Stories May Change but Metaphor Lingers On
PublishedJanuary 19, 2016 CategoryArts Social Action

Stories May Change but Metaphor Lingers On

If a week is a long time in politics, then the years since the last financial meltdown in 2008 have been an eternity. Another such may now be on its way.

Austerity has burned deep and cruelly into lives and services, made infinitely worse by the obscene inequalities splintering our societies and progressively enriching a tiny minority of our citizens at the expense of most. Worse still, our hopes and plans for future generations are being blighted.

All this, by a regime in denial of the gratuitous hardship being heaped on the most vulnerable and arrogantly deaf to more informed or more compassionate counsel.

They seem mainly focussed now on the dizzying prospect of retaining power, by the gerrymandering of constituencies and slow atrophy of our democratic processes.

Still, in the rigidly maintained neo-con ideology of our iron chancellor, this was our necessary penance to the gods of deficit reduction, whom we less righteous had wrongly supposed banished in the 1930s.

So what joyful celebrations there were in Downing Street (and hopes in our proliferating food banks?) at his confident announcement in his November 2015 Autumn Statement that Britain was “out of the red and back in the black…” and his idiot critics finally confounded.

As it happened, any euphoria was rapidly dissipated as we took down our Christmas decorations and the evidence widened of our dangerously under-invested flood defences. By Thursday 7 January, the chancellor had stood his Autumn Statement on its head and announced instead a “dangerous cocktail of new threats to growth…”; that the economy was at “mission critical…” to all but the complacent – precisely the downbeat scenario he had previously laughed to scorn.

Behind the well-attested downturn in China, political crises across Europe and the Middle East, there was little on the less acknowledged factors of our own unbalanced economy, investment decline, low productivity and rampant policy confusions in education, health, local government and social services.

If you are detecting a slight tone of exasperation in this blog so far, your senses are not betraying you.

It was in August 2014, and after 3 years probing and exploring the role of poetry in these critical times, that we announced the Arts Social Action blog initiative, widening the appeal to all who see themselves as members of the arts community and pleading that they consider a more proactive role, with fuller deployment of their special gifts of communication in response to these growingly divisive pressures on our fellow citizens.

We have had some success, and reached out to many through our long sequence of blogs (listed and available here). This will continue; but there is no doubt that these predominantly illiberal neo-con regimes, like our own, still dominating major established and developing economies, are moving fast to exploit the potentials of ‘globalisation’ (through TTIP and other semi-covert, corporatist alliances) to subvert the more open, democratic freedoms we need and thought we had.

So there is an even more urgent job to be done by all of us who occupy some space in our arts communities; and this is no longer entirely an altruistic need, distant from our own more direct artistic interests.

For in another, insufficiently debated, Government policy initiative – the push to get the EBacc adopted in Britain for the heavy majority (90%) of secondary pupils – there is wide concern, as expressed by actors and musicians in the Times last week. This qualification lacks any ‘creative’ component and effectively prevents student access to the art potentials of other subject areas.

The Creative Industries Federation, with its primary mandate to maintain the economic performance and earnings of a healthy ‘arts’ industry, is usefully ‘up-in-arms’ about this; but the real threat goes much deeper into the needs and sensitivities of our school – and eventual adult – populations.

We can agree with John Kampfner (CIF’s Chief Executive) at least on this –

“It should not be possible for a school to be deemed outstanding if its students are deprived of a quality cultural education, in and out of the curriculum…”

These deeper consequences were raised here, in an October 2012 blog (Silent Springs and the Autumn of Creativity) where I explained the centrality of metaphor to all creative processes, and therefore to ‘creative education‘.

“…in exploring the significance of ‘metaphor’ as a key catalyst in the processes of scientific and creative search and discovery I referred to the work of Lakoff and others in the field of linguistics on the human need to understand abstract concepts by metaphorical extensions of physical experience’. Metaphor is not merely a decorative element in literature, but fundamental to the very way we think and act.”

This was prompted by the then 50th anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’ in September 1962. This, and her courageous exposure of DDT and other synthetic fertilisers killing our birds, launched the ecological movement which got us to the Paris Climate Change Summit in 2015.

It was Jay Griffiths, writing in the Guardian at that time (26th September 2012) who best articulated the creative connection…

“In silenced forests, in silenced seas, in silenced springs, the human mind loses its thoughtways, risking the extinction of metaphors, losing the resonance of language…. The web of life is also the web of thought… the human mind needs nature in order to think most deeply…”

So there must be no copping-out, no giving-up, on the imperative of resisting these small-minded attempts to curtail our creative horizons, and those of our children, teachers, schools and colleges.

A further dimension of these threats – in the Governments so-called ‘Green Paper on Higher Education’ – is clinically exposed by Stefan Collini in January’s London Review of Books.

At least we can take comfort at the news that the self-appointed Great and Good of the World’s Leaders are about to meet again for their annual love-in in Davos, with the usual small sprinkling of women for the photo-calls.

So, let us pray….

Come save us, Lord, if yet you can,
From pestilential Davos-Man,
This yearly tryst by Alpine fires
Of well-healed Inequality deniers’
Agog for more of ad-man Sorrell’s
‘Because-they-know-we’re-worth-it’ morals.

What ‘World’ is it that claims a quorum
In this ‘World Economic Forum’?
Where are the women (one-in-five?)
Keeping its sexist dreams alive?
How many cocktail hours elapse
Before these obscene earnings gaps
Stir to some reluctant action
This bonus-fat financial faction?

Pray, grant us lesser-fry the wills –
(Us don’t-get-ins, but-pay-the-bills–)
To keep in mind when next we’re voting
This noxious cosying and doting,
When spineless politicians meet
These self-styled corporate elites;
Pre-groomed for peak-time camera focus,
Deep-versed in PR hocus-pocus.

Above all, may it be Thy wish
To raise, above their gibberish,
Those richer voices, dimmed of late,
Who want their World back, and its fate;
So other kids can go to bed
Well fed with, ringing in their head,
Stories of how an old god winked,
Pronouncing Davos-Man extinct.

From ‘Davos Man’ Ralph Windle 2014