Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Layer 339 . . . Laurie Anderson, Inheritance Tracks, Strange Fruit, Spirituals, The Spirit Level, Spiritual Intelligence, Big Questions and Calls to Action


Thought for Today

I'd meant to say yesterday that Tom Jones and his new album were even mentioned on Radio 4's Thought for Today last week, as was the track 'What Good Am I?' Zeitgeisty indeed.


Also on Radio 4 last week was the wonderful Laurie Anderson. She's been around for 30 years now, but is still relatively unknown. So it was good to find her popping up on Saturday Live to talk about her 'inheritance tracks'.

She spoke about listening, as a young person, to the minimalist music of Phillip Glass, especially 'Music in Twelve Parts', and how the act of listening to the music gave her the mental space to ask questions like, what do I want? and what am I doing here?

In fact she used to go to live rehearsals of the music in New York, together with friends who were sculptors, musicians, dancers and actors, and she says 'This was when we learnt to be artists ourselves'. The rehearsals lasted around 10 hours. One of her friends said, "That's when I do my best work - at Phil's rehearsals".

The piece of music she chose to 'pass on' was Billie Holiday singing 'Strange Fruit'. She referred to it as a kind of haiku - simple images of racist hangings.

Can art or music influence behaviour or politics?, she asked. That song certainly did. "Southern trees / Bear a strange fruit . . . "

She said, "It's the story of fascism. How's that made possible? Songs like that motivated people to change the world, to march for civil rights. That song was key. People heard that song, confronted that chilling image, and said, 'Wait a second!' The song is a spiritual, really, and spirituals are often calls to action."

"Cruelty, tenderness, hopefulness and beauty - this song has all these things."



I notice on Spotify that Tom Waits also chose this song for his 'Jukebox' album.

Other versions worth listening to on Spotify include those by UB40, Jeff Buckley, Nina Simone and Wynton Marsalis.



Calls To Action

I often forget to read it myself, so I need to remind myself as much as anyone else to go to Raj Patel's website regularly  - http://rajpatel.org/

There's currently plenty of good stuff on such subjects as G20, South Africa, McDonald's and 'Cheaponomics'.

Also a reminder to buy his book 'The Value of Nothing'.

It's also worth clicking on his RSS feed.


Patel constantly brings up inconvenient truths, and on good days so does the Guardian:

The Spirit Level: Spooking the right

Even though its great sweep invites all manner of sceptical questions, this book's inconvenient truths must be faced


I reckon the dividing line between left and right in politics is whether or not you want to see greater equality, even if it's for purely utilitarian and pragmatic reasons. For the left, the Spirit Level was a seminal book. A recent Guardian editorial said:

It was briefly fashionable for modernising Conservatives, up to and including David Cameron, to demonstrate their progressive credentials by giving a nod to The Spirit Level, a book by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett which traced a range of social sicknesses back to economic inequality. Suddenly, however, the rightwing thinktanks are circling. Both the Taxpayers' Alliance and Policy Exchange have attempted detailed demolition jobs, egged on from across the Atlantic by the Wall Street Journal and by another attack published under the auspices of the Washington-based Democracy Institute.

To recap: The Spirit Level charted a connection between the income gap and everything from crime to illness and under-education. Its great sweep quite properly invited all manner of sceptical questions. There were, as always in social science, disputes about whether causation and correlation were being confused . . . Thoughtful sceptics like David Runciman accepted the evidence marshalled about the damage done further down the heap as "overwhelming".

The combined forces suddenly being ranged against the book are now, however, of a very different nature. The titles of the anti-egalitarian studies – which refer variously to The Spirit Level's "delusion", "illusion" and its "false prophesy" – reveal the polemical intent, a telling contrast with the meticulous subtitle of the original book: "Why more equal societies almost always do better."

The Spirit Level did not claim to explain every social problem. Rather, it explicitly restricted itself to those societal ills which blight the lives of the lower classes more than they do the rest.

After a budget that made the poor poorer, it should be no surprise that some want to see that insight buried. Yet to emerge from stricken times without breaking Britain, The Spirit Level's inconvenient truths must be faced.


Also in the paper recently:

Right to Work: In search of a new slogan

In the face of cuts, trade unions are demanding the 'right to work'. Better to rethink work altogether


by Nina Power

In 1972 Selma James, founder of the International Wages for Housework Campaign  and, more recently, Global Women's Strike, wrote the following: "We demand the right to work less." Her reasoning was clear – when women work for a wage for 40 hours a week and still carry the weight of childcare and housework, what is the moral value in expecting them to toil away at the cost of their health and happiness? Why should anyone, male or female, work more than 20 hours a week?

Should we be clinging on to employment at any cost, or should we instead be reconsidering what it means to work at all?

When James demanded that everyone "work less", it was part of a set of proposals that included a guaranteed income for everyone, equal pay and free, community-run nurseries and childcare.

Making clear the link between housework and paid work, such that unwaged labour must be counted as work and rewarded as such, James's vision is an integrated picture of the relation between (human) reproduction and (industrial) production.

