My “academic idea” was to try and produce a reasoning theory that allowed big facts to be taken into account. One of the essential problems with such an approach is that there are examples of this in practice in which people believe in really big “facts” that skew any realistic thinking, such as a blue and white striped elephant being responsible for all that happens. We have a long history of belief as a species in utter rot. Other problems with big facts include our propensity to skew all evidence to fit in with them. Some have used terms like world-view rather than big facts, but I have trouble ascribing this term to people for whom a long trip is to ‘the foot of our stairs’ or ‘the end of our street’. This doesn’t stop me thinking they may well know more about their particular cabbage patch than I do. My own is growing rather nicely this year, with some pak choi between the rows for international balance.
There is an actual theory that gets somewhere near the one I always fail to put together. Actor-network theory, described by one of its proponents, Bruno Latour, as ‘four words, four lies’. He’s French, but before you think he can’t count, let me explain the hyphen counts as a word and subtle jokes are one of his ploys amongst the ennui of academic prose. Big facts are contained in ‘black boxes’ we don’t question much any more because we assume they are right to move our explanations on, though we do pull them apart when we start to suspect they may be the problem. Einstein famously did this with kinematics when Maxwell’s great work did not fit with what the best experimenters were finding.
My last attempt at this great work in epistemology came to and end when first my old cat ventured across the keyboard of my Amstrad PCW, finding the hot-key combination that translated the whole document into Greek, and later that week when the only copy on an old floppy disk was crushed under the boot of a university janitor using my desk as a ladder to reach lighting that staff in the room next door had complained of as a health and safety hazard. He is still unaware he saved the world from 100,000 of the most boring words ever assembled in apparent order, though he still hides from me if he sees me coming. The cat died of old age, taking the secret of re-translation with him. Whether those moaning tourism experts in E4B and the cat colluded to protect the universe from my totalising reason we will never know. Only the cat was wise enough to understand the world was not ready for the product of my years of philosophical investigation. Some thought I had never written the masterpiece at all and considered my account of its destruction too incredible to be true.
Whilst engaging with philosophical intrigue, I was busy teaching management. I’m never quite sure how I got into this field of endeavour. I was too disabled to be a cop, the shipyards I was a manager in had gone and given an aversion to suicide had to find something else to do. Teaching management is clearly impossible and something no one in their right mind would try, so Bob’s your uncle. It pays quite well, but like most jobs is blighted by a bureaucracy that forces corrupt behaviour on those it seeks to control and makes everyone live a lie. Academe had less of this when I turned up in it than now, and I suspect this is true of most work available today. The “smell” of this corrupt bureaucracy is intense. It is this that makes us believe that being able to pay our mortgages is so important we should give up innocence itself and take the mark of the hive and never be able to live without it.
It is here Inspector Gadget comes in. I suspect some of us who read him would have his entrance on a white horse at the charge, for we make him a hero. The man himself knows how to use modesty. I need Gadget because I know no one will listen to theory. Believe me, I’ve tried! And why should anyone listen, when most of what is spun out in front of us is calamitous claptrap posed as wisdom? The world may work on incompetence, not competence. We just have trouble looking at ourselves as a bunch of incompetents. The Inspector Gadget of the cartoons is a total arse, generally saved by his niece or the dog. My own nieces have turned out to be very smart, but my life generally lacks their help and the dog passed away a few years back. The other IG claims to be a real police inspector, writing books and keeping a blog on the inanities of his force and the SMT (small minded turnips?) who run it into the ground to ensure bloated bonuses for themselves. I could say the same of at least two-thirds of our universities and colleges and even some schools.
I have to say here, that I don’t know Gadget, but would like to. Anyone expecting character assassination should switch off now. My “attack” is benign in character. I might lay claim to the first police blog myself, in pre-computer times whilst swinging a pencil about waiting to leave the police force. I called it The Inter-galactic Police Gazette and it featured sub-Galactic commanders who had run out of forms to requisition other forms needed to get uniform buttons polished. Its hero, Superintendent Redrobs, was an anagram of the real idiot who made up my mind to leave. I owe his buffoonery a considerable debt, as I suspect staying in the job would have killed me as a creative individual. Cursed with the buffoon-spoon at birth myself, I went into something entirely more dangerous, before limping into the university scene. Looking back, I entirely ignored the sound advice of good men to get out. They were often coming up to retirement, talking of finishing a long sentence and hated anyone above the rank of inspector with an almost total vehemence. I come 30 years before Gadget and a lot less may have changed than some of us think.
