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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?

My Archimedes moment (via From Tweet to Thesis)

I have been interested in the origin of PhD research and I have started a new blog to collect individual accounts. Here is my first post, about how I came up with my topic. Let’s hope it’s not the last.

My Archimedes moment I came up with PhD research topic in the shower. Over the previous three years, while working as a paralegal, I was given the opportunity to manage my employer's corporate social responsibility policy. I am not sure why the managing partner decided to select me but I think it might have been something to do with that 'diatribe' about cars. Possibly, the biggest challenge was reconciling the tension between my colleagues as particular individuals … Read More

via From Tweet to Thesis

From paternalism to parental society

Two days ago, I wrote about how the Tea Party’s resistance might be a good thing for America. Not necessarily because of the policies they espouse (that’s not what this post is about). The Tea Party in the US and the anti-cuts coalition in the UK are in fact two sides of the same coin, that coin being the rising up of society through mass grassroots movements to remind government where they come from and what their purpose is.

As I wrote before, the state has traditionally been seen as paternalistic, with responsibility forlooking after a childlike society. This view still resonates today, with current political philosophies such as libertarian paternalism. A father is still a father, no matter how easy going he is. In the feminist critique, however, the alignment of the state with one particular gender has created opposition. Most obviously, this has been between the sexes, but,  where the feminine has come to represent the uncivilised or irrational, this also means between races, socioeconomic groups and between man and the environment. These ‘others’ of the white male have always been subject to oppression. It is this inherent gender polarity, says Jessica Benjamin in The Bonds of Love, that is the problem.

By eliminating gender polarity, the question becomes no longer who is the mother or who is the father but who is the parent. But we are not talking about an ungendered parent, but one who is bisexual or bi-gendered – that is, one who has attributes that have traditionally been identified as male and attributes traditionally identified as female. The important thing is that it is the parent who begets the child. So, if the state is the parent, say, who does the state beget. Does the state create society?

Benjamin argues from her psychoanalytic feminist perspective that the child identifies with the father in order to differentiate itself from the mother. Before this, from the child’s point of view, the father essentially doesn’t exist. In other words, the child created the father  then gave up power to him. This is the obvious flaw with the notion of a paternal state.

Yes, the environment (Mother Nature, say) can be said to have ‘given  birth to’ human beings in an evolutionary sense – according to how God designed the system, obviously – but it is the forming of societies that led to the creation of the state to govern societal relations. So, in reality, society is the parent of the state, with the responsibility to make sure that state behaves well (whatever that means).

The problem in many Western liberal democracies has been apathy in society. Voter turnout has often been quite low and this has allowed to the state to get away with proverbial murder, whether it be the Iraq war, the undermining of civil liberties, massive over spending and borrowing, large scale public sector cuts and lax regulation of the financial services industry, to name a few. But what the Tea Party movement, the anti-cuts coalition, the ‘Stop the War’ protests in 2003, the larger than usual turnout in the UK General Election followed by the forming of coalition , show is the importance of a powerful society, standing up for what it believes to be right and keeping government accountable. This is the parent’s job in relation to the child. When the parent can’t be bothered , children think they can do anything they want or they live in a fantasy world.

The state is the eternal child.

This doesn’t mean that the state doesn’t lack any power at all. As any child knows, parents can be out of touch with the times, so children do need to ‘educate’ parents as well. But obviously a child cannot respond to the parent in the same way that the parent responds to the child. But what’s important is that there is a dialogue or dialectical relationship between the parent and the child, the society and the state, where anti-thesis and thesis come together to form a synthesis, but even if they don’t, both understand the other better.

But even more important is that parents cannot be like children and children cannot be like parents. The Tea Party caucus can be the parent as part of society, but it cannot play that role if it is in government. There is a reason why the government is made up of ministers and secretaries, they have to take the more deferential or submissive role of a child. But this redefinition of the state/society relationship also means that we must abandon the idea of Montesquieu‘s three branches of government. Really, the legislature and the judiciary should rightly be seen as the highest levels of society, since their role is to keep the executive in check and acting in accordance with societal values.

Perhaps the parental society is the true Big Society – big, because it’s about not being a child anymore, it’s about growing up and taking its responsibilities seriously. It has nothing to do with a retrenchment of the state in terms of services provided. No, a small state is one that acts with the humility of a child towards the society that created it and gave it life.

