Saturday, 17 December 2016
The shrewdness of apes
I have always tended to avoid people. I am not a joiner of of groups nor do I have a wide social circle. Even in school I always gravitated to the library specifically to make use of the quiet. Things that interested the other kids did not interest me. Instead I would be reviewing the newspapers or looking at mostly factual books. I've never really been a reader of fiction. In that sense I always knew that I was a little bit different.
Though it is fashionable to have a syndrome of some kind these days where everybody seems to want to diagnose their personality, there is more than a passing relationship between my behaviours and and what is commonly understood as Asperger Syndrome. Ever since my sister stumbled on the Australian Scale for Asperger Syndrome, a lot of my past has made a lot more sense.
I have since taken an interest in it and having met people who are quite severe I know that mine is only a mild case. It turns out it's a spectrum. Mine is subtle but it is there nonetheless. What it tends to mean is that it's difficult for me slot into any given social circle, I don't really gel with any team and in a work environment I am acutely aware that I am conspicuous by way of not conforming to certain behavioural standards.
There was a time when this would cause me great difficulty because it would invariably get me fired. I would drift between jobs struggling to understand what it was that made me so instantly undesirable. In the post-industrial north there is still a cultural hangover in the workplace whereby there is greater peer pressure to conform to certain unwritten codes and everybody is bothered that someone else might be getting a slight advantage. Very much a mill town mentality.
Because I am singularly incapable of conforming I quickly seem like I don't play by the rules and believe myself to be exempt from the rules that apply to everyone else. Not for nothing do I have a reputation for arrogance. It's why I seem to have done better ever since I moved south where the more dynamic economy creates a more liberal workplace where increasingly everyone is in it for themselves. It means everybody is looking for the maximum advantage and is less concerned when someone has an advantage in that if I have one they can have it too.
Having lived in Scotland, Yorkshire and Bristol, I have noticed that the further north you go the more tribal it gets and the more conformity is demanded. Scotland is the absolute worst for it. The police officious and petty, officials are inhuman in their adherence to red tape and as for wider tribalism, I don't think I need expand on the point.
Yorkshire is more tolerable. The problem is that the economy is more geared to services which means most office jobs are call centres which are a modern day version of the Victorian mills. Being just a few minutes late is very much noticed. Schoolyard rules seem to apply and few people do anything without asking permission.
Moving south was in many respects the best thing I ever did and a new world opened up to me where nobody really cares what you do just so long as the job gets done. That is why I managed nearly seven years at Airbus when virtually every other job I'd had was a living hell. It certainly helped that it was an aerospace company since I am an aviation obsessive, but all the same, the contractor culture of maximum individuality and self-management allows me to get my work done without selling my soul to the devil.
In a lot of respects getting by requires that I adopt a "my way or the highway" approach and I impress upon employers that they probably do have to tolerate me being a dysfunctional mess most of the time. Aspergers awareness has increased and it seems for all my social deficiencies I have a few compensatory superpowers.
One of these is a perceptiveness that is generally unmatched. Very often I will know how a company works better than the people running it. I will understand their systems, their social rules, and their place in the wider economy. Having worked in dozens of offices I have a broader picture than most about how the economy works and though that knowledge has come at a cost of great pain and frustration, it is valued insight nonetheless.
One thing I have learned though is that no matter what sector you are in, offices are the same wherever you go. They are all imbued with the sense that they are a little bit different, which always amuses me but one is much the same as the other and the culture is nearly always the same. There are certain stereotypes which we can all immediately identify. It's what makes The Office sitcom such a ready hit.
In this, it's easy to understand why certain fault-lines exist. Offices are a very abstract places where people are pretty much forced to congregate with people they would never choose to congregate with in a sterile environment and somehow learn not to tread on each others sensibilities too much. Some find it easier than others.
