Friday, 29 March 2013

Part XXXIII - The Vulgarity of Innovation

This is a series about a book, Theory of the Leisure Class, by American economist Thorstein Veblen. He titled Chapter Eight Industrial Exemption and Conservatism.

In the last post we started talking about societies' development from pressure to change.  In modern society this pressure is economic. The leisure class is 'exempt from industry', ie their income is not earned, and so this class is largely sheltered from economic pressures.  This allows them not to change, making this class largely conservative.

Veblen goes on to say that altered conditions brought about by social changes may benefit the group as a whole, but generally will result in a decrease 'of facility or fullness of life for some members of the group'.  Those at risk of losing from the change have the most incentive to accept new standards and in doing so to hopefully shape the new customs to their own advantage.  Veblen refers to the lower classes, but he means the middle class when he talks about people who try to create and direct change to their own advantage.  I don't recall that Veblen ever uses the term 'middle class' but he does talk about the 'business class'.

At first when Veblen is describing why the leisure class is resistant to change one things he's almost defending them, saying this is not due to any 'unworthy motive' such as protecting their own interests by maintaining present conditions.  He says that revulsion to change is instinctive in all men and only overcome by stress of circumstances. 
“All change in habits of life and of thought is irksome.”

If we weren’t all subject to the forces of economic urgency none of us would choose to change our ways.

Conservatism is an obvious feature of the wealthy class.  The wealthy class set the standard for what is respectable and desirable and therefore it is more respectable to be conservative
“… it is imperatively incumbent on all who would lead a blameless life in point of social repute. Conservatism, being an upper-class characteristic, is decorous; and conversely, innovation, being a lower class phenomenon, is vulgar.”

Even in cases where there is substantial merit in the case for innovation, particularly when 
“…the evils which he seeks to remedy are sufficiently remote in point of time or space or personal contact — still one cannot but be sensible of the fact that the innovator is a person with whom it is at least distasteful to be associated, and from whose social contact one must shrink. Innovation is bad form.”

I love that last sentence!

“The fact that the usages, actions, and views of the well-to do leisure class acquire the character of a prescriptive canon of conduct for the rest of society, gives added weight and reach to the conservative influence of that class. It makes it incumbent upon all reputable people to follow their lead. So that, by virtue of its high position as the avatar of good form, the wealthier class comes to exert a retarding influence upon social development far in excess of that which the simple numerical strength of the class would assign it.”

Some of the proposed changes that Veblen mentions that would (do any of these phrases seem familiar?) “… shake the social structure to its base … reduce society to chaos … subvert the foundations of morality … make life intolerable … confound the order of nature…” in 1899 were an interesting list:

the disestablishment of the Anglican Church
an increased facility of divorce
adoption of female suffrage
prohibition of the manufacture & sale of intoxicating beverages
abolition or restriction of inheritances

Any of this sound familiar?

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Book about Doing Stuff

I see I never did quote the list of books I took with me to France and at this point I probably can't name them all.  I took copious notes from two of them, both about getting things done, but neither to do with David Allen.  I'm a real sucker for personal development books but, much like my watching an exercise video sitting in my house robe, I won't claim that I put a great deal of the theory into practice.

Much of Richard Templar's How to Get Stuff Done without Trying Too Hard is the common place stuff we all know, but I did learn a few new ideas, or at least thought about some things differently.  You might guess it was that last part that attracted me to choose this book...

Have a Routine.  Walk the dog at the same time each day, check emails after lunch, change the bed sheets on Sunday afternoon, etc.  The more routines, the less effort is involved in keeping track.  I know I have a small routine for housework which involves tidying the bedroom, bathroom and kitchen, mainly about clearing surfaces.  When I'm 'in the zone' doing this, it is practically effortless because it's a habit.  I know how I want those rooms to look and so it's not hard to make them so.  (The rooms I've not figured how I want them to look, well, they don't fare so well).

