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Thursday, 11 November 2010

Education is a riot, not a privilege

Yesterday at university, we studied Thomas De Quincey's 1827 paper "On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts."

Everything in this world has two handles. Murder, for instance, may be laid hold of by its moral handle (as it generally is in the pulpit and at the Old Bailey), and that, I confess, is its weak side; or it may also be treated aesthetically, as the Germans call it — that is, in relation to good taste.
His point here (whether satirical or serious I am unsure) is that we can ask whether something is beautiful, and we can ask whether something is right, and that they are not the same question. This is quite a tricky concept at first, but if you find it truly impossible to accept the 'beauty of murder,' you probably haven't seen Dexter.

Dexter is a programme about a homicidal sociopath, and yet if you watch a few episodes, that stops being the focus. You start to appreciate his craft; to acknowledge the conscientious planning and the skillful execution. You become, as my housemate terms it, a "murder snob."

We can do that, as humans. We can separate the morality of a thing from the beauty of it. It's similar to Orwell's doublethink, and it's something that I've learned to do happily as part of my Higher Education.

I got home from university to find that HE was the subject of inevitable controversy. A peaceful protest in London had turned - er - less peaceful, as an estimated fifty-two thousand students protested the huge hike in the university fee cap (from the current £3,290 a year to £9,000).

They got angry. Some of them got very angry, and while I was too late to see how it started, I sat on the sofa and watched in amazement as students smashed windows and started fires at Millbank tower, which serves as the HQ for the Conservative party.

Our in-house punk was delighted, and it's not hard to see why. For years I thought that our generation had been placated by endless amusement; that youtube had given us all three-minute attention spans, and that I'd never see people my age care about anything as much as teenagers did in the 80s. They didn't particularly look like punks, as I remarked to Ben. He replied "Some of them are wearing jeggings, Anna. JEGGINGS." His point was that these are normal students. They're not a fringe group who identify themselves with rebellion, they are just normal people. At that moment, they were just normal people who had taken over Tory HQ, but still - normal people.

My heart goes out to the police officers who clearly wanted to be anywhere but there. They have a very tough job to do, and it does them credit (and gives me hope) to see that they responded without undue force. That's what separates us from dystopic fiction. (By the way, now's the perfect time to remind you about Little Brother. I bought a paperback copy and I'm lending it to people obsessively.)

On the one hand, it's destructive and morally wrong. I don't hesitate to say that. I can't imagine how frightening it must have been for the people just doing their jobs in the building. My heart also goes out to the police officers who were injured on the job; and as for the twat who threw a fire-extinguisher from the roof - well, he's incredibly lucky nobody died. On the other hand... I'm part of a generation that cares enough to riot.

There were anarchist flags flying from the roof of Tory HQ yesterday, and while that may not be right, isn't it beautiful?

Recommended pictures:
Spanish journalists were on the scene, and got these incredible photos of the occupied building's lobby.
Funny banners and protest signs reflect the mood.


  1. On the subject of morality vs beauty, I'm absolutely with you. On one level, I'm fascinated by the nerve and ingenuity of thieves - I'd happily watch any number of heist movies and I marvel at the sly tricks shown on "The Real Hustle". Actually, I admire such evil and sometimes think of it as mere "mischief" without too much thought for the poor victims.

    So what of this situation, with students rioting against the lofty and seemingly heartless decisions of our government? Again I feel a thrill of "what might happen next?" Will the common people of our nation rise up and actually change something? Who knows - it HAS happened before - (sometimes). And although the violence was horrific, it in no way invalidates the arguments of the thousands who attended the protests.

    On a day like today (remembrance day) - we have cause to look back upon history and see the horror of war and hatred, as well as noble and selfless sacrifice. It is shocking, but it's history... It's how the world works. It's strangely beautiful to see events like this unfold; knowing that there's no script and nobody really knows what happens next.

