The decline of carnival in the West began in earnest alongside the transition from a rural-centred culture to a city-centred one. There were many reasons. The early stirrings of capitalism encouraged habits of soberness, and it has this fixation about people turning up for work on Monday morning. Some carnivals were getting out of control, becoming the starting-point for rebellion and riot: Robin Hood’s career began as a carnival king; Robert ‘Ben’ Kett’s rebellion in 1549 started in Wymondham at a festival for St. Thomas à Becket. And the invention of firearms had its effect: it meant, of course, that a reckless crowd could also be dangerous, but – more important than that – it introduced a need for discipline, especially in armies. The loading and firing of a musket is complicated; it requires a sequence of steps – 43 of them, according to Prince Maurice of Orange’s ‘drill’ – each of which must be done exactly, at speed, and (on occasion) under fire. Discipline becomes critical: sober *citizenship, which is good for armies, and good for trade, calls for self-awareness and self-control, and it gets lost in the spontaneous exuberance of carnival.
xxxCarnival has been subdued, and its loss is serious. The modern market economy suffers from play-deprivation. It does exist to a weakened extent in sport, but even there the aim of winning is increasingly taken as the literal purpose of the event rather than the enabling *myth. When such critical cultural assets as *trust, *social capital and the *humour which blunts insult are in decline, *play is in trouble. Insult and rough-and-tumble are now largely forbidden; if an invitation to play is rejected or misconstrued, if a joke goes wrong, there is shame or worse.
xxxIt invites the bleak question: ‘What is the point?’ The consequences are various, no doubt, but among them may be loneliness, boredom, anxiety and depression; if society is less fun, its inequalities are more resented. There is no constant reminder of the teeming vitality beneath the surface of other people; there is a loss of authority by the local community, which becomes less audible, less visible, less alive, less fertile as a source of laughter. Barbara Ehrenreich wonders whether the waning of carnival might have had something to do with the awareness of depression which, in the early 17th century, seems to have developed almost on the scale of a pandemic. Before then there was, of course, pain, and grief – all the dark emotions – but loneliness and anxiety…? *Tactile deprivation (the sadness of not being touched)…? The sense of the party being over…?
xxxHomer tells us how the art of the ancient dream world lay in wait to seduce Odysseus and his crew as they were about to encounter the Sirens, whose bewitching song lures everyone who hears it to their death, their bodies added to the pile of mouldering skeletons in the meadow where the Sirens sat. On the advice of his mistress, Circe, the goddess who lives on the island of Aeaea, Odysseus stopped up the ears of his crew with wax, so that, unable to hear the song, they were not distracted from the real work of rowing. He himself, being securely strapped to the mast, could now listen to the Sirens’ voices ‘with enjoyment’, as Circe puts it, and without being drawn irresistibly into their power. This has various interpretations, but one of them makes it a decisive detachment from art: the sound of ancient myth which once drew its hearers in, without means of escape, is rendered sensible and civilised, reduced to a concert, a sort of Hellenic musical evening with female chorus and a professor of Greek to tell us something about the local legend that lies behind it.
xxxOn this view we see the breaking of the link between art (music, in this case) and politics: now you only need to buy your ticket, be a spectator of the arts for an hour or so, and then home for herb tea and bed.
Distraction, The Fallacy of. Diverting attention from the argument.
xxxConsider the proposition that two and two makes four. Distraction might urge, for instance, that the idea is old-fashioned, that the time has come to move on from *traditional thinking on the matter, or that it is too technical for the public to understand. It could take the form of an ingratiating assurance that the only thing that matters, naturally, is the well-being and happiness of everyone concerned. Distraction might urge that it is perfectly OK nowadays to think that two plus two makes five; or that even thinking about it means an unforgivable neglect of the far more important proposition that three plus four makes seven. You might be invited to take note that there is *money to be made by taking a different view of the matter, or that we have to move on from the notion if we are to be *competitive, or that the proposition is a bit rich coming from someone with a private life like yours. Or it could insist with some passion that, contrary to the view that two plus two makes four, we must take our place at the heart of Europe.
xxxDistraction might add, with hoped-for finality, that the argument has already been lost: two plus two is going to make five in the future, whatever we do.
