Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A National Outrage

Some fairly long-winded thoughts on that whole Cecil Rhodes statue-removal thing, here:

First, a bit of context - and I apologise if this turns out to be insultingly simplistic, since I'm nothing if not insulting and simple.

Throughout history, tribes of people who got their shit together and could raise and support armies, would invade lands belonging to their neighbours, kill everyone who took up arms in defence against them, and then make off with everything valuable that could be strapped to the back of a cart.

And so it was, for thousands of years, and everyone understood the rules - the strong did what they could, and the weak suffered what they must.  This rocked if you were strong, and it sucked quite a bit if you were weak.

Anyway, let me cut this short.  Matters came to a head in two shattering World Wars in the twentieth century, the latter of which was such an epic, globe-spanning catastrophe - a megadeath slaughter filled with almost incomprehensible destruction and suffering, like Independence Day, but real - that it spoiled war and empire for almost everyone, forever.

World War II was pretty much our darkest moment as a species, the nadir of human stupidity and cruelty.  Still, one good thing came out of it - it tainted for all time the idea that invading other countries, taking over their governments and stealing all of the locals' stuff, was acceptable behaviour.    

Now, it's fair to say that the politicians and intellectuals who agreed upon this idea hadn't thought through the full implications of such a huge philosophical shift.  There were a few glorious postwar years where everyone agreed that Hitler and the Nazis could only have risen to power in the specific circumstances of 1930s Germany, what with the "natural obedience of the German people" and so on.  And then, the real trouble started.

The difficulty was that, the more closely that people looked at National Socialism, the more apparent it became that something akin to Nazism could've happened almost anywhere*, and that it shared so many characteristics with good old-fashioned imperialism, that it somehow began to retrospectively taint all the good old-fashioned imperialism too.

Suddenly, nations all over the world looked at their own ancestors and national heroes, and they started to pick up a whiff of jackboots and racial supremacy.

Which created a whole load of problems.  Nobody who looked at e.g. Rhodes exploiting fuck out of Africa and the Africans, or Churchill yammering on about gassing uncivilised tribes or whatever, wanted to think of these lovable old coots as Anglicised versions of certain nattily-uniformed German speakers.

Nonetheless, the problem remained - most of our great warriors' and politicians' behaviour now looked a tad questionable, in retrospect.  It might theoretically be possible to invade other countries, install colonial rulers and steal all your new subjects' shit over several decades, while operating a racially-based caste system, without also being a bit of a grasping, thieving, murderous, racial-supremacist bastard.  I can't think how, but it might be possible.

Still, this created a singular problem for most of the industrial nations on Earth.  If your most visible successes were built on murder, repression and theft, how are you supposed to retain that pompous air of self-righteous moral superiority that leaders all over the world so love to project?  And if your great heroes were mostly bastards and killers, how are you supposed to bask in their reflected greatness?

Well, the answer was this - you get incredibly butthurt about it all, and start accusing everyone who speaks negatively about your national icons of terrible personal failings.

And so it is that any public figure in pretty much any country who talks smack about the crimes of their ancestors can expect to be deluged in finger-waggy, tut-tutty bullshit, or much worse.  Historians in Ankara who try to speak forthrightly about Kemal Ataturk will be angrily shouted down.  Japanese and Russian scholars who focus too closely on their own forebears' war crimes can expect villification.  In Britain, you get sneery put-downs in the pages of the Telegraph and the Times and a lot of boo-hoo whingeing about political correctness.  

A lot of other countries are much like ours in this regard, and many are significantly worse.  Still, this is why the Argentinian President can issue lengthy diatribes about British colonialism, without too many of her countrymen guffawing and asking how come there are so many Spaniards knocking about the pampas, thousands of miles away from Spain.

Anyway, back to Rhodes.  A couple of things to note about this big Rhodes statue kerfuffle:

- Notice how most of the public figures making whiny statements about the Rhodes statue row keep saying that okay, maybe Rhodes was a racist, but everyone was a racist in those days, so it's no biggie.

Of the imperialists of yore, I'd say that being racist was one of their lesser offences.  I mean, say what you like about e.g. the Roman Empire or the Mongol Horde - they both displayed plenty of moral flaws, but I think that being a bit sniffy about the inferiority of foreigners was one of their less problematic behaviours.

When the entire row is repeatedly reduced to, like, some folk being a bit thin-skinned and unreasonable about so-called "racism", you should probably smell a rat.

It's also worth pointing out that saying "Everyone was racist, so who gives a shit" is probably fine if you're talking about a Conrad or a Twain, people who brought considerable joy to the world.  It's less appropriate for defending vast, aggressively expansionist empires and their individual plenipotentiaries.

- The Rhodes statue dislikers are also accused of "doing-down Britain", of focusing on the crimes of the Empire to the exclusion of the equal misdeeds of other great powers.  This point is every bit as valid as it is when it's deployed against Mexican historians who show an interest in where all the Aztecs went, rather than in the countless crimes and affronts perpetrated by the Gringos.  Israeli or Palestinian scholars who look too closely at their own histories can expect to be equally unpopular with students and politicians alike.

In addition, I'd note that for all the complaints about "doing-down Britain", popular history in the UK can be boiled down to 1) Us whipping Napoleon and 2) Us boxing Hitler's ears, and that the main UK history channels show little but World War II documentaries.

And as an aside - the only time that the average Briton is likely to encounter the Empire in popular entertainment is in a reshowing of Zulu - a cracking film, but one that portrays a plucky band of hopelessly outnumbered Brits fending off a massively superior force of Africans.  Which isn't exactly representative of the era, to say the least. 

---- 

But anyway, the great fear that incidents like the Rhodes statue one create is usually summarised thusly - if we're saying that Mr Rhodes was an appalling shit of a man, then what are we to say of Winston Churchill, or of Queen Victoria?  Are we to say that they too were appalling shits?

