Rationalism a la mode
Shirley Dent on London Transport, cyber-philosophy and career advice
Here's a joke. How many rationalists does it take to get a ticket to ride? At least six if the sorry attempts of the New Humanist editorial board to purchase Docklands Light Railway tickets were anything to go by. Great team of people, bursting with the juices of vigorous intellectual fulmination, but... oh dearie, dearie me... Confronted with a DLR ticket machine, they went to pieces. Even the creationists could have run circles round them... There is, you see, something H.G. Wells-ish... hell no... let's say even Dr Who-ish about the DLR ticket machines... I'm talking big, clunky technology here. Knobs and buttons that look really, really good to the under-5s but perplex the pants off grown rationalists. I tell you no lie when I say it took a good 15 minutes to equip everyone with said ticket to Bank.
I can afford to be somewhat smug about this. I used to live in the Docklands and have become quite a stylish buyer of the said tickets. The trick is to co-ordinate the screen information with twirling the big wheel that navigates the screen and to realise that the central knob in the middle of the wheel is the select button. I can actually navigate said machine with single hand while smoking a metaphorical gitane.
But this epitome of technological advancement just threw the combined brain-power of the New Humanist team. Heads were scratched. Many "uh-huh?"s were heard... "But I'm sure that was too right?"... "Was it the right change?"... "I think so"... "Let's try this one"... "Oh no it's the same"... Coins flew unregarded from open-mouthed cash slots as the urchins of Westferry scampered to pluck the glittering guineas from the ground. Chaos theory didn't come close to it.
I, of course, had the best interests of the New Humanist at heart and, realising what nice copy this was, I let them get on with it. Only when the roving adolescents of Mudchute disembarked and the group were informed "Nah, ... like this... yeah that's it, mate..." did the communal bulb flash on.
Ah, communal bulbs. Ever have the feeling that the lights are on but there's no one at home? I had this feeling about a group of people that I stumbled across as a postgraduate at the University of Warwick. This was during the glory days of cyber-philosophy and all things virtual. Searching for an elusive bar, I opened a door in the students' union and... good lord in heaven above (if you believe in such things)... it was like falling into a film set crossbred somewhere between the Adams Family and the Last Days of Disco... dark glasses, unfeasibly long-sleeved jumpers, crumpled by much angst-ridden clutching of sleeves... wafts of cigarette smoke posing in the centre of the room... a book of much intellectual import propped forth at the ends of lily white hands, akin to the Holy Grail... it had to be, did it not, the Deluze/Gutari/Bataille (delete as applicable) reading group. Me: "Ah... is this the... ah... Airport Lounge... ah... bar?"... Staring, mumbles, looks of hatred because I, I, had shattered the pure plateau of their intellectual disengagement of significant engagement. I could not move. I was transfixed. At last someone shook their head in a way that is only adequately described by the noun "mausoleum". I left.
What I hold particularly against this group was that I am sure it was one of their number who spoilt my reading of The Accursed Share. Trotting along quite happily with Georges, who, when read without pretentiousness, had some interesting things to say, I came across this piece of unwarranted bibliographical vandalism: "Ah too much... I let go... I enter the black hole...". And after reading your 'inspired' marginalia, you're not the only one, sweetie.
Send your worst examples of marginalia misery to me. We might not be able to end this kind of thing overnight, but we sure can take the piss out of it. And while I'm about it, I'm also going to offer a prize of... ohhh... something I'll find under my desk that has been here since Bradlaugh was not allowed to take the oath... to those poor souls who have to suffer the academic silly season. Yep, it's conference time again, and I'm interested in the PPFF factor... Postgraduate Posturing From the Floor... you know what I mean: the polo-necked dappers and divas who will out-Kant your sublime at every turn. The kind of fool who will ask something along the lines of "Yes, but as regards your nominally titled theory of '1-minute egg boiling', in relation to the binary opposition of Saussaurean arbitrary signification, would you not say that the conflict between diachronic and synchronic time, that is signifeeé et langoustineeé, discounts the possibility of any vis-à-vis empirical exactitude, Delia?" Hang about though... I think this may have been me during my "structuralist phase"... Thank God for rationalism... you saved my life...
Summer also sees the dubious fruits of those other fools I love to hate: the careers advisors. Let me explain myself. A CV, as happens now and then, landed on my desk from a journalism student looking for work experience. All well and good. But as I read through, I realised that she hadn't quite got what we were about. It was the "Christ guiding me" lines and "God bless" sign that gave the game away. Well, I have nothing against her being a devout Christian and being game enough to say "Look I disagree with your outlook but I think this could be interesting". The point was, she just didn't have a clue what "Humanist" meant in this context and had never seen a copy of the journal. But, hey, we all make mistakes. What really got me, was that this was an application that had been vetted for suitability by you've guessed it a careers advisor.
Not-seeing-the-blindingly-obvious" seems to be endemic in this profession. One of my spies at the local dole office told me this cautionary tale. Your typical hippie-on-the-dole dog-on-string character was going through the usual job search motions when Eureka! his "careers advisor" seemed to hit on his dream job: animal carer. Imagine the scene. Glossy eyed hippie: "I love animals me I would absolutely love this job". CA: "Okay then, Let me phone. Here you are. They want to speak to you". Hippie (his voice flushed with joy): "I love animals... I've always wanted to work with animals... since I was a kid... what?... you do what to them? (Phone falls silently from hand). Of course, the "careers advisor" had failed to point out that the "animal carer" was working in an animal testing laboratory. I do not think, I'm sure you'll agree, that it is too much to expect of those who are advising others on the paths their lives should take, that they be able to put two and two together.