9th July 2007
For anyone foolish enough to believe that the substitution of Brown for Blair would make any difference to the ideological tenor of the Government today’s (8.07.07) Times front-page supplies an instant corrective. The latest subject to be introduced into classrooms is ‘lessons in money’. Ed Balls, the Schools Minister’ said ‘Money plays such a crucial role in all our lives…I want children to start learning early how to make the most of their money and savings once they start work. Schools have a vital role to play in encouraging young people to aim high and to improve their chances of a successful career, understand about taking risks and develop a dynamic ‘can do’ attitude’. The report goes on to explain that ‘The new lessons will cover career progression and the skills wanted by employers; what it means to be enterprising; taking risks and learning from mistakes; managing money and personal finances and the economy’.
It is perhaps rare to have spelt out so succinctly and clearly the way in which dominant ideologies enforce themselves in the guise of ‘education’ and ‘learning’. One of the things that appalled Trollope about his own society was that dishonesty was not only practised but there no longer seemed any need to disguise it. We see the same here; where previously the preaching of capitalism would in some way be hidden in subjects such as ‘History’ now it emerges as a subject worthy of being taught and instructed in its’ own right. There is of course no room for doubt; no alternate views which posit that there is more to human existence than money, success, a ‘can-do’ attitude, taking risks, being ‘enterprising’ and so on. The needs of ’employers’ are everything (and indeed only dynamic can-do employers – there are presumably no ’employers’ left who might require compassion, charity, intellect and such values and qualities as do not fit the model of dynamic enterprise). My recent paean to negativity (see 29th June) now appears not only prophetic but a manifesto.
What are the strategies for resistance? Well in the face of this onslaught it seems to me that not only negativity but failure itself becomes a virtue, indicative of a resistance to the morality of the ‘can-do’, of devil take the hindmost, of competition, rivalry and the cruelty, horror, war it brings in its wake. I suppose at a deeper philosophical level one can argue that the concepts espoused are of themselves self-defeating and absurd. Life’s lessons are that we can’t do, about the limits of possibility. No trivial espousing of the ‘can do’ will alter this.
I realise that the danger of my writing in this vein is to become passive and defeatist. The world is as it is and there is nothing that can be done to change it so we should retreat to our gardens. Fran in a post to WWTTA gave us the magnificent secondary title of Fassbinder’s film Effi Briest – “Many People Who Are Aware of Their Own Capabilities and Needs Just Acquiesce to the Prevailing System in Their Thoughts and
Deeds, Thereby Confirming and Reinforcing It”. Despite the fact that I can no longer participate in struggles against the system due to illness I would not want to espouse defeatism and quietism. However in the face of the ‘can-do’ philosophy negativity and quietism become a form of resistance in themselves. Which may merely be a complex self-justification :). But let us write in praise of failure.
Any deluded hopes that Brown would somehow be different are anyway dispelled. Although it should be said that at a personal level he is a change for the better from Blair. At least we do not have that eternal vacuous smile. Such are externals though. It will be a Blawnite Britain in which all is subsumed to the can-do and those who can’t or won’t may rot.
1. Ellen Moody left…
Well, it does give me some pleasure to stick up a little for Davies. He has his faults, and while his adaptations may be (Cardwell thinks anyway) superior to some of his original plays, she talks of one which takes just the stance you do: _A Very Peculiar Practice_. Produced in 1988 it is prophetic and argues passionately on behalf of keeping the humanities and other subjects not directly towards getting that job, making that buck (quid or pound).
IN the mini-series Davies shows the basic principles of liberal humanist education undermined by Thatcher’s policies which meant to “turn higher education into a competition-led business.” Many of the new subjects are shown to be without content, this disguised by various jargons and a conservative political correctness. Cardwell says it was much admired, if quietly.
I met a young woman yesterday when Jim and I went to pick up a bunch of tickets to go to a festival of new plays (including Rebecca Nesvet’s) here in Washington. She wants to do a Masters in English, but there is no program that attracts her as much of the traditional terrain is gone. Instead you do creative writing which is highly politicized (there to get you into print into local publications) and subjective. Or theory and little older literature. You read hardly anything imaginative before the 20th century unless you thoroughly opt for that and it’s discouraged. No job.
I like your comment from Trollope and Fran. James also praised failures when we consider what success is defined as. Really we need a new definitio of real success in life, one which takes into consideration who we are and where we started from and for real what makes us happy (which does include some economic safety).
Dear Ellen, Yes! Thanks. ‘A Very Peculiar Practice’ was indeed, apart from being a wonderful television series, prophetic. And we can see, yet again, the continuation of themes from Thatcher to Blair and Brown. Nick.