Thursday, 31 December 2015

The Economics of the 'Lock-in'

I'm in charge of the pub for a couple of weeks while my boss is in Cuba. I don't know why I get left in charge when clearly everybody else has a better idea of how to run the place than I do. Take 'lock-ins'. Everybody loves a lock-in. The Landlord locks the doors and carries on serving drinks well after closing time. 

If I ran a pub that was licensed until 12.30am, I would only advertise that we were open until midnight. That way every night people would get to feel like they were in a lock-in, but I wouldn't have to break the law.

Lock-ins make sense for landlords, because they get to keep all the money. If I stay open another hour, I get about six quid after tax and national insurance contributions and student loan repayments are deducted. Plus, in the the unlikely event of a bust, I would lose my licence to sell alcohol. Clearly not worth my while. I much prefer a calm hour reading or an hour's sleep to six pounds and the chance to watch drunk people play pool badly.  

I don't explain this to anyone obviously. I just ring the bell at closing time and watch their incredulity when I refuse to serve them ten minutes later. This is the point where they explain that my boss would always definitely give them a drink at that hour. I am working on a facial expression that contains all the information in the above paragraph but I'm worried it looks a bit like my "I couldn't give a..." facial expression.

None of this matters tonight of course, because tonight is what they call in the East: Old Year's Night. And therefore anything could happen... as long as you remember to buy the staff a drink!

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Plato, Deindividuation and the Christmas Jumper


Plato, as is usually the case, was onto something when he argued in The Republic that morality is not just a social construct. In the dialogue, Plato has Socrates repudiate Glaucon's assertion that anybody relieved of social constraints (in his example, by being in possession of a ring that conferred on its owner the power of invisibility) would no longer act morally. Socrates achieves this (8 books and a long digression into the workings of the imagined perfect state later) by demonstrating smugly that whilst societies have a social contract that we tend by and large to live by, this is not the basis for justice: the capacity for good and evil lies within ourselves. Pace Tolkien: the owner of the ring who chooses not to use it is not enslaved to his passions and therefore happier.  


A couple of Millennia later, Twentieth Century psychologists were interested in the mental state of people who indulged in antisocial behaviour. Following on from the ideas of Gustave Le Bon, many speculated about the concept of deindividuation. This is a supposed state of mind that can cause an individual to act differently when they perceive that nobody can identify them. It was speculated that this state of deindividuation might be induced when an individual was wearing a mask or was part of a large crowd. It was claimed that the concept could explain the losses of personal responsibility (the kind lauded by Socrates) that lead to incidents such as looting and rioting by crowds made up of individuals who never exhibited such behaviour in other circumstances.


So masks and crowds cause deindividuation - a state in which one does not feel responsible for one's actions. To this list, I would like to add a third factor: the Christmas Jumper.


In the Nineties, the Christmas jumper was a laughable object. Contemporary sources such as Harry Potter and Bridget Jones's Diary exhibit the wearers of these items as either nerdily unaware of how uncool they are or coolly ashamed to be wearing
it to please mum.

In the early Twenty-first Century, people started wearing them ironically. Hipsters scoured second-hand shops to get their hands on authentically gaudy ones. Then the supermarkets realised they were missing a trick and suddenly they were everywhere

About four years ago, alongside the usual tinsel ties and santa hats, I started noticing Christmas jumpers adorning the torsos of some of the office party pubcrawls that all bartenders dread at this time of year. 


And the behaviour of these crowds has gotten much worse. I put it down to deindividuation caused by wearing a Christmas jumper. The Christmas jumper bestows on its wearer the anonymity of the festive season - pubcrawling into pubs they have never been in before and are unlikely to revisit enhances the effect - before you know it, you have a pub full of middle-aged businessmen twerking and asking junior employees inappropriate questions about what they like to do with their thumbs during sex.  


During his digression about the perfect state in The Republic, Plato concludes that the state should be ruled by philosophers because they are the smartest guys around. This seems the tiniest bit self serving. I might as well argue that bartenders should run things because governments should serve the people and nobody has more experience serving the people than the bartenders. Actually that is a brilliant idea. My first decree: a ban on Christmas jumpers (tinsel ear-rings and elf boots still acceptable).

Merry Xmas!

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

To bomb or not to bomb?

Er... Not to bomb. That was easy.

I suppose it should no longer astonish me that the standard response to an atrocity such as that committed in Paris last month is to massively increase the budget of the military industrial complex that does so much to increase misery around the world. "There's been a horrific shooting in Paris? Quick we better buy some more bombs."  

How the hell is bombing Syria supposed to alleviate any of the problems of recent months? 

The Jihadists that radicalised the young men who went on the killing spree in Paris want the West to go to war. For them, a bombing campaign on a predominately Muslim country is a recruitment campaign. Dissatisfied young British men and women have already been slipping away by the hundreds to go and fight the Assad regime that has caused so much pain in Syria. Some of them have joined Isis. Some of them have joined other groups with different interests and ideals. The troops in Syria that are not with Assad and not with Isis are not a unified group following one command. Bombs are not the most discriminating of weapons and rely on accurate information coming from the ground. Who is to supply that information?

Something else is going on here. It is possible to see the whole bombing response as part of a broad neo-liberal agenda to move great swathes of public money into the hands of the privately owned arms manufacturing companies. But even seen in these cynical terms... it seems a spectacularly ill-advised way to proceed. Money means more to these people than morality, that much is obvious. But more than the safety of the streets of their own cities? Apparently so.

What about the other great crisis of Europe's near future? The number of migrants fleeing their war-torn country will not be reduced by contributing to the warfare that is tearing up the country from which the migrants are fleeing. 

MPs are debating now. You won't hear much about the neo-liberal agenda of the military industrial complex from that lot. Cameron will be making the moral case for war. Because wars can be moral now since Tony Blair said so in 1998.