Thought juggling

I am not unused to this, but whilst I am accustomed to juggling thoughts that look like apples and oranges, I am now juggling thoughts that would look like eels wrapped in brown paper; if you could see them.

One of my more recent and unexpected thoughts introduced the late Margaret Thatcher in a new format from beyond the grave: as someone who did bad things with what, one imagines, were largely good intentions. And I was then set upon wondering how that happened anyway… how the road to hell ended up being paved with good intentions. I am aware that this may read as my consigning our first female PM to Hades, but I am certainly not. That’s not my job, if indeed it is anyone’s. Ok, it feels like she has been dead for eleven years already due to the media saturation and ok, there was a lot I personally found myself at odds with her on, both at the time and subsequently, but as she moves on in form and substance I do wonder how man made or woman made bad happens in the absence of that absolute intention.

And it seems to me that there are two ways of that happening. The first is personal and involves the satisfaction of desire or want or need. The second is what this post is concerned with, and that is the structural and systemic bad, where the overarching aim is manifestly the opposite.

Which led me to wonder that if a person’s actions are guided by an ideology then is that more likely to lead for negative outcomes for those not in the ideology? Take for an example the government of the day. I like to hope that David C and George O, do not rise in the morning hoping to twist the knife a little further into those in our country who are not in the club, but perhaps it is easier to do if ‘they’, the mainly fictitious lazy and indolent poor, are not in the ideological band wagon. You can’t take the effects of policy on ‘them’ into account because they are not on board; they are in your ideological blind spot. I have been reading a bit about utilitarianism and I will say I don’t know enough about it to discuss on here, but the problem I have with it as a political and social philosophy is that those in the minority will nearly always come off worse. I read once somewhere that those graduates of Oxford that lead us now have been much in sway educationally to a utilitarian view of society. It figures – there are many minorities in their blind spot currently. It’s a big blind spot. And that reveals a gap in education, particularly one delivered in the shining towers of academia where so much of the prescribed reading is garnered from academic texts. Sure the theory might come from real life initially, but whose real life?

It seems to me, to have a good intention that converts not merely into the maximum advantage for the maximum people, but to have a good intention that considers the impact on the diversity of a population, a person needs to understand how other people live. Not just their family and friends and people on their street, but the people on the other side of town, the people in a rural village, the families in a pit town. To ensure the least harm to the most people you need to know the people. It seems to me, when juggling my brown paper with eels in, that is where the cold academia of certain sections of the current political class are, not unlike Margaret Thatcher, on course for another epic fail.

I took this in the Art Institute in Chicago last Thursday because it put me in mind of the Iron Lady. I thought I might post it at some point; it seems that point is now.

'Head' in bronze, Willem de Kooning

‘Head’ in bronze, Willem de Kooning


Posted on April 10, 2013, in News, Nostalgia, Philosophy, Politics and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. “Ideological blind spot…” – a good phrase. One of the many problems with utilitarianism is that it lacks heart and soul and has solely materialistic goals. And however DC may try to dress his utilitarian philosophy in clothes borrowed from idealism (the Big Society, the “happiness measure”. “welfare to work” ….), the fact remains that without genuine soul or heart you can’t see beyond the goal of hard, measurable outcomes. So you are unable to consider the impact of your policies and actions on those who are not in the club; worse, that it would be good to do so never occurs to you.

    Three things I learned catching eels during summer holidays on Loch Awe: (1) they are impossible to keep confined – they always escape (2) they always make their way back to water (3) they are impossible to kill. All of which, in my view, applies to people driven by ideology. Brown paper? No chance.

    • The eels in brown paper is an old London thing I think; it’s how they were wrapped pre-plastic. Not certain if they were sold dead or alive!

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