Friday, 30 November 2012

Testing tweets

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Jobspeak. Or "Every day I dream the same dream"

Just reading the online portfolios of what I suppose I should call the competition, ie: other Web-developers.

Ye Gods but they talk some nonsense. If I ever publish anything talking about my "proven track record" in "providing robust solutions" etcetc I think it would be a good idea for somebody to call the cops.

And all this stuff about being a "people person", "a good team player", who is also good at working on their own, just to cover all bases. I am sensitive, but don't take things personally, thoughtful and constructive, but not bossy. I tell good jokes and will be good for office morale, whilst most of the time exuding such . By God, I seem to miraculously fit that professional-shaped hole in your organisation, without quite falling into the cringing-dogsbody category.

There are all these people about, purporting to fit the description above. How can I compete with these tail-wagging, performing poodles?

I'd forgotten how bad this all was. The unimaginative posturing of these morons! Myself I just like to turn up and say "gissa job". Surely that would be simpler?

I shouldn't laugh. If I'm not very careful I'll be doing the same myself one day

Sunday, 16 September 2012

The Apple cult. Why it is the way it is

The Daily Telegraph have, momentarily, abandoned their Apple-enthusiasm and published an article on the ridiculousness of Apple-fandom. One feels a curious sensation of deja vu about this: the huge surge in popularity of a name or brand which can do no wrong, followed in time by a flagging of interest, and then eventually the doubters and complainers become more numerous - the obvious flaws become more apparent.

I've been one of the doubters for about 5 years, entirely coincidentally that is since just before the iPhone came out. I had my first taste of Apple zealotry from some people I was working for - truly nice people, but who behaved like unpaid volunteer advertisers for a product, as though they were promoting a way of life. Now I'm well aware that associating your product with a way of life is a standard advertising/PR strategy. And I think this goes a long way to explain the particular strain of snobbery surrounding Apple.

Let me explain. Part of the image we've been given to associate with Apple is this elitist image, there are two facets to this that I'll talk about: firstly, that they attempt to appeal to those who 'think outside the box', and secondly the idea that Apple products are for creative types.

On the first point, I remember finding out about cold-reading, part of a group of methods that confidence tricksters, fortune-tellers, mediums and sometimes salesmen, use. Basically the trick is - when you meet someone you've never met before - to say things about them that apply to many people, but sound very personal. One particular sentence that is often used is to say "you like to be accepted by the crowd, but at the same time you feel you are a little bit different, and think differently from the herd"

This is brilliant because it applies to every single one of us. I think it about myself, you think it about your self, We all do ('I don't' says a voice). It's incredibly common to self-justify in this way and people who are trying to persuade you to do or think something have known this a loooooong time. So saying that your product is for people who "think outside the box" is a very old trick in advertising.

Secondly, it's asking for trouble to try to appeal to creative types, or people's hidden creative side. I live in the UK and I've seen pathetically tiny amounts of the class snobbery that people associate with us. But that's not to say I've never seen snobbery here. Snobbery is alive and well in the UK, in fact it's rampant. In Music. And I strongly suspect in Art and Literature circles, and probably in theatre and film too. It is hard to credit the posturing, toadying and clique-culture that exists in these social circles. Seeing oneself as 'creative' seems to be inextricably linked with a strong tendency to ego-gratifying self-image. Not universally, but it happens a lot. People who wouldn't be like this normally are sucked into this mode of behaviour just so that they can exist and hopefully prosper in musical circles.

So there you have my thesis, perhaps not a new one: advertising techniques and cultures which emphasise that you are creative or "thinking outside the box" are in great danger of encouraging snobbery. I think that's what's happened with some Apple aficionados. There is a certain irony in hundreds of people who think they are different and special, but as in the link I gave above, Monty Python captured that pretty well for us already.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Celebrating an ex-PM's death? Really?

So the big story in the UK media today, it seems, is not Andy Murray winning the US Open (congratulations to him, btw) but the printing of T-shirts - for sale at the TUC conference - celebrating Lady Margaret Thatcher's anticipated demise. The messages on the T shirts include "Hey ho the witch is dead".

