Monday, October 11, 2010

Layer 361 . . . Soul Music, The Emperor, Chisels, Oil Cans and More Taoist Advice

Soul Music

There's a series on Radio 4 about "pieces of music with a powerful emotional impact". It's called Soul Music. The latest programme featured Beethoven's 5th piano concerto.

As part of Oxzen's investigations into classical music, this programme was duly listened to. (This is a bit like Rik Mayall doing his Kevin Turvey thing. Several of his 'investigations' are on YouTube - work, depression, the supernatural, etc. Anyone remember John Sparkes and his 'Shadwell' or 'Siadwell' monologues? Also on YouTube. Inspirational Welshness. )

Soul music!!! As if!

This concerto is known as The Emperor. Someone said he loves it because it's 'heroic' and 'imperial'. Someone else prattled on about 'intense sadness', 'melancholy' and 'joy'.

This isn't soul music. This is music for manic depressives. Music to experience mania and depression to.

It's also very obvious that the only other people who like this stuff - that's to say who REALLY like this stuff, as opposed to listen to it sometimes because it's SUPPOSED to be good music - are people who have played, do play, or used to play in orchestras. And the reason they like it is because they appreciate how DIFFICULT it is to play. The Emperor is WELL hard, apparently. During the programme people kept going on about how you need to be a VIRTUOSO in order to play the piano part. So all in all it's also music for clever bastards who enjoy being in the club of people who can either play such CHALLENGING music or else they KNOW that they're not quite good enough to play it. Obviously truly great music HAS to be difficult to play. So now we know. Nothing to do with 'soul', whatsoever.


In a similar vein, the most important work - the really high status work in our society - is work that's intellectually demanding. It doesn't have to be satisfying or enjoyable in itself, but it does need to be intellectually difficult and impossible for most people to do. Skilled craftsmanship, on the other hand, which is also exceedingly difficult and demanding, is generally not seen to be something to aspire to.

Simon Jenkins wrote this excellent piece about work last week.

Graduates shouldn't be afraid of the chisel and oil can

George Osborne's call for a manufacturing revival is welcome. Working by hand is better than doing it solely with the head

George Osborne  this week called on the nation to revert to "manufacturing" and reject the culture of the City.

Well he might. The credit crunch seems certain to lead to widespread graduate and white-collar unemployment, forcing young and old into work they would have considered beneath them a generation ago. Job-starved young people must go into cooking, gardening, decorating and personal services, even if they call them catering, landscaping, interior design and consulting. Eton now teaches cookery. Oxford has yet to pioneer a course in motorcycle maintenance.

Ever since Ruskin deplored the onset of mass production, craftsmanship has been elevated as an intrinsic virtue. Only recently have psychologists and sociologists suggested that working with hands is more than just aesthetics, but is embedded in the human gene. Hands are what drew us from the slime. Thumbs differentiated us from other mammals. Neglect the hand and you distort, torture and dissatisfy the brain. That is why pianists live so long.

When Matthew Crawford's The Case for Working with Your Hands came out last year it was treated as amusingly eccentric. "Real men" were told they should stop being slaves to their screens and Wi-Fis. They should drive nails into planks and wield spades and frying pans.

Nor is this another case of the lawyer who became a plumber because the hourly rate was higher. Crawford did indeed notice that graduate entry into the American professions was plummeting, with those supposedly educated for them drifting into listless semi-employment, "a state of uncommitted future potential". But he also noted something quite different. He himself doubled as academic and motorbike mechanic, and wondered why he always tired after a day at the former yet felt strangely exhilarated by the manual labour of a newly restored motorbike.

The sociologist Richard Sennett likewise noted a cerebral reward from playing the cello and cooking. In his book, Craftsmanship, he concluded that the handling of tools was far more than just a passing stage in human evolution. There were "skills in manual labour that link hand and brain and which are still not recognised". To Sennett it is cruel "to assume downward mobility in those who love working with their hands". It is a natural human activity. We likewise recognise the satisfaction a parent gets from caring for a baby. Childcare is skilled manual labour that delivers more than just family bonding.

Crawford assaults the binary tradition of grammar versus technical schooling that developed through the 20th century, "a partition of thinking from doing that has bequeathed us the dichotomy of white collar versus blue collar, mental versus manual". In Britain this saw its apotheosis in the 1944 education act. The 11-plus test distinguished "high aptitude" as theoretical and grammar, from low aptitude which was technical and hand-working. It then enshrined the separatism in different institutions and, de facto, different social classes.

