – which are barely, if at all, psychoactive – lack the power of coffee and tea to organise the day into a rhythm of energetic peaks and valleys, as the mental tide of caffeine ebbs and flows. The morning surge is a blessing, obviously, but there is also something comforting in the ebb tide of afternoon, which a cup of tea can gently reverse.
At some point I began to wonder if perhaps it was all in my head, this sense that I had lost a mental step since getting off coffee and tea. So I decided to look at the science, to learn what, if any, cognitive enhancement can actually be attributed to caffeine. I found numerous studies conducted over the years reporting that caffeine improves performance on a range of cognitive measures – of memory, focus, alertness, vigilance, attention and learning. An experiment done in the 1930s found that chess players on caffeine performed significantly better than players who abstained. In another study, caffeine users completed a variety of mental tasks more quickly, though they made more errors; as one paper put it in its title, people on caffeine are “faster, but not smarter”. In a 2014 experiment, subjects given caffeine immediately after learning new material remembered it better than subjects who received a placebo. Tests of psychomotor abilities also suggest that caffeine gives us an edge: in simulated driving exercises, caffeine improves performance, especially when the subject is tired. It also enhances physical performance on such metrics as time trials, muscle strength and endurance.Advertisement
True, there is reason to take these findings with a pinch of salt, if only because this kind of research is difficult to do well. The problem is finding a good control group in a society in which virtually everyone is addicted to caffeine. But the consensus seems to be that caffeine does improve mental (and physical) performance to some degree.
Whether caffeine also enhances creativity is a different question, however, and there’s some reason to doubt that it does. Caffeine improves our focus and ability to concentrate, which surely enhances linear and abstract thinking, but creativity works very differently. It may depend on the loss of a certain kind of focus, and the freedom to let the mind off the leash of linear thought.
Cognitive psychologists sometimes talk in terms of two distinct types of consciousness: spotlight consciousness, which illuminates a single focal point of attention, making it very good for reasoning, and lantern consciousness, in which attention is less focused yet illuminates a broader field of attention. Young children tend to exhibit lantern consciousness; so do many people on psychedelics. This more diffuse form of attention lends itself to mind wandering, free association, and the making of novel connections – all of which can nourish creativity. By comparison, caffeine’s big contribution to human progress has been to intensify spotlight consciousness – the focused, linear, abstract and efficient cognitive processing more closely associated with mental work than play. This, more than anything else, is what made caffeine the perfect drug not only for the age of reason and the Enlightenment, but for the rise of capitalism, too.
The power of caffeine to keep us awake and alert, to stem the natural tide of exhaustion, freed us from the circadian rhythms of our biology and so, along with the advent of artificial light, opened the frontier of night to the possibilities of work.
What coffee did for clerks and intellectuals, tea would soon do for the English working class. Indeed, it was tea from the East Indies – heavily sweetened with sugar from the West Indies – that fuelled the Industrial Revolution. We think of England as a tea culture, but coffee, initially the cheaper beverage by far, dominated at first.
Soon after the British East India Company began trading with China, cheap tea flooded England. A beverage that only the well-to-do could afford to drink in 1700 was by 1800 consumed by virtually everyone, from the society matron to the factory worker.
Tea pickers in Assam, India. Photograph: AFP/GettyAdvertisementhttps://e80ef70dfb10d56de613b0b502418087.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
To supply this demand required an imperialist enterprise of enormous scale and brutality, especially after the British decided it would be more profitable to turn India, its colony, into a tea producer, than to buy tea from the Chinese. This required first stealing the secrets of tea production from the Chinese (a mission accomplished by the renowned Scots botanist and plant explorer Robert Fortune, disguised as a mandarin); seizing land from peasant farmers in Assam (where tea grew wild), and then forcing the farmers into servitude, picking tea leaves from dawn to dusk. The introduction of tea to the west was all about exploitation – the extraction of surplus value from labour, not only in its production in India, but in its consumption by the British as well.
Tea allowed the British working class to endure long shifts, brutal working conditions and more or less constant hunger; the caffeine helped quiet the hunger pangs, and the sugar in it became a crucial source of calories. (From a strictly nutritional standpoint, workers would have been better off sticking with beer.) The caffeine in tea helped create a new kind of worker, one better adapted to the rule of the machine. It is difficult to imagine an Industrial Revolution without it.
So how exactly does coffee, and caffeine more generally, make us more energetic, efficient and faster? How could this little molecule possibly supply the human body energy without calories? Could caffeine be the proverbial free lunch, or do we pay a price for the mental and physical energy – the alertness, focus and stamina – that caffeine gives us?