The story was most read on the BBC website for a while, and attracted over a 1000 comments in a few hours on the Telegraph website. But there's little more to say. It does, I suppose, look like more nastiness from the Left - the self-professed nice people in politics.

But what are we to make of the level of hatred and the standards of behaviour? Do we want to live in a country where it is acceptable to celebrate the death of another? It was bad enough when the tabloids crowed over Myra Hindley's passing - it is a hundred times worse in this case, to say this about someone who devoted her life to serving her country. Yes someone who made some mistakes - unlike the rest of us no doubt...

It is a sign of civilization to maintain the best standards of behaviour you can during political debate - the most divisive, passionate area of discussion there is. Those of us debating can get angry precisely because we become so involved in the issues. But the point is that we're arguing so we can attain a more civilized society (aren't we?) So if we can't behave like compassionate human beings then I would like to know what the point is of listening to fine words spoken by politicians, or indeed debating anything.

I imagine TUC leaders may get quite pompous over the course of the conference (will they condemn these Tshirts? Have the Labour party done so?) But I don't know what these fools, or any other bunch of fools, can do with a country full of people who think it's acceptable to celebrate the long, undignified death of another human being.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

The BBC biased? Never!

For a good while now, there has been a debate in the UK about whether the BBC has a left-wing bias or not. Less of a debate, more a statement of fact followed by vehement denials. But still we have to roll out the arguments.

The BBC are supposed to be unstintingly impartial - that is their rasion d'etre. Yet on their news and cultural output they relentlessly either stifle, ridicule, or completely ignore anything other than a narrow 'progressive' viewpoint (of the Guardian/Independent newspapers) - which has very limited support in the country as a whole, but is given free (or license fee-funded) propaganda by the state broadcaster

The above view is an angry one - but it is supported by the facts. Every time I switch on radio 4, or watch a BBC news programme of any kind, the slant is obvious. There is no balance within the programmes themselves, as there should be, nor is there any hint of the news programmes being balanced by more libertarian programmes. If you think there is, please show me.

Last night, as an example, I switched on "Saturday review", on radio 4. This was hosted by the scrupulously impartial, on-the-fence Bidisha, whose previous quotes include:

“Any man who thinks it’s OK to live in a household where the woman does the overwhelming majority of all the housework, childcare and family admin is a woman-hater”,


 “I wouldn’t be above some impromptu castration”

Please note that my collection of notes below took no work whatsoever. I listened to the programme once only, scribbling a couple of notes as I went along probably missing much. 
  • look at the chosen topics: Naomi Alderman's novel undermining Christianity, a left-wing protest album (at a time when the Democrats are in power in America). Bidisha talks of the TV drama showing an "Empire with victorian values, undergong forced changes and reversals of power"
  • the guest Cahal Dallat states that the programme "has a good Tory in it, which I think is something worth watching" - this 'good Tory'  talks of a minimum wage  3 times the one "that socialists have brought in"*
  • the idea of the "old world breaking up" is mentioned about 5 times in 5 minutes
  • when talking about a sci-fi-based play by Aykbourn, Bidisha enthused "That android is everything a man should be"
  • there were odd remarks about Jesus’ “socialist principles”
  • Bidisha rather wanted the Ry Cooder album to be history-changing,
  • one guest said it was “really good to see a grumpy lefty getting out there and doing protest music"
Those are just a few examples, but the general agreement was relentless. Where was the non-progressive viewpoint to balance all this? I'll answer that for you: nowhere, and it won't appear soon on the BBC.

Sometimes your Guardian reader will respond that these views are now standard UK opinion, whereas a cursory (or more in-depth) look at newspaper sales shows that exactly the opposite is the case. If you mention this, they will, without missing a beat, change tack, and claim that the alternative 'liberal' view (read "Marxist inspired Guardian view") should be given some air-time. Which is ok - but not ALL the air-time. But by now their attention will appear to have wandered.

