Saturday, 23 July 2016

Support your local curmudgeon

...for they were either politicians or reporters, which, of course, comes to the same thing.
Ford Madox Ford – The Good Soldier (1915)

Almost every morning I use the  iPad to run a quick check on news headlines. I used to rely on Ceefax for my daily fix but those days are gone forever. I don’t usually read past the headlines apart from an occasional yen to get some detail, but an outline is usually enough.

I also find myself skipping from headline to comments and if there are no comments I move on. In other words, I’m hardly ever interested in what the average journalist has to say about a story. Only if the story is written by a tough-minded curmudgeon am I likely to read it and there aren’t many of those around, especially in the mainstream media.

Which finally leads to the point of this post, because in my experience there is something important about unyielding scepticism. We are stuck with a major social dilemma where mainstream opinion has to be – well mainstream. Otherwise it could not fulfil its social function, its need to suck up to the establishment and foster political correctness. Fear shapes behaviour, which is why the news is mostly alarmist. Doom and gloom rules the newsroom. Always has.

As a species we are not particularly intelligent and accept the most absurd garbage if it is socially acceptable to do so. A sharply critical outlook is required to detect the garbage but here’s the rub. Detecting garbage ought to be a positive and respected social skill, a welcome addition to the tools of social discourse. Unfortunately it isn’t, because it can’t be, because socially cohesive consensus would flounder if critical analysis were to be valued as a welcome corrective to the garbage and to the establishment viewpoint.

Support your local curmudgeon.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

The five ills

Ridiculous people! They want to free you of every squirming, torturing, nagging question mark.
Yevgeny Zamyatin – WE (1921)

I see Jeremy Corbyn has identified himself with the politics of lists. Probably a good idea when a chap lacks the divine spark of inspiration.

Speaking at the UCL Institute of Education the embattled Labour leader laid out the "five ills" of 21st century Britain - inequality, neglect, insecurity, prejudice, and discrimination. Echoing the five “giant evils” identified by the social reformer William Beveridge in the 1940s, the Labour leader claimed that throughout his leadership campaign he would match each of these ills with a policy solution.

Policy solutions eh? The real world doesn’t believe in policy solutions but that won’t stop Jeremy and his band of swivel-eyed acolytes. Although he probably has no real acolytes. He’s a means to an end.

Oh well, it we’re doing lists then how about integrity, transparency, scepticism, intelligence and opportunity? Took me about ten seconds to compile, but do we exclude them, or are they unimportant?

Rhetorical question of course. Jeremy’s political philosophy seems to be the bleak uniformity of some totalitarian dream from the seventies. I met plenty like him in those days but I thought they had all grown up and learned the painful lessons of life by buying an Austin Allegro. Evidently we have one left over. 

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Monday, 18 July 2016

A kingdom within a kingdom

Most who have written on the emotions, the manner of human life, seem to have dealt not with natural things which follow the general laws of nature, but with things which are outside the sphere of nature: they seem to have conceived man in nature as a kingdom within a kingdom. For they believe that man disturbs rather than follows the course of nature, and that he has absolute power in his actions, and is not determined in them by anything else than himself. They attribute the cause of human weakness and inconstancy not to the ordinary power of nature, but to some defect or other in human nature, wherefore they deplore, ridicule despise, or, what is most common of all,  abuse it: and he that can carp in the most eloquent or acute manner at the weakness of the human mind is beheld by his fellows as almost divine.

Baruch Spinoza – Ethics (1677)

Phew what a scorcher

“I read somewhere that the sun’s getting hotter every year,” said Tom genially. “It seems that pretty soon the earth’s going to fall into the sun — or wait a minute — it’s just the opposite — the sun’s getting colder every year.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby (1925)

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Fake phobias II

The most glaringly obvious fake phobia must be Islamophobia.

Dislike of or prejudice against Islam or Muslims, especially as a political force.

So islamophobia is not a phobia. Which we knew anyway. 

An extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something:she suffered from a phobia about birds

DiploMad has a good post on Islamophobia and I don’t have much to add apart from suggesting the possibility that Islam will eventually be hollowed out by consumer society and global political trends.

As for the present, accepting that Islam may be a problem for secular democracies appears to be the first hurdle for any worthwhile discussion. The term Islamophobia seems designed to raise that first hurdle as high as possible. It also seems designed to allow the establishment to use hate speech without appearing to do so - but that is another issue.

Yet viewing Islam with a strong dose of political caution is reasonable if one lives in a modern democracy. One could easily go further and suggest than in those circumstances, not adopting a frankly negative political view of Islam is unwise. The meek shall not inherit the earth.

In which case, opposition to Islam is no more a phobia than opposition to socialism, capitalism, communism, fascism or any other politically significant movement - and Islam is politically significant. Expressing opposition to political situations used to be called debate and used to be considered healthy - which of course it would be in a healthy democratic culture.

Sadly we are losing that healthy robustness, that freedom to say what we mean. We have become politically enfeebled and as far as Islam is concerned, afraid to use words such as ‘primitive’. Yet Islam seems politically primitive to those of us who value modern democratic freedoms, warts and all. Exercising the right to say so is not a phobia.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Switched off

So the Brexit shock begins to dissipate. The boat has been rocked and now it rights itself as the passengers settle down for the long row back to more familiar shores and the job of achieving as little as possible as busily as possible. Is it time to switch off yet?

How many of us have driven to work and on arrival we find we can’t remember the journey? It seems to be a common experience - as if we are switched off by the routine familiarity of it. What actually switches us off though? It can’t be voluntary and that is surely something to dwell on.

How about being switched off by tedious meetings? Or unimaginative TV shows, banal chatter, media headlines on a dull day, football, athletics Wimbledon or any other sport with too much exposure and too little variation? There is much to switch us off in the modern world but we tend to focus on causes rather than the effect.

Moving on to another angle - some people work hard, others don’t. Some people work hard physically, some mentally, some both and some neither. It all goes to shape what we are – in every sense. Our brains work and in so doing they use energy. How much energy seems to vary widely if behaviour is any guide.

An energetic brain often seems to suppress the energy of other brains within the same social orbit. It probably does so for reasons of social efficiency. It is more efficient to follow leaders and leaders' narratives than it is for individuals to go off doing their own thing. Followers switch off and allow leaders to make the mental effort. Or rather they are switched off by those leaders.

So rather like commuting to work, followers seem to have their brains partly switched off. Even when waving their arms around, even when apparently consumed by passion they are not alert to alternative possibilities, not fully switched on. It is tempting to dismiss them as dim, but perhaps more accurate to see them as dimmed.

The leader with the energetic brain seems to dominate those with less energetic brains by reducing their mental energy, their ability to promote alternatives to the leader’s line. Even if the leader is bonkers, this effect continues until he or she dies or fails to deliver social benefits in some vitally important way. Keeping the inner circle satisfied is crucial.

If so, then this may be why devoted followers come across as so extraordinarily obtuse when justifying their need to follow. No doubt the degree of suppression varies from individual to individual, but as long as a majority of followers have their mental energy suppressed, then leadership is viable.

Obviously some followers do think critically about what they are doing but are wary of articulating their criticism unless leadership change is in the air. Yet many followers seem unable to think critically at all. They can’t, their brains don’t seem to have the energy.

That’s the spooky aspect. Rather like biology diagrams, people with convictions seem to show us a shadowy glimpse of natural laws underlying what we are. Not only do they refuse to think critically about their allegiances, but it is usually obvious that they can’t. They are switched off and elites know how it is done.