The docile body-politic

One of the problems with the way we argue is summed up in this post –

Most people really don’t want to engage with the world and the consequence for argument is that full facts hardly ever become the issue.  All rhetoric needs to do is engage a numb-skull mentality of people rendered docile.  The zerohedge post complains that US government has been taken over by a few evil people.  I agree and suspect the historical truth is worse.

The excuse for not being able to provide decent education and modern living conditions for all people is essentially that this is a dirty old world and we have to put up with gross inequalities or else end up in the doom of ash-grey uniformity and dictatorship.

Nearly all argument, in my view, is crippled by this kind of foreboding – from questions on arming police officers to whether we should teach real history in schools.  The conundrum is that if we are to settle matters and direction through argument we need a populace that is skilled in argument and, of course, don’t have one – unless we place faith in some unconscious processing.  Plato’s answer (in theory) was to plough vast resources into his Guardians (including husbandry) in education and life-style to create  an elite that would not be corrupted (though he admitted this was inevitable in comments on human nature).

My own view is that education is a failure other than in technical areas, child-minding and soldiering.  The neglected element from Plato is his communism of the free table – the taking away of the temptation of power accumulated through personal wealth.  I see almost no discussion of this that does not start with some Mumbo Jumbo on the role of vast personal fortune in motivating “our best people”.  This turns anything said on the issue to total bollox.  Thieves have similar motivation.  I would say people motivated by money in this sense are unlikely to be trusted in other human endeavours.  Our societies have been gerrymandered to bring about fealty to wealth and the desire to grab it.  I do not believe this is human nature at all.

Key terms in what passes as argument in the general public domain are wrong.  Work is one of them – most people avoid the real thing here, as surely as pompous Greeks believed it scarred the soul and barely even bother to justify slavery for all their show of intellect.  Much of what is discussed is as hopeless as speaking of ‘life-force’ rather than in the language of genetics or using Descartes’ (hapless) physics rather than the lines developed from Galileo, Newton and Einstein.  We talk in ideologies and myths, not about reality.

This reality is dire.  Think about what goes on in the world in 30 minutes.  A child dies unnecessarily in each four seconds, an Indian farmer commits suicide and a whole load else.  We like to keep our comfort by calling anyone revealing this doomsayers and by denials anything we do is responsible.  How welcome it is to have high-level theories telling us such matters are just the unfortunate consequences of ‘free trade’ (now there’s another term that is never true) and things would be much worse if we organised from the eradication of such problems up.

I spent a decade of my life trying to teach British industry to plan. Even in this kind of work heads are buried in the sand.  Many of our industries simply could not compete with the massive structural change to mass production and away from skilled,almost artisan work in many of our industries (shipbuilding was the classic).  Work has primarily been redefined by it being taken away as a means of making a living in my adult life.  We have coped better than rural India, but that’s about  it.

We can grow stuff, build stuff and provide a basic standard of living for all better than the existing one in the UK with no world trade.  Most of us wouldn’t miss the trinkets.  So what is all this international finance about, really?  The really gloomy answer is war.


“Public Argument” is failing all of us (Tomlinson)

One can put a case forward that Mr. Tomlinson would still be alive if there had been no G20 protests.  Beyond this one can argue that the organisers of the protests are responsible for the death if the protest was not justified.  Beyond this, one can argue that those who organise our democracy were responsible because their failings make such protests necessary to protect democracy.  There is no need to agree any of these arguments, just appreciate they can be made, no doubt at tedious length.  We have known this about argument at least since Pyrrho. One can get so pissed off with argument that all that is left to say is to point to the pisswitterers (Sophists, lawyers, pundits) and announce ‘I know nothing, but even this is to know more than them’ (Socrates).  This is only a ‘polite, humerus’ way to chant ‘fuck off you twats’.

Given a more or less white powder, test tube, thermometer and Bunsen burner, and asked to find out what temperature lead carbonate turns yellow, most of us would probably stick the powder and thermometer in the test  tube and heat it up, recording the temp.  I forget the result.  There are more people than you’d think who can’t do this experiment.  They’d be the only ones left if I’d substituted lead azide, which is so massively explosive we transport it in dextrinated solution (carefully).  It’s sort of white to buff as a powder.  Most of us can heat up white powders; almost none of us can spot the psychopath.  Not many of us can do chemistry in a safe manner.  I could write this little exercise up a bit more carefully to make its point – which is that most of us can’t do argument safely either and the results are as disastrous as heating up lead azide or even looking at it aggressively.  I forget, but the stuff is so preposterously explosive in raw form, that the energy to set it off equates to dropping it through six inches, or as Hogday might appreciate, breathing loudly in the distant vicinity of a currently non-hostile Arab mob or Millwall soccer fans.

