Wednesday, 31 August 2005

GCSE in Plum Sauce

If someone had speculated thirty years ago that thirty years thence a qualification might be gained by answering such questions as how one might order a take-away, one might have reasonably assumed, in the absence of specific evidence to the contrary, that he was forecasting some educational scheme for the mentally retarded.
.....We latter-day souls, however, know better than to assume the best, and we would be right to assume the worst; for such a qualification is now offered to high-school pupils taking the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE), the highest qualification that a British high-school pupil might normally attain.
.....According to a report in The Sunday Telegraph (28th August 2005), the GCSE in Leisure and Tourism sets such tasks as “Describe what customers need to do to receive a delivery service from an Indian take-away restaurant”, and “Other than Indian food, name one other type of food often provided by take-away restaurants”. (Regarding the latter task, I feel it is only fair that the writer of the examination paper ought to be set with a task such as “Other than the one here, give another example of a tautology”.)
.....If I were to speculate about the future of education, then I would say that thirty years hence we might see a GSCE in Bolstering One's Self-Esteem, an A-Level in One's Petty Personal Opinions, and a PhD in Feeling Good about One’s Self through Bogus Scholarship. But this would be easy speculation; for these are already present in all but name.

Wednesday, 24 August 2005

Revolutionary Choices

Weekly Worker is the choleric organ of the Communist Party of Great Britain (Provisional Central Committee) (CPGB (PCC)), not to be confused with the Communist Party of Britain (CPB), whose organ is the Communist Review, which is not to be muddled with the New Communist Party of Britain (NCPB), whose organ is The New Worker, nor with the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) (CPB(M-L)), whose organ is Workers, which on no account should be mixed up with the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) (RCPB (M-L)), whose organ is Workers’ Weekly. None of these, moreover, should be confused with the old Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), whose quarrelsome existence from 1920 and whose disputatious demise in 1991 has given us in no small part this wonderful array of communist parties.
.....As I say, Weekly Worker is the organ of the CPGB (PCC), and it shows all the sore sedition of its socialist forebears, and no fewer of their fantasies. Therein, for instance, a chap by the name of Peter Manson writes with all the bolshiness that a brat can bring to bear. Perhaps if daddy had bought him that pony for his thirteenth birthday, he would have turned out to be an altogether different man. Perhaps then little Peter wouldn’t have determined to continue his tantrum all the way into his adult life. What is certain, however, is that the now adult Mr Manson is angry at the West, and wishes us to glimpse a better world of solidarity, slaughter and socialist revolution:
Just as the ruling class knows who its main enemy is, so too do we. That is why we are for the defeat of the US-UK occupation [in Iraq] and, what is more, uphold the right of the peoples of Iraq to expel the invaders. However, we are not indifferent to the political programme of the Iraqi resistance. In fact there is not a single resistance: there are many resistances, including those who at present are not using the methods of armed struggle.
.....True, if we had to choose, we would prefer the victory even of the islamists or Ba’athists to that of the imperialists. But we do not have to choose between these two forces. We favour the imperialists being driven out at the hands of a working class-led movement, and, crucially, using the crisis caused by the occupation of Iraq to bring about regime change in both the US and UK.
Peter Manson, “Defend the ‘Traitor’ George Galloway”, in Weekly Worker, 589, Thursday, 11th August 2005.
As we have seen, however, we in the United Kingdom are rather spoilt for choice in our revolutionary vanguards. Doubtlessly Mr Manson believes that his particular brand of sedition should take the lead in regime change. Before I can make my choice, however, I would need to know where all the modern communist parties stood on the question of pipe-smoking: the briar or the meerschaum, the long-stemmed or the short-, whether it is a bourgeois reaction or a proletarian affirmation. It would be a terrible shame, however, if bitter deliberation and schism thereover were to result in the delaying of the revolution for another hundred years or so.