xxxDistraction, evidently, has the power and freedom to cause havoc wherever it likes. It is a spoiler, worse than the cheat: the cheat at least recognises the existence of the rules on which argument depends if it is to make any sense, even though he then proceeds to break them, hoping not to be found out. Distraction recognises nothing except conquest: the argument is too serious to have any connection with the orderly rules of honourable play; it will be settled by other means. Rules? What rules? It presumes the death of *logic.
xxxA characteristic form of distraction is to make an assertion which is not true, but which is hard to disagree with. This happens, for instance, with the appeal to the inevitable: the distracter does not argue for or against a proposal; instead, he simply asserts that it is going to happen anyway, and he may do so in a slightly bored drawl that passes off the sell-out as if it were a routine comment on the weather. Don’t stand for this: it is one of the ways in which our citizens’ right to have a say in deciding for ourselves dwindles into a loss of belief that we can influence anything at all. It is designed to induce give-up-itis, an acceptance that technology and the sweep of history make the decisions. What we are then supposed to do is to surrender, to make sure we are not in the way.
xxxSee also: *Ad Hominem, *Big Stick, *Cant, *Rationalism, *Shifting Ground, *Straw Man
Implicit Truth. One of many forms of truth, implicit truth is the product of *reflection, and is particular to the person reflecting. Different people may reach sharply different insights which may, however, all be true, despite contrasts in emphasis and meaning. They are different in that they are features in the landscape of the observers’ different cognitive homelands. The differences may be consistent with each other, or they may mature into deep contradictions: ‘This is my territory’; ‘The ideal place for our honeymoon would be Scunthorpe’; ‘We’ve won’. All these are true or untrue depending on who is speaking, but all are in the category of implicit truth.
Material Truth. Direct, plain, literal description of reality. There is no interest here in exploring deeper implications, insights and echo-meanings. This is the truth which tells you about the route taken by the hot water pipe from the boiler to the bathroom, how to make flatbread, how to photograph otters, what Darwinism is, why a herd of cows’ milk yield is higher if the cows are named as well as numbered, what a well-tempered scale is, what a Higgs boson probably is, why pregnant women don’t topple over, whether you went to the pub last night. Accuracy is not essential: it does not have to be true to belong in the domain of material truth, but it does have to be the speaker’s intention that the other person should understand it to be true. It can use metaphor that helps to get an unfamiliar idea across. The intention is to provide a truthful and uncluttered description. Here facts matter.
Narrative Truth. The truth present not just in storytelling but in *myth, poetry, art and the whole of our *culture. This is the truth of Pride and Prejudice. It is not *materially true, in that it is fiction; on the other hand, it is true-to-life: it is as accurate an insight into human character as we have. Elizabeth Bennett’s story can neither be dismissed as untrue nor accepted as true; it is in the middle ground. It may or may not report the material truth, but the narrative says something that cannot be said in any other way. It has a shadow-meaning that extends beyond metaphor, and can lead to the discovery of material or *implicit truths, as an explorer in search of the Holy Grail may discover and map real mountains and rivers.
xxxNarrative truth makes sense of the roots of our word ‘belief’, which comes to our literal-minded age from a story-rich antiquity. It can be traced to the ancient Germanic root, galaubjan (to hold dear); the Latin for ‘to believe’ is credere, which comes from cor dare, to give (one’s) heart.
xxxNarrative truth may be a parable with a clear message, or a story for the story’s sake, or the meaning may be forever unknown, a question to be *reflected-on, perhaps the subject of a lifetime’s exploration. It is the domain of poetry, music, laughter; if you ask if it is true, you are at the wrong party.
xxxAnd yet, our culture regularly lacks the mature judgment necessary to distinguish between material and narrative truth. A work of art makes the question of whether it is true or not absurd. It is a category error and should not be asked. You might as well ask whether Schubert’s String Quintet in C Major Deutsch No. 956 likes broccoli.
