Here’s a tale to warm your cockles – wherever they may be. One of the world’s most dedicated groups of people are those who team up at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Co-founded by Asian Woman of the Year Sanguden “Lek” Chailert, the Park’s sole concern is to provide refuge and rehab to mature and damaged ellies, some of whom have borne lives of abuse for the amusement of wealthy tourists. Although they must, like all animal rescue charities, solicit donations, their focus is on assuring the welfare of the animals.
One of their latest charges is called Ploy Tong, totally blind, formerly abused but learning to trust her new carers. Lek recently posted a photo of Faa Mai, one of the resident elephants reaching out to Ploy Tong and entwining trunks with her, lovingly reassuring her by touch and low-frequency rumbles.
You may think this example of the acceptance of/by strangers has nothing to do with the one-world view, let alone specific questions of growth and productivity, but to paraphrase the political philosopher George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Given the current crop of misunderstandings and false conclusions clouding our ability to catch-up with yesterday, let alone a week, a year, a decade or some hundreds of years ago, it’s way past time for a more forensic examination of how we got where we are.
Let’s focus first on the ubiquitous business buzzword driving not only open and covert political policy choices, but also the rationale for media reporting of them: productivity. The concept, along with its corollary growth, is deceptive indeed. Its very mention is used to rationalise domestic approval while finger-pointing foreign examples as threats to the nation. The staffing and performance of the NHS is a prime example of how ridiculous such a measure might be.
As someone whose career [spanning some sixty years from the age of ten] has been defined by a contribution to the dramatic arts and media, I truly have no idea how anyone could assess my productivity. Would it be how many lines I spoke or memorised as a performer? The decibel level of audience applause? Viewing figures of the television shows I was in? Or how many scripts I read and reported on in my capacity as a BBC drama script executive? Or how many hours I spend researching questions I’ve been commissioned to write for Radio 4’s Round Britain Quiz? None of
which seems to me to make the slightest difference to what I consider success.
And what about the dedicated medieval scholar Carola Hicks and her scrupulous study of all aspects of the Bayeux Tapestry? She’s devoted decades to questions of whether this embroidery was commissioned by Queen Edith or the king’s half-brother Bishop Odo. On what chart can her productivity be measured? It’s absurd.
When the metric-minded are entrusted to quantify the immeasurable, absurdity is taken to new heights. Once upon a time I was asked by some government department to sit on an advisory panel along-side several other writers in order to help establish a set of NVQs [National Vocational Qualifications] that would roll out nationally. We writers were led indiscussion by some jobs-worth who simply could not understand why a facet of being a writer could not nor should not include items such as whether the candidate had sharpened pencils, or a supply of paper and how many lines the paper should have.
We kept saying that the important aspects were first and foremost that the writer had to have something to say, preferably something original. That, of course, was not a measurable. We had to end the session with an agreement that trying to quantify something as indefinable as talent was impossible.
As with so many other business-based examinations of society, it rests on a bedrock of metrics, not only granting it top position in the hierarchy of PAY ATTENTION – THIS IS WHAT’S IMPORTANT, but implicitly relegating more subtle qualitative human endeavours to the dismissal pile. For in order to promote the alleged benefits of productivity and
growth, policy-makers need to hide behind a phalanx of statisticians, pollsters and lobbyists.
“Numbers don’t lie,” they chorus. They wag their fingers and cry, “You can’t argue with science.” Facts are facts, and that’s that! Except, of course, they’re not.
But rather than getting caught up with the relatively recent morass of true facts, alternative facts, and complete lies, the more relevant question is whether effective political policy can emerge from a trusted qualitative analysis. At the moment, it can’t, because there just isn’t any. Even in the midst of the Award Season, the farce of pitting one musician or band or actress or sound engineer or chat-show host or soap opera against any other only diminishes the overall, unquantifiable
contribution of the genre. Even more, it opens the door to corruption at every level, because what can definitely be measured are box office takings, advertising revenue, and viewing figures.
This isn’t the place or space to spread the mathematical biopsy of Brexit onto a glass slide and shove it under the microscope. Even so, we can note the complete absence of The Arts or Farming or Climate Change
as part and parcel of negotiation, let alone templates for policy to be applied whatever government might be braying in Parliament. Even the social reverberations of convoluted questions such as the plight of refugees, dispossed of everything and fleeing for their lives – engenders only the ersatz jobs/benefits delusion. We’re supposedly trying to re-fashion all our lives, yet only the concerns of BigBiz are being considered. Not only that, they’re being written into law.
Without taking account of all the stuff that isn’t measurable, stuff that isn’t about what percentage of our economy has risen or fallen since some arbitrary start date, and that isn’t represented on a comparative chart of who produced more than whom – without all that other stuff – we can never call ourselves free. When the laws of the land have been crafted for the primary advantage of corporate vested interests, we’re left with a super-national oligarchy. And their collective rhetoric in the face of challenge is to rely on those very laws in the name of justice.
Even now legislation is in train to prevent pro bono representation of those with a legitimate case against multi-nationals. Who’s disenfranchised in that scenario? It sure ain’t the smug uber-rich 1% who control about 25% of the wealth. And whose own lawyers ensure they pay less in tax per capita than their cleaners.
One of the most cogent socio-political analysts in living memory was the writer/philosopher Albert Camus. In literary circles often labelled, along with his friend Jean-Paul Sartre, an Existentialist [an epithet he rejected], he was a vibrant post-war Left-wing activist with a profound understanding of why both Marx and later Lenin failed to predict the effects of their policies on the working class. Camus’s main concern was the dignity of labour.
In 1944, Camus founded the “French Committee for the European Federation” (ComitÃ© FranÃ§ais pour la FÃ©deration EuropÃ©enne – CFFE) declaring that Europe “can only evolve along the path of economic progress, democracy and peace if the nation states become a federation.” Naturally the post-war capitalists, growing ever richer on fomenting more and more conflict, vehemently disagreed. Guess who had the power?
Camus’ studies revealed the dichotomy. Both Marx and Lenin had stated categorically that the USSR was in transition from socialism to communism but in the meantime the dignity of the workers had to be controlled by a proper police force to stop anyone subverting the process. Both admitted this was a facet of dictatorship, but required to ensure the withering away of the state on its predicted path. The result was the continuation of the indignity of labour and the entrapment of
the workers in a jam tomorrow future.
After the war Camus was a regular contributor to the left-leaning paper Combat, and served as its Editor-in-Chief between 1943-47. By the mid-1950s he’d concluded that the emphasis which USSR placed on justice over freedom eventually gave rise to dictatorship and state capitalism. It was always the workers who suffered.
One of the biggest multi-nationals of our time is Amazon, whose business model turns more modest enterprises positively lime green with envy. Its head honcho Jeff Bezos, a talented engineer and entrepreneur, is universally recognised for his understanding of growth and productivity. Now consider his declared million and a quarter dollar combined income, and the fact that UK Amazon drivers cannot stop for toilet breaks and have money deducted from their £400 a week if they miss their timed targets.
So long as public policy, of whatever government, cannot be challenged by the very workforce upon which it depends, the constant divide-and-conquer tactics that ensure the status quo will never allow for the kind of social cohesion needed to bring the world together. Perhaps the emerging Time’s Up and MeToo movements will bring new hope.
But you can bet that even now there are lackeys devising plans to thwart them. We must resist being dragged into the kind of manufactured conflict that will only end with defeat under the jack-boots of the capitalists. United we stand, divided we fall!
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This post was written by outRageous!