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Christianity as modernity

In Uncategorized on March 24, 2016 at 4:45 pm

What would the builder from Nazareth think about Christianity? Would he be a Christian? Nazareth was not even a one horse town by the way. So whatever you think of the present state of Christianity its rise from Hicksville to global is intriguing. Somebody said the other day Jesus was a Sophist, with the gift of the gab. Take a wild off-piste set of ideas and pump them with assertive seriousness, the sort that front bench politicians adopt, and you have a movement. If your ideas are moderate and plausible, they will be piled up in the leftovers bin. Put a fantastical notion into the arena, with an irresistible spokesperson at the head, and the world appears to take note.

But the clear blue water between the vulnerability of an individual leader with radical conviction, and an institution, the Church, is getting wider. As Christianity reels from its institutional incarnation where is it truly at today? It started as a set of ideas about people around the margins, those who were without power, the vulnerable, and persecuted. Those with no voice at all, dirty, the people you recoiled from by their stench, to a mission tied closely to respectability. A rather tidy faith, buttoned, pinched, austere, conservative socially, and oft politically. What happened?

The answer is it went from intimacy, fluidity, to solidness. From engagement to muscularity. 19th century writers wrote of chapels and assembly halls taking on the air of frightening hardness. In short a faith became fundamental. And fundamentalism worships its own self-righteousness, its immovability, not the source of its meaning. A vision was traduced to legal practice. The builder from Nazareth was thrown out of the church and taken to a cliff to be thrown off after his first sermon. Not the promising start mothers wish for.

Where is the source then of these solid objects that have become acceptable to modern people, to an extent that they are part of our institutional backdrop? To find the source of power do not look at the structures and policies. Power resides in the aesthetic images we carry before us and act as the guiding filter for action. The image Christianity painted ultimately drifted from engagement at the liminal level, in and amongst, to being at the top of the power hierarchy. The top of the hierarchy today is economics. But it was once both government and the church together: Christendom. As the church lost its influence, it is government, shaded slightly by economics, that sit at the top of the tree. The church frequently sits benignly alongside. It likes to offend morally but not politically. It is the moral voice of the existing structures, not the voice challenging the structures. To do otherwise is to lose institutional status.

The long journey from mystical truth contained in ancient texts, to virtue largely linked to the acquisition of knowledge probably found its ultimate expression in capitalism. The self-responsible Christian, working hard, proved God’s blessing. From this position of ownership and acquisition they can bestow blessings on the less fortunate. Respectability was an added bonus. But, hold on. This is the message of Modernity, not liminality and intimacy. By a long transmogrification ‘to be modern’ appears identical to Christianity, as if the two fused.

The evidence would be that the church is now an organisation (modern), rational (modern), authoritative through knowledge (modern), hierarchical (modern), institutional (modern), institutionalising (unwittingly modern), bureaucratic (modern), legal (modern), individualising (modern), technological (modern), and so on. The church has shaped-shifted into the archetypal modern structure. To be a modern then is to be a Christian, and to be a Christian is to be modern. The two are synonymous. Modernity has absorbed the tenets of the heart and formally legalised them into the daily fabric of Western modernity, or really the Hellenic Mind. To be modern is to be Greek. The Christian God is the Greek Whole, the perfect One, of which we are subsumed as a sub-set. The ordered society, with knowledge of God through thought, and through a social contract that structures our world and practice.  The Ideal Society, law-bound, compliant and civilised.

But Christians privately struggle with the solidity of this expression, and find dissatisfaction at the deeper level with their church experience they tell me. And they say there are few places to turn. Their discontents are the inner sense they are not building intimacy and new life, but are reinforcing another modern power structure, that serves existing power not the release from it. The seeming single purpose of the builder from Nazareth, to destroy religious power, is frustrated by the complexity of Westernisation. If religionised Christianity has found a new host, modernity, it can survive there for some time. The deeper concerns do not go away. That rationalism of life is the antithesis of freedom. And Christianity now cannot save people from rationalised and functionalised lives. Not if the church is a function of modernity.

