No Time for Modern Art? That is What Politicians are Counting On!

impossible_cube_Escher
Impossible Cube from Belvedere   by M.C Escher

A  few weeks ago I wrote about the Duchy of Lancaster and how this institution uses ambiguity as a tool in its armoury of protecting privilege.  Then, last week Britain’s chief Brexit negotiator David Davis made the following claim about Britain’s negotiating position.  Responding to criticism that the Governments position is unclear he said:

You will find it difficult sometimes to read what we intend, That’s deliberate. I’m afraid in negotiations you do have constructive ambiguity from time to time.

So it seems a good time to revisit the idea of ambiguity in politics. As some of the more destructive ideas have emerged from the world of contemporary art it is useful to see how ambiguity, disguise and misperception is exploited in this domain. We can then see more clearly how they have been deployed to unsettle and confuse us.

Potential Images; Imprecise and Disturbing

In his book Potential Images: Ambiguity and Indeterminacy in Modern Art, Dario Gamboni writes that

Ambiguity may be defined as the character of what is susceptible to different interpretations. It can also be said to express the character of ‘what belongs to two interpretations’ and of ‘what lacks precision and disturbs’.

Lacks precision and disturbs will be recurring themes.  Gamboni was writing about the visual arts but makes it clear that ambiguity is widespread and present in all contemporary art to some degree.  Partly as a result of the methods of communication employed and partly due to greater familiarity with sonic art on my part I shall focus on how the ideas work out in music.

Continue reading “No Time for Modern Art? That is What Politicians are Counting On!”

Depending On How It Is Performed Inoculation Is Unpredictable; Also True Of Politics

I enjoy the work of blogger Tom Pride. Last month (13th August) he wrote about an article which appeared on the Conservative Home website.  It was titled ‘How to inoculate your children against Socialism’ written by Westminster City Councillor and member of the Adam Smith Institute,  J.P. Floru. Now I cannot compete with Mr Pride in terms of humorous irreverence so I’m taking a more prosaic and personal approach. For a start, in my post I want to leave aside the issue of socialism as my parents had no wish to inoculate me against anything apart from major infectious diseases (OK, and maybe fascism, but they were caring!). Furthermore, Floru’s post is as much about ‘catching’ right-wing Libertarianism as ‘inoculating’ against Socialism.

In Floru’s post he explains how young people can be inoculated in four ways.  Now, I have experienced each of these four ways so how did things turn out?  Lets start with:

1 Rebellion.

Floru claims that Jacob Rees-Mogg has made the astounding staement that teenagers are naturally rebellious. Thank goodness we have people like Rees-Mogg to tell us such things! Now, Floru does not actually recommend anything to counter this, so presumably he is as enlightened as Rees-Mogg. What did I take politically from my rebellious teenage years.  I grew up in an eastern valley in South Wales where the Labour party had a monopoly on political power. There was a certain arrogance and complacency in their attitude and I did rebel.  But it was against systems that gave absolute power to one group. Contestability and accountability are important to me (fundamental tenets of republicanism) and I am equally suspicious of, for example, Conservative dominated administrations.  Look how well Kensington and Chelsea has turned out! Floru has little to say abou contestability. But as inoculation is all about conferring immunity I guess it does not factor highly!

2. Inoculation (the crux)

Floru writes:

Michael Clark, a barrister, believes that children are effectively ‘innoculated’ by their parents. Long before they attend school, children from normal households will have heard the views of their parents. 

Further:

This is not about counter-brainwashing your children into right-wing thinking, but rather making them aware that there is an intelligent argument for it, and that they have a choice.

In my case my father encouraged me to think for myself and he would debate politics with me for hours. Sometimes I agreed with him and and built those into my political thinking! He enjoyed the exchanges and he taught me to think for myself. Floru is correct in that I became aware that Libertarian thinking was based around an intelligent argument.  But this only made me realise that I must be informed and focussed in opposing it!

3 Objective truth (!)

Floru claims.

Free market economics work; socialism doesn’t. Marxism, that invented ideology which never worked anywhere, has a tough sell.

