Monday, 8 August 2011

Little men in big jobs

Nice how Italian waitresses look after your children in the kitchen

The government’s response to world economic crisis and riots in Tottenham has been, more or less, resounding silence. Cameron has made the ‘difficult decision in difficult times’ to have less Restylane in his forehead so he can pose with a more convincing concern, but is more worried about whether the ‘scouts camping in his garden’ story (which was allegedly for charity, but how much did the security cost?) was big enough to drown out the ‘non-tipping of waitress’ story.

Osborne was sufficiently stirred from his sun lounger in Hollywood to make the ‘tough but fair’ decision to order a flunky to answer the constantly ringing phone.

But don’t worry, everything’s fine. William Hague (who evidently is Acting Deputy PM) can drawl on about virtually anything he knows nothing about, as evidenced every morning on Radio 4 news. Hague says the violence in Tottenham is ‘unacceptable’ - tough words for tough times.

So, once again we are faced with unprecedented levels of ignorance and stupidity in response to mind-blowingly serious situations. We have a government led by a Cabinet of little men in big jobs, existing in a mutual admiration bubble which is contributing to the downward spiral of the economic and social meltdown they have created.

Which brings us very neatly to parallels in the stupidity/power index in K&C which I am constantly searching to unpick and understand.

A current holiday read discusses conceptual engineering which offers some insight. Some of us are wired very differently than others. Some people will believe that if b) succeeds a), then a) is the cause and b) the effect; this is simplistic. Fatalists believe everything is determined, human life is organised in hierarchies, those with higher status benefit, those lower down get what they deserve (which is less). They believe everyone is selfish and are out for themselves, in competition with others – homo economicus - and worse still, there is nothing we can do, that’s just the way it is.

These lazy sophists will argue from a single viewpoint, so if they read in the Daily Mail about one family who abused the Housing Benefit system to rent a large house in an expensive area, or a multi-generational family of unemployed and disaffected who don’t wish to work, they will extrapolate that everybody on benefits are lazy work-shy scroungers, and woe betide anyone with contrary and heart-breaking examples. They will discuss the ‘deserving poor’ and the ‘undeserving poor’, and they know which is which without even bothering to look at circumstances. The problem here is that they are judging others by their own standards; a bit of a give-away frankly.

This standpoint is based on a philosophical mistake and a physiological misunderstanding. Intelligent thought sets us above pure animal instincts and dog-eats-dog competition. Human nature is ‘by nature’ cooperative; the message is false.

So those of us who, however imperfect, are willing to go forward with ideals, with the insecurity of indeterminism, with optimism that human nature is essentially good and will, or at least may prevail, have the advantage. We may be disappointed, but we go forward with such hope and (on good days), enthusiasm, that people including ourselves are more inclined to live up to, not down to, our expectations.

So, next time I hear unspeakably ignorant judgments from those whose expensive education has ill-equipped them for a normal life, I will respond, very serenely, ‘Those are your beliefs based on your experience, which is very different to mine’.

Though the words might come out a bit different.


  1. Good points, Emma. We do tend to perceive the world through our experiences, and via the stories our parents and elders tell us. If you're brought up believing that the poor are feckless and that you've been bred and educated to rule, then it takes a little will power and intelligence to think differently.

  2. The more you think about it, the truer it is in the context of what has been happening in Tottenham etc.

    This unfortunate bad apple, we are told, did not draw his weapon and wouldn't against the police. The sad result will likely be toughening up of police action and a possible cancellation of Notting Hill Carnival.


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