Tuesday, 23 August 2005

A Modern Heresy

How would you credit the idea that breeds of dog are an illusion, a social construct, and an outdated eighteenth- and nineteenth-century concept? You would think it ludicrous, wouldn’t you? How about human races? Ah, now there we have it! They’re an illusion, a social construct, and an outdated eighteenth- and nineteenth-century concept, aren’t they?
.....Empirically, breeds in dogs and races in humans are similar. Yet in cherished belief, they are wholly different. Under no political compulsion to see breeds of dog as anything but what they are – as having biological reality –, we can see breeds of dog for what they are. But under political compulsion to see human races as anything but what they are – as having biological reality –, we can be compelled into thinking them a social myth.
.....At least this is how it is in the West. In Japan, for instance, the claim that human races are a myth would strike most as utterly against all evidence; and so it is, but then the population of Japan has not yet been reduced to the level of useful idiocy that the West now enjoys. In England, the mere mention of the possibility of the biological existence of race brings everyone out in a sweat. Good people just know that race is an outdated and unscientific concept, so outdated and unscientific, in fact, that any rational discussion or modern scientific evidence to the contrary is deemed heretical.
.....It is not only race that we are not allowed to see. In England nowadays, to come to one’s senses and see the world aright is treated as the grossest solecism. We must all commit ourselves to some sacred and binding falsehoods, lest we cause offence to the readily and expediently offendable; we must all repudiate the evidence of our senses and place our faith in the sayings of our intellectuals, lest we be denounced. For have you not heard? While our senses are irredeemably corrupt, and reason a useless organ, the political sayings of our opinion-shapers and masters are the hardest facts and the unchallengeable tenets of truth.
.....Every fallen age has its sacred falsehood to which it is a heresy not to commit, and this age is no different.

Monday, 22 August 2005

Wrestling with Tenure

There is scholarship and then there is sociology; the latter is alike to the former in the same way that a collage pasted together by the mentally retarded is akin to fine art. Perhaps the only thing to be said for sociology is that it keeps its professors away from the more important occupations in society, such as medicine, where they might with wonted contrariness prescribe the disease and symptomise the cure.
.....That it is not now a serious intellectual discipline is illustrated by the following excerpt from a study by Danielle Soulliere, published in the Electronic Journal of Sociology:

The aim of this study was to investigate the themes of masculinity revealed in television professional wrestling programs and to explore the way in which these themes of masculinity were constructed by these programs.

In total, 118 episodes of WWE programming were recorded and analysed for themes of masculinity.


During the initial viewings, it became apparent to the researcher that the announcers, audience and performers were intimately involved in the construction of masculinity. . . . [Moreover] . . . the following major themes were revealed to be significant markers of masculinity and are consistent with the dominant hegemonic masculinity prevalent in North American society: aggression and violence, emotional restraint, dominance, achievement and success, competition, toughness, risk-taking, courage, and heterosexuality. These themes effectively define what it means to be a man in professional wrestling as well as the larger society.

(Danielle Soulliere, "Masculinity on Display in the Squared Circle: Constructing Masculinity in Professional Wrestling", Electronic Journal of Sociology (2005))

Now, for the sake of brevity, I have left out some of the finer details of the method, such as the swallowing whole of the theory of social constructivism; and for the sake of sanity, I have not included all the fatuous results. It is enough to say that, after umpteen-hours watching – sorry, investigating, exploring and analysing – the blusterous exertions of spandex-clad baboons, Ms Soulliere has concluded, firstly, that wrestlers behave like blusterous baboons in spandex, and secondly, that this behaviour is socially constructed.
.....The whole tedious affair could have been boiled down to the following non-argument:

I, and some of the writers I cite, think that masculinity has certain characteristics and is socially constructed.
I have watched many hours of professional wrestlers displaying these same characteristics, which I think are socially constructed.
I think masculinity is constituted of these characteristics and is socially constructed.

That which is banal in this study is already known: that society affects men and men affect society. And that which is absurd is yet to be shown: that society constructs masculinity in toto. If I might venture an opinion, I would say it all sounds like a well-paid, socially flippant waste of time.

Friday, 19 August 2005

Fewtril #19

I should not be surprised to hear it said that the bourgeoisie is also to blame for the occurrence of haemorrhoids.

Thursday, 18 August 2005

Fewtril #18

Committees which thrive on problems should in all honesty adopt the motto: “We'll consider anything but a solution”.

Tuesday, 16 August 2005

The Comforting Thought of George Monbiot’s Death

I’m all for a noble serenity towards those regrettable but unavoidable facts of life, such as death. After all, there is no dignity nor anything else to be had by running around weeping and gnashing the ivories at the outward bleakness of life. Moreover, I should fain forbid all poetry on the subject, if only for the sake of decency and a good night’s sleep.
.....There are some persons, however, who claim not only to be untroubled by the thought of their own death, but also to be positively comforted by it. One such man is George Monbiot of The Guardian, who has this to say on the matter:

Darwinism implies that the only eternal life we have is in the recycling of our atoms. I find that comforting.
A Life with no Purpose”, The Guardian, 16th August 2005.)

