TINKER, TAILOR, POLITICIAN, ADULT

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Stumbling around the channels the other night I came across one of my favourite television series  Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. I have it on DVD but I watched it anyway, and towards the end of this concluding episode when they have worked out who the villain of the peace is, the traitor and one of the men is surprised and tries to hit the traitor. Afterwards he apologises to the hero for losing his cool and explains how upset he was by the identity of the traitor – he had been an idol to him. The hero tells him, “you just grew up.”

My young sons will realise that I am a flawed idiot at some point in the next 10 years. May be sooner, may be later. The saddest thing  about this moment will be that that they, like everyone else, will get annoyed because they still want a hero and the fact that I am not that hero will mean they will be even more teed off at their poor deranged pops.

A classic example of this is Nelson Mandela. Like many recently deceased famous humans a lot of people are currently creating a huge myth around Mandela, and I am not saying that he was not a remarkable human being. Nevertheless the inevitable cycle of pedestal creation, monumemtal erection and then steady acidic corrosion through scandal, allegation, revision and revelation hovers  like a dog round a dinner bowl.

Already the great powerful aura that surrounds me as a Dad threatens to flicker out at any time. At night time I am asked each evening before lights out if I can make sure that a long list of hideous potential threatening creatures that are lining up to throw themselves at the windows, climb the drainpipes or attempt an aggressive attack by removing roof slates and lifting up the loft door.  I must check the front and back door. I must peer through the misted windows to monitor the possibility of that any of the big toothed bastards aren’t loitering on the front wall. Each night the list stretches longer and longer. And as it gets longer I know the belief in my ability to protect gets stretched as well. Don’t forget, Daddy, the sharks, Daddy. Ok. Daddy, don’t forget the big, brown bears, Daddy. OK. Daddy, don’t forget the Number taker, Daddy. OK, the Number taker. The doubt follows me out the door as I shut it tight and licking my ankles, and scenting my evening.

It will be sad, I suppose, may be even heart-breaking, to fall from grace becomes a cliff diving exhibition. I hope Nelson is ready for it.

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TINKER, TAILOR, POLITICIAN, ADULT

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Stumbling around the channels the other night I came across one of my favourite television series  Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. I have it on DVD but I watched it anyway, and towards the end of this concluding episode when they have worked out who the villain of the peace is, the traitor and one of the men is surprised and tries to hit the traitor. Afterwards he apologises to the hero for losing his cool and explains how upset he was by the identity of the traitor – he had been an idol to him. The hero tells him, “you just grew up.”

My young sons will realise that I am a flawed idiot at some point in the next 10 years. May be sooner, may be later. The saddest thing  about this moment will be that that they, like everyone else, will get annoyed because they still want a hero and the fact that I am not that hero will mean they will be even more teed off at their poor deranged pops.

A classic example of this is Nelson Mandela. Like many recently deceased famous humans a lot of people are currently creating a huge myth around Mandela, and I am not saying that he was not a remarkable human being. Nevertheless the inevitable cycle of pedestal creation, monumemtal erection and then steady acidic corrosion through scandal, allegation, revision and revelation hovers  like a dog round a dinner bowl.

Already the great powerful aura that surrounds me as a Dad threatens to flicker out at any time. At night time I am asked each evening before lights out if I can make sure that a long list of hideous potential threatening creatures that are lining up to throw themselves at the windows, climb the drainpipes or attempt an aggressive attack by removing roof slates and lifting up the loft door.  I must check the front and back door. I must peer through the misted windows to monitor the possibility of that any of the big toothed bastards aren’t loitering on the front wall. Each night the list stretches longer and longer. And as it gets longer I know the belief in my ability to protect gets stretched as well. Don’t forget, Daddy, the sharks, Daddy. Ok. Daddy, don’t forget the big, brown bears, Daddy. OK. Daddy, don’t forget the Number taker, Daddy. OK, the Number taker. The doubt follows me out the door as I shut it tight and licking my ankles, and scenting my evening.

It will be sad, I suppose, may be even heart-breaking, to fall from grace becomes a cliff diving exhibition. I hope Nelson is ready for it.

