Start The Week - Radio 4 - Andrew Marr
Sheila Stephenson - "Enlightenment"
"Playwright Shelagh Stephenson also explores family tensions in her new play, about what happens when a missing child returns home."
We think we have freedom and control of our lives - but the world is a connected place and our lives are shaped, if not determined, by "events", and by other people.
Is it possible to reach "an enlightenment of acceptance"?
Jonathan Franzen - "hailed as a 'Great American Novelist' for his latest book, Freedom. Amidst the backdrop of the war on terror, environmental disaster and class war, Franzen chronicles the lives, choices and compromises of one family."
These are certainly big themes - class war, the war on terror and the environment. As is 'freedom'. Thank goodness there's at least one major novelist who's willing and able to deal with the major issues of our day. Economic crisis, gun ownership, overpopulation, overcrowded streets and roads . . . Huge moral challenges . . . confronting the basic weakness - the punyness - of individuals.
We need a 'sustaining narrative' of our times? [People need to know what point is there in being alive!]
"Philosophy is under attack as advances in neuroscience question many of its assumptions, and yet Barry Smith argues that the science of the mind needs philosophers now more than ever, to make sense of its new discoveries."
Our starting point is our own experience - it's assumed to be the one thing we can rely on. Apparently. Neuroscience is now able to show that the world is a construct brought into being by a combination of different parts of the brain. Lose one part, and the world appears very different. Taste is not a simple thing, for example - it depends to a large extent on sight and touch and even memories of past tastes.
As for our sense of self . . .
We have suites of opinion-making systems. [Logic, empathy, intuition, sensory perception and instinct all interconnect and interact and shape our feelings and emotions, our opinions and perceptions.]
[Which is why we need to educate ALL of our intelligences, and train them to work together.]
"Robert Douglas-Fairhurst celebrates the great Victorian journalist Henry Mayhew and his captivating portraits of life on the streets of London."
Mayhew was an Establishment man, but also an outsider. (A Boris?) Very good at describing the sights, sounds and smells of the streets, which in the 19th C were full of many more different types of people - different trades, ways of speaking, ways of dressing. Did he become a pompous moraliser? (Like Boris?) A cartoonist and caricaturist? "The undiscovered country of the poor." This is what Polly Toynbee wrote about when she went 'underground', lived in a council flat and took jobs on the minimum wage. The poor are always with us?
And so to the Tory Party conference. Not literally - obviously. But I'm drawn to it like a political moth to a flame; or like a cyberfly to a pile of poo.
Only this year it doesn't smell quite so crappy - so far. Then again, it's still only Tuesday morning.
Take David Cameron. On the Andrew Marr TV programme on Sunday he again managed to look and sound like a human being - a feat too difficult for the likes of Michael Howard, Iain Duncan Smith, William Hague and John Major - quite a range: from prince of darkness to chartered accountant.
He appeared reasonable and rational, and spoke about taking decisions in the national interest. Maybe his predecessors said similar things, but with Cameron there appears to be a real human being talking and not just a scheming, shifty, lying, cheating politician. I still say that his painful experiences of parenthood, sickness and bereavement have given him a proper grounding in what disability, emotional intelligence and compassion really mean.
His two main themes at the moment appear to be the provision of a "good State pension system" and the creation of a "refreshingly radical" benefits system [put forward by IDS] that actually encourages work by not penalising people when they take jobs and come off benefits.
"This is NOT the Conservative party of old!"
Well – even Cameron is now using the F word - fairness!
He's also saying the NHS budget will continue to grow IN REAL TERMS.
On yesterday's Today programme George Osborne, also sounding sane and reasonable, was also talking about the intention to adopt Iain Duncan Smith's proposals and create a single benefits system that's fit for purpose, that doesn't penalise people who take on jobs (though they WILL HAVE TO take jobs that are offered) and will actually cost the State MORE in the short run.
Osborne also says they have decided to stop paying family allowances to people who are on higher rate taxes.
Bloody hell. Why didn't New Labour take on these issues?
It's not really possible to like Osborne and Cameron, because they are, after all, Tory toffs. But credit where it's due - they speak calmly, courteously, clearly and reasonably. They may be misguided, but they seem sincere in what they believe, and whilst their economic policies may well plunge the country into an even deeper industrial and financial crisis, they are, after all, doing what Tories traditionally do, but with a touch of liberalism and speaking the language of 'fairness'.
