. What's the Big Idea? | London Progressive Journal
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What's the Big Idea?

Mon 2nd Jul 2018

Riddle-me-ree

A little riddle for your amusement. It has more to do with class capitalism than you might suppose. What do you have every day, but you can't see or hold or hear? If you guessed Thoughts, give yourself a gold star!

Thoughts and their companions Ideas are some of our most precious productions. Since we can't with total confidence prove that any other species also produces Ideas, we can proudly pin some value on our own. The process may elude us, even from birth. We can't truly know whether we'd be capable of having thoughts if we grew up in isolation. Let's hope no soulless experimenter ever attempts the emotional destruction of children to test that supposition.

So, are we taught the process of generating ideas or are our brains hard-wired to develop them as a reaction to every cumulative moment of life? Recently, the world learned of the death of 40-year-old Koko the Gorilla, raised from infancy by Dr. Francine [Penny] Patterson, who taught her American sign language. Yes, there are those who continue to debate the efficacy of the ape's unusual life, but her capacity for learning as well as evidence of her tenderness, humour, and compassion were very well documented throughout her life, both in the mainstream press, films, and fully accredited academic studies. These demonstrate, if not conclusively prove that Koko was capable of abstract thought, though that very process may be solely as a result of the daily socialisation with Penny and her team. And they are all middle class, driven by middle-class values.

The project broke ground in various disciplines including psychology, linguistics, and anthropology. Although other international scientists had already begun equally rudimentary studies of great apes, Penny's team could follow no primer of procedure. The aim appeared first and foremost to exchange basic signs such as 'you,' 'me,' and most of all 'food.' Not only were there no early forays into introducing the precepts of Pascal, there were also no attempts to understand what a gorilla might conclude about slavery, for example, or child labour. These are not foolish speculations, but exaggerations to highlight the class-based nature of how our species has evolved mechanisms for passing along culture, and thus preparing children to think, to solve the problems of survival.

Even if we could someday trace the genesis of any single thought, let alone a group of them, it still begs the question of how original our ideas might be. And that, sadly, exposes us to malign manipulation by others.

The King Sandwich
It's been a few centuries since adherence to the notion of Divine Right of Kings held sway within the ranks of the royal family. Yet it's still possible to find commoners who believe the monarchy is God's will. Its individual members are completely conflated with divisive attitudes to monarchy itself. Perhaps like me, some of you have met one of The Firm, as they call themselves. They're just people, of course, however obscenely privileged. Their ancestors may have offered the coveted position of Groom of the Stool whose duties included wiping the royal bum, but no one, however worshipped, can command the cease of hunger, of pain, or the elimination of human waste ... however much some of the press would like us to believe they can.

It's not as though this manifestation of a know-your-place society has been led by particularly cogent domestic role models. By any standard they've failed the test of Family Values. So what's the lasting magnetic attraction? I suspect it's a deluded sense of real-life fairy tales, in the sense of movie star echelons of celebrity. Remember that American vox pop segment where everyone shown a picture of Thatcher mis-identified her as The Queen?

While pro-Republican columnists, academics, and a smattering of politicos challenge the dubious sums alleging the cost benefit of the monarchy to the nation, it's the Tory proselytisers feeding selective corporate stats to red-top leader-writers who shout loudest. And their message is wholly predicated on the stimulation of trade and often dodgy inward investment. In fact, if you heed their rationale, the primary purpose of maintaining Queenie and Co. is purely a money matter, and we know about money, so don't worry your little head about it, you can buy a coronation mug and pass it on to your grandchild and you'll feel you're playing a part in the grand scheme. The social status quo? I bet even Koko would have recognised the logical fallacy of that insidious trickle-down con job.

But the public relations panto still proves remarkably effective, at least here on the mainland. I suspect it will be Commonwealth countries which will choose to lose a titular head of state so increasingly irrelevant to their lives and a burden to their public purses. The Firm hangs on, of course, and over the past decade has sought hard to get down with the next generation.

At the time of writing, and hailed by the media as "historic," Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, and second in line to the throne, is treading red carpets in the trouble-torn Commonwealth. Just as the American tax-payers do for the White House incumbent and his extended family, we Brits are footing the bill for what is essentially a series of inconsequential ceremonial as well as private visits. This is see-and-be-seen on an international scale that racks up the costs with the miles. You can recite the tab as well as I, whether or not you believe "they're worth every penny." Royal weddings? Christenings? Ascot garb? Private medical care? Publicly funded mansion? Diversion of RAF jets to fly Prince Andrew to play golf? The very idea that under legitimate scrutiny tourism brings in more to British coffers than the expenditure on the entirety of a monarchy, already groaning under the weight of its own wealth, has been shown to be nonsense. Anyone attempting to refute the media hype is branded a killjoy, unpatriotic, and even, sadly, in the current political climate - a terrorist plotter.

