Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Coming up for air

Sometimes I browse the internet and I’m overwhelmed by the volume of material which is too good to miss but I don’t have the time because there is far too much of it. Yes much of it is dross, but the dross is easily avoided. The good material is radical too and that’s the point. Having it so easily available is like coming up for air after a lifetime spent underwater swimming through the murk and rubbish.

Much of it comes down to language, pointed, witty, accurate, iconoclastic language. Yet the problem with language is that we can’t have our own private version. Wittgenstein pointed this out although it is obvious enough. So we can’t possess language, can’t think in our own personal language, can’t use anything but the tools we have in common, the tools which evolved to channel our thinking to make it easy, automatic and thus efficient.

As we know, this why all totalitarian societies control language. Control language and you control thought. It might be expected that North Korean would be a ferment of covert dissatisfaction but it probably isn’t anywhere near as radical as one would suppose. Control permissible language and to a significant degree you control that covert language we call thought.

Yet things are obviously changing. To my mind, since the arrival of the internet the public domain has become far more varied, interesting, probing and amateur. Not amateur as in inferior to professional, but amateur as in unpaid, unscripted and uncontrolled by big business or big government.

Amateurs with relevant experience, abilities, nous and the ability to express themselves as if they too have come up for air and are enjoying every minute of it. Loose cannon in best, most productive, most interesting, most fascinating sense of the term.

We still see lots of professional radicalism, especially on the BBC, but the establishment radical seems to be on the wane. Amateur internet radicals are smarter, wittier and much more in tune with the causes of our many problems. They have stories to tell, know how to tell them and the establishment wilts in the face of their blunt and pithy honesty.

Look at the way Prince Charles flounders around trying to speak his mind on issues he does not understand. Too old, too hidebound, no exposure to the best of the internet – that’s my impression of him. So he sinks and sinks again, becoming a figure of fun, contempt, an icon of the old ways, a lost soul.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Vomit pot for sale

Hemswell Antiques has a nice Victorian pearlware vomit pot for sale just in time for Christmas. A snip at £60. Of course there are no modern features such as an instruction booklet, official containment certification or a long list of safety advice but I'm sure most people can operate it safely enough.

It would make a fine present for the festive season and may even establish your reputation as someone who comes up with something different.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Not enough tedium say campaigners

From Tedium Central

Emergency doctors and safety campaigners are calling for a national home-visiting scheme to help prevent injuries to toddlers.

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) say it would make a "huge difference".

Modern life is rather like aimless wandering through a strange mixture of fog and treacle, but wandering safely thanks to people such as the good folk at RoSPA. The obvious question is whether or not human beings are evolving a tedium gene. The extraordinary value of such a gene is obvious enough. 

A bureaucratic world needs people who are genetically adapted to a uniformly tedious life, a dreamlike state where nothing is ever achieved, where all goal-directed activity is frustrated by a plethora of intervening forces, but thanks to the tedium gene it doesn't matter. Fog and treacle are good, even doubleplusgood.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

I have no absolute evidence for anything.

‘One of the problems in this country, and the reason the children’s sector hasn’t really improved since Victorian times, is because those who deliver services don’t challenge the civil servants. The power and the money is in the hands of civil servants. They’re very clever people but they’re not wise, and they’re not life-experienced.’ She pauses. ‘Look, I have no absolute evidence for anything...
Camila Batmanghelidjh

A wildly extravagant claim about Victorian times. Maybe she also thought she could do without evidence such as... oh I don't know... receipts?

Friday, 20 November 2015

Brutally simple

Some aspects of life are brutally simple, so simple that they have to be obscured in mountains of waffle. Vast sums of money are spent simply to keep us confused. It’s why the BBC exists, why the Guardian became a propaganda rag.

