Decay, decrepitude, dereliction: and their benefits post-Brexit

In Uncategorized on March 14, 2018 at 4:01 pm

James Joyce summed up Brexiteers: “The whole Anglo-Saxon spirit… the manly independence, the unconscious cruelty, the persistence, the slow yet efficient intelligence, the sexual apathy, the calculating taciturnity.” Which I’ll come on to. But firstly, my car. It slid down a snow-covered Yorkshire hillside recently, saved only by a convenient wall. Neatly scarring both left-side passenger doors. This matched impressive damage to the driver’s side. Last year I drove off from a car park space into the adjacent lamp-post. Having driven off from two petrol stations without paying, and ending up on the police national computer, some sort of rot has set in. Yorkshire Police were humane: “when we looked at the CCTV you didn’t have a balaclava on sir, so we assumed you might not be an arch-criminal”. 

My own question is do I restore my car to its former mass mid-market glory. Or leave the scars. That I need a car to exist is itself a problem. Getting a bus from Golcar to Huddersfield, or Carlisle to Cockermouth, is lovely. You meet people on the bus. It is a social space. It is humanising and healing. Unlike the train. My problem was getting back from Cockermouth. There was no bus back. I rode on to Workington bus depot. Then walked to the railway station. Which is breathtaking by the way. A space that makes you want to miss your train. The train thundered back without the spirit of the bus.

I have decided to leave the car disrepaired. A talking point. In ‘shit-order’ as army-types say to recruits. Retired soldiers grow pony-tails, and join biker gangs, as not only a form of irony, but in a restoration of their battered identities. That you submit to depersonalisation though is not unconscious. We all do it. Uniforms are strangely liberating. And leaving the EU is not dissimilar. We want out of EU-order. Partly as we could not dominate this space. Remaining meant an inability to rule. There were never enough who like Queen Mary could say: “When I am dead and cut open, they will find Philip and Calais inscribed on my heart.”

When interviewed by Kirsty Young on Desert Island Discs a young Brexiteer called Robinson Crusoe said he didn’t want the complete works of Shakespeare as he was: “the prince and lord of the whole island; I had the lives of all my subjects at my absolute command.” He was not the first Alpha Male to be washed up on a beach then appoint himself master of all he surveyed. Crusoe set about recreating a small version of York on his island. Even re-creating a country retreat on the other side of the island. He didn’t co-exist, he dominated. The ecosystem made no sense to him, so he hacked at it madly. The fear of the unknown meant he rebuilt his known world in this unknown world. He neither understood his environment nor sought to. Crusoe’s domination was his own decay. He was destroying the ecosystem to keep his self recognisable.

The world is in the process of being stockaded by global capital. It is a known system. The Russians have planted their flag 4.3km down on the seabed next door to the Artic Circle to stake a claim to oil and liquefied natural gas. The Americans own the moon likewise. Possession is nine tenths of the law. But here and there there are little beaches on which new communities are forming who have no intention of capitalising their space. In fact non-ownership, and non-possession is the goal. We do not want to colonise the space. Letting go of this desire is a letting go of globalised power. Once you have communities not taking part in this form of power, a new economy forms.

The failure of leadership to build a society we can be content with has thrown up the word ‘resilience’. Children are taken outdoors by their school teachers to recover their ability to cope via physical challenges. Employers want resilient staff to cope with globalisation and its effects. These efforts are like the Dutch Boy with his finger in the dyke. The world we have built is creaking under hyper-possession.

If nine million modern globalised and educated Indians apply for 18,000 railway jobs, then that is a lot of disaffection. Globalised possession is at the root of our discontents. I had a heated debate about ‘purpose’ with a colleague. Modern purpose is an extended enclosure Act. A repeated legalisation of life. Where society cannot negotiate it resorts to the law. Once you propose to modern middle-class educated Indians that their taking part in Western modernity will lead to happiness through capital you are storing up the pathology that emerged in America following their 1950s revolution. John Updike’s characterisation of Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom surviving plastic motels and sweaty cheapened sex aches off the page.