They don't care what the rationale is, they just want the progressive viewpoint pushed by public funding whatever the reason given needs to be. It is therefore unbalanced political propaganda and no-one should pretend it is anything other than that.

* for a very eloquent man, Cahal Dallat overused the words "socialists" and "tory" a little - which may or may not reflect his framework thinking about the world

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The Laurie Penny lectures. Good oh!

So on Monday the Independent decided to run a piece entitled "How should we talk to men about sexism?". A fascinating question, to be sure. The piece was a dialogue between Laurie Penny and Martin Robbins (both call themselves feminists) trying to answer the above question. There are some inadvertent points of interest in the article.

Firstly the cringeworthyness of some male feminists. Mr Robbins kicks off with:

"It’s tough being a male feminist, albeit far less tough than being a female one"

Note that Robbins seems to have learned (or been 'trained') to put in the disclaimer saying "albeit far less tough than being a female one " (so please don't be nasty to me, nice feminists). Possibly he feels he must make mention of his privilege as a male every other sentence? You tell me. 

When Robbins says 

"Where are the spaces where men can stand up and say – actually, this is fucked up? I wish feminism was seen as a discipline in which we discussed men’s issues as much as women’s"

Ally Fogg (who's been there) replies:

"I have to say there's a rather depressing answer to this question guys, which is that anyone who attempts to do so is likely to bring down the furious wrath of the feminist movement upon his or her head. Attempt to do it in a feminist space and the best you can hope for is that you'll get a chorus of mockery.."

Secondly behold the heartwarming intellectual humility on display:

"Feminists often repeat the mantra that [the 'patriarchy' affects men] without properly devoting time to explaining why"

Feminists don't need to argue that the patriarchy affects men, they merely need to explain why. Apparently the debate is all done and dusted. Another snippet:

"Martin: You almost need a sort of training arena where you can say stupid things to feminists and not get shot down in public. When I was struggling to understand patriarchy, I found feminist blogs unhelpful. I was asking questions I now realise were a bit stupid, but out of naivety rather than anything else.

Laurie: I’ve thought about this a lot and unfortunately, I do think female feminists are going to have to be a bit more forgiving and generous in our corrections from time to time..."

Ignore the nauseating brown-nosing from Robbins, just try to imagine Penny graciously being 'forgiving in her corrections'. Bit of a Mistress/slave dynamic in play there. 

This attitude didn't emerge from a vacuum, it's the way many feminists have learnt to behave towards I think it says everything you need to know about feminist's attitude towards men who try to join their ranks.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Sith entity affecting england football performance

Scientists have discovered the source of dark-side sombreness responsible for England’s poor football performances. Readings have indicated extremely high levels of Sith activity precisely located around England’s commentary team in Kiev.

“We’re not naming any names” said Professor Dinkworm of the Institute of Studies, “but there’s one individual who we suspect of radiating negative energy on an epic scale. It’s clearly taken it’s toll on the players”

Scientists believe that this entity calls itself Darth Lawro, and has been clouding the entire teams  thoughts with horrors from the Dark Side.

“This creature must have a colossal midichlorian count,” said Dinkworm, “he’s able to literally depress not just the team, but an entire nation through a trick of the force, using the medium of television”

Viewers phoned in with higher than usual numbers of complaints of headaches, caused by repetition of mantras such as “No shape, no cohesion, no ambition, no hope”.

Readings spiked around the time the commentator concerned said “if his brains were petrol he’d never get out of the garage”

Prof Dinkworm, and his team believe that the waves of dark-side gloom instil the certainty of inevitable defeat that psychically transmits to the players and all England supporters worldwide. “It’s a major discovery”, he said, “If we can overthrow Darth Lawro, we estimate that England will win the next 5 world cups in a row from sheer relief”

“Assuming we keep sacking the manager, of course”

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Ray Bradbury's message

I am finally getting the time to look through the links I bookmarked after the death of Ray Bradbury, and have skimmed through what several people have said about him. Now on another day, I will no doubt have a different interpretation of what he said to us. But today, if I had to fix on a single message in a bottle that he was hoping would reach us, it would be this.

