Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
Rocco on Milo Yiannopoulos
Tatyana on Four towers joined together by two bridges
Patrick Crozier on Peter Foster on Robert Owen
Brian Micklethwait on Filling in a Meaningless Triangle near Kensington High Street tube
Alastair on Filling in a Meaningless Triangle near Kensington High Street tube
loony sports on Standing on boxes to interview Irfan
Brian Micklethwait on Standing on boxes to interview Irfan
Brian Micklethwait on Couple photoing their own shadows
MarkR on Couple photoing their own shadows
Brian Micklethwait on A Morris Minor advertising a ping pong night club
Most recent entries
- Fantasy Vauxhall Bridge with lots of glass
- Matt Ridley on Epicurus and Lucretius
- Coloured lights in bottles outside the RFH
- Avian Friday
- New chairs
- Milo Yiannopoulos
- Four towers joined together by two bridges
- Peter Foster on Robert Owen
- Quota Bald Blokes and Big Ben
- Less heat and more light
- Antoine Clarke on herding drunk cats
- Antony Flew on the Terrors of Islam
- Bell end?
- Couple photoing their own shadows
- Standing on boxes to interview Irfan
Other Blogs I write for
6000 Miles from Civilisation
A Decent Muesli
Adventures in Capitalism
Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise
Another Food Blog
Antoine Clarke's Election Watch
Armed and Dangerous
Art Of The State Blog
Boatang & Demetriou
Burning Our Money
Chase me ladies, I'm in the cavalry
China Law Blog
Civilian Gun Self-Defense Blog
Coffee & Complexity
Communities Dominate Brands
Confused of Calcutta
Conservative Party Reptile
Counting Cats in Zanzibar
Deleted by tomorrow
Don't Hold Your Breath
Douglas Carswell Blog
Dr Robert Lefever
Englands Freedome, Souldiers Rights
Everything I Say is Right
Fat Man on a Keyboard
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we make money not art
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Category archive: Society
On Friday November 27th (i.e. exactly one week from now), my friend from way back, Antoine Clarke, will be giving a talk at my place entitled “Herding cats, or lessons from drunks about organising anarchy”.
These talks happen every last Friday of the month, and before they give one of them, I ask each speaker to supply a paragraph or two about what they’ll be saying, so I can email my list of potential attenders. Antoine has just supplied me with ten paragraphs on his talk:
It would be hard to imagine any more dysfunctional organisation than a leaderless group of drunks promising among themselves to quit drinking and to help other drunks to quit.
And then I realized that there is a similar organisation for narcotics addicts, one for cocaine addicts, crystal meth addicts and even “sex and love addicts” - whatever that may mean.
Alcoholics Anonymous has been described as a “benign anarchy” by one of its founders and manages to organize over 100,000 groups worldwide with between 1.5 million and 2 million members. Its power structure has been described as an “inverted pyramid”.
AA operates by having almost completely autonomous branches, no publicity, no professional class of “charity workers” and no set fees. It has a “12-step program” and “12 traditions” which have been described respectively as “rules for not killing yourself” and “rules for not killing other people”.
The effectiveness of AA at curing or controlling alcohol addiction is not clear cut. Because of anonymity, self-selection and the difficulty of known if someone who stops attending meetings has relapsed or simply found he can lead a functional lifestyle. The fact that over a dozen other organisations have copied AA’s 12-step and 12 tradition system suggests at least some level of success, unlike, say the UK’s National Health Service which has fewer imitators.
One particular problem for AA is that any 12-step program will only really work if it is voluntary, but in the USA especially, courts mandate that convicted criminals attend AA meetings as a parole condition. I think this reduces recidivism among the criminals (compared with them NOT following a program), but it surely dilutes the effectiveness of AA groups (more disruptive attendees, people going through the motions, possible discouragement of others).
I shall be looking at the elements of AA’s structure and organisational culture to see what lessons can be learned about the possibility of anarchic institutions especially at handling social problems.
What interests me is the “anarchy with table manners” aspect of AA and the contrast with truly dysfunctional libertarian organisations, like the Libertarian Alliance.
I’m also interested in the issue of government interference and the ways in which well-meaning interventions make matters worse. I shall also take a look at the spiritual element of AA’s 12-step program, noting that it claims to work for atheists and agnostics as well as for theists.
Hopefully, this is an attractive alternative to binge drinking on a Friday night in central London.
Indeed. There will be no binge drinking at the meeting.
I just sat down to do a BMdotcom posting, about some strange disruption inflicted earlier this evening upon the Royal College of Music by the London premiere of the new James Bond movie. While composing this posting, I realised that it would do nicely for Samizdata, so there it went. I don’t do nearly enough for Samizdata these days.
