Some thoughts on British Social Attitudes

8 Dec

Social attitudes & cognitive fallacy

John Harris got me to thinking about the dire state of contemporary leftist politics and how marginalised and moribund left wing social attitudes have become in recent years. Harris’s recent article follows a number of other thought pieces that he has penned in the last few months, particularly concerning the decisive shift in social attitudes in regards to the welfare state.

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/jun/26/generation-y-young-voters-backing-conservatives

One of Harris’s long term preoccupations is the possibilities that might exist to channel political representation to the left of Miliband’s Labour Party, given the latest developments with Left Unity and Alan Sked’s Euroskeptic New Deal. But as Harris acknowledges, these are only the latest ventures in a depressingly long lineage of left wing splinterings and grouplets which have found themselves confined to the extreme margins.

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/sep/09/time-for-leftwing-ukip-labour

There remain formidable obstacles for the non-Labour left, both in practical constitutional form (the ‘first past-the-post’ electoral system) and cultural-ideological (the lack of any substantive appeal). Of course these difficulties may also boil down to the essential small ‘c’ conservatism and aversion to grand theory that is sometimes said to characterise our ‘national character’.

Following on from Burke and Locke, our Anglo-Saxon empiricism is supposedly at odds with all the highfalutin continental excess in the wake of the French Revolution and German Idealist philosophy. Thus British empiricism was never likely to take kindly to the political abstractions and poetic imagination of socialism. Instead we have the idea of Britain not so much as a nation of shopkeepers, but certainly a land of philistines, largely indifferent to high culture and rigorously anti-intellectual and hostile to deep thinking.

Socialist thinking has been a strictly minority pursuit and attraction, largely residing in a middle class intelligentsia. Meanwhile working class consciousness as documented by writers such as Orwell and Hoggart and sociologists like Michael Collins, remains steadfastly pedestrian, with its focus on the mundane aspects of day to day living interspersed with the momentary hedonistic pleasures and necessary escapism provided by alchohol, tobacco, gambling, carousing, brawling and bawdry spectacle. This resort to decadence has been depicted by Nietzsche as a Dionysian impulse, as contrasted with the more thoughtful and restrained Apollian culture of restraint and deferred gratification, which of course finds its natural repository in the aspirational middle classes.

It may be there are innate cognitive biases at work which reinforce our untutored, unmediated mindsets. We seem to be prone to surface level explanations and naïve empiricism, explanations which pertain to individualist moral narratives, egocentric and reinforcing ‘just-world’ fallacies. More elaborate, abstract and systemic explanations lack the purchase of moral gratification, given the direct appeal of explanations couched in personal terms.

The Just World fallacy may be one of the most all encompassing of these biases, with its belief in a providential cosmology. This is the notion of Karma, ‘what goes around comes around’ – ‘you reap what you sow’ and ‘just desserts’. These biases and tendencies towards reciprocal quid pro quo contingencies show our brains have a remarkable inclination towards symmetry. This is seen in Apophenia / Patternicity, given the ability of our brains to seek casual connections in randomised phenomena. Our symmetrical brains probably also go some way to explaining the centrality of dualism in our western culture, with notions of good and evil, free choice and determinism, mind and body.

To go back to the contemplation of social attitudes, and how such attitudes seem to be a prisoner of our conservative culture and our innate imagination, predisposed to work with strong individualist type narratives. Inevitably when we present ourselves to the world in our dynamic social interactions with one another, such presentations are at the surface level of the solitary self-contained individual. The series of psycho-social gradations which go towards the formation of the adult personality remain illusive, although we still pay some lip-service to the notion of a wider collective medium that helps to foster and incubate this mature individual, albeit with an equally illusive grip i.e. parental influence. This ‘individuals and families’ approach is still wilfully discounting of any wider collective delivery mechanism. And so how do we account for language and communication, with all its underlying elaborate rule system, its grammatology, forged out of the social domain? Language’s complex relationship to thought tells us that the realm of ideas are not autonomous free floating entities, but are anchored in specific practices. Our ideas of self and surroundings come pre-loaded with their own cultural baggage drawn from the wider society.

The new moralism

These individualist narratives are brought to bare with those behaviours considered problematic to the mainstream culture – inappropriate and delinquent behaviours, matters pertaining to sexual conduct (i.e. underage),  mental health issues, long term unemployment, those considered ‘outsiders’ by their failure to comply with the conventional ‘scripts’ of achievement and compliance with normative standards.