There was always this passion in the things he said, even in the interviews I saw him do he always seemed to be slightly manic and in love with life - like a friend of mine I talked to yesterday. I think he was urgently telling us to be in love with life too, to put everything into life like a love affair, to savour every bit of it. And the reason it is so urgent is that if you are not nurturing your life, if you are sitting there feeling bored, you are letting things slowly fester. You need to keep your joy alive, find new avenues for it, or you are in danger of losing (or at least temporarily mislaying) it.

This is why writing is often better than reading - you are forcing yourself to find something to talk about, and find the words for it, and then think again for better words for the same thing - if the first words you thought of were stilted. It struck me once - on a routine bus journey early one morning - that all the thoughts I had were unformed and lost forever the moment I had thought them. At least if I wrote everything down - what a pile of redundant verbiage that would make - but at least I would be articulating those thoughts. And in the act of writing something down you see your ideas far more vividly, warts and all, and start to refine them.

But do remember Bradbury's law, which I will state as - always be reaching for the sun in some way. It's close to my old school motto, actually, and something I've seldom even attempted to live up to.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Ray Bradbury

I think I was 11 years old when some clever soul sent two books wrapped up as Christmas presents through the post. I can't remember who it was who sent these two books, and I had to wait, as usual, until the evening of December 24th - when my family conducted its annual festive ceremony - before I could see what they were

They were a red book and a yellow book of the same size. The stories of Ray Bradbury volumes 1 and 2. My mother was far from impressed with this present - shaking her head portentously, thinking I'd be frightened by the stories. The present-giver had known better.

Seeing one of my more precocious friends reading things like 1984 had instilled in me the desire to read, and to hopefully somehow become 'cleverer' by doing so. But what was I to read? If I were to write a page of advice to my 12 year old self it would certainly contain, in bold letters, the message "read what you enjoy reading, and don't worry too much about the rest. Give it a chance, but if it consistently fails to arouse your interest then leave it"

Reading through those volumes for the first time was one of the periods of inspiration in my life. As the above piece of advice will tell you, I don't think I always followed my nose faithfully enough - too many other things distracted me, and quite often after a period of being interested in a topic, I will get bored - and we're back to square one. But for a while that year I was enthralled.

And when you are that interested as a child, you learn things. You do so as naturally as going to sleep and waking. The next day you are in some sense a new person because your day is lit up with an important piece of understanding that was not there before, and all that you see and hear are linked to this new important fact, so you will remember it for good. It is incorporated into your life.

What I learned I cannot tell you, really. Except that when you read a good writer you get a strong dose of  their personality. And what a personality his was. The preface to those stories was his passionate defence of his creative side. School friends jeered at his stories and comics, till he realised that those were not his friends, but his enemies.

This was eerily close to my own experience - the boys at school laughing at my imaginative life. I was something of a coward, and desperately wanted to fit in. I never could, of course - children are an intolerant bunch. I didn't have his moral courage, but then I never forgot his message in those pages either. The message, and the mesmerising stories stayed with me all my life. I still go back to them from time to time. There really was no other choice over how to live one's life. I clearly can not have the same personality as Bradbury. No one is the same as any other person exactly. But those books helped me find some of mine.

There's not much I can do about it now he is gone. He would want me to turn it to something positive. So I will make his death a spur to remember that lesson every day. I heard the lesson early, I'm still processing it.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

The Guardian on Shakespeare

I have a new post on GraunWatch.

A writer named Emer O'Toole has written a piece for the Guardian claiming that the plays of Shakespeare are little more than an tool of colonial/imperialist control over the world. As I tend to see Shakespeare's plays as having been very central to British culture for centuries, I take issue with her here.

As the owner of the blog says, this isn't necessarily the "Guardian line" on Shakespeare. But I believe this line of thinking is all too common, and needs to be subjected to strong critical analysis wherever possible. Too many people are getting away with some very woolly thinking.