Do Little and Often.  He talks about putting things away and doing filing before they build up into big jobs.  I've also found this to be helpful when tackling big jobs.  Lately I've been working in the garden, something I want to like but I'm not sure I do.  I don't seem to mind it once I get started though.  I've been trying to make this a follow up to a short run when I'm warmed up.  I put on wellies and water-proof trousers and gloves and work until I've gathered a set number of bags of debris, then I stop before I'm exhausted and fed up.  

How to Make a To-Do List.  The first three things on your list should be 1.  Something quick, 2. Something you'll enjoy, 3. Something you've already done.  With three things ticked off the list, the rest looks more do-able.  I've tried this once and it was fun.  On the other hand, another idea he has is Do the Worst Thing First.  Not nearly as much fun...

How to Tidy.  If your mother, like mine, had other priorities than housework perhaps his system would be helpful.  a) have a bin bag, b) do related objects first (all books put away, then clothes, toys, trash, etc.), c) do specific areas, ie floors, surfaces, each one at a time, d) make a pile of what you don't know what to do with and leave this to the last and make decisions, e) make a pile of things going to other rooms, one for each room, and tackle this last so as not to be distracted.  Do d and e together.   

Be Decisive about Mess.  He says if we were clear about what we were doing, when we were finished with things, what they were for, where they lived and so on, there'd be no clutter.  That's how all those 'busy but tidy' people do it...  How many times have I picked something up, dithered about where to put it and then put it down again without making any decision.  I'm gradually getting better at making decision.  This bit of Templar's book really hit me between the eyes.

Ditch the Eco-Guilt.  I have wasted a lot of my time trailing to the recycling bin with every tiny scrap of paper to be sure nothing is wasted - except of course for hours of my life.  We are lucky here in that paper, glass, old batteries, textiles, a lot of metals and plastics can go straight into a recycling bin that is collected every two weeks.  I've visited several landfill sites and the surrounding areas through my work and I saw an appalling amount of stuff that was probably still usable, had it not been junk to start with.  I try very hard not to add to Britain's landfill sites unnecessarily.  On the other hand, when I'm done with something and it's not appropriate for a charity shop (they throw away an awful lot of the stuff they are given), it needs to go into the trash and I need to just do that.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Crafty Saturday

I spent this past Saturday, along with friends Vivien and Lucy, at a sewing workshop. I thought it would be a teacher-led class about how to use all the feet that come with your sewing machine.  However, it ended up being a play-around-and-try-out-a-bunch-of-stuff on your own day. 

Re-using tea bags...

I learned a few ideas:

Re-cycling trash bags

Sewing Circles:  Use masking tape to fasten a thumb-tack (Brits call them push-pins) pointy side up a few inches from the presser foot; I did it on the bed to the right of the needle, but I suppose some arrangement could be made to the left if you wanted a bigger circle.  Iron some stabilizer to a bit of fabric, then place under the needle and secure on the thumb-tack. If you don't have stabilizer, you might have some luck with putting a couple of pieces of fabric into a small-ish embroidery hoop to hold it stiff.  Choose a decorative stitch and begin sewing - the fabric pretty much takes care of itself and - all going well - you should have a perfect circle, the size defined by the distance between the thumb-tack and the needle.  It's a decorative thing I haven't thought of a practical use for as yet, but it looks cool.

More trash bags

Multi-threading:  Did you know it's not very hard to get more than one thread through your machine needle? One lady managed three!  It's just another fun variation on decorative stitching.  My machine doesn't have the multiple thread spool holders that some others do, but I managed a second thread on a bobbin on the bobbin thingy (if you sew, you'll know what I mean).

I could make this, but I'd never come up with the idea.

Cording:  You get some pretty cool effects zig-zagging over yarns, ribbons, cords and affixing them to fabrics.  If you are artistic, this can be another tool for you.  Also, just zig-zagging over cord alone with different colours produces some fun effects and makes the ordinary cord quite pliant, almost in a wire sort of way.  A sewing book I have talks about making children's jewelry with this cord, but I don't think Charlotte's old enough to appreciate this yet.