Unemployment and those on out of work benefits due to disability have become increasingly stigmatised over the last couple of decades. Whilst post-war unemployment was tolerated inside a full employment dynamic of 3% (allowing for a certain natural transitional level of unemployment), it wasn’t until the 1970s that more chronic and large scale unemployment came into being. With persistent unemployment of this nature and conventional demand management eschewed in favour of pre-war economic liberalism, explanations of unemployment were now offered in terms of supply side economics, explanations that put a primacy on individualised behaviours.

Allied to this shift in our understanding of the nature of unemployment came a more strident moralism in evaluating the working age disabled who are predominantly on out of work benefits. Certain media outlets are adept at creating folk devil scrounger narratives from atypical and anomalous examples of dysfunctionalism. Such extreme examples are then repackaged into misrepresenting a whole swathe and category of people reliant on benefits, who are assailed as being the underserving poor. These prejudicial attacks are particularly salient as a means to divide the working poor from their out of work neighbours. The tight marginal rates of claw-back for in-work benefit eligibility heighten the sense of segregation between those in work and those out of work. A keen sense of injustice is to be cultivated and tutored by the prevailing media outlets, not out of any systemic notions of the wider disparities and distribution/expropriation of wealth, but at the underclass of recipients who may be at a fatally conspicuously advantage in material terms over their working poor peers. Such baiting and humiliating of these folk devils is to be lapped up by the working poor, providing emotional succour against their wearied state, whilst at the same time providing a useful cautionary fable about what lies in wait if one is to fall from the exalted grace that comes from the grail of economic independence. Schadenfreude is the stock-in-trade for sensationalist exposes of welfare anomalies, all primed and charged to devastating effect against the ideals of social security.

This divide and rule strategy uses the proximity and public conspicuousness of the out of work population, whilst giving a free pass to the extremely powerful overlords who set the parameters of our society and who effectively expropriate the vast bulk of riches and wealth for themselves, they remain the untouchables, inscrutable and immune from being held to account. As social attitudes surveys persistently reveal, people are more exercised by benefit cheats than by tax evasion and corporate misdemeanours. Support for the unemployed over the last couple of decades has sharply tailored off, even remaining impervious to the countervailing effects of renewed recession and the fallout from the credit crunch.

The latest British Social Attitudes survey (BSA 2013) illustrates a calcification of attitudes towards the idea of a social democratic redistributive state.

http://www.bsa-29.natcen.ac.uk/read-the-report/key-findings/what-do-citizens-want-from-the-state.aspx

Before Labour came to power in 1997, the proportion agreeing with the view that “government should redistribute income from the better-off to those who are less well-off” consistently remained well above 40 per cent, even hovering around 50 per cent during the recession of the early 1990s. But from 1998 onwards only once has the figure been higher than 40 per cent, with 37 per cent agreeing in 2011 (Figure 0.3). While that is higher than the levels seen between 2004-2007, there’s little sign here that the advent of recession – or even the public disquiet about the amounts of money paid to corporate chief executives (not least those in charge of some of Britain’s banks) – has rekindled support for a more redistributive state to the levels that existed last time a Conservative Prime Minister occupied 10 Downing Street. This is also despite the fact that Labour’s attempts to reduce inequality failed to reverse the large growth in inequality that occurred between the late 1970s and early 1990s (Hills et al., 2010).

There is certainly some evidence of continued faith in the role of the state. There are initial signs of increased concern about the impact of public expenditure cuts on public services such as health and education. But these appear to be no more than a cyclical reaction to the prospect of reductions in public expenditure rather than evidence of a new public mood. It is also clear that people continue to believe in a universal and publicly-funded NHS.

                       

But the more striking message is a transformation in Britain’s attitudes towards the creation of a more equal society, an aspiration that in part might be delivered through welfare benefits. Neither redistribution in general nor welfare benefits in particular are as popular as they once were. This is by no means a recent change and certainly predates the recession. It primarily reflects a change in public attitudes during Labour’s years in power between 1997 and 2010.