To which the logical answer is, well, yes.

You don't have to tear down their statues or rename the pub in Eastenders or anything, but that's the good thing about honesty - it may hurt some feelings but ultimately, it helps us to understand ourselves a little better, it prevents us from looking quite so much like raging hypocrites, and it costs us nothing.  Nothing tangible, at any rate.

All you have to do is be a bit more honest about your country's past.  You don't have to pay anyone a penny, and nobody goes to jail.

Really, the only expense involved is that you have to let go of some pleasing myths about your collective virtue, and you won't be able to get up on your high horse to bullshit people quite as readily.

And there, I think, we see why the Rhodes statue - a pretty small issue - is being treated like a national outrage, and why similar occurrences would be treated as such in half of the countries on Earth.


UpdateA reader points out that Churchill's infamous comment about using poisonous gas on angry natives was a reference to tear gas, in preference to the more murderous mustard variety, which is entirely fair enough.  Consider that comment retracted. 

*A caveat here - maybe not with the precise racial fixations and military paranoias and so on, which did owe a lot to the specific context, but definitely with the invading and the killing and the totalitarianism and so on.

Who's Who On... The Bus?

We all love the bus - it's the nation's favourite mode of transport/24-hour stabbing-wagon.

But the bus is more than just a mobile day-care centre for young offenders and the mildly psychotic.  It's where the community comes together every day, in a spirit of mutual resentment, anxiety and barely-restrained violence.

So what will you find, the next time that you get on the number 37?  Who will be waiting to greet you with a friendly smile and a belligerent demeanour?

See below for a cheering festive list of the chummy characters that can be found on any bus, anywhere in the country, on any given day:

- Helpful young man offering advice to driver on how to speed up the journey, by shouting "Fuck's sake, man!" and "Fucking come on!" whenever bus stops at a traffic light;

- Sharp-elbowed pensioners shoving their way to the front of the bus queue, daring anyone to comment;

- Gentleman being either friendly in a very aggressive way, or aggressive in a very friendly way;

- Disinterested mother gazing vacantly out of window while unattended toddler throws screeching, 15-minute tantrum;

- Driver's state of not-giving-a-shit now so elevated, he's stopped so much as braking for pedestrian crossings;

- Woman entertaining entire deck of passengers with loud phone conversation, listing dietary preferences, personal grudges, alcohol-fuelled misunderstandings and graphically-detailed sexual anecdotes;

- Young offender repeatedly misidentifying driver's race, religion and nationality during heated conversation;

- Furiously angry young man punching driver's booth window, demanding to be let off bus into path of speeding cars;

- Delightful young debutante informing friends of the love rivals that she would like to stab;

- Sinister, muttering gentleman shifting further and further across the seat towards you with hand thrust very deep into pocket; 

- Woman trying just to read book in peace, for Christ's sake, while self-styled comic genius regales her with unsolicited tales of whimsy and derring-do;

- Students staring determinedly at iPhones while very drunk man aggressively wishes them a "merry fucking Christmas".

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Courage

"Every man should aspire to having the courage to betray his party. Especially every opinion journalist", says Alex Massie, in response to complaints that the press aren't giving Her Majesty's Most Loyal Opposition a fair hearing.

It's a reasonable point and one that I happen to agree with.  Alex is certainly well-placed to make it, since he criticises the Tories at least as often as he does anyone else and he actually voted Labour last time out, because the SNP were going to win the seat.

Nonetheless, let's note that if having a go at Corbyn and McDonnell isn't just a day at the office and is actually courageous then truly, we live in an age of titans.  If scribbling snippy comments about the great colossus that is Stop The War is brave, then what lionhearted heroes walk unsuspected in our midst, their gallant deeds unrecognised by lesser men?

If you know any war veterans, you might now like to reconsider their supposed valour.  After all, as Alex notes, even leftish types who work for the Spectator are willing to ride forth to lance the Labour leadership through its fat black heart.

Compared with such daring, the mere act of e.g. charging a machine gun nest smacks of cowardice.

Snark aside though, this is yet another outing for a definition of "courage" that you'll only ever see deployed in reference to pundits.  You may recognise it from such great hits as

"Why, I thought it was very brave of Hitchens to appear on American television to say that President Bush is totally right about the war" or  

"Well, I think Melanie is quite courageous to say the things that she does in her Times column".

It's an odd kind of courage that essentially amounts to a willingness to offend your mates, especially when deliberately offending your mates in the correct way appears to be considerably more lucrative* than it would be to e.g. say things that might actually cost you your regular gig**.

Anyway, the main point of Alex's piece appears to be that all is fair in love and war, and that if Labour members didn't want to be faced with a hundred-foot-tall solid wall of wild-eyed hacks, rending their garments and screeching in fake terror every time their party's leader opens his mouth, then they probably shouldn't have elected the chair of Stop The War.  And it's a fair point, cogently made.

Nonetheless, I do have to point out that the Get-Corbyn campaign has been just a tad over-the-top; that none of the participants are risking so much as a terse finger-wagging from their editors, and that e.g. Boris Johnson's political career would be unlikely to survive similar treatment, at even a tenth of the intensity.

Hell, if any current cabinet member had to put up with a couple of months of the graphic daily molestation that was repeatedly pummelled into Nick Clegg, they'd be begging to be allowed to resign.

Anyway, I guess that the point I'm making here is that punditry is a job, and that pretty much everyone in the business spends their days shovelling coal for Satan just as furiously as you or I have to.

Some of them are sharper than others and some get more leeway but ultimately, it's a business.  And in this business, there's currently a lot more money to be made by screaming in horror at the opposition benches than there is in taking potshots at the Tories.