Those who find it easy tend to be the ones who reap the most rewards - job security, a good credit rating, promotions and such. Career success very much depends on your ability to integrate, interact and conform. This path has never been available to me. In more than one sense, my lack of a credit rating makes me a drifter - having no real assets, getting by on my wits and the only thing that makes me commercially viable is a particular set of programming specialisms.
This is why I find I often have a great empathy with homeless people and people who are just outright freaks. People out on the fringes. Sometimes you make eye contact with a fellow freak and there's a connection there. Though my skills and mean I can just about carve out a pampered middle class lifestyle, I am still acutely aware I am an imposter. I am an executive level hobo who only stays afloat by exploiting the blind-spots in the system where they won't see me coming. This sometimes means I have to make certain moral compromises, but then we all do at some point.
What this means is that I am always the outsider looking in. There is a glass wall between me and the rest of the world. That perception is very much amplified and to some extent distorted by way of interacting via the internet. Without the contrasts of the physical world it alters one's behaviour which makes me even less able conform. I can't tell you what having a Twitter addled brain has done to my attention span.
Consequently I live my own separate life in my own solitary bubble, forever on the outside, more observer rather than a participant. In a lot of respects it is unparalleled freedom that most people will never know. Free of obligation and responsibility every day is my own to do with as I please. As rewarding as that is, it can also be quite desolate. It's why the weather can have such a profound impact on my moods. I become a reflection of my environment. It makes every day different and I am never the same person twice. I am many things to many people.
Being an observer is perhaps why I end up knowing things most do not. I pay attention to my surroundings and I look into the history of my environment, and I notice things. Nobody else knows that the old building next to where I work was the Sperry Gyroscope factory during the war. Nobody else has ever even asked what the anonymous concrete structures are for. Turns out they were part of a weapons testing facility. I find that most people don't see, don't enquire, and they don't care.
I find that really sad. It gives every new place an extra dimension which I why I love travelling more than anything in the world. Very few know this country as well as I, and I really do notice the details. Where most would just see a pylon I would see part of a wartime radar installation. Where others see a red brick hut, I see part of a WW2 military hospital. And I can almost smell a disused aerodrome. I don't suppose anyone gives it a second thought as they drive down the M4 at Membury that they are intersecting an aerodrome used for the D-Day parachute drops.
And though most of these little discoveries and facts are barely ever useful they are part of the tapestry that is me, and I take pleasure from it. In that sense little facts and details are largely harmless. It just makes me out as a nerd. I'm fine with that. It's when facts become contradictory to the narrative of a tribe that they become a threat. We see this in the way ISIS demolishes any trace of the past.
Narratives have power. We can see this in the power games people play. The grievance-mongering of the SNP requires of it that a retelling of history is required to form a common sense of victimhood. Nobody hates a fact quite like a Scottish Nationalist.
Narratives are essential to tribal identity. Not for nothing do Arab cultures keep weaved records in their prayer rugs and not for nothing do our grand cathedrals have stained glass windows. Narrative is sacrosanct. It is also why the most successful of demagogues are those who are best able to rewrite history. It is why history is so central to politics.
In the latter part of the twentieth century it is well understood that Mrs M Thatcher closed down the mines. It is fair to say that more jobs in the mining industry were lost under Thatcher but the previous Labour administration closed down more actual mines. That is a fact which is to this day ill advised to repeat in some backwater Yorkshire pubs.
In that sense the northern mining towns have a tribal narrative of their own and it is reflected in the way that northerners have continued to vote Labour regardless of the candidate. Only now the mines are long gone and the villages depopulated do we see a weakening of the narrative and consequently a weakening of power.
What I have noticed though is that this dynamic is not by any means confined to the left, nor does it require any particular scale. Groupthink works in much the same way. The Tory hard Brexit clan have their own mantras, their own reading of history and their own narrative. It is one that crosses over into Ukip which for a time was a breakaway Tory tribe. Having spent the last few years contesting their narratives and misconceptions I have seen just how nasty people will get in the defence of their tribal narrative.