Gadget tells us he is a cop. I suppose, at a deeper level of critique we can also say he is telling us he is a man. He can’t reveal his identity as with all superheroes. This is because he will lose his mortgage-paying talents if he does, as surely as kryptonite reduces Superman’ sperm to speeds that won’t impale Lois Lane on the head board. He says his editor was surprised at his revelations as they wrote up his book. I rather like the writing, but my eyebrows don’t flicker as I read. I am reading the routine name of the game. Charlie Owen may make me laugh telling me stories of the fictional Horse’s Arse, but I actually worked there. Gadget doesn’t shock me, but rather the world more generally that cannot see the invisible cloth of kitsch that blocks reality from sight. Others may well read Gadget in order to be prepared to bury him and more importantly the truth he tells.
My questions tend to be about truth. I have only clues that Gadget is a man and is a police inspector. Gender is a bore, so I’ll skip that, noting we could doubt it. Women can write as men and it is possible to imagine a cunning part of IG’s deception is that he is a woman. This would keep those on his trail at bay, or barking after red herrings. If he is a police inspector we should be very worried, simply on the grounds that he feels (correctly in my view) he has to act in the shadows like Zorro. There are many more of us across the public sector. The private sector is no heaven either. Could blogs have saved us from Maxwell, Enron, the Gulf oil spill and the bwanking crisis?
Watching IG command his squad whilst knocking back a pint or three of Ruralshire Bitter would confirm his ‘reality’ and it generally important to work out just what the nature of the evidence is in making our decisions about stuff. I can only say, as an academic (the ‘is Gadget rules’ apply to me too) that we are hopeless at this. My point really is that we think we are all ‘tropical fish realists’ when it comes to evidence, but actually we are swooned by silly shit like adverts and all kinds of propaganda. Subjecting IG to some scrutiny can help us get past this, though of course we’d have to get those who won’t engage in thinking to have a go. You won’t believe some of the tricks I’ve played on my students over the years to try and get them to do this.
One key point is the need to be able to see that Gadget might just be some kind of T-shirt and book salesman operating his blog for this purpose, and to be able to hold this in the back of your mind without getting paranoid commitment to the idea. Many hypotheses are possible in free thinking. I can run you up a few dozen over whether a blue book is a blue book (the realist hypothesis) or a whole load of other ‘stuff’ (such as being an illusion of a blue book, or a red book some cunt painted blue). This is standard philosophy with female anatomy added owing to boredom and some delusion that I may wake up with a smile on my face as well as a hangover after being dragged to the pub later by Sue and her mates.
The key social issues in exploring a ‘case against Gadget’ involve assuming he is what he says he is on the tin. The serious point is why this dedicated officer has to resort to anonymous book publishing and blogging. We have managers and politicians over us like a rash telling the tale of ‘learning lessons’ and ‘being a learning organisation’; both require openness to criticism. All over the public sector we discover officers who don’t believe they can speak out openly and retain their jobs or promotion prospects. I’m sure they are right. Nurses get sacked for speaking to Panorama. The ruse used is that they have infringed patient confidentiality. One can imagine a point in the future at which Gadget’s reliability is destroyed by officials saying he is compromised because he did not speak out directly. The latest Iraq enquiry did something similar with Claire Short, because she didn’t fall on her sword at the time.
What I find astounding about IG and his blog contributors is that they are describing the police force I left 30 years ago. The underclass and liberal elite described are the same as the old days too. What we don’t find is much admission of the day-to-day failures that have remained much the same too. The Sweeney battled against hapless rules and bureaucracy, breaking the rules to bring chummy down, surviving sexually transmitted diseases through liver-failure drinking of hard liquor. Mullet in Frost is the classic numpty, Fisher in Pie in the Sky (the episode on lemons bringing in the vapid ‘management development’). The rude officers not doing the job we want them to do, as seen in Harriet Sergeant’s book (free at CIVITAS) are not fair game. One can end up feeling it is always someone else’s fault.
At a conference in 1997, academics were demonstrating the Nulabour best value would be easy to pervert through bureaucratic ‘performance management’ and this is exactly what has happened. Our integrity has been crushed. Official figures and claims are worth almost nothing. The 2010 BCS should be out soon. Will this reflect the ‘crime is down’ nonsense released during the election? It didn’t last year. In one simple table, claims in police recording were trashed. Even HMIC is now reporting that antisocial behaviour is a misnomer and is actually crime. People who die from it, like Mr. Askew in Hattersley or the Pilkingtons would not be surprised. What my partner and I would ask, is where Gadget was when we needed him. There were many who knew what was going on, but no means to surface the truth.