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MAGGIE AND THE COMPLIANT CHILD

A regular cause for concern about parents of young children like myself is whether we are creating children who are either – totally insubordinate or utterly compliant. This is probably ridiculous; we don’t have that much power or control but it raises an interesting idea. Is it better in society to be wilful, angry, difficult, rebellious or is it better to be capable of taking orders, socially adaptable, polite, well mannered. It has often be suggested that the non-compliant rebel is happier and achieves more, has a strong sense of entitlement about their own will and is therefore more likely to have their desires fulfilled by society. You don’t get if you don’t ask.

It is difficult to imagine Margaret Thatcher as a compliant child and she certainly succeeded in many of her aims as appalling as I personally found her and her policies. Is this cast iron copper bottomed evidence that the difficult succeed? I don’t think so. Thatcher succeeded because of a particular mix of historical ingredients created a situation in which her dubious charm as a “ballsy” strong woman appealed to enough of the electorate to keep getting her elected. In many cases her economic and social policies were not particularly convincing but her personality created an impression of a strong leader and when a country is insecure it often revels in the idea of strength however delusional. The myth of her personality sold her policies and allowed them to become embedded in to British culture.

In a different historical moment she would have been laughed at or ignored, as many strident difficult people are. Just as Rasputin would never have become the lover of the Russian queen, but one of those people that make charity shop workers edgy even though they are the exact type of person their charity is designed to help.

Similarly the concept of the survival of the fittest is misconstrued. It is a phrase that should be qualified – survival of the fittest for a particular situation’s very particular requirements. Physical, moral or intellectual strength are not always and advantage. Sometimes you can get some very peculiar evolutionary successes when certain qualities; a colour, an abnormal limb, an unusual shape or any variety of qualities can lead to an incredible success.

The gene pool of tomorrow may need a lot of overweight bald man. It might be important. Who can tell why?

The success of certain qualities is entirely dependent on the chaos of historical context. Historical necessity is again a badly chosen phrase. History chooses winners and losers based on short term needs not with a long term historical moral goal of superiority in mind [because that mind doesn’t exist]. Something can only by historically necessary when you look back at history, which is why some philosophers and historians see the present as the end point of history, the desirable status quo that should be appreciated, rather than viewing it merely as the day they started writing their book on.

So I would say that even if you do believe that you have the power to create your child’s attitude to life, be very careful if you try and create a demonic rebel. They may be prime minister, or they may end up 42 years old and trying to protect the worms from the birds in your back garden.

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MANIMAL!

MANIMAL

Humans and animals: what are the differences? We aren’t very intelligent when talking about this topic because we have so many hang ups about ourselves and project themselves on the animal kingdom in a very unrealistic way.

There are 3 popular cultural positions on this topic that dominate European and American thought and act in opposition to one another.

a. The Romantic position – everything natural is beautiful, good in its intuitive and instinctive response to the world, innocent noble savage poetic beasts; who are poisoned by the toxics of scientific understanding, capitalism and modern civilization. Think Jim Morrison on a weekender with the marketing department of Innocent smoothies.

b. The Misanthropic position – that human beings are animals and therefore essentially brutish, ruthless, and vicious creatures that destroy everything in the name of self preservation and the short term distraction of pleasure.  Think Phillip Larkin and Charlie Brooker staring at their own used Kleenex collection frothing with self-loathing.

c. Humans are not entirely animal; we retain some element of difference that separates us from the beasts. This could be any of the following depend on your persuasion; a soul, a spirit, a sense of humour, language use… Think Ludwig Wittgenstein and Sean Ryder sharing a milkshake at Alan Bennett’s favourite Camden greasy spoon.

To my mind they are all wrong. All link back to the residue of a religious influence that lingers within our culture. The first two are based around myths connected to the Adam and Eve story; that man or nature are essentially good or evil. The third position agrees with the second but seeks to preserve some hope by distancing themselves from the rotten animal kingdom. The third fails live up to empirical reality animals laugh and communicate, and souls an spirits do not exist in any tangible way that we can explore beyond the a lot of mystification and projected wish fulfilment.

 

So what is the realistic point of view? I was talking with someone about Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. [SPOILER ALERT] In the novel cloned humans are farmed like animals and culled for their organs to be used in transplants. So they may excuse this behaviour society creates the fiction that the clones are beneath human; not human. When some clones fall in love and apply to avoid their sinister fate [termed ‘completion’] they are asked to prove they have a soul by showing they can paint an ‘original’ picture that shows some form of artistic expression.  Obviously their attempts fail to impress the authorities, as any attempt might.

