Friday, June 23, 2006

For the Record

About forty-one years ago, my parents decided they were sick of living in the slummier part of a class-ridden, snobbery-ridden society that offered them few prospects for upward mobility and dragged their arses, and mine, and those of my siblings, 13,000 miles around the world to a country where, they hoped, prospects were better. And so they were.

One of the things you might reasonably expect would also be left behind, was the ingrained snobbery of the old country, with all its manufactured excuses for one class to look down on another. The last thing I would have expected was to see it replicated, however unwittingly, on a blog but, a few weeks ago, this post appeared at catallaxy. I had one of those "oh for crying out loud" moments but, apart for a little too much off-line bitching about the author of the post, I decided not to make too much of it.

A little later, I found Rafe Champion's paper on Bill Hutt (PDF) at the HR Nicholls society site, where that Lion and the Ostrich post turned up again, this time as an appendix to Rafe's exposition of eight myths of trade unionism. Once again, I ignored it - what was it to me if the impartial seekers after truth at that august society were having a few giggles at the idea of English slum-dwellers of the 1930s doing wee-wees and poo-poos in cupboard drawers? I decided, again that it wasn't worth writing about.

This week, it turned up once again, at catallaxy, where Rafe presented his Hutt paper once more, in instalments, with this introduction to the first episode:
The capitulation of Kim Beazley to the unions on the issue of work contracts has ensured that industrial relations will be a live issue for some months to come. We are likely to hear endless repetition of a number of myths about the role of the trade unions and it may be helpful to have an alternative point of view for balance.
This differs a little from the introduction he gave it in his presentation at the HR Nicholls society:
Question: How long will it take us to get to a labour market regime based on freedom?
Answer. Some time after Bill Hutt becomes a household name among people who are interested in industrial relations

The centralized system of wage fixing in Australia was designed to replace the “rude and barbarous” situation in the nineteenth century with a “new province for law and order”. This expectation was based on a number of assumptions about the nature of the economic system that evolved in the Industrial Revolution and the place of the workers and their associations in that system.
Both introductions convey the impression that Rafe's paper on Hutt is intended to have some bearing on the Australian situation, but Rafe assures us that this is not so. He wishes to be considered a non-combatant in the political, or ideological, battle over that subject. I'll return to Rafe's wish later.

It's sobering to realise, that even a mere ten years in a slum environment can leave you with a chip on your shoulder big enough that you are angered even by accidental, and no doubt unintended, disparagement of slum-dwellers thousands of miles away and decades ago. And clearly it's unreasonable, and bespeaks the existence of a few ishooze, to be angered when a historical consensus that largely agrees with your own family history, is questioned in a spirit of free and open intellectual inquiry. Over the past couple of days my on-line persona has become decidedly unpleasant, so it's time to take another break.

So, as far as I'm concerned, Rafe is welcome to his non-combatant status. I'd suggest that if he wishes to keep it, he needs to refrain from a few activities, such as:
  • Posting reading lists for other bloggers;

  • Decrying the failure of post-modernists (whoever they are) to engage with critical rationalism, the failure of trade union ideologues to engage with the ideas of WH Hutt - non-combatants do not seek engagement with anybody;

  • Decrying the shoddy and dishonest scholarship of TEH LEFT - non-combatants do not concern themselves with the relative merits of the contending forces;

  • Decrying TEH LEFT as slaves to a false paradigm - neither do non-combatants concern themselves with the merits of the combatant's strategies.
That is not an exhaustive list - there are no doubt a few things I've overlooked that Rafe could do to jeopardise his non-combatant status but that's not my problem. I'm on hiatus again.


Amanda said...

Well, sorry to hear that but blogging hiatuses can be glorious things. I hope it does the job. Re: the Hutt Wars, thanks for fighting the good fight on behalf of those us that would like to but can't. More appreciate it than you know.

Mike B said...

Yeah, good someone called him on it.

Anonymous said...

Ah, good to see that some select textbooks about economics read in the 21st century enables a feller to be able to explain Dickens better than Dickens himself.

After my family fled the UK in the 1950's from slightly more salubrious circumstance than yours - but only slightly - and I grew up here in the hands of a seriously aspirant family, I went back to the Old Dart and worked in the 1970's.

I had a job at the British equivalent of Film Australia, working on a science and technology weekly program to be sent to the ex-colonies about the glories of UK industry and brainwork.

I got to see a lot of it. I caught a train to almost every industrial hellhole in the whole country. I know this is only personal experience, and therefore to be completely devalued compared to a neat theory, but I would still like to say that the place was completely ossified, choking in its own history.

Every time I rang a manager, I got some middle class twerp with a private school background. Somehow the playing fields of Eton prepared a chap for running British Leyland, an institution which curiously no longer exists.

Every time I rang a technical department, I got a local regional accent. I got good at picking them.

During this time, the Germans wiped the floor with British industry. The French did the same. Neither of these countries lacked for a trade union movement.

It is fair to say both of the aforementioned countries had been blasted into some kind of modernity by the war. It is also fair to say that the pulse of creativity this caused has largely died away, and both these economies have their problems with nascent ossification.

As I understand it, the Brits were still dealing with Lend-Lease. The country was shifting from the Commonwealth to the EEC. There was a lack of capital to modernise. The population was too broke to buy a lot of stuff.

I think it was a psychologically dispirited country, caused by the
fact that millions of people from an older generation had almost no decent times or hope in the period from 1929 to 1975. For my family, and yours, and heaps of others, sticking together, and to minority cultural traditions was the only hope.

The master race who ran the joint certainly didn't give a shit. Nothing they did for fifty fucking years did any more than bray about Empire and the wonders of a Rolls-Royce radiator hand-made with such skill it looked exactly as if it came from a machine.

All we (meaning our respective families) got was a lot of hooeey about a new beginning after the war. The bits of that which were set up have been systematically undermined by the Tories for sixty years; the rest went down in an economy which was still issuing ration cards in 1954.

Yes, some elements of the trade union movement were a bit reactionary. Yes, there was a need for visionary change.

I failed to see then and I fail to see now how the godleaders of the upper middle classes provided any of this.

What actually happened was that mad old witch Thatcher. To the extent that she saw value in putting a bomb under the joint, I think she was right. Unfortunately, everything she did or said from that point onwards was complete poison.

Most remarkable of all was the psychological collapse of one of Europe's most arrogant ruling castes in the face of the American example, to the point where both Thatcher and Blair fawned to the White House and got the place into deeper and deeper trouble.

- barista

Ron said...


You have my award (not that it counts for a single thing) for the best comment I've read today, and I've been reading comments for just over five hours (yes, I need to get a life).

Engaging with Rafe or Joe or GMB is bit like discussing religion with Sydney Anglicans: a total waste of time and breath.

Brownie said...

Happy Hiatus Comrad - y'all come back real soon though.

FDB said...

Agreed, Ron.

Anon - your anonymity sells you short.

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