Mar 252013

In times of crisis, paranoia strikes us all.  It’s either unreasonable paranoia about another’s acts or an actual plan from the same, of course – but if we argue the latter, it’s ourselves whom they see as the paranoid.  Whatever the reality of the matter.

I do sincerely wonder, in fact, as a gentle by-the-by, whether those who are defined clinically paranoid will now find comfort and solace in a society such as ours is becoming.  They will now be finding themselves perfectly adjusted to a civilisation which has surely crept towards them – even as its medical folk, investigators and researchers have continued to judge their perceptions as inaccurate.

As far as our European political classes are concerned, paranoia definitely appears to be taking them by a fairly fearsome scruff of the neck.  Witness this story from Spain today (the Spanish original here, robot English here): the youth members of the Spanish Partido Popular (their rather rancidly right-wing ruling party) have set up an “anonymous email” (let’s see how far they get with that assertion) and Twitter hashtag in order to allow Spanish students to denounce their teachers for acts of (presumably) liberal indoctrination.

Now if such objectives and methods were put in place over here, the newspapers and media would be all over its initiators.  Or, at least, that’s what you’d have thought from a country with such a long democratic history as England’s.  Except that, of course, our dear Michael Gove has has once more given a voice to the more prejudiced, incoherent and intellectually insubstantial proclaimers of latterday political correctnesses (the bold is mine):

Referring to the 1938 book Enemies of Promise by Cyril Connolly, which examined ways in which literary talent is thwarted, Mr Gove accused his critics of being “more interested in valuing Marxism, revering jargon and fighting excellence” than improving schools.

He wrote in the Mail on Sunday: “There are millions of talented young people being denied the opportunity to succeed as they deserve. Far too many are having their potential thwarted by a new set of Enemies of Promise.

“The new Enemies of Promise are a set of politically motivated individuals who have been actively trying to prevent millions of our poorest children getting the education they need.”

Political correctnesses as laid down, that is, this time by the right.

But let’s just follow the train of thought – Mr Gove’s nascent little train of thought, I mean – to its logical conclusion.  If teachers and academics are now to be found guilty of indoctrinating Marxist thoughts and ideas, that can surely only mean whole generations of our young – our children, our adolescents, our young men and women – are now tainted by association, and indeed by a very direct process of brainwashing, from an evil educational establishment bent on little more than world domination.

If this is the case, and from what he appears to be arguing it certainly seems a cogent extrapolation of his initial worldview, perhaps he should really come out with a more fully formed plan: a state-sponsored reprogramming of a generation unkindly and unpleasantly lost to the liberal brainwashers of academia.

Something, in fact, along the lines of the political commissars which his Spanish Nuevas Generaciones de Castellón colleagues have apparently already engineered.

More and more, the more I read and see and perceive, I get the feeling it wasn’t the United States which won the Cold War after all.

Don’t you?

Feb 252013

I could start this post by saying:

Ever since I stumbled across some feminist writings on how history was male …

but in reality the spark which brought me to my senses was Michael Jackson’s double album HIStory”.  Bought whilst I still lived in Spain, much treasured too, it was the first time I understood the inconvenient truth behind the word itself.  History – literally – belonged to men.  And women were, more often than not, being written out of the picture.

Today I am minded by this tweet which came my way this morning to write about another possible example of unspoken oppression:

analytical or intuitive mind – one is not better than the other, they each have a different role to play #cipdlrn

To which I responded in this way:

@RapidBI Isn’t an intuitive mind simply an analytical one whose processes we don’t fully perceive?

And, later, in this:

@RapidBI Perhaps we call s’thing analytical when we’re able to share it with others. If not possible to share, the intuition label kicks in.

Traditionally, of course, the analytical mind has been considered male.  Or, perhaps, we should say that’s a certain kind of analytical mind.  It seems to me – intuitively, of course! – that when people talk of “feminine intuition”, they are conflating their understanding of what they easily understand with an idea of how people should (be obliged to) think.

If oppression of the HIStorical kind I mention above is repeating itself with respect to the intuitive mind, I would suspect it has far more to do with fearing the power of an unknown process than any objective assessment of its true nature.  That is to say, much safer to argue the process is unknowable than face the consequences of knowing it all too well.

