Thursday, 25 April 2013

Thatcher Years - destruction of one world of meaning

A little while ago, Margaret Thatcher died.
Some people were celebrating her death, some people were mourning her.

I did not celebrate her demise, but neither did I mourn: the political-social-economic changes she brought in, however necessary they may have been (and I believe they were inevitable), have had a massive and ambiguous impact on my life.
This impact is the same that caused my dad’s hair to turn from black to white in short time, only its unfolding in my life is taking years. It is my life.

I think I was against the programme of the conservative party in the late eighties and nineties because it seemed to, and did, damage my dad’s world. It hurt my dad, who I loved. His hair turned from black to grey to white.
He survived and thrived in Local Government, having one employer his whole life: the state.

Local government as it had been for fifty years or more was pretty much dismantled in the Thatcher years 1979-1990 (from when I was 9yrs to when I was 20yrs) and years following. Virtually everything that had been a fixture of my dad's world came to an end. Major industries had been nationalised through and after the second world war, in the Welfare State, and he (born in 1938) emerged into a world in which the whole of social life and social provision appeared to be in and through local government, through the state. There was a tangible image of the technocrat – the government official, Clement Atlee the epitome I suppose – with his noble and serious responsibility for the social welfare of others. He grew into that, and his knowledge of engineering fitted seamlessly into the post-war vision of a world of social progress and improvement through the application of science! There was a whole period in the 50s and 60s in which political parties of all striipes were fired up with zeal for science and technology (Wilson’s “white heat of the "technological revolution" was the same thing as MacMillan's "You've never had it so good"). For someone of my father's family background there was no contradiction seen between “efficiency” and state management. The concept of efficiency contained, somewhere, an idea of social well-being. His family had seen real social advancement, from skilled labouring (his gradfather, b.~1880) to management of technical work (his father, b.1907) and home-ownership, to professional class, which was only barely a counterweight to the displacement and deep insecurity after WWI and through WWII. Such things as national insurance were living radical transformations for his parents (my grandparents), maybe even fought for and won by his grandparents’ generation, after the trenches.

My father was of almost the first generation to have access to Grammar School education via the “11-plus” exam, and through that a university education, promising a better job. He cast such a strong figure for me, with his office and his work and his entire practice seeming to be a putting-into-practice of social democracy. It was easy for me to believe in that technocracy: technocrats trained in science or engineering, dispensing tax payers’ money fairly and justly, rationally, efficiently, in support of an idea of the way the world should be. It was natural for me to believe that others shared my feeling of this community, which connects me (who cares for our roads) with you (who cares for our food) and you (who cares for our teeth) etc.. I grew up believing in a world in which everyone was connected with everyone, but the implicit condition of this belief, so I now think, was an ultimate rationality to the organisation, some ultimate position from which the correct allocations of resources is towards this conception of the good life could be known. An epistemology was present and active in this world view.

Now the world changed. There are consumers and service providers. My father did not adapt to this change. His hair turned white and he took early retirement, aged 55yrs, and never worked again. He is 74yrs now and his health has dipped. Heart trouble.

The caring I have described to you that I believed existed in the world I now associate with co-dependency, that damaging way of relating that induces others’ dependency on ourselves.
If I found this way of relating in the world it was no doubt my “projection”. It was my dad’s style at home and in work, but one that peculiarly requires others to be complicit in it. I have come to think that it is just a historical accident that he should have emerged and thrived in a world that supported a kind of co-dependent structure. Was he simply always the kind of person who super-cared, doing others’ thinking for them? Or was he made that way by the structures of power and dependency that emerge with state-led technocracy? The accident is the second world war, which required a total mobilisation and a technico-rational structuring of the whole of life. People trained in mathematical sciences found themselves needed, in positions of management and power.

The truly debilitating element of this world view is the tone of presentation that seems to be characteristic of technocrats: impersonal, paternalistic, judgemental, self-satisfied.
This tone of knowingness casts practices not based on technical knowing into a kind of no-man’s land. The technician is given to believe his bit of knowledge adds to the store of scientific, “true” knowledge, while all the other ways of knowing, and their pursuit, appear as not credible (that is, not credible “to me”) and irrelevant (that is, irrelevant “to me”). There is only ever conceived to be “two” cultures if, like the technocrat C P Snow who coined the term in 1959, there is a failure to recognise that techical-scientific practices emerge from culture and as such are part of culture, a way human life is expressed, not a source of objective truth (as Karl Popper, for one, would strive to show), and no mere instrument of human expression.

After the world changed, a substantial motive for my choice of a university degree in engineering, as up-holding my father’s world and my idea of social democracy, was no longer meaningful.
The impact was only just beginning, however. The realisation comes home that the implied ultimate objective rationality organising the world (and which will therefore find a place for me) does not exist!
One has only one’s own resources to further oneself in a competitive world, and to give oneself direction. Now the whole fostering of dependency is seen for the disaster it really is. Not only has the co-dependent (one might say the entire technocratic state that was) justified his (its) necessity by having people need him (it), the dependent has none of the equipment, that is to say, individuality, the sense of being an individual, that can strive to create a world out of itself. There is a lack of experiencing the world as in any sense there to be shaped around “me”, because meaning has been derived from the idea of being part of a greater project:- his (its) project! There is no greater project in the sense of what connects me (who cares for your roads, etc.)… and one comes to see oneself in a group, a business say, in a totally new light. The knowledge I have is not connected to a bigger picture, but is useful in some way to the aims of my group, the business. There follows a stark realisation of the division of labour, that far from one’s scientific-technical education being the proper platform for the practice of government (as technocracy), that education has imparted neither political or philosophical insight! The development of such insight is proper to an education in political philosophy, where the technocratic world view itself has virtually written “philosophy” and “politics” out of the picture, as not productive of knowledge and so irrelevant (that is, irrelevant “to me”). A bit more effort helps one to see that holding some form of technocracy as the ideal form of government is itself a philosophy, perhaps one dedicated to the realisation of the “scientific world view” or the “religion of humanity” or “the greatest happiness for the greatest number”. One follows the thinking through only to find that in so far as the technocratic urge is to cast all human problems as technologically resolveable, it eliminates politics, and the individual along with it!  

Now I would look back and see my fellow students who seemed to have the right idea, “individuals” acquiring knowledge that they will sell in the market place.
How did they become individuals? What is being an individual like?
One only has to be aware of co-dependency and contemporary psycho-pathologies such as “self-disorders” to know that these are not empty questions.