Needs and Wants. A distinction between needs and wants has been made by many critics in the *green movement and its predecessors, who have argued that consumption in response to our needs is justifiable and *sustainable, but consumption in response to our wants is not.
xxxYet this notion that needs are good and wants bad does not survive inspection. For the anthropologists Douglas and Isherwood, it is a ‘curious moral split [that] appears under the surface of most economists’ thoughts on human needs’. Lean Logic argues that those economists have it somewhat back to front.
xxxThe heaviest burden of the modern *economy, by far, is that imposed by its own elaborations. Any large-scale economy requires massive infrastructures and material flows just to support itself and keep existing. Such sprawling industrial economies have massively multiplied our needs, our *’regrettable necessities’. Regardless of whether we want them, we need the sewage systems, heavy-goods transport, police-forces… Given the substantial scale of the task of feeding, raising and schooling a suburban family, and the increasing challenge of such routine needs as finding a post office, many of us undoubtedly need cars. The collapse of local self-reliance was both the cause and the effect of the massive elaboration of *transport, and when that need can no longer be met, its life-sustaining function will be bitterly recognised.
xxxIt is, then, the elaboration of needs by large-scale industrial life that causes the trouble. Our wants are squeezed out, much missed and light by comparison, not least because they often involve labour-intensive *crafts and services – pianists, craftsmen, dress-makers, waitresses, gardeners with minimum environmental impact. Some wants are also needs, of course, and they cannot be cleanly separated, but if we focus our efforts on finding a way, under the stresses of the *climacteric, of achieving a substantial and rapid liquidation of our needs, we will be getting somewhere.
xxxSee also: *Greening of Waste, *Growth, *Invisible Goods, *Lean Economics*, *Scale, *Slack
Performative Truth. Truth that is created by statements that do something: I challenge, I thee wed, I bet, I curse, thank you. The speaking makes the truth: a promise is brought into existence by being spoken: loyal cantons of contemned love make love come alive.
xxxPerformative truths can also be created by symbolic events or even thoughts. Contracts are an example – they may be recorded, but the contract itself has no *material expression: you cannot see it or say where it is, and if minds change profoundly enough it may simply cease to exist.
Relative Intelligence. Failure to account for the match between mental capacity and the problems that have to be solved.
xxxAs society becomes more complex, the relative intelligence of Homo sapiens declines, leaving us on a lower Relative Intelligence Quotient (RIQ) than a swan, or a beetle.
Straw Man, The Fallacy of the. Invent an argument which the other person did not use, and then launch a horrified attack on it.
xxxThis is *distraction at its most immediate, obvious and intentional. Summarise the other side’s case. Make sure your version of it is as ridiculous as possible. Demolish the summary. Claim victory.
A variant is simply to save yourself the trouble of understanding what the other side is talking about. Alternatively, launch into a free-wheeling parody – a song [Gr. ōid] of mockery [Gr. pará]. Your victim is forced onto the defensive, and possibly into fury. You’re winning.
xxxHere is an example. The target is the organic movement; the tactic is to make it sound like a fundamentalist *religion.
xxx1) Set up your straw man: ‘The high priests of the organic movement tell us that natural chemicals are good and synthetic chemicals bad.’
xxx2) Demolish it: ‘This is utter nonsense. … Arsenic, ricin, aflatoxin are all highly poisonous chemicals found in nature. Yet the supposed superiority of natural over synthetic is the rock on which the organic movement is built.’
xxxGood. Now you can sit back and wait for the other side to go into a lumbering explanation (there will doubtless be something there which, if really necessary, will allow you to unleash another straw man). Here it comes:
xxxOrganic cultivation is not based on ridiculous claims about things being ‘natural’, but on principles of fertile soils, crop rotations, local ecosystems and animal welfare. It builds plants’ and animals’ ability to sustain their own health. It does not depend on pesticides and fertilisers produced from diminishing supplies of oil and gas. It conserves soils, water and energy; it protects habitats. It produces food richer in nutrients than conventionally-grown food, and free of contamination by synthetic chemicals. And local food production, now a priority, will improve food security, relying less on the transport which will be at risk when oil gets scarce, conserving local farming and skills, and building local fertility on productive, resilient principles known as ‘organic’.
