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Public sector cuts, rioting and the Oedipus Complex

The recent riots in England were the result of the violation of incest taboo, in the form of the government’s public sector cuts.

A sizeable proportion of the cuts directly affect young people, who made up a sizeable proportion of the rioters. Writing in the Guardian, Polly Toynbee wrote:

Let’s reprise where cuts have fallen hardest. Nearly a million young unemployed, a shocking one in five out of work, rises to more than 30% in places like Middlesbrough. The young will suffer for it all their lives, as research shows most never regain their footing, destined to a life in and out of low-paid work. Connexions, the service that picks up the lost and gives careers advice to all is cut to shreds: over 30% cut already, professionals replaced with cheaper staff. Just when young people most need help on what school subjects to take, on BTecs, HNDs and apprenticeships, the government is replacing careers advice with an online service, with no one to question their choices and prod them forwards. The disastrous abolition of the educational maintenance allowance will make many wrongly opt out altogether. Add in the future trouble stored up in the cuts to Sure Start, teen pregnancy prevention, anti-gang or other early interventions and prospects look bleaker still.

In what Ucas calls “the most competitive year ever”, remember how 20 years ago anyone who could scrape together a couple of passes found a place on some university course somewhere, with little to pay. Once students pay the whole cost, the value of that degree needs to be cashable. Creeping credentialism means anyone without a degree competes at a disadvantage with graduates for jobs that never needed a degree before. Serious apprenticeships may look like a good alternative, but more people apply for precious BAE or Rolls-Royce places than for Oxbridge.

It is ironic that one of the government ministers forcing through these cuts is David Willetts, the Secretary of State for Innovation and Skills, as the one responsible for universities. In his book, ‘The Pinch: How the Baby Boomers Stole Their Children’s Future’, he writes how the baby boomers have so concentrated wealth, adopted a hegemonic position over national culture and so failed to meet the future generations’ needs that they have broken the “intergenerational contract”. The baby boomers, represented by the current and recent governments, have acted like Oedipus’ father, Laius, who, when given a prophecy that his baby son would grow up to kill his father and marry his mother, arranged for him to be abandoned to die. Rather than live up to his parental responsibilities and protect the future, he chose to cling on to power by killing his child.

Of course, the pro-cuts lobby (whether Labour or Conservative) put forward the argument that spending has got way out of control and we need to sort our debts out, just like any household do. That sounds logical. But, surely, when households make cuts, the parents will first look to impose restrain on themselves before they even begin to think about reducing provision for the children. (Or am I just too middle class?)

But, the prophecy given to Laius did come true. Oedipus – against his wishes – did grow up to, first kill his father – in an argument in the street – and then marry his mother. Off course, he didn’t know they were his biological parents. But it was the father who had breached the intergenerational contract and focused on their own needs in the present. So, in keeping with contract law, the child is entitled to revoke it. If the present generation is going to think about its own interests more than future generations, why should the next generations not think about its own present interests too. After all, when you lose hope in the future, all you have is the present.  What the rioters did through their looting was to take what the baby boomer generation. just Oedipus took possession of his father’s wife.

The solution? Somehow the generational difference between the present and future generations need to be reinstituted. I would argue that only the present, baby boomer generation, who are in power at the moment, can do that. The problem is that it would involve a major redistribution from them to the younger generation. Will they finally take their parental responsibilities seriously?

Big Society Libyan-style

One of the big question in British politics today is, what the hell is the Big Society?

Well, we only have to look at Benghazi, the first Libyan city to declare freedom, for a glimpse into David Cameron’s vision for the UK.

“Neighbourhood Watch-like groups, all armed with AK-47s, manned checkpoints in and out of all the towns. But every military and police post for 360 miles had been abandoned.”

The local community banded together and took on functions previously carried on by the state, even though every media report of the protests have made that point that “civil society is virtually non-existent and the business sector still young and weak”.

Then there is Misrata. One resident told Reuters that not only have “protestors overcome security forces and taken full control”, but also law and order did not collapse. Within a matter of hours, “calm return to the city…the people’s spirits here are high, they are celebrating and chanting ‘God is Greates’.” What’s more, it was the community, not the state, who are organising traffice, searching pedestrians for weapons and even placed some armed intruders from Tripoli under arrest.