Alas, there is no free lunch. It turns out that caffeine only appears to give us energy. Caffeine works by blocking the action of adenosine, a molecule that gradually accumulates in the brain over the course of the day, preparing the body to rest. Caffeine molecules interfere with this process, keeping adenosine from doing its job – and keeping us feeling alert. But adenosine levels continue to rise, so that when the caffeine is eventually metabolised, the adenosine floods the body’s receptors and tiredness returns. So the energy that caffeine gives us is borrowed, in effect, and eventually the debt must be paid back.
For as long as people have been drinking coffee and tea, medical authorities have warned about the dangers of caffeine. But until now, caffeine has been cleared of the most serious charges against it. The current scientific consensus is more than reassuring – in fact, the research suggests that coffee and tea, far from being deleterious to our health, may offer some important benefits, as long as they aren’t consumed to excess. Regular coffee consumption is associated with a decreased risk of several cancers (including breast, prostate, colorectal and endometrial), cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, dementia and possibly depression and suicide. (Though high doses can produce nervousness and anxiety, and rates of suicide climb among those who drink eight or more cups a day.)
My review of the medical literature on coffee and tea made me wonder if my abstention might be compromising not only my mental function but my physical health, as well. However, that was before I spoke to Matt Walker.
An English neuroscientist on the faculty at University of California, Berkeley, Walker, author of Why We Sleep, is single-minded in his mission: to alert the world to an invisible public-health crisis, which is that we are not getting nearly enough sleep, the sleep we are getting is ofpoor quality, and a principal culprit in this crime against body and mind is caffeine. Caffeine itself might not be bad for you, but the sleep it’s stealing from you may have a price. According to Walker, research suggests that insufficient sleep may be a key factor in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, arteriosclerosis, stroke, heart failure, depression, anxiety, suicide and obesity. “The shorter you sleep,” he bluntly concludes, “the shorter your lifespan.”
Walker grew up in England drinking copious amounts of black tea, morning, noon and night. He no longer consumes caffeine, save for the small amounts in his occasional cup of decaf. In fact, none of the sleep researchers or experts on circadian rhythms I interviewed for this story use caffeine.
Walker explained that, for most people, the “quarter life” of caffeine is usually about 12 hours, meaning that 25% of the caffeine in a cup of coffee consumed at noon is still circulating in your brain when you go to bed at midnight. That could well be enough to completely wreck your deep sleep.
I thought of myself as a pretty good sleeper before I met Walker. At lunch he probed me about my sleep habits. I told him I usually get a solid seven hours, fall asleep easily, dream most nights.
“How many times a night do you wake up?” he asked. I’m up three or four times a night (usually to pee), but I almost always fall right back to sleep.
He nodded gravely. “That’s really not good, all those interruptions. Sleep quality is just as important as sleep quantity.” The interruptions were undermining the amount of “deep” or “slow wave” sleep I was getting, something above and beyond the REM sleep I had always thought was the measure of a good night’s rest. But it seems that deep sleep is just as important to our health, and the amount we get tends to decline with age.
Caffeine is not the sole cause of our sleep crisis; screens, alcohol (which is as hard on REM sleep as caffeine is on deep sleep), pharmaceuticals, work schedules, noise and light pollution, and anxiety can all play a role in undermining both the duration and quality of our sleep. But here’s what’s uniquely insidious about caffeine: the drug is not only a leading cause of our sleep deprivation; it is also the principal tool we rely on to remedy the problem. Most of the caffeine consumed today is being used to compensate for the lousy sleep that caffeine causes – which means that caffeine is helping to hide from our awareness the very problem that caffeine creates.
The time came to wrap up my experiment in caffeine deprivation. I was eager to see what a body that had been innocent of caffeine for three months would experience when subjected to a couple of shots of espresso. I had thought long and hard about what kind of coffee I would get, and where. I opted for a “special”, my local coffee shop’s term for a double-shot espresso made with less steamed milk than a typical cappuccino; it’s more commonly known as a flat white.
My special was unbelievably good, a ringing reminder of what a poor counterfeit decaf is; here were whole dimensions and depths of flavour that I had completely forgotten about. Everything in my visual field seemed pleasantly italicised, filmic, and I wondered if all these people with their cardboard-sleeve-swaddled cups had any idea what a powerful drug they were sipping. But how could they?
They had long ago become habituated to caffeine, and were now using it for another purpose entirely. Baseline maintenance, that is, plus a welcome little lift. I felt lucky that this more powerful experience was available to me. This – along with the stellar sleeps – was the wonderful dividend of my investment in abstention.