That Indians submit to Rabbit’s journey is interesting. But their submission will accelerate the West towards a conversation about capital. British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn’s achievement is to make Tories rehearse their arguments all over again. Which they now cannot do without considerable embarrassment. The Tory Front Bench look like the teaching staff at the grammar school prize giving ceremony. That the Labour Front Bench look like the local comprehensive’s staff room is neither here nor there.

Musing aside the structure of capital means it pushes people outwards from each other. Getting back from capital ownership is harder as you have to go on to Workington, as it were. My parents entered a Christian commune in Sussex in the 1950s. Intent on sharing everything together. Former Royal Navy commanders handed their Jaguars over. It was hell! My mother said. My brother ran away back to Suffolk at 15. Then to Fleet Street. And Murdoch. My four sisters were gone by 15 and 17. Spread to four corners of the Home Counties. To be loving wives to Crusoes (such were men of socially-mobile 1960s/70s, especially when hovering around London and its dormitories – in stark contrast to the stasis of now. London’s effect on aspiration is chemical). But it wasn’t hell for everyone. They were radicals. But they still couldn’t express meaningfully amongst themselves what they were doing. Its members gradually crept back into mainstream existence.

Community built without a narrative remains overpowered by capital. My father took a house round the corner from the commune. As a private man he was affected by the long-legacy of a community that couldn’t narrate its self. Community born in modernity has to play a different game. Acknowledging we are ethnically modern, and find ourselves playing the game of capital by its rules means a fairly epic conversation about what possession is. What it is to possess our lives, and things. About life journeys. And how to decay appropriately. To fall out of capital into community.

Stephen Hawking died yesterday as a demi-god of science. Worshipped for his inspirational battle against physical limitation. But the impression you had was of a man speaking through the decay of physical prowess. The winsome figure added a vulnerability and humility to his thinking. In the Knowledge-Era where the mind is Queen, Hawking still was a Robinson Crusoe. Planting his barley seeds self-consciously. His use of modal verbs like ‘is’ unapologetically ruins scientific credibility all over again. The most important epistemological question now is ‘why science?’ This is so offensive that reactions to it must be studied as much as the question itself.

Science, Christianity, modernity are not community friendly. But they are all decaying nicely. Jeremy Corbyn’s mother knitted him a jumper, and an identity. His decay is electable. Battered and shambolic is a route to community. One of my community leader friends, who never gets back to me, ever, when challenged said: ‘leaders need to leave by the back door’. As a respected figure in his community, he has got something. Shambolic disinterested leaders are offering meaningful decay. A lead away from capital. Capital of course always gets back to you. Relentlessly. That capital cannot leave its community alone is part of the mental health epidemic.

You cannot enter a space without capital as dominant narrative. A decrepitude, a turning up late, or not all, in battered automobiles, with soup-stained clothing has its possibilities.

Ken Dodd died just before Hawking. Dodd offered banality that was so nauseating it could only be funny. One of my best pals tartly responded: “He has always turned my stomach with his banal nonsense and how people laugh along with him, I sometimes wonder if it is more pity for a poor jester than anything else.” That Dodd was an under-performing King’s fool is an interesting thought. But he was a link to a world that fought middle-class oppressiveness. As Britain climbed socially we quietly admired those who remained in Channel 4 Shameless communities, free from university education, and respectable marriages that pleased both mother and father. Christianity got into bed with respectability and needs a quickie divorce for it to recover its credibility.

The value of Brexit then. Is that once we are out we can really screw up! If the EU took the Anglo-Saxons by the elbow for forty years, trying to explain secular humanism to the snotty-nosed kid at the back with the NHS glasses, it has not worked. The common woman has kicked Belgian bureaucracy in the balls quite firmly. And we will pay for it. The chance now is to rot back into a mulch of our own making. To the eurocrat the British Isles was a deserted island to escape from. The British are a people of the sea. Angela Merkel is of the sea, but also of the forest. Sea people don’t get forest people. Central Europe is much further from Britain than one hour plane rides. The island race need to see the sea regularly. Plus see the books. The sea exposes people in a way the forest doesn’t. Royal Navy commanders stayed at sea sometimes for ten years at a stretch without ever setting foot on dry land. Their reading of wind and wave won. I suspect others will follow Britain out of the Club.

