As I write, we’re coming to the end of a prolonged strike where I work. I say “the end”, but at the current moment in time, it’s more like a hiatus. The plans are for the union to call its members back to the picket line in April and May. I didn’t strike, and each day I crossed the picket line and went to work. As these things go, the brain began by telling me that what I was doing was wrong and then ended up making up a story which it could live with more comfortably and it turns out that, according to the brain, I was actually right and everyone else was wrong.
Regular readers may understand that I have very little time for believing anything that the brain tells me. It’s like a North Korean potentate who has decided that it is a fantastic actor and starts making films wherein it is the hero and always gets the girl.So of course it thinks it’s right, just as the brains outside the front door at work in the bodies with the placards and picket line signs think that they are right. I highlight all of this to emphasise that nobody should think that I believe any of this nonsense. Whether you are a striker or a strike breaker, I am of the opinion that you are doing what you believe to be right…and it’s kind of cute that you think it was a choice anyway.
What I’m writing here is just a reflection of what this brain is currently thinking. And that is largely concerned with how bizarre strikes etc are. To me, they seem to force us into a regressive, almost childlike state – entirely in keeping with the view of our cerebral simian as a naughty little child (or of our naughty little children as less cerebral simians). Looked at from an anthropological point of view, there is something weird about a grown adult standing outside a workplace with some card nailed to a piece of wood. Put an armband on the adult and it seems to morph into a uniform. Put leaflets into the adults hand and the adult seems to assume that nobody is capable of independent thought. Put the adults’ hands over a computer keyboard and twitter becomes full of the most unsophisticated propaganda. Let the adult meet a picket line crosser and the adult’s mouth becomes full of judgemental cant. This, mes lecteurs, is what the world looks like when the chimps are in charge.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not dismissing everyone who disagrees with me as a monkey. As the late Stephen Hawkings said, “we’re [all] just a breed of advanced monkeys”. And as the less esteemed, but equally great in their own way, Hanson and Simler recently wrote the faults we find in others reflect our own faults that we are blinded to. But it’s a useful lesson to all of us – strikers or not- that the truth of the matter is always more urbane that we imagine and that we look foolish when we bathe too much in the waters of self-righteousness and judgmentalism. Right, time for some examples.
- The vice chancellor where I work has become a target for people’s ire. She was filmed walking to a meeting where fully grown humans followed her and chanted at her. They weren’t chanting anything offensive, but it was a threatening gesture or at least an intimidating one. The anger, hurt and self-righteousness of the strikers was channelled at one individual – much in the same way that chimpanzees turn on the alpha male once he has been deposed. This called into question Hawking’s other assertion that “We can understand the universe and that makes us special.”
- Word has reached my ear of people trying hard to persuade colleagues who crossed the picket line that they were wrong and the strikers were right. Text messages were sent repeatedly; individuals were followed and harangued; one colleague was allegedly told that if she didn’t come out on strike, nobody would ever want to work with her. Following my reading of Simler and Hanson’s book, the question is for whom were these messages really intended? Were they really aimed at the working colleague or were they concocted by the strikers’ brains in order to increase the strikers’ sense that they were in the right? In any event, it was absurd. The only way that such messages work is by essentially bullying (not convincing) the other person into joining you. Someone who feels compelled to join you is never as much use as someone who actually believes in what you are fighting for.
- I lost track of the amount of times that people tried to shame me into joining them on the picket lines. Each time the assumption was made that my reasons for not being on strike were simply wrong. But no investigation was made into my circumstances – there didn’t need to be, obviously, because I was wrong. I was clearly incapable of understanding the truth of the matter and I needed to have this spelled out to me by grown men (they were all men). This is a wrong-footed, self-defeating approach to rhetoric.
I get it when human brains that are still developing behave like this. They can’t do anything other than behave like this. Their state of development means that they see the world as Good and Bad, Black and White. But when we have reached past our thirties, we need to search out the nuances a little more. Here is how I see the truth of the strike situation:
Something has happened. It has made some people feel angry enough to go on strike. Each day that they strike, their brain makes up more and more arguments to convince them that they are doing the right thing and that their actions justify the discomfort they are going to experience as a result. Their brains also suffer dissonance when they see other people behaving differently to them. The dissonance is resolved by the decision that these Others are bad or stupid.
Something has happened. It has not made some people feel angry enough to go on strike. Each day that they don’t strike, their brain makes up more and more arguments to convince them that they are doing the right thing and that their actions justify the discomfort they are experiencing as a result. Their brains also suffer dissonance when they see other people behaving differently to them. The dissonance is resolved by the decision that these Others are bad or stupid.
We can distill both realities into a simplistic, but accurate, version of reality: something has happened. It has made some people feel angry enough to go on strike, but it has not made some other people feel angry enough to go on strike. The dogs bark and the caravans roll on.