xxxHave you quite finished? It makes no difference anyway, because the straw man stopped listening ages ago. Well, he really doesn’t have to, for he has magic powers. He can make inconvenient truths disappear at a stroke. And he can provide his minders with an intoxicating sense of being right. Actually, the straw man has a dark history, but in more recent times he has been a symbol of finality, an old fellow with a short life who had to die at the end of the harvest, and to hand over to the new generation. *Peasant societies used to unwind on the last day by making a straw man from the last sheaf, just to beat it to pieces with the flails they would soon be using to thresh the corn (perhaps to warn the rest of the corn what was coming). And there was a startling variant of this, where the man who cut the last bundle of corn was picked on for special treatment. His face would be blackened; he would be feted and feasted, mocked and parodied. Fortunately, he had an understudy in the form of a straw goat, which he would carry about on his back. In the end, the goat would be placed on the ground and destroyed with the flails.
xxxYou see, you have forgotten about organic agriculture already.
Transformation, The Great. The Great Transformation has already happened. It was the revolution in politics, economics and society that came with the *market economy, and which hit its stride in Britain in the late 18th century. Most of human history had been bred, fed and watered by another sort of economy, but the market has replaced, as far as possible, the *social capital of *reciprocal obligation, *loyalties, authority structures, *culture and *traditions with exchange, price and the impersonal principles of *economics.
xxxUnfortunately, the critics of economics have had a tendency to discuss the whole structure as a tissue of misconceptions. It is a critique that fails. The strength of economics is its considerable, if far from complete, understanding of the flows and comparative advantages that underlie trade, jobs, *capital and incomes, and the logic of optimising behaviour, all backed by glittering accomplishment in mathematics. That makes it a powerful analytical instrument, so that just a few misconceptions – such as a failure to understand the *informal economy or resource depletion – can have leverage: like a baby monkey at the controls of a Ferrari, they can turn it into an instrument with extraordinarily destructive potential. If it were a tissue of errors, it would not be dangerous: it is its 90% brilliance which makes it so.
xxxEconomics has therefore been seductive. The market economy is effective for sustaining social order: the distribution of goods, services and other assets is facilitated by buying and selling, supporting a network of exchange to which everyone has access. It provides suppliers with the incentive to know their markets and respond to them; it uses *’pull’ rather than top-down regulation, and it learns from experience, so it is effective and efficient. It supports a more egalitarian society than any other large-scale state has been capable of and it saves a great deal of trouble: it has appealed to minds glad of a cognitive technology which enabled them to make decisions according to mathematical models, and with little fear of contradiction.
xxx‘Douce commerce,’ sweet commerce, wrote Jacques Savary, an early management consultant, in a textbook for businessmen (1685), ‘makes for all the gentleness of life.’ The authorities themselves agreed: commerce is the most ‘innocent and legitimate way of acquiring wealth’, observed an edict of the French government in 1669; it is ‘the fertile source which brings abundance to the state and spreads it among its subjects.’
xxxIndeed, the government’s main task in a mature market economy is to keep it free of obstacles that might stop it growing – like a bemused farmer would treat the enchanted goose: keep the foxes out so that it can go on magically laying its golden eggs.
xxxIts achievements and answers sound authoritative and final, but what is truly most significant about them is how naïve they are – if the flow of income fails, the powerfully-bonding combination of *money and self-interest will no longer be available on its present all-embracing *scale, and perhaps not at all. And it must inevitably fail, as the market’s taut *competitiveness demands ever increasing *productivity and thus relies on the impossibility of perpetual *growth.
xxxIn the meantime, the reduction of a society and culture to dependence on mathematical *abstraction has infantilised a grown-up civilisation and is well on the way to destroying it. Civilisations self-destruct anyway, but it is reasonable to ask whether they have done so before with such enthusiasm, in obedience to such an acutely absurd superstition, while claiming with such insistence that they were beyond being seduced by the irrational promises of *religion. Every civilisation has had its irrational but reassuring myth. Previous civilisations have used their culture to sing about it and tell stories about it. Ours has used its mathematics to prove it.
xxxYet, when this relatively short-lived market-society is gone, we will miss its essential simplicity, its price mechanism, its self-stabilising properties, its impersonal exchange, the comforts it delivers to many, and the *freedoms it underwrites. Its failure will be destructive.
xxxAnd the end is in sight; during the early decades of the century, the market will lose its magic. It is the aim of Lean Logic to suggest some principles for the design of a replacement.
Lean Logic extracts edited by Shaun Chamberlin.
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