Having no tribe of my own nor any particular allegiance to a group, I am thankfully not dogged my this social disorder that seems to affect the majority, but it also makes me more cautious in the knowledge that most people who are not afflicted by Asperger's very much do have a tribe, a narrative and a set of associated mantras whether they know it or not. Consequently one is always very wary of people.
You can forge superficial relationships with people who are in broad agreement but ultimately loyalty is to the tribe and to the narrative and unless you conform you are vulnerable to attack. Not for nothing do they say "never trust a Tory". Tories are every bit as much sheep as the bleating left and they will stab you in the back at any time for any reason if you show signs of non-conformity.
Consequently I find that my very closest friends are either not political at all or believe in notions so utterly dissimilar to my own that there is no compatibility of opposing arguments. We argue past each other over entirely abstract things. That though is a shame because real intrigue only ever comes through conflict and consequently most relationships, though fun, can only ever be superficial.
It is this tribal dynamic which also explains the success of various personalities in politics. Take Owen Jones, Nick Cohen or James Delingpole, Daniel Hannan - or any of the Toryboys who scribble in the Telegraph. These are the court scribes who weave the narratives for their respective tribes, preaching to the devotees what they already believe. It buys them popularity and social standing inside their respective tribes.
By that point, truth and accuracy don't really come into it. It's more a case of preaching to the choir to preserve the perks of social recognition. Dissenters are ostracised and only licensed court jesters may ever speak the truth in the presence of their betters. Conformity is the only means to acceptance.
Each generation has its own high priest, it's unassailable sacred scriptures and each high priest will appoint or her own successor. In most respects we have not evolved very far from apes at all. Politics is merely rival groups of monkeys flinging their own excrement at each other.
The problem being that in a modern and highly sophisticated first world economy, things do need to get done without being tainted by this kind of politics because it depends on accepting certain things that are true without disputing the basics. You couldn't build a suspension bridge without taking gravity as fact. It would be a pretty stupid design if you didn't.
And this is why much governance has been detached from politics and into the realms of technocracy. Nerds shall inherit the earth. As it happens, in most instances, the nerds do a pretty good job of keeping things working and things work considerably less well by introducing politics into it. Dysfunctional as the EU is, the bits that do work would not work at all if the politicians had any influence in it.
In that regard the modern political process is a matter of finding a balance between politics and governance to ensure governance does not become a faceless inhuman bureaucracy making sweeping decisions over the lives of millions without regard to the human costs and sacrifices. That is where our politicians haver dropped the ball and let their shit flinging become all consuming, leaving the technocracy to do as it pleases.
As an Aspergers's "sufferer" I take a keen interest in the mechanisms behind our technocracy - the many tiers of governance that make up something as sophisticated at the single market. It's deeply fascinating. Others are far better at interpreting the laws and treaties that bring it about - but when it comes to the systems I get it better than most. It is this governance that our shit-flinging tribal apes need to be more aware of.
Leaving the EU is far more involved than hammering out a territorial bargain with the continental apes. There are structures and systems to consider along with factors related to their upkeep. The problem is that even suggesting these things exist - which is an objective truth - runs counter to the tribal narrative on the right. Such complications commit the ultimate sin of being counter to the scriptures. And this is why they get so nasty about it.
One thing that marks humans out is their unparalleled savagery in the defence of scripture and orthodoxy. There is no upper limit to the stupidity in conformity. Some may even argue that it is futile to resist. But resist it we must because it is that momentary enlightenment that transcends tribalism - setting us apart from the shit-flingers.
In a purely Darwinian sense, what you are reading here is the words of a loser. One whose wares are not sufficiently simplistic enough to attract a following of devotees. I am the ape shunned from the shrewdness. Reality is the most threatening influence of all. Reality disrupts and disturbs and exposes stupidity for all to see. It must be denied an airing. In any context be it social, political or in the workplace, the illusion of competence must be preserved with all the baubles of prestige. I shall therefore venture forth into the jungle and watch it unfold from the highest branch. The spoils are there for those who are left to tell the story.