I too must accept – as an agnostic – that life may well be no more than that which Mr Monbiot describes, but I fail to see how I could derive any comfort from this. Hot buttered toast is comforting. I dare say the thought of an eternity with seventy-two virgins promotes optimism. But the thought of personal annihilation in a cold, purposeless universe is hardly what I'd call heartening. Indeed, it strikes me as odd that a man might claim to take the prospect of his own utter annihilation as comforting.
.....Now, for all I know, this attitude might describe a perfect state of stoical ataraxia, but then again, it might describe a perfect state of numbness. But is it not more likely that it describes as perfect a state of pretension as one is ever likely to find in life? As a claim it serves well to display a supposedly dauntless, rational and no-nonsense attitude towards life and death; but I wager that it is a species of pretension that enjoys wide circulation amongst those who would have themselves seen as hard-headed; for who amongst them would dare first admit that he is not exactly chuffed at the prospect of his own death?
.....Perhaps I do the man a disfavour; for I must concede that I do not know what it is like to be George Monbiot. It may be hell, than which anything – even everlasting oblivion – is more agreeable. If that is the case, then I should like to join Mr Monbiot in finding the thought of his death quite comforting.

Fewtril #17

A fool believes that an extraordinary intellect says extraordinary things, and thus one has only to wait a short time before he says something extraordinarily stupid.

Monday, 15 August 2005

Hackish Humbug

Our journalists have been clinched by a queer mania that takes the form of a besetting urge to describe morons as “obviously bright”. I gather that so great a gap between description and reality is most likely a function of a perverse ideal of social justice; for almost invariably the moron afforded this hackish approbation is not some lamebrain or braying dolt of the middle or upper classes, but rather some wan-witted lowly rascal from the streets. The latter receives the largesse of our journalists; the former can expect no such charitable misrepresentation.
.....This bug of belying beneficence, that would in vain redress the scales of life, has its other side in miserliness, whereby a well-to-do person of ample wits is characterised as being a bit dim. Accordingly, if we were in madness to overthrow our senses and take the journalists at their words, we would build a picture of Britain in which the lowest quarters abounded with intellectual talent, and above which there was only a steady growth in privileged dimwittedness. False description weighs nothing, however, and serves only to measure the falsifier’s shortcomings.

The Rot Spreads

The rot of social inclusion spreads to Glyndebourne, “home of genteel country house opera and black-tie picnics”, which is “to try to update its image by staging a rap version of one of Mozart’s best loved works [Cosi Fan Tutte]”. (Ben Dowell, “Glyndebourne invents da hip-hopera”, The Sunday Times, 14th August 2005.).
.....According to Mr Dowell of The Sunday Times, “The decision to stage the new Cosi . . . is part of an attempt by David Pickard, general director of Glyndebourne, to attract younger audiences to the medium.” The illogic of this ruling philistine goes something like this:

The youth of today is not attracted to x,
Therefore, in order that it is attracted to x, we must make x not-x.

Charlie Parker, a hip-hop producer and creative consultant to this travesty, is quoted as saying: “Traditional British people have to start re-examining themselves and their culture in terms of addressing the new age.” In other words, it is imperative that we destroy all vestiges of culture.

Friday, 12 August 2005

Fewtril #16

We moderns have a provocative way of dealing with our useless and talentless citizens: we make the conditions amenable to their shortcomings, so that they might become designers, architects, museum curators, and gurus of every kind.

Wednesday, 10 August 2005

Fewtril #15

To call oneself educated, it is not enough to be able to read a book; rather, it is to be able to understand the history of thought that led the writer of the book to get into such a frightful mess.

Tuesday, 9 August 2005

The Old Chicanery

It cannot be imagined how much misery has been caused by those who would make the world a happier and safer place. The reason such an avowed intent has produced its opposite is usually because, either the would-be do-gooder comes from the good-fairy-and-daisy-chain school of unthought, in which it is believed that the hard edges of reality can be smoothed off by goodwill, fantasy and the vigorous rubbing of fluffy bunnies; or the intention is really a sham, and the real motivation is to destroy the present system and replace it with one in which the “do-gooder” would enjoy more power.
.....It is often hard to distinguish between the two; for in the pursuit of power, the fraudster is prepared to be mistaken for the well-intentioned fool. This brings us swiftly into consideration of Mr George Monbiot of The Guardian, who believes that, “The world will be a happier and safer place when we stop putting our own countries first”. ("The New Chauvinism", The Guardian, 9th August 2005.)
.....An assumption underlying this claim is obvious: that patriotism is a cause of unhappiness and danger. Another is not so obvious, and may be one of two: that patriotism is either not a cause of happiness and safety, or, if it is, that the happiness and safety brought about by its absence outweighs the happiness and safety brought about by its presence. These two assumptions together are necessary and sufficient for Mr Monbiot’s assertion that an absence of patriotism would see the world “a happier and safer place”.
.....The first assumption is largely uncontroversial: there can be little doubt that patriotism is the proximate cause of some of the world’s unhappiness and danger. But the second is different. Is patriotism not also a source of happiness and safety? Do men not feel happiness in the love of their homeland, and do they not find safety amongst their like-minded fellows? If Mr Monbiot concedes that patriotism is a source not only of unhappiness and danger but also of happiness and safety, then the onus is on him to show that the happiness and safety of its absence outweighs those of its presence.
.....This is not easy to do. One of the hard edges of reality is that man tends to prefer the familiar over the foreign. Against man’s natural proclivities, therefore, a war must be fought if he is to be changed at the intellectual’s preferred pace. The claim that he will be happier and safer because of this war against him, however, is one that can only find a place in the perverse and philotyrannical utterances of intellectuals; for we have seen this war against man’s nature, and nothing has been more productive of slaughter and slavery.
.....There is no doubt that the attitude that Mr Monbiot evinces is more common than it was a hundred years ago; and this must fill Mr Monbiot and other “Friends of Humanity” with hope. Indeed the following statement of his might stand as a gloomy mantra of modern decrepitude:
I am not ashamed of my nationality, but I have no idea why I should love this country more than any other.
In fitting with this, it ought to be said -- lest anyone think him insufficiently hard-headed -- that Mr Monbiot is not ashamed of being his mother’s son, but he has no idea why he should love his mother more than any other.