And yet in a few days’ time I would be them, caffeine-tolerant and addicted all over again. I wondered: was there any way to preserve the power of this drug? Could I devise a new relationship with caffeine? Maybe treat it more like a psychedelic – say, something to be taken only on occasion, and with a greater degree of ceremony and intention. Maybe just drink coffee on Saturdays? Just the one.
When I got home I tackled my to-do list with unaccustomed fervour, harnessing the surge of energy – of focus! – coursing through me, and put it to good use. I compulsively cleared and decluttered – on the computer, in my closet, in the garden and the shed. I raked, I weeded, I put things in order, as if I were possessed. Whatever I focused on, I focused on zealously and single-mindedly.
Around noon, my compulsiveness began to subside, and I felt ready for a change of scene. I had yanked a few plants out of the vegetable garden that were not pulling their weight, and decided to go to the garden centre to buy some replacements. It was during the drive that I realised the true reason I was heading to this particular garden centre: it had this Airstream trailer parked out front that served really good espresso.
This article was amended on 8 July 2021 to include mention of the Turkish influence on early European coffeehouses.
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Eric Topol @EricTopolThis will go down in history as one of science and medical research’s greatest achievements. Perhaps the most impressive. I put together a preliminary timeline of some key milestones to show how several years of work were compressed into months.
National Archives, Ireland@NARIreland· As we continue to commemorate the centenary of the Truce here is a typescript copy of a deciphered message concerning the acceptance of the Truce by Éamon de Valera from 9th July 1921, NAI ref: DE/2/247/22
New evidence on a disturbing killing during the Irish Civil War. By John Dorney.
On October 7 1922, in the middle of the Irish Civil War, three young anti Treatyites Edwin (or Eamon) Hughes (17), Brendan Holohan (17) Joe Rogers (16) were arrested by National Army troop under Charlie Dalton in the Dublin suburb of Drumcondra. They were in the act of putting up posters calling for the killing of ‘Free State forces’ … ‘the murder gang also known as military intelligence and so-called CID men’.
The following morning their lifeless bodies were found at the Red Cow townland, south west of Dublin city. Hughes and Holohan had been shot four times each. Rogers, who seems to have tried to get away, was found some distance away from the others, shot sixteen times.
Three young anti-Treatyites were arrested and later found shot dead and dumped at the Red Cow, outside Dublin.
It was one of the most distressing atrocities of a dirty, internecine war in Dublin. The Freeman’s Journal lamented ‘hardly a week goes by without some ghastly incident … proof of the demoralisation of the nation, where is it all to end?’  The Irish Independent called for the killers to be ‘brought to justice’ and urged the public to come forward to aid in ‘putting a stop to this lamentable unchristian state of things.’
I wrote in my recent history of the period, The Civil War in Dublin of the incident, ‘These were particularly callous killings. Aside from the youth of the victims, the boys had been unarmed and had posed no physical threat to the troops who captured them.’
However, a new batch of pension records was released to the public by the Military archives this October has shed some new light on the case.
Eamonn Hughes and Brendan Holohan
Eamonn (born Edwin) Hughes was 17 at the time of his death and lived with his parents at 107 Clonliffe Road in Drumcondra in Dublin’s northern suburbs. The family were members of the city’s respectable lower middle class.
His father was a clerk in the Department of Industry and Commerce and his mother was a music teacher. They, according to Eamon’s bother Gary, ‘always facilitated their son’s aspirations in spite of the danger and home disturbance.’ Eamonn himself was an apprentice dentist.
His parents appear to have been devastated by his death. His mother seems to have suffered from a breakdown, could no longer teach music classes and according to her doctor, no longer felt able to leave her house. His father also developed chronic heart problems within two years of his son’s death. By 1933, when, with Fianna Fail in power, anti-Treatyites could apply for pensions, they were described as ‘practically destitute’.
Eamonn Hughes joined the Republican youth wing the Fianna in December 1920 and in May 1921, just two months before the Truce with the British, transferred to the IRA proper, where he was used as a scout. His direct superior in the Dublin Brigade, IRA 2nd Battalion, Michael Murphy, testified that he was a ‘sergeant’ (a term not usually used in the IRA) despite his young age and was ‘of excellent character.’
Murphy stated to the Pensions Board in 1933 that, ‘while acting under orders he was arrested by Free State troops on Clonliffe Road. He was armed at the time’. 
A statement, just made public, by Hughes’ IRA officer to the Pension Board, says he was armed when he was arrested.