Such false voices of authority speak on behalf of a power elite seeking to devalue the ideas of others... which is you and me. They want us to baa-baa like sheeple, fit only to follow. What the monarchy achieves, however modern or traditional, is to perpetuate the ever-present reality of class. William's very existence is the class filling in a King Sandwich. His father will be King, as will he, and so will his first-born son. It's just a matter of time.

While the press fawns over the Prince's red carpet marches, what we won't see is a single royal face among the several hundred of thousands of common people marching in protest, hoping for a more effective say in the event that Parliament decides to question the specific terms of Brexit. Any influence wielded can only be behind closed doors and completely deniable should it ever come to light. More than likely, honed by centuries of complicity, a raised brow, or the wisp of a dismissive hand gesture will be enough to make opinions known without consequence.

But the times actually may be changing after all.

Painting the Present
One of the advantages of old age is recognising that not only are we currently in the midst of a deafening barrage of the expressions of conflicting ideas, we can refute the questionable contention that society has 'always' been this way. Trying to define exactly when this or that manifestation of current daily life first appeared, is as elusive as trying to draw a line of racial purity. How far back are you going, and what geographical boundary are you including?

Given the irrefutable current chaos, there's an insistent desire to break free of the status quo. And however we and fellow nations measure development, growth, and economic viability, if we're ever to move on, to climb out of the rut of stasis, then we have to take control of the outlets for democratic debate. Parliamentary democracy pretends to be about distilling the will of the people, but it's just as deceptive as the pretense that a monarchy protects us from geo-political instability, despite whichever exponent wears the crown or the Givenchy.

I'm not the first to note, though repetition makes it no less true, that our current debating platforms appear to be addressing 21st century issues using 19th century protocol. Parliament and the BBC remain as the ruined remnants of a national chamber of ideas. Both are flawed, not especially in concept, but because the country has sacrificed social cohesion on the altar of personal freedom. Therefore neither institution commands the respect of the past, let alone its attention. And there simply is no other national force that can unite the entire population.

The collective media tries very hard to convince us that any particular sporting event represents - and is in fact a definition of - nationhood. Which is ridiculous on several counts. The most important is that sporting fandom contains no ideas. It is as much a failure as a Great Music Weekend, heralded by statements of unity that exclude as many people as they beckon. The social context has been shattered into fragments; there is no cohesive whole.

Yet, yesterday's soothsayers keep trying. I usually refuse to watch telly adverts, but recently catalogued some for research. Despite MeToo and Time'sUp, whether they're shouty or raise a smile, what are advertisers' messages? Younger women need to smell "better" [better than what?], make their teeth whiter, their hair shinier, their lashes longer, their body hair eliminated. In fact, the same messages from products similarly presented for the past fifty years! Young men also need to eliminate facial hair and smell sexy. They and their companions can consume alcohol and can revel in matters mechanical and motor-related - though not at the same time, it's hoped. Older women may be mothers and allowed to care about their families by the food they purchase and prepare, the way they deal with baby poo, and shock horror how to smile and gallop despite menstrual pain. Wrinkles? There's a lotion for that! Even older women are joined by older men to address the un-named DEATH MONSTERS that will kill us all. And everyone, of course, is targeted to get better rates for all things financial from hotel rooms to mortgages.

In other words, the voice of assumed authority only presents images that reflect what is middle class and, like Parliament and the BBC, never truly allows challenges to that status quo. But slowly even TV is beginning to re-decorate the present with a brush of social impressionism. The power elite still hasn't been able to decipher how to get Face Book posters and Twitter Tweeters to pay attention to advertising, choosing to rely on investment potential and share prices for self-enrichment.

But it's the undeniable and most welcome talents of social commentators, both serious and hilarious that is re-mixing reality for those of us young enough at heart to hear. American comic genius Donald Glover whether writing, directing, and performing under his own name or that of his surreal creation Childish Gambino may only be in his mid-30s, but has x-rayed the fracture of a generation evolving from outmoded cultural expectations. His series Atlanta, set against the backdrop of a street rapper trying to make it in the lucrative world of brutal, rip-off capitalism combines the serrated sharpness of Swiftian satire with a throw-away wit of sit-com. The stand alone episode Montague, presented as a complete interview show included ad breaks is one of the finest half hours of comedy you'll ever see. And his intriguing, enigmatic, riveting film called America, hasn't been rivalled anywhere in mainstream media. Here in the UK we still haven't fused the work of our few satirists into a narrative form, though some of Charlie Brooker's sketches come close. He and Frankie Boyle currently provide popular and potent tools to cauterise the wounds of proto-fascism foist on us by clueless politicians.

If we are collectively strong enough to discover our own venues for social and political debate, free from the dictats of the ever-weakening power elite, I hope we'll all be open to a more creative narrative. We've got the tools right inside us. Any ideas?
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