The posting was based on something that Goddaughter 2 (now a student at the RCM) told me. And she also told me something else, this time not disturbing or of any public significance, but merely rather entertaining.
GD2 now inhabits a big building, full of rooms occupied by her and her fellow students. Lots of rooms. Lots of doors. All the doors looking like each other.
So, one of the ladies in a nearby room to GD2 has a boyfriend staying the night. Boyfriend needs a piss. Being a relaxed sort of individual, he strolls to the toilet, naked. It is deep into the night, and he expects not to encounter anyone, and he does not, at first. But then, problem. Which door is the door to the room of his lady friend? He does not remember. About four different wrong doors are opened, complete with people behind them, most of whom were surprised but amused, before the correct door is found.
If this was a movie, that would only have been the beginning of the mayhem and the reactions to being woken up by a naked man at the door would have been far more extreme than they actually were. But for me, this was mayhem enough to be very entertaining. Boyfriend wasn’t bothered. Like I say, a relaxed sort of individual. And no harm at all came of this little nocturnal drama. Just a mildly entertaining blog posting, or so I hope.
Indeed. It was front page news yesterday in the Evening Standard. I’m guessing that the way Renzo Piano and Shardeveloper Irving Sellar have been emitting verbiage about how Paddington is now “soulless and has no life” may be what got this story onto the front page:
Images of a 65-storey “skinny Shard” of apartments, offices, restaurants and a roof garden designed by Renzo Piano - the Italian “starchitect” behind western Europe’s tallest building - were unveiled today ahead of a public exhibition.
Irvine Sellar, chairman of Shard developers Sellar Property Group, said although Paddington was one of London’s most important gateways it had been overlooked for decades.
He said: “At the moment you only go to Paddington for two reasons - to catch a train or to see someone in hospital. It is soulless and has no life and yet it is only five minutes from Hyde Park and seven or eight minutes from Marble Arch.
“It is a fantastic location but it is stuck in a Fifties time-warp. We intend to create a place for people to go, where they will want to live, work, eat and shop.”
I imagine many current Paddingtonians actually quite like living in a “Fifties time-warp” that has been “overlooked” by the likes of Piano and Sellar “for decades”.
I of course love the idea of this new Big Thing. I hugely admire Renzo Piano. His new tower and its new surroundings, and in the meantime the process of building it all, will turn Paddington into the kind of place I will want to visit far more often than I do now. And by 2020 there’ll be another London Big Thing for me to observe and photo from afar. So I hope this goes ahead. (Part of the reason for this posting is to remind me to check out that public exhibition that they mention.)
But these guys sure know how to talk about locals in a way calculated to piss them off.
Photoed by me last night, at Southwark tube station:
Next to the ticket barrier at Southwark tube there are a number of these little history lessons, of which this was my favourite. This is the kind of thing you can usually chase up quickly on the internet, and find a fuller account of. But, my googling abilities are such that I can find no reference to this fish-discouragement story. Anyone?
How much you learn from something that you just read depends not only on what it says, but on what you knew before you read it. And for me, this short paragraph cleared up several big blurs in my knowledge of Olden Times:
The new technique of fighting which had won the battle of Hastings for the Normans was also adopted in England; instead of standing or riding and hurling the lance overarm, these new warriors, the knights, charged on horseback with the lance tucked beneath the arm, so that the weight of both horse and rider was behind the blow and the weapon was reusable. Though it required discipline and training, giving rise to the birth of tournaments and the cult of chivalry, a charge by massed ranks of knights with their lances couched in this way was irresistible. Anna Comnena, the Byzantine princess who witnessed its devastating effect during the First Crusade, claimed that it could ‘make a hole in the wall of Babylon’.
That’s from the second page (page 8) of the first chapter of Agincourt, by Juliet Barket.
That bit in school history where they explained what a knight was and what knights did and how the knights did it … well, I missed it. And ever since, everyone talking about such things has assumed that I knew it very clearly, when I didn’t. It’s so obvious. How would someone like me not know it?
Oh, I sort of knew it, from having seen a hundred films where film actors did this, in film battles and in film tournaments. But I had not realised that it was a military innovation like the phalanx or gunpowder or the tank or the airplane or the atom bomb. I had not properly realised that the essence of Knighthood was collective action rather than mere individual virtue, the point being that it was the former which required the latter. And I had not realised that it was what won the Battle of Hastings. Or, even more interestingly, I had not realised that it was what won the First Crusade. (After which, I’m guessing that the Muslims then copied it.
Medieval society did not give rise to Knights. The Knights technique of fighting gave rise to Medieval society.
I remember reading Tom Holland’s Millennium, and being presented right at the end with the result of the First Crusade, without there having been any mention (that I recall) of how a European military innovation was what won it. (That doesn’t mean Holland does not mention this, merely that I don’t remember him mentioning it.)