The bizarre nature of this test says so much about what is wrong with this conception of humans. [True even if we ignore the legion of tabloid tales featuring chimpanzees and elephants fooling art experts with their brutal naïve creations]. Animals are clearly capable of a wide range of emotions including ones we would label love, devotion or duty, just as they are capable of wide range of traits that we find less appealing. Just like we are.

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HERE I GO TRYING TO SOLVE BRITAIN’S POLITICAL PROBLEMS IN A PAGE AND HALF OF A4, AND FAILING…

One of the essential issues at the heart of UK politics is that the none of the major parties have a practical, real ideology that connects with what they traditionally represent. The modern Labour Party believes in a kind of utilitarianism based around the quantification of happiness of all and then a pragmatic approach to achieving that goal; they no longer link themselves to any sense of socialism which most political analysts considered outmoded. The Conservative Party wears a double mask; originally the party of preservation of the social order, of tradition and hierarchy it then re-represents itself as the party of free market economics and freedom. In reality they are the party of big business, defending banks and multinational companies.

 

It is here that the overlap occurs; because the utilitarian beliefs of the Labour Party have led it to the conclusion that economic growth will lead to a greater social happiness. And therefore there has been little to choose from between the two party’s policies; unless of course this economic policy clashes with the supposed core beliefs* that their party is meant to hold. Hence the Conservatives’ have a problem with belonging to the European Union. It is essentially good for business but against their supposed core beliefs and therefore they are permanently split. Labour are dogged by similar issues about equality and fairness and provision of a welfare state which is meant to stand as a one of the few central doctrines that they have not entirely abandoned. But in order to encourage the economy, to appease the world of business that their simple equation utilitarian good = economic improvement leads them to worship, they will have to sacrifice health, education, police and army on the altar of privatisation.

 

Are they wrong? Does economic improvement lead to more happiness? I am not sure the Conservatives actually care if it does but assuming they and Labour and Liberal parties do. Not many people would deny that living in poverty is miserable and that despite austerity we are living in a better society than our medieval counterparts. Some would believing in the short painful but in their minds romantic existence of the period was a life doubly precious moment by moment and therefore doubly worth living. However this is not the perspective of the majority, who have a less Nietzchean approach and think that life should be both comfortable and pleasurable and long.  More equals more. So for this more to keep on expanding surely economic growth is a necessity?

 

This would appear to be simplistic and reductionist partly because economic growth does not mean more utilitarian happiness, and because business does not create wealth to benefit anyone beyond itself. Having more money means nothing if you have no time to spend it in and the stress incurred by achieving this money causes you to be miserable. Businesses are motivated by profit and therefore are quite happy to make the lives of their employees as miserable as might be necessary to obtain that goal. This is the reality of a contemporary developed society and many of the developing societies too. We are told we must have economic growth and then we vote for it and it turns out it is an excuse to makes us more miserable.

 

So what is the answer? Well possibly socialism is too simplistic, and certainly some back to nature mass medieval revival of village hierachies would create a lot of unhappy peasants dying but drunk and syphilitic in the mud. The key issues seem to be that we cannot continue to ceaselessly destroy the world’s resources but we cannot afford to spend money on the environmental options, that no one wants to be poor but individuals, institutions and communities are systematically destroyed by the late capitalist mentality. National spirit exists along with a sense of individual identity and they  consistently show a desire to belong in a place and too something but not if it means that people’s differences are not accepted and tolerated. All of these things are in appear to be in partial if not absolute opposition. Can we actually strike a balance? Or do we need to think of something different? Perhaps, as is usual in history, this difference will be forced upon us?

*These clashes cause the party crisis such as the European splits the Tories face twice a week, or the the fights with unions that the dog the Labour party.

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DUTY FREE? THE FINITE CAPACITY FOR CARE

 

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This is how the argument goes; is observance of duty a beautiful thing or the exploitation of guilt to create dependency? Are you a good boy or a good girl? Why? Because you care what other people think of you? Is that ok if that someone is a close family member or friend? But this feels very different when that person is your boss who wants who uses terms like ‘professionalism’ or ‘collegiality’ or ‘teamwork’ to encourage you to do something you don’t want to do and aren’t sure you should be doing. What’s your duty to an old woman in the street with a bag of shopping, or your duty to a gang of young boys with their hoods up who are messing around the street? Do you have a duty to help one and not judge another? Or would you just being a naïve? Why should I feel a sense of duty to help a starving person in another country or someone being attacked on my way home from the tube? Where does guilt end and duty begin or is there any difference?