Rationalism was meant to be the pathway to an advanced consciousness. Knowledge Of being the high point of modernity. To Know is to be virtuous. But Knowledge is now not what it seems. Knowledge is unknowable. It is not what we thought it to be. To Know is to have an object that blocks the view beyond. What passes for modern knowledge is a rationalisation of experience into a form that we can handle and hold, governed by the dominant modern anxiety: to have the world explained to us. Protestantism fell into this trap. It wanted the mystery of faith as a possession. Something it could wield, beat and chastise with. But the Protestant Reformation misunderstood its own roots. It thought the enemy was power in Rome, and to defeat an institution, you had to become one yourself. A modern one. Modernity was the temptation to the breakaway church. The coat fitted and power became the goal. Structured hierarchical power appears the antithesis of the builder from Nazareth’s arguments.

The Church made a fatal error of interpretation. It pointed to the individual, already vulnerable, already clinging on with their eyelids, as Betjeman suggested, and laid additional burdens on them, in place of taking them off. As Bunyan warned Christian, don’t get stuck in a town call Morality. The place where good Moderns find their power source. But if iniquity sits in the death inducing structures, throttling vitality and freedom, how do you wheedle it out. Do you leave the structures in 2016 and wander alone. What have institutionalised modernised Christianity got to offer other than carrying the values of Modernity?

Institutions have critical roles to play. They are the first agents of government. Thereby today the Church occupies a Space as a first agent, but an agent of modernity I argue. Albeit reduced in influence, it nevertheless speaks. Less strident and superior certainly. Slightly more aware of its loss of credibility at times. Sometimes trying hard to promote its self unselfconsciously, using modern advertising to ‘reach the masses’. But fundamentally unaware it is a Modern Institution that embodies only some aspects of the original New Testament texts. And many leaders in the church are comfortable with that. It is a living. It is not without fun and challenge. But do not enter modern Christianity without realising it is modernity, could be the suggestion. Paradoxically to be modern is to be virtuous, and a participant in secular power.

This might be a difficult charge. But when the Church finds post-modernity wicked and sinful in its notions, it is of course not speaking in defence of the Nazarene, but for modernity, scientific interpretation, a machine-like universe. One that makes sense immediately to the modern mind. The fiercest defences from the Church are for the texture of modern life, not its alternatives. Power sits unmoved at the top of poles, remote. As one good friend said recently, leaders of the church sit atop poles, rarely venturing down. But this is what modern leadership does. It constructs pathways and contracts that leave power out of reach.  Few modern leaders find meaning in new understanding, in imagination, but do find great sense in maintaining the institutional values unquestioned.

Modernity, as Dostoyevsky would agree, is not hospitable to critique. That is because it is a Project. A project some sociologists would say is incomplete. Others will argue Modern Civilisation is far from being civilised. It is brutal. We have arrived in it and the thrusting Church, the one that feels hard done by and somewhat rejected by secularising landscapes, will not easily admit its role in modernity. When people then reject Modern Civilisation and Christianity they are rejecting primarily two synonymous forms of rationalisation of life. The reduction of meaning to objectified pathways that brook no dissent, and forms of salvation via modern Christianity that embrace capitalism unquestioned (it’s the unquestioning bit that is more the problem than capitalism per se).

Note though that the West finds it difficult to critique capitalism, because the Greek mind assumes the alternative to reforming its ideas is serfdom through socialism. Christianity has accepted this binary. The 2008 global crisis perversely strengthened capitalism’s hold on the imagination. The answer to economic collapse is the distribution of more risk, not its mitigation. This is the effect of modernity. Modernity, as one writer says, is a camera obscura. The light comes in through the hole in the roof and turns the image over. Arguments from binary modern minds invert reality. If there is a disaster it cannot be modernity, as this Project has not yet completed. We must press on. With Christianity by its side. As Lesslie Newbigin argued Christianity stood silent when German churches tacitly endorsed the rise of Hitler, and it has said virtually nothing about the exposure to risk for people in the UK. It looks and sounds helpless and hopeless at times. Because it has found its most ready expression in modern capitalist bureaucracies. Tidy unities and patterns that get people through the day but sleepwalks society into a reduction of life itself.