The mass entry of women into the workforce has corresponded with an overall stagnation or diminution of wages. It is as if employers have taken the very worst aspects of women's work in the past – poorly paid, precarious, without benefits – and applied it to almost everyone, except those at the very top, who remain overwhelmingly male and incomprehensibly rich.

This is equality as a race to the bottom. Feminism is not wrong to see the economic autonomy of women as central to their political and social freedom, but we do a disservice to its aims if we believe that it is enough to have a job, regardless of what it is.

The Right to Work campaign, although vital, plays into this attitude that work is the ultimate mark of a man or, in more recent decades, a woman too.

Thinking of a world with less but better work, or even no work at all (as we currently understand it), particularly in the midst of an economic crisis, is impractical, of course. Yet thinking about alternatives to the current system, however unfathomable, may help us to break with much that is wrong about our everyday existence. In Italy in the 1970s, workers under the banner of a "refusal of work" shut down noxious chemical plants and paid only what they felt was appropriate for their utilities bills. This perhaps seems quite mad today, but it is a lot more fulfilling than working even harder for less so that those at the top can keep more.

Nina Power is a senior lecturer in philosophy at Roehampton University and the author of One-Dimensional Woman.

See also an excellent piece she wrote on the study of philosophy:

A blow to philosophy, and minorities


Under the banner of the financial crisis, recent months have seen management threaten departments and jobs  in post-92 and Russell group universities alike. Although no clear national pattern of cuts has emerged, philosophy has been singled out by several institutions. Threats to philosophy at Liverpool and King's College London  were greeted with international outcry and management retreat. Recent news that philosophy recruitment at both undergraduate and postgraduate level at Middlesex University  will be terminated is a particularly terrible blow, both to the standing of philosophy in the UK and to the future of critical thought in our universities as a whole.

Interest in philosophy has in fact grown massively in recent years. This is, in part, due to the increased numbers of students taking A-level philosophy, but is also the result of the widespread desire for critical thought and analysis in the face of an increasingly disorienting world.

Closure at Middlesex would be a step back to the bad old days when philosophy meant a few young, white and almost entirely male students at privileged institutions discussing the finer points of formal logic over sherry. Middlesex University must be prevented from dismantling one of the finest philosophy departments in the country: fight to keep philosophy alive.

Schumacher Sorry . . .



TV Highlights and Lowlife: "Human Life Has No Meaning Here"

Channel 4 ran two major hour long documentaries last night back to back - one on Britain's drugs culture and our hopeless attempts to ban drugs, and the other on the London Hospital's A & E department in Whitechapel and how it deals with the victims of knife crime.

On one level you can say the common denominator in these programmes was drugs, since most knife crime is committed by kids who are pissed or otherwise drugged up, or taking care of their drug businesses.

The excessive use of drugs, and addiction to drugs, however, is clearly just a symptom of people who are spiritually and emotionally sick and incapable of living life in any enlightened way. This type of sickness stems from a failure to develop positive spiritual and emotional intelligence, and what we can call human 'values'. People who are high in spiritual and emotional intelligence are incapable of committing knife crime, and by definition are not habitual users of debilitating drugs. Neither are they capable of inducing others to use drugs, including in some cases their own children.

So the only proper way to rid society of drug addiction and knife crime is to, on the one hand, eliminate poverty and hopelessness, and alongside of that to enable children of all ages to develop high levels of emotional, social and spiritual intelligence.

The problem, however, is that our society is light years away from doing either of these things, especially as virtually no-one understands how to work with children either from regular homes or from at-risk families living in drug-ridden communities in order to ensure they develop these key intelligences.

Virtually no-one understands how those intelligences operate, and hardly anyone has any experience of working in schools in ways that develop those intelligences to high levels, by focusing on them day in and day out. It's doable, but hardly anyone sees the need to do it, and there are far too few teachers who are equipped and trained to do it, or operate to policies in schools that prioritise it. Virtually no schools prioritise the development of emotional, social and spiritual intelligences, since they're too busy 'driving up' academic 'standards' and pass rates.

And Finally . . .

Rev 'rather good' says Archbishop of Canterbury

Senior church figures flock to praise BBC2 comedy series, which finishes its six-week run tomorrow night


In the beginning was the script. And it was good. So good that it attracted an audience of two million every week to become the highest rating new comedy on BBC2.

A spokesman for the Church of England said it was great to see a church drama on television that did not resort to tired old stereotypes" and instead gave "an edgy insight" into the work of its clergy today.

"Clergy are incredibly gossipy; people don't realise that. It's a radical act to show vicars as human, people expect them to be paragons of patience and virtue. Just like all of us, they are vain, weak and ambitious."

The show, which has attracted more viewers than Big Brother in some weeks, reveals the jealousy, bitterness and rivalry that can exist in clerical circles. One episode is devoted to a "media vicar" who appears on quiz shows, newspaper columns and Thought for the Day.

Last Saturday's Mail magazine even featured the programme on its front page.


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