The subject was also discussed on David Thompson's blog (in the comments section of this post). The point was made that education and thought in the UK is being influenced by a strong anti-patriotism - quite common, I think, in the pages of the Guardian and Independent, and in the output of the BBC.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

The dishonesty of the left on racism

So I understand that in the BBC's ongoing fight against racism, they interviewed a lady (alas I don't have her name) on the radio, who gave a few opinions on the subject. Sadly, it seems that she rolled out the argument - completely discredited in my view - that 'racism' only exists within a particular power dynamic or relation. The idea is that black people cannot be guilty of racism by definition, because they have less power in UK society.

There are so many problems with this argument. Ask a white man being beaten up by several black men - if he thinks he has much greater 'power'. How exactly is this power defined? And where does this idea leave the problem of racism between racial minorities? Does that not count as racism any more? Isn't one rule for white, another for blacks racist in itself?

But today I want to focus on the basic hypocrisy behind all this. Anti-racism was once a noble sentiment. I was under the impression – I think we all were – that racism used to mean something like the following:

“a wrong done to (or a dislike taken towards) someone, on the basis of their ‘race’ or skin colour”

It meant this for a long time, and the fight against this sort of racism had much moral sway. But at some stage a deeply dubious subclause was added (by some) so the new definition became:

“a wrong done to (or a dislike taken towards) someone, on the basis of their ‘race’ or skin colour, but only if they are on the wrong end of a power relation

Never mind that this ‘power relation’ was undefined and undefinable, everyone knew what the point of it was – to provide a specious rationale for saying that black people could not be called ‘racist’ under any circumstances. Now the only racists were white people. Put this way, it becomes clear where the actual discrimination by race lies. Some want a political stick to beat white people with.

The (creaky) reasoning behind it could be – for all I know - that  white people have “too much” or disproportionate power in the United Kingdom, so that any means are justifiable to try and reduce that power.

But if the meaning of the term “racism” is being casually altered to put one set of people in power and kick another out, then anti-racists are not acting from principles of equality and justice, and merely playing politics, as dishonestly as any politician ever did.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Melanie Phillips on intolerance towards religion

Melanie Phillips has written an essay on the current prevalent intolerance towards religion, as seen in the writings of scientist Richard Dawkins, but which is in fact quite widely spread. I've much sympathy for the initial impulse behind her piece, but I think that she gets a few things wrong, and that there is a far stronger case for religion, which has been lost in the silliness of this debate.

Francis Crick's "directed panspermia" theory was one of his odder hypotheses, to be sure. It's a workable idea, just not one for which we have any evidence. Crick was a theorist, a very brilliant and very logical one, and I think he didn't much like the improbability of the complex biological mechanisms he'd made his name discovering. As with the puzzle of how the eye evolved by a series of small steps, it's hard to see how DNA, RNA, and all the proteins and processes of the human body evolved over time. Just because this is a mystery, of course, doesn't mean that it's insoluble, so the panspermia idea was arguably a kind of scientific impatience from Crick.

Phillips' argument (maintaining that the wilder theories of science are "fantasy") seems populist to me, or perhaps it is simply that she doesn't understand the space between science and religion. Few do.

She touches on one thesis - much beloved of some on the left, actually - that I don't much like. It is this idea that science is of no more value than any other 'narrative', which seems to allow those working in humanities departments the  freedom to say or think whatever they wish - freed from the constraints of any logical and evidential basis. This may be a wonderful freedom for the lazy minded, but not much use for actual scholarship and science. The differences between science and other narratives are simple: science makes verifiable observations, and constructs theories that make verifiable predictions

Even so, it seems to me quite correct to say that Dawkins' tiresome intolerance and blinkered intellectual bullying seem as narrow-minded as the attitudes of the worst religious bigot. If you believe in freedom of thought, you have to practice what you preach. So to, the progressive left seem to thrive on social pressure to believe their version of events. According to them, they are both rational and caring.

There are a couple of reasons for this misguided debate between science and religion. From the start, Darwin's theories got a rather mixed reception from the church, and the famous debate between Thomas Henry Huxley and Wilberforce in Oxford seems to have set the attitudes of many British biologists against religion in general, which is seen solely as a theoretical adversary. It is surely far more than that.