When communities cannot find their voice, or be allowed into the public space, or that space is dominated by commercial voices to their exclusion, you look around for leaders to challenge these structural sins. But when those leaders are officers of modernity primarily, referring to themselves as Christian, the institutional value of their domain comes into question. Being allowed a domain amongst other domains is only sustainable if you hold a unique and confident argument. But when your voice sounds identical to the voices of the other domains, speaking for the same sets of values, the individual suffers increasingly. Community is reduced further as its members are invited to take part in the rituals of modernity not shape it or question it.

To get noticed in such a convergence of argumentation maybe takes the Sophist’s voice. Wild in its ideas, preposterously powerless. Freakishly alternative to the status quo. Were these the intentions of Oscar Wilde’s dandiness, the Bloomsbury Set’s foppish disregard, Modernism’s contemptuousness for authorised reality. But these seeming radical figures floundered on their participation within existing power structures. They found a level in the existing hierarchy, became adopted by the literarti and glitterati. Middle-class ease became one of the worst forms of power to emerge from industrial capitalism. It less pulled people up than co-opted them into modernity. Middle-land feeds off reinforcing power, seeking to gain access to the upper-echelons through conformism. As one writer said Protestantism is now the most conformist religion.  Enter its modes and they are more ritualised than Roman Catholicism. Is the Catholic mind far more open than the Protestant now, which rarely had intellectual weight but cast the New Testament into a form of legal text. Biblicism, a modern reading of narratives, has dominated this tradition. They cannot read nor understand the New Testament as modern people regard literal reading as moral. Mysteries to the modern mind invite no serious intelligent thought. Its meanings rationalised into legal frames.

When though modernity comes into question, then considerable change should ensue: Modernity is the religion, the new Puritanism, the one that “sanctified, without eradicating, their convenient vices, and gave them an expugnable assurance that, behind virtues and vices alike, stood the majestic and inexorable laws of an omnipotent Providence, without whose foreknowledge not a hammer could beat upon the forge, not a figure could be added to the ledger” to borrow from Tawney. Here is the collapse of Christianity into Modernity. Knowledge was the sanctification of all error. Modernity is the new Puritanism. This reveals why the texture of church life became identical to going to work. Men prowl the aisles of church on a hair trigger to offer discipline, but not engagement, as: “the wicked may be corrected with ecclesiastical censures, according to the quality of the fault”. The punitive and correctives modes of Christianity and modernity look again identical. Both isolate the individual at times from the context of community, and administer their reasoning ignoring social travails.

What post-modernity offers is understanding the individual as plausibly a construction of their context and acting somewhat in flow with it. Although this at times goes too far, its value to reframing who the individual is is immense. The language and practice of the self is radically changed when the person is outside of community. Modernity and Christianity have for economic reasons preferred the isolated individual as their target. A society that is engaged in dialogue together becomes the ‘monster of many heads and more eyes’ (Hardy) and is the terrifying prospect for modern and Christian individualism. A community that heals itself via communion across the table rips up power but then is faced with its own management of power and trust. Frequently benign bureaucracy, administered from afar, is preferable to the masses than active engagement. The English tend to enjoy quasi-feudal democracy over and above grassroots engagement.

So would the builder take part in modernity, is the real question. And be modern. Modernity offers a form of consciousness, one sensitised to light and sensuality. It is a legalising of life, a social contract with rational knowledge, that offers utility towards the now, not imagination beyond what can be seen clearly. What level of sophistry is needed today to shake inexorable modern pathways? Death is everywhere, martyrs fall left and right, and much non-conformism on the surface is in reality a taking part in modernity. Contemporary radicals ultimately appear to desire modern power. To refuse it is a form of sophistry.

But I digress: change management lessons from Tristram Shandy

In Uncategorized on May 30, 2015 at 9:25 pm

It’s 11p.m. After a long-shift at the office a woman presses the up-button to summon the multi-storey car park elevator. Her car is on Floor 12. The lift-doors crank open. Four males, beer cans in hand refuse to move. Does she step in? Now, students of organisational behaviour are meant to know this stuff. Folks in Management Faculties spend a fair chunk of their scholarly lives concerned with ‘next moves’. One might be ticked as ‘incompetent’ for not offering a plausible, reasoned case-study answer. But, what if Rev. Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy and his opinionated self studied business management? Clearly his answer would be: ‘A man’s body and his mind, with the utmost reverence to both I speak it, are exactly like a jerkin, and a jerkin’s lining; -rumple the one, -you rumple the other”. Quite. This is Shandean at its meta, disruptive, discordant, but not mystical finest.

