Robert Lautner (2017) The Draughtsman.

the draughtsman.jpg

This is simple fiction based on a first-person account of what if, running to almost 500 pages. In a way it fits in with other books I’ve been reading, with the idea of the self and better self, living the same life, but making different -moral- choices. Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty First Century was at it quoting reams of Balzac and the conundrum if you needed to torture a Chinese person on the other side of the world, to get what you wanted… Julian Glover was at it in the biography Man of Iron, Thomas Telford and the Building of Britain. Thomas Telford’s mum reckoned if you were an honest man you could look the devil in the eye. I’d laughed at that because I couldn’t and wouldn’t. I know my limitations. I’d skulk away.

But what if you were Ernest Beck, it’s April 1944, you’ve graduated from university, newly married to Etta, the honeymoon stage and your living together in a cramped room, short of money, reliant on handouts from your parents, looking for work as a draughtsman and someone offers you a dream job? ‘A contract. Real work.’

You’d take it, right? We all would. But what if your dream job is designing ovens for Buchenwald and the other death camps. Your remit is to make them more efficient. The body fats of the victims can be used as fuel rather than gas or the other less cost-efficient fossil fuels.

But what if you’d already moved into a new house, rent free, much bigger and better than you could afford. What you are doing is not illegal. In fact it is classified as so secret your boss, who runs the department under the auspices of the well know Topf’s industry, takes the file from you every night and locks it away. Topf industry benefits from contracts with the SS, but they do not run the camps. They do not herd inmates into the gas chambers. Topf industry simply fixes the machinery and suggests innovations. They have competitors and if they didn’t do it, their competitors would undercut them and step in and take the work away from them and they would lose the profit. Everything is done by the book, following the rules. German efficiency.

What if you’ve moved into your new house, outside your work, and sometimes you can work from home and your wife Etta tells she has false papers. She is a Jew. She is also a Communist sympathiser and knows other dedicated to the overthrow of existing social order.

What if your boss, Hans Klein, with the best suits, best car and a finger in every pie, tells you he put his own father in the camps because he hired Jewish workers on his farm. Your boss is as psychopathic as Donald J Trump. Would you work for him?

You know the war is coming to an end and your boss knows about you. He asks you to do a little favour for him and it ends badly. The thing your boss values most, the only thing he values, money, his money has been lost and it’s your fault, but you need his help. Do you run or do you stay?

What if you had to make a deal with the devil, what would it be?

Lautner takes us through these various scenarios. There’s echoes of  Stanley Miligram’s famous experiment. Most of us fold (65%) when dealing with authority. And the propaganda and hatred whipped up by, for example, George Osborne against the poorest in our unequal society, given the blame for making us in Britain poorer has modern day echoes. I’ve often asked why doctors worked for Atos, when, as skilled workers they could get jobs elsewhere. But, of course, it’s easy to blame others. Or in Osborne and the Nazi’s case the Other. That’s a double act as old as Old Nick. What about the compromises we make ourselves? Accepting packages and shopping with Amazon. Using Google. Eating processed meat and eggs that comes from animals bred, bled and killed in a cruel manner never seeing sunlight or grass. I wouldn’t look old Nick in the eye and I tend to look away from these things. We make sense of the world by telling ourselves lies. Don’t be fooled into thinking your any different is the message Lautner is peddling. I’m buying that one. And I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s a happy ending. It’s one of the few wars the Americans wore the white hats, good guys, who could look at themselves in the mirror.  Can you? asks Lautner

Derren Brown: Pushed to the Edge, Channel 4, 9pm.

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/derren-brown-pushed-to-the-edge

The advertisement as it appeared in local papers

Derren Brown is a genius, an illusionist, a magician that does no magic, a man that uses reason like other folk wield hand guns. In one of his earlier shows he got a man to shoot him. But he’s still alive and still at it. Making his own shows, his own productions and selling the product to Channel 4. If the premise of his show can’t be described in one sentence it’s usually a dud and not a Derren Brown classic. In this one he’s going to get someone to push someone else off the edge of a tall building to their death—so they believe.

We the audience know that is not the case.  In the Sting (1973) Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) teams up with o Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) to take revenge on the ruthless crime boss Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw) responsible for their mutual pal’s death by stealing his money.  Here the victim of the sting is not a ruthless crime boss, but an innocent member of the public. I’d guess we’re looking here at Stanley Milgram’s authority study (1974) which tested a paid subject’s conflict between what he or she thought was right or wrong and the prompting of an authority figure, in this case a teacher, who urged the subject to inflict increasing levels of pain on another subject when ostensibly researching responses to stimuli and the affect on memory. This in essence mimicked German’s citizen’s response to Nazi authority and in particular the claim ‘I was only doing what I was told’. This abdication of responsibility conducted at Yale University using ordinary Americans was expected to be a failure. In other words, few or very few subjects would move through the gears and throw a switch in which another subject experienced increasing levels of electric shock which begun at 15 volts, and ended with XXX 450 volts, and presumably death, as the setting before it warned of Danger: Severe Shock. The actor or confederate who was playing the part of the person being shocked was asked to make his pain more realistic by shouting and screaming and begging for mercy. Sixty-five percent of the sample tested, despite this, when verbally urged to throw the switch by the teacher, or authority figure, did so.

milgram's shocks box with its display of controls and - it must be said - warnings

I didn’t catch all of Derren Brown’s programme, but caught the end of it, when the subject of the sting, Chris Kingston, 29, being duped and urged to push an old man off a building, refused to do so. But this is a trick that backfired for Derren Brown and his script team. Mr Kingston meets Derren Brown and his courage is lauded. He has done what 35% of subjects in Milgram’s study did, refuse to bow to authority and maintained their autonomy and judgement. So far so good. But then Derren shows the viewer the same experiment, but run with another three members of the subject cohort. Two middle-class woman and a man did push an old man off a building. We see them doing it. The difference between Milgram’s experiment and Derren Brown’s is the former was anonymous. The subject gets to walk away knowing what he or she has done and how they’ve been duped. Here the social media sting comes into effect. Those subjects that pushed the old man off the building are known. What they have done is in the public sphere and likely to have countless adverse effects on their long term career. No amount of de-briefing of counselling can take that away. This is a disappointment which belongs more to the Jeremy Kyle school of lets laugh not with them, but at them. This is poking people’s inadequacies with sticks and I don’t like it. But I don’t have to life with it. The people taking part do.