Additional thought

Perhaps the current democracy movements in the Middle East are also an example of the dialectic between paternalism to parentalism. In which case NATO’s intervention in Libya must be like the reality tv show Supernanny, who comes in to help the despairing parent. So, it’s still questionable then.

The Erotics of the Debt Ceiling

So, according to the general gist of the media coverage, there’s just under a week to go to financial armageddon. If the US government cannot get Congress to agree to a lifting of the debt ceiling, it won’t be able to service its debts and pay its bills and…well, to be honest, beyond America, I am not entirely clear on the next bit.

I am actually kinda curious. A bit disappointed that Greece hasn’t defaulted yet, given that all the pundits are talking about the exposure of European banks. It’s a bit like a disappointing porn film. Maybe it’s just my sado-masochistic fantasies LOL. The thought of the world’s biggest economy defaulting on its debts is…well, let’s just say that SOMETHING has to go down ;) I guess you could say that the Democrats want to keep it up with a good hand job. The Tea Party, on the other hand, want to service it with a good whipping (and you thought they were the ultra conservatives). Honestly, how’s a country to decide.

On the other hand, when the choice is between being masturbated by Hilary Clinton verses being whipped by Michelle Bachman dressed in black rubber, it’s a bit of a no-brainer.

On a more serious note, I suppose one could say that national debt really is a type of phallus – you know what they say about countries with massive debts, my debt is bigger than your debt, that sort of thing. Perhaps it is penis envy on the part of governments with smaller debts that masquerades as concern for the regional or world economy. I don’t know. But whether it is ‘penis envy’ or concern, it is arguably in response to the criticisms from the wider society, including the markets and the media. This isn’t in itself a bad thing.

The state has traditionally been seen as paternal. It still resonates now, particularly with current political philosophies such as libertarian paternalism and the nudge agenda. In this respect, therefore the paternal state is asking the maternal society (represented by Congress) to, well, I think you get the picture by now. But this whole gender polarity is perhaps a part of the problem.

Where does the state come from, for a start? It is born out of or created by society. Indeed, as per Jessica Benjamin’s psychoanalytic feminist critique of paternalism, it is people forming larger and larger groups that set up a system to govern their relations. Society only identifies with a rational, paternal state to disidentify itself from Mother Nature. So, in reality, therefore, the state is the child of society, yet the child has been given the power to dominate the parent.

Now of course it is up to the parent how they bring up the child, but if the child does something wrong, then it is surely the responsibility of the parent to discipline. This of course is the basis of the accountability of governments to the people and society. As much as it pains me to say this, perhaps the Tea Party may have a point (god, I feel so dirty, especially after the sado-masochism). Barack Obama has likened the national debt to a credit card bill. Well, I am not a parent, so may be one who is can tell me whether, if your child maxes out the credit card, do you ring up the company to increase the limit?

Remaking the world

Given the times that he wrote in (late 18th to early 19th centuries), it is not surprising that Hegel does not have much to say about the environment. Not too mention frustrating if one is doing research in environmental law. But, there are hints of a connection between humanity and the environment. At the beginning of The Spirit of Christianity and its Fate, he says that the hostility of the environment (represented by the Flood of the Bible) was a result of man’s hostility to it and each other. As part of my phd thesis, I am using a psychoanalytic feminist reading of Hegel to develop a dialectical account of the relationships between society, law and the environment.

It is a lot easier to see that the environment affects the way we live than the effect we have on the environment. Of course, the most obvious manifestation of this effect is in pollution. But, apparently, scientists are saying that we are moving into a new geological epoch, the Antropocene, where we are literally making the world in our image (i.e. rotten to the core).

In a sense, geoengineering isn’t something we do to solve the problem of climate change. It is the cause of climate change. Instead of being radiated back into space, the carbon dioxide remains trapped near the planet. That’s a hell a lot of energy, and it is expressed as ice melting, water heating, increased cloudcover, etc. Reinsurer Munich Re said that “the only plausible explanation” for 2010’s catastrophes, the drought, heatwave and fires across Russia and the mega-floods in Pakistan, Australia, Brazil and elsewhere was partly global warming.


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