Last week, I was interviewed by the Beeb about the strikes. Here I am, with the TV cameras making some pretty persuasive points. When the Six O’clock News came on though, they’d cut me out, and only included one of the humans saying that she thought that if there was a pensions deficit, it should be redressed with the Vice Chancellors’ enormous salaries. Cutting me out was a missed opportunity, in my opinion.
In contrast, the Guardian got it right, and put a picture of my friend Rosie on the front page.
Who could refuse Rosie pension biscuits?
One of the things the BBC cut out from my human's interview was that the deficit only needs to be redressed in this way if we accept that there is a deficit. That this point wasn’t made is part of a wider trend for the media to represent the pensions dispute in the following way:
As Tom Stern and Luke Fenton-Glynn point out, the sensible response to this situation would be to say to the workers: “Well, of course you don’t want to lose £10,000 per year in retirement. Who does? But, if the money’s not there, the money’s not there.”
But the fact that there’s a deficit is far from obvious or certain – deficits are not just like overdrafts, where you can quickly check whether you’re overdrawn or not. Instead, that there is a deficit is based on speculation about the future, and of course the future is really hard to gauge. The alleged deficit in the pensions dispute is based on some really unlikely speculations – for example, that a number of major universities will simultaneously go bust.
Stern and Fenton-Glynn draw an analogy here to the possibility that there might be a ‘food deficit’ in your cupboard. If the shops maintain usual opening hours, or there are people who will deliver, there’s probably no reason to worry about your supplies. But if there’s a big emergency – say a nuclear war – then it’d turn out you had a food deficit because you didn’t have enough cans to tide you over till crops could be regrown or aid supplies sent. But you probably haven’t invested all your money in building a nuclear bunker and filling it with cans – in fact, someone who had might be considered ‘recklessly cautious’, or just plain silly.
On the subject of silliness, I like pretending there’s an imminent crisis, and burying my bones so that I’d have a good supply. But I think this is probably an example of a useful or fun fiction or pretence. Human philosophers have sometimes understood all sorts of things as a bit like this: from mathematics to religion, possibilities, talk about morality, and even dogs writing blogposts. Whether or not they're right (silly humans - as though it's not true that 2+2=4, or that I write this blog) it's an interesting position. Perhaps I’ll it about that another time.
In the meantime, you can find Stern and Fenton-Glynn’s great piece about the pensions dispute here.
There is nothing I like more than spending time with other dogs, playing and discussing the problems of philosophy. Here I am this morning:
Dogs are pack animals. We do not like to be alone. I don't think that humans really like to be alone either, but they sometimes give the impression that they do. I've written about this before. The sad fact that humans can so easily become fragmented and isolated from each other can be seen very clearly in the way they organise their work.
The human philosopher Marx wrote about alienated labour, about the fact that the way humans work in capitalist society separates them from things in a way that is damagaing to them. Marx thought that workers under capitalism are alienated from the objects of their work, from their human nature, from the natural environment, and crucially from each other.
Think about it like this. I am a dog philosopher - I don't really think of this as a job. It's more who I am. I philosophise with other dogs and with my humans; I pour out my thoughts on this blog, and it comes as naturally to me as woofing or chasing a ball. Philosophy, for me, is like play. If I was a human philosopher, I would do my philosophy in exchange for money for a university run - as they are these days - like a business. This would set me against other humans. I would compete with other human philosophers for scarce jobs, and however magnanimous I tried to appear, this would affect the way I interacted with them. I think this competition can make human philosophers aggressive (you should see some of the referee reports my humans get from journals) and always out to prove themselves. It would give me a strange relationship to students - unlike the excellent relationship I have with readers of this blog, I would have a kind of supervisory, sometimes even disciplinary, role towards students who, because of the fees they are paying, would be tempted to regard themselves as consumers: they would be constantly anxious about exam results, debt, their future..., I would be anxious about their feedback, the prospects of complaint... Then, of course, I would be set against my employer who, whatever the rhetoric may be, have an interest in spending as little money on me as possible. So, for example, Universities UK are plundering the pensions of the human philosophers they employ. Which is why they, along with other human academics and academic related staff are on strike tomorrow.
Strikes, I think, make humans more sensibly dog-like. They bring people together. On a picket line, students can stand alongside their lecturers. Those who teach students have to appeal to them for solidarity, engaging as equals. Strikers learn from each other. People support one another: workers, students, supporters. At events like teach outs - I'm appearing in one at Leeds - education becomes something done for its own sake, not for exams, not for money, simply for the joy of it: it becomes like philosophy done my way. The silly divisions humans make around sex, sexuality, race, and religion seem not to matter when they are all fighting together for their rights. For all the sacrifices they involve, strikes are exhilirating experiences, they show us a way of doing things differently (as a character in the film Made in Dagenham puts it, they "show us how things could be"). And, of course, they are an excellent way of standing together against injustice: in this case the plundering of pensions by those penny-pinching Vice-Chancellors.
However I worry about humans. I spend a lot of time with human academics. The way they work is isolating and individualistic, very un-doglike (and, in actual fact, very unlike how human philosophy was done classically, in academies, market places, and debating chambers). It will be all too easy for them over the coming weeks to shut themselves away and get despondent, to think they have no prospect of changing things, to convince themselves they are damaging their students (which is of course, what university managers want them to believe: students meanwhile are themselves incredibly supportive of the strike), and generally to talk themselves into defeat.
The solution to loneliness - and all of this is just a sophisticated, politicised, form of loneliness - is, as dogs have long realised, coming together. So I think that human philosophers should join in strike activities: come to picket lines, take part in teach outs, organise benefit gigs and so on. And I think other humans should support the strikers. You can find out how to do that here. In doing this, you'll not only be helping future elderly philosophers (this raises interesting questions about the metaphysics of future humans: I might write about this some time), you'll also be protesting against a society that turns everything, including education, into a commodity. Just remember, for dogs philosophy is like a game.
Mental walkies with Lola,