The Shandean mind and its fans would fly to the outer reaches of digression and swim there for as long as sanity can bear it. To allude and collude with digression is evil for some and life for others. (Why is there little in between friends?) Tristram ‘thanks’ his father for his Exocet spirit: “Mr. Shandy, my father, Sir, would see nothing in the light in which others placed it; -he placed things in his own light; -he would weigh nothing in common scales; -no, he was too refined a researcher to lie open to so gross an imposition. –To come at the exact weight of things in the scientific steel-yard, the fulcrum, he would say, should be almost invisible, to avoid all friction from popular tenets.” There’s a siren appeal in the West for plain-speaking. You don’t get on without the ability to label reality. But a social fabric shot-through with plain-speakers has lost its way, for Tristram at least. The challenge for business is that plain-speaking is lethal for long-change-cycles, whose reality is teased from the upper-reaches through meta-discourses.

Businesses may have life-cycles, or certainly we like to think so. They may not at all, but it’s a nice notion. History is told as cycles. The 1929 Wall Street Crash laid the seeds of 1939, Richard Hoggart says. The 2008 crash is laying seeds of prolonged austerity but the current social frenzy and its direction of travel doesn’t offer a hard empirical object for the organisational behaviourists to capture. The patterns of social history then maybe of interest to leadership scholars. W H Auden moved to the USA in 1938 noting: “More even then in Europe, here, The choice of patterns is made clear”. The channels of change which funnel movement are invisible to hard empiricists.

Hoggart notes Auden’s “England to me is my own tongue”. To speak about the shifting patterns of immediate experience is seemingly difficult for all but the poet, who is capable of searing accuracy. Meta-discourses aren’t inaccurate, and are often more truthful. The more religiously laced our speech, says Matthew’s gospel, the further we are from truth. Religious-speak is pointed, and doesn’t resist the ‘friction of popular tenets’.  Numerous early 20th century modernist poets escaped the language-set of England to be free from a ‘cultural life’ that is “demandingly homely”. The quilted patchwork blanket of the BBC, NATO, UN, EU, and the scale of institutional life makes 21st century life more corseted and cossetted than Auden’s day. Speaking today involves obeying strong currents, whose movement is more inexorable than Auden’s Englandness. The threat to the soul maybe less louche continentals and cosmopolitans than the unseen suffocation of narrowing channels.

Exit the Gielgud Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue, in London, and on the wall opposite it says ‘Theatre Land’, above the words ‘Shaftesbury Avenue’. The experience of discovering lost tribes in the urban jungle is denied to visitors now. London’s appeal was its shambolic nature. Of course London is Disneyfied for gauche tourists who prefer simulation above that grubby slick of grease that a day ‘in town’ provided. Neo-liberalism shakes and vacs and puts the freshness back. But of course it doesn’t. It is a pastiche of experience.

But labelling doesn’t work for life and long-patterns of change I argue. This is the centripetal monological violence of Bakhtin’s concern. London is Steven Flusty’s “prickly space” that can’t be occupied, Bauman says. You’re there to go from Theatre Land to Restaurant Land to Home Land. The spaces between are “inderdictory spaces” which guide you at the elbow off the train into the channels. In the mass of signage which greets each step the gaze is pulled inwards. Change then is concerned with the centrifugal. The “elite” who designed these gulleys have pulled our gaze down to the ground. We’re pulled down to the fractions of its existence, but this doesn’t mean ready-intimacy and the ability to talk of the experience.

Laurence Sterne’s Shandean exploits spotted life’s rationalisation into concrete encounters, which couldn’t then be expressed without gurning. This is the inversion that bright modernity creates. Experience that is bagged and labelled leaves the individual still knowing the label offered isn’t the experience. It is something else. That is, you’re not in Theatre Land, or Making Love, or Having a Great Time with the Kids. That was the intent, and self-delusion, but it is something else, and of course our education system in its wisdom has shut down the ability to digress in Shandean fashion towards revealing the absurd truths of experience. However, the experience that is not labeled is joyously human Shandy reveals. Work and life are reframed through a keen gap between the act and its representation.