But Brexit is a form of natural decay. Supra-nationalism will in time look terrifying and we will wonder what on earth we were doing. As we now look on Communism with horror (and affection). The link between the EU and global capital is now relatively obvious. Neo-liberalism is largely setting markets free from government intervention. The EU could not intervene as it was not a political entity. But remained an idea that was unlikely to achieve its federal ambitions. Without a unified identity people will not sign-up. Identity being the great driver of political affiliation. The EU means little to the ordinary voter, other than a necessary vehicle for securing a post-war dividend. For Britain to not just exit EU collectivisation, but also return to a pre-Victorian dereliction is on the cards. We think we can Make Great Britain Again (MaGBA) but I propose we make it slightly decrepit. Like a Ken Dodd performance. A sort of inclusive communal banality that counters Grand Projects.








Speaking into power in the Age of Kittens

In Uncategorized on November 22, 2017 at 11:57 am

Questioning power doesn’t get any easier. At least not in the Age of Kittens and other cuteness. The trauma of speaking is still with us. Hearing one’s own voice can hurt. Richard Rorty says this concern or hesitation is a form of irony. As we open our mouths we are wracked with the thought that we should have said it a different way. Or if you are English not said it at all. The doubts are easy to identify.

Firstly, speaking is not going to make any difference at all. To anything. Withdraw like Wittgenstein to a life of modest primary school teaching, blessing little ones. Secondly, the world is all the same but different. There is therefore no There, and your heroic passions will just mess with the space-time continuum. Finally, you are not actually fundamentally committed to anything. Unless you are prepared to die on your version of the cross do not deceive yourself.

Such tortured concerns may well be a very British or probably English disease. Having messed with the world imperially and colonially we are coy. Adopting now a humble pose is a natural demeanour. This effete modality is not unattractive. Inside such languid postures ‘we’ can be decorous, polite and disinterested. In this skin multiple contributions to those categoric lesser species can be made. Whilst America writhes in some pain seeing their version of Diogenes as President the Brexiteers can furrow a concerned brow, knowing our days of caricaturing (see Kipling, Rhodes) are behind us. Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg’s reprise aside.

So, how do you question power in a territory marked ‘Opaque’? Where shoals of indecision flitter around mindlessly. No-one actually knows anything anymore is the admission. We are totally unconvinced by all speaking in Opaqueland. Banksy’s Dismaland was too dystopian. Dystopia is the weakness for the Left. It plays too hard on the bum-notes to recognise hope and movement towards Life with a capital-L are sound. Orwell knew this and offered his critique that the problem with Socialism is that it is full of Socialists who are too attached to the Outrage Bus. Outrage is convenient, if not lazy simplism. But it remains necessary. We should be outraged, frequently. But we should know when to offer Hope. Outrage and Hope are essential in Opaque Land.

Back to power. Power then has, not unlike the Taliban when off-duty, slipped into farmer’s attire and looks relatively benign. It says do not shoot me, I am innocent guvnor. I once roamed the earth burning crops and villages as the French advanced, readying myself for the fateful moment to deal death and destruction, but, now, I have changed my mood. I have slipped into something far more comfortable.

If power has changed its spots and slipped into the ether then speaking into the void left creates some discomfiture. The collective mass of letters to The Guardian are not sharing a destination. And it is the absence of destination that renders power awkwardly exposed. Like running through the woods naked, wolves on your tail, into a clearing complete with shops, bars and restaurants. The bar-tender catches your eye and you sit rightly disturbed at the horrible contradictions. Power has led you to a somewhere. But it is not where it was meant to be.