So, at the heart of the European years between Hastings (1066) and Agincourt (1415 (when I now suppose the Knights to have met their nemesis in the form of the next big military innovation, the Archers (hence the picture on the front of Agincourt))) was a technique of fighting. Like I say, I sort of knew this, but have never before isolated this fact in my head, as a Big Fact. Instead, I have spent my whole life being rather confused about this Big Fact, reading a thousand things where the Big Fact was assumed, but never actually explained.
Why did I not correct this confusion decades ago? Because, not knowing it properly, I had not realised what a huge confusion it was.
I just watched a recording I made of a BBC TV show called Proms Extra, which is a chat show that responds to and flags up London’s immediately past and immediately future Promenade Concerts. They were asking themselves whether they minded clapping in between movements, in connection with a performance of The Planets, in which this had happened.. The assembled commentators agreed that they did not mind at all.
Two thoughts from me about this.
First, the assumption seems to be that people clap in between movements because they don’t know they’re not supposed to. But I think it is much more knowing than this. I think the audience has changed its mind about this.
There has been a huge movement in music-making to achieve an “authentic” sound, by which is meant the sort of sound made by the first performers of the pieces. Well, why not more authentic audiences? Time was when “classical” audiences would clap in between movements without hesitation. Sometimes they would yell for encores, of symphonic movements, before the symphony had even finished, just like at the opera. That in-between-movements clapping is now happening (has been for quite a while actually) at the Proms tells me that the current fashion for clapping in among big multi-movement pieces is a very knowing decision, a very musically educated decision. We are not “supposed” to do this? Well guess what, we have decided that we will do this.
It’s not only this, but I am sure that this is part of it.
Personally, I think that not clapping something like the tumultuous third movement of Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, for instance, seems very unnatural.
However second, there is no doubt that this new convention, if new convention it will be, has not yet been fully established. Sometimes it happens, sometimes not, and quite often in a rather tentative, awkward and rather indecisive way. So, it must surely sometimes make life a little difficult for performers.
What if you have just given what you reckon was a tumultuously great performance of a movement which ends in a manner than just begs to be greeted with a round of applause, and there is silence? In the older days, of strict inter-movement silence, fine. I’m not finished. But now? Hm. Did they not like it? And, after a bit of silence, will they relent, and start clapping, just as I am starting the next movement?
The older regime of silence in between movements was at least a rule, which everyone stuck to and which newcomers quickly learned, from all the dirty looks they got if they broke the rule. And performers could either pause or press on immediately, confident that no clapping would interrupt whatever effects they were seeking to create.
I need to get out less, and this weather is not helping.
Tomorrow, the weather will be helping very much:
This is perfect. My life today, in the last few days, and for the last few weeks, has been one mad social whirl after another, my contented solitude being having been violated seemingly every other evening and sometimes more often even than that, which is all fun and all that, but I find that an evening out puts a blight on creativity for the entire day, because what if I start something, want to finish it, but then don’t have time to, because I have a social whirl to attend and to get ready for and to find my way to and to find out about finding my way to? Last night I whirled out to watch theatrical stuff in an unfamiliar and transportationally complicated part of town with a theatrical friend. Tonight, I face another social whirl, to meet Perry II. Every time I go out I take photos, but because of all this going out I have no time to show them to you people or not with the sort of insightful commentary that I want to attach to them without which what’s the point? - They’re just pictures.
So tomorrow (a day during which I have nothing else planned), I will stay in all day, and try (although I promise nothing) to do here a mammoth day of catch-up blogging, showing you a tiny fraction of the pictures I have been taking lately, all properly explained, and anything else I’ve been meaning to put here for some time that I decide to put here tomorrow, in not one, not two, but many postings.
We shall see.
Incoming, this morning, 11.37 am:
How are you?
Oh you know, much the same as ever.
My name is Chrystal. I am 25 years old. I am from Chongqing. I like your page. How often do you visit the site? I really want to communicate with you. I am good at Thai massage and really like to eat fish. What about you? I guess that we will have many topics to talk about.
Do you have some social networks? I will be waiting for your letter.
I was pondering my reply to Chrystal, asking for clarification about this site I am supposed to be visiting, but going on to say that she really is a bit young for me.
But then, incoming, at 12.12pm:
How are you?
My name is Eugenia. I am 25 years old. I am from Chongqing. I like your page. How often do you visit the site? I really want to communicate with you. I am good at Thai massage and really like to eat fish. What about you? I guess that we will have many topics to talk about.
Do you have some social networks? I will be waiting for your letter.