The defeat of the sleazy Tories and now Nulabour both left me feeling anything is better than government, and the signs are we have only got another one, though Cameron is encouraging on forces pay and more money to counter IEDs. What is lacking in our system is honest review and the chance to have our say protected in a manner similar to blogging. In this sense our systems lack the basic requirement of quality because they are already full of kwality. IG is a great exposer of this, as any number of hidden camera documentaries have been. None of it has been making the difference needed.
What I suspect we need is “the case against Gadget”, to understand why much of the sense he and others like 24/7, Claustro, Crime Analyst, Hogday and a laudable list is received by the system and where it may be wrong. My view is that most systems work in denial and through skilled incompetence. The metaphor that seems about right is in why Japan lost the Battle of Midway. Some have it that their arrogance made it impossible to organise damage control crews and this made their carriers much more vulnerable than those of the Americans. We are failing to address problems by denying them through “success”.
IG’s stuff is full of MOPs who want it every which way and loose. They want cops on their doorstep in seconds and to see every speeding officer keelhauled. This is no doubt accurate in some cases, but the same stuff gets used to character assassinate genuine complaint. I don’t suggest the inspector himself does this, more that true complaints get viewed in this cynical manner too easily. He is right to describe the depravity of the Swamp and Reservation, yet one can find this deep in history. These weren’t poor people, who were generally seen as living on low wages, just as nearly everyone had at some time. Observers in Victorian society knew these people as the ‘dishonest poor’ and under many other labels, and a passion for stupefying herbs and intoxicating liquor. Poor people were not seen as all alike. Charles Murray has it that whole neighbourhoods are now under the influence of an underclass. It is old news.
What I want to know is why it is so difficult to deal with these scum, or even describe them as such. I’ve seen them committing crime on a daily basis and yet be seemingly impervious to arrest and conviction. My suspicion is this is as much to do with widespread jobsworth mortgage paying as a fatal nexus of bent politicians and highly paid performance managers. They are almost all trapped in adolescence, and one can see the new ones coming along with no substantial intervention. It’s much more than a police problem and requires substantial partnerships between agencies and new attitudes towards work provision to cure. These agencies, including police, cannot be trusted by victims and those who would stand against the problems. Whilst one regrets every incidence of officers hurt in the line of duty, many more citizens are being hurt on a daily basis by the incompetence and quiescence of our agencies and some die.
Probably the most important hurdle to get over is the “paranoid-schizoid” position being taken about criticism and the hostile treatment of people telling the truth. Our samizdat needs to become genuine, open public enquiry, but here one only has to look back to Hutton and Butler to know government uses a diversionary form of this as whitewash and distraction. We do not “know” that David Kelly was not somehow killed or more likely subject to intolerable bullying after prolonged and ostensibly open official enquiry and I think we do now “know” the Iraq invasion was based on lies as bad as those told over the Suez Crisis (though in our national state of ignorance, how many of us know the truth about Suez?), though we are not officially admitting this. It is not just IG who fears what will happen to his credibility and earning capacity for being ‘dumb enough’ to tell the truth in public.
It is commonplace on Gadget to hear cops whine that no one is ever prepared to give evidence about the crimes going on, yet one could argue that IG himself is guilty of this ‘cowardice’. He isn’t even prepared to reveal his identity for fear he will lose his job. Much more is at stake for those who have had the criminal underclass foisted on them and have to live amongst them. People I’ve got to know have found their names and addresses being read out in court after being promised they could deliver their evidence from behind a screen to protect their identities. This is barking and says a great deal about the insensitivity of all officers across the agencies, including CPS and the judiciary. I can even remember witnesses being expected to share waiting rooms with the violent scum. IG would be mad to reveal his identity. The point here is that decent people who have their lives blighted by the scum are already known to them, exposed to much greater risk and yet expected to display far greater levels of heroism by people who won’t even risk their identities to the world of bureaucracy. Double standards aren’t in it! One should remember here the officers who won’t tell this kind of truth are given elevated truth-giving status throughout the system. One might say that we have people who won’t tell the truth about what is going on around them criticising those who cannot. One could also argue that “bureaucracy” is much more vicious (whatever its pretensions) in silencing truth than the benefit-dodging, drug-dealing, borrowing-from-shops world of the scrote. I believe it is, and much worse for intellect being at work in it rather than base cunning.