This collective ‘something is wrong’ mood is the effect of power not resisting its old foes. When you have something powerful to push against life is clear. Purpose is purposeful. A flurry of books inviting purposeful lives render us muscular. Only now having fulfilled a few purposes we are now sat at the cocktail bar. Power and purpose part their ways. Socrates dies afresh. Not unlike Macron ripping up the sacredness of France by frankly trying too hard. His admirable intellect is too self-conscious, too learnéd. You do not display such uprightness in France. You skulk in kitchen doorways. Socrates was similar. He was too self-confident, too definitive, too purposeful. He set things in motion from which we have not yet recovered. Hegel span these plates.

Why was Socrates flawed you say? Because any Method is destined for trouble. It attracts acolytes and they get enamoured with its potential. Again, back to power. And the possibility that power has been unstrapped from Cultural Platonism. That is power should always have inalienable qualities as defined by continuity. From left to right. Onwards, upwards, ever upwards. This type of power took part in propelling. But now, in Opaque Land, we are inevitably back to the healthy flux of Knowledge no longer working as it should. As a propeller. We are drifting on the Med in our sailboat and the hardest thing now is to enjoy the moment. Socratic dialogue is over as all cards have been played and none of them were a full-house.

So, power now is not just not propelling, it is not finishing modernity’s building project. As HS2 should have us waving union flags at its modern marvelousness it leaves us relatively cold. So what? Time and space is not what it was also. Escaping it meant getting to the seaside. Now we have seen the sea numerous times we ask so what? The excitement of airports as time portals is dying.

So speaking with Modern Reason into the embers of its project is why we feel a little embarrassed. Now Mugabe has resigned Zimbabweans will seek institutions that distribute power and protect from future despots. But we could say though that all modernisers, George Osbornes, Tony Blairs, Theresa Mays are despotically imposing a project which fewer folks have faith in anymore. Like high speed rail we are fundamentally doubtful about reason and its logics. Having screamed through the woods into the clearing we are butt-naked. When using reason to articulate purpose and speak into power we feel the draught.

If institutions no longer know quite where they are taking us then at least we can be naked together honestly. Nurses who joined the NHS after its inception were supercharged to clean and scrub with astringent pride. Now, the NHS is loved for its trapping the middle-classes into a shared project. We thank it for distributing wealth more fairly, as well as producing low-cost miracles.

It mixes chemicals like a shaman and people are healed. But we are numbed by the experience of being in an institution. With its zombie eyes. Once you have journeyed through modern life you have experienced more ‘chop logic’ than you care to consider. Just how many meetings can you refer to sub-section 42.7 with sincerity before madness sets in: “I would like to draw your attention to the aforementioned, underscribed, overarched, and paragraphed.” There are no shortage of modernisers wanting more of this. For its boundaries are clear. But what they do not realise is that modern institutions will replicate their selves endlessly. Once you have removed the risk of life from human relationships and trained the masses to all do ‘hospital corners’ correctly according to Matron there is little going back from there.

Lord Chris ‘Hong Kong’ Patten in his thoughtful bio unselfconsciously still blames the UK union movement for its post-war travails. This is the ‘chop logic’ of the modern politician believing in the power of rational argumentation. A politician’s career, especially conservatives, rest on tidy arguments. But fundamentally detached from the important. That new Ministers can sweep aside all that has gone before them reveals the weakness of law making as a way of speaking into power, and more so human hearts. The Greek Logos and Socrates forgot the relationship between hope and heart. A beautiful mind is not quite the same. Kierkegaard’s leap of faith then is a leap away from the logics of all, religion and logic. The UK union movement was roughly saying the same thing. That markets, economics, institutions and the assembled mass of rational argumentation was ricocheting off the glaringly obvious. That Life is not experienced through institutionalised living. Their last stab at community, albeit collectivised under industries, was a chant against modernity’s project. Whilst fuelling it.