If the career path that has been the assumption of British higher education for 50 years is outdated, the good news from the academics is that its replacement may be better adjusted to human nature. A key indicator is what many brain-workers do in leisure or retirement. The civil servant who plays chamber music, the lawyer who turns to cabinet-making or the banker who takes up cooking would once have been regarded as stepping down from their true calling and indulging in hobbies. Properly intellectual "retirees" dabbled in consultancy or wrote a novel.

The message of Crawford and Sennett, as it was for Ruskin and Morris, is that there is nothing mentally subordinate in working by hand. The gardener, the cook, the needleworker or the craftsman is not pandering to some Ruskinian aesthetic. He or she is pursuing a route back to the inner self that may indeed be more direct than working solely with the head – or the screen.

These are skills that cannot be mastered in a day. Many require disciplines learned over generations by trial and error and thus a structure of rule-based apprenticeship and training. They are thus woven into the custom of the community. But they may also be activities more attuned to the human body and brain than, say, reading or writing a book. Perhaps Milton's "precious lifeblood of a master spirit" has been sanctified too long. It is time to hear it for the chisel and the oil can.


Taoist Advice for Great Leaders - Part 2

Deviation from the path of reality (of Tao), and avoidance of change, can result in the harming of life by power. There is then no value in power.

The leader is secure when he is in a state of tranquility and peace. There is no situation where one cannot use illumination, and there is no place that can damage true illumination.

When illumination does not penetrate reality, injury is caused.

Self-governance, selflessness, and the refinement of the inner self is a serious matter.

Timing, knowledge, illumination, and true recognition make the difference between leadership success and failure.

Wrath, cupidity, and other disruptive conditions eat away at the natural reality of tasks and goals.

The manager should avoid excessive force. Parting is a natural process where reason prevails.

Impetuosity must give way to a path that travels between intensity and laxity.

Mundanity and obstacles are encountered constantly. The leader who follows the path of the Tao wards them off when they are met.

Learning from those who can teach and avoiding blind practice offer the leader a clear path of accomplishment without obstacles or obstruction.

Ignorance, arbitrary action, and vain imaginings of growth result in a rising into darkness, not into illumination.

Avoid complacency, self-satisfaction, and false joy.

Every leader is deeply involved in the development of others. However, the most important development is self-development.  This is the precondition for the development of others. Self-development is the true basis for an inexhaustible source of nourishment and development for all.

Every leader must get rid of his ego to move along a path of development and creativity.

Sincerity, selflessness and illumined strength are to be strived for by the leader and those around him.

Knowing the Tao is knowing when to stop.

Be aware of those many occasions when the leader must await proper timing. Manage oneself and others in such a way as to turn back from error.

The leader who achieves illumination and action in concert finds the path of the Tao effortless and clear.

The way of the Tao is to achieve richness and presence through attainment and balance. These represent fundamental leadership values, as do the importance of dealing with all matters adaptively and to depend on oneself, not on fate.

The leader in tune with the Tao deals with the world without destroying it, and transcends the world while he is in it.

To follow the path of the Tao, a leader knows when to hurry and when to relax. He knows what will bring good results,a dn he knows when to stop.

Joy is the delight found in leading along the path of the Tao. The leader who finds fulfillment encounters the true reality and essence of joy. Wealth and material gain alone are not the delight of the leader who follows the path of the Tao. Would you rather indulge yourself in self-satisfaction and outward appearances?


Ed Miliband on the Politics Show yesterday was a bit like an eager young puppy. He was OK, but it was all pretty lightweight and insubstantial. It's doubtful whether, at the moment, he's convincing people who don't already rate him, and doubtful if he's converting anyone to the Labour cause.

The show ended with a clip of Anne Widdecombe dancing in a blue tent. That's entertainment!


Football, Business and Governance

The chief executive of Liverpool FC says they've had two very good offers for their business. Which says everything, really, about the mentality of people who run football. None of them give a damn about the 'club', as such; none of them care about the non-business aspects of football; none of them has any loyalty to the fans, the community, or even the players - who are presumed to be mercenaries to the core.

Most people would love to see Liverpool, and its greedy owners, crash and burn. It would have been helpful in that respect if Gerrard and Torres had both left in the summer, thereby reducing the monetary value of the business to very little indeed. In which case there could have been some proper consideration of how the fans could become owners of the enterprise, and turn it back into a proper club - run for the benefit of the team and the fans, and not just a business, run entirely for the financial benefit of the owners and shareholders.

There's an analogy here, bursting to get out, with the way that entire countries are run - but there's a distinct lack of time and energy and inclination to pursue it at this juncture.

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