Journalist George Monbiot wrote a good piece recently describing the damaging effects of contemporary society. He said the workplace is a mad and Kafkaesque infrastructure of assessments and monitoring, centrally directed and rigidly planned. This destroys autonomy, enterprise, and innovation. It breeds frustration, envy, fear, and the revival of a Soviet tradition known as tufta. The term means falsification of statistics to meet the diktats of unaccountable powers.

Monbiot’s analysis reminds me of RD Laing who wrote about the dehumanising effect of society and how this is enacted within family and psychiatric systems. The workplace is another system. Laing based his ideas on the traditions of existentialism. That is to say, he countered and rectified the madness of society with reference to philosophical notions of being. The problem with Monbiot is he blames “neo-liberalism” linked with market capitalism. He’s a Lefty who thinks the Real Left has never appeared and the Flawed Left which has appeared does not illustrate the Real Left.

Those ideologies have had their day. They don’t work. They’re like religions, with religious people saying that’s not the True Religion when the followers behave appallingly. Ideologies and belief systems are human constructions and it is human nature which is the problem however much you idealise and invent an alternative. Monbiot identifies this with regard to market capitalism where, Voltaire like, the best of all possible worlds supposedly emerges from open competition. He notes, correctly, how inherited advantage and gross inequality flourishes when there’s no regulation. State control is however differently but equally flawed. Lefty regimes are just as bad as the Right. There are plenty of examples.

It may be true, as Monbiot notes, that “neo-liberal capitalism” has influenced the world for the last thirty years. It’s also true that widespread Kafkaesque conditions characterise the Left more than the Right. In the world of Kafka no one is held to account, an invisible power rules, there is neither autonomy nor personal agency and as in Soviet Russia, nothing quite works. The bread in the shops is poor, your tap leaks, your post arrives one week late, nothing is ever fixed, and any protest is a protest against the Party, the system, and becomes a comrade betrayal. My experience of the Left is they are paradoxically and vehemently conservative. Real change would mean they would have to change. I remember reading about prisoners who were offered a new menu of decent food – salad, vegetables, lasagne – and they nearly rioted because they wanted their pie and chips.

Monbiot talks about work space. When I was photographing here two noisy youths came walking down the road. I got back in my car and locked it thinking about my camera. When I first came here to Miles Platting, curious to see what the area was like, I turned around in a small car park. A group of young teenagers spread vaguely around me. My window was open and I was alone. They baited, jeered, sneered, nothing too threatening but unpleasant nonetheless. It was like going into a pub as a stranger and being attacked. It’s just a pub. Not the Wild West. City space is contested space. It’s very often stupid space. One reason I like mountains is because social tensions are absent in such places. Invent your theories as much as you like. They make no difference. This space here is innocent, surprisingly attractive, and green. I liked the effect of the wild patch, the mown grass, the bricks, and the flowers.


Manchester Wild Flowers: Textile Factories

Tuesday August 12, 2014