These findings point towards an increased sense of ‘them and us’, with the most vulnerable in the labour market being viewed far less sympathetically than before, despite Britain’s current economic difficulties. This sense of division is also clear in our Immigration chapter, which finds increasing concern about immigration in general, and about its economic and cultural impacts in particular. Although increased opposition to immigration predates the recession, austerity may well help explain the fact that concern about its impacts has grown the most among those who are themselves the least well-qualified or skilled. Finally, we also see evidence of geographic division, with an increasing sense of resentment in England about what is seen to be the ‘unfair’ share of public spending received by Scotland, something that may have been exacerbated by austerity.

Existing evidence from British Social Attitudes surveys shows how the supporters of particular political parties, when they have come to trust their party’s standpoints, can be expected to adopt and replicate these when asked about their own views (Butler and Stokes, 1974). This tendency was especially noticeable under the 1997 to 2010 Labour government when attitudes among its supporters became markedly less pro-welfare as the party repositioned itself on issues such as equality and government intervention (Curtice, 2010). As a consequence, there are reasons to predict that opinion has not followed the pattern of previous recessions, because the public – under the long-term influence of Labour’s stance as well as that of the current coalition – has embraced a more tough-minded view of welfare than it held in the past. We might also suspect that recent political and media debate about the government’s welfare reforms – including claims that large numbers of welfare recipients do not really deserve their payments – will have influenced attitudes, inclining people to be less supportive of benefits and those who receive them.

Curtice, J. (2010), ‘Thermostat or weathervane? Public reactions to spending and redistribution under New Labour’, in Park, A., Curtice, J., Thomson, K., Phillips, M., Clery, E. and Butt, S. (eds.), British Social Attitudes: the 26th Report, London: Sage

Social liberalism vs social conservatism

Britain has become noticeably more relaxed in its attitudes towards sexuality and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered communities (LGBT) – evincing laissez-faire like attitudes in the social domain, ready to abandon long standing cultural prejudices and legal practices in favour of a non-judgemental ethic with regard to what it regards as an appropriate private domain. Likewise attitudes to sex and procreation outside marriage have undergone progressive relaxation from the 1960s onwards and the rise of the ‘permissive society’.

However there are important caveats to be thrown into this incremental relaxation of attitudes. In so far as certain groups of individuals are concerned, such as single mothers, and their conspicuous reliance on out-of-work benefits and council housing, and their increasing demographic significance, there have been increasingly bellicose judgements and moral sanctions from the wider establishment and middle class gatekeepers. Single mothers have come under sustained attack for their challenge to conventional nostrums of social stability. As a marker of increasing social atomism and its comorbidity for a range of dysfunctional phenomena, single mothers mark the limits of social liberalism from their fellow peers in one glaring aspect, as a burden on the public purse.

Likewise whilst disabled groups have managed to win themselves increasing tolerance and integration within mainstream society (The ‘Social Model of Disability’, ‘Community Care’), facilitated by a number of practical and legislative changes, there has also been a marked regression in attitudes to disabled people as welfare claimants. Whereas in previous decades there were significant exemptions for disabled people to participate formally in the labour market, there is now a singular pursuit of requirements to pursue work related activities for all but the most profoundly disabled individuals. This all suggests that the broad liberal attitudes under discussion represent not so much a classical yen for enlightenment and progressive momentum, rather an individualistic ethos with marked antipathy for more collectivistic /     solidaristic goals. The evinced liberalism seems to be characterised by low levels of compassion and intellectual reflectivity and more pronounced as nonchalance and disengagement with the wider society. This presents us with a puzzling paradox of conjoined liberal and illiberal forces.

 

Culture Wars and the challenge of Diversity

One of the most salient points of the retreat from the post war Keynesian Welfare State (KWS) is the undermining of the contributory principle in social security. Beveridge’s original prescriptions were predicated on an era of full employment, characterised by the primacy of the male bread winner and relative homogeneous composition of the workforce.

With the entrenched semi-permanent phenomena of mass unemployment from the 1970s onwards, particularly with regards to youth unemployment, and the significant waves of immigration over the coming decades, these original prescriptions began to unravel at alarming speed. Whereas the original KWS era of full employment enjoyed considerable legitimacy and high levels of trust and coherence, the neoliberal decades have seen the shattering of this once dominant orthodoxy, with the converse rates of trust and legitimacy reaching new lows. Politicians of the liberal/left quickly found themselves marginalised or recanting before a new era of free market rhetoric and anti-statism.

