There's a brilliant letter in the Guardian this week from Dr Michael McGhee which draws attention to the power of language to confuse and deceive.
Torture claims and tangled tenses[Did you see what the head of MI5 did there? Dr McGhee certainly did:]
Let's suppose, against all the indignant protestations, that MI5 officers had been "complicit" in the torture of Binyam Mohamed, that is to say, knowingly took advantage of that torture. Is this denied by MI5 chief Jonathan Evans (Storm grows over MI5 torture claim, 13 February): "We did not practise mistreatment or torture and do not do so now, nor do we collude in torture or encourage others to torture on our behalf."?
I think it is not denied. In the past tense, he denies that we practised torture, but is silent about whether we were complicit or colluded.
Then in the present tense, it is denied that we now collude in torture, using the ambiguity of the continuous present, which affirms that we don't torture people, to suggest that we haven't colluded in torture in the past.
Alan Johnson's remarks are also carefully crafted: "The security services in our country do not practise torture, they do not endorse torture, they don't encourage others to torture on our behalf, they don't collude in torture". Leaving aside the "in our country" (which leaves open what they do abroad), Johnson's remarks say nothing about what we might have done at Bagram or Guantánamo in the past. Furthermore, you don't need to "encourage" others to torture to take advantage of their doing so, nor do you need to have colluded in it to be complicit.
Dr Michael McGhee
Acting head, department of philosophy, University of Liverpool
Wonderful. My italics and bold.
Another Learning Revolution?
This is from the BBC's website, giving details of a very good discussion on yesterday's programme -
The way children are taught is now so "formulaic and mechanised" that its time for another great debate on education, similar to that started by James Callaghan 30 years ago. That is the view of the master of Wellington College, Anthony Seldon. He'll be proposing the idea at a debate on education at the British Library tonight.
Well I couldn't resist going down to said Library, could I?
This was an event set up by a group that calls itself "Bright Blue" - it's both "bright" and "blue" - geddit?
To be fair, it's exactly what you'd want from Tories, in terms of 'progressive' and 'compassionate' Conservatism, bearing in mind they say they're independent of the Conservative Party. This is from their website -
what is bright blue?
Bright Blue is a not-for-profit, independent organisation passionately committed to promoting a fairer, more socially just Britain . . . and fresh thinking to meet today's challenges and to unite Conservative traditions of community, entrepreneurialism, responsibility and democracy with a strong emphasis on fairness to enable everyone to become the author of their own lives.
For us, this conviction translates to seven core causes:
* Social Justice: Focusing on helping the most deprived, here and abroad.
* Fair Start: Supporting parents in the early years and at school to maximise life chances for all children.
* Human Government: A responsive government that puts the person before the process.
* Social Responsibility: Taking responsibility for the society we want to live in, and being the change we want to see in the world.
* Sustainable Economy: Environmentally, socially and financially responsible industries and individuals.
* Powerful Citizens: Reviving and creating routes for citizens to take control of the politics that affects their lives, locally and nationally.
* Optimistic Politics: We believe political action has the potential to bring positive change; that government is not the same as bureaucracy; and that we can build a society in which no one is left behind.
Phew! Can't argue with any of that. Sounds like they're to the left of New Labour, at any rate.
All are welcome as we explore the key questions: What are schools for? What is learning for? And what are we educating for?
Dr Anthony Seldon, Master of Wellington College, is a renowned academic and commentator, both on British education and contemporary British politics.
Toby Young is a high profile author, journalist, blogger and commentator, with a particular interest in education and in setting up his own school in West London.
Toby Young first of all (presumably by way of apology for what was about to come out of his mouth) informed the room that he'd scribbled his 10 minute speech on the back of an envelope whilst stuck on the M25 with his kids. Sure enough, it sounded like he'd made it up in a motorway traffic jam. I hadn't quite realised just how egocentric and yet stupidly uninformed this guy really is. He wants to set up his own school, and yet he knows nothing about teaching or learning. What the fuck - he's a professional writer, commentator and all-round Rent-A-Gob.
He's also the author of How to Lose Friends and Alienate People - clearly subjects on which he has lots of expertise.
This is how Bright and Blue our Toby (age 47) actually is - having been to Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard, he founded and managed a magazine called The Modern Review, which went bust after 4 years. Excellent qualifications for telling us how to manage education. Is he in favour of elite academic education ("for all")? Do bears shit in the woods?
Young is currently leading the efforts of a parent group in Acton to set up Britain's first "free school" - Wikipedia. That's 'free' as in 'independent' and also non fee-paying, but not free in the sense that the staff will still have to teach in a very 'traditional' way, in precisely the fashion prescribed by Young, and with a curriculum prescribed by - er, Toby Young.
[Whereas the Conservative Party yesterday announced that the next Conservative government will encourage schools and other public sector organisations to set themselves up as "workers' cooperatives" free of central and local government control. WTF!!!! Toryism as promoters of anarcho-syndicalist collectives??? Is the world going mad!?]
A business owned and controlled by its workers rather than outside shareholders. In some worker cooperatives each member worker has one vote at meetings, however many shares he or she owns. There are relatively few worker cooperatives in the UK; they are more popular in Europe and Japan.]
Political philosophy of workers' cooperatives
The advocacy of workplace democracy, especially with the fullest expression of worker self-management, such as within workers' cooperatives, is rooted within several intellectual or political traditions:
* The alleviation of alienation in the workplace, especially in regard to Marxist thought
* The encouragement of Participatory or direct democracy
* Radical but popular-democratic strategies for the overthrow of capitalism, for example, several strains of anarchist thought.
* Autonomy and self control, especially within anarchist thought.
* Cooperating with other Worker Cooperatives
Workers' cooperatives are also central to ideas of Autonomism, Mutualism, Syndicalism, Participatory economics, Guild socialism, Libertarian socialism as well as others.]
So what was last night's meeting on about?
Here's what Dr Seldon had to say for himself:
(to be continued - Layer 246)