The way knowledge is revealed to us is a funny thing. I’ve heard it said that you don’t need mathematics, because nobody can tell you what it’s good for in your real life. My father had the same argument with me about art and music (ironically, he was a fine musician and dancer, so his mistaken denigration of these skills seemed to hold more weight, when I was young). The thing you learn is that once you master mathematics, or music, or art, or learning to spell and punctuate, you become something you weren’t before. You become articulate in that discipline.
Being articulate is about being able to express your thoughts in clear, unambiguous, lucid, concise ways. It’s far preferable to floundering about attempting to express your inner dialogue, but without the tools to do so effectively and efficiently. You might succeed eventually, through this trial and error approach, but it’s going to take you a damn long time to get across even the simplest idea in your head. By that time, you’ve probably had three others.
Once you are articulate, the world opens up to you and you begin to slowly, belatedly realise what those things you spent time learning are actually good for in your everyday life. The point is that learning to do those things enriches your everyday life, so that opportunities to use those skills present themselves, often at an increasing rate. Any argument against learning to be articulate in any skill is an argument for intellectual impoverishment and utter, prolonged frustration.
Take the riots breaking out everywhere in London tonight. We have raised a generation that knows only too well that it has no hope of succeeding in the current economy. Youth and graduate unemployment is running at a staggering (and officially unrecognised) rate, yet it doesn’t make the headlines. They can’t even reach the bottom rung of the housing ladder and are unlikely to ever be able to do so in their lifetimes. But they aren’t taught to be articulate, they’re taught to be compliant and obedient, so they can’t identify the source of their frustration or express their anger in any other way than to set fire to something, anything. At least that makes the headlines. They don’t realise or care that they are harming people just like them. No, they are striking a blow against “da man”. Except they aren’t.
If they had been taught to think critically and self critically, instead of dumbed down by a succession of reality TV shows, skewed and corrupted media, spineless, self-interested politicians profiteering from the common wealth of the people and a feral elite of bankers and businessmen, out to screw, control, squeeze and belittle everybody else in society, while assiduously avoiding paying even a fair share of income tax, then maybe they could correctly identify the root cause of their grievances and think of a strategy for changing things that is more effective (in that it might actually work) than burning ordinary people out of their homes.
But we ignored these people. We cut the services and safety nets. We made sure they understood they had no stake in the society they mostly fund. We asked them to continue to eat the crap we served up to them on a daily basis, but without complaint.
Violence is useless, but the inarticulate nature of the looters intent only on stealing the goodies in the windows that they can not afford to buy, even on credit, is matched only by the incredulity and incomprehension of those that caused the conditions that bred this behaviour. If you don’t understand why people are rioting, you aren’t understanding what it’s like to live in Britain on the minimum wage, or even a working wage.
We’ve had institution after institution revealing itself to be utterly corrupt to the core (expenses scandals, illegal wars, bankers’ bonuses, phone tapping) and then with bare faced cheek and bravado, fending off calls to reform, demonstrating utter contempt for the ordinary people. Authority has lost its authority. Yet, somehow, mysteriously, everybody in that upper class is surprised that people are unwilling to obey the laws they themselves believe they are above.
It’s no mystery. Violence is the completely ineffectual reaction of the inarticulate, in their failure to identify and target the root cause of their issues. We ensured they would be so. We talked up violence in our treatment of terrorists, Al Quaeda, Afghanistan, the Taliban and so on, yet we abhor it in Clapham, Croydon or Ealing. That’s a spectacular double standard, don’t you think?
Revelation is a funny thing. You only learn the deep truths after you learn to articulate. You only gain real control and power by mastering skills. It’s a terrible tragedy that we have allowed a large part of the population to remain inarticulate and reactionary. It may have suited the purposes of the elite at some point, but it doesn’t suit them now.
This blog post doesn’t have a lot to do with art, I admit, save for the obvious fact that had we encouraged and engaged with the rioters, at an earlier time, to create and express themselves articulately through acts of creation, they might not be as willing to wantonly destroy tonight. It’s a theory that’s worth trying, isn’t it?