Kierkegaard refers to a sickness that has not yet declared itself. This is modernity and its chop logics. Yes, it is a form of sickness that has yet to be diagnosed. The post-modernist declare it a finished project at times but in truth globalisation is simply modernisation. The spreading of institutional power. But a power that has slipped into frames or structures. A Socratic Method. Power that is in systems is largely immune to people who speak. The unions spoke against system power but their frustration turned violent at times. Playing into the hands of political power. They also proposed another system of power without recognising they were somewhat deaf to its critical flaws. Corbyn’s great opportunity is a self-consciousness. To recognise he is part of a system as much as any capitalist.

Here then is the shape of late-modern power. Largely embedded in systems and processes that defy the voice. An echo chamber that initially was resistant to the charismatic man, as de Tocqueville noted. But now resistant to ‘the good’ but more so ignorant of the human heart and its nature. John Lewis Christmas advertising has spotted this. As have many marketing men. The emotional labour required to post on Facebook is considerable. If you are not pink, cuty and fluffy you are probably avoiding it. In the vacuum of institutional life the temptation to be ‘lovely’ is strong. Those who speak with a breaking voice are getting a following.

This appeal to hopefulness, to the possibility of a life not dominated by modernity is where legitimacy is now found. Those who are extra-cute are scratching at an itch. What the market finds distasteful is genuinely loving communities that defy it. It is the same for organisations finding that legalistic leadership is destroying it. Leaders who create community ahead of purpose find life considerably less fractious. When speaking towards power the community can detect your intentions as the voice leaks meaning all over the place. All speaking is a confessional. If we are tempted to speak we reveal much more about ourselves than we dare even consider. Hence when we gambol into the clearing we are frighteningly naked.

The dissolving of supra-national structures, the weakness of all trans-national relationships is a result. The possibility of being lost in the labyrinthine mess of personal relationships is upon us. Liminal relationships are almost fully resistant to the market and modernity. As Wittgenstein says we make our own logics and construct our rules of the language or power game.

This tension between a head and heart life sits below issues of speaking into the world. To re-insert matters of the heart invites the speaker to ‘be lovely’, or ‘adorable’. As someone said to me the other day: “You have a great mind!”. The corollary of this was your both your heart and mind are somewhat in need of work. Such is the joy of having friends who speak. My back-hand top-spin return was, well, the heart and the mind need thought. It is a both-and. Another friend chipped in: “No, it’s all about the heart.” The problem with heart-people is they are very cute. So cute you want to take them home, frequently.

The serious questionable association though is between cuteness and love. To be loving in a late-modern context requires a big syrupy spoonful of kitten-cuteness. We have come some way from Captain Lawrence Edward Grace “Titus” Oates leaving the tent for a quiet non-attention-seeking death. And thank God we have come a long way. The recent argument that Scott’s expedition was bounced into a hasty bid for glory by the sneaky Norwegians who had not declared their intent with ‘British-style’ straightness suggests Scott’s party might bear additional culpability for misjudgements over issues such as not using dogs to pull their sleds. The race to the Pole like the race to the Moon look increasingly preposterous in a world where power is now spread amongst the masses. Who collectively do not see an early death as transforming much. The benignity of life now, that is, the absence of the Epic, suggests much. In truth ordinary life was already a Greek Tragedy, and additional Epicness impositions from governments et al were beyond madness.

The ordinary navigation of daily existence comes with its own journeys to the Pole. The brushwood that blows when we speak might be this new reality that when folks have space to tell their own stories we all stand back in some amazement. The imperialists and colonialists still want Knowledge to come with old forms of power, imbued with the Greek Logos. But as Polanyi says mythos was always there. Logos and Mythos are the conversation. Socrates did open up the space for speaking, but it was a Logos space. That is true of most modern spaces. They admit the rational and empirical happily but little else. Hence, kittens!

What I have Learnt So Far..

In Uncategorized on January 9, 2017 at 12:03 pm



There are many things I don’t know and even more thing it seems that I have to remind myself of on a daily basis. The obvious things like:

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