DAY 171: Self-criticism

June 4th, 2016 § 0 comments

1st Movement – Allegro con moto What fun it always is, to be picked up on one’s foolish errors, hasty and ill-considered judgments, and sweeping generalizations; and to admit humbly how wrong one was. It plays, I suppose, for us Marxist-Leninists, the role which confession and absolution do for Catholics; but for us the acknowledgement of error is best done in public, not in a little box in church, but if possible at a plenary session in a conference. Oh, one does hope to do better – but will one?

To explain these reflections: I”ve just returned from a lightning trip to Calais, staying overnight in the always welcoming Belazur. The aim was impeccable: to deliver blankets (or ‘throws’

1113518_R_SET as Argos calls them), jogging pants, and other items of clothing to the warehouse which is currently running on empty, following the fire. The May census13178587_1544737029155701_35887389960810400_n gives the number of inhabitants as 5188, of whom 568 are children, 74% on their own. I was given an informal estimate of 100 new arrivals per day. Is this possible? I fear it’s true. Are we – are you – doing anything to help these people who arrive, homeless, hungry, without a friends, without covering? Plus an increasing number of smaller camps across the north of France (Chocques, Cherbourg, etc.; and Grande-Synthe, of which more later). There are many ways of finding out what’s needed; to name just one, go to for a list; collect things – all sorts, tents, blankets, wind-up torches, clothes , phone chargers,… There are similar sites for the smaller camps. Or, get friends together, get a van, drive things over. Anyway, such was my (as I say) excellent aim. Arrived at the warehouse I did my best to help, given my feeble abilities. It seemed to me greatly changed – how could it not be? I told some friends a bit about what I’d noticed. But this is where the trouble starts: friends  believe what you say and worry. And then I worry in my turn – was I in fact an honest witness? 2nd movement – Moderato cantabile Perhaps we worry too much about accuracy. Let’s take a brief detour via one of my favourite subjects, the system of accounting in Iraq around 2000 BCE. I have a well-known position on this (referred to by me but by no one else as ‘Hodgkin’s Thesis’): that the brutal system of exploitative taxation which the rulers of the Babylonian temple imposed on the peasants necessitated a fairly sophisticated mathematical apparatus, and hence a developed

ur3Accounting tablet from Ur 3

mathematics which in my opinion) was more important for the state’s functioning than literature. So accuracy was born. I was delighted, as any teacher would be, to find that this thesis appeared in a much more sophisticated form with references to the journal ‘RS21′, in one of my students’ coursework. I may yet, in this way, achieve the academic respectability which has so far eluded me. Probably because of my cavalier attitude to ‘facts’, which brings me back to the self-criticism. 3rd movement- Espressivo I actually went to the jungle (although warned not to) with some companionable students, and spent some time in attempting to solve the refugee problem. It passed the time, between the Ecole Laique and Jungle Books. And my friend and I decided that we’d pay a visit to the camp at Dunkerque, Grande-Synthe, to see if we could help there. Grande-Synthe has become well-knownFrance-Migrants-Smugg_Horo-e1443465479799 as ‘different’, since the mayor Damien Careme installed a ‘humanitarian camp’ there at the beginning of March, with cooperation from MSF. Almost immediately it was clear that the state didn’t like the camp and wanted to close it. At the same time the mayor’s aims seem to have become more obscure; in particular, he stated that if anyone left the camp, their shelter would be demolished (see commentary here). In a situation of growing numbers, this is no solution. I didn’t know this background; and my impressions of the camp on a very brief visit (I proposed volunteering, was introduced to the organization ‘Utopia56′ which in some sense runs it, but they couldn’t find anything for me to do) were pretty positive. No CRS in view, an improved infrastructure – electricity and bin disposal – seemed signs of good administration. The volunteers of course were encouraging and frienldly as volunteers mostly are, ditto the staff of ‘Utopis 56′. On this slender evidence , I wrote a report on Facebook which favourably contrasted the conditions at Grande-Synthe with those in the jungle. 4th movement – Molto agitato They aren’t, of course, comparable anyway. I was pretty sharply rapped, with some justice, by a few Calais hands who knew a great deal more then I did and had to admit publicly how little I knew and how shallow were my judgments. Which brings me back to the original theme of the virtues of self-ctiticism – can we use it for anything positive? As Tennyson put it I held it truth, with him who sings To one clear harp in divers tones, That men may rise on stepping-stones Of their dead selves to higher things. But who shall so forecast the years And find in loss a gain to match? Or reach a hand thro’ time to catch The far-off interest of tears? Let Love clasp Grief lest both be drown’d, Let darkness keep her raven gloss: Ah, sweeter to be drunk with loss, To dance with death, to beat the ground, Than that the victor Hours should scorn The long result of love, and boast, ‘Behold the man that loved and lost, But all he was is overworn.’ I know not all of this, in fact almost none of it, is relevant to my theme, but once Tennyson gets going, you find yourself carried away by the raven gloss and the victor Hours; and sort of forget, as so often, what you were on about. Can I rise on stepping-stones of my dead self to higher things? Self-criticism, as we know, is something which often hits you when you’ve got a hangover, which often hits you if you suffer from AUD or Alcohol Use Disorder (11 criteria for this in DSM-5, and just 2 are enough! Jeez!) It’s a problem for 7.2 percent of adults in the United States, I don’t know about France, let alone Latvia. Here, as a parallel, is Bob Dylan’s moving self-criticism ‘Sooner or Later‘. (It seemed a bit hard to find, this looks like the real thing off a Turkish pirate website.)

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