My conclusion?  Free market economics is every bit an invented ideology as socialism and Marxism.  It has its roots in the works of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke (the intelligent arguers!) and is based on a view of late seventeenth century economics. If it was invented then I concluded that it can be (has to be!) changed.  Free market economics is not an innate and immutable  consequence of nature.

Finally

4 Understanding personal economics

Floru writes:

Parents can teach their children the values of work, saving, and financial prudence. Later, the children will realise that the state’s budget is but a macro version of their own. 

 

My parents taught me about personal finance and I have budgeted all my life. But, wealthy people frequently inherit their wealth, start with an an economic or social advantage and live off the proceeds of rents and investments, not their own efforts . But they like to tell us mere mortals about hard work, austerity  and being ‘self actualization’. Inherited wealth is driving ever greater inequality. Secondly, Floru is talking complete and utter rubbish.  A state’s finances are nothing like personal finances and this myth helps promote the austerity confidence trick which is impoverishing millions

So the result? One way or another my parents allowed me to experience these four ‘ways’ and the result is somewhat different to Floru’s desirable outcome. In fact, if anything I was inoculated against Floru’s right wing Libertarian ideology, a stance which remains as firm as ever!

 

The UK Government; A Good Show of Complacency and Unbroken Self Esteem

The persons who retained longest the values of an earlier time were the men who lived their lives in office

This statement was made by R.J. White in his insightful book Waterloo to Peterloo. He was writing about the British Government following the years after 1815 but he could easily be writing of our present time (albeit he would need to replace ‘men’ with ‘men and women’!).

Whether it is a failure to understand the multiplicity of forces unleashed during the Brexit referendum or the alienation of people living in high rise tower blocks the remoteness of our leaders from the lives of the majority of citizens is leading Britain along a disastrous path.  This is before we take into account the pace of change in technology which will eliminate a large proportion of relatively well-paid middle-class jobs within a generation.  For example the availability of cheap on-the-fly and almost 100 percent accurate digital language translation services will render human translators virtually extinct within the next five to ten tears.  Similar stories are to be found in many areas of technology.  Yet no acknowledgement let alone preparation to meet this advancing cull of jobs is made by the Governing class.

Complacent commentators will point out that we have faced this situation before during the past three hundred years and that other jobs will inevitably appear to replace those lost. They omit, however, to mention those new jobs were directly or indirectly fostered by Government investment.  The widespread development and renovation of London in the late eighteenth century, the huge boost to industrial progress via a massive naval build-up and the expansion of Government administration are merely three examples. Set against those projects, HS2 hardly rates a mention!  But can we really expect toff Boris Johnson or any of the Oxbridge PPE professional political class to really understand the forces which are shaping the modern world.

It would be untrue to say that the current cabinet bore an exact relation to their early nineteenth equivalents of the Waterloo to Peterloo (which occurred in 1819) period of White’s book, but there is a strong resemblance being composed almost largely of upper middle class and recently ennobled aristocracy . Likewise, the fatal flaws of archaic attitude also pervades the current incumbents.  Maybe there is something about the British political system which drags back even the most progressive of intentions. It is an issue which those who advocate the value of tradition frequently miss.

Tradition not only works for the already privileged, by definition it does so by maitaining an atmosphere of archaic smugness.  It enables Theresa May to run a Government desperately trying to return to the financial rules which dominated her professional life in banking from 1977 to 1997, long before the financial crash and brutal austerity. It also provides her with a sense of self-destiny engendering an arrogance that Brexit can be delivered by a few handpicked people who are clearly out of their depth. This may precipitate as big a disaster as any which befell a nineteenth century British administration.

Wrining of the final retirement of that Government which included the disaster of the Peterloo massacre which the poet Shelley railed so passionately against in Mask of Anarchy, White wrote this equally telling statement.

They rode the whirlwind without pretense of controlling the storm.  They continued to hold office with a good show of complacency and they left office at the last with unshaken self-esteem.