Brendan Holohan, one of the other boys killed Red Cow, was ‘Truce’ Volunteer, joining the IRA in April 1922, just as the guerrilla army was splitting apart over the Treaty. His background was very similar to that of his friend Eamonn Hughes, he was of lower middle class stock, from the northern suburbs of Dublin and was employed as County Clerk.
His Battalion Officer Commanding Tom Burke, stated that when he was arrested he was ‘on an intelligence patrol’.
Joe Rogers (the third victim)’s family do not appear to have filed a pension request.
The Pensions Board concluded in the case of both Hughes and Holohan, ‘His body was found riddled with bullets at Red Cow, Clondalkin, Co Dublin… The Board, from confidential inquiries made, are satisfied that his death was a s a result of his activities with Oglaigh na hEireann (IRA)’. 
This information then, while in no way lessening the tragedy of the deaths of the three teenagers, or excusing their killers, does complicate the story of three innocent boys shot for putting up posters. Thus, it is worth looking at the case again.
The facts of the case: ‘Murdered and thrown in a ditch’
On 7 October 1922, Charlie Dalton (Deputy head of National Army Intelligence, along with Nicholas Tobin (brother of Liam, Army Director of Intelligence) and a driver Feehan, on a routine patrol, picked up Hughes Holohan and Rogers in Drumcondra, close to their homes.
At the inquest, the court was told that three had agreed to take over the job of postering from Jenny O’Toole, a local Republican girl, due to her being abused by the public. ‘She had mud flung at her’ as well as verbal abuse. The boys carried copies of the underground anti-Treaty newspaper, Poblacht na hEireann, and the posters allegedly called for the killing of ‘Free State forces’ … ‘the murder gang also known as military intelligence and so-called CID men’.
It is not clear how this story squares with the testimony to the Pensions Board that one of the young man was armed and that they were on an ‘intelligence patrol’. If both things are true then them taking over postering as well was the height of foolishness.
One can imagine the rage of Dalton and Tobin upon reading the incitements to kill them and their colleagues. This combined with finding Hughe’s revolver might have sealed their fate. However, the youths were not killed on the spot, but formally taken prisoner and, along with a couple of other prisoners picked up on Harcourt Street, were driven back to Wellington Barracks, headquarters of Army Intelligence.
The three boys were taken into custody at Wellington Barracks, where troops stated they were questioned for twenty minutes and let go. They were never seen alive again.
There, Dalton later testified, they were handed over to fellow veterans of pre-Truce IRA Intelligence, Seán O’Connell and James Slattery, now both Military Intelligence officers. A Captain Corrigan testified that the three boys were released after twenty minutes, having been interrogated by an officer named Seán Murphy.
The following day, a National Army patrol from the Tallaght Camp found their bodies in a quarry near Clondalkin.Someone had driven them from Wellington out to the quarry, near the Red Cow townland and shot them dead.
The Naas Road area was where at least four other anti-Treaty prisoners were also assassinated during the Civil War. The suspicion then and ever since, was that Charlie Dalton the arresting officer had ordered their deaths. This, it was never possible to prove.
Among all the anonymous killings taking place at the time, the Red Cow murders were very unusual.
As the victims were first formally taken prisoner and logged at Wellington Barracks, National Army officers were identified by name at the Inquest, where Republican counsel Michael Comyn called on the jury to reach a verdict of wilful murder against Charlie Dalton, who could then be charged with the killings. Dalton was briefly placed under arrest by the Criminal Investigation Department or CID.
The inquest though became something of a farce, with stonewall obstruction by the Army personnel and both Comyn and Tim Healy, the barrister representing Charlie Dalton, using it as a platform for the partisan position of their employers in the Civil War. Michael Comyn, cross examining an un-cooperative National Army officer was told: ‘the Black and Tans didn’t make me answer and you won’t’ – refusing to give a list of prisoners taken at Wellington Barracks that night.
Comyn replied with bluster: ‘you are one of the King’s officers are you not?’ You were in the ‘cease-to-do-evil’? [Wellington Barracks] You do know that Poblacht na hEireann [the anti-Treaty newspaper] is sold in shops don’t you?’
When Comyn pressed the officer as to whether he had told the court everything that had happened in the Barracks that night, Healy instructed the unnamed officer: ‘do not answer.’ Healy argued ‘there was no inquest on Michael Collins’. To which Comyn replied ‘he died like a soldier, he died in battle.’ His colleague Mr Black added: ‘he was not murdered and thrown in a ditch.’
