Sunday, March 02, 2008

Steve Hall

I've mentioned this guy before (I don't think the picture's of him) as an interesting CiF contributor (and rising media star - I heard him on 'The Long View' last year) posting as "questionnaire". Background - I think *stereotype* a hippy musician from working class background who found he could talk to the rough boys without them beating him up - and he's been doing it ever since */stereotype*. He's an academic criminologist who thinks that rising crime isn't a function of the number of copies of the Daily Mail sold, doesn't believe in the "moral panic" theory - what's not to like, you say ?

So we're both agreed that the UK is going to hell in a handcart. As he puts it "what we see now is a politico-culturally disestablished residue consisting of a majority of thoroughly decent people trying to stop their world collapsing entirely and watching too many of their younger generation turn to crime and drugs.".

Trouble is he thinks it's all been arranged by those nasty capitalists. Laban returns to the charge :

Oh no ! Questionnaire's back in the ring blaming it all on some capitalist conspiracy !

"The British working class's project of political and mythological unity, begun in the mid-19th century"

Well, where to start. No "project" was "begun" in the mid-19th century. It's just that the communications, for the first time in history, existed which ENABLED a critical mass of the working class to become aware of themselves as a class in solidarity with their fellows in other parts of the country. Before mid-19c trades unionism or other working class activism was of necessity localised - prior attempts at national organisation like the Grand National Consolidated Trade Union had failed. The same communications that enabled people to get regular news, or to get up to town for the Great Exhibition, produced both a more cohesive, informed and opinionated public and a more cohesive and informed workers movement.

Question thinks that something's been organised since the 60s - that "capitalism" had a project to destroy the British working class - and that Felix Dennis, for example, was more than just someone who wanted to get rich and get laid.

I think Occam's razor is useful here.

Most of the losses (which are real and which we both mourn) - "this sense of collective identity, history, a meaning system, a comprehensible ethical system (symbolic order), a function, a role, a sense of self-respect" of the British working classes can be explained by the collapse in Christian belief and observance from the top (and starting there) to the bottom of UK society. The culture of Attlee's Britain is gone.

In the questionnaire thesis the disappearance of the existing culture seems, if of any consequence at all, only important in terms of its side-effects - that comprehensible ethical system. Both Marx and Engels agreed on the importance of Christianity to the relative peace and order of 19thC Britain - but Questionnaire's thesis requires some "project" - to explain something that can already be explained without it.

Two questions, questionnaire. Only 20 years before the 60s started and 'liberal-consumer-capitalism' took off, Harold Nicolson was noting in his war diaries the remarkable patriotism of British capitalists, and saying that they would rather go down in ruin with their countrymen than do a deal with Hitler. Yet by your thesis 20 years later they were plotting to destroy their countrymen to make more money. What changed in the ensuing 20 years ?

Secondly. You think it's some capitalist project. I think it's down to culture - to the collapse of the old, vaguely patriotic, vaguely Christian, commonsensical culture that shines brightest from the writings of ordinary working people, not from any elite, in the 19th and 20th centuries.

You are paid by the capitalist state to sit in a university department and write about crime - and good stuff to read it is too. But you also in your writings make no secret about your 'it's capitalism wot done it' thesis - which is apparently the cause of all the woes you and I deplore.

Yet the paychecks come in, and the index-linked pension, funded by the working men and women of the UK, is safe. You get asked by the State broadcaster to appear on Radio Four.

I on the other hand think it's all down to culture. I'm self employed. Because I sometimes do work for the Government and have to sign the Official Secrets Act, and because I have a large family to support, I feel, rightly or wrongly, that I have to blog anonymously.

If these capitalists are so clever, and you've sussed them, how come you're still in a job ?

I'll let you know what he says.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If anyone wants a vivid illustration of how the culture has changed over the decades, they could do a lot worse than watch Karel Reisz's 1959 documentary 'We are the Lambeth Boys'. You can watch it for free here: