Politics, Duck Houses, and Postmodernism

March 31, 2010

In case you’re in the UK and hadn’t noticed, there’s an election looming over the horizon and there’s much talk of who will win, whether there will be an outright victory in any case, and whether the expenses scandal will affect the way people vote. No doubt if turnout drops lower than ever before, the blame will be placed on Duck Houses and Second Home Allowances.

However I feel there is a factor at play here that represents a threat not to politicians as such, but certainly to the way that the political parties function: the implications of a postmodern society.

Postmodernism is a term that you might hear a lot, but understanding what it means is another matter. Philosophers and Social Scientists argue about definitions and whether it actually exists as something other than a rejection of Modernism.

Some of the things about Postmodernism are however quite striking. The “Melting Pot” – the idea of a homogenous culture – is a modernist idea in many ways, while the postmodern idea is more one of diversity and valuing distinctives. But the thing that I feel is key for politicians is the concept of the metanarrative, and the postmodernist rejection of the role of the metanarrative. Indeed, Lyotard – a key thinker in the field of postmodernism – says… “simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodern as incredulity towards metanarratives.”

Simply put, a metanarrative is an attempt to provide an over-arching story that can then be used to explain history, society and so on. Religions offer a metanarrative through their holy books, their continuing history, and their view on the future. Marxism can be argued to provide a matanarrative too, by offering the struggle against market capitalism by workers as being a way of understanding history and providing a different way of doing things.

My argument is that what political parties generally attempt to do is to offer a metanarrative – a way of viewing the world and deciding what should be done – and that therefore they risk rejection by postmoderns who simply do not trust their metanarrative.

Consider the two main parties in the forthcoming election. Traditionally the Labour Party has used socialist ideas to provide a metanarrative, arguing that society will be better if there is equality of opportunity, wealth redistribution through progressive taxation, and public ownership (or at least regulation) of certain major components that affect society such as the postal system and major utility providers. Whether it still does so is a moot point.

Meanwhile the Conservative Party offers a metanarrative that sees successful free markets as generating wealth for all, and a role for governement that is about limiting regulation and supporting “traditional” institutions and structures.

What happens if many reject the whole idea of a metanarrative is that a number of voters regard party structures – whatever their politics – with suspicion. The way the parties operate encourages this suspicion; it seems that the typical way into politics involves a career starting with some form of local party activism, progressing through becoming a local councillor, to eventually being selected as a parliamentary candidate, and then eventually (often not on the first occasion) becoming an MP. To continue on up the ladder, the perception is that they have to toe the party line. Effectively, they have to not only be part of the party, but to swallow its metanarrative completely. Party Whips make sure they do as they are told, and many transgressions may see them lose the backing of the party structure.

These people do not appeal as candidates to those with a postmodern outlook. They are much more likely to look at the personal level, at the relationships they have, at how the candidates have benefitted themselves and their area – and if that’s not satisfactory for any of the candidates, why vote at all?

The turnout at the General Elections recently has seen a big drop. 1992 saw a turnout close to 78%; in 1997 that had dropped to 71.4%, in 2001 to just under 60%, and stayed at just above that figure in 2005. My argument is not that voters have become apathetic; it’s that in a postmodern society, they find none of the candidates particularly appealing as they remain bound, through their party structures, to a metanarrative that they have already rejected. Unless the parties find a convincing way to address this – and I am uncertain that they can – I do not expect turnout to get to 65% this year, or indeed for the election after. 

David Haye, Respect, and the Soap Opera of Heavyweight Boxing

March 29, 2010

At the time of writing, David Haye is Heavyweight Boxing’s Champion of the World. Or, to be precise, one quarter of the Champion, as the Klitschko Brothers hold the other three major titles – four if you include Ring Magazine’s title that sometimes seems to have more lustre than the WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO. What Haye doesn’t seem to have much of though is respect, particularly when you look beyond the shores of the UK. Looking at for example Boxing News 24 – an admittedly not particularly highly-regarded source, given its crowd-sourced content that includes no real “names” – it’s not hard to find plenty of antipathy towards Haye.

Haye, it seems, is a mouthy blown-up Cruiserweight who has ducked fights with both of the Russian Brothers, and is likely to continue to do so or at least will get decisively beaten as and when he faces either – or for certain Vitali, who appears to be the nearest thing to a mobile statue in Heavyweight Boxing both in terms of chin and punch, and maybe also skill and movement. Wladimir’s slightly more suspect chin, it is argued, might give Haye a slight chance if he can avoid his jab but even then the British fighter would start a long-priced outsider.

Haye is criticised as not having fought anyone of note at heavyweight, of having fought a boring hit and run fight against the giant Valuev, and basically of talking the talk without walking the walk.

Is this fair? Well, it’s true that other than Valuev (who was something of a freakshow due to his size) Haye’s other heavyweight opponents have been modest – Monte Barrett had been a contender at one time but was already on a downward trend when Haye beat him, and Tomasz Bonin was no more than a fringe contender. On the other hand, it gives little credit to Haye for a highly successful career at Cruiserweight that saw him leave the division as holder of three of the main titles. The likes of Pacquiao move up in weight and get title shots straight away – why is the move from Cruiser to Heavy so big?

Well, big in a way is part of it. Heavyweight can include the likes of Mike Tyson (just under 6 foot) and the seven foot Valuev, and there is no upper limit; often the differences between divisions at the lighter weights can be seven pounds or less – which in turn tends to mean less variation in terms of height, body shape and so on. 

How does Haye gain respect? Obviously by fighting the best available – and at the moment that means the Klitschkos. There in itself is a tale though, as neither of them are particularly charismatic or entertaining to watch – to the extent that Wlad’s last fight wasn’t picked up by any of the major US Pay-per-view operators. Despite this, they hold the titles and no-one is particularly standing out as someone to beat them – Wladimir’s fight with Eddie Chambers saw the American operating defensively and showing little will to win.

Ironically Haye is what both brothers need: a fight with him will attract interest from both those who want to see the Klitschkos beaten, and those who want to see Haye’s mouth well and truly closed. Both should be hoping that Haye gets past John Ruiz without too much difficulty, as Haye will sell tickets and generate interest that is rapidly waning, particularly in the US where the smaller men are the ones generating all the headlines. Heavyweight Boxing – so long the Blue Ribband of the sport – has become dull, shot through with politics and fighters that simply don’t have the charisma to make the division sparkle.

Is Haye good enough to take either Klitschko out? The answer is we don’t know, and enough have tried (and almost totally failed) to get the better of them to argue that he has a lot to do. But what he does have is the ability to get people talking about the Heavyweights again, and for that at least he deserves more respect than he is getting.

Hello world!

March 29, 2010

Are you really an Iguana?

Don’t be silly. Iguanas can’t type.

Who are you then?

A Human Being, who intends to post a few thoughts up here from time to time. Sorry, I don’t really intend to say much more than that.

Why Random?

Why not? To be honest, it’s because this is intended to be an outlet for a number of different things, whether to do with sport, politics, philosophy, or merely outbursts against the insanity of everyday life.

Why Iguana?

Why not? After all, what’s more random than an Iguana?