National Army officers refused to answer questions at the inquest which judged that the youths were killed ‘by persons unknown’.
Summing up his own case Healy objected that, ‘you would think the country was not in a state of war and the three were harmless.’ He alleged that Charlie Dalton stood accused only because his brother Emmet was a senior National Army commander. He continued that it was the anti-Treaty side that had started the Civil War and who, he asked could now ‘set a boundary to the march of extermination?’ ‘Was it surprising that three members of the Republican Army were found dead?’ he asked.
Whether Dalton personally gave the order to kill Hughes, Holohan and Rogers, in the absence of witnesses who were willing to talk, it was impossible to prove. The jury at the Inquest ruled that the three Fianna boys were ‘killed by gunshots fired by persons unknown.’ Dalton was back at his duties as head of Eastern Command Intelligence by late November.
Nicholas Tobin, the other arresting officer, was killed shortly afterwards in a raid on an anti-Treaty bomb making factory on Gardiner Street, apparently shot accidentally by his own troops.
Making sense of the killings?
None of this, however, quite explains why the Red Cow killings occurred.Why would anyone gun down three harmless youths for putting up posters?
In light of the new evidence we now have from the anti-Treaty IRA, we now know that Hughes may well have been armed on the night and Holohan was ‘on an intelligence patrol’. A CID officer named Charles Murphy alleged at the inquest one the three boys was carrying a revolver, and we now know that this was possibly true.
It might help to explain the subsequent killings somewhat, along with the bloodthirsty calls for the shooting of Free State officers on the posters they were putting up, but in some ways it raises more questions than answers.
In September 1922 the Provisional Government of the Irish Free State had passed emergency legislation allowing for the execution of anyone founding possessing arms or ammunition ‘without the proper authority’ or ‘aiding and abetting attacks on state forces’. So if Hughes was carrying a revolver and if the other two boys could be shown to be aiding him they were certainly liable for internment if not (due to their age) execution by firing squad.
If Hughes was indeed armed at the time of his arrest, he could have been legally tried and executed by military court.
And yet, puzzlingly, Army officers testified at the inquest that they let the three prisoners go after twenty minutes’ questioning. Nor was the revolver that they allegedly took from Hughes ever produced.
So why illegally shoot three teenagers who could have been quite legally tried by military courts anyway?
One possible reason was that the National Army Intelligence, aware that the anti-Treaty IRA was topping up its depleted manpower by mobilising the Fianna, was intent on terrorising that organisation into quiescence. Fianna leaders Sean Cole and Alfred Colley had been among the first assassinations of anti-Treatyites in Dublin in August 1922.
Frank Sherwin, a Fianna member captured after an attack on Wellington barracks in November 1922, was also brutally beaten there by Intelligence officers Joe Dolan and Frank Bolster and subsequently by Charlie Dalton in Portobello Barracks in an effort to get the name of his OC, Charlie O’Connor.
It could be that the killings were simply the result of loss of temper, or drunken rage by young men who were, by this time, behaving in a very unstable, violent and erratic manner.
There seems to have been a particular personal animus against the Fianna on the part of pro-Treaty troops. In part this might be explained by the resentment against young ‘Trucileers’ who had not fought the British but were now prolonging pointlessly, in the pro-Treaty view, the Civil War.
Dalton and his comrades, or whoever killed the three teenagers, were no doubt were filled with rage at the thought of one of their men dying at the hands of young boys who had never fought ‘the common enemy’. Already, hundreds of National Army soldiers had been killed in the war over the Treaty, some no doubt killed by youths as young as those who died at the Red Cow.
But it could be that the killings were simply the result of loss of temper, or drunken rage by young men who were, by this time, behaving in a very unstable, violent and erratic manner. They might have decided that a formal military court might have let the youths off as a result of their age and decided to dispense with formalities.
Much the same group of officers who were behind the ‘Murder Gang’ was also responsible for the widespread abuse of prisoners, especially at Wellington Barracks. Up to twenty five anti-Treaty prisoners were killed by ‘persons unknown’ in Dublin during the Civil War, and over 100 nationally.
Not long after the Red Cow killings, Richard Mulcahy the Army Chief of Staff removed Charlie Dalton, Liam Tobin and many of the other pre-Truce IRA Intelligence officers from their positions directing Army Intelligence, citing their clannishness, secrecy and unwillingness to take orders from the Army command. The same group were later behind the attempted Army Mutiny of 1924.
