04 July 2011

notepad: July

The purpose of mediocratic ideology is the same as that of Marxist ideology: to make life impossible for genuine intellectuals, i.e. those who might generate real cultural progress. To mask the issue, an ersatz system of high culture has been built up, designed to perpetuate and reinforce the ideology, and to ensure no assistance is given to those whom the system carefully excludes.

Prince Philip turned 90 last month. He is often dismissed as someone capable only of politically incorrect gaffes. I was re-reading a paper based on a broadcast he gave in 1977 on Radio Clyde, however. It is still very much to the point.
... the choice is between a philosophy which holds that all individual citizens must serve the general public interest [or] a philosophy which asserts that the individual is of paramount importance and that therefore the state exists to preserve and protect his human rights to liberty and integrity ... If the choice is made simply on the basis of what looks most attractive and expedient at the time, or from a short-sighted view of self-interest, the consequences are usually disastrous.

Corrections of real or imagined faults lead to controls; controls lead to more faults and even more control. Then, as the controls mount up, the costs and the bureaucracy required to operate them begin to escalate and the emphasis is no longer on the welfare of the individuals but on the economic viability of the State. *
Towards the end of the paper Philip holds out hope by pointing to the existence of intellectual dissenters. Back in 1977, a few people were willing to criticise “the nebulous concept of social justice” which, as he says, is used in practice to justify the erosion of liberty. 34 years later, the nebulous concept has become a key term in compulsory school lessons. Few now dare to question it. The organisations that were dissenting then, and which briefly gained prominence during the heyday of Thatcherism, have mostly watered down their positions.

• Prince Philip once (before my time) appeared to toy with the idea of supporting us, to the point of getting one of his representatives to meet one of ours. Perhaps the courtiers persuaded him against it. Meanwhile here we are still languishing, our abilities largely wasted, our dissident voices suppressed. Nevertheless, it is interesting that the individual who came closest to giving us significant backing, after media magnate Cecil King, was the man at the top of the British aristocracy.
[4 July]

* in Harris and Seldon (eds.), The Coming Confrontation, IEA 1978

Update: some more comments about Prince Philip

• Shocked about the activities of News of the World journalists? With worse still to come out of the woodwork, as is hinted? How could nice middle-class professionals have blatantly broken the law like that?
Laws are not the only thing that determines behaviour. If an ideology supports something, even respectable and semi-respectable folk will allow what they think of as morality to override legality. If people are taught to think of property as quasi-theft, there will be less inhibition about assaulting or robbing those perceived as having too much.
We are encouraged to believe we all have a right to know what other people, particularly those in the limelight, are up to. The Church of England, nowadays an efficient articulator of prevailing ideology, usefully illustrates the standard ‘moral’ position on this. When Max Mosley won his High Court case against the News of the World, former Archbishop George Carey (writing in the News of the World) complained that the ruling removed “the right of the public to make informed moral judgments” — presumably about the chairmen of motoring organisations, footballers and suchlike.
It is not surprising that some newspapers feel they have a legitimate mission to bend or break the rules in excavating the data to which their readers have a supposed moral right. What would be surprising is if there is any newspaper (or other media organisation) still left that is not doing something dodgy in this department.
In an era when both ‘quality’ Left (Guardian) and Right (Telegraph) make pacts with a disseminator of illegally hacked data, it would be naive to expect any part of the media to respect privacy where it conflicts with what they see as the ‘public interest’ — often no more than a lazy euphemism for entertainment.
In a mediocracy, power is with society. And society wants everyone to be answerable to it, or at least observable. Privacy is not considered a right. It may be permitted if society happens not to be interested. However, with advances in technology the number of areas which society cannot be bothered to scrutinise is shrinking.

The nature of the searchlight depends on whether it is the mass, or agents of the elite, who are doing the observing. When the mass calls the individual to account, the issue is one of social acceptability. Do we like this person? What have they done for us lately? Are they attractive? Are they useful? Do they conform to social norms? If not, are they at least funny? Are they prepared to degrade themselves for our amusement?

Television programmes in which we observe people’s unrehearsed behaviour are often dismissed as little more than cheap entertainment. But in fact they are important assertions of mass power, and of the implied right of mediocracy to inspect every aspect of an individual’s life. (Mediocracy, p.144)
Of course, the whole media intrusiveness issue is relatively trivial when compared to the invasions of privacy by the state and its ‘medical’ and ‘educational’ arms.