We know Gaynor; she's also on Pinterest

The best tip, though, was rather surprising to me.  I was in a room full of women who have sewn, knitted, embroidered for probably an average of 20-30 years, some are members of the local Embroiderers' Guild.  Almost every one of them - and the three of us - benefited a great deal from just reading the instruction manual that came with our machines from cover to cover.  I found out there were sewing feet in that little box at the back of my machine I'd never noticed.  Some ladies just did samplers of the various stitches their machines did - and there were some impressive machines there.   I did actually read mine when I first got the machine, at least the first few pages, but I'd forgotten a lot of it and never finished reading.  I must admit I only took note of the 'care of your machine page'...  

The photos here are from an exhibit at the Customs House in South Shields that Lucy and I visited in January.  There are a lot more photos, but they will have to wait for another day.

Nice little mice, by friend Lesley!

Friday, 22 March 2013

Part XXXII - The Leisure Class and Conservatism

This is part of a series about a book, Theory of the Leisure Class, by American economist Thorstein Veblen.  He titled Chapter Eight Industrial Exemption and Conservatism.

Social adaptation, selective adaptation, is not just something that occurs among individuals but also applies to institutions, a ‘…natural selection of the fittest habits of thought…’.  Institutions are products of the past and therefore never quite in tune with current thinking.  While they are shaped by prevailing attitudes, institutions also prevail upon people to change and so are in themselves shapers of society. 

Can you remember when you first learned something that changed your outlook?  I can remember when I was young thinking that an institution was a large building.  When I learned some of the other definitions I felt I’d acquired a new awareness.  Perhaps I was always meant to be interested in sociology, in human populations.

- A custom, practice, relationship, or behavioral pattern of importance in the life of a community or society, ie the institutions of marriage and family.
-(informal) One long associated with a specified place, position, or function.
- An established organization or foundation, especially one dedicated to education, public service, or culture.

The evolution of society comes about through pressure upon individuals to change their ways.  These changes are made reluctantly and tardily, as a response to a stimulus.  The pressure for change is often economic, eg the need to get work, to keep a position, etc.  While in earlier societies there may have been other drivers, Veblen views the pressures for change in a modern society to be economic forces.

The capacity for change in social structures relates to the capacity for pressures to impact upon various members of the society.  The leisure class is sheltered from this economic pressure and so does not feel the need for change as much as other classes might. The fact that they are ‘exempt from industry’, not having to work for a living, places them in this privileged position of not having to suffer the pains of change.  Veblen makes a stark statement:
 “The leisure class is the conservative class.”

I made it through several decades of my life not knowing what was meant by the political term ‘conservative’.  I didn't really want to know anything about all that, it was far too serious!  Growing up in Oklahoma, I only ever heard the term liberal with the prefix ‘bleeding-heart’ (my Dad's closest  friend was one of those, but they were still best buddies). Asking me then what ‘conservative’ meant was like asking a fish to describe water.  It was only after moving to a possibly even more conservative area, Utah, that I began to recognise the political concept at all.  So, I will stop pause here and give a dictionary definition:

- Favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change.
- Traditional or restrained in style.

As my friend Vivien might say, there is Conservative with a capital C and conservative with a little c, except I think she talks about Politics and politics.  I’ve forgotten and I’ll have to ask her about that again sometime.  I'm still no expert on this, but I am assuming that Veblen's leisure class is both conservative by nature and Conservative in vote.  

In any case, because the leisure class is not required to change their habits and views to suit the demands of an altered world, they are not fully part of the community in the same way as are the people who need to work to earn money.

Veblen goes on to say that not only is the leisure class the conservative class, in that
“The office of the leisure class in social evolution is to retard the [social] movement and to conserve what is obsolescent.”
I don't know how well this statement might apply to the modern day wealthy class, though I suspect it probably does.  One could say that the monarchy here is obsolescent.  Regardless of how much one might admire the Queen, she doesn't rule, she reigns.

