12 December 2009

year-end notes

The backlash will not be libertarian. I have said it (to myself) for years: the reaction against the absurdities of the socialist project, when it finally comes, will not unfortunately be in the direction of greater liberty but in the direction of more authoritarianism. Earlier this year I saw evidence which suggested this has started to happen. Two of the top columnists of a certain conservative newspaper, one a man with pretensions to being a serious intellectual, both separately proposed with perfect straight-facedness that feckless members of the underclass should be compulsorily sterilised.
Around the same time, Bernie Ecclestone caused a furore by allegedly saying that Hitler "got things done". I found the universal breast-beating which ensued (e.g. in The Times) mildly disturbing, because it reeked just a little of protesting too much.
For the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the BBC put out a programme in which it was suggested that oppressive regimes are conducive to cultural creativity.
Well, the transition should be fairly smooth at any rate, since we already have one version of authoritarianism-lite in place. It is not really that big a step from compulsory child removal, on grounds of obesity or similar fatuity, to compulsory sterilisation.
Tip: be wary of those seeking to blame the ills of a mediocratic society on 'individualism'. Their instincts are likely to be authoritarian.

• An academic philosopher I know is shocked when it is suggested to him that there might be something objectionable in principle about state intervention. I suppose the assumption that intervention is the answer has become so universal that it is no longer even possible to imagine an alternative perspective. A gestalt shift has occurred in which people are literally unable to see that there might be a viewpoint from which what is being done is seen as clearly immoral (cf. Wittgenstein's duck-rabbit). Shifts in worldview, and the accompanying difficulty of seeing things another way, are to be expected among the general population, but should we not expect philosophers to behave differently? But actually, there is no reason at all why a member of a collectivised establishment, paid to produce acceptable thoughts, should be able, let alone willing, to generate genuinely critical or challenging ideas. Sticking the "philosopher" label on him or her probably makes this even less likely, not more. Real philosophy can only be done by those who do not depend on the support of a collectivised body, and certainly not on the support of the state.

• Postscript re teenagers' supposed right to sex. We have to be cautious when the term 'right' is used in a mediocracy, as the concept is now often muddled with its inversion, duty. In post-Blair Britain, the citizen appears to have an implied contract with the welfare state, involving various obligations on his part such as ensuring his children attend designated schools, and 'cooperating' with their teachers, however damaging and interventionist such establishments are. The right to have garbage collected has metamorphosed into the duty to process and sort waste on behalf of local government.
So the il-liberal elite, via such mouthpieces as the NHS, may actually be talking about a teenager's duty to have sex. It now seems to be regarded as intrinsically virtuous to have sex with someone, anyone — however obnoxious or bad in bed they are. This dogma is not confined to cultural authorities; everyone seems to have grasped the new philosophy.
"Shouldn't you be out having sex, dear?"
"But Mum, I'd rather just read my book."
"Do as you're told."
"Yes, Mum."
There are surely few things more creepy than the collective ordering individuals to have carnal relations. I am reminded of the late Auberon Waugh mocking Father O'Bubblegum "blessing one's exertions through some misty spiritual windowpane."

the current priestly attitude to sex [wrote Waugh] is that it is a joyous sacrament ... symbolising in its highest possible form the commitment of the individual to the community*
"Sex is nothing of the sort" countered Waugh, "it is an intensely personal thing between two people in which nobody has a share."
Was, my dear Auberon, was.

• Another point, which Waugh (as far as I am aware) did not make, is that sex typically involves an element of rebelliousness. It does what it wants, and does not like being told what to do. By a process of reverse psychology, all this breathless encouragement may paradoxically be producing a generation of celibates and impotents. (Perhaps that is what is intended? L'inconscient collectif a ses raisons, que la raison ne connaĆ®t point**.) This might help to explain why two of the key words of the internet era are porn and Viagra.

• Earlier this year I read about some 'research', the results of which seemed to imply that those voting for mildly-statist ('conservative') parties tend to be motivated by excessive anxiety. What would be equally interesting to investigate is whether there is any connection between voting for zealously-statist ('progressive') parties and a relative inability to make inferences, such as from "the state must spend more" to "the state must tax more". Or how about a possible link between support for state intervention and the irrational displacement of childhood-generated resentments onto social scapegoats such as capitalism? No doubt research along these lines is being carried out as I write, in some state-sponsored university or other.

• I remember clearly where I was when I saw the TV report that John Lennon had been killed, and where I was when I heard Princess Diana had died, but I have already forgotten where I was when I read that Michael Jackson was no longer of this world. Perhaps it is early-onset Alzheimer's, but I suspect not. Jackson was a genius, claimed a number of people. No he wasn't, wrote someone in the Daily Mail, but some bloke who sews kids' faces back together is. Tommy Cooper, Wayne Rooney, Banksy, numerous kids with Asperger's — the list of modern geniuses seems to be endless. As for Jackson, he made one album of top quality pop (Off the Wall), and the rest were so-so, in my opinion. Thriller is as overrated as Sergeant Pepper. Of course, the latter two albums both sold huge (more than the Bible or whatever), so perhaps they ought to be given prizes for generating social cohesion. Come to think of it, that is perhaps a suitable mediocratic re-definition of genius: someone who can unite diverse peoples, amen.
I regard Jackson's contribution to music as no more significant that that of, say, Blondie or Morcheeba, and certainly less than that of fellow Motowner Stevie Wonder. However, I shall always fondly remember him for one of the most infectious and exuberant pop songs ever written.
Rather than as a genius, Jackson is perhaps best seen as an illustration of what happens in a mediocracy to the wrong kind of non-conformists with insufficiently thick skins: they are hounded by the mass — via the instrument of the media where appropriate — to the point where their lives are made unliveable.

