A silhouetted figure perches five stories above a dissident crowd. He waits for police to march beneath him before he launches a fire extinguisher into their path. Eight months later and a few miles north in Tottenham, a protest over a police shooting turns into an embittered riot as subversives from neighbouring boroughs flock to the scene intent on causing chaos.
For political commentators and politicians who were willing to explain away the underlying causes of these events, anarchism was to blame. As such, Elliot Murphy, a second year English student is wary of defining himself as “kinda anarchist”, fully aware that people might think he’s “crazy”. Elliot is a fresh face of ‘The Movement’ and has recently published his first book, On the Mind and Freedom. The text is cross-discipline and ventures from psycho-linguistics, neuroscience and philosophy to Britain’s foreign policy.
He believes anarchism is based primarily on “a suspicion of authority” and that “every form of authority needs justification. He thinks all forms of coercion and domination should be challenged for their legitimacy – everything from family relations to international affairs. In Elliot’s eyes, the European nation-state which has dominated the West and been brutally imposed on the Global South for the last five hundred years falls into the category of illegitimate authorities. He sees anarchist principles more as tendencies in human nature than a set of concrete dogmas.
I asked Elliot only five questions during his interview. He covered them swiftly, reeling off thousands of words on Britain’s role in Vietnam and Malaya, his politics, his stance on the British media, South American history and the role of education and advice on writing a book.
His views are expectedly deviant. It’s clear that Elliot sees himself as an educator: “I think in a free society the things I talk about should be taught in school because they’re just basic truisms about the political and economic sphere which are obscured by the mainstream media.” He believes the education system is also to some extent to blame for silencing those with less conventional views: “Education is effectively a filtering process that starts at childhood. Those who are willing to subordinate themselves to power and become obedient and passive are the kind of people who go on to become the next generation of experts.” He prefers to look up to “people like Stephen Fry and Einstein”, both of whom were notoriously rebellious when they were young. Did he have a similar attitude? “I suppose in a way. I was expelled from my sixth form, but not for political reasons.” He prefers the term rational rather than rebellious or radical.
Elliot’s educational philosophy is reflected by the questions his book sets out to answer: “The first part is based on the question “how can we know so much with so little?” and the second on the question “how can we know so little with so much?” We have the media and libraries full of books and yet no one seems to understand how economic and political realms really operate.” It seems that On Freedom and the Mind aims to deviate the readers attention from the “conventional pieties that a well respected person should know” to more political, alternative and damning truths about the way the world works. In particular it was “Britain’s involvement in selling weapons to our favourite dictators in Africa and the Middle East” that encouraged Elliot to write the book originally. “It just seemed so hopelessly immoral not to do something if that makes sense.”
Modestly, Elliot doesn’t believe he will shift enough copies to make it worthwhile taking up either of the offers publishers have given him, which is why he has decided to self-publish instead. I’ve only seen a few extracts from the final copy but I sense that his first book could be more successful than he expects. His views are radical but well-reasoned. However, it is Elliot’s ability to communicate difficult ideas so effortlessly that really impresses me and will no doubt impress his readers too. As he notes, “There’s nothing I say in the book that I couldn’t explain to my 14 year old sister”. Elliot is a principled, driven, self-deprecating and quietly confident writer who is certainly worth watching during his time at Nottingham and after.
(Elliot Murphy is speaking to Nottingham’s Amnesty International on 15th November at 5pm in Trent Building LG11. Any money he makes on the night or online the next day will go to the charity. ‘On The Mind and Freedom’ is published by Lulu and is £12 on www.lulu.com.)