‘Do you ever see the Manchester Guardian?’ he questioned, carrying the war into my camp.
‘No,’ I said.
‘Pity!’ he ejaculated.
‘I’ve often heard that it’s a very good paper,’ I said politely.
‘It isn’t a very good paper,’ he laid me low. ‘It’s the best paper in the world. Try it for a month — it gets to Euston at half-past eight — and then tell me what you think.’
Arnold Bennett - The Grim Tale of the Five Towns (1907)

Maybe the Guardian was never that good, but take just one well known example of a brutally simple idea which hardly ever takes hold of any modern debate however relevant it might be:

Matt Ridley thinks human civilisations are based on transactions, the freedom to trade something for something else and the consequent freedom to specialise. It works from the Neolithic to the present day and at all levels from kids’ playground trading to international deal-making.

The idea isn’t new of course and is so obvious it barely needs justifying, not because we see the effects of it, but because we see how much effort goes into abusing it, how many people, businesses and institutions take vastly more than they give. And for dessert we have the endlessly convoluted justifications.

Both sides of the political spectrum are at it via different methods.

The right wants to screw the voter in favour of big business.
The left wants to screw the voter in favour of big government.
The EU wants to screw the voter in favour of even bigger government.

It really isn’t difficult. Institutions aim to screw everyone on the outside in favour of everyone inside. Landowners want to screw everyone. This is where professional loyalty comes from because deep down in our visceral being where lurk the bottomless pits of self-interest, we know all about the screw or be screwed dichotomy. It’s in our genes and given a furtively presented choice we take furtive advantage of it.

Our core moral stricture, do as you would be done by, is an equally visceral recognition that this brutally simple balance is all that stands between order and chaos. This is the problem with overweening bureaucracies and de facto oligopolies. Both create problems which are not only political and commercial, but moral too. Give and take is a moral obligation simply because it is the logic behind stable and productive human interaction. Exchange should be equitable, including political exchanges such as votes.

So those who stand to gain by distorting such a simple message are the same ones who also make sure vast sums of our money are spent to persuade us that we gain more than we lose. Except we don’t gain more than we lose and it’s obvious because the lopsided workings of give and take are obvious.

The problem is, simple ideas are easily abused in favour of more complex narratives spun by all takers since a brand new flint axe was swapped for a few beads. So we can’t easily teach it to children, can’t explain how universally powerful it is. They might learn something brutally simple. Even worse, they might use it in later life.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Dangling parcel

The other day we returned home to find one of those Parcelforce notes they leave when unable to deliver a parcel. As there was an instruction to leave the thing in the porch we were not pleased.

However, on reading the note it turned out that the delivery guy had contrived an elastic band cradle and suspended our parcel on the other side of the locked gate at the side of the house.

Perhaps it's a common enough ruse for light parcels but we haven't seen it before and were well impressed with the simple ingenuity of it.

The photo is a dramatised reconstruction using the original parcel and elastic band cradle. After taking it down I couldn't work out how he'd done it so I bodged it using the bolt as you can see.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

A horrible hunger

The god of the aristocrats is not tradition, but fashion, which is the opposite of tradition. If you wanted to find an old-world Norwegian head-dress, would you look for it in the Scandinavian Smart Set?

No; the aristocrats never have customs; at the best they have habits, like the animals. Only the mob has customs. The real power of the English aristocrats has lain in exactly the opposite of tradition. The simple key to the power of our upper classes is this: that they have always kept carefully on the side of what is called Progress.

They have always been up to date, and this comes quite easy to an aristocracy. For the aristocracy are the supreme instances of that frame of mind of which we spoke just now. Novelty is to them a luxury verging on a necessity. They, above all, are so bored with the past and with the present, that they gape, with a horrible hunger, for the future.
G K Chesterton – What’s Wrong With the World (1910)

A curiously interesting quote. Chesterton may be stating the obvious but it isn’t something we usually account for. The rich and powerful have it all, so naturally enough they tend to be bored with the present and look to the future for their schemes, plans and entertainment.

In which case progress is substantially driven by the rich and powerful trying to keep boredom at bay. I’m not sure if I agree with the idea, but professional football, the art market and grand infrastructure projects may suggest Chesterton was at least partly right.

Is the EU a symptom of boredom among the rich and powerful?

It could be - we already know about the brats.