Is the central issue context? Do we simply have to make a decision based on whether that person deserves it? But isn’t that impossible? Aren’t we always going to judge according our needs, our prejudices? When will do what’s right? When it suits? Will we only be dutiful when our ego requires it?

Does this explain why young people allegedly have no sense of duty and needed to be bartered in to every act? Or why the middle aged put their parents in care homes? Not really. This would suggest that people are worse than they used to be. I am not sure this is true. The opportunity to question everything gives us an excuse to be self- indulgent and avoid responsibility. However, what’s so remarkable about blind allegiance, robotically following what we are supposed to do. Allowing others to organise your emotions, to co-ordinate your need to feel wanted, and desire for guilt to benefit their material ends. It could be a prime minister cutting public services and getting you to clean your street or pay for a homeless hostel. It could be a religious leader demanding that you not wear a contraceptive despite the negative impact on your future.

So, on the one hand we have the romantic illusion of handing over responsibility for your own existence by sacrificing yourself to a higher authority, on the other hand the overwhelming burden of constantly wrestling with your own judgement.  The argument is often framed this way as this choice. I think both options are completely wrong.

A different approach to considering this problem is to ask this question – what is the purpose of duty? Is it to extend our sense of guilt so that we are more caring individuals? I am not sure this is possible. I would suggest humans each have their own capacity for guilt and care that is a part of their psychological make-up.  This capacity for caring reaches out in certain directions that are different for different people: for some it includes, parents, lovers, family and friends whereas for others it stretches further across a nation, across a species or outwards to every living being. I believe each individual’s capacity for care is connected to their sense of belonging brought in to being by a network of associations of love and affection. Isolate a person from what they care about and put them with what they don’t care about and they won’t care, for a while at least, until they begin to form a fresh network of associations. Sometimes a capacity for care will be shut down either temporarily or permanently to help an individual survive a difficult situation. In other situations a capacity for care will be reconfigured to include a different group, individual who sparks some recognition of affinity. But the idea of choosing to care or and therefore choosing to feel a sense of duty is a false one.

These capacities are created by a mysterious mixture of natural dispositions and environmental influences and are part of the process of nurturing a human personality, and this capacity for care is central to any sense of ethics we might have. Therefore our sense of belonging is also vital to ethics. An interesting project is to consider how we might use environmental factors to influence the size and strength of capacity to care or duty network, being aware that the wider the network is asked to stretch 

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BELONGING TO ME

I think I was wrong about identity in my last post. This is why.

In one of those surveys that seem such a waste of time, it was discovered last year that the happiest people in the world were those that belonged to traditional societies. Those who belonged. Those who knew where they were and had a strong sense of self built on connections with their society where had a space they fitted in to.

This is not a recipe for racism. It means people do need to belong. Be happy in a place and be happy because they feel their true self, the one they intuitively feel exists is allowed to exist, and not compromised or attacked on a daily basis.

Programmes like Downton Abbey feed off the sense that we do not have that in our society. But they lie because they tell us the way to achieve that is to do as we are told by the upper classes who care for us and want to live in a harmonious universe with us. This is not true but the feeling that these programmes latch onto is a genuine feeling.

We do have a strong sense or need for belonging just as we do have a very strong sense of who we are. This is the conclusion that existentialism understood intuitively. The mistake it made was Sartre’s tortured Hegelian explanation of this need; using the mysterious concept of nothingness that merely confuses the average reader. [Leading authors like Orwell to refer to him as a ‘windbag’. It is what Donald Winnicott refers to in his empirical study of his disturbed patients; their unhappiness at not being allowed to be themselves. It is why people have sex change operations and downsize, why they move house or travel the world. It is sometimes why they unhappily spend a fortune on goods egged on by the lies of advertisers.

The problem remains this sense of a true self is very difficult to describe or to logically analyse because of the limits of language. But just like other important concepts like love – nearly all of us operate in a world where this thing exists and we act upon it as a reality.

But the ancient wisdom; that we need to be true to ourselves and that many people will die fighting for that sense of being true to themselves, because they require that freedom from oppression and they want self determination. Being true to what they understand is their identity.

