the thought creche

In the metric age, having half baked ideas has become a revolutionary act.



As someone who doesn’t remember whole facts – just some bits, bobs and loose associations – I’ve never been much convinced by our societal obsession with metrics. When it comes to living a meaningful life, you had me at “I’m not sure this is an actual fact but….”



Last week the UK university system was on strike about what those of us in the business of developing people are worth. The culture that now dominates education involves a regime of performance measurement and management plus a corrupted model of student satisfaction. Whatever the experience of the people delivering and receiving this thing called education, the delusion of total satisfaction and full employability has led to the widespread gaming of developmental data and ultimately a gaming of life.



The attraction of this narcissistic model of development is that it is self-determined. Having thoughts and creating stuff no longer requires playing nicely with the other children and their complex ideas. A click and a download – voila knowledge-lite.


I feel an actual physical pain as I fill in hundreds of exam grids and think about the students who started the year stating they had to get a first and ending it physically punching walls when I wouldn’t give them the exam questions. And worse. The shear weight of the irony that I teach mental health at work pressing down hard on my vital organs. Metrics will surely make us mad.


In the Age of the Quantified Self, we are constantly being measured and measure each other. From calories to depressed thoughts, an algorithmic withdrawal from reality where development is just colour by numbers. Authenticity no longer matters to the extent that the quantified self is profoundly preferred over the actual self.



This delusional self-reliance is, I’m going to suggest, the lived experience of neo-liberalism. I’m not technically saying that capitalism is to blame – I think the drive to neatify and deny complexity is inbuilt – but the attempt to fit ourselves into boxes, outputs and numbers is happening in a context of a particular economic model.



Ours is a culture where state regulation of healthcare and education has been swapped for self-regulation on the promise of a powerful control over our lives. The trouble is that for many of us, particularly anyone who has any experience of mental distress, this leaves us without access to help and battling it out with an internal Thatcherite regime. Deregulation becomes widespread, care becomes privatised and I am locked in an isolating self-sufficiency. Under this internal economy there is no such thing as psychic society.



This version of human experience is directly opposed to everything I’ve ever learned about anything at all. Ever.



What I know about human development can pretty much be condensed into two simple facts.



Actual Fact 1: If you ask people what their reality is and listen to the answer you will definitely learn something. Do it enough and you’re facing the prospect of a profoundly loving and political act – to become the change you want to see in the world rather than just banging on about it.



Actual Fact 2: This exchange between people is best done in a containing safe space where you don’t get asked to leave for talking shit and not being productive. A thought crèche if you like, where our half baked buns can be developed safely in an oven. Creating something takes time and the absence of a categorical pressure to hurry up and get your shit together.



Not wishing to come over all pan-sexual on you but having thoughts does all come down to sex. In psychoanalytic thinking there’s an idea of the ‘creative couple’ – an exchange between two different entities bringing something new to life. Far from the narcissistic self-sufficient stuff of multiple choices, this is a belief that any ideas come from an intercourse with life. Whether its other ideas, a photograph or another person, everything we learn comes from some kind of contact with the real world.



Free Association? How very dare you.



Our next day for day-dreaming and talking shit is at The Photographers’ Gallery is on the 16th June. Click HERE for details.




If you cant come, we will miss you but you can still exchange some random thoughts by sending them to our online Thought Crèche. Half baked ideas and not-quite-facts all welcome. Click HERE to submit.


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