The contributory principle at the heart of Beveridge’s original prescriptions were meant to formalise and legitimise state welfare by ensuring high levels of reciprocity and mutualism.

Full employment defined:

…is the level of employment rates where there is no cyclical or deficient-demand unemployment.

an acceptable level of unemployment somewhere above 0%. The discrepancy from 0% arises due to non-cyclical types of unemployment. Unemployment above 0% is seen as necessary to control inflation, to keep inflation from accelerating… Having many names, it has also been called the structural unemployment rate. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Full_employment

However there was always the potentiality for breaches to this system, given that needs were seen to trump contribution. Beveridge’s definition of Full Employment was set at 3% and with post-war employment rates kept within these boundaries, social democratic governments were able to pursue a discretionary mixture of means testing (prioritising those groups and individuals deemed most in need) alongside universal entitlements.

Over the course of a couple of decades more anomalous features of a complex and bureaucratic welfare system were singled out for sustained criticism. Such criticisms typically involved the relatively high effective marginal taxation and claw back of assistance in respect of entitlement thresholds, compounding claimants into a poverty trap.

With the proliferation of non-contributory groups (youth unemployment, immigrants), they quickly became a target of sustained criticism and backlash, a political hot-potato to be thrashed about wildly by a hysterical tabloid media. This all paid much dividend from the vantage point of the anti-welfare right, eager to take their counter-revolution against the post-war settlement to ever new heights.

Diversity and social atomism were used to shatter the fragile coherence of the historical homogeneous blocs of corporate Britain (the tripartism of business, organised labour and the state). Exchange controls were dispensed with to usher in an era of hyper-globalised mobile capital and flexible labour. Traditional industries (shipbuilding, mining, iron and steel manufacturing) and industrial plant were quickly mothballed and downsized accordingly, with operations relocated overseas. Trade unions were purposely excluded from the make-up of the new political settlements of the 1980s onwards, no longer enjoying any meaningful political leverage or internal unity. Heterogeneous complexity was increasingly the direction of travel.

Discerning Marxist thinkers such as Eric Hobsbawm gave their own take on the ramifications for leftism (The Forward March of Labour Halted?), now that the traditional demographic base that had provided for a progressive social democracy was being cast aside. Andre Gorz and other writers suggested that left wing politics would now have to find new political agency and meaning with alternative social movements such as environmentalism, third world activism, LGBT and BME civil rights. The old left tradition of class and political economy becoming passé.

With the dissolution of traditional white working class communities centred on the old declining industries and the new clefts that emerged from the transition to flexible specialisations within the service sector, a significant segment of former proletarian support now aligned itself with the new conspicuous affluence. This particularly came to fruition in the right to buy council housing policies of the Conservatives throughout the 1980s.

http://socialhousingwatch.co.uk/right-to-buy-thatchers-first-divisive-policy/

With the Labour opposition increasingly cowed and frustrated by the break-up of its traditional power base, it’s leading luminaries felt there was little alternative than to water down it’s traditional red meat for its core voters who after all in psephological terms had nowhere else to go. The professional consultants and public relations crew who oversaw the makeover of New Labour pitched their messages to the all important swing voters in marginal constituencies. Hence the dilemma that I outlined at the outset of this article, the moribund situation of the severe constitutional constraints that the left faces given the lack of suitable electoral machinery to adjust to the new pluralist realities.

In order to make rabbit stew one has to first catch the rabbit!

The British electoral system, First Past the Post (FPtP) offers a majoritarian standard that is pitched as a winner take all at constituency level. This can and often does result in mandates delivered with a minority share of the vote, given that the aggregate votes cast for alternative candidates outnumber the winning candidate. Here are significant ramifications for voter psychology, given that the thresholds for outsider contenders present typically insuperable obstacles. Heterogeneous electorates have presented punishing odds for left wing forces trying to assemble within the framework of a traditional historical alignment. Given the splitting of the centre left vote during the course of the 1980s (SDP – Liberal Alliance as the third force) and the Labour Party was rendered prostrate.

With incumbency conferring further psychological and strategic advantages for the bulk of ‘safe seats’, politicians devote their energies to wooing the so-called swing voters who are critical to a handful of marginal seats come election time. And whilst there is widespread recognition that this leads to further ossification and remoteness of Westminster politicians from the wider electorate, there have been largely cosmetic efforts to reform this state of affairs. 