That institution started down the slippery slope of redundancy practically with the signing of the Magna Carta and certainly with the English Civil War (beheading of Charles I) and the Glorious Revolution (deposition of James II).  The universal right  to vote has gradually chipped away at the perquisites of land owners.  (There isn't a lot of land here in Britain, so to own sizable bits is a definite hallmark of wealth) .  More recently there has been the reform of the House of Lords; opposed, of course, by the Conservative Party.

Can you think of ways Veblen's statement applies to the leisure class of other countries?

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

A Pink House, a Gatehouse, a Chateaux and Home

One of our last days in France, we visited the Chateau de Meursault.

Well, the outside anyhow.  

It seemed dishonest to taste their wine when we had no intention of buying. I'm not even certain they were open for business.

On the way there I fell in love with this pink house.

With a tower in the back garden.

What kind of person gets excited about an ornate gold arrow?

I wonder if it had a purpose at one time.

The Chateau was almost boring by comparison, I thought, to the pink house next door.

Also compared to the gatehouse, apparently derelict.

A big beige house...but with nice windows and shutters!

I think they are really missing a trick letting that gatehouse go to ruin.

Grand as the chateau may be, I much preferred the gatehouse.  

Bill has definite negative views about ivy and walls, but I still think it's lovely.

And the trees!

I feel peaceful, just looking at this.

 There is a great deal to love in France, but it was finally time to go home.  You may be sad  - or glad - to know this is the last post about this trip to France.  

We traveled north to Amsterdam as fast as we could, stopping as little as possible.  In the last few hundred miles - and I can still see that stretch of long, downward winding road - we 'lost' fifth gear.  

First the gear shift wouldn't stay in fifth gear and then Bill forced it.  I did wonder what the consequences of that might be, but driving all the way home in fourth wasn't an attractive proposition either.  Somehow fifth gear ceased to exist.  I pictured some little piece of metal  from the transmission left on the road behind us.  So fourth had to suffice after all.  Not a major problem, but very noisy.  Back in England, replacing the transmission wasn't cheap, but boy was the ride quieter!  

Storing the motor home over the winter halves the road tax; it's almost time to get it out and hit the road again!

Monday, 18 March 2013

The Best Bit of Manchester...

[Warning:  loads of photos, presented in no particular order.]

This has to be the best part of Manchester, well, the best bit we found on this trip (aside from Charlotte, of course).  

Every alcove had these wonderful light fixtures.

Each alcove had book shelves and desks...and real live 
students - how I envied them getting to study here.

A stone carved ceiling

I saw this place, the reading room of John Rylands Library, in a list of beautiful libraries and have wanted to visit for ages.  

From the labyrinth of hallways

Ceiling panel from an alcove

Art nouveau radiator grill?

The John Rylands library is part of the University of Manchester.  

I do miss card catalogs...

Each alcove either side of the central passage
is a wonderous and somehow private place.

I've saved this post to the last, and so we'll be done with this trip to Manchester. (But first more pictures!)

White statue is Mrs. Rylands

A domed ceiling

The amazing thing I discovered in drafting this post is that John Rylands had nothing to do with this place other than providing the money to build it.

Out in the halls.

I mentioned earlier that textiles were big in Manchester following the industrial revolution.

Rylands was Manchester's first multi-millionaire and he made his money in the family's textile firm.

Charlotte liked the library, too.  She even knew to be quiet.

Rylands was married three times.  

His first wife gave him his six children, but all pre-deceased him, as did his first two wives.

I couldn't decide which was her best side...

This library was built in his memory by his widow, Enriqueta Augustina Tennant Rylands, the daughter of a Cuban mother and a Yorkshire merchant father.

John Ryland at the other end of the room.

She inherited the bulk of his estate, worth anywhere between £224 million and £1.1 billion (retail price index vs. average wages) in today's money, and became a major shareholder in the family textile company and in Manchester Ship Canal.

I'm thinking that it should be called the Enriqueta Rylands Library or at least the John and Enriqueta Rylands Library.  

In my next life, this will be the way to my office

Or maybe the Manchester Harry Potter Library.

And this will be my office door.

Don't you think?