It isn't like political punditry can't be done honourably but for real, let's not kid ourselves that anyone is throwing themselves under an oncoming train here.


*I know the hacks hate it when people refer to the fact that they get paid to write articles, but there it is.  They do.  Really, there's no getting away from it. 

**The only pundit I can think of who's done this recently - Peter Oborne, who very publicly told his bosses at the Telegraph where to stick it, and rightly so.  And let's face it, most of the other pundits don't much like the guy. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Trumpet

Another Sunday, another dire column by Nick.  Before I start whingeing about it though, an anecdote:

Many moons ago, I used to write another blog, about the many follies of the belligerent, evangelical democratic centrism that was quite popular at the time.  If you want a simple image to describe the phenomenon that I was talking about, think of that recent Hilary Benn speech, but with the Iraq war rather than Syria, and with the words "And fuck everyone who disagrees with me, for they are basically Nazis" appended to the end of every sentence.

In order to write it, I had to read endless amounts of nonsense written by people who had lots of axes to grind.  You might imagine that this kind of thing isn't good for your mental well-being, and so it proved to be.  After a while, I started to notice what I took to be particular trends and modes of thinking in the articles and blog posts that I was reading.  I then found myself catching whiffs of these phenomena everywhere, in the most unlikely places.

It became apparent quite quickly that my focus on a small group of particularly vitriolic writers and politicians was distorting my thinking on more than just politics.  This caused me to make some fairly silly pronouncements, and to get into needlessly pissy arguments with people who, I later realised, were basically correct and rational.  I began to make grand, false assumptions about people of whom I knew nothing, leading to a couple of embarrassing incidents.

This didn't last long, because I realised that I was making enough basic errors to suggest that my fundamental assumptions could only be wrong.  Worse than just acting like a dickhead, I was a dickhead - clearly wrong, and being very arsey about it indeed.

As I realised then: if you find that you're routinely surprised by events, or that you're regularly coming to conclusions that are obviously incorrect or nonsensical, then it's time to reconsider your thinking.

And with that, let's go back to Nick, who today observes the rise of aggressive nativist politics in Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen, and concludes that

a) He doesn't like Jeremy Corbyn, and that

b) The success of Trump and Le Pen is primarily the fault of the librulz, for restricting free speech by e.g. organising petitions to ban Trump from Britain via Facebook and by calling people racists.

Let's quickly observe that Nick probably wouldn't much humour suggestions that e.g. the Nazi Party owed much of its success to the punitive terms of the Treaty of Versailles.  Nor do I think that he would be much more receptive to any musings on the failings of the Weimar Republic.  He'd blame the Nazis and those who enabled them for their own malicious actions.

If I started a long consideration of the rise of ISIS by grousing about the radicalising effect of the Iraq War, I'd expect denunciation in the strongest possible terms.   I'd most likely be told that any such suggestion amounted to absolving ISIS of their brutality.

And yet, faced with the reality of actual racist right-wing xenophobes kicking arses in the polls, Nick concludes that their success is mainly the fault of his librul neighbours, not least because of, like, this Facebook petition.

Now if I had to explain the rise of fucknut xenophobia in mainstream politics, I'd be more inclined to lay blame upon mainstream political figures who wanted to reap all of the economic benefits of mass immigration, but also wanted to claim the electoral rewards that foreigner-bashing reliably brings.  I'd also place a chunk of culpability on public figures who have spent years using immigration as a stick to beat their political foes, painting their enemies as soft on crime and so on, thus riling up their readers to the point where nothing but the most roaring race-baiting nonsense will get them hard any more.

I'm aware that this conveniently places blame on people that I didn't much like in the first place, and far from my own front door.  Nonetheless, I think it makes a lot more sense, since it locates culpability for the rise of racist lunacy with the few people who have the power and influence required to achieve it.

Perhaps the key point worth noting here however is this - the public can raise all the Ban-Trump petitions that they like; they can write to their MPs and newspapers, they can even take to the streets and protest, if they want.

But nothing - not so much as a parliamentary expression of disapproval - will get done about banning Trump, or any other campaign raised by members of the public, unless it suits some key people in positions of power and authority to do so.

With that in mind, the idea that Trumpism is the result of anything that the bloody Guardian readers do or say, strikes me as especially ridiculous. That Nick seems to think otherwise, suggests to me that something is fundamentally wrong with his thinking, and that he needs to reassess his assumptions.

I don't intend to hold my breath until that happens, though.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

All Those Bloody Campus Radicals

Nick Barlow is absolutely right about the relative importance of student politics here.  The short version - student politics rarely even seem relevant to students, let alone to wider society.

I'd add a bit of context by noting that outbursts of political silliness in academia in the USA have been exploited to build attacks on the Democratic Party since the late sixties at least*.  For decades, hackish Republicans who have struggled to lay a glove on their opponents have successfully mined the campus for useful outrage.

Why would they do such a thing?  Well, mainly because it's very difficult to imagine e.g. Jimmy Carter demanding that people sign pre-shag consent contracts, or to envision Bill Clinton denouncing a Japanese-themed club night for cultural appropriation**.  Barack Obama probably doesn't much care whether arsey comments are "micro-aggressions" or not.

On the other hand, it's very, very easy to pick up any particular piece of well-intentioned PC knuckle-fuckery by a small gaggle of earnest twenty-year-olds at Berkely, and to then use it as an excuse to wail and scream about how this is incredibly revealing about The Totalitarian Mindset Of The Left, or whatever.  Watch in awe, as we defend you from the threat of these pointy-headed traitors!   

All of this is about keeping your own constituency riled up and furious - vote for our very sensible, level-headed candidates, or These People will get in, with their dictatorial culturally-appropriate speech-codes and what-have-you.  It usually has very little to do with the actual topic under discussion.