The cause of electoral reform has floundered on deaf ears, it has never been a popular issue with the public and the one single venture into this territory, the Alternative Vote referendum of 2011 saw an emphatic defeat for AV. Of course it can be argued that a genuine system of proportional representation (PR) was not being offered at this time, however it was always going to be the case that the defenders of the status quo would claim this as vindication. Furthermore there is little evidence to be gained that PR has percolated the public imagination. Whilst there is obvious widespread voter apathy, malaise and disenchantment out there as evidence by the sheer number of refuseniks, this hasn’t coalesced into an imaginative critique of the electoral system, which remains in large part inaccessible, remote and buried in obscurantism. In sociological terms it seems we are dealing with retreatism rather than rebellion, as a large chunk of the electorate have divorced themselves from the rationale underpinning participatory democracy. They tend to view all matters political in the same vein as contemplating an impenetrable cosmological mystery, although one might find oneself occasionally alighting on a philosophical matter, the finite brain quickly readjusting onto more pedestrian territory, leaving such ruminations to the intellectual ivory towers. 

Without having recourse to the inclination and necessary intellectual capital in order to articulate their discontents into something a little more solid, the responses are more typified by a surly retreat into the more mundane and decadent pleasures presented – the weapons of mass distraction!

And so to my dénouement – the irony of ironies for the Leftist predicament. Most of the leftist components for wrestling with society are predicated on varying degrees of intellectualism – something that sets up a cruel contradiction with leftism’s ostensible aims of realising a more noble and equitable society for the working classes and disempowered. If the intellectualism and prowess required to transgress capitalism is not to be found natively in the mass of toilers – but in a coterie of declassed radicals and thinkers, then we have a chasm between these self appointed agents of destiny and the rest of us.  We have of course being dealing with the legacies of vanguardism ever since.  

 

 

 

http://www.policy-network.net/pno_detail.aspx?ID=4501&title=Europes-welfare-and-labour-market-conflicts-A-fatal-squeeze-on-the-centre-left

 

 

http://www.policy-network.net/pno_detail.aspx?ID=4415&title=-Generation-‘why

 

http://www.policy-network.net/pno_detail.aspx?ID=4332&title=Rejecting-welfare-state-pessimism

 

 

David Goodhart:

http://www.policy-network.net/pno_detail.aspx?ID=4329&title=Decision-time-for-the-Left-on-welfare

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UK glimpsed in clouds…

7 Aug

UK in clouds

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Apophenia – Face on Mars / Cydonia

7 Aug

Brilliant example of Apophenia as per my previous article

Apophenia: History and Conspiracy Theory

26 Jul

I guess like a lot of people, I’ve found conspiracy theories interesting and attention-worthy, at least for a time, given the appeal of cod philosophy and ghost story as an alternative to the mainstream narrative. However I suppose that after the initial flush of enthusiasm for whatever particular conspiracy is in contention, I will start to question just how believable said conspiracy is. And it also seems self-evident there is an awful lot of nonsense out there on the fringes.

 

It is at this particular junction between mainstream and fringe that I am employing my critical faculties to bear in evaluating just how meaningful (meaning systems in sociological parlance) the various levels of explanation are. I certainly pride myself in what I take as a healthy disregard for the mainstream – that is the various official outlets of ideology (socially constructed exposition of the social and physical realities we inhabit) which to me are always and inevitably biased to conservative and powerful vested interests. So I am already half-signed up to conspiracy (a wilful subversion of unmediated reality) in a Marxian theory of knowledge sense.

 

However I also take an equal pride in what I consider a justified rigorous scepticism towards a good bulk of the fringe content. To me the fringe can be a useful corrective against the arid and sterile explanations that emanate on behalf of our largely banal media outlets, but it is also a dangerous place, for in my considered opinion it is also typically the repository for large quantities of nonsense and intellectual incoherence. So there is no easy place to pitch between these two poles, stuck between the self satisfied and mundane explanations shaped by our overlords and the wacky, hyper-manic explanations offered by shamans, messianic mystics and ultra-paranoid figures. If there are some gems of insight to be gleamed from these wider shores, they are unfortunately likely to be concealed and obscured by the outlandish, bizarre and ridiculous.

