Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Right to the City

(As with the previous post, this one is taken from my personal blog and is a few days old...)

To Glasgow again, to participate in Right to the City's education forum in Partick. The format of the event was facilitated discussion in small randomly assigned groups of various pieces of writing relating to the current crisis in education. The group I was in spent a lot of time discussing the potential conflict between protecting what we have and trying to bring about something better. I found this pretty thought-provoking - sure, I'm tuned in to both narratives (protecting education from cuts and engaging critically with the education system, particularly higher education since that's where my experience mostly is), but hadn't spent a lot of time thinking about how they square. But of course it is a vital question - there are problems with the nature of education in Britan, these problems were there before the current government started the latest and most extreme round of trashing, and if there is anything left standing when Gove and friends have had their wicked way chances are we will still see these problems.

Another point that struck a chord with me was someone's reference to a narrative of students (particularly those at university level) being somehow undeserving; portrayed as an elite group acting out of self-interest or for a thrill (haha yeah being kettled is so fun and exciting!) and expecting the rest of society to subsidise a privileged existence. What interests me in this case is WHERE the narrative is coming from. It is being constructed and perpetuated by the likes of Cameron, Osborne, Johnson and similar people - public school, Bullingdon Club types who are commonly regarded as overprivileged brats. (They are also of a generation that did not have to pay tuition fees. And the fact that they broke windows for fun is already a meme...) I could actually be convinced that they have genuinely no idea that university students exist who aren't like them, that anyone has to struggle to get any non-compulsory education, that anyone is being priced out of going to university by the increased fees. I *could* accept that line, but that would be letting those guys off the hook - more likely they do know but don't care, and would paint any picture, however flimsy the canvas, to push their wider agenda.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Thoughts on a workshop

(Nb this was posted at 'another' blog a little over a week ago, but I think it warrants a cross-post)

I spent a large part of today in a popular education workshop organised by So We Stand, a climate justice group with a node in Glasgow. It's a while since I've been involved in anything like that, or even anything activisty - I admit that going to the workshop today was a way of scoping out the local scene to see where I might be able to be involved. But it was interesting and useful in its own right too.

The main session I attended was on techniques for community education, it was very much 'learning through doing' as in we were using the techniques themselves. I was familiar with some elements such as the position game (physically taking a position to answer a question, by standing in a line according to your response - in this instance it was the distance of your birthplace from the venue. One person was born in the hospital up the road! Being born in a Midlandsy town most (lucky, normal...) people couldn't located put me somewhere in the middle) but not so much with some of the other exercises, so that was an interesting insight into how to prepare to organise for action.

The end session was a world cafe-style discussion with democratic selection of topics - everyone wrote some questions and attached them to a wall, and we voted by sticking stickers on them. A topic was assigned to each table, but people had to rotate between forums every ten minutes or so. We had two rotations, both times I was unhappy about having to move on - in addition to being interesting questions and ones which I believe are necessary to deal with when doing activism, they were also relevant to some of the academic work I'm doing at the moment.

On another note, I was very impressed with the Glasgow subway - the 'clockwork orange' as it is apparently known. Less impressed with the fact I ended up on it during chucking-out time at Ibrox, and subsequently getting a crash course on why Celtic are c*nts. It brought me to the conclusion that Rangers were pr*cks, but I kept that to myself. I also refrained from sharing my views on Ipswich Town, which can't necessarily be summed up in terms of basic reproductive anatomy.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Gordon Brown's blooper may be dead but won't lie down...

I must start with the proviso that I am not a fan of Gordon Brown. Neither am I a fan of David Cameron or Nick Clegg. My sympathies lie with direct rather than representative democracy. I still hold some hope for a world without such people as prime ministers. That said, I still don't see what the fuss is about on the 'bigoted woman' issue.

My colleague Steve has this to say:
"Consider for a moment the situation. A hugely motivated individual whose every waking hour over the last months has been devoted to sucking up to people whose ill-formed views will decide his fate finally comes face-to-face with the beast. Actually she isn’t being especially unreasonable, but he cannot say he disagrees with some of her views for it’s her vote he needs. Instead he must smile, nod like an idiot and quietly die inside. No wonder he explodes in private. You don’t have to be psychologically flawed to do that, just a normal human being." (link)

He and I do not always agree. On this occasion, however, I couldn't agree more. Well, except that I think the person in question was being rather unreasonable, and GB is a more restrained specimin of humanity than me for not responding in a less polite fashion to the question of where Eastern Europeans come from. (er check a globe dear...)

Leaving aside Mrs Duffy's views for a minute, which of us haven't made some ill-judged comment to what we think is an appropriate audience, in the knowledge that we would be just as mortified as Brown claims to be should the wrong person hear? I'm not saying that the incident makes me more inclined to vote for Brown, go to the pub with him, even be particularly nice about him in another context. It does make me see him as more of a normal person, with actual feelings. I can't be the only one who thinks that, surely?