“I’m in London having a great time”, says the text to friends, but our disquieted self would prefer to reveal “I should try to forgive my sister’s boyfriend” or other more pressing concerns that persist. Bauman would point out that the structuration of territory has become the structuration of life experience to the point of denying the language of intimacy which is where our consciousness sits. This is then the prickly space of consciousness which is denied to late-moderns who might want to point at change patterns: “consumers are migrating from Nokia boss”; “the housing bubble is going to burst”; “we’re massively over-geared”. To speak of the devil requires a digressive pathway from the outer reaches. The sensitive critic moderates better than Tristram though.

Language is in Shandy’s father’s steel-yard being hammered still. The climate of psychology has pervaded into the bedroom and boardroom eliminating little but plain-speaking, which is the fulcrum of speechness for moderns. Bakhtin’s 15th century Feast of Fools is where excrement and urine are thrown around gaily in the streets to shatter the cultural tightness of ordered existences, at least once a year. This though is about space at the top of the stiffening wine-skin, Bakhtin would say. Scaring away middle-class decorum and permitting the self to be offended maybe the most generous disposition. Management teams go stale, camped deep inside their own language-sets, and camped deep within old business models that are precious to self-fulfilment, but are also protective of vulnerable teams. You wouldn’t make Tristram a manager. The gap between ‘an act’ and ‘its labelling’ is now 0.001 seconds so Tristram wouldn’t survive. To lengthen that gap by digression is costly when under existential threat, but critical when in mid-cycle and the going is good to firm and the first signs of decay of the current business model are showing.

Tristram Shandy was published amidst many titles that offered carefully structured storylines, with conclusions. Into the predictable pathways came Sterne’s work. As did Rabelais’s wild language, and Cervantes’s Don Quixote. Eliot shifted the ground and Auden is making sense of the current milieu I’d argue: “Language of moderation cannot hide”, he says. Plain-speaking is a form of disguising ambiguity, which is the most concrete reality of all. It’s necessary when the enemy is “to your front!” But most of life isn’t lived at war. The alternative to plain-speaking isn’t obscurantism either. This is the inference of plain-speakers. I’m a plain-speaker so I’m trustworthy. What is really meant is I’m a plain-speaker because the pain of exploring the hard-yards of change-cycles, context and causal factors is too great.

Opening the space to facilitate this dialogue is dangerous but worth it. Having alongside business agendas a parallel space that is concerned for development is quite simple, as this is where other language-sets are given permission. A feast of fools is permitted, safely, and multiple philosophies are eased into the saddle. Monological workplaces satisfy alignment but in truth they are only looking at change through a dominant philosophy that will work for a season. The ontological leap of faith is creating processes that bridge the old and the new. This is a language game, of seeding new seasons with their changing language early. Sterne and Auden seeded the ground for the coming season, accelerating access to present realities. Even if this season has its greyness the language can have its colourful digressions. Your business is as likely saddled to the pattern of language as it is the change-cycle.

Sterne’s digressions become fabulous but terrifyingly revealing and near-to-the-bone. Like Don Quixote’s roaring off in every direction, the madman gives into his impulses without moderation, and becomes appealingly human. Indiscreetness indicates a soul, someone said. But such being isn’t behavioural science. The patterns are long and winding, centrifugal. The long dialogical outpourings of Crime and Punishment’s protagonists start to coalesce into various analogous images of human turmoil. You are glad to have stayed with Dostoyevsky. He wants you ‘to hurt’ with him. But those images are up for grabs. Auden makes this journey via Kierkegaard and Reinhold Niebuhr (Hoggart), from psychology to “creatureliness”, accommodating the images that emerge from ‘accepting the present in its fullness’. Digression in general achieves this acceptance of the human in flux with ruffled patterns, easing the space managers struggle in. Arresting the wildness is less important, but putting it in tension becomes the leaderful moment. The lift goes up and down anyway Tristram might say, but the lady executive’s midwife was an interesting woman, she had nine children herself…

