|014| Season shifting

This week as it was to me

Was interviewed for a new role in the NHS, permanent not temporary. Nailed it. Have been on the edge of getting sick this weekend but managed to push it back. Had a nice wander through some heritage buildings yesterday and watched the Great North Run on TV this morning, toying with doing it next year.

Some relationship deep work/quality time as it moves from just knowing each other to figuring out where things are going. 

Also had a doctor’s appointment to sort out the long-running chronic condition.

Things are cooling, and the wind in from the north sea can be truly chilling even this far from winter. Still, my favourite time of year.

No photos this week!


 Put together artists contracts, risk assessments and sundry for improv stuff.

Art and improv

Started teaching new class this week. Fun to be back, but being in full employment really dictates that I get things done much more efficiently – I guess that’s good?


Getting into the new series of Better Call Saul. It’s all about Kim for me, to be honest, and Jimmy to an extent: the machinations of the cartels and Mike’s plays, as neat as they are, don’t really hold my attention – although Nacho is a compelling figure within a moral bind.

And I’m loving everything from ContraPoints. Check out the incels content if you have the stomach for it; it is illuminating.

Branches outward

Academic Activists Send a Published Paper Down the Memory Hole

An entirely different study, but a similar theme: Brown’s failure to defend Lisa Littman

Interesting just because I knew almost nothing about the guy: Who Really Is John McDonnell?

A witch hunt or a quest for justice: An insider’s perspective on disgraced academic Avital Ronell

Interesting to see an Archon being unmasked, but makes for some bleak reading…

The university belongs, like the church and the military, to the social institutions that are situated at a considerable distance from democracy and adhere to premodern power structures. Professor Ronell was unusually skilled at manipulating these.

At a public event she labeled me an anti-Semite. Not that she actually believed this smear. But the accusation, once uttered, was not easy to unhear, and since it fit into her political calculations, she had no scruples deploying it. Even if no one believed the charge, it would still have the desired effect for her. Semper aliquid haeret, as the Romans used to say: Something always sticks.

The quality of teaching in the department unraveled. The carefully planned program of teaching German literature was ignored. Many students arrived in the department with minimal knowledge of German literature or history. The courses that were meant to correct this no longer existed. Now philosophy, from Hegel to Judith Butler, was taught. But multidisciplinarity quickly deteriorated into dilettantism….she admitted students who spoke English and French, but not a word of German — but they had studied in Paris and proven in their term papers that they were Derrida connoisseurs.

Before students were allowed to practice  criticism, they had to learn to subject themselves to authority….Whoever wants to whitewash the misconduct of Avital Ronell does so either out of ignorance or  is eager to make a contribution to this undeclared war. As in all wars, truth is the first casualty, and these alternative facts do a disservice to the cause of women. The critique of asymmetrical power structures in universities, which the case of Avital Ronell would allow, will be prevented by the ranks now closing around her.  Avital Ronell’s supporters will ensure that existing power structures remain in place.

Thinking Through

A couple of weeks ago, Jacob Rees Mogg responded to warnings from the Treasury regarding Brexit with a saying: “As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.”

People may have noticed that in current times, politicians have arisen with a real taste for arresting, colourful and often unpleasant language. Part of this, perhaps, is a backlash against the bland managerialism that in my country was associated with the long Blairite years. (“Finally, someone tells it like they see it!”) But much of the language is much more than bluntness, and I think the Rees Mogg quote is a good example. It seems, rather, designed to stick in our minds, to take our associations with a person or organisation and latch onto them vivid emotional, and often disgust-tinted imagery. As George Lakoff has emphasised, politics in large part is about activating people through language, and the right has developed a strong knack at this. (There is a discussion about how the left has also annexed language for its own terms, but this tends to centre more around neologism and limiting language, rather than launching emotional depth charges.)

The approach pays off, mainly because we don’t challenge it – and that’s partly because the technique counterstrikes when attacked. When we call it out we simply call attention to the association that the opposition wants more attention for. The logical frame – “this vomit and Person X association is out of line and should not be considered acceptable” soon rubs away, leaving “vomit and Person X”, just as desired. One way to look at this is that “vomit and Person X” may be intended as an antimeme (definition here, warning, this is a NSFW site run by someone who seems problematic but has some useful conceptual tools) – a meme designed such that people who hate it turn into useful idiots who devote energy to spreading it.

Still, if the tactic is not snuffed, it will continue to be used. So this is me thinking through whether it can be reverse ju-jitsu’d. This is how I would like a journalist to try and handle it.

“We have in the studio Jacob Rees Mogg, who was recently critical of the treasury. Mr Rees Mogg, you used arresting language to do so, you said: ‘As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly’ Why?”

Standard response, R-M controls the conversation, and strengthens the association. That’s the inevitable cost of going there.

But Mr Rees Mogg, you must recognise that the idea of dog vomit provokes strong negative reactions in people, and when you – the MP Jacob Rees Mogg, play with this concept of dog vomit, you are bringing some very unpleasant associations into public discourse.

R-M has a bit of a choice – he could give a standard retort about “leavers”, maybe with a new (although likely defused) metaphor, or just standard language. Alternatively he could double down on the claim, but I think he would be wary of it by now, as it would seem to validate the claim that he is preoccupied with it. It doesn’t matter anyway. You don’t drop the topic.

“I understand that you may say [x,y]. But the issue is about your use of dog vomit, Mr Rees Mogg. You may recognise, or not, that simply associating disgusting vivid imagery with people or entities can leave lasting impressions. Do you disagree?

R-M might say this is ridiculous or irrelevant at this stage.

“But this is about our political discourse, which I want to see healthy. You see, Jacob Rees Mogg, those who play with dog vomit, as you seem happy to do, can find that the contaminating effects also spread to you. And I’m suggesting that it would be better for you, Mr Mogg, to stay away from the dog vomit.”

Maybe as a bonus, a cut back to the studio:

“That was Tony Smith, discussing Jacob Rees Mogg… and dog vomit.”

“Most people want to keep away from that stuff….”

Let them know we know what they are doing and then punish them for doing it by hoisting them on their petard, and their petard only; minimal necessary violence done to the body democratic.

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