I am instinctively against many of the cuts that the UK government is making and I am suspicious that they are using the deficit to disguise their neoliberal ideology. However, if the Big Society is alive and kicking in a place where there was allegedly no civil society, just think what can be done here!

The irony is that, according to Politicocoa, it was possibly Colonol Gadhaffi who put some of the structures in place for a Libyan Big Society.

“The people committees everywhere that Gadhafi espouses in his “Green Book”, with no one excluded from decision-making. A pathetic piece of window dressing for a dictatorship for the last 40 odd years, for sure. But something that has been drilled into Libyan minds routinely for over 40 years too. So perhaps they are now thinking, “ok, we’ve never actually done these participatory things mentioned in that book that had seemed like fiction until now, but now we are free to do so, we know how we’ve got to organise, let’s get on so things don’t fall apart.” I wonder if it will sustain, or if we end up with the usual representative democracy and its inevitable disappointments.”

Let’s hope Cameron doesn’t take any other leaf from Gadhafi’s book.

Taxdodging – a breakdown in the dialectic

Campaigning organisation 38degrees has secured national newspaper ad space to run a full page adverts calling on the government to do something about the £120 billion lost through taxdodging. That amount alone is enough to wipe out a good part of the deficit. Perhaps if this has been the first priority then the government would not have needed to take make drastic cuts so quickly and could give real and serious consideration to what other cuts should be made.

Taxdoging is more than just a simple case of a bunch of rich people not paying their taxes. It goes to heart of the philosophical foundation of the relationship or dialectic between state and society. Society cannot exist without the state, as the lawmaker, to provide some form of organisation or structure. But, the state’s power to organise or structure is dependent on the recognition by society, not just psychologically but also materially (i.e. financially). If we do not pay our taxes, the goverment has not power to do what it needs to do in our interests. It effectively ceases to exist and thus the order of society ceases to exist.

This is not an argument for big government. It is an argument for the inevitability of government. Jesus Christ, as the prime minister in God’s government, said that where two or three are gathered in his name, he is there also. Similarly, whenever human beings gather together into groups, some kind of leadership and organisational structure will always emerge to keep together the contradictory elements of self and other.

Rememberance Day – the most ironic day of the year

So today is Remembrance Day. Before I say what I am about to say, I believe in the importance of Remembrance Day, I believe in the memory of all those who have fought and died for our country to protect our freedoms, human rights, liberty and democracy. And herein lies the irony. On the day that we are suppose to look back to the horrors of war and utter “Never again”, we (as in humanity) have never seemed so eager to go to war for whatever reason than since the day was first instituted in the aftermath of the First World War. If we really are going to take Remembrance Day seriously, let’s bring our troops back from Afghanistan, let’s get rid of Trident and our stockpile of nuclear weapons (three words: Hiroshima and Nagasaki) and let’s offer a real, genuine hand of reconciliation (and eventually friendship) to countries such as Iran and North Korea.

I think part of the problem is the way that we ‘celebrate’ Remembrance Day. If you go to church, you’ll probably have it included in this Sunday’s service – although if your church is anything like mine, it will probably be en passant. You may (or may not) be wearing a poppy to show that you are marking the day, but are you really? What exactly are you doing? Donating some money to the Royal British Legion or Help the Heroes, possibly having a two minutes’ silence but otherwise getting on with your day as usual. And let’s be honest, did people die to set us free just so we can be a slave to the system? (I’ll let you decide what the system is.)

Remembrance Day is, for us, what 4th July Independence Day is to the Americans. Former British colonies, such as India, Sri Lanka and Canada, celebrate Independence Day too, to mark the liberation from our rule. So why don’t we really celebrate today? Let’s make it a National Holiday, perhaps an extended weekend (such like Thanksgiving in the US). Let’s have some kind of procession in the street – and not just a military one but a showcase of pluralism, multiculturalism and peace, kinda like Mardi Gras and May Day all rolled into one. And perhaps let’s name it World Peace Day or something.

Which brings me on to my final point. Yesterday demonstration in Central London by students and lecturers against the coalition government’s cuts to higher education and plans to increase tuition fees for 80% of students is perhaps the best celebration of Remembrance Day. It is why people died in the first place, so that we can have the freedom to protest and to express our views.


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