One thing I will criticise him for is his and his party's approach to immigration. I believe that Labour already panders excessively to the likes of Mrs Duffy and worse. Taking votes away from the BNP is a noble cause, but doing so by imitating them is less great. We already have too many spurious deportations, too much racism in the system, crappy conditions in detention centres, I could go on all night. Were any of the party leaders to challenge this state of affairs I would feel far less ambivalent about voting next week...

Monday, 15 March 2010

'Green authoritarianism'

I alluded early in this blog's life to the debates within the Camp for Climate Action and some potential implications for horizontal politics. One debate I didn't discuss in that post, but which is very much at the heart of the controversy, is the issue of 'green authoritarianism' - a concept that, depending on the political outlook of the person using it, spans a continuum of meanings from any state interference regarding environmental impact to a full-scale system in which liberties are severely curtailed for environmental reasons. (The specific issues being objected to by those in the CCA who adhere to the original horizontal principles are 'green' taxation of various sorts and state-enforced population control.)

Anyway, today I heard someone - a very good friend with a talent for playing devil's advocate, not that this alters what she actually said - come very close to advocating the latter end of the continuum in a question to a visiting speaker, her rationale being that this is the only way people are going to be significantly moved to change their environmental impact. Now, granted, if you are not taking an intrinsically horizontal or anarchist standpoint and your main concern is preventing environmental damage, this may seem like a tempting solution to the issues Mathew raises at Election 2010: specifically that, while people claim to desire a reduction in environmental damage, they are less keen to personally bear the costs of doing so. However, just off the top of my head, I can think of a few counter-arguments:

  • Making something government policy doesn't change people's attitudes towards it, except maybe making them resentful. Hence, people will be busy looking for polluting loopholes rather than considering whether their behaviours are unsustainable.
  • Some aspects of environmentally damaging behaviour can be policed fairly easily, but how far can this go? You can certainly monitor how much recycling a household generates compared to landfill, or their use of a car, but it is harder to keep tabs on whether people switch their lights off, unplug phone chargers and so on without severely infringing civil liberties.
  • Moratoriums on certain products are possible, but who's to say it won't just lead to a thriving black market in those products and an increase in their desirability? Yes, even toxic cleaning crap, if people still believe that the wretched stuff is the best product for the job and either don't care about or think efficacy outweighs the damage to the waterways.
  • Giving the state that much power over people's everyday lives has a destructive potential all of its own. It mandates the government to intervene in an unprecedented range of areas, which is liable to spread.
  • Who decides what is an environmentally necessary law? Can governments be trusted not to have any hidden agendas? I'd be especially concerned about population control here...

Sunday, 14 March 2010


Working on

Thesis chapter 4 - Culture

Ideological cores under pressure

Reading (work)

Murray Bookchin - Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism

More Bourdieu than I ever wanted to! But also James C Scott Domination and the Arts of Resistance and Weapons of the Weak plus Bakhtin Rabelais and his World which are pretty interesting.

Reading (not work)

Meg Cabot - Size 14 is Not Fat Either

Val McDermid - A Fever of the Bone

Listening regularly to

Big Country

The Tea Party

Blackmore's Night

The 'Currently' page linked to at the top of the blog gets changed as regularly as I can be bothered, which is usually once a week. I've decided to post archives on here for anyone who is weird enough to really want to know...

Saturday, 13 March 2010

On the latest BNP business

I've been a lazy-arse blogger lately, so I'm sure I'm not breaking the news to anyone that BNP members are not to be banned from teaching in schools. I have to admit to being a bit conflicted about this. I hate the BNP, but in general also hate the idea that someone could lose their job because of their beliefs, especially if they are generally quiet about those beliefs. To give an example, I honestly don't believe that Simone Clarke should be chucked out of any given ballet production due to her BNP membership. Boycott her performances, sure, maybe picket outside because any opportunity to get the anti-fascist message out is good, and if the ballet company want shot of her because she's bringing them adverse publicity I will have no sympathy for her, but it isn't like she's getting much of a chance to preach racist crap from the stage.

A school, however, is a very different scenario. Teachers can exert a whole lot of influence on young people. And BNP members are not known for keeping their gobs shut about their beliefs. Even if they do, there's the deeper issue of merely holding a racist attitude in a classroom - if a teacher objects, even without speaking these objections out loud, to the presence of black, Asian, or any immigrant children in a class or to friendships (or more than that, if we're talking high school) between children of different races, it is far from impossible that the children will pick up on the bad vibes anyway.

I hope John Dunford is right when he claims that 'Teacher racism is rare', but to be honest any racist incident in a school classroom is unacceptable, even between the children themselves, and especially if instigated by the teacher. And, as above, there's the question of attitude and unspoken racism and the effect that could have.

Oh, and there's also the small matter of giving the BNP respectibility, which while a bit of a side issue in this case is certainly never a good thing...

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

I was going to say 'light relief', but, well...

If you're ever at a loose end and feel that a few more euphemisms for rude acts would fill the empty hours when you aren't actually committing rude acts (or eating, sleeping, working or otherwise doing anything constructive), then The Always Amusing Euphemism Generator is probably the site for you! Of course I am only using it because I am too tired to think up my own dirty phrases - normally I could do a whole lot better...