 

“Keep an open mind –
but not so open that your brain falls out”

Having read and been exposed to a small but concentrated amount of materials on conspiracy theory (namely a few books on the Kennedy assassination and a couple of articles on the Wilson government in the 1970s) I thought the time was ripe for a counter-blast, and along comes David Aaronovitch with Voodoo Histories (2009). I wasn’t particularly favourably disposed to Mr Aaronovitch, he and others such as Nick Cohen had taken on the Euston Manifesto (muscular liberal interventionism and pro-Iraq invasion) platform. Here was yet another lackey in a very long line of repentant former leftists (SWP), now taking the New Labour line on most issues. However I consider myself open to a good writer, irrespective of creed (having read some of the aforementioned Cohen with some reward) and so I was ready to take on Aaronovitch, armed with his Occam’s Razor, in order to offer a useful corrective against the David Icke’s and Alex Jones’s out there.

 

I wondered if Aaronovitch would look at some of the wider psychological pull concerning conspiracy theories, not simply that these voodoo histories were simply history for losers (which could be tautological), but how these ideas actually tell us something wider about the human psyche and the need for strong narrative exposition. As conspiracy theory enthusiasts and advocates talk in terms of “joining the dots” in order to forge their counter-narratives, isn’t something akin to anthropomorphic psychology taking place here? By connecting seemingly randomised elements by ingenious explanation and establishing a causal pathway, what at first appears acasual is now rendered sentient and meaningful. Astrology is obviously a primary example of an anthropomorphised meaning system. Human ingenuity and lateral thinking give us a rich recipe for creating multi-level explanatory systems.

 

Disappointingly Aaronovitch eschews such approaches to his subject. Only in his latter concluding section does he hint at more psychological insights. Instead he spends several chapters looking at a cross section of notorious conspiracies, whilst taking us on lengthy and often tedious detours (such as Stalin’s show-trials) without really focusing on the supposed debunking exercise that the book purportedly aims for. It’s not that Aaronovitch has made any errors as such (I will leave that for other forensic and analytical critics to decide), it’s just he seems out of focus and rambling. He makes a good few direct hits now and then by a judicious application of the old razor, but other times seems laboured with a mass of ancillary detail thrown in with tedium, without adding any real pungency to his case.

 

Anyway, a little bit of perusing on the internet lead me onto the fascinating topic of Apophenia which was originally considered as a specific psychotic disorder but has since been widened out more generally in consideration to otherwise healthy human subjects.

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apophenia

 

The tendency to find meaningful connections or patterns in randomised data is more generally known under the psychological term of Apophenia (or ‘patternicity’) and has been broken down in several subcategories such as:

 

Statistical Type 1 errors / Paranormal sightings / Conspiracy Theories / Divination and Religious Manifestations / Gambler’s fallacies / Synchronicity

 

Pareidolia refers to the perception of specific visual imagery or sound from stimuli.                            A figure consisting of three circles and a line is automatically and      subconsciously recognized as a “face”, despite having only a few basic features of an actual face. This is an example of the mechanisms the brain uses for facial recognition. As psychologists are continuing to demonstrate, our sensory perception and cognitive biases incline us to any number of fallacious reasoning by our inherent craving for patternicity and agenticity. (http://www.michaelshermer.com/2009/06/agenticity/)

 

Much literary criticism and evaluative writing and research is obviously mired and compromised by cognitive errors of various magnitude, such as the intentional fallacy, anachronism (chronological errors, an item incorrectly misplaced in time) and hindsight bias (creeping determinism). Historians and social thinkers write overwhelmingly in narrative forms, even as they evince understanding that their periodic yardsticks are necessarily arbitrary, they cannot but help themselves in thinking conceptuality within certain parameters and defined terms that give rise to the idea of cumulative motion. From religious millennialism and eschatology to ever more progressive secular teleology (Whig history, Hegel’s dialectic, technological determinism), we have implicit templates of forward momentum.

 

This all engendered a post-modernist backlash, as thinkers became increasingly aware of the cultural pollution they had become mired with as they understood the relativistic and contingent nature of the realities they were trying to depict. So post-modernism became a rebellion against narrative and linear forms, attempting to de-center us from subjects and authorial intentions, and instead celebrating a world of free floating forms that are a continually constructed and contested reality in which we reside.

