Firstly, apologies for the massive delay in posting. You may remember the heady days of yore, when first there started to be delays in posting ? Then, erupting from the mire would another post arise, heady with the fumes of contrition and apology and laden with evermore internecine excuses for the absence. And I think none of us ever believed those excuses - I know I certainly did not. I always suspected there was something more, going on, an agenda behind the scenes. I remember how the excuses I would read when I consulted these amaniacals just would not ring true : 'busy with renos', 'on holiday', 'not much happening', 'not miserable enough to write' etc etc etc . "Hmmm, I thought to myself, this fellow's up to summat or I'm a Dutchman".
Well, it would appear as if I will have to start eating large quantities of Edam cheese, riding my bike a lot, and jumping over dykes, because I investigated myself thoroughly in light of these suspicions, and it appears that the excuses were genuine. Apart from assembling the most ridiculously camp Halloween costume in the world (Ever!), the last few months have literally been renovating, studying, riding my bike, eating lots of cheese and generally being quite happy, with the odd bit of failing-to-visit-Bristol/Aberdeen thrown in. The word mundane has had to be re-defined to describe my existence to the extent that I believe its been withdrawn from service for some maintenance. But you should'nt take my word for it, I had to dig deep before the evidence of the extent of is ennui did become apparent: I have started a blog about my Phd! This sister blog is not an amusing series of anedotes about how it has taken three months to write a thirty minute seminar presentation, nor observations on how I dont understand linguistics - deixus, pragmatics, morphology, phonemics, epiglottal labial fricatives and the like - to the point where I have been doubting whehter I should use language (or indeed communication of any means). No, this new blog is merely a series of descriptions of academic papers I have been reading. I had become ridiculously happy with an existence that I will tag here as 'The New Monasticism'. Having coined this phrase, I fully expect to see it appear in the lifestyle pages of 'serious' broadsheets within the year.
But withdrawing from the world doesnt mean its not there, and recent trip to London made me re-think my Benedictine approach. I was recently invited to attend a research seminar in light of my new role as a burgeoning PhD. The seminar was a blur of brilliance and a competely new experience for me, having previously only been an undergraduate sitting through three hour lectures on 'The Reflective Practitioner'. In those previous experiences, a somnabulance would fill the room very quickly and I would spend a lot of time estimating how long it took to install the ubiquitous white tiles of the suspended ceiling, and how many rats were crawling along the ductwork above our heads right now, before drifting off to sleep at minute 20. This seminar was different - it was as if a massive pllow fight had occured, and the pillows had exploded, filling the room with feathers - a constant Brownian motion of ideas/possibilities/models and hypotheses. All of The Really Big Names (RBN) in my field (people who's work I have read for three years and had just totally excited me) were present, and THEY had asked ME questions about my research, describing it as 'really interesting' and 'timely'. I was 'vibed' to say the least. As the seminar wound down, the collected RBN gathered, chatting and joking, making plans for the evening. To my surprise, one RBN turned to me, asking what my plans might be. I gulped - I had just been addressed, albeit using the name 'Mark', by a legend, a star , who has actually been published. Hesitantly, and trying hard not to cry, I mentioned that I had planned to go to the Occupy St Pauls demonstration, just down the road, and find out for myself what it was all about. A quick consult, and the assembled glitterati of research - the entire constellation of RBN in the field of adult second language learning - declared it a good plan. So with no further ado, all three of us trooped out into the balmy night air of London, in search of civil disobedience.
I will not here retread descriptins of what the Occupy movement is - anyone, even those engaged in 'The New Monasticism' should be aware of not only the vents, but also the essential arguments. I will also not here indulge in a vain-glorious description of how accurate are the essential tenets of Civilisation Why? /Apolcalypse How? and Evolution When? , it is enough to state categorically that it should be obvious to anyone that global capitalism is breaking down, just as every previously designed complex system of control of human society has eventually collapsed. ANd faced with this reality, the merits, or otherwise, of the current paradigm may be a subject of discussion for some people, but viewed for me, these arguments dont really amount to what we historical anthropologists call 'a hill of beans'. Arguments about how we 'fix' capitalism are completely irrelevant and short sightedly relative - for example, feudalism and Maoist Communism, in their time, did feed enormous amounts of people, did result in technological innovation, and apart from hideous human rights violations, did enable a kind of stability for many people throughout their existence. Their designers did have a vision - an ethical position, whether we like that position or not. What matters though, is that when, for various reasons, the jig was up and the system stopped working - in the form of mass famine, plague and misery for too many of the people, a new system had to arise. And from that, what really matters is at we have a debate over what should replace the failing system, so that something worse does not occur. For example, Stalinism, Mugabe and the Aztecs all replaced previoulsy faltering systems. Fortunately in these times, we have a little more influence than the hoi polloi of previous societies, so what I was really interested in was whether Occupy had something to say about replacement, or whether they were just 'agin'.