(This minor controversy concerning Darwin's theories echoes the previous dispute between Galileo and the church on whether the earth was the centre of the universe. One other case where the church opposed good science. But I'd argue this is quite rare)

My feeling is that these biologists (some are the pride of UK 20th century scientific endeavour) miss out on almost everything that Christianty is, by focusing on this small part of the belief system. Some then go on to vaguely wave their hand in the direction of the middle-east and say how much trouble religion has caused there - when the truth is that religion has just given human nature a reason to take sides and persecute, and if the religious aspect had not existed, people would have found another reason to take sides and fight - as people often do.

So we can't blame religion for all wars, as some unsophisticated 'rationalists' claim. But when they do a U-turn and  state that religion had no effect on the development of music, art, literature, society, and law they sound particularly desperate. There really does seem to be a strong influence - from religion - on all these areas, and of course on the development of science itself.

But even though science is brilliant at making observations, theories and predictions that come true, it is wrong to see religion as simply a rival to science. It may have attempted to fullfil those roles long ago, but it's power is in it's ability to transform many individual personal lives, and give sense and purpose to them in a way that science cannot do, since it only describes how things are, not what to do about them. Since we are human beings,  and need such a sense of purpose, religion will still be around for some time.

Though religion ought to stop trying to compete with science on it's own territory (many religious teachers haven't twigged to this) it thus certainly has a future of some sort. Though Phillips says correctly that if we start to make  a religion of some simplistic unscientific idea like Marxism, or for that matter feminism or egalitarianism then we may be in serious trouble. These religions do indeed provide us with all the dogma and intolerance of some religious orthodoxies, and none of the spiritual solace.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

How an ideology-driven broadcaster might work

A little while back now, I worked for a public-sector quango producing statistics and reports for other people in very similar jobs to look at. One feature of this job was the unsurprising left-wing flavour of the conversation there, another was the curious authoritarian atmosphere. The woman in charge of the (rather female heavy) group was a fine person, but slightly intimidating.

To illustrate why, take morning coffee. Most bosses grudgingly accept coffee breaks as one of those things to be tolerated, like haemorrhoids or Laurie Penny. But actually in this job attendance at morning coffee was compulsory. Despite the bosses' diminutive size, her habit of singing happily over her desk, and the fact that you could imagine her knitting there quite happily, there was a quiet that came over this whole matriarchy when her will was expressed - there was NO WAY you would contradict it.

At these strictly enforced chats over coffee, which the boss-lady presided over (and dictated the tone and topic of each day's chat) there was a on-your-best-behaviour-or-else atmosphere. It was somehow required that you contribute, and you would try jolly hard to say things that met with approval - both general and from on high. This meant having an intelligent observation to make - but also one that fitted the prevailing political feeling. And it may not surprise readers to learn that boss-lady was a strongly political reader of the Guardian newspaper.

The designated topic one day seemed to be the pre-eminence, in athletics, of black people. Well I remember the nods of approval when I found something to say about Ussain Bolt. There was no doubt I was fitting in by saying it - rather than mentioning the extraordinary record of white males in gaining Nobel prizes.

The reason I tell this story is that I've been pondering how those in charge of a TV/radio broadcaster might encourage employees and writers to come up with dramas that fit their ideological slant. Now this is pure hypothesis on my part but may turn out to be useful. A political slant in some news coverage is interesting, but in a way easier to understand - if only in terms of journalistic incompetence. But allowing a political slant to enter into dramatic output seems more in the spirit of 1984 or Uncle Joseph himself

It doesn't, I think, take a great deal of imagination to read my story of the awkwardly political coffee mornings, and to start to understand how employees can be pressured into adhering to an ideology in their work. And not just through a dominating boss or bosses.

It might be that the rules - as so often - are left unspoken most of the time, lest an email be leaked and .. ermm .. misinterpreted. Far more effective if staff are left to guess the rules - in the competitive scrabble for position in their careers they are sure to fall in line pretty quickly. These staff may be the ones choosing or commissioning which dramas are shown, for example. 

