Sunday, 1 June 2014

Too silly

When I take Grandson to school I like to stand in the playground and watch the games he plays with his mates before the bell goes.

One game is a version of dodgeball where someone kicks a lightweight football and anyone struck by the ball is out and has to wait by the wall. There are lots of acrobatics as the kids avoid the ball with wildly exaggerated twists and turns until...

Until what? Well usually the game breaks down before reaching some kind of conclusion. Kids of Grandson’s age seem adept at bending the rules in their favour. Often they use silliness to disrupt the game, dragging it into a chaos of absurdity and laughter which makes a nonsense of any rules.

The silliness seems to be an accepted tactic too, a welcome relief from the constraints of rule-based games which none of the kids seem to want anyway. They seem to want fluidity and the freedom to start over again as soon as a game begins to sort winners from losers.

It’s as if they lose interest once the game acquires a certain inevitability of outcome, once the endgame becomes clear and threatens to be protracted.

As I watch these convoluted and ever-changing tactics, I’m reminded of how powerful silliness can be for adults too. Generally, adult silliness is much more subtle and covert, but I’m sure we learn its power during childhood.

Politics is riddled with silliness, which seems like simple stupidity until we recognise the value of it to the participants. Silliness is a way of breaking inconvenient rules to promote a favoured outcome or avoid one which is unfavourable. It's a way of bending rules which can be anything from moral laws to economic facts to scientific laws to simple common sense.

Silliness is a way of talking nonsense by taking any argument beyond the bounds of rational discourse. There is no real counter to it either, just as there is no real counter when Grandson's games become silly. 

It's no use standing there and saying "play the game properly or it isn't worth playing." Key players have already decided it isn't worth sticking to the rules because they see the where the endgame would go. They may start off by playing to the rules, but they have no intention of sticking to them. They learned not to do that in the playground. 

Under the manipulative spell of silliness, all becomes fluid, easier to manipulate and altogether more attractive to those willing to use it as a tactic. Global warming fantasies are obviously silly, as is much of the EU, the UN, the silly complexities of taxation and the silliness of political correctness.

It's all too silly - but it works.


Sackerson said...

Excellent. This is how Blair did it: "the trust thing yeah," when confronted with his untrustworthiness. Don't be a bore, old chap etc.

Think of the stock Alistair Campbell prefix "The important thing is to recognise that..." which I heard this week in an interview with an American politician. I.e. what I tell you is true (so much so that if you contradict me you are failing to recognise the truth) and anything you are harping on about is just not important. I'm empted to make a list of these phrases and use them in everyday conversation.

James Higham said...

Did you secretly want to join in though?

A K Haart said...

Sackers - if you tempted to use the phrases you may be sucked in. A few nods of agreement and reality begins to slip away, as it probably did for Blair.

James - yes but only if I could be the one to kick the ball.