And yet, for all these wails and screams, the world has continued to turn almost entirely unaffected.  This is because student politics just aren't very important, and most of the people involved will sooner or later grow out of whatever faddish nonsense they were peddling when they were twenty.

If this wasn't the case - if student politics really does wield a major influence over society - then capitalism and war have done remarkably well to have survived this fifty-year academic onslaught unscathed. 

You can see this playing out in America right now, where every cough and fart on campus is pounced upon as evidence of... whatever.  And yet, while students may be a bunch of censorious privilege-checkers, a presidential candidate can still call the Mexicans rape-happy savages and be rewarded for it with rocketing poll numbers.

The same applies here, where student foolishness is frequently the subject of major social media outrage.  I don't doubt that there are people who are genuinely concerned when some student union somewhere disinvites a perfectly reasonable speaker for Thought-Crime.  I'm also sure that the various outbreaks of ideological mania can be very distressing for people caught up in them.

Nonetheless, I think the never-ending fury at the students from people who are usually decades older than them springs from the idea that, because a particular topic under discussion is very important, any statements about it from fourteen kids at the University of Barking-Twatbridge must be very important also.

Well, it usually isn't.  Quite the opposite, in fact.

And, as in America, there are quite a lot of people in the UK currently using student politics as a useful stick with which to beat their actual political foes.  Look, they say, isn't this campus nonsense incredibly revealing about The Totalitarian Mindset of the Left?  Why, speaking as a sensible, level-headed person, watch as I strike a mighty blow for intellectual freedom etc. and so on.

It's just as much about keeping your constituency riled up and furious, as it is when the worst Republican hacks do it.  Ultimately, the endless rounds of hysteria about campus shenanigans are best understood not as any kind of struggle for free enquiry, but as a sales pitch for a particularly belligerent form of politics.

Anyway.  As I usually say when student controversies come up, it's always worth remembering that people who are old enough to know better, but still spend an inordinate amount of time fretting about student politics, are usually telling you far more about themselves than they are about student politics.

And yes, this almost certainly applies to me, as well. 

*Rick Perlstein's recent work on Nixon and Reagan, particularly useful here for noting how for much of the decade, the main problem with the Vietnam War was not all the needlessly dead people, but the unpatriotic behaviour of all those bloody campus radicals.

**It's probably less difficult to imagine those events happening if the roles were reversed, mind.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

That Catch-All War Vote Speech

Thank you, Mr Speaker.  I would like to begin by noting that the decision whether to commit our nation to war is one of the most grave that any Member of this House can take.  I know this better than most, because I have voted in favour of about six or seven wars myself in the past fifteen years.

[LAUGHTER; SHOUTS OF "EIGHT"; "NO, NINE"]

I do not wish to make light of our rampant promiscuity in aggressive warfare, but seriously, are we getting Nectar Points for all these wars, or what?  I must surely be due a free Tassimo machine by now, at least.

I am sure that each of us has agonised long and hard over the decision of whether to betray our allies and submit in craven terror to fascists by voting against this motion, or to stand manly, strong and erect by voting in favour of it.

Yesterday, I set out five key questions on our proposed military action that the Prime Minister must at least attempt to answer before he would have my backing.  Having listened to his vague, hand-waving responses, I am now convinced that he has thought fairly hard about our military strategy.   I believe that he has now presented this House with a sort-of convincing case for war.  That being so, I intend to vote as I had always intended to do in the first place.

[CHEERS]

Additionally, I am now quite convinced that, should this military action end badly, I will be able to avoid criticism by laying all of the blame for it upon him personally.

[HEAR HEAR]

Nobody can doubt the seriousness of the threat that we face.  Every day, each of us faces the very real possibility that domestic extremists will be very rude to us on social media.

Also, our enemies have murdered or enslaved tens of thousands of innocent civilians, and they threaten this nation with terrorist attacks on an unimaginable scale.  It is barbarity and cruelty beyond description, a medieval savagery that can only belong in the Dark Ages, a few hundred miles south, with our close friends and business partners in Saudi Arabia.

Our allies have called for our aid.  Are we to abandon them in their hour of need, simply because they are not actually in need, or because they have enormous military capabilities that far outstrip our own?  Are we to stand aside simply because they are quite capable of fucking up this entire operation all of their own accord, without any assistance at all from Great Britain?

I have heard much of the risk, of the danger of repeating the mistakes of the past.  I can assure this House that I stay up reasonably late at night worrying about the mayhem and destruction that our previous military actions have inadvertently caused through absolutely no fault of our own.

I have given great consideration to the possibilty that this action may cause as much chaos and disorder as in Iraq or Libya, and I have concluded, fuck it.  What is the worst that can happen?

We have heard much of the cost of taking action but I would remind you that inaction has costs too.  If we were to shrink from this challenge, the American government would surely stop pretending to care what we think about anything.  Also, the French would be somewhat more dismissive and condescending towards us than they currently are.  I am sure that you are just as concerned about the good opinion of the French government as I am.

[SILENCE; COUGHING]

The United Nations has called upon us to do something.  It is asking us to act.  I say that we must uphold the settled will of the UN when it is politically expedient to do so, just as aggressively as we have previously dicked it off when it asked us to please calm down and think about things for a minute.

I say that this threat is now so urgent that there is no time to think about anything.  It is now time for action. We must stop thinking immediately.

[HEAR HEAR]

I do not pretend that this will be a simple matter.  I am however pretending that it is simple enough to commit ourselves to an open-ended war on the other side of the planet, on the basis that if we don't, people might think that we are all a bunch of big jessies who can't even handle a bit of bombing.

