Dissenting Radical

The Common Good: A 'Christian-Left' perspective on radical theology, progressive politics, authentic culture and sustainable living.

Month: April, 2017

What is ‘merit’ and how do we value it?

A guest post by Brian the Brainy Biking Boxer

This morning Theresa May said we should create a ‘meritocracy’ and John McDonnell said (separate interview) ‘We can’t live in a society where nurses use food banks.’

To be a true meritocracy we need to scrutinise our whole understanding of ‘merit’: who we believe has it, where it comes from, how we acquire it, and how it’s rewarded. Does merit grant money, or money grant merit?

It’s easy to get misty-eyed about nurses when discussing the link between merit and pay, but there’s a reason for that: they’re relatable, understandable, and most of us encounter them at some point. We know what they do and, roughly, what they get for it. The money-merit chasm here is obvious. And this gap cannot be bridged using our current conceptions of what’s valuable and what’s not, what’s earned and what’s not, and what individual success- if that is what we mean by ‘merit’- looks like.

Socialist, Dovish, Liberal, Progressive

Socialist Dovish Liberal Progressive

Anyone surprised by this result?

Echoes of a past life

“As some of you will already know, I have decided to leave the Navy. There are various reasons for this decision, not least the fact that I’m fed up with living in a submarine. A life of heat, grime, sea-sickness, no sleep, and no showers, is simply not for me anymore. Besides, I joined the Navy to keep the West free, because I believe that freedom is a great and glorious thing which is worth fighting for. But the threats to freedom have changed, and I am no longer convinced that our free and civic way of life can be preserved by warships and submarines: we need to re-establish the value and primacy of freedom, enlarge our understanding of it, and not let this “war on terrorism” destroy the civil liberties that have made Western civilisation what it is. This was always my mission, and the mission remains unchanged. The only thing that differs is the method. No more militarism. Now I must shift my attentions to winning the intellectual, moral and ideological battle. That is why I have decided to do a PhD in Civic Republican Political Theory and become a politics lecturer. I will research, teach and write, and so leave a lasting testimony to liberty that might (perhaps) inspire reforms.” <– Me, in an email to a friend, 2005. 

The plan sort of worked out.

On Pubs and Bars

A pub is somewhere you should feel comfortable to spend the whole day and even take children during earlier hours. It should be a cosy place, decorated in a friendly and welcoming manner. There should be games available such as pool, darts and a quiz machine. The better ones will even have dominoes, chess and backgammon sets behind the bar. There ought to be a jukebox around with the entire Led Zeppelin discography or at least get the lads to bring their guitars and fiddles and we’ll kick up a tune ourselves. If you’re there at lunchtime hours expect pies, fish & chips and a half-decent tikka masala to be available. If the pub takes even the least amount of pride in what they do there will be a good choice of real ales served at cellar temperature as these actually taste of something unlike near-frozen mass-produced lagers. 

A bar, on the other hand, is a truly dreadful place. Tastelessly decked out in chrome, pine and mood-lighting, this hell-hole is full of wankers from the City getting shitfaced on shite like Bud and Kronenburg whilst listening to god-awful repetitive pop music at near deafing volumes.


What might have been…

Since everyone is looking back to the 1980s (Theresa May being the retro-Thatcher revival and all that), I’m somewhat lamenting the fact that the UK didn’t get a SDP-Liberal Alliance government in 1983. Maybe it was never very likely, but that was the closest the UK came in its post-war history to breaking the two party duopoly.

It could have set us off on a different course: the selfish amoralism of the market could have been corrected and restrained by an old fashioned Non-Conformist social conscience; necessary industrial restructuring could have been carried out in a less blind, brutal and doctrinaire way, with more emphasis on the needs of communities in industrial areas; the inevitable inequalities of capitalism could have been more intelligently mitigated and ameliorated by a decent welfare system; our political institutions could have been fundamentally reformed, to build a modern, constitutional, proportional and federal democracy. We could have achieved a more balanced, moderate, harmonious and humane relationship between the government and the citizen, the market and the community, the city and the unions, the north and the south, the present and the future.

I’m not saying these things would have happened, but the SDP-Liberal Alliance had a lot of good ideas, at the right time; they might, if they’d been elected, and been true to their word (big ‘ifs’), made a difference. They might have made the UK not only salvageable, but worth saving. But that didn’t happen. We are where we are. And I think the chance of reform has passed. The UK cannot be saved and is not worth saving, because it has lost the ability to change itself within its existing framework. The change must come from new states.

Reclaiming the centre

It’s a strange world. I am against nuclear weapons destroying the planet, and against fracking poisoning the water supply and causing earthquakes, and against wars that kill people in faraway places for not much of an apparent reason, and against economic policies that allow a handful of rich investors to rake in grotesque profits while ordinary working people suffer declining wages and loss of job security, and against torturing people, and against treating unemployed people or the sick and the old as if they were less than fully human – and somehow, for reasons I do not understand, this makes me the radical lefty. This shouldn’t make me a lefty. This should be normal ethical baselines of civilised interaction.

On this day: 4 April

4 April 2016:

“Countries are like fish: they rot from the head downwards. They are also like barrels: all the bad apples float to the top. If only getting rid of this corrupt oligarchy were as easy as shooting fish in a barrel.”

4 April 2015:

“The British state is seeking to appear on the surface to agree to give Scots a free and democratic choice, while using every dirty trick to subvert that choice. Those tricks range from complete control of state and corporate media to the darker arts of the security services.”

4 April 2013: 

“Peckish. Went to kitchen, maybe to get a banana, or a bowl of cereal, or something like that. Discover, at the back of the fridge, some chicken that needs eating soon or will go to waste. Hmm. Chicken. Chilli, check. Peppers, check. Onions, check. Soft tortillas, check. Spices, check. Lime, holy-molly, check, there’s even a single, forlorn, lime hiding there. Right, that settles it. Midnight chicken fajitas it is.”

4 April 2010:

“I am to banjo playing what John Daker is to singing. Two hours of finger-ripping and deep concentration it still sounds like I’m throwing the banjo downstairs rather than playing it! There are semi-literate hill people in Georgia who have mastered this.”