  2. I'm so glad to hear that you look at it that way. I was afraid that somebody cleverer than me might point out why I'm an emotionally stunted freak for thinking of things like this! Yes, there is definitely a sensation of wondering where things are going to go next... and a certain excitement associated with that.

    Here's to an unknowable future.

  3. Oh, good. I was hoping you'd write about this.

    I was also hoping to be more awake so I could make a remotely decent comment, but too late (for me to be up) now.

    The 'violence' made me that special kind of furious, the one where you know what you're getting angry about was actually just what you expected to happen.
    I felt sorry for all the protesters making their point without being a knobber having things ruined for them by a teenytiny minority of over-excited scamps. While I'm sure they were angry about The Costs Of Doom, I have a feeling this minority were probably more excited about the prospect of breaking things and being able to tell people they broke things.

    I loathe that the press inevitably focus on the violent minority, but it also makes me further frustrated at these 'rioters', because they probably knew this. And I loathe that I seem unable to focus on anything else. I should be able to focus on what was good about it.
    The strength and solidarity of the protest, the unifying nature of so many people who's future will be damaged because of the mistakes of the past coming together. And yes, while I find it hard not to sneer at the Anarchists On The Roof, it does make for a stirring image.
    The most moving part, for me, was seeing the reaction to the Fire Extinguisher Incident. As I watched it drop, I felt a sensation somewhat like falling in a dream, because I was so afraid - not of what could happen if someone was underneath it - but of the reaction. Part of me actually thought it would be met by an almighty cheer - the kind of Neanderthal noise that happens on the last day of Reading Festival when another tent catches alight. I highly suspect many of that 'violent' minority were there a couple of years ago chanting "Angry mob".

    Hearing "Stop throwing shit" might not be particularly poetic, but it warmed my heart that I wasn't watching Idiocy vs Idiocy: The Protest, that people realised the difference between shocking actions and shocking someone into action. The frantic pace of it was stirring, but threatening to play right into the government's dismissive hands. The worse the damage, the easier it would be for Cameron and co to just dismiss the protest because of the actions of a handful. But I'm intrigued to see what comes of it. The criminal damage, the violence against police officers, the vulture-like media attention - that was all very predictable. Predicting what will happen as a result isn't so clear.

    Apologies, I had intended to address your content more, but I appear to have just ranted. This ramble is brought to you by the number 2am, and my insomniac days seem so far behind me. *sniffle*
    I'll probably come back and be a bit more relevant after a sleep and a reminisce about when I could write until 4am without noticing all the "I am Jack's" quotes I was mumbling.

    Your blog posts continue to make me go "Ooooh... good."

  4. I like the above rant

    However I would like to point out that the use of the phrase "Neanderthal noise" may not be fully appropraite since recent research has shown that Neanderthals would have had higher and more nasal voices than those of modern humans.

  5. I was IN central London on Wednesday. I don't know how I missed this happening. And for some reason, I don't know whether to be relieved or disappointed that I did...

  6. I love the term 'murder snob'. :)

  7. It was daft to get violent, but oh, the warm snuggly tingly feeling at my core to realise the mob can still be roused against the throne <3 *squeaks with unmanly joy*

    Murder, being an act of ultimate controversy and perhaps the greatest risk of all to the individual (legally and physically).. Inevitably becomes both an art and a craftform, if viewed objectively - due to the intensity of the experience and the rigorous demands of intelligent thought and self-discipline necessary to get away with it. I can't wait to finally watch Dexter, I've heard so much about him ;)

    Moralists can respect the training of the armed forces, but will deny the skill and ingenuity in the deed of the individual, unaffiliated with a governing authority.. Silly moralists!

    ... Also red is the most beautiful colour ._.

  8. Thanks for the comments, guys! Really interesting to hear your takes on it, and I'm very relieved that none of you have outright called me a bad person. ;) One of the girls on my course actually got pushed into Millbank by the crowd at one point; hearing her account of the event was fascinating!


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