In all wars, reasons are found for the most brutal of killings. In Civil War, the sense of personal betrayal heightens such sentiments. The enemy becomes equated to a parasite within the healthy body of the nation that must be cut out. Anti-Treatyite Sean Lemass (whose brother Noel was assassinated, also by unknown gunmen) said of the Civil War much later, and probably wisely, ‘Terrible things were done by both sides’. ‘I’d prefer not to talk about it’.
In writing about the Red Cow murders, this piece has no wish to stir up Civil War era animosities. No side was wholly innocent, not even the three youths murdered at Red Cow.
While today the Irish Civil War appears merely tragic and futile, during its course, both sides felt justified in doing things they previously would never have contemplated and later surely came to regret.
 Wellington Barracks from 1813 up to the 1890s was a prison, Richmond Bridewell, and over the gate was written ‘cease to do evil, learn to do well’, hence the popular nickname, the ‘cease-to-do-evil’.
Irish Times, 28 October 1922. While it might be tempting to search for a conspiracy in Tobin’s death, accidents and ‘friendly fire’ were all too common in the National Army at this time. Six other soldiers died in this way in Dublin in September and October 1922 alone.
 Sherwin, Independent and Unrepentant, pp. 18–21.
 Gavin Foster, The Irish Civil War and Society, pp. 23–8, Foster argues that the youth and lack of ‘record’ in the war against the British of many young guerrillas provoked intense resentment on the part of pro-Treaty soldiers and politicians. Equally (pp. 28–9) he argues that the anti-Treatyites were held to be simply ‘young hooligans’. Both of these commonly held assumptions might have contributed in some manner to the Red Cow murders.
 See John Dorney the Civil War in Dublin, chapter 16, The Prison War.
 See John Dorney, The Civil War in Dublin, Chapters 19, The Wars within the War and 21, Monopolies of Force.
12 Responses to “Revisiting the Red Cow Murders, October 7, 1922”
patmonks says: 22 November, 2017 at 5:47 pm Sad piece really and brings home the horror that went. One can have pride in the ancestors involvement 1916 to 1923 but then the cold reality strikes home. Fair to say 1916 commemorations passed without generating open hostility. However, those who will be involved in commemorating the WOI and CW and those of remembering family will have to find ways to curb our enthusiasm or w will be responsible for awakening open wounds. Thanks for the article Reply
Dave phelan says: 23 November, 2017 at 12:35 am An excellent article. As my grandfather was a member of the C.I.D during that period, it is vital that historical perspective is used to view this period. He is pictured in the car in the front passenger seat. In the lead up to 2022 it is important to see these horrible times in context and not simply right or wrong. There is no black and white. I hope many more people will open up their family archives to full scrutiny in the interests of historical research. Dave phelan nephew of Joesph Kinsella Reply
Bob Webster says: 8 September, 2018 at 11:01 am Recall reading that the events of 1919/ 24 likely had an eventual devastating effect on the mental health of Charlie Dalton and he died a relatively young man as a consequence. Very comprehensive thought-provoking article. Reply
Des G says: 8 October, 2019 at 11:29 pm I think Charlie Dalton was present at the wedding of his brother Emmet to Alice Shannon in the Imperial hotel, Cork, early on the morning of Monday 9 October 1922. Reply
John_Dorney says: 9 October, 2019 at 8:13 am So I’m told. But a. that leaves a whole day between shootings and him being in Cork. Even in 1922 the trip from Dublin to Cork took no more than a few hours. And b. as OC of intelligence in Wellington Barracks Dalton was responsible for what happened to prisoners there. And c. why, if Dalton was elsewhere, was this not introduced by his legal representative Tim Healy at the inquest? Reply
Who could have predicted that so many years after Orwell typed the final words to his dystopian novel, “He loved Big Brother,” we would come to love Big Brother.
“To the future or to the past, to a time when thought is free, when men are different from one another and do not live alone— to a time when truth exists and what is done cannot be undone: From the age of uniformity, from the age of solitude, from the age of Big Brother, from the age of doublethink — greetings!”—George Orwell
1984 portrays a global society of total control in which people are not allowed to have thoughts that in any way disagree with the corporate state. There is no personal freedom, and advanced technology has become the driving force behind a surveillance-driven society. Snitches and cameras are everywhere. People are subject to the Thought Police, who deal with anyone guilty of thought crimes. The government, or “Party,” is headed by Big Brother who appears on posters everywhere with the words: “Big Brother is watching you.
We have arrived, way ahead of schedule, into the dystopian future dreamed up by not only Orwell but also such fiction writers as Aldous Huxley, Margaret Atwood and Philip K. Dick.