What we should be trying to get at is the ‘mechanisms’ underlying this mess. Like Adam, I’m often so angry and depressed by it all that solutions like putting all the scrote on the Isle of White and sinking it appeal. Their have been such “answers” in history; a notable one was the genocide perpetrated by the Athenian Democracy to boost its flagging coffers. Numbers 31 is a classic, the Domesday Book another. There are many more, including the Final Solution, the Great Leap Forward and the Gulags. We should be put off. These are mad solutions and no solution at all. They might help us understand the ‘mechanisms’ and complexity of feeling that experience of the disaster brings. Not least in this is the phenomenon of “great leadership”. For a number of reasons, I don’t really doubt Gadget’a real identity. I do think there is a great deal more important to exercise our scepticism on. The facts essential to reasonable argument are not as easy to establish as naive soaking up of the world can make us sure of. It seems to me reasonable to suppose we might dream, with whatever sarcasm, of such solutions because nothing is ridding us of these people’s behaviour. Cops regularly point out, as though victims don’t know, that the scrote will still be there even if there is a successful prosecution. They admit, sitting in your living room, it would be safer to ‘let sleeping scrote lie’. Doing something about them is bound to bring retribution. At the same time, their multi-shagging Chief Constable is telling his political masters his officers have all the powers they need to cope and is refusing to let anyone independent investigate very reasonable complaints that they cannot do the job (worse actually). It takes his suicide or drunken bungling to bring his foibles to light, and even then we end up with a new chief ‘building on his success’. Rumours of business as usual, including the shagging reach Gadget, this latter by a slightly less exalted chief.
Whilst we might find some hints at the underlying mechanisms in academic text, like the Open University reader Criminological Perspectives and certainly examples confirming the lay-blogging is only marginally bringing out anything new (this is not a reason to stop, as ‘bringing out’ is important in itself), this form of text and knowledge has its own problems. Intellectual answers are very hard to apply even when they are about as right as they can be. I can tell you with great reliability how to make urea formaldehyde, demonstrate it myself and be very sure most of you will have at least as much trouble doing it as my former undergraduate students (it was used in cavity wall insulation if you are remotely interested). My old woodwork teacher would say the same on my ability with wood, despite his appreciated care. I like academic critique, but we need something closer to keep it simple stupid (KISS) in practical affairs. One has to remember the Japanese call something like this Poga Oke, which means ‘fool proofing’. Getting us to do stuff habitually right is not for the stupid, but must take account of our tendencies to incompetence and believing that incompetence has superior quality.
‘Dirty hands thinking’ is with us everywhere. The daft thing is we still think it is smart. It’s long been outed. Put ‘dirty hands’ into a search at the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (free and brilliant) and you’ll have enough reading on it for several months. One of the sad facts on social argument is that we are often arguing simply because simple truth is not told to us. We are not, as a demos, anywhere up to speed on the general level of intrigue or why a more demonstrable form of truth could help us organise better. New technology may provide some of what we need to achieve this, but it is subject to the mechanisms of competitive advantage and existing social control networks.
The case that “serious management” is already making against blogs is that they are much the same as irresponsible office jokes. One of the models we have often felt we were working to as business academics is that of court jester. Think of the Fool in King Lear. Much of the time we are seen as little more than satirical programmes like Have I Got News For You or Bremner, Bird and Fortune. “Serious management” can join in the joke, but they can also order our death if they feel a need to exert power. Should anyone declare the Emperor is naked, they can laugh it off and later set bureaucracy on the culprit. Look what happens to whistle-blowers. Some time after the Panorama that tells us how bloody awful the hospital is, the nurse is sacked by her own professional standards authority.
A key aspect of Samizdat, of which the anonymous blog is a form, is that it does not directly confront the tyranny. The pens of satire and caricature are not as sharp as we tend to believe. Some people, of course, make money from them and Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London clearly benefited from ribbing in the buffoon image he nurtures so well. My own suspicion is that the case against Gadget or any other whistle-blower is pre-made. The truth seems to lose out because what is going on is so ridiculous. Soviet critics used the word kitsch to describe whatever it was that made it impossible to grapple directly with the horror, yet held it together like a jelly. Catch 22 says most of it. You have to be mad to tell the bosses the truth, but as soon as you do they will declare you mad (you have to be mad to fly bombing missions, but declaring you recognise this renders you sane).
