Thursday, 19 August 2010

Human Delusion

Working on Karl Marx and Careful Driving sometimes reminds me of cooking a curry. Take one seasoned travelogue about a journey by truck from the UK to Kazakhstan; marinate in Marxism and add four fluid ounces of Soviet history; garnish liberally with Roman Catholic tyranny and simmer, stirring frequently; serve up with lashings of Plato and Rousseau.

Photograph courtesy of Dan Burn-Forti

I have been hoping that the resulting blend of ideas and insights will lead to a delicious new philosophy but my fellow scribes at the Severn Valley Authors found the latest serving rather indigestible. Linda was concerned that the ideas might be too complex for anyone lacking an academic background. Complicated ideas will have to be expressed and laid out in a way that is lucid and entertaining. For a model I could do worse than refer to Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder, a novel written for children about western philosophy from the Ancient Greeks to the present day.

Subconsciously, I think, I have been searching for a single theme to draw all the separate strands together. Last week I experienced a 'Eureka Moment' while cycling into work. The Careful Driving Trilogy will be a demonstration of the incompatibility of Plato's Worlds of Ideas and of the Senses: mankind's inablity to reconcile faith and reason, letter and spirit, and to transform theory into practice, vision into reality and political philosophy into the Ideal State.

Accordingly I've amended the principle themes of the book as follows (an explanation of the colour code can be found in the entry dated December 2009):

From Plato to the Industrial and French Revolutions
Religion (Plato's World of Ideas) dominates feudal Europe (Plato's World of the Senses). Was the transformation of a prescription for human emancipation into a tyranny that enslaved a cast of millions an example of how the noblest of intentions can run aground upon the rocks of ambition and greed?

Or can the Roman Catholic dystopia be blamed upon flaws in Jesus Christ's teachings and his analysis of the essence - distinctive character - of the human species? The road to hell is paved with good intentions. The emergence of humanism (World of Ideas) in the fourteenth century begins the decline of religion and culminates in the Industrial and French Revolutions in the eighteenth century.

Plato's World of Ideas: Karl Marx's Solution to the Divorce of Human Essence from Existence
The immediate task is to unmask human alienation in its secular form, now that it has been unmasked in its sacred form. Thus the criticism of heaven transforms itself into the criticism of earth, the criticism of religion into the criticism of law, and the criticism of theology into the criticism of politics.

Just as an expanding merchant class (the bourgeoisie) had overwhelmed the feudal aristocracy following the storming of the Bastille, the expanding urban proletariat sapwned by the Industrial Revolution would overthrow its parasitic oppressors. The elimination of the private ownership of property would end the historical division of society into dominant and subject classes. Governed by workers purged of the avarice conferred by private ownership, communist societies would replace personal gain with collective prosperity.

Plato's World of the Senses: Soviet Communism's Failure to Reconcile Human Essence and Existence
Was the transformation of a prescription for human emancipation into a tyranny that enslaved a cast of millions an example of how the noblest of intentions can run aground upon the rocks of ambition and greed?

Or can the Soviet dystopia be blamed upon flaws in Karl Marx's economic theory and his analysis of the essence - the distinctive character - of the human species? The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Twentieth-Century Capitalism: Fransen Transport (UK) Limited
Merchant capitalism has its origins in antiquity but the principle of trade in the late twentieth century remains the same: buy cheap and sell dear.

Photo courtesy of Lenny Coulson

Fransen Transport (UK) Ltd provides a haulage service to modern merchants exporting and importing temperature-sensitive commodities. Purchased cheaply from areas of surplus, these are transported to regions of scarcity where they can be sold at a profit.

A Human Becoming
The author's journey from university graduate to international truck driver is an attempt to unite essence (Plato's World of Ideas) with existence (Plato's World of the Senses). Individuals construct their destinies by using the imagination to invent a Perfect Future. Happiness depends upon the successful reconciliation of that Perfect Future (one's dream, vision or essence) with the imperfect present (existence).

Photo courtesy of Richard Breakwell

The more the dream is rooted in the shifting realities of the sensory world the more likely it is to make the transition from the imagination to reality. We think, therefore we become.