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THERE ARE TWO I’S IN IDENTITY

 

Who the hell are you? It is a difficult question to answer. Different person with different situations, but are we happy with that. Not really. In our identity culture we spend every moment of our lives trying to stabilise our identity. We buy different clothes or accessories to try and reflect who we think we are. We worry about how others will understand our actions and our words; according to their own idiosynchratic perceptive categories. We define ourselves as gay or black or a woman with no control over what that might mean, never mind something more esoteric like steam punk or German silent film auteur. It is just a label lazily slapped on a feeling in a moment.

So why can’t we enjoy just performing a role in a moment? What’s holding us back from embracing the idea of shifting selves, multiple personalities? Because we cannot cope with becoming a fluid slush slopping about like a naff wave machine. We want to be reliable for ourselves, we want to know who we are. We need the armour we need the shell. The habits are a comfort; the shell suit or the tweed suit is just a place we know best and understand. Life is practised, rehearsed and repeated on memory. No wonder Alzheimer’s is the most frightening condition of all, losing your memory, losing your mind, losing your identity.

But the fact remains that identity is fake; created out of false oppositions and simplifications. Take for example national identity. In the year of 2012 British national identity was on display more than usual with the London Olympics and the Diamond Jubilee. Britain achieved an element of national dignity in 2012, for a fragile moment. It achieved it through a multicultural team of abled and disabled people. It did it through a German queen married to a Greek prince, who ruled over an Empire that collapsed and its inhabitants came back to stay. It did it for a moment as the policies of its own government is seeking to break that fragile coherence apart again.

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BUY! BUY! BUY! AND ACCRUE POINTS ON YOUR ETHICS LOYALTY CARD…

Ethical shopping is a well-established aspect of modern economic life. But the question remains is it just an excuse to make ourselves feel better about indulging our desires? The product we have bought isn’t as bad as other products because the packaging informs us. We have no real choice other than to believe this packaging unless make everything ourselves or give up work and devote our lives to researching the origin and production values of whatever we buy. Institutions exist to provide awards and reports but then we have to carefully research these watchdogs in turn to check their methods, criteria and credentials.
So then most consumers end up buying anyway. And when we buy we are content to feel that little bit superior; for our product choice though more expensive has been better for the world. We are more ethical and other in the know will recognise that when they see the label that is embossed on our chosen product. This is the second area for concern – ethical shopping as luxury consumption – buying a superior moral position.
In some ways this is reminiscent of the ancient religious practice recorded in Chaucer, of buying a pardon for your sins before you commit them allowing the rich to lead a guiltless, indulgent life. Can morality ever be linked to financial power – it did so with ease in the medieval era when the social hierarchy was assumed to be imposed by God himself. Interestingly ethical consumption seems to be the pursuit of the middle class.
Part of the problem is that this ethical consumption is connected to your identity. You are stating who you are an important need to show the world what sort of human being you are from your appearance and taste. This means that ethical consumption is less interesting to certain sections of the upper and working class.
However, despite the problems with ethical shopping what is the alternative? Beyond dropping out and becoming part of alternative community; which also has many questions to be resolved [how independent or dependent are these communities on mainstream society; could any of them exist on their own]? The alternatives are to live with the guilt or to wait for it to boil up in to a revolution or serious social and economic change. That’s a lot of standing around feeling bad.

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WORDS, WORDS, WORDS…

The Levenson Enquiry and the fuss surrounding the report brought up two major issues. Both are connected to words. The important phrases are the “free press” and “in the public interest”. Both phrases are used to create a mistaken impression of the situation of that is under discussion; the activities and role of the newspapers of Britain.

The “free press” are not really free. They are owned by very rich corporations whose interests are in putting forward their political agenda and of course making as much money as possible. They have no interest in protecting us from the corruption of politicians or the legal system; the alleged role of the ‘fourth estate’ of a democracy. Not unless it sells papers. In fact they were complicit in this the corruption as the enquiry has shown.

In the “public interest” is also a strange choice of words. This phrase is trotted out to justify the many illegal and invasive activities the newspaper press uses to generate front page headlines. It is peculiarly misleading – the phrase should be in the public good. If a story was in the public good it would be for their benefit to know about corruption or another misuse of power. Instead we get anything the public is interested in. Our worst impulses are encouraged and catered for because we might find it interesting and pay for scandal. But it is not to our own or our society’s benefit to know these things. It just increases our sense of self disgust.

There are obvious dangers in government legislation of the press, they are almost as bad as letting it go on as it has done for the past 30 years.

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