Thus, unaccountably, the employee will do well, who introduces a drama with the requisite focus on particular designated victim groups (blacks, Muslims, etc). And it helps if the drama contains 'acceptable' representations of gender, race, and sexuality. So members of groups thought (by our hypothetical broadcaster) to be commonly racially stereotyped, will often need to be portrayed in an entirely positive light IN A DRAMA. The justification for this will be to fight said stereotypes.

By contrast, the employee who suggests airing a drama dealing with working-class British heroism in - say - the Falklands conflict, will be ignored. Other employees soon get the idea, and - fearful for their careers - toe the line. The same pressures consequently tell on writers of these dramas. Preference will quietly be given to the more ideologically sound work - and we all know well how this kind of interference leads to a far worse dramatic work.

So our hypothetical broadcaster is in great danger of feeding us ideologically sound drama, but of worthless quality. In my next pieces, I will look at both some possible effects of this kind of censorship, and some of the thinking behind it.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Marxism without the nasty bits!

Readers may be interested to know that the University of Kent has a course on Marxism as part of a 'Social Sciences' degree. No doubt there's a good reason for this but it's puzzling how the course aims to

"enable [students] to assess both the contemporary and historical significance of Marxism in world politics"


"Students are not expected to demonstrate any detailed knowledge of the history of Marxist-inspired governments, regimes or political movements"

We wouldn't want any practical experience to influence our discussion of the historical significance of Marx. Might give us the wrong impression.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Thoughts on class

From a comment of mine on the Telegraph news site:

"As soon as the word "class" is mentioned, you've opened  a can of worms. People will have entirely differing presuppositions of what the word entails.

Listen to sociologists talking on "thinking allowed" on radio 4, and you are listening to a group of would-be scientists who base much their work on a set of definitions of assumptions about "class"

But how can you do that? Who knows where one class begins and one class ends - where is that set out exactly? And if many sociologists agree on a particular set of criteria for being one class or another, who's to say those criteria aren't wrong, or completely artificial?

The word is useful for them because it immediately ties them to Marxist theory, but also to a whole set of very real problems in the UK over the last 150 years or more. Because of the Marxist link my heart sinks when people mention class.

But noone in this country seems able to forget the humiliations suffered by the lower classes here. Not just the poverty and hardship (and a certain amount of envy too), but some of the social behaviours that kept the system in place. Social competition in the higher classes, and the pressure to keep those from 'lower' classes - who wanted to join the higher ones - in their place, meant a lot of superior airs and aloofness, and plenty of resentment. 

(just the other day a neighbour told me how she had worked as a cleaner in a girls school in Oxford, and received some pretty haughty bad-manners from a 20-something woman working there.  I'm afraid that, knowing the school, that does not surprise me)

Many seem to blame the class system for all inequalities (which are probably inevitable anywhere to some degree). I think that is wrong. It provided structure, and something to aspire to. Take away the system, and the inequalities have not gone away

The dynamics, the social aloofness, can keep standards, but they can also be an ego trip for those in the middle to upper classes, and thoroughly divisive in relationships as well, to name just 2 problems. 

Now, though, the tables have turned, and some spit the meaningless phrase "White middle-class male" out with real venom..."

I notice that I said "Take away the system, and the inequalities have not gone away". Another interesting facet is that people of the left see that inequalities still remain (as they always will), and that people help their friends (ditto) and take it all as evidence that the class-system has not  died at all. I think they are very wrong. These are just ordinary social dynamics and the hand-wringing over whether a potential son/daughter in law is of the right class is a thing of the past.

We may still worry about our offspring's marital choice, and we may still dislike 'chavs', but this is far more to do with standards of behaviour - a different concept and entirely natural. We are not going to stop worrying about our children and their relationships, neither are we going to be happy about being gobbed on by some unpleasant kid who can't find anything better to do. This is nothing to do with old conceptions of 'class', no matter how much people like Owen Jones claim it is