“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”―George Orwell
Much like Orwell’s Big Brother in 1984, the government and its corporate spies now watch our every move. Much like Huxley’s A Brave New World, we are churning out a society of watchers who “have their liberties taken away from them, but … rather enjoy it, because they [are] distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda or brainwashing.” Much like Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, the populace is now taught to “know their place and their duties, to understand that they have no real rights but will be protected up to a point if they conform, and to think so poorly of themselves that they will accept their assigned fate and not rebel or run away.”
And in keeping with Philip K. Dick’s darkly prophetic vision of a dystopian police state—which became the basis for Steven Spielberg’s futuristic thriller Minority Report—we are now trapped in a world in which the government is all-seeing, all-knowing and all-powerful, and if you dare to step out of line, dark-clad police SWAT teams and pre-crime units will crack a few skulls to bring the populace under control.
What once seemed futuristic no longer occupies the realm of science fiction.
Incredibly, as the various nascent technologies employed and shared by the government and corporations alike—facial recognition, iris scanners, massive databases, behavior prediction software, and so on—are incorporated into a complex, interwoven cyber network aimed at tracking our movements, predicting our thoughts and controlling our behavior, the dystopian visions of past writers is fast becoming our reality.
“People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”―George Orwell
The courts have shredded the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. In fact, SWAT teams battering down doors without search warrants and FBI agents acting as a secret police that investigate dissenting citizens are common occurrences in contemporary America. And bodily privacy and integrity have been utterly eviscerated by a prevailing view that Americans have no rights over what happens to their bodies during an encounter with government officials, who are allowed to search, seize, strip, scan, spy on, probe, pat down, taser, and arrest any individual at any time and for the slightest provocation.
“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”―George Orwell, Animal Farm
We are increasingly ruled by multi-corporations wedded to the police state.
What many fail to realize is that the government is not operating alone. It cannot. The government requires an accomplice. Thus, the increasingly complex security needs of the massive federal government, especially in the areas of defense, surveillance and data management, have been met within the corporate sector, which has shown itself to be a powerful ally that both depends on and feeds the growth of governmental overreach.
In fact, Big Tech wedded to Big Government has become Big Brother, and we are now ruled by the Corporate Elite whose tentacles have spread worldwide. The government now has at its disposal technological arsenals so sophisticated and invasive as to render any constitutional protections null and void. Spearheaded by the NSA, which has shown itself to care little to nothing for constitutional limits or privacy, the “security/industrial complex”—a marriage of government, military and corporate interests aimed at keeping Americans under constant surveillance—has come to dominate the government and our lives.
Money, power, control. There is no shortage of motives fueling the convergence of mega-corporations and government. But who is paying the price? The American people, of course.
Orwell understood what many Americans are still struggling to come to terms with: that there is no such thing as a government organized for the good of the people. Even the best intentions among those in government inevitably give way to the desire to maintain power and control over the citizenry at all costs.
“The further a society drifts from truth the more it will hate those who speak it.” ― George Orwell
Even our ability to speak and think freely is being regulated.
In totalitarian regimes—a.k.a. police states—where conformity and compliance are enforced at the end of a loaded gun, the government dictates what words can and cannot be used. In countries where the police state hides behind a benevolent mask and disguises itself as tolerance, the citizens censor themselves, policing their words and thoughts to conform to the dictates of the mass mind.
Dystopian literature shows what happens when the populace is transformed into mindless automatons.
In Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, reading is banned and books are burned in order to suppress dissenting ideas, while televised entertainment is used to anesthetize the populace and render them easily pacified, distracted and controlled.
In Huxley’s Brave New World, serious literature, scientific thinking and experimentation are banned as subversive, while critical thinking is discouraged through the use of conditioning, social taboos and inferior education. Likewise, expressions of individuality, independence and morality are viewed as vulgar and abnormal.
In my debut novel The Erik Blair Diaries, the dystopian future that George Orwell predicted for 1984 has finally arrived, 100 years late and ten times as brutal. In this post-apocalyptic world where everyone marches to the beat of the same drummer and words like “freedom” are taboo, Erik Blair—Orwell’s descendant and unwitting heir to his legacy—isn’t volunteering to be anyone’s hero. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always go according to plan. To save all that he loves, Orwell will have to travel between his future self and the past.
And in Orwell’s 1984, Big Brother does away with all undesirable and unnecessary words and meanings, even going so far as to routinely rewrite history and punish “thoughtcrimes.” Orwell’s Big Brother relies on Newspeak to eliminate undesirable words, strip such words as remained of unorthodox meanings and make independent, non-government-approved thought altogether unnecessary.