[SCREECHES; ROARS; CRIES OF "NEVER"]

Our enemies hold us in contempt.  They hold our values in contempt.  They hold our democracy in contempt.  They keep saying that they want a massive war of all of us versus all of them and I believe that it would be rather rude not to give them one.

I am an internationalist, in the grand tradition of my party.  Internationalism means that we will not walk by on the other side of the road while our fellow man is brutalised.  It means that we will cross the road and shoot everything we see until our pistols go click, and then blame any and all accidental deaths upon somebody else.

We must heed the lessons of history, or at least some of them.  Perhaps we could skip a few of the more recent lessons of history, and on military history in this part of the world in particular, but we must definitely heed the redacted, heavily-edited lesson of history.   

The lesson is this - the enemy that we face is fascism, a barbarity from a bygone age.  Fascism must be defeated wherever it arises.  This House stood resolute against Hitler and Mussolini.  We are all now Churchill in the International Brigades, getting shot through the throat while facing down Franco at El-Alamein.  Our balls are truly massive.

That is why I ask my colleagues to vote for the motion tonight.

[CHEERS, GUNFIRE]

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

What's Going On


This one, from last night, wondering why the decision whether or not to bomb Syria has turned into a bizarre nationwide pile-on to the leader of the opposition when it was the Prime Minister's idea in the first place, and not even he has made much of an effort to justify it.

Well, I'd suggest that the crazed Labour Party pissfights signify this - we're witnessing the UK's anti-war movement at the absolute zenith of its power and influence.  

Even now, when anti-war politicians have access to far greater resources and publicity than ever, the very idea that it's permissible to oppose war generally, or any war in particular, couldn't really be further from political acceptability.

This, I'd argue, is because there's simply no level of actually effective anti-war sentiment that's admissible to mainstream British politics.  Barring a very few and peculiar set of exceptions, it's just not possible for a high-profile public figure to consistently oppose the UK's wars without being showered in opprobrium. 

Note that I'm not even talking about some kind of grand Gandhian Satyagraha here, nor a Christlike national turning of the other cheek.  A visible public figure consistently noting that our wars backfire catastrophically, and then concluding that we shouldn't engage in any more until this massive defect is sorted, is usually enough to provoke the kind of clamorous condemnation on display above.

You might think that given recent events, this kind of fire-breathing hate-fest is all about Jeremy Corbyn but really, this misses the point.

Consider this - which anti-war politician or pundit can confidently expect a fair hearing in the UK, right now or at any point in the last two decades?  Can you think of any that could consistently criticise our endless wars, without being instantly dismissed, at best?*

I can think of maybe a couple - Peter Hitchens and Matthew Parris spring to mind, although only because they're tolerated as cranky eccentrics, like mad uncles ripping into the whisky at a wedding.  Their complaints are indulged because it's understood that they pose no threat to anyone.  They also allow the major papers to feign a kind of even-handedness - look, we might have filled the front eight pages with ecstatic wargasms and fearsome red-baiting, but Hitchens said the Prime Minister is a vainglorious fool, so it all evens out.

Otherwise, it's a bust**.  Because, contrary to our self-image, we are a warlike people.  All of our relevant institutions are bent towards it and every proposed war is automatically assumed to be the wisest course of action.  This being the case, the only chance of avoiding any particular war is an unexpected 2011-style, incompetence-based parliamentary fuck-up.

I note this not even to lament it, really - it just is.

The point worth remembering though is that this is probably it, the high-water mark of modern British anti-war politics.  And it amounts to every newspaper in the land queueing up to denounce dissenters as traitors or lunatics, and to back yet another deranged war to the hilt.

I put it to you that in this context, perhaps leadership squabbles within the Labour Party are the very least of our worries.

*The best I could come up with was Kurt Vonnegut, and he's dead.  It's also worth noting that half of the Times obituary for Vonnegut was devoted to painting him as a dupe of neo-Nazis at best, if not an outright sympathiser himself.  Wonderful people at the Times.

**There's also the regional parties, where it's widely understood that anti-war sentiment is an electoral gambit, open to reversal at the first sign that there might be votes in it.  And even then, nobody much cares what they have to say, outside of actual elections.  

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The 9:15 To Raqqa

Our impending Syria war is all over the papers again today, and there's an interesting trend developing.

Type "Syria war" into Google News and you'll quickly get the impression that there's a lively debate over the usefulness of wars in the Middle East.  To read some sources, this debate only even exists at all because of the wildly unpopular and berserk radicalism of the leader of the opposition, but the overwhelming majority of writers and politicians seem to agree: this war will almost certainly end in at least a partial success.

I have no idea quite why this should be the case, since our experience in the last fifteen years has demonstrated quite neatly that our humanitarian wars almost never work, and are in fact greatly more likely to leave the people that we're trying to assist hugely worse off, or dead.

So you'd think that this would be the end of the debate about the usefulness of wars, or at least of humanitarian wars in the Middle East.  It's not like we've only seen this play out once, or anything - we're long past the point where it was controversial, and we can now observe trends and draw hard conclusions.

We can happily concede that of course, it's possible that any particular new war will work - in much the same way that it's possible that I might score a World Cup goal for Scotland - but we can say with a very high degree of confidence that it probably won't work*.  I foolishly expect this to be universally accepted fact, myself. 

I'd also suggest that this should affect our thinking about any new proposal for war.  After all, if trains operated at the same failure rate as our wars, nobody would ever set foot on one.  If politicians and pundits near-unanimously responded to train crashes by announcing faster and more rickety trains, then we'd all assume that those people were dangerously unhinged and unreliable, and we'd never listen to their advice about anything.

The basic conclusion that we can draw is this, though: Our new war will probably be a failure too, and possibly a terrible one.

Now, with this in mind, try that Google search again and see if anything it returns reflects this reality.