• To the extent there is still any actual ‘pursuit of truth’ involved in media practice these days, it often seems to be a displacement. Journalists, like other members of the il-liberal elite, appear to have a hang-up about drawing attention to the real problems facing this country, such as the fact that a phoney and destructive ideology has brought it to its knees and generated spurious legitimacy for harassing the bourgeoisie. So instead they divert their and their readers’ discomfort onto safe substitutes: exposing sexual escapades, revealing politicians’ off-the-record remarks, ‘uncovering’ media scandals.

• Example of displacement: the “Dirty Hari” case. The Independent’s Johann Hari sometimes gets a little, shall we say, creative when writing up interviews? Big deal. The hot air generated by this non-event is probably a substitute for something more significant which it is taboo to mention. Such as: mainstream journalists, mediocratised by years of reading colleagues’ endorsements of pseudo-egalitarian ideology (as well as their own), are no longer capable of having ideas and therefore have to ‘borrow’ from people’s blogs, including those of my colleagues and me. I seem to find distorted or dumbed-down versions of our arguments and phrases echoed on New Statesman blogs and Daily Mail columns, in FT commentaries and the musings of former Times editors. I (a) find it hard to believe this is all just cognitive bias on my part, (b) am not particularly gratified to be ‘influential’, (c) do not enjoy being an unpaid muse for hacks.
I realise it is standard journalistic practice to freely borrow ideas and inspiration from one another without acknowledgment, and I sympathise with the need to fill allocated column inches. The difference is that what I do is unpaid, and intended to raise awareness of our position, so that one day some Russian oligarch (say) with a desire to finance intellectual endeavour might support us. Not only are Fleet Street’s finest doing nothing to provide publicity for us, which you might think was part of their job, but they appear to gleefully exploit what content is available for free. Perhaps it is thought clever to capitalise on the output of someone who appears to be a naive idealist, in the same way that it is thought ‘clever’ to entrap gullible celebrities.
No laws are broken, but the attitude is otherwise perfectly consistent with the standards prevailing at the NOTW.
[11 July]

“I seem to find distorted or dumbed-down versions of our arguments and phrases echoed ...” — sorry, I forgot to mention the Independent.

• The hottest dance act in the capital last month seems to have been something called Un peu de tendresse bordel de merde! at Sadler’s Wells which (according to the Daily Mail and other reviewers) featured naked male dancers rubbing their crotches into audience members’ faces, spitting on people’s spectacles, pretending to vomit over their shoes, masturbating to orgasm etc etc. Not having attended, I do not feel qualified to comment on the show’s merits. I was, however, struck by a write-up of the piece in the British Theatre Guide which opined that
[the nudity] is meaningful and reminds us that our bodies are integral to our lives, each and every one of us, no matter how cerebral we might imagine we are ... Our body is at the centre of our entire being; it is our sensory intermediary with external stimuli, and yet our Western cultures, and religions, denigrate the body and relegate it to the realms of raw animal instincts that should be controlled by rationality.
The claim that our Western cultures denigrate and relegate the body rings false. Over the past few decades, the arts seem to have been keen to emphasise the body at the expense of the mind. In the visual arts, physicality has been a key theme since Hirst and Emin became notable, if not earlier.

• Looking at the two drama productions featured in The Week at the time of writing this, we have (a) Much Ado About Nothing with David Tennant, which the Observer says is characterised by “sexual urgency”, reminding us that “Nothing” is Elizabethan slang for vagina; and (b) Garsington Opera’s Magic Flute in which (according to the Telegraph) Tamino flees “exhausted from some druggy all-night rave to be hit on by a Lady Gaga-ish Queen of the Night ... and ladies in leather dominatrix gear”.
Sex has become crucial as a means of defining the individual. It is therefore not surprising if cultural sexualisation — a process whereby coupling takes on intrinsically positive moral and socio-aesthetic tones — has by now intruded into the realm of childhood. Banning suggestive kids’ clothing, as is threatened, is merely the usual tactic of trying to change a condition by fiddling with the symptoms.

• The Mail’s headline for the review of Un peu de tendresse contained the tired phrase “assault on our values”. However, it could be argued that the themes I have described — the ideological purpose of which is (I suggest) to demonstrate that the cerebral has been pwned by the physical — are now our values.
[25 July]

aphorism of the month:

I cannot write long books; I leave that for those who have nothing to say.
Celia Green, The Decline and Fall of Science

food for grey cells:

discovering new organisms

The author of this blog is an unsalaried academic. Like his colleagues, he is excluded from the academic system because of the way that system is currently run. (The phrase “sausage factory” was recently used by a government minister, expressing part of the problem.) As a result, he is unable to write in detail about intellectual issues to which he could be contributing, and has to limit himself to brief blog comments.

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