Posted tagged ‘politics’

The turkeys who vote for Christmas

November 16, 2016

It is entirely possible to celebrate Christmas without killing any turkeys. I’m a vegetarian, so for me, Christmas has absolutely nothing to do with eating turkeys. My meat-eating relatives also tend to enjoy a turkey-free Christmas because turkey isn’t one of their top ten favourite meats. Most meat-eaters don’t seem to actually like turkey that much; they just eat it at Christmas because it’s traditional. (There’s a Royle Family scene where everybody says they don’t like turkey, then the whole family is shocked by Barbara’s suggestion that they have something else in future. It’s one of several moments where the sitcom resembles a documentary.)

So you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s not just theoretically possible, but practically achievable and generally desirable to have Christmas without killing turkeys. When you balance the really strong desire of the turkeys not to be killed against the only mildly pro-turkey-dinner feelings of the humans, it looks as if the overall feeling is anti-killing-turkeys. If you rationally calculate the benefits and harms involved, a Christmas free of turkey dinners is not just the best moral choice but also the choice that best represents the wishes of all stakeholders. So that’s probably what will happen, right? If you’re a turkey who keeps hearing about how wonderful Christmas will be for “everybody”, maybe it’s tempting to make this kind of calculation and then vote for Christmas.

Of course, if you are a turkey, perhaps you will not grasp that nobody gives a fuck what you think. The cost-benefit analysis doesn’t include you, because you count for nothing. You are not part of “everybody” and you never were. That’s why a mild human preference for turkey dinners overrides your extremely strong preference not to die.

Siderea’s writing on The Two Moral Modes is the best explanation I’ve ever read of Donald Trump’s mindset.

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George Osborne and the cult of early

October 10, 2012

George Osborne has been talking about blinds. He seems to have made the same point both during his speech at party conference and during a Today programme interview, which suggests he’s proud of it.

“Where is the fairness for the shift worker, leaving home in the morning, who looks up at the closed blinds of the next-door neighbour, sleeping off a life on benefits?”

Yes, Osborne is a paid-up member of the cult of early. His speech makes a lazy equivalence between opening your blinds, getting up early and doing valid work. Or rather, a lazy equivalence between not opening your blinds, lying in bed all day and receiving benefits paid for by the sweat and toil of others.

I’m delighted to see that there’s already been a backlash against his bullshit on social media with the “#myblindsaredownbecause” hashtag. (The Guardian did something similar too.) If you’ve ever read this blog before, you won’t need me to explain why Osborne’s rhetoric is dangerous, lazy rubbish. There might be a thousand reasons to leave your blinds down – and none of them are the Chancellor’s business.

I’ve written in the past about how the cult of early preserves the sumptuary laws. What I meant by that is that the cult of early is inextricably linked with a culture that says you have to be seen to be working, to go through certain rituals that have no value in themselves if you want the value of your work to be accepted. When we talk about “getting your hands dirty” we are talking about producing a visual sign for the approval of others, a sign that says our work is “real”.

Of course Osborne is of the social class that wears a suit rather than a fluorescent tabard, a class that stays up late in the House of Commons rather than getting up early to take up somebody’s floorboards. But his commitment to the modern-day sumptuary laws is total. The Conservatives want – have always wanted – people to look like what they are. That’s what’s behind the Conservative obsession with keeping school uniform despite no evidence that it improves academic performance or children’s behaviour.

Conservatives want the little people to look and behave like little people. They’d love it if social pressure controlled our appearance even more than it already does. If you work in a blue-collar job, you probably already get up early, drive a white or branded van and wear suitable clothes for the job. Maybe you drive badly and park on double-yellow lines to make the point still further that you are a Real Worker. Perhaps your appearance is visibly dirty or dusty. But for the Conservatives, that’s not enough. Open your blinds before you leave the house, for God’s sake, or all this theatre will have been for nothing!

The party that preaches rolling back the state and social mobility wants nothing of the sort. They want grubby little tradesmen to be thinking about their low social status before they’re fully awake in the morning. And they’re encouraging our neighbours to judge us even more than they already do. Leave your blinds closed and you invite judgment; open them and people get to look inside your house and draw more detailed conclusions about how you’re failing at something.

I used the word “theatre” when I described the rituals we go through to prove we’re workers, and I used it advisedly. Osborne is using the misdirection techniques of a stage magician. Leaving the house painfully early? Sick of your job that doesn’t pay enough, your boss who treats you like crap, the fact that you can’t leave because you won’t find another job? Don’t look at what might be causing those problems. Don’t think about the failure of coalition policy and contemplate joining Labour or the Greens. Don’t think about getting some real protection in your workplace by joining a trade union. Just look up! Look up at your neighbours’ windows and occupy yourself in observing, policing, judging. What lazy scroungers they must be.