Playfulness in language, its leaderful and commercial potential

In Uncategorized on August 16, 2014 at 1:10 pm

Playfulness in language as a notion hovers alongside the conventional informational telling of Western social-history. Where our fact-based education teaches us to learn time events, and believe this was ‘us’, turning to consider ‘the way we express’ our world offers potential. The history of the modern literature canon is a story of playfulness, or its absence. Modern utilitarian education deflected us from knowing ourselves through our own utterances, whilst broadening our language-set simultaneously. A focus away from language and its use is a focus away from us as unique selves. Fortunately, there is an important ‘turn’ towards reflection across many levels of education. A turning of the gaze from ‘out there onto a world’ towards the story of the ‘self within the world’ is a significant shift. Enabling people to locate their own self within their own story may well be the apotheosis of education itself.

A fact-based, object-focused, education is critical to a materialist economy. It drives global competencies. This is the world we’ve built, and we struggle to detach ourselves from its logic. The inexorability of its progress is the seat of our anxieties. The possession of how we choose to tell our own story may well be the most valuable element within a life’s journey, and possibly the saving grace from an economy that at some point will need new assumptions. The unwitting, and witting, result of industrialised education was to dynamically link utterances to objects, evolving a lingua-franca which meant human interaction was dominated by articulating events in time: “where have you been?” eclipsed “what do you think – and who am I?”. To re-represent such a hyper-literal encounter with ourselves fell to the modernists who painted in many colours, some vivid. I see it as playfulness, a coming out of an attachment to certain forms of expressing, to discover that the self should express the self from a consciously chosen language-set.

I popped into Thomas Carlyle’s home in Ecclefechan last year, just up the road from here. It’s not easy to get hold of the man from his roots, in what must have been a very tight language world. The wild playfulness of his Sartor Resartus, 1833, is still powerful to read now. His freedom to imagine, and create a world of allusion, should draw our attention to him again, and his complexities in a solid modern landscape. His ability was to change the horizon around his self and its representation, a virtue modernity intended to offer but gets frequently lost. Where Austen pulls you into the surface displays of a structure, with its detailed mosaics, in the same way modern behaviourism does in business settings, Carlyle re-tells the world through shifting colours. Which of course makes him a figure of suspicion. Re-colouring the world outside of the conventional political economy is iconoclastic, but necessary, as it is intrinsic to being human.

The political landscape for language use is rooted in horizons bounded by discourses. A modern education has its discourses of ‘inculcating information’. The social territory of the Westernised world has its narratives of ‘identity through work, consumption and possession’. Plus many others of course. What religion intended to offer was a domain of discourses resistant to these dominant competitors. But it’s struggled as Westernised nation states have a habit of co-opting religion into their utilitarian architecture, re-representing its meanings, not least the work ethic. Reinhart Kosselleck notes: “Each concept establishes a particular horizon for potential experience and conceivable theory, and in this way sets a limit”. Westernised economies mixed their discourses of political-economy and religious-fervour over the last 400 years with intriguing consequences for its members. A dominant and often unvoiced result was on the limits of expression and the freedom to choose one’s own paint box of language. A paradox for modernity itself which at its core is about freedom of expression.

I like the example in particular of how individuals will talk of themselves through shared discourses. An industrialised education tends to lead people to talk of their selves through their national identity, or their visits to places, which are both an objectivised form of discourse, constructed from the social milieu. A popular example of an objectified narrative which runs through Britain is: ‘We need to get back to when we were a Christian nation’. This is largely irresistible in its pervasiveness. It’s co-opted by political parties, individuals, churches, as a thread on which much is hung. Re-representing this form of immovable discourse playfully was Carlyle’s gifting but by changing the horizon boundaries around such language. If a ‘Christian nation’ as a persistent discourse is locked into the consciousness, Carlyle re-framed its assumptions through allegories, pouring in vivid images that shifted the aesthetics of a past that didn’t actually exist. Remi Brague attempts a similar colourful discourse: “What is called Christian civilisation is none other than the ensemble of collateral effects which faith in Christ has produced on the civilisations it has encountered along the way”. This new representation steers our imagery in a different direction. The portmanteau of Christian-nation is reformed. The story of our selves linked to its import is revisited, if not unlocked. The monumental efforts to restore a past world that didn’t exist can be re-directed. Bakhtin would claim this as a form of leadership agency, where Brague paid attention, dialogically, to the cute fractions of his social landscape enabling him to colour the past in the now.