Careful Driving
The Inalienable Right of Way assumes a similarly divisive role on the road as private property in Karl Marx's analysis of capitalist society. Authoritarian traffic lights and road signs constantly divide road users into factions granted Right of Way (bourgeoisie) and deprived of Right of Way (proletariat).

Tyrannical speed limits (World of Ideas) instead of the view through the windscreen (World of the Senses) attempt to dictate how we drive; dictatorial Drivers Hours Regulations (World of Ideas) have replaced actual levels of fatigue (World of the Senses) in determining when we drive. Road users are thoroughly alienated by legislation from their human essence. Drivers who voluntarily alienate their Right of Way for the common good make the road a better place to be, but there aren't enough of them. Perhaps it will take the abolition of the Inalienable Right of Way and the Road Traffic Acts to return humanity to the road.

So Karl Marx and Careful Driving is to be the story of human delusion: the failure to reconcile concept (World of Ideas) and reality (World of the Senses). England's performance in the World Cup provided a perfect example of a vision foundering on reality. The news that we were to play Germany after a thoroughly undistinguished performance in the group stage led to an exchange of emails with Ralf, the German with whom I spent an unforgettable three weeks cycling through Iran and Baluchistan:


I trust that you are now earning a respectable living as a computer salesman or repair man now that you've done the course. Or did you walk out on it halfway through like when you attempted to learn how to be an architect?

So it has come to today's three o' clock showdown. Will you be at the vicarage to watch it? I can just picture you sitting on your sofa in front of the television, surounded by a pyramid of empty lager cans and three weeks of washing-up still waiting to be done and a fly population outnumbering even Baluchistan's. Remember Munich 2001!

Nothing new to report here. Plenty of talks and slideshows booked - this year's total about 30 already and plenty more booked for next year. Work has been really shitty - just had a final written warning downgraded on appeal to a first written warning. Had a few days off last week and we did some painting, but still loads more to do. I've decided that my next literary masterpiece will consist not of one book but three, entitled

1. Karl Marx and Careful Driving

2. Cold War and Careful Driving

3. Red Sunset and Careful Driving

Hopefully I'll finish it sometime this decade - but publication might be posthumous.

Have you run out of Bombay Mix yet? Let me know and I'll send some more, along with the Sunday Times's report of England's victory against the Krauts.

Yours affectionately,

Uncle Heinrich.

This hopeless bravado was the precursor to a 4-1 thrashing by the old enemy...

and an email from an old friend...

Chris, I'm not saying the ball wasn't behind the line - the linesman of the Wembley final would have seen that (even in his current condition). But: justice works rather slow these days... At least fans in Germany and England have something to talk about for another 30 years, and like all the Africans having adopted Ghana as their team, you guys can root for Germany now (tee-hee). I didn't watch the game in the vicarage (it's 30+ in there now). I went with me mum to my former landlady, where we saw the game over some almond cake and a few cups of herb tea (when playing the English...). Argentina will be more complicated but Maradonna is a clown and some of his players are pretty old, so there is a chance!

Computer course-wise I went the distance (4 weeks) - the consequences of a no-show would have been severe. But it was easy: all I had to do was sit there 7 hours a day and since my seat was one of those facing the wall, I didn't even have to look half-awake (the lector's pace was too slow to follow anyway). About 10 of the other 15 were 35 - 50 year-old shipwerecks of people. Sleeping in and doing nothing for years seems to be most unhealthy on most people. But as far as earning a 'respectable living'... in your dreams, mate!***

3 books instead of one, publication posthumous? That don't sound good. the other day, I bought a copy of 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' - isn't that the book you got the idea for 'Karl Marx and Careful Driving' from? I'll read it within the next 3 months or so, hopefully it's as good as they say.



***Speaking of respectable livings: what did earn you that written warning - did you show up for work with your schlong hanging out? Or worse?

P.S. Do you kknow the slogan of the World Cup 2010? 'Menschheit's coming home!'

P.P.S. More Bombay Mix? Is that a threat?