For, in such circumstances, it’s easier to discard your female brain’s thought processes as non-analytical, simply and entirely because you don’t share its basic assumptions.  It’s rather more difficult to take onboard the idea that perhaps intuition – as we (continue to refuse to) comprehend and define it – is a powerful set of analytical tools which require far greater powers of observation to properly perceive and exert.

It may even be that the kind of men who have described and handed down the history of human intellect have been unable to acquire or manage the skillset which intuition encompasses.  And so, in this way, this inability to acquire something of undoubted importance has led to their desire, instead, to vigorously dismiss it – to undervalue its inherent power and capability and to present it as some mysterious and almost empty-headed process.

A potential HIStory of oppression, indeed.

Sep 112012

I wasn’t a very good trades union representative, even though I think I did my best.  I don’t like hierarchies in the least, and – as I suggested already here – trades unions are bound to have them as much as the management they always face over the negotiating table:

Just as opposition politicians often end up acting in much the same way as government politicians … just as trades unionists construct secretive hierarchies that mirror their secretive companies … just as pre-fight boxers growl cruelly at each other … just as little children love and bully each other in equal measure … so the victors of the Cold War – those freedom-loving heroes of the West who spoke of liberties unbound to generations of downtrodden and persecuted Communist masses – are beginning to look more and more like their one-time, and allegedly vanquished, competition.

I used to work in a very large banking corporation.  It was a curate’s egg of a company – even more so when, because of the financial crisis in 2008, it had to be hurriedly taken over.  Some things it tried to do well, despite the sectoral environment in which it operated; other things it did manifestly badly, possibly despite its good intentions.  Once taken over, its good intentions dropped off.  That’s what mergers and takeovers, I think, tend to do to the sensibilities of industrial relations.

The union I worked for I have to say was hierarchical too.  Not damagingly so, though – necessarily and inevitably as explained in the paragraph quoted above.  About as member-focussed as it could have been, operating as it was under the constraints of stock market restrictions on information flow and communications various.

Or at least those were the reasons always given.

Onto a positive, though – and this was a biggie.  One of the very best understandings union and management had before the takeover went as follows: as HR would find its resources cut back year after year, its ability to reach effectively into the workplace was dramatically and irreversibly reduced.  Meanwhile, substitute intranets which aimed to brainwash through daily repetition did not, in any way, replace managers who face-to-face might be able to make a workforce laugh for the rest of the day with an offhand comment which costs the company nothing to engineer.

Now I was lucky enough to have a couple of team leaders who knew how to liven up the mornings.  Not every department was the same – and, in fact, information to that effect from the union would often feed back to reps just to remind us how lucky we might be.

Which is where, for those unluckier areas of the company, the positive understanding between union and management kicked in: trades union reps were seen by the company (again, I insist, prior to takeover) as extensions not of company policy but, rather, as integral and productive parts of the human resources and industrial relations processes.  For example, a rep who was effectively trained up in Health & Safety could safeguard the company’s reputation just as much as the lives and wellbeing of their members.

This confluence of interests – which did not, a priori, need to compromise the independence of the union – meant that the company could have an overt, unusual and publicly declaimed industrial relations policy of positively encouraging membership of one of the three TUC-affiliated trades unions which they recognised.

Surely, and in times of crisis even more so, an industrial relations policy which looks to build on and train up representatives’ knowhow is a far more sensible and adult response to economic woes than a primitive, almost caveman-like, approach to interfacing poorly with one’s competition.

Especially when you’ve got what is essentially a civil war unspooling all around you.

Apr 112012

Bumblebees need holes in walls to find a habitat.  I learnt that whilst in the Lake District yesterday at the Peter Rabbit garden outside the Beatrix Potter Attraction, Windermere.  It seems, for me right now, to describe perfectly what the Coalition’s economics is doing to us.

The people who do the things they are doing to us work in the urban landscape that is the metropolis of London.  When they escape to their country retreats, it is out of privilege they escape: for them, the countryside is just as much a good to be bought and sold as a future on the futures market.  When they plan to detonate, dismantle and destroy the complex ecosystem that is English society, they do not care to worry about those of us who are like bumblebees: those of us who need, in amongst the impervious concrete constructs, habitat-generating holes in Lakeland stone-style walls.

The shock and awe of Osborneconomics is an urban construct: the constructors and developers who remake the faces of our cities every twenty years do not care about complexities, preservation or the conservation of the existing.

