Category Archives: biographical

The absence of structure is hierarchy

I went to a meeting (won’t say if it was activist or academic or whatever – that’s not the point).

There was explicitly ‘no agenda’.

And we were then, without warning, asked to introduce ourselves (say what we had done, were doing and what we wanted to do around this particular issue/topic). And did they give us a) a couple of minutes to collect our thoughts and b) an upper-time limit.

Nope, instead it was one of the organisers (or rather, people who called the meeting) saying ‘well, I may as well start’. They then spoke for a few minutes, while we were all trying to listen and think about what we would say.

And guess what – the people who spoke the longest (who basically just mentally Ctrl C and Ved their comments) were the highest status ones. And they spoke for a looooong time. The lower status people spoke very little.

And guess what – after we had done those intros, the conversation came to be dominated by those who had spoken longest in the intro.

Who. Would. Of. Thunk. It.

Afterwards I thought about how one of the smartest people present (also perhaps the kindest) had said not a word. This person is perhaps an introvert. They don’t do the whole song and dance thing, so if you don’t create mechanisms (institutions – informal norms and also formal ones) to facilitate their input, you won’t get it. And you will end up with mediocre decisions, arrived at after un-necessary faffage. And so it came to pass.

This: The absence of structure is hierarchy. Just the hierarchy of prior status (mostly class, race, gender, age, confidence, extrovertism).

You can choose not to see that, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t true, it doesn’t mean the power isn’t there. FFS.

Weil’s disease – or ‘the internet is eating my brain’

When I was in Australia, I ended up with a smartphone (the handset was as cheap as the cheapest non-smart model, so I thought ‘why not?’).  There were two consequences

a) I met up with someone who I’d have otherwise missed because I was able to check email on the move

b) I freaked the wife out by emailing her from a coach between Melbourne and Adelaide (I only got a mobile a few years back, and she knows I am a luddite).

Actually, there was a third consequence, which I spotted early on and was the reason I haven’t used the smart phone since getting back to Blight(ed)y – that if I had a few ‘idle’ minutes I’d surf the web/trivia instead of read a few pages of a book.  And that is a baaaad habit to get into, and one that I knew I would if I didn’t remove the handset from my grubby paw.

All this sprang (well, slouched) to mind when I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s screed/jeremiad/argument about the (negative) impact of technologies.  This bit is pretty good…

Simone Weil wrote that “attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity”. By this definition, our relationships to the world, and to one another, and to ourselves, are becoming increasingly miserly.

Simone Weil? Frog philosopher, whom I first heard about from #thefirstonethatgotaway

I’ve just read that wikipedia page.  Holy fucking shit, is all I have to say.

See also: My poem!  ‘Does your device suffice

Vale Erik Petersen – “Old time mem’ry”

Just found out that Erik Petersen, of Mischief Brew died earlier this year. I never saw him perform, and have only today been listening to his (excellent) work.  Al Baker had covered one of his songs (co-written with Robert Blake), which he kindly played at my wedding.  It’s a corker; beautiful to listen to, the lyrics so powerful, constantly questioning, probing, undercutting wishful certainties.

Here’s Al

Here’s Erik

And here’s those wonderful lyrics

When Father bought the farm, we sold the farm
Mistook his blood for rustic charm
Sold his ghost as an antique
To the city

Kids today can’t hold a spade
Rest in peace your weary trades
In this world there is no place
Such a pity

Well, the barman shakes his head and fills my glass
Says ‘We’re living in the past.
Why preserve a dying craft?
End its misery.’

We sigh and see another modern man
One of property, not land
So I hold out this battered hand
Will you listen?

Come sit down, we’re lamenting about yesterday’s sad ending
‘Bout the water in me whiskey
The brass passed off as gold
Another round, we’re descending into old tyme mem’ry
Of a day when wood was wooden, silver-silver, gold was gold
Sweet home was home

So you say you got a wooden stove in your second home
Runs on gas, but looks like oak
Hell, it even gives off smoke and glowing embers

There’s a quilt hung on the wall, reads ‘Home, Sweet Home’
Below some wise words from Thoreau
And they call me throwback; when I cry I remember

Come sit down, we’re lamenting about yesterday’s sad ending
‘Bout the water in me whiskey
The brass passed off as gold
Another round, we’re descending into old tyme mem’ry
Of a day when wood was wooden, silver-silver, gold was gold
Sweet home was home

Son, these tools are artifacts
Endangered species left its tracks
So lock me up behind plastic glass in the city

There’s no going back for me
This antique’s rustic eulogy
Shall be sold as folk artistry, such a pity

But I’ll never understand why they all only use those hands
To build a stead that will always stand
In old time country

But settle for white rooms and hollow doors
Paper ceilings, padded floors
Luxury boxes where you’re stored; and what was country?