It may well be that the bunch of SMT bonus crazies running the cops are as much a product of our “successful society” as the criminal underclass topping up benefits by meeting their crime targets. There are theories on this that don’t need Karl Marx, usually referred to as public choice theories. Central to them is the selfish individual. Their suggestion is that IG should be able to ‘come out’ because his own and the public interest coincide. Whilst I’m not a subscriber to high-level theory, there is something in this. Every undercover Dispatches or Panorama I’ve seen with grim jobsworths scuttling about not doing social work, not caring for patients and not doing police work makes me sure we over-estimate the moral capability of individual mortgage slaves. I tend to think something about motivation to work and at work is sick.
If we can doubt thr reality of IG we can surely doubt the need for the swanning fanny-farts (queefs seems appropriate) of the average SMT. I was brought up as a management teacher on the need for flatter organisations and have seen them packed out with all kinds of everything we were supposed to be getting rid of. My mentors wrote that we should let our brightest young people have their head amongst creative scientists and even Bohemians; anything other than incarcerating them in business schools. There was a great book, almost instantly out of print, by Peter Anthony (The Foundation of Management) with much of this attitude. Instead, business schools appeared everywhere with teaching generally being done by people only experienced in the dross textbooks students are expected to copy in essays. A profound atheist, I’d say study of religious history would be more critical. The MBA is the product of the Western Madrassa. Barking-mad dross is taught by staff who don’t know it has been trashed in research.
The key thing for me is that the kind of enquiry and evidence we would need to establish whether Gadget is what he says on the tin, taking in any reasons he has for the anonymity, is the kind of enquiry we need to get our public services working. The basic idea is a kind of responsible doubt and an attitude that this is fair and not a matter that should lead us into that hostile defensiveness that characterises trying to establish facts that don’t suit some. In fact, I don’t believe he is a ‘T-shirt salesman’ (Ruralshire paraphernalia), and in any case he is bringing some material into public focus that isn’t getting to us through other routes. The ‘case against Inspector Gadget’ is just a metaphor for something more rigorous. We have to involve self-examination and understand people don’t tell the truth when power is about, and even struggle under peer pressure. We also have much less ability to spot when people are lying than we like to think, or when we are carried away in ludicrous miscarriages of justice. Oscar Wilde once said something a bit like ‘to tell the truth is just to make certain someone will later exact revenge’.
In pretty much any quest for truth (perhaps better put as one to do the best we can given the way ‘truth’ changes as we know more and differently – a big fact of history) we can doubt the ‘upfront story’. The idea of doing this is to find the questions we should be asking, but also not to slip into a shoddy relativism or paralysis by analysis. The answers to current policing problems are much wider set in our society than all the police blogs I’ve seen tend to reflect. Just as we are totally pissed off with health and safety preventing officers changing car tyres, we have to bear in mind how dangerous bosses not constrained by some such regulation can be. Just as we want officers to be accountable, we need to check we aren’t giving licence to all kinds of restrictions that will make them less effective. In the end this is about a public scrutiny that can be seen as reasonable. The balance has gone seriously wrong, so much so we are wasting time, effort and money to almost no intended purpose at all. The denials of senior managers are the same pretty much anywhere, and they are the same as those of the politicians we have suffered for 30 years. Everything has changed so much for the worse, that equipped with a time machine, I’d only take technology back with me and a list of what not to make sure to do!
The route forward is to get us into a state of demonstrable honesty. This means attacking what Karl Popper called the enemies of open society and establishing proper opportunities to open up our organisations. I believe, once we got started, this would be easier than we dread it is now. IG at least gives us a needed warning that even he cannot come out in the open. This is no case against him, but the state of our society. Amongst my sins, I have been a Federation and Union representative, thankless tasks. To those who would say to IG that he should take the ultimate moral stand, I can only say I often came across people wanting me to fire their bullets. I quickly got used to them fading into the shadows, or paying visits to management to brief against me and pledge their own allegiance to the ‘sensible’ cause of management and their promotion prospects. When management asks you to tell the truth, warts and all, it’s time to bite your lip. On both sides of management I was able to do something better than ‘us and them’. This is long gone. Listen to the Chinese manager, responding to suicide leaps from company barracks, as ‘less than reasonably estimated’. The management cadre here too is once again a class on its own with a vengeful attitude. Old countervailing systems of power, always weaker than posed by our media, have gone.