There ain't much, is there?

What there is, is plenty of hysterical denunciation for people who point out our dreadful failure rate.  I've picked  McTernan's gloriously deranged Telegraph article as an example, because it's the wackiest, but with most of today's coverage, it's mainly a difference of tone rather than content.

Now, why do we think it is, that the most glaringly obvious fact about our recent military adventures is almost entirely invisible in our discussion of our involvement in this war?  And, can we draw any conclusions about the people who seem to have overlooked it?


*This one is probably the best, although I've never heard of the author, who openly admits that the war probably won't work and backs it anyway.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

A New Threat Such As We Have Never Seen

It's a cast-iron rule of warmaking that it necessitates the deployment of vast quantities of bullshit.  Whether we're bombing the Nazis or just flinging missiles about in a vague attempt to kill Al Qaeda's latest Number Three, you can be sure that the rhetoric will be roaring and righteous, and that the condemnations will be crazed and constant.

This being the case, there's little chance of understanding what's going on by measuring the quantity of war bullshit deployed, since war bullshit is infinite and is limited only by the space that's available to squeeze it into.

The thing that we can confidently measure is the quality of the bullshit.  Is it convincing bullshit, or half-true bullshit, or just downright offensively stupid bullshit?

I'd argue that there's a direct link between the level of truly idiotic bullshit, and the necessity and usefulness of the actual war.  That is, the more obviously insulting the bullshit on display is to your intelligence, the less likely it is that there's any need for the UK to get involved in the war at all.

With that in mind, I offer a list of the most common forms of war bullshit.  Tick them off as they appear in the run-up to our latest grand campaign for freedom, then count how many you've spotted and check that figure against the analysis at the foot of this post.

One point each for the following bullshitty arguments:

- There is no time to come up with a war strategy, we must act immediately, before anyone has had a chance to over-think it.

- We must bomb (x) because if we don't, the Americans will be sad and might cry;

- Actions of terrorists from one country mean that it is vital that we drop bombs on different country; 

- Now that we have deliberately put you in a position where you have to either back us, or hand the enemy a propaganda victory, you have no choice but to back us;

- Britain must get involved in this war.  There's no way that the Americans, the French, the Russians, the Australians, the Canadians and others can possibly handle this on their own;

- We must show that we are a big, important country, mainly by blowing shit up with missiles;

- The country that we're going to bomb is in such a terrible predicament that it can't possibly get any worse, despite very convincing and recent evidence to the contrary;

- We are not a warlike people, but we are morally compelled to get involved in an astounding number of, like, wars.

-  A new threat such as we have never seen;

- War can be won with airstrikes, willpower and crossed fingers;

- Fears that UK will lose face if it doesn't start bombing;

- We are morally obligated to help these suffering civilians by dropping bombs on them;


Two points each for the following bullshitty events:

- Government openly hostile to expert opinion that conflicts with its intentions;

- Importance of international law entirely contingent on whether it helps or hinders ability to make war;

- Prime Minister is slick PR man with invincible confidence in his own wisdom, who effortlessly dicks off questions;

- Pundits spitting with fury at anyone who suggests that war might be bad idea;

- Considerations about welfare of civilians in war-zone clearly tacked on as an afterthought;

- War can definitely be won without anyone having to pay more taxes;

- Pundits congratulating selves and each other for courageously agreeing with government, again;

- Public sharply divided over war;

- Neighbouring countries interfering in war-zone and no plan in place to prevent them from doing so;

- Any suggestion that attacking cities with high explosives makes the people who live there hate us more, treated as if it were tantamount to saying "We all deserve to be killed, especially me";

- Loud declarations that we have learned important lessons from previous catastrophic wars, while visibly committing the same or similar errors;

- Major powers making grand proclamations about justice and humanitarianism, while obviously harbouring less-than-secret goals;

- Locals in war-zone hate us, but are willing to pretend that they don't for as long as we're killing their enemies;

- Anti-war politicians being repeatedly asked why they're such lying Jihadist bastards, while success of war is simply taken for granted;

- Entire strategy can fairly be summarised as "Keep killing motherfuckers until either they sit down and behave themselves, or everybody is dead"?


Results

0-6:  Oh dear, it looks like this is it - World War II all over again.  The entire nation is dangerously imperilled and there's no choice but to fight a total war against evil until victory.  See you on the parade ground, everyone.

6-12:  Mmm, starting to look a bit Falklands War-y here.  British lives and British interests threatened, actual fascist junta to fight.  Let's get down the docks and wave Our Boys off with some flags.

12-20:  All getting a bit Afghanistan now, isn't it?  We're killing quite a lot of people for reasons that aren't entirely clear; nobody really knows what we're meant to be doing and it's not obvious that victory is even possible.  Time to cross your fingers and hope for the best.

20-30:  No doubt about it, this is another Libya War.  Soaring rhetoric about freedom and democracy, while actually just spunking missiles about the place with no clear idea what we're achieving, before noisily congratulating ourselves and fucking off to let the locals dodge bullets and barter for their lives with the heavily-armed militias we empowered for the next few decades.

30-42:  The full Iraq War lunacy.  The Americans - cracked, insane and cranked up with invincible levels of patriotic nonsense - are about to half-destroy an entire country, and there's nothing to be gained by trying to dissuade them from it.  If we can't beat 'em, join 'em - time to start waving flags and mouthing idiotic pablums about freedom, while we preside over one of the all-time catastrophic megadeath military fuck-ups.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Non-Conventional Weapons

Okay, so this kind of thing, raised in relation to some students' barney with Germaine Greer, really isn't at all helpful:



Speaking from personal experience, it's incredibly difficult to convince people that the European Convention on Human Rights doesn't e.g. confer entitlements to free trips to Disneyland for terrorists and so on, since Britain's moronic tabloids have been selling the public variations upon that theme for years.