Public argument is as distant from real, scientific argument as most of us are from being able to make and handle lead azide.  More than this, we keep non-equipped dullards out of lead azide handling, but not out of public argument. That this is blazingly obvious is blazingly obvious – the questions are about how we so easily forget this so regularly.

We send cops (and others), ill-equipped, under-trained (yet burdened by loads of useless training) and more into quasi-lead azide situations and blame them when things explode.

I still like to think, at the end of a 22 hour shift, covered in the blood of my best friend (he survived) and having just fitted my inspector’s head up the exhaust pipe of a Volvo, I would have treated Mr. Tomlinson better than Harwood and the cops who looked on.  And that even in one of my current diabetic states, I would not have been as jobsworth as the DPP  in his pathetic ‘decision-making’.  I ain’t Superman or Plato, just a working stiff.  What has ans is getting in the way or ordinary people doing their best?  That they didn’t for Mr. Tomlinson is obvious.  The energy required to do this amounts to a drip in the bucket of cover-up blather.

Crap Cops Learning Lessons

The link is to a Wail story found via Dickiebo.  The story is typical of ‘those Gadget won’t print’.  Cowardly cops not doing their job, and not being brought to book through police complaints.  The Ian Tomlinson saga grinds on, long after his death.  The crap cop in that ain’t in jail either.  These are not isolated incidents – they are incidents made isolated by the non-working complaints system.  Lessons are not learned from them as they go on and on, with vile cop-toadies puking out the insulting jargon like ‘learning lessons’ making matters worse.  Anyone genuinely trying to complain is subject to vilification as a ‘nutter’, ‘cop hater’ and the rest.  It’s time, yet again to bring down the whole shebang of complaints against the police.  This, as Graham Smith has pointed out, is part of a pathetic vicious cycle that ends up with a new version of the same old crap.  The latest same old crap is the IPCC.

Complaints systems are problematic.  To work, they need to be established along with firm understanding that the organisation concerned will be transparent to criticism.  This is almost impossible in Britain.  We shit on our whistleblowers almost as routinely as vile Middle Eastern regimes.  Trying to do anything here is subject to our own ‘wasta’ system.  Wasta is the name for the corruption in countries like Iran, Baharain, Saudi and so on.  We have our own.  An extensive sociology is available.  People are blogging, writing books, we have Dispatches, Panorama and some genuinely critical journalism, but it is all to no avail in our dismal country.  As a boy reading about the Gulags, I was distressed about the forced labour forced to eat ‘boiled grass rations’.  Now, I can see old people dying of malnutrition in our NHS and meals unfit for my dog slopped up.  There is always some vastly overpaid turd around saying everything is hunky-dory.   The critical material around may as well be Samizdat, the undercover ‘voice’ of ‘subversive material’ found in the former soviets.  I no longer feel it is too strong to say our ‘performance management’ is in the shit league along with ‘wasta’ and ‘Samizdat’.  Indeed, the bread in the shit sandwich is now the filling.  The lunatics are in charge of the asylum and have been for so long we can hardly make this out.

Although I have massive sympathy with notions that ‘selfishness’ is at the root of our problems (Banksidebabble writ large if you like), I also know that ‘virtue ethics’ is not the answer.  This form of thinking did not help Plato, his memory-invention Socrates or even the admirable John Locke get past slavery.  Indeed, one thing evident in much ‘clever thinking’ can be just how smug it turns out to be.  Plato imagines ‘Guardians’ rather like himself, Spinoza makes out a politics aimed at defending people rather like himself and some donkey-professor of  happiness tales his £70K for years, only to pronounce that being more happy leads to happiness.

My partner is just introducing our new puppy to the cats.  There are arguments we should not keep the animals given global warming and human squalor elsewhere.  I expect a treatise from the cats soon!  We have our foibles.  We need simple answers to our human problems, yet the first stage of this, if we are not content with shooting all those of promoted rank across our society, will be unraveling the complex myths and idiocy of current society.  I will start buying the Grauniad again – though any reading will be secondary top its use in pup-potty training.