Where we stand now is at the juncture of OldSpeak (where words have meanings, and ideas can be dangerous) and Newspeak (where only that which is “safe” and “accepted” by the majority is permitted). The power elite has made their intentions clear: they will pursue and prosecute any and all words, thoughts and expressions that challenge their authority.
This is the final link in the police state chain.
“Until they became conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.”—George Orwell
Having been reduced to a cowering citizenry—mute in the face of elected officials who refuse to represent us, helpless in the face of police brutality, powerless in the face of militarized tactics and technology that treat us like enemy combatants on a battlefield, and naked in the face of government surveillance that sees and hears all—we have nowhere left to go.
We have, so to speak, gone from being a nation where privacy is king to one where nothing is safe from the prying eyes of government.
“Big Brother is Watching You.”―George Orwell
Wherever you go and whatever you do, you are now being watched, especially if you leave behind an electronic footprint. When you use your cell phone, you leave a record of when the call was placed, who you called, how long it lasted and even where you were at the time. When you use your ATM card, you leave a record of where and when you used the card. There is even a video camera at most locations equipped with facial recognition software. When you use a cell phone or drive a car enabled with GPS, you can be tracked by satellite. Such information is shared with government agents, including local police. And all of this once-private information about your consumer habits, your whereabouts and your activities is now being fed to the government.
The government has nearly inexhaustible resources when it comes to tracking our movements, from electronic wiretapping devices, traffic cameras and biometrics to radio-frequency identification cards, satellites and Internet surveillance.
In such a climate, everyone is a suspect. And you’re guilty until you can prove yourself innocent. To underscore this shift in how the government now views its citizens, the FBI uses its wide-ranging authority to investigate individuals or groups, regardless of whether they are suspected of criminal activity.
“Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimetres inside your skull.” ― George Orwell
Here’s what a lot of people fail to understand, however: it’s not just what you say or do that is being monitored, but how you think that is being tracked and targeted. We’ve already seen this play out on the state and federal level with hate crime legislation that cracks down on so-called “hateful” thoughts and expression, encourages self-censoring and reduces free debate on various subject matter.
Total Internet surveillance by the Corporate State, as omnipresent as God, is used by the government to predict and, more importantly, control the populace, and it’s not as far-fetched as you might think. For example, the NSA has been working on an artificial intelligence system designed to anticipate your every move. Aquaint (the acronym stands for Advanced QUestion Answering for INTelligence) has been designed to detect patterns and predict behavior.
No information is sacred or spared.
Everything from cell phone recordings and logs, to emails, to text messages, to personal information posted on social networking sites, to credit card statements, to library circulation records, to credit card histories, etc., is collected by the NSA and shared freely with its agents in crime: the CIA, FBI and DHS.
What we are witnessing, in the so-called name of security and efficiency, is the creation of a new class system comprised of the watched (average Americans such as you and me) and the watchers (government bureaucrats, technicians and private corporations).
Clearly, the age of privacy in America is at an end.
So where does that leave us?
We now find ourselves in the unenviable position of being monitored, managed and controlled by our technology, which answers not to us but to our government and corporate rulers. This is the fact-is-stranger-than-fiction lesson that is being pounded into us on a daily basis.
It won’t be long before we find ourselves looking back on the past with longing, back to an age where we could speak to whom we wanted, buy what we wanted, think what we wanted without those thoughts, words and activities being tracked, processed and stored by corporate giants such as Google, sold to government agencies such as the NSA and CIA, and used against us by militarized police with their army of futuristic technologies.
To be an individual today, to not conform, to have even a shred of privacy, and to live beyond the reach of the government’s roaming eyes and technological spies, one must not only be a rebel but rebel.
Even when you rebel and take your stand, there is rarely a happy ending awaiting you. You are rendered an outlaw. Just look at what happened to Julian Assange.
So how do you survive in the American surveillance state?
We’re running out of options.
Whether you’re dealing with fact or fiction, as I make clear in Battlefield America: The War on the American People and in my new novel The Erik Blair Diaries, we’ll soon have to choose between self-indulgence (the bread-and-circus distractions offered up by the news media, politicians, sports conglomerates, entertainment industry, etc.) and self-preservation in the form of renewed vigilance about threats to our freedoms and active engagement in self-governance.
John W. Whitehead
John Whitehead is an attorney and author who has written, debated and practiced widely in the area of constitutional law, human rights and popular culture. He is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. Whitehead can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Financial Times magazine weekend: 27th/28th June 2021. Graphic contained in article.