Wednesday, March 30, 2011

'Big Society' Thinking

Hard on the heels of the dubious arrests of the Fortnum and Mason's 138 (not something I thought I'd ever say), the blogosphere and left-leaning media are also alive with concern about government interference in another arena of public life, in this case the research agenda of the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Following the suggestion in last Sunday's Observer that AHRC funding was made conditional on establishing the 'Big Society' as a research priority, the Council has published what it describes as a 'refutation' on its website, claiming that the government didn't put the financial thumbscrews on them with respect to their agenda (there has been much hay-making on philosophy lists about the abuse of English verbs here...'refutation' being the act of demonstrating that something isn't true, as opposed to 'repudiation,' which is just saying that it isn't true.) The AHRC's 'refudiation' (as Sarah Palin would have it) has been - according to their Chief Executive - sent to the Observer and, in response, a letter from academics has also been dispatched to the editor, pointing out that there is probably even greater cause for concern (from both an intellectual and democratic perspective) if the AHRC has compromised the future of free academic inquiry entirely of its own volition.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

It's the Beeb yes, but not as we knew it...

Last night, while we repaired our march-tired limbs with tea and Thai-green curry, the anchor over at BBC News 24 thoughtfully worried on our behalf. How 'disappointed' us law-abiding types would be, she lamented, that our efforts had been 'overshadowed' by the 'criminal' acts of a bunch of 'maurauding' anarchists 'intent on causing havoc'. Although deeply moved by her concern, I was, as I suspect will be many, far more troubled by further evidence that the Beeb has clearly decided its long-term future is best secured by aping The Daily Mail.

Intent on ensuring (while performing such distress at the fact) that the march would be overshadowed, the footage of the total break down of law and order in Trafalgar Square consisted of a 30 second sequence played on a loop...cue fireworks, some small fires, and then one (conveniently) black man waving his hands ineffectually at a line a line of riot police. Over this, the stone-faced anchor intoned her litany of talking points: What, she demanded, is anyone doing in Trafalgar Square on a Saturday night after the biggest protest in this country for eight years, unless they are undesirable criminal types set on unleashingly limitless chaos? The protest has finished, surely they understand that all right-thinking people have gone to bed? Luckily, Bob Broadbent, the Met's Commander for Public Order, was on hand to supply an answer. They are, he usefully clarified, not protesters, but simply "mindless yobs" who "don't care who they hurt or what they damage" and who must be contained in order to prevent people leaving the theatre being terrified by burning placards and wheelie-bins lying on their side in the street. It is such a shame, the Mayor of London wailed across the bottom of the screen in inch-high type, that people will insist on abusing their right to protest so recklessly.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Government huh? What is it good for...?

This is one of the oldest in the book, right up there with classic favourites like 'what am I doing here?' 'what is it all made of?' and 'why is there something rather than nothing?' (though personally I've always found that one silly, and not in a good way). When Socrates sat down with Glaucon and his mates some four hundred years before the Common Era was birthed in a stable, the question on the table was one which still speaks to our current situation, particularly on the day before many of us converge on London to place our bodies between the government and the things that we value.

The question - then as now - was whether we will simply accept that the state's performance of justice - or 'fairness' as the ConDem doublespeakers are fond of saying - is no more than window dressing on the straightforward exercise of self-interest by the ruling class, or as the sophist Thrasymachus challenges Socrates in the first book of Republic, justice should be properly seen (read, by a pragmatic 'realist') as nothing more than 'the advantage of the stronger.' (Republic, 338c) In some sense, much of the history of philosophy - as much of our political history - is the attempt to grapple with, and to resist, the conclusion that politics is simply the domination of the many by the few for the purpose of self-gratification and aggrandisement, and it would be foolish to expect it to be otherwise. Plato, for all his many faults (and they are, oh so many), deserves his place in history simply for having undertaken the first systematic consideration of what a just state would look like. The city he comes up with is such a joyless and totalitarian wasteland that no-one in their right minds would want to live there - and here of course, we encounter the specter of the disaster of the Leninist-Stalinist-Maoist experiment which, among other things, the neoliberals have been dining out on for the last forty years (and its becoming increasingly clear who is picking up the tab for that one). The fact that we have bought the lie that any attempt to organize society for the good, rather than on the basis of self-interest, leads inexorably to a dystopia of food lines, dusty cigarettes and brutalist architecture, is one of the great victories of neoliberalism, and is possibly the single greatest reason why the capitalist elite (and let's be clear about who the elite is here Mister Tea-Party, because believe me, it ain't the folks using fancy words who are trying to screw you) have been able to get huge swathes of the electorate on both sides of the Atlantic to consistently vote against their own interests.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Dear Reader,

You don't exist yet, and as it happens, neither do least not as the author of this yet-to-be-written blog. As is the way of these things, I will have to write myself into existence (and before you anti-constructivists start screaming blue bloody murder...I don't mean 'make-myself-up-out-of-thin-air-using-a-bunch-of-words' but something more along the lines of 'engage-in-the-process-of-making-myself-into-something-that-I-won't-ever-become-unless-I get-off-the-damn-sofa-and-start-typing.' (The fact that I don't actually have a sofa is (in this case) quite beside the point, we all have sofas-on-the-inside, and they manifest themselves in a bunch of ways...what they share is being the place that we go to hide from the business of becoming what we want to be))

So. Why I am here? In addition to my mindfulness about my aforementioned materialization, I am here to get stuck into practicing something which (in all silly and not-so-sillyness) we call 'betweenitude' around these parts. What this might mean, and why we might give a monkeys, will hopefully become clearer as things go along, but for starters lets begin with...