09 August 2008

The Doctor is in (part 2)

Gordon Brown’s premiership

Why has Gordon Brown’s public standing deteriorated so badly? Tony Blair faced more serious problems, e.g. the Iraq fiasco, yet seemed to hold up better.

Brown and Blair are probably similar in terms of innate abilities. Their different levels of success in the public arena can be attributed partly to the differences in their schooling. State comprehensive schools, like the one Brown attended, purvey a mediocratic ethos. The individual is unimportant: he should regard himself as no better than anyone else, and as subordinated to society.

Blair attended a private school, where teachers are paid to generate an ethos according to which individual pupils are entitled to feel good about themselves. This is much better preparation for a leadership role, or indeed any role which involves interacting with other people. It is also far better preparation for a role in which you have to endure a lot of pressure, scrutiny, criticism and downright hostility. Think of any British individual in the public domain with a ‘Teflon’ quality, and they are almost certain to have been educated privately.

Ironically, an ideology which stresses the social over the individual undermines people’s ability to interact successfully with others. Instead, they tend to come out sullen, resentful and introverted — qualities which in a mediocracy are insultingly redefined as ‘autistic’. (It is one of the paradoxes of mediocracy that some of the characteristics it is intolerant of are ones it tends to foster, e.g. lack of sociability, or politeness to people who are different from you.)

Righteous indignation leads to self-explosion

Why is a play sympathetic to the 7/7 bombers being given a warm reception?

The play Pornography, inspired by the 2005 London bombings and receiving its British premiere at this year's Edinburgh Festival, has received warm reviews in the Telegraph and the Guardian. According to its author Simon Stephens, the bombers

weren’t demons [and] weren’t operating in isolation from their country or their cultural movement – but were absolutely a product of it.
The primary function of culture in a mediocracy is to criticise or challenge bourgeois values. Provided it is understood that only particular versions of ‘critique’ or ‘challenge’ will be tolerated, a cultural producer cannot fail to go wrong by ticking the relevant boxes on the pseudo-radical agenda.

A play such as this functions as a useful legitimisation device for aggression targeted at the non-mediocratic. As Cherie Blair once memorably said, “As long as young people feel they have got no hope but to blow themselves up, you are never going to make progress.”

It is important, however, that the source of the desperation is not attributed to any of the features of mediocracy. Stephens carefully avoids the traps. He does not suggest that the anger of the bombers could have something to do with the boredom and frustration engendered by a culture that is hostile to all values incompatible with reductionism and egalitarianism. No, it must be something to do with capitalism.
[Stephens:] “at the heart of their action was an alienation from the people they were going to kill and from themselves. This seemed to be symptomatic of a consumerist culture, which objectifies everyone and everything.”
And with individualism, of course.
[For Stephens] the bombings were part of a bigger pattern established by the extreme individualism created in people by, amongst other things, modern technology.