The danger is getting caught reading these ‘heresies’, just like the Bishop of Barchester, reading Rabelais. Carlyle restores Rabelais’s social role. It’s not a heresy to choose the language that fits a profoundly held belief. What is heresy is to borrow discourses unquestioningly. Education has at times been about learning not to question. Tragic as that is. Govean-type sensibilities seemed caught between a pastiche of a ‘Christian-nationhood’ and a genuine desire to love literature, and its playfulness, but the media’s portrayal of his discourse denied him any humanity. Even Luther, Calvin and Jack Lewis thought it preposterous anyone should read a text divorced from their spirit’s involvement, but the social landscape has been riddled with Govean-language and empirical-self figures, where being invited to ‘tell your own story’ is anathema, and a bucolic image is preferred. This is a very modern inversion. Goveanesque propelled the value of literature, its freedom to colour the canvas, its sacred importance, whilst profaning its message through what Bakhtin termed the “didactic gloom of bigotry and moralising”. Which is the current modus of American Fundamentalism, both religious and secular variants. The two are synonymous.

The rich writing of Kerry McSweeney and Peter Sabor remind that Nietzsche said: “The craving for a strong faith is no proof of a strong faith, but quite the contrary”, pointing out Carlyle was too much the gentleman not to be a ‘good Christian’, which had a different meaning then than now. Goveanesque craving after ‘strong faith’ and ‘good education’ is no proof of a love of anything, but “quite the contrary”, maybe. I argue it is a lack of playfulness in our discourse which is a signal of our fears, our conformism to a very present impenetrable set of discourses, and the presence of others’ ambitions, and their desire to exercise power over of ‘our story’. Giles Fraser manages in his weekly column to invert this truism, but of course has to do this outside of central structures. Vicky Beeching is the latest figure to tell of the inability to construct a story faithfully due to the language restrictions. The fear of other’s individual utterances relates to our very local fears of seeing ourselves in our own constructions. Facebook hasn’t emerged in the West as a tool of critical engagement because its language appears to be held in a tight boundary. Twitter offers sufficient anonymity to express, possibly.

De Tocqueville notes the patriarchy of modernity: “I seek to trace the novel features under which despotism may appear in the world…That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent, if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks on the contrary to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing”. Modernity has slipped into this modus. This is why American conservatism speaks to the world as it does. It tends towards a Goveanesque Cartesian modern Millieism. A utilitarianised modern state where language use is literal and unplayful, as we were oft in the Victorian era. Language seen as a utility is a great danger for most domains. The evangelical church’s horror at Vicky Beeching isn’t her sexuality, but her telling her own story, in her own words. This will be the unravelling of America’s core Victorian literalism, and then China’s, and so on for all utilitarianised landscapes.  Mike Kann offers an image, I interpret, of American manhood resting on the power to steer expression towards convention. Professionalism and other economic modes require approved language-sets. Cosmopolitan Europeanness is what American fundamentalists see as secular, not because they understand its history, but because it won’t conform to recognisable language patterns. To ‘be good’ is to ‘be hyper literal’. When in truth fundamentalist American industrialism is thoroughly modern and thereby secular in intent. We know this because the lack of playfulness in its landscape. Those who do speak oft possess a hysteria, a form of desperation, like Elmer Gantry, or the sourness of John Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom.

Returning to playfulness as core to language-learning isn’t easy. It’s painful because of the profound association with notions of dignity and self. From a leadership perspective changing the horizons around language-sets has commercial risk for business communities long celebrated for their conventional use of language. Bakhtin appeals to the shades of meaning available in such an approach, its ability to disrupt patterns of thinking which might be locked onto dangerous trajectories. He notes de Tocqueville’s concern for modern patriarchies (Bakhtin being a Soviet subject) where societies perpetuate themselves through bounded language sets. Disruption facilitates change, Bakhtin notes. The other high value proposition is that dialogical societies are fundamentally entrepreneurial, but not just commercially. Dogmas, single narratives and measures have distorted late-capitalism.