A couple of Thoughts on Contained Jargon in an Uncontained World: or why you can be an arsehole too!
A friend sent me the link that I’ve pasted below. It’s a very personal and moving account of what it is like to be the parent of a child who is being ‘supported’ by UK social services. But I would extend this to anybody who has anybody they care for within the UK care sector.
I used to work in the UK care sector. I left school at 16 years of age with no qualifications. The only real option for me was to go away to sea. This was firstly in the UK merchant navy and then the UK Royal Navy. It was hard work, full of hard men and women. It was a life full of the ‘rude’ and the ‘savage’ to use Ruskin’s words. It was a wonderful world full of colour and ‘dance’. Then I left the sea and became a ‘care worker’ in the UK ‘supporting’, ‘caring for’ the up to date jargon escapes me, young people with profound learning and physical disabilities. I have seen brutality in my life. I have seen what human beings can do to one another and the care sector was a brutal and brutalising place to work.
During my time working in the care sector I saw staff physically abuse, assault, degrading behaviour, and in admittedly an extreme case I caught a member of staff attempting to set fire to a client’s testicles. Prior to joining Royal Holloway to do my PhD I began a PhD at Lancaster. I supported myself by working at a residential home for a similar ‘client’ group.
Here I found abuse on an industrial level. When I reported an incident of assault by a member of staff on a client to the manager, the member of staff was promoted. At this particular ‘care’ home I found a young woman who was ‘challenging,’ being illegally and cruelly confined in her room. This distressed her more so she began to bite chunks out of her body and tear at her orifices. Her experience is beyond words. I was faced with the ‘choice’ of staying and in effect condone the behaviour or report it and leave and as a consequence lose my support for the PhD. I had no choice.
As an aside it may be tempting to tell yourself ‘Ah, this is men.’ The problem that you have there is that I saw women abuse as well. When I reported the setting fire to the testicles incident it was women who actively attempted to cover up the incident. I was ostracised by these women because “they thought I was going to report their friend.” No one or nothing has a monopoly of moral height; in the words of that eminent philosopher, Frank Zappa, “You can be an arsehole too.” To think otherwise is to take yourself and the rest of us down an intellectual and ethical cul-de-sac.
So why is this appearing on a webpage by someone who writes and thinks about social and political thought? Precisely because I write and think about social and political thought.
After the sea a friend, Richard Shipp, the same friend that sent me the link, persuaded me that I needed to be educated (He has a lot to answer for). I enrolled on a course in Politics, Philosophy and Economics. The only regret for me was the litany of despondency that is otherwise known as the reading list. It was a world of solipsistic fantasy that in spite of itself still managed to be impoverished. I had come from a world of colour and now found myself in a world of black and white, of either/or. A world of childhood tantrums where certainty is always self-assured. It was a world in which the language used was unrecognizable to which it was applied. It was a world in which the different lights that humanity have used to stumble through the condition of being human, have suffered, to misuse that most poignant of phrases from Tagore, the silence of obscurity. It is the world of the representative agent in which the uncontainable nature of humanity is contained, controlled, and feared. It is a world in which challenges, if not in your language, or what you define as language, become threats. The truth is that he or she confronts me through despair at my proselytizing certainty. It is from this world of words that the ‘representative agent’ becomes ‘empowered’, with ‘circles of support and influence’, who ‘feed into’ ‘care plans’ that ‘promote independence’. Whilst this may be good for conferences, interviewing skills, to use as keywords or fashionable research themes the reality is that it disguises, it looks away and reassures itself, you and me, from this brutality through the use of jargon that it inherits from social and political theorists. It is like the stage setting in a theatre that sets order, the narrative but which fails to acknowledge the chaos behind the set designer’s construction.
In our world, the world of those that spend their time thinking of the social and the political, we nicely side step the ‘rude’ and the ‘savage’ when we restrict the use of the political and the social and how we can think about such terms. We restrict vision and the social possibilities of the everyday, to a brutal account of the rationality of a tradition of a word. If we do not see it, it does not need to be changed. We then gift this to the applied sciences. It is a philosophy of constipation that treats thought as a historical artefact that blinds us to the genealogy and to the political and social status that it has privileged. If the political and social theorist requires certainty may I suggest beginning with three certainties before you start transforming the world into your own image. It is the world in which the model of living, and the paucity of thought on, in the ‘Western’ democracies condemns the most disadvantaged to three certainties. They know that they will be poorly educated, they know that they will be provided with poor life opportunities and they know that they will die earlier than those with better socio-economic and political advantages. The greatest opportunity that we can offer those that we silence, and we offer it with pride, is the opportunity to kill or to be killed for us, or at least what we are told is a ‘us’. Welcome to their world and you wonder why you fear them. They experience these certainties every moment of their lives. These are lives in which Cosmopolitanization is for an Islington coffee table. This is the world that the young man in the article lives in. He and his family, because of their dependency to the law, are amongst the most vulnerable in the UK. Their world is the world of the unsaid. Rather than condemning life to the obscurity of silence, unable to ‘communicate appropriately’, the problem of social and political thought, and the tools we give to others, should be to provide a ‘space’ through which worlds reveal itself to ‘I’.
We are face to face with and also inhabit the unsaid. But by relying on a genealogy of a tradition of ‘thought’, Thought fails to acknowledge that human beings experience communication, communicating and communicate in a variety of ways beyond a precise science of language. And whilst a strain of de-colonial thought may privilege itself by distancing itself from these people and their experiences, the problems of living together will not be answered through any sort of ontological or epistemological account of moral height but in an account of humility and openness. Theory must be relevant to the features of our political and social situation. It must be realistic from the perspective of the lived experience. What it describes must be imaginable beyond ‘your’ imagination. In challenging imagination you create new possibilities. The theorist can write of abstractions, of agents, of individuals, and project his/her certainty to the outside world in order to provide someone else with a better future. But before you do this look at your own world and if your words cannot be seen behind the face of the most vulnerable and fears beyond your own, then set your pen aside.