The cult of sleeplessness

April 12, 2012

I’ve written about the cult of early and how early risers get cultural credit just for starting their day earlier than other people, even if they also finish earlier and get exactly the same amount done.

This is a problem because attributing extra productivity and moral worth to a person for something which has nothing to do with their actual productivity or moral worth is unfair and stupid. It’s a problem because a culture that disproportionately praises early birds is a culture in which many night owls are forced to adopt the wrong circadian rhythms for their bodies. Fighting your body to become an early bird boosts your productivity and job satisfaction about as much as wearing the wrong size shoes.

But it’s also a problem because it overlaps with an even more problematic cultural issue: the cult of sleeplessness. When Margaret Thatcher boasted of only needing five hours’ sleep a night while she was Prime Minister, her message was: “I am stronger than you, I am better than you, I am made to be a leader.” And people responded admiringly or disbelievingly, rather than shrugging and asking what on earth her sleep requirements have to do with her ability to run the country.

But just look at the kind of people who find it easy to wake at dawn, the kind of people who “naturally” don’t seem to need much sleep.

  • Babies
  • Toddlers
  • Older people who have retired from work
  • Some older children
  • (Presumably) the binmen who have cheery conversations with each other outside my house at 6am once a week
  • (Presumably) the early starters I know in blue-collar jobs

What do these people have in common? Freedom from responsibility. These are not people who have to make difficult decisions on a daily basis. They are not spending their waking and working hours planning, juggling and worrying. They either don’t work at all or they have their workday mapped out by someone else. I’m not saying that doing a full shift lifting recycling boxes isn’t hard work; I’m saying that it’s relatively stress-free hard work because all the difficult decisions are made for you in advance.

Some research suggests that decision-making depletes your willpower, and that, as the New York Times puts it, “we have a finite store of mental energy for exerting self-control.” In other words, if your day involves a lot of decision-making, you need to rest in order to refill your mental reserves.

Most white-collar jobs involve planning your own time, negotiating with clients, colleagues and bosses, making work-related decisions and justifying those decisions as well as a thousand other smaller decisions like “do I go for a run at lunchtime?” and “how do I interpret this email? Is this person being aggressive or does it just come across that way? How do I respond neutrally?” And if you have other responsibilities on top of that, decisions merge with each other in a messy, stressful way. “If I go for a run at lunchtime tomorrow I’ll have to remember to bring a packed lunch because the only good place to run is in the opposite direction to the shops, so I’ll have to buy the stuff for a packed lunch today, but that’s difficult because I’m going to an after-work PTA meeting and when it’s over all the shops will be closed except my local corner shop and that’s a Tesco and I’m trying to boycott Tesco… but I could solve the problem by driving to work tomorrow, then I’ll have the car at lunchtime, but it just seems so wrong to drive to work in order to go running, but it’s not my fault we don’t have good public transport here, but I guess it is partly my fault because there was that meeting about it and I missed it…” You’re exhausted before you’ve even put your running shoes on.

The more responsibility you accept, the more rest you need. If you’re the kind of person who sees broken things in the world and wants to fix them, you need more rest than the person who ignores them because “they’re not my problem”. People who don’t need much sleep, by and large, are the kind of people who either don’t have much responsibility or refuse to worry abut the responsibility they do have.

Of course a toddler is keen to start the day if awake-time means cuddles, attention and worry-free play. And of course Thatcher didn’t need much sleep when she was Prime Minister, because as far as I can tell without ever having met the woman, self-doubt was not a problem for her. Her agenda was to dismantle and destroy: the welfare state, the NHS, the unions, the UK’s manufacturing industry. She didn’t lie awake worrying about it any more than your average toddler lies awake worrying about bashing the furniture.

Imagine a game where Team A just has to run around breaking everything they can while Team B has to prevent them from breaking things and take responsibility for fixing or putting up with whatever’s broken. Clearly Team B doesn’t get to stop unless Team A has stopped, and even then Team B is still dealing with the consequences of what Team A has done. Team B is anxious, Team A is just fine (especially since it’s Team B who has to bring the half-time oranges). In other words, Team A has lots of fun and power, while Team B has lots of responsibility but is forced into a reactive position without enough control over the situation or time to do what needs to be done. Which team is going to need more rest at the end of the game?

Being a selfish, destructive arsehole with little or no understanding of responsibility is much less tiring than behaving responsibly. If someone doesn’t need much sleep, it’s probably because they’re not doing their fair share of the worrying or the real work. They’re not to be praised or admired for it. Thatcher was basically a giant guilt-free toddler with a wrecking ball, having too much fun to go to bed. Is this at the root of the left-wing obsession with when she’ll finally be laid to rest?