Come sit down, we’re lamenting about yesterday’s sad ending
‘Bout the water in me whiskey
The brass passed off as gold
Another round, we’re descending into old tyme mem’ry
Of a day when wood was wooden, silver-silver, gold was gold

Another round, we’re lamenting about yesterday’s sad ending
‘Bout the water in me whiskey
The brass passed off as gold
Another round, we’re descending into old tyme mem’ry

Of a day when wood was wooden, silver-silver, gold was gold
Sweet home was home

Why argue with #climate denialists? It’s comforting is why

“Never wrestle with a pig, you both get muddy, but the pig enjoys it” as the old saying goes.  But what if we, secretly, enjoy it too? Or if wrestling with the pig is a safer and more fun option that wrestling with the angry rabid hippo who is next in line?

WTAF am I talking about?

Well, I stumbled on some interesting work by a guy called William Connolly, and blogged it. Among much else, Connolly discerns two kinds of climate denial-

First stage denial is the insistence by many evangelicals and neoliberals that the issue is not nearly as severe as climate scientists and the recent flood of climate marchers in many cities contend. The second stage of denial is admitting the issue but continuing to study and act within old sociocentric categories. We need to confront both modes.
(Connolly and Macdonald, 2015: 266)

Connolly, W.   and Macdonald, B. 2015. Confronting the Anthropocene and Contesting Neoliberalism: An Interview with William E. Connolly. New Political Science, 37:2, 259-275.

.  A reader of this blog (who knew such a creature existed) then put his own take on things here.

And he and I have had further discussion (hopefully the beginning of a really useful conversation). And in that context I am going to plagiarise/rework a little about “why argue with denialists”.  I think there are two reasons

The changes (political, economic, social, psychological and, yes, spiritual) that will/would be needed to keep warming below two degrees are enormous (I would argue impossible now, but that’s for another post).  Therefore, rather than confront those changes and the amount of work – outside our comfort zones – that would be needed, it is “safer” to argue with the idiots.
ALSO, “we” know we’ve fundamentally missed the boat on mitigation, that we who have known about the problem have been unsuccessful in our efforts over the last 30 years (myself included).  That’s an awful thing to have to realise, that self-recrimination, also very threatening.  So, easier to beat up on the denialists.
If it’s a choice between a pig and a hippo,  you choose the pig, every time…

 

Bragging: Published in a Routledge collection #activism #climate

Whoop. Whoop. WHOOP!!! I am published!!

Emergent Possibilities for Global Sustainability: intersections of race, class and gender, edited by Phoebe Godfrey and Denise Torres, Routledge 2016.

Chapter 22 is “Pathological and ineffective activism – what is to be done?” by Marc Hudson and Arwa Aburawa. Whoop!!

A physical copy just arrived. It looks fantastic, and mouth-watering.  Will have to read it all of course. Thanks to the editors, Phoebe Godfrey and Denise Torres, who’ve worked very hard and diligently to make it all happen. Thanks also to my wonderful co-author Arwa Aburawa.  And to all those who proof-read, critiqued etc.

On deliberately lousy cons and the (selection) logic behind them

We’ve all had emails from the sons or daughters of Nigerian dictators asking your help to get a load of cash out of the country, with a nice little reward for you yourself.    And then there are the ‘you’ve won the lottery’ ones.  There are variations, all collectively known as advance-fee scams.

If you’re like me (you poor sod), you’ve wondered why they are just SO badly written, so implausible.  Can the crooks behind them be that incompetent? Surely they’d starve.

A good friend whom I visited last week had heard an intriguing hypothesis – that they’re deliberately bad to weed out anyone who isn’t gullible, greedy, desperate or demented (literally) enough.  If your initial con is too plausible, you’ll have thousands of potential marks to wade through.  That costs you time and effort. And time is money.  So, by doing something that only a ggdd person would respond to, you’re setting up a selection pressure, and making your own job easier.

That came to mind when I saw this;

hudsonfamilycon

 

Now that is EPIC in its badness.  I wonder who they catch, if anyone?

 

On getting conned:  I got done in Amsterdam in 1988, and in Harare in 1992.  Have (as far as I know!) been less conned since. Of course, have been cheated and lied to, but I think I developed better bullshit radar. Of course, that’s what ALL marcs think.  As the saying goes – ‘if you sit down to play poker and you can’t figure out who the sucker around the table is, get up and leave, because it’s you.’

See also the excellent 1952 paper by Erving Goffman “On Cooling the Mark Out” about the sociology of the con.

And google threw up Menand, L. 2015. Crooked psychics and cooling the mark out. The New Yorker,18 June.

On the selling of the Eiffel Tower –  (Victor Lustig)

And wikipedia says –

A set of instructions known as the “Ten Commandments for Con Men”[8] has been attributed to Lustig:

  • Be a patient listener (it is this, not fast talking, that gets a con man his coups).
  • Never look bored.
  • Wait for the other person to reveal any political opinions, then agree with them.
  • Let the other person reveal religious views, then have the same ones.
  • Hint at sex talk, but don’t follow it up unless the other person shows a strong interest.
  • Never discuss illness, unless some special concern is shown.
  • Never pry into a person’s personal circumstances (they’ll tell you all eventually).
  • Never boast – just let your importance be quietly obvious.
  • Never be untidy.
  • Never get drunk.