My own position, I have to confess was ambivalent. Having been a campaignng member of the Far Left Militant Tendency in my youth, and throughout my twenties, a certain revolutionary fatigue is probably part of my make-up. So, viewing the television images of the Occupy camps, witnessing the didigereedoos, home made placards, dread-locks and gas masks, a part of me shared the cynical view of at least one friend, that the Occupy people were 'the usual suspects'. However, RHB's re-engagement with alternative perspectives over the last few years has been compelling, and I found the Occupy Wal street statement compelling, accurate and much more truthful than the ridiculous edge-of-a-clfff negotiations of Europena finance ministers.
In the company of the RBN, I strolled along the Embankment in London to St Pauls, but when we got there, I made my excuses because I wanted to talk to the protestors on my own. I walked into the middle of the tent area and just looked round. There were concentric rings of people, clearly differentiated. On the edges of the square a row of policemen adopted pose not dissimilar to their demeanor during soccer matches - active watching, but not 'poised'. Inside this ring of police, groups of tourists took photographs but mainly didnt enter the area where the tents were. The local coffee shops were doing a roaring trade - ironically the centre of capitalism had gained another money spinning tourist attraction. Suited City types walked purposefully along, between the police and the tents, some muttering as they passed, others ignoring the activity around them in the way only Londoners can do. Inside the tented are there were a few vegetarian kitchens, guitar players, and lots and lots of people milling around, many of them dressed like New Age types - dreadlocks, quilted jackets and Tibetan style hats. Absolutely nothing was happening.
Afetr a few minutes, I approached a group who were sat down on camp chairs outside a tent and asked if I could sit. We started to chat.
Two hours later, I had to leave as I was staying at Brent Cross that night on the other side of the city. But I left very reluctantly. Its impossible to provide a 'snapshot' of what the Occupy protestors stand for, because, as they themselves said, their views are not all the same. Because of this, the accustation has been made that they are just 'agin' but apart from the fact that there's plenty to be 'agin' about, this does not mean there is no focus. If you are driving a car and the radiator is about to explode, there are number of alternative courses of actions you can take - many of them legitimate - get out and walk, abandoning the car, call rescue services, fix the radiator with ahrd boiled eggs or buy a new car. THere are many differnet courses of action yuou can take. What you dont do is just keep driving because it should be apparent your car will explode if you dont do something. The Occupy people I spoke to were cohesive in that they believed that although it is apparent to some what I have believed for a long time - that capitalism is broken - they believe that its not apparent to enough, or many, or the majoority just how broken it is. This radiator cannot just be replaced, in fact the whole car has reached a point where its increasingly dangerous to drive. And to extend this further, you cant afford a new car. So the point of their protest is to highlight this.
I suspect that among our politicians, busily engaged in bail outs, quantitative easing, stimulus packages and the like, many of them also know the car is toast. But because admitting this necessarily involves a relinquishing of power, privelige and money, they are extrememly reluctant to admit this publically. Other politicians who are ideologically-emotionally attached to the current system wont even admit to themselves just how bad things really are. Others still, opposed to the current system on ideological grounds have deterministic solutions. They have convinced themselves that they (and only they) 'know' the 'answers'. Its hard for me to decide which breed of politician is worse, but what is remarkable, encouraging and inspiring, is that the the Occupy people, even amid their various agendas, want to arrive at a solution through consensus. They know that they dont know all the answers. If I can characterize these protesters, it is that they are, among all the people I have met, the ones who can be most accurately described as democrats.