Would a re-elected New Labour be doing any better? Probably not. And we'd still have to listen to the same old tedious, pompous and ridiculous voices of the same old Brownites and Blairites . . . spinning, blathering, patronising, droning . . . on and on. I never, ever, want to hear the voices of Mandelson, Brown, Straw, Adonis, let alone Blears, Prescott, Hewitt, Burnham, Jowell and co EVER again.
Fair's Fair and Instinctual Intelligence
Anyone who's spent time around kids knows that they're experts on fairness. They're born with a precise understanding of what's fair and what isn't. They will tell YOU whether something is fair or not, and will get very upset if you're too stupid to recognise unfairness.
Kids have much to learn about fairness as they grow up, but haven't we all? We clearly have unfairness meters built into our brains. Unfortunately they're not all calibrated precisely the same, which means that fairness is something we constantly argue about. We develop a better awareness of real fairness as we learn about the different aspects of privilege, disadvantage, inequality, level playing fields, and so on.
Is it fair that the banks are still handing out several billions in 'bonuses' to those within their ranks? Is it fair that so many families still live in what are virtually slums? Is it fair that house prices and rents are so high? Is it fair that public sector workers will now be deliberately made redundant by the coalition, instead of becoming 'redeployed', as it were, if and when jobs become available in the private sector?
Guardian columnist Jackie Ashley, PPE Oxford, no doubt means well and probably has a heart of gold. She's Labour through and through. She's married to the very likeable Andrew Marr. And she writes hopeless, out of touch, middle of the road rubbish.
Her latest piece - "A sharply defined Miliband can pierce a fuzzy coalition" - is itself a piece of hopeless, fuzzy tosh.
The strapline says - "Cameron's laid-back regime lacks the clarity of real leadership. The new man in opposition has to fashion a different path"
Bearing in mind that Jackie was a supporter of both Blair and Brown it's not at all clear she has a clue about effective leadership, or that she's in any position to advise Cameron on his leadership shortcomings, or that she's ever had any leadership experience of anything ever in her life.
She says -
Cameron's style of leadership is a response to Gordon Brown's iron fist. The new prime minister has been laid back almost to the horizontal. True, he has had some huge upheavals in his personal life over the summer, but even before that colleagues were complaining that he took so much time off, and delegated too airily. His admission that he has seven hours of sleep a night will amaze former colleagues of Brown, who got used to being woken at all hours of the day and night by him. If Brown's failing was to imprint a single "true path" and punish all deviationists, perhaps Cameron's will turn out to be the absence of central control.
Central control, see? Dopey Jackie is of the old school that still thinks political parties should be Stalinist and managerial, rather than democratic and collegiate. Here's Cameron making the point that the coalition is a true collective, and has restored government by cabinet, through democratic discussion and proper collective responsibility, and there's Jackie advising him to become the great clunking fist of central control.
What else does she say? What pearls of wisdom does she have to offer young Ed?
"He needs to reach out to bruised and resentful colleagues. He must show he understands business and "gets" middle England. But above all, he needs self-confident personal definition – the clarity of real leadership. For that's just what this cosy, self-congratulatory, fuzzy coalition seems to lack."
"Understands business"? "Gets middle England"? What is this patronising shit?
"Needs to reach out to bruised and resentful colleagues"? No he doesn't. He needs to tell them to fuck off with their bruises and their resentment, and count themselves lucky not to have the shit kicked out of them after all the New Labour bollocks they've been dealing in and making a career from.
"Self confident personal definition"? Like a high-tech 1080p TV maybe?
Oh yes - "REAL leadership". As opposed to imaginary leadership, or unreal leadership or leadership that's just a mirage.
I'd like to send Jackie copies of some books that might help her to understand that what Cameron is doing is perhaps extremely wise, thoughtful and progressive. Here's three for starters:
1. The New Leaders by Daniel Goleman
2. The Tao of Leadership by John Heider
3. The Tao of Management by Bob Messing
For Jackie's benefit, and for Ed Miliband's benefit, I'm going to quote from these books in the next couple of blogs. I'll just leave her with this one thought for today:
The very highest is barely known by men.
Then comes that which they know and love.
Then that which is feared.
Then that which is despised.
He who does not trust enough will not be trusted.
When actions are performed
Without unnecessary speech,
People say, "We did it!"
Tao Te Ching
It's worth checking out the CiF comments on Jackie's piece. There are plenty of people who do, in fact, "get it".