Thursday, 22 February 2007


Let me begin this post with a disclaimer: I am not a philosopher, nor an historian, nor do I have an MBA or any other business qualification. I am a fool who likes to post his thoughts to the internet.

Reading Michael Burleigh's remarkable "The Third Reich: A New History" I noticed that he tries to draw parallels and show continuities, mainly for conservative purposes, throughout the book. One of these concerns the SS. He writes: "If these were legacies of the war and its denoument, a managerialist emphasis upon competition and performance...has an enduringly modern ring to it." (p195) I had thought that managerialism - the idea that processes and outcomes can and must be regulated by targeted effort, among other ideas - was an offshoot of the breathless industrialisation of the USA, rather than the Great War: but I can understand how one could make a case that the War, in which for the first time millions of human lives were just movable columns of statistics, did more to foster the growth of this concept. Burleigh is more concerned with ends justifying the means, the fight being its own meaning, and sheer, furious brutality as being remnants of the war which found their way into a generation's hearts and hence helped to build the SS, than he is with the modern business consequences; but I wondered whether our western obsession with performance, targets, accountability and regulation could be traced in part to yet another thread of the First World War that still affects our lives. I understand that regulation, to some degree, hails from a universalist, napoleonic code in which things must be legalised before they are allowed (unlike our traditional common law system). However, I'm drawn to this idea that we culturally continue to act out an ancient trauma through the rituals of modern capitalist society in which an individual is conceived solely or predominantly as an agent of delivery, rather than something worthwhile in its own respect: it reminds me of the persuasive idea that cultural cataclysms cannot simply be forgotten, however much we like to think they can be. They survive in our dreams and nightmares, among other places. Burleigh also points out, again rather mischeviously, that modern identity politics, in which an individual is respected in so far as they belong to a group, has its own similar antecedents.

Incidentally, today Wimbledon announced that it will henceforth pay equal money for men and women, and rightly so. However, the BBC's Jonathan Overend, in discussing the news, dismissed arguments that they should do equal work for that money as "irrelevant and illogical". I wonder whether he would agree that men should work longer hours than women on building sites, buses, in factories, on the basis that "on average" men are stronger than women: instead he simply argued that female 100m runners are paid the same as men for slower times, which hardly seems to wrap up the argument to me. He concluded his little puff for gender equality with "the feeling here is.." which reminded me of another of Burleigh's phrases: "politics as feeling". I don't mind arguments being refuted, smashed, or destroyed: arguments simply being ignored is something else. Neither the Wimbledon guy, or anyone on the BBC attempted to engage with what seems a very simple idea. Before I get accused of hating women, or anyone else, (hate features prominently in modern political discourse, especially as the motivation of one's opponents) let me reiterate that I think it's a good idea to pay equal money, but there are other issues around it, which are being completely ignored.


Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Wonderful post, tin drummer. I am going to look for the Burleigh book. I think you're right - that our "targets" obsession may go further back than we think and that it may have its origins in the tragedy that was WW1. I admire the way you have brought the Wimbeldon controiversy into the argument, for it is, in a way, relevant. I think the women should play 5 sets these days - but I speak as one who wouldn't be able to even see a tennis ball coming at me, let alone hit one!

Ellee Seymour said...

I'm delighted to hear too that women tennis players will get equal pay.
When I was taken on with a cub reporter, a male joined with me and it was rare in those days to be given equal pay, which I was, though it was a pittance. However, when it came to assigning jobs, Keith had the good meaty stuff and I was given the soft jobs.

james higham said...

Who gives a rat's arse about offending anyone, as long as you speak the truth. Equal pay for unequal performance is stupid and inequitable.

This mania to equate men and women, rather than see them as complementary is a sickness of the modern PC feminist.

Men and women do not play the same number of sets because it's gruelling for the girls. Do we really want simian Amazonians at Wimbledon, grunting their way to victory?

There's a madness abroad today. Absurdities are being proposed, then defended, then implemented.

The Tin Drummer said...

Thanks for the comments, and the praise, WL - always appreciated!

James- I quite agree that the world is quite, quite barking. But then there are good reasons for that, and some of them go back to 1914...

Crushed by Ingsoc said...

Hmmm. The Nazis.
Thet may have lost the war, but they won the war of ideas.
Motorways, Performance related pay, The EU, Party political broadcasts, etc. etc.
New Labour, National Socialism, what's the difference?
Everything Mandy did at Millbank, Goebbels did before him.
You're right of course, the cracks in the seams of Western civilisation started in 1914 and we've been rolling to destruction since.
I suppose it's right that women get equal prize money when they have behinds as beautiful as Ms Sharapova. Equal prize money when we had Navratilova to look at would have been a rip off.

The Tin Drummer said...

I'm not sure what you mean, cbi. I've just re-read my post and I don't make any comparisons between New Labour and the Nazis. I think New Labour are a bunch of authoritarian bastards as well but that's about it. The point of my post was simply to draw out historical and cultural threads which suggest that we have not lived out the C20 yet; this, as my regular reader will know, is one of my obsessions.