A similar epithet may be written about the current Government.

What Does the Grenfell Tragedy Tell Us About the Health of Representative Democracy?

SParticipatory DemocracyThat the Grenfell Tower disaster was a profound human tragedy is beyond dispute. Likewise, by general consent, the response of the non-emergency authorities was far from acceptable.  A remote and out-of-touch local council which suppressed opposition by disregarding it or actively mocking the attempt of representatives to challenge decisions. An inability to fully grasp the enormity of the problem and slapping away offers of help was mirrored by a central Government slow to react and seemingly incapable of displaying any understanding for the plight of homeless and bereaved citizens.

Now that a period of reflection is setting in, many officials are still in denial, repeating the mantra that we need to wait for a full inquiry before we know the cause of the blaze.  Within a narrow remit of the local conditions in Kensington and wider building regulations there is some sense in this, but you cannot escape the feeling that the aim is to delay and hope that by the time an inquiry reports back someone else will be in charge.

Representative democracy alone is failing us.

In an earlier post I pointed out that we need a complete rethink of rights and resources which can be wielded by citizens and civil organisations. But the possibility of such a review was immediately cast into doubt by the actions of Theresa May.  A few days after the disaster and clearly feeling the weight of public anger and resentment she agreed to meet with representatives of the victims. But where was the meeting held? In the privacy of Downing Street, which presumably left May in her comfort zone but must have been at least a little daunting to the representatives.  So why not at a neutral venue? There is no doubt that neighbouring local authorities would have been willing to have hosted such a meeting at short notice given the enormity of the disaster. But I think there is something deeper at work here than just another example of the lack of insensitivity to citizens by the Prime Minister.  It displays a fundamental fear by politicians of losing power or control; an inability to share authority where it really matters most.

Continue reading “What Does the Grenfell Tragedy Tell Us About the Health of Representative Democracy?”

Tax Cuts, the DUP and the Conservative Party Libertarian Counter-Revolution

Peter Brooks Tories
Source: Peter Brooks from The Times Newspaper

The deal the Conservative Party struck with the Democratic Unionists to retain their Commons majority raised some interesting issues about the Neo-Conservative project. Moreover, viewed in the context of their election campaign confusion over tax cuts the deep Tory fault lines are laid bare.

In earlier blogs I described the abrupt change in the nature and direction of the Conservatives since the accession to the leadership of Theresa May.  In these blogs I pointed to a close meshing of ideologies  between Donald Trump in the United States and Theresa May.  You can read these posts here and here but the essence of my argument is the Conservative abandonment of the pursuit of neo-Libertarianism to a largely Neo-Conservative outlook.

Although the situation is a complex one the difference hinges on the size of the Government.  Neo-Libertarians want to shrink the State and cut taxes, with the austerity policies of David Cameron and George Osborne providing a perfect cover.  Neo-Conservatives, however, favour a much larger state (though not at the citizen level) with higher taxes to support it.  Like the Neo-Libertarians they want the state withdrawn from the business of extendeing personal rights and protections (the Welfare State) and see a big project (Brexit for example) as the best way of mobilising patriotism, maintaining social cohesion and justifying the destruction of those rights.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this

What went wrong? In my posts I pointed to an influential figure in American right wing politics, David Brooks.  A central plank of his idea ifs that you cannot rely on consensus or inclusive politics to drive through a neo-Conservative programme, but instead it must be spearheaded by a closr-knit family (the Trumps) or a strong (and stable!!) individual (supposedly, Theresa May).  To the disappointment of the neo-Cons, in the US Trump is proving too incoherent, unpredictable and ill-disciplined to really make an effective impact.  As we have seen in our UK election, Theresa Mat has proven to be uninspiring, uncharismatic and incompetent. Any similarity between May and a Boudicca/Britannia figure evaporated very swiftly during the campaign and she proved to possess almost no talent to persuade anyone to follow her in a bonfire of rights in exchange for national greatness.

Continue reading “Tax Cuts, the DUP and the Conservative Party Libertarian Counter-Revolution”