The success of failure…the failure of success

Language is an amazing thing…

…whether it’s your own with all the expressive power and beauty that you can summon up in order to communicate or a foreign language that you’re trying to come to grips with.

After 7 months here in France, it’s getting slowly but steadily easier to both understand spoken French and to speak it ourselves.

I find the whole French language ‘experience’ very rewarding and today was great, with an hour-long chat with our neighbour, totally in French, and then arranging a delivery of firewood with M. Thireau at Renaze when I also had to give him directions to our place, again all in French.

Obviously, I’m still exposed to English (we’re not so immersed in the culture that we’re conversing in French at home, and the Sky Box carries all the usual English-speaking channels) and the few ex-pats that we have dealings with – we didn’t move here to get involved in some sort of British enclave – give us a chance to chat in our Mother Tongue from time to time.

However, after intermittently watching British TV here for a few months, I feel forced to ask, what the FUCK has happened to the English language?

In particular, what the FUCK is it with all this ‘heart and soul’ and ‘with passion/passionate about’ shite?

It seems that almost everyone who does anything has done, is doing or will do whatever it is with all their ‘heart and soul’ or that they’re ‘passionate’ about it.

It doesn’t matter what it is, there’s always this self-promoting, self-justifying cack which really doesn’t mean anything after even superficial analysis.

I’ve even heard it justifying total failure where it’s used as some sort of excuse – ‘well, I was really passionate about it’ – as if simply wanting to do something was some sort of key to success. What about skill, talent, practice or self-discipline, for fuck’s sake? 

Everyone, from an X-Factor contestant to a Commonwealth Games competitor, puts their ‘heart and soul’ into their efforts and says so with monotonous regularity  – but how else should they approach their endeavours if they’re serious about gaining success?

But it’s not just that these once valid but sparingly-used expressions of supreme effort and mental dedication have lapsed into cliché – they’re now used to justify lacklustre and mediocre achievement and even abject failure.

Fuck me…I can just about tolerate these expressions from people who clearly make an effort – it’s just lazy speech – but when it’s some obviously talentless twat in a TV talent show then it’s a bit more than just linguistic sloppiness – it’s self-delusion, as they clearly mean it.

Personally, I find it somehow emblematic of a generation, sapped of ambition through a culture of tolerance towards the average and mediocre, which now believes that merely stating that an effort has been made is the same as actually making an effort.

Increasingly low expectations in society  have robbed people of the ability to self-criticise and self-evaluate, with the result that even complete failure can be judged as some sort of success as long as the ‘passion’ was there or that one’s ‘heart and soul’ were in it.

I can clearly remember being told by my parents and teachers that as long as I did my best then it was no shame if I failed, but it seems that today it’s sufficient just to state that you did your best, even though no real effort was made. Thus the individual is taught to deceive himself in a misguided attempt to insulate him from failure.

But it goes even deeper than this.

Decades of deception on the part of successive governments and education experts have created a myth – the myth that no matter what background and/or intellectual capacity an individual has, he or she can be equipped to transcend these specific and often fixed limits and become enabled to achieve success. In essence, it’s a very laudable aim – but impossible to attain unless you lower your sights and redefine success.

A prime example of this can be found in the well-documented practice by some primary schools a couple of decades ago of banishing the competitive element from events like sports day. All participants were considered achievers and given a certificate regardless of whether they’d come first or last.

No-one lost.

But no-one won.

Those who came first were deprived of any sense of achievement and those who came last were deceived into thinking that they’d achieved equal placing with the winners.

Given that these children then entered a competitive society upon leaving school, many of them were ill-equipped to deal with competitiveness in the wider arena of work and other social situations.

(Nowadays, of course, we’re doing the same thing but with university students and Media Studies degrees…)

With educationalists seemingly given carte blanche over the last 50 years or so and government attempts at social engineering (admitted by those responsible in the last three Labour governments of the last 13 years) seeking to introduce equality across the socio-economic strata defined by ethnicity, gender, religion, race, income, environment and education, the British public was sold a monstrous lie – the lie that everyone could be a winner. In purely Darwinian terms this is a patent impossibility and, within the complex social structures of human society, pure fantasy.

Yes, equality of opportunity is a worthy goal, but only within very broad limits. Taking a metaphor from the school sports day example above, you can produce equal placings in a 100 yard dash if you handicap the faster runners with a time or distance penalty, but would those results have any real meaning either to the runners themselves or the doting parents?

Indeed, you could just dispense with entering potential winners in the race and thus ensure that some of the potential losers won – and that’s just what happened when the concept of ‘positive discrimination’ began to manifest itself in job selection, and shortlists and quotas began to specify that only certain groups of people would be considered for certain posts. Thus, those with a proven track record of success or obvious potential were often denied access to certain positions. So, once again, success was left unrewarded and the mediocre – and occasionally the failures – elevated to jobs beyond their skill sets.

Even within government itself, failure appears to be rewarded, with serial incompetents such as David Blunkett and Lord Fondlebum being given new cabinet posts after serious lapses of judgement and after a suitable period of time. Lesser figures in national and local government, finance, the Civil Service and a wide variety of public services seem to be able to escape accountability with impunity and, even when they are unable to continue in their job, often benefit from substantial severance payments and generous pension deals.

Naturally, the media plays a part in this celebration of the mediocre…

On one TV channel you can watch a documentary about the British airmen who fought in the Battle of Britain who really did put their ‘heart and soul’ into what they did, and often lost their lives in the process. Although I don’t doubt that their mental state must have been in turmoil, to say the least, prior to scrambling, nevertheless they just went ahead and flew off to an uncertain fate and possible death.

However, on another channel you can watch the day to day work of a haulage company, Eddie Stobart. I’ve just seen an extract involving the trucking of a load of cream cakes to Tesco in Didcot with the driver nervously saying what a difficult load it was. Now, whilst I have the greatest respect for truckers – with the exception of those fuckers who overtake their colleagues on the motorway with only a 1 mph speed advantage – it’s not exactly a matter of national defence or a process which might well result in death.

So, we celebrate the mundane in the same terms as we celebrate the heroic with few of us aware of the absurdity of it all.

Meanwhile, the absurdity formed after years of social manipulation and the drive for equality at all costs sits like a tumour at the heart of our society – success is largely derided unless it’s approved by a celebrity TV jury and failure is accepted as an inevitable consequence of equality.

Indeed, at times, I’m hard-pressed to tell the difference between success and failure… 

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2 Responses

  1. …it seems that today it’s sufficient just to state that you did your best, even though no real effort was made.

    For many these days, that is the best they can do. Schools now instil the Homer Simpson philosophy of “If a thing is hard to do, then it’s not worth doing”.

    As for the language, well it has been trapped in an eternal loop trying to work out what ‘paradigm’ means in a managerial context, so it can’t save itself. It’s like the old SF joke about wrecking a supercomputer with a phrase like ‘Disregard this statement because all statements I make are false’.

    Newspeak come plussoon, all thinkright doubleplusgood, thoughtcrime unpossible. Thinkright all is, unwin unpossible. All win, unall unwin, equal all is.

    We should never have sent them that book.

  2. “So, we celebrate the mundane in the same terms as we celebrate the heroic with few of us aware of the absurdity of it all.”

    Yesterday, John Demetriou got into it with Duncan Bannatyne over smoking in a Twitter stream. This caused the unhinged Dragon to call Demetriou a man who was ‘dangerous to children’.

    Why? Because he though there was no real harm in smoking near them.

    What the hell, having used up all his stock of outrage and hyperbole on this subject, does Bannatyne use to describe someone like Roy Whiting, then?

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