• Someone who has managed to maintain a high standard of output over the years is Mr. Hewson. I refer of course to his music, not his contributions to global politics.
While mediocracy frowns on the idea of heroes, the mass must be permitted a certain amount of celebrity worship for therapeutic purposes. There should therefore be high profile spokesmen for mediocratic ideology drawn from outside the government. These should be popular entertainers or sportsmen rather than producers of high culture, as their message is more likely to reach a wide audience. Mediocracy will grant economic advantages to such persons in exchange for promulgating socially correct values, meaning such things as assertiveness, egalitarianism and cartoonisation. (Mediocracy, p.139)
"I represent a lot of people who have no voice at all", Hewson once said.*** I feel a little like that myself sometimes. The members of the constituency I would claim to represent, however, fail to tick the pseudo-egalitarian boxes, and are therefore ignored and despised by the 'compassionate' cultural establishment.

• (After browsing Guardian readers' online comments.) The Left do seem to like their scapegoats, however remote from actuality they become.
Vision of Britain in 2109. A desolate landscape of decay and brutality, reminiscent of Mad Max 3.
Aged Person 1 to Aged Person 2: "Sad how things have declined."
Aged Person 2: "It is all the fault of the Thatcha."
"What is the Thatcha?"
"She was an evil being who sold houses to the proletariat. She encouraged people to be aggressive and ruthless, when previously they had always been loving and kind."

• I was going to comment on the Climategate scandal, particularly given what I wrote earlier this year about climate change and academic neutrality, but it touches on so many key issues that I need to leave it for the next post. Were many academics shocked by the sneak look at the murky underbelly of academic politics? I doubt it. Most of them would not have got to where they are without knowing the score.
Funny; significant sections of the population seem willing to believe that orthodox climatology is seriously biased, and that sceptics are discriminated against. Yet my colleagues and I rarely receive expressions of sympathy with our position as academics, exiled because we would not toe the fashionable line in other areas (philosophy, psychology, economics etc.). A cynic might say, even critics of the biased establishment care only about politics, not about the plight of individuals.
What I find particularly galling is when I occasionally read a comment that suggests there isn't a problem. E.g. academic at the State University of Right Wing Central: "Oh, I never encountered prejudice or difficulty in my career."

• Another year is nearly over, and my colleagues and I are still unjustly without professorships. This statement does not imply any opinion about our abilities. These days, more or less anyone of my age working within the academic establishment (and the average IQ of this population is probably lower by now than that of graduates in general) is pretty much guaranteed a professorship — unless they have done something really egregious, such as producing research that is inconsistent with egalitarian ideology. What these professors generate in the way of 'work' is, for the most part, an appalling waste of time and money which does not advance culture one iota.
What little opportunity for intellectual output I have at present I owe entirely to the efforts of Celia Green in building up, against almost total opposition, an organisation from nothing — a prodigious feat for which she deserves respect, quite apart from her contributions to science and philosophy.

• From time to time this blog receives comments, usually from academic-minded folk, to the effect that what I write here is itself mediocre. What they are referring to, I think, is that the level of technicality on this blog is kept extremely low. I do not try to show off my credentials as a highly trained academic, complete with armoury of impressive terminology, which seems to be what most people these days — both inside and outside academia — mean by 'intellectual'. At times what I write may appear almost childish in its simplicity. Arguably, the best philosophy is like this; Descartes, for example, writes in a style which could be called childish. Not that I am claiming to be doing philosophy here. I am not, and indeed blogging is probably not what I would be doing at all if I were able to be a salaried academic.
I do however attempt to make some important points on this blog, and sometimes even aim at profundity, while adopting the complete opposite in style from the fashionable gobbledygook of mediocratic academia.
So far, my targets have largely been confined to politics, journalism and popular culture. Next year, time and energy permitting, I shall start going after some slightly bigger fish. Levels of clarity and simplicity will however be maintained.

• Finally, on a positive note, I cannot resist posting this picture, particularly as it has a seasonal flavour. It is one of the entries by this year's Turner Prize winner, Richard Wright. Some of his work is clearly in the vein of 90s Britart — the cold and clinical, rather than the in-your-face, end of it — but this is the one the papers have chosen to print, for obvious reasons as it is genuinely unusual by current standards. Might this be a toe-dipping sign of the incipient partial demediocratisation of contemporary British art? Might, in fact, hell be freezing over? We await further developments with interest.

* Another Voice, pp.129-130
** The collective unconscious has its reasons, which reason does not know. Pascal, slightly edited.
*** Bono on Bono, p.149