The Court here is not talking about private citizens deciding that they don't like cranky Antipodeans and don't care to hear their views.  It's talking about states taking action to avoid actual pogroms and suchlike - Radio Rwanda-level calls for extermination of minorities, and so on.  Including reference to ECHR here is a bit like shouting about Nuremberg principles after the cops have pulled you over for speeding - it's not that it's just incorrect, it's also a honking great category error.

Anyone invoking the Convention on such spurious grounds is inadvertently doing the same damn thing that the Sun does - helping to convince people that ECHR exists in part to empower thin-skinned twits who don't want to hear opinions that they don't like, at everybody else's expense.  At a time when the government is actively looking for excuses to do away with the Convention rights, this type of thing is utterly counterproductive.

On the wider topic of the article - basically, banning Germaine Greer for her comments about trans women - well, I'll say this:

Any small group of people declaring that only their precise opinions on a particular subject are permissible, and angrily insisting that disagreement is tantamount to outright bigotry and hatemongering, is

a) About to start losing the few friends that it currently has, and is

b) Likely to fragment into even smaller groups of people who really, really don't like each other very much.

I'll also add that loudly accusing public figures of misogyny and hatemongering is quite a silly thing to do, unless you're very certain of your arguments, given the pro-plaintiff biases of Britain's libel laws.  Unless there's a sharp rhetorical cooling-off, I predict that this habit is going to result in some fairly hairy litigation and crushing defeats at some point, and probably sooner rather than later.

On the wider point of whether trans women are women, well, you can include me out of that particular debate - it's a battle that appears to be being fought with nuclear missiles and nothing else.  Nonetheless, let's note that if you ever find yourself accusing Germaine Greer of being a misogynist, you probably need to re-examine your reasoning, because it appears to be fundamentally fucked up in some fashion.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

A Drive-By Booting

Okay, so this post is a bit of a drive-by, but it's probably worth noting what does and doesn't feature in Jim Murphy's impassioned plea for throbbing British military stiffness and a pounding for ISIS.

It does contain:

- Much back-patting for the author's selfless refusal of lucrative book offers; 

- A frank admission that the 2013 Syria bombing proposals were largely cosmetic, followed by anguished sobs of regret over voting against them;

- A flat declaration that the 2003 Iraq invasion and occupation are so far in the past as to be irrelevant to decisions that we might make today;

- Nudge-nudges about how the author takes the situation much more seriously than other MPs do; 

- Gratuitous scare-quotes around the word "anti-war" in relation to other MPs;

- Open admissions that "military action alone won't work"; 

- Bizarre chin-stroking about Britain's "period of unresolved purpose" between 1956 and 1968, a time in which British soldiers were engaged in Cyprus, Kenya, Borneo and Yemen, amongst other countries*,

- An assertion that "conscientious objection" is unacceptable, and 

- A bit of rah-rah about how the decision to bomb Syria will test our national greatness, or something.

It's quite a sight, to see a once-prominent politician sobbing in regret because he didn't resign over a proposed bombing campaign that even he recognises was mainly a cosmetic gesture, while simultaneously dicking off the catastrophically destructive war that he actually did vote for.

Nonetheless, let's note what doesn't appear in Jim's article:

- A single, solitary claim that fighting ISIS will help anyone, in either Syria or Iraq. 

I'm unsure how to take this, really.  Is it absent-mindedness, or an over-enthusiastic sub-editor, or just rampant vainglory?

Whatever's going on, I think it's worth noting that for Murphy, the question To Bomb, Or Not To Bomb really is all about us, and that the countries we're proposing to bombard don't even rate a moment's consideration.

*Cheers to assorted readers for pointing out some of the sillier arguments in Murphy's piece.  You know who you are.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

On Spite

So, the Question Time Tory voter who was astounded to discover that when her political representatives said that they wanted to cut benefits for the undeserving, they were talking about her.  A minor matter of little interest, but also a major excuse for me to arse on about some of my usual gripes.

- First up, the various finger-waggers are probably correct to say that it's electorally stupid for us to take the piss out of people who are disillusioned with the Tories.  I'd also add that it's bad form to hector members of the public, as opposed to e.g. politicians, celebrities and so on, since the man or woman in the street is just trying to get by the same as the rest of us.  Additionally, since we can't establish exactly why any particular individual chose to vote for the Tories, we probably shouldn't jump to conclusions about this person's motivations.

Thankfully, I'm not a Labour activist and I don't really believe that there's any real prospect of reversing the decades-long project of political dumbing-down.  I'm also an enormous hypocrite, so I feel quite secure in saying to anyone who voted Tory and is now whinging about being much worse off as a result - Get it right up you.

- While we can't divine the souls of individual Tory voters, I think we can broadly assume that a very large number of them were swayed by the central Tory campaign message, which was - Vote for us, and we will fucking kill all the benefit-sucking scroungers and moochers*.  This concept dwarfed any attempt they made to sell Britain on the idea that the Tories would make anyone's life better.

As I said on the morning of the election, spite is one of the great motivators of British politics.  Osborne's speech about people leaving in the dark to work the early shift while their dole-scrounging neighbours sleep on is the archetype, but you'll no doubt have heard similar from friends and work colleagues - the supposedly homeless woman who drives home in a Jag after a hard day's begging; the geezer who is horrified to discover that the Job Centre is a weaponised misery-machine designed to harrass and humiliate him, and is primarily angry about this because he also believes that immigrants and layabouts have access to an entirely separate and more generous benefits system that he does not.

