Michel Gove

Every cloud has a silver lining – just don’t tell the kids

Every cloud has a silver lining.

That’s one of those sayings anyone over the age of 60 probably heard quite a lot when they were growing up, but hardly hears at all now. Like nursery rhymes and coal scuttles it’s one of those things that have gone out of fashion because we have no use for them anymore. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t come back into fashion, because what is says could be very useful in the times we’re living through now.

Every darkness has a brightness within it. Every picture has its shadows and it’s source of light. Every positive has a negative. Every thesis has its antithesis. Every bad has a good, every good has a bad. There is no such thing as a free lunch.

“To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction,” is how the founder of the physical sciences, Isaac Newton, put it in his Third Law of Motion.  The great German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770 –  1831) called it a dialectic. Your grandmother just called it a cloud.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel 1770 – 1831

For those who might not already know, Hegel’s account of reality revolutionized European philosophy and was an important precursor to Marxism.  According to Wikipedia:

…his framework or system of absolute idealism accounts in an integrated and developmental way for the relation of mind and nature, the subject and object of knowledge, psychology, the state, history, art, religion, and philosophy.

In particular, he developed the concept that mind or spirit manifested itself in a set of contradictions and oppositions that it ultimately integrated and united, without eliminating either pole or reducing one to the other. Examples of such contradictions include those between nature and freedom, and between immanence and transcendence.

As a way of thinking that accounts for everything without reducing one to the other or ruling the other out, “every cloud has a silver lining” is not the kind of concept the average 7 year-old would struggle to understand. So when it comes to a core curriculum dedicated to promoting the British value of tolerance, you have to wonder why something about clouds and silver linings wouldn’t be at the top of page one?

As long as we had mothers and grandmothers to teach us these kind of things through nursery rhymes, fairy tales and common sayings whilst we were still sitting on their laps, we didn’t need the likes of Newton or Hegel. But now that mum is out at work helping pay the bills, and grandma got a makeover and went topless with the Calendar Girls, then perhaps we ought to be thinking about integrating something like this into the core curriculum from primary school on?

Trouble is, Michael Gove and his mates wouldn’t tolerate it. A mindset that was a precursor to Marxism? Do me a favour. Leave it out.

Michel Gove
Michel Gove

It’s not because Gove is a right-wing Tory. A Labour politician would find it equally unacceptable but for different reasons, obviously.

Politician of all persuasions have plenty of reasons for preventing people like Hegel, or your old grandmother for that matter, from poisoning young minds.

For one thing, if you know about the dialectic then you know that left and right are both part of the same thing:

… a set of contradictions and oppositions that it ultimately integrated and united.

You can’t have one without the other. They feed on each other. That’s what no politician wants us thinking about.

And you don’t have to go very far down that road before you start realizing that the glass is neither half empty nor half full, it’s both! And even the cloud that hangs over those sad sods who think their  glass is half empty has a silver lining, because they can keep on complaining until the barman fills it up. But as long as they’re happy to pay full-price for half-measures, the barman has no worries at all.

So barmen who want to rip-off their customers need to keep them looking on the bright side, thinking positive, accepting the lesser of two evils and moving on without complaint when they call time.

Neat, don’t you think?

Hegel’s influential conceptions are those of speculative logic or “dialectic”, “absolute idealism”. They include “Geist” (spirit), negativity, sublation (Aufhebung in German), the “Master/Slave” dialectic, “ethical life” and the importance of history.

The Master/Slave dialectic? What’s that all about then? You don’t have to spend too much time wondering about that before you start thinking about how the master/slave dialectic might apply to you. Like Bankers and wage-slaves, Government and the public, or teachers and pupils even? It’s not hard to understand why politicians of all persuasions might want to keep that sort of thinking out of sight and out of mind.

That’s where the likes of Michael Gove come in. That’s what he’s all about. He’s the red-herring. The real Trojan Horse camouflaging the dawn raids by crack troops of the inquisition. The straw man, set up deliberately to be knocked down. The smoke in the smoke-and-mirrors trick. The brightly coloured handkerchief the conjurer waves with one hand while he’s slipping your watch off your wrist with the other. The accidentally-on-purpose collision the pickpocket uses to distract your attention whilst he’s stealing your wallet. The good guy who only wants to protect you from all the bad guys because he loves you.

“So is this good-guys-bad-guys thing another one of those dialectical whatchamacallits?” an average seven year old might ask the Emperor in the new suit.

“Don’t be ridiculous. Who’s been teaching you that nonsense?” the Emperor might reply. “Two plus two equals five. Just remember that and you will be eternally happy and everything will be all right. And if you can’t take a hint and understand that we’re only doing this for your own protection, then we might have to call in Serco, and educate you and your children under a damp towel in Guantanamo instead.”

So what kind of sparkling new suit does Emperor Gove have that Hegel didn’t? How much cleverer must he be that he can’t just philosophise about what we could teach our children, he has to dictate it to every teacher and child across the land? How on earth does he get away with it? Why don’t the teachers object at least?

Well, he has control over Ofsted for starters. You know, the Thought Police or Educational Inquisition. And he makes sure that anyone who can’t obey orders doesn’t get on a teacher training course in the first place. And he’s determined to enforce good-old British values of tolerance, which is why we can’t tolerate anyone who doesn’t share Michael Gove and David Cameron’s idea of tolerance anywhere near a classroom.

Which brings us back to “Every Cloud has a Silver Lining“. You could say it was idealistic nonsense. You could say it was a barbarous relic from a bygone age or an old wives tale. You could say it defied logic. But you couldn’t say it wasn’t worth knowing about.

To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction.

Just because it was a 17th century alchemist and woo-merchant  who said it doesn’t mean it doesn’t apply now!

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