A week before the start of the new football season we went to White Hart Lane with Rick to see how Harry Redknapp's vision might stand up to reality in a friendly against Fiorentina. Tellingly, I knew very little about professional football when I decided to support Spurs. My parents didn't own a television and what I did know came from my friend Rene, who lived next door and liked West Ham. When we played football in the garden, he'd be Geoff Hurst and I'd be Martin Chivers, because I liked the name. I also liked the name Tottenham Hotspur, and when we watched Spurs beat Aston Villa 2-1 I decided I liked the team's white shirts. My mother wouldn't allow me to go to matches on my own because of the hooligan element so I didn't go to White Hart Lane for the first time until 1974. I went with Rick, a family friend. Martin Chivers (I think) scored for Spurs. Abba's 'Money Money Money' was playing on the tannoy at half time, and of course we stood for the entire match.

How things have changed. I'm 49 and Rick is 63. Leicester are no longer in the top division, tickets were £30 each (even for a friendly) and White Hart Lane is an all-seater; virtually the only thing that hadn't changed, as I remarked to Rick, was the pitch.

We had an excellent, birds-eye view, high up in the West Stand. An immobile forward line of Pavlyuchenko and Crouch wasn't helped by a central midfield consisting of Jenas and Palacios, a hard tackling, hard running duo not noted for defence-splitting through balls. Aaron Lennon on the right, apart from a couple of surging runs, was largely peripheral, but Giovanni Dos Santos, on the opposite wing, was the game's revalation: great dribbling skills and an eye for the right pass saw him serve up Tottenham's first goal on a plate for Pavlyuchenko. Despite dominating possession, Spurs went in at half time losing 2-1 because of a couple of defensive lapses.

At the beginning of the second half, Huddlestone, Kranjcar and Keane came on for Jenas, Lennon and Crouch. Huddlestone immediately gave the midfield more purpose and penetration, and Keane looked like the player of two years ago - a constant blur of movement, always demanding the ball and pulling the opposition players out of position with his darting runs. It was hardly a surprise when they combined to score the second equaliser, Huddlestone's precise through ball latched onto by Keane who finished with confidence and precision.

Spurs were completely dominating possession. Kranjcar looked sharp and hit the post with a low shot. Huddlestone's free kick produced a brilliant save from the Fiorentina keeper (I was convinced it was going in) and another goal by Pavlyuchenko was disallowed, presumably for offside. More substitutions gave some of the younger players a chance to impress. Danny Rose produced an impressive cameo on the right, showing a willingness to tackle back and once skinning an opposition defender to the crowd's delight. Jake Livermore was a young midfield player who had the confidence to demand the ball from more senior colleagues, and with one minute left of normal time, he produced an exquisite through ball to set Keane free once again, and Robbie drove the ball through the keeper's legs for a late winner, the perfect finish to an absorbing match. We celebrated in the appropriate way with an excellent Biryani in Hemel Hempstead before driving home.

Harry's vision, shared by legions of deluded fans, is to re-install Spurs as champions of England's top division. They last achieved this feat in 1961 when I was too young to be aware of it. The intervening years have witnessed the indefinite postponement of a vision that has remained stubbornly incompatible with reality. The Soviet postponment of Marx's vision, 'the transitional dictatorship of the proletariat', lasted for 74 years; Tottenham's interminable period of transition or 'rebuilding' has lasted for 49 years... and counting. Against all reason, the deluded cling to their faith. Around 30,000 of us turned up at White Hart Lane to watch a pre-season friendly.

The publication of Karl Marx and Careful Driving and the book's emergence as a best-selling sensation is, of course, another vision. Will I convert concept to reality or am I, like successive Soviet leaders and umpteen Spurs managers, doomed to failure? Faith, they say, can move mountains. My conviction that the idea's potential is massive and its originality beyond question keeps me getting up at 4 every morning to reconcile immaculate concept with an imperfect manuscript. I might be as deluded as all of those Spurs and England fans, but to cling to faith and hope, however illogical, is surely preferable to surrendering to existential despair. Such is the human condition.