Yesterday, visiting Windermere and Bowness showed me – reminded me – that change needs to be managed not imposed; but managed in the sense of appreciating and dealing with its impact on real environments and not in the sense of that managerialist approach which involves brainwashing workforces, voters and affected populations into meek and materialist submission.

Managing in order to add real value, sustainability and persistence of vision to existing communities.

Not managing in order to keep people in the dark, out of the loop and under control.

Windermere and Bowness as tourist attractions and ecosystems of local survival need careful attention, gentle change and an appreciative approach to understanding their manifest needs. The vast majority of people who live and work there do not do so out of the privilege of stratospheric politicians but rather through a hard-won desire and aspiration to make their way in the world.

But if Windermere and Bowness need and deserve this way of doing, why can the rest of us not have the right to the same?

The latter is clearly not what Osborneconomics is about.  Osborneconomics is about making as much money as possible – and to hell with us bumblebees.

Dec 292011

I’ve always tried to explore ideas on these pages.  Some people have cared to follow such trains of thought – many others have simply ignored them.  As Paul currently says over at Never Trust a Hippy:

[…] I write this mainly to develop my own thinking – I don’t know what I think until I read what I’ve written. It’s a scratchpad – not a collection of short articles intended for an audience.

I think that probably fairly sums up what I am doing here.  It certainly explains how I feel sufficiently motivated enough to continue exploring.

Today I wrote a piece on Ed Miliband’s future.  Plenty of retweets on Twitter resulted – it has been easily the most read of all my posts today.  Most read doesn’t of course mean best written.  But whether well written or not, the intention was to brainstorm a position few people care to sustain right now: that out of Ed Miliband’s leadership something good could still be achieved.  In fact, as Eoin points out over at the Green Benches blog, those who are most against his leadership are most likely to subscribe in some way or another to the agenda which brought us finally to the hole we find ourselves in at this moment in time.

And so it is that I ask myself: what do we really want from our politics?  Do we want a preformed discussion on opposingly monolithic sides along the lines that Eoin describes?  This kind of thing, for example:

Peter Mandleson has not been quiet either. Well actually strike that, he’s been very quiet. But, that’s because he now has people to do his work for him. Through his ‘Policy Exchange’ vehicle he has commissioned several pieces that are about as predictable as is humanly possible from the uber-Blairite. I won’t give his pieces any more air time than they deserve but suffice to say if you get a chance, wander over to their site and view the ideas of Giles, Radice, Byrne, McClymont and others. The point I am making is that powerful forces are working consistently against the Ed Miliband undermining the direction he wishes to take the party and it’s all happening under your very noses.

Or do we want a real, open and free-minded investigation of the real alternatives to the neoliberalism that few politicians out there currently seem to know how to sidestep?  A neoliberalism which only promises increasing concentrations of income on the one wealthy hand as – on the other absolutely disempowered rest – it savagely and unremittingly expands a poverty of both resources and wider life experience.

To sum up in two ideas then: 

  1. Do we want our politics to consist of major players stepping beyond the intellectual minimum as they brainstorm society’s development in all sincerity and in all good faith?
  2. Or, alternatively, do we expect and hope for them to do little more than brainwash the public as they have done to date – and as they themselves presumably intend to continue doing so in the future?

I know which I prefer – as the history of these pages will surely indicate.  Does Ed Miliband promise historically to deliver the virtues of the first instead of settle – like all his contemporaries – for the sadnesses of the second?  That, I do have to admit, I really don’t know.  But then neither can you know the reverse.

And if people despair right now of those who wish to support Miliband as leader of a still nascent Labour Party, I tell you I despair a thousand times more of any proposed alternatives.

Especially where their proponents believe the future lies in paying the rich more in order to improve the economy of everyone whilst, at the same time, choosing self-interestedly to line up the hoary old arguments which say the poor must be paid less in order to convince them to get off their lazy and miserable backsides.

I spoke in a previous post of achieving a “moral democracy”.  Someone on Twitter picked this up as an unhappy turn of phrase.  It was.  But – really – what I was looking for was an alternative to “social democracy”; that is to say, something which wasn’t tainted by historically negative connotations.  Something which spoke of putting people before numbers and reminded us of the importance of doing a humane good – above all.

A politics, that is, which chose to explore – rather than impose – a better future for everyone.

Brainstorming versus brainwashing – that’s the crossroads we currently stand at.

So where do you stand?

And which direction do you want us to take?