Monday, 8 August 2005

Fewtril #14

Hitherto we have deplored the incompetence of intellectuals, yet we might well be thankful for so clear a guide to knowledge; for what intellectuals do not know is probably worth knowing.

The Spurious Claim that Anthropological Reports are More Certain than Arithmetic Facts

Quite often these days, there emerges from the close and sordid pages of an academic journal an anthropological report that tells of a distant, little-known tribe whose members do not know how to do arithmetic or how to count above two. In radically “sceptical” quarters, this is greeted with gleeful credulity, embraced as further proof – aha! – of the relativity of knowledge. An enfant of the terrible kind will perk up and say, “Seven plus nine equals sixteen only by social convention, and thus it does not constitute a universal truth”. Hoping we miss the tautology of this statement, he will regale us with the anthropological tale where this simple arithmetic reportedly does not hold true, and tells us that it is only we in our cultural arrogance that would foist our arithmetic faith on another culture.
.....Yet though he claims to doubt that an arithmetic fact such as seven plus nine equals sixteen is a universal truth, he holds no doubt in his empirical “fact” that there is a culture as described that holds a differing view, notwithstanding the evidently more uncertain grounds whence this “fact” was derived. If he can doubt the legitimacy of arithmetical or logical facts, what explains his faith in anthropological reports that are, after all, on epistemically less certain grounds? With all his doubts, how did he accept this “fact”? If this were not indication enough of intellectual bankruptcy, consider the conclusion that he drew from this anthropological “fact”:

Not every part of humanity knows how to do arithmetic,
Arithmetic ‘facts’ are not universally true

It takes no great brain to spot that the conclusion does not follow from the premise. The conclusion that logically follows is: Arithmetic know-how is not universal. An established anthropological fact this may be, but then I don’t know that it is – I am told so by some anthropologists, but given the past commitment of some anthropologists to using their field not as a means of gaining knowledge of other cultures, but rather as a political tool in the cultivation of their own, I remain sceptical of the claim. Of course, I know that arithmetic know-how is not universal in one sense: amoebas, for instance, cannot add up, and British school-children have great difficulties, but then I doubt these are what the chaps have in mind when they use the phrase “universally true”. So what is meant, then?
.....Note the implicit criterion in the argument that for something to be true, it must be universally believed or known to be true, and thus conversely, that something is false if it is not universally believed or known to be true. I suppose, therefore, that what is meant by “universally true” is “universally believed or known to be true”. And yet time and again, the phrase “universally true’ is foisted into an argument, where properly the term “universally believed” or “universally known” should stand. This is in an effort to support the belief that truth is relative to culture and so forth, and yet it is merely a sophistic restatement of that belief. At the risk of labouring the point, consider the following reformulation of the illogicality: Because x is not known among culture A, it is not universally true. The proper conclusion should read: it is not universally known, which states merely that there is ignorance of the facts somewhere, but not that the facts are not known elsewhere.
.....We have then, on top of a spurious argument, the curious idea that a thing is false precisely because not everyone believes in it, and that a thing is true only if everyone believes in it. Well, I can tell you now that not everyone believes that anthropologists are intelligent, well-adjusted persons who seek honestly to clarify our understanding of the world.

Friday, 5 August 2005

Fewtril #13

It may fairly be conjectured that, if we sat an infinite number of French philosophers at an infinite number of typewriters for an infinite amount of time, they would still produce nothing but gibberish.