Uncanny. Truly, truly uncanny. They even both said “hi brian” is the same giant blue letters. What are the odds? Presumably, I should continue with the composition of my reply, and send a copy to each of them. It’s almost as if one of them isn’t a real person. Or even – the horror – neither of them is. Does some terrible middle aged, male, ugly criminal want to know more about me, that he can then use to his advantage and to my disadvantage? If Eugenia hadn’t copied Chrystal’s email to me, these suspicious thoughts might never have occurred to me.
Seriously though, these sorts of (and all the other sorts of) bullshit emails pollute email, by making you assume that any email from anyone which seems even slightly off key is bollocks, even if it isn’t. You even think it may be bollocks if the person it’s from is someone that you know. Because, maybe someone else stole that person’s name, or just guessed it or chose it at random. I can remember when it actually made sense to trust incoming emails from strangers, unless they were obvious bullshit. Those days are long gone. At first, email seemed to create a bright new world of candour and of quick and easy communication. But emails like the ones above clog up the pipes. They may be a joke, but they are a joke we could all do without.
Out and about with GD1 (3): Baritone borrows my charger
Out and about with GD1 (2): How mobile phones both cause and solve meeting up problems
Heaven aka the Barley Mow
An alien robot playing the cymbals and paps
More White Vans
I said it twelve years ago
Photoing at the ASI party
Cats – and technology
The Poppies (3): People taking selfies
On the problems of half-parking with a half-car
ASI Boat Trip 7: Other photographers
Sacred architecture and profane roof clutter - a speculation
Making sense of digital photography
David Byrne on the constraints of artistic form
Jane Austen’s naval brothers
Sidwell (and me) on selfies
Anton Howes at the Rose and Crown
Finding Rover app tracks lost dogs using facial recognition
Bad and good in bad weather
I’ve just been quotulated
Australian cricket is doomed! - or maybe not
Craig Willy on Emmanuel Todd
Google Nexus 4 wedding photography!
Emmanuel Todd links
Wedding photography (6): The Wedding and the Reception
Wedding photography (5): Photography!
Christmas Eve feast
Michael Jennings on why iPad photoing is not ridiculous
Emmanuel Todd’s latest book - in English
A photo taken of a taken photo of the photo being taken
Meaning in sport
I can now copy and paste from .pdf files
Questions concerning the death of copyright protection on downloaded MP3s
Brianmicklethwait Dot Com headline of the day
The long and short of conversation - Hitchens on YouTube
Why do pregnant women now do quite a lot of driving of their husbands?
BrianMicklethwaitDotCom blog posting title of the day
The right to photograph
Talking with Toby Baxendale
Scrounging Englishmen and stories too good to check
Antoine Clarke talks about Facebook and Twitter – Guido and … Ian Geldard?
Barney Stinson on how gay marriage will encourage regular marriage
Tienanmen + Twitter = Teheran
MBA - necessary but insufficient
Google and dongle
The prevention threat
Is the contemporary art bubble bursting?
On autobiographical ruthlessness
Media bias as asset stripping
Antoine and Michael on what to do now
When three’s company but four’s a crowd
Not the same thing
“Japan is fantastic …”
Chivalry and the mad feminists
It only takes One Rich Lunatic
Why I prefer to live in a failing neighbourhood
Twenty20 cricket on Sky TV
“I’ll build it with explosive bolts connecting the wings to the fuselage …”
Signs of civilisation
Girls these days flashing their cleavages it’s disgusting don’t know what the world’s coming to …
Theodore Dalrymple on the menace of honest public officials and much else besides
He is white and he is poking fun at himself
The white stuff
The robotic future
Probably not right - but definitely written
Chanelle and Ziggy - romance in the age of total surveillance
The drive to see smiles (and they have to be real)
The publicness of private life
Voluntary World 3: Transport Blog illustrates the Muggins principle
The idea that mental illness does not exist
The rights and wrongs of multiple marriage
Cricket is ruining the youth of India!
Emmanuel Todd (5): A CrozierVision podcast
Emmanuel Todd (4): From ideology to economic progress
Alan Turing – dead earth and cold wires
Evite makes sure I remember it
It’s only a Billion Monkeys if you count mobile phones (and then it’s far more)
Emmanuel Todd (2): The eight family systems
Emmanuel Todd (1): Anthropology explains ideology
Blogging has arrived
“Publish it in your Blog!”
Oscar Wilde defends society
Geek girl I like your thinkings - are nice - I want have sex with it
Tech talk mp3 with Michael Jennings
Patrick Crozier talks with me about Japan
A handwritten letter from Alex Singleton
I hate market research phone calls
Voluntary World 2: You’re on your own
On the spread of voluntariness
Changing the names of cities
Blogging fun and blogging profit
Billion Monkeys take pictures of themselves!
Charles Rosen on Richard Taruskin and on the socially unbound nature of some of the greatest music
Talking about my generation
Old days not perfect shock
It’s murder down there
When blog meant something different