Friday, 25 March 2011

Common People

On the front page of today's Guardian, under the heading "The human cost of the cuts", Amelia Gentleman writes:

"[The disappearance of these services] may not be noticed by anyone with a good income, in secure employment, in sound health, without caring responsibilities... [but] for the more vulnerable, the decision to close these bodies and cut these jobs will be sharply felt... Women, parents, carers, disabled poeple, teenagers and elderly people are likely to be most affected... From a Westminster perspective these may be easy to ignore... Viewed from Downing Street, they probably seem a fractured collection of regrettable but relatively insignificant services.."

And at the same moment, the iPod's shuffle chooses Common People from Pulp:

"Rent a flat above a shop, cut your hair and get a job.
Smoke some fags and play some pool, pretend you never went to school.
But still you'll never get it right
'cos when you're laid in bed at night, watching roaches climb the wall
If you call your Dad he could stop it all.
You'll never live like common people
You'll never do what common people do
You'll never fail like common people
You'll never watch your life slide out of view, and dance and drink and screw
Because there's nothing else to do"

And I am fiercely reminded of the crushing inability of those that have been limousined through life to genuinely comprehend the consequences of their decisions for those that did not share their good fortune.

More Borges

So I was following protocols on the tube the other day, numbly adhering to the social norms by staring vaguely in no direction in particular, when I glanced at the newspaper to my right. This, too, is a social norm when travelling on the London Underground: you are allowed to take a brief look at the reading material of your near neighbours, but it is considered inappropriate to too conspicuously begin reading.

An article on cricket caught my eye - I have been following the ongoing cricket world cup - and I lingered for a fraction.

The newspaper was dated 27th December 2010. The man on the tube next to me was reading the sports section from The Times dated 27th December 2010.

And he wasn't poring over it as if it was a special process, as perhaps one might suppose if he was doing some background research, or was searching for a particular piece having that morning vaguely recalled something he wanted to revisit. He was simply reading the sports pages of his newspaper, casually turning the pages, pausing here and there when something caught his attention.

I double checked: was it really the 24th of March? Maybe I'd imagined the last three months?

Perhaps he was mad. Perhaps he really thought it was the 27th of December. Perhaps he has built up a bit of a backlog, and doesn't yet know we're bombing Libya. I'm worried for him: he can't possibly catch up, the backlog can only get worse, he can only fall further and further behind. This time next year it'll only be May 2011.

Perhaps he's a Situationist, deliberately reading a paper from the past in order to sow mild confusion, a prick against the comfortably numb.

Perhaps he's a character from a Borges short story, for whom time is passing at a different rate from the rest of us, a character who is progressively slowing down until he comes to complete halt.

Perhaps he has just had enough and wants to get off.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Definitely not a prose poem by Baudelaire

When I wanted to buy stuff, I used to think nothing of undertaking a journey to the shops. It's where they store the stuff.

When I'd had enough of the stuff, I'd think nothing of leaving it outside my door in the belief that someone would take it away. And usually they did.

Increasingly, of course, I cannot even be bothered to travel to the shops, so I tell my computer to summon things and they arrive: books, food, electrical goods.

And when I've had enough of them, I put them in bags and boxes outside my home and someone still takes them away.

Soon I shall be the character in Michael Frayn's 1968 classic "A Very Private Life".

* * *

How many rules am I willing to tolerate?

Does it matter how obvious to me they are?

* * *

I shall not be writing the book entitled "Deshopping Society". I shall not be writing it because it is so obviously a riff on the work of a genius ("Deschooling Society", Ivan Illich, 1973) and because Jorge Luis Borges, in "Pierre Maynard, author of the Quixote" (1939), has already established the folly of trying to write something that has already been written.

* * *

If thinking in systems: beware!
The leverage points are so rare
that the obvious ploys
may be just random noise
and your insight may just be thin air

Friday, 4 March 2011

Enough of the enoughness

Mixed emotions this week as I finally face up to the fact that 'The Economics of Enough' is hitting the bookshelves in the UK.

Positive emotions because it's great to see the concept in solid paper format, available for all and sundry to read; negative emotions because the author of said tome is not my good self but someone else.

It's my own silly fault, of course. I spent five years telling everyone I was working on a book called 'The Economics of Enough'; I spent bloody ages actually drafting the thing; and I had an agent in 2009 who gaily took the title to the Frankfurt bookfair where it begin a life of its own. Who could blame the publisher who heard the great title, but also heard that the text itself was too long and that the author was someone no-one had ever heard of? A much better idea, surely, to publish something by an established and capable author.

So, well done
Diane Coyle. The reviews are coming in and they look solid; the lecture tour is underway and as a Fellow of the RSA I'm even part-funding it. It's a great idea, and I genuinely hope it's successful. It is, in the end, the ideas that matter, not the egos.

I, meanwhile, have to re-think a little. It seems that the Diane Coyle Enough and my Enough, whilst both looking at the future of economics, take different perspectives and cover different ground, so there may still be some room for the things I wanted to say. It looks, too, like I may finally have found someone to publish the thing - only now it's going to need to be called something else.

We'll see what emerges.