 

However I don’t think we can so easily dispose of our capacity for patternicity. Indeed there are probably sound evolutionary reasons for our capacity and preference to find meaning in the wider environs. Perhaps education and teaching should be forewarning us to err on the side of caution when we are exchanged in our ruminations concerning the bigger picture out there. Philosophy and psychology should be put in the curriculum to complement our human reasoning, and also to discipline our intellect lest we are carried away by our cognitive biases and the fallacious thinking  traps that await us.

The punk alternative histories offered by conspiracy theories show how the runaway imagination of Apophenia let us overegg the pudding of narrative explanation. 

The Face on Mars is a classic example of Apophenia. Later imagery from other angles did not contain the illusion.

The strange non-death of Thatcherism

22 Apr

There were whoops of jubilation in certain quarters after the death of Mrs T a couple of weeks back. However we might argue in the language of Lenin that this outbreak of left wing infantilism is entirely misplaced, seeking at it does to place undue emphasis on one individual, personifying the larger forces of big capital as they sought to fatally undermine the post-war consensus on the welfare state. In so far as the woman in question was entirely happy to be a vector and promulgator of what was to become known as neo-liberalism, then it might be argued she was fair game.

I thought the anti-Thatch parties were a bit silly, but in so far as they served as a useful corrective to the mass media hagiography of the last 2 weeks, then I was happy to observe that not all quarters had been taken in by this ‘irreversible’ settlement.

Indeed, there was much talk about the legacy and how subsequent generations were Thatcherite by default. All mainstream commentators contend this is an irreversible settlement, but that of course is stuff and nonsense. In the short term by which we measure our human lifespans then maybe this is as good as it gets for now, but in the longer term several contingencies will undoubtedly arise that make it compelling for far more activist and statist solutions to contend with ever more diminishing resources on an overpopulated planet. Ever that or a clapped out hollowed market-state pray to ever-further internal divisions and tribal rancour.

The radical social atomism inherent in possessive individualism is also completely antithetical to Mrs T’s brand of conservatism and so we could say that Thatcherism contain within it the seeds of it’s own destruction. The marriage of strong-state conservatism and free market radicalism was always likely to be highly contradictory and explosive. Just look at the way in which modern conservatives have hacked away at some of their former favourite allies – the police. Squalid privatisation has more sensible right-wing types questioning their former stances, they are beginning to grasp the limitations of one market under god.

Weddings! Why do they bring out the worst in a certain type of people?

11 Feb

Here’s me on the verge of my own imminent nupitals. Something that I certainly didn’t envisage over a year ago to be sure, but I guess dialetically speaking that things change. However one thing that seems to be a perennial headache is the way in which certain types of individuals (usually though by no means exclusively women) seem to take over. As soon as a wedding is declared, their mushy brains come over all extra gooey, as they wax all lyrical and ingratiating.

Most galling is the way in which the most casual and distant of acquaintances suddenly announce that they amongst our most intimate circle and then demand their wedding invites upfront! The whole thing just leaves me feeling nauseated and repulsed by these fair weather types who usually treat me with a barely suppressed contempt and indifference during more normal times. I guess it goes to show human nature again in all its ridiculous and gory glory!

Eric Hobsbawm 1917 – 2012

13 Oct

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/oct/01/eric-hobsbawm

Eric Hobsbawm, the grand old man of left wing and Marxist history, died earlier this month. I have been reading and collecting his books since my undergraduate days. Although he chose to remain in the British Communist Party (perhaps rather unwisely given its dodgy pro-Soviet affliation), Hobsbawm was certaintly no rent-a-Marxist, often writing and arguing along with his fellow Eurocommunists in a right-wing revisionist vein, thus giving sustenance and succour to Kinnock’s machinations (see ‘The Forward March of Labour Halted?).

It was also a nice touch that Niall Ferguson from the other side of the political spectrum could pay tribute.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/oct/01/eric-hobsbawm-historian

As I’ve even blogged about a few months back, Ferguson’s own ‘historiography’ is not entirely out of the realms of a sophisticated Marxian take on things, even if the politics are something else atogether.

It’s a shame that we now have a massive vacuum of rigorous leftists in this current generation and crop of historians leading the field.