Thursday, 4 April 2013

A C Grayling - Traitor To The Working Man

"Egregious crap" is a term that should be used more often, but never lightly. "Traitor to the working man" is the same. A C Grayling's piece in the March 30/31 edition of the FT is both egregious crap and proves him to be a traitor to the working man. 

A C Grayling is what someone who doesn't know anything about philosophy would think a philosopher looks like and maybe sound like. His books have titles like The God Argument: The Case Against Religion and for Humanism, or The Meaning of Things: Applying Philosophy to Life, or What is Good?: The Search for the Best Way to Live, or even, for Christ's sake, The Good Book: A Secular Bible. He has written a proper book, An Introduction to Philosophical Logic, but seems to have gone the pot-boiler route after that. He is Master of the New College of the Humanities, which is a private undergraduate college with a bunch of brand-name academics, whose degrees are awarded by the University of London.

"Austerity helps us recognise the splendour of sufficiency" is the title of the piece. "Try to look at the bright side of our current misery" is the sub-head. Columnists don't usually have control over the sub-head, but I bet he wishes he had had in this case. 

"Austerity" according to my five-year old Macbook Pro, means "difficult economic conditions created by government measures to reduce a budget deficit, esp. by reducing public expenditure" or "extreme plainness and simplicity of style or appearance" or "sternness or severity of manner or attitude". My living quarters would be described by many as "austere" as would the way I dress. Austerity-as-style is, if handled with sufficient panache, a good way to go, speaking as it does to seriousness and self-discipline not shared by people who have several different shades of carpet on their floors. The  Amish, on the other hand, take it too far. That's Good Austerity.

Bad Austerity is when governments cut back needed spending and employers reduce the real value of their payrolls and make their staff use increasingly older and less effective equipment to meet the ever-increasing demands on products and services. Good Austerity would be cutting back on boondoggles, luxury and ineffective spending. But we don't get that kind of austerity. We only get the Bad kind.

"Is austerity a bad thing?" Asks our philospher-entrepreneur. And he answers "Not always. The austerity years of the second world war and its aftermath were surprisingly good for people; calorie restriction meant flat tummies and robust health, at least for those not smoking the lethal cigarettes of the day." Pardon? Have you seen photographs of those people? Of the bombed-out streets and the tattered interiors? Can he remember that this country was so poor for decades afterwards that there were still bomb sites in Covent Garden in the mid-Seveties and in East London in the mid-Eighties? Can he remember that in those Good Austere times most people took baths once a week and thought it barely necessary to wash their feet daily - unless they were miners. As for "robust health" - is he kidding? Look at those photographs of cheeky East London blokes again. They aren't sixty, they are forty. People wore out fast in those Good Austere times.

He continues: "It might be highly pleasurable to meet one’s friends in a fine restaurant, but to meet them on a park bench in the sunshine has almost all the good of the experience." Um? One meets one's friends in the local Pizza Hut in the evening because one is stuck inside an office or a commute when the sun is shining - if it ever will shine again in this benighted country. Where and when can normal people meet their friends "on a park bench in the sunshine"? Where in Wembley exactly? Or Hoxton? Or Hanworth? And are they meeting those friends hungry or replete? And no, I'm sorry, unless the park bench is in the Parc du Chateau in Nice or the parc du Buttes-Chaumont in Paris, I'll go with a pleasant restaurant, though I suspect by a "fine" one, Prof Grayling may mean "Michelin-starred", which is a little forbidding for me.

And then we get this: "Epictetus, the Stoic philosopher of antiquity, said that the truly rich person is he who is satisfied with what he has. Think that saying through. How rich one is, if content with a sufficiency; how poor, with millions in the bank, if dissatisfied and still lusting for more. Enforced austerity, as in a major economic downturn, might teach what is sufficient, and how one might be grateful not to be burdened with more than is sufficient." The Stoics were a bunch of Roman millionaires and billionaires, should you be wondering. Those guys had as little to teach ordinary people then as they do now. And how convenient that wage slaves don't need more, or even as much as they had last year, but all they do need is a state of mind, to be satisfied with what they have. I wonder if Mr Sainsbury takes that as payment for bread? As advice to parvenu millionaires, it has a certain use in pointing out that there's a time when a hundred million is enough and you need to think about charitable works. As advice to someone on the median (male) UK salary of £28,000 a year gross, it's simple callousness. Or plain stupidity.

Be content with what you've got. Advice from someone who fancies himself part of the ruling class to people he considers slaves. How dare you want more. So you can send your children to a school where they might learn something. Or have a property or business to pass on to them. Or so you can go see Shakespeare live or spend a weekend away in a "fine hotel" to re-ignite the marriage that is asphyxiating under making-ends-meet. Understand the true meaning of the government cuts that took away your carer, or your meals at home, as the "opportunity to live more richly" as Professor Grayling says austerity really is. Then you will be happy.

Yeah. Right. You get first swing at his skull. Then it's my turn on behalf of all the philosophers whose good name he besmirches with such craven lackey propaganda. Then we go for the editor who let it get printed.

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