Spite is a horrible thing and the militarised version of it that fills the daily papers, keeps Channel 5 afloat and decides elections, is one of Britain's most regrettable cultural problems.  Spite is a personal failing and it should be recognised as antisocial behaviour, much like spitting in the street, punching people who annoy you or trying to fuck other people's wives and husbands are.

For this reason, I'm not inclined to indulge anyone offering variants upon Boo-hoo-hoo, I thought the Tories would fuck over everyone else, rather than meNote well that the lady in question wasn't upset that the Tories were fucking people over - she was upset that they were also fucking her over.  I am doing guesswork now, but I'm assuming that she doesn't want the Tories to stop fucking everybody else, because everybody else deserves it.

Perhaps I'm being unfair, and she's now concluded that political spite is a huge con aimed at gulling votes out of suckers by vowing to kill the poor.  I doubt it, somehow.

Anyway, this is a learning experience and an opportunity to grind the lesson in, even if I think there's basically zero chance of anyone actually changing their behaviour and becoming less spiteful as a result.

- I'm also not convinced by Chris Dillow's descriptions of the various cognitive biases that lead people to misunderstand the country that they live in.  I think that individually, all of the biases that he describes are demonstrably real, but there's already a word that collectively describes these errors, and that word is spite.

Treating spite as if it were a blameless error, as an honest mistake that can be overcome with a few friendly chats, is probably the wrong response.  Spite is not an error - it's a conscious choice that's maintained with determination, even in the face of countervailing evidence.  If you don't believe that, then feel free to try convincing your grumpy uncle that e.g. they haven't banned Baa-Baa Black Sheep, and see how you get on. 

I think the correct response to blubbing about how the Tories fucked you is We told you so, you utter tit rather than There, there, you sweet little lamb.

- And, to return to one of my recent themes - I am wholly unconcerned by the possibility that a few folk with Twitter accounts might alienate displeased Tory voters, for the simple reason that almost nobody reads our bloody tweets and nobody gives a damn what our opinion is on anything.

There's a good chunk of earnest left-wing Britain that responds to stories like the blubbing Question Time woman by essentially running around the internet ticking people off and ensuring that nobody has any fun at all, ever.

While I recognise their arguments are probably correct and understand their motivations, I repeat - I'm not an activist and I'm not trying to win anybody over, so I'll feel free to act up like a dick as and when I feel like it, without worrying what the upset Tory voters of Britain who aren't paying attention think about it.  There's an upper limit to the number of times that you can ask people to bite their lips in the face of provocation, after all.


*One of most glaring unrecognised issues in British politics is how crime has almost entirely dropped off the radar as an electoral issue.  It used to be absolutely central in election debates, but no longer - it's now been almost entirely replaced with rows about immigration and welfare. 

The lesson that I take from this is that the public basically regards being dirt-poor and benefits-dependent as a crime in itself.  You can probably guess whether I think this belief should be indulged or not.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Don't Do As I Do, Do As I Say

Okay, so the best charge list against Russia's hilarious propaganda campaign for its Syria war goes like this:

- Russia makes up risibly poor and obvious excuses to justify attacking countries;

- In fact, Russia engages in multiple bullshit wars at once and tells major lies about its aims and actions in all of them; 

- It makes fraudulent claims about attacking "terrorists", while actually just attacking the enemies of the governments that it's propping up; 

- It drops dark hints that other states are backing terrorism and insinuates that anyone opposed to its aims is morally suspect;

- That the Russian President has abrogated the right to bomb anything and anyone he pleases without oversight, and that he publicly alludes to bizarre international conspiracies against his nation; 

- That Putin makes nonsensical pronouncements comparing himself to the Allies in World War II, and

- The Russian government has bamboozled the populace into supporting an idiotic war, by propaganda and fearmongering... 

...And that all of this is despicable and utterly unacceptable from a modern, theoretically democratic nation.

Well, shit.  No wonder the Americans are so pissed-off - Bad Vlad is giving away all the tricks of the trade, right out there for the world to see.

Anyway, let's have a few chuckles at some of the more humorous articles bemoaning Russian state propaganda recently.

Oh no!  Russian media is pumping out state propaganda, and most of the populace believes these lies are true!  Why, its TV coverage is all swooshing action infographics and repetition of government press releases!  Russian liberals and left-wingers have been cowed by a barrage of cretinous patriotic rah-rah and accusations of treason!  Domestic opposition to the war barely gets a reasonable hearing!

How could such a thing ever have happened!

And so on and on.  Credit is due to CNN, who at least have the dignity required to acknowledge certain historical resonances, but I'd say that the most pertinent point for UK-based observers of Russia's propaganda wheezes is this:

Putin at least has had to threaten, intimidate, ban and even murder his way through the Russian media class to impose this kind of sanctimonious, nonsensical, belligerent unity upon it.

In Britain, no such campaign has ever been necessary.

An Unparalleled Congeries of Imbecilities

Plus ca change, plus c'est le meme chose, which is a suspiciously foreign way of saying: Every few years, some ardent left-wing Guardian columnist decides it's time to take "a new approach" to patriotism.

This week, it's earnest sixth-former Owen Jones.  "What is more loving of one’s own country than wanting to rid it of injustice?", he asks.  "What is more patriotic than wanting the majority to have a fairer share of the country’s wealth and success?".

All of which sounds perfectly reasonable, until you remember that "patriotism", in the sense that it's used by the Daily Mail, has little or nothing to do with a love of justice or fairness, and even less to do with  actual love for the people or the nation.  Despite its endless pom-pom-waving for Britain, you'll notice that the Mail has nothing but contempt for most of the people who actually live here.

The kind of patriotism we're talking about is mainly just resentment and cowardice.  It's a blunt refusal to even attempt to see the world as it is.  It's a joyful retreat into an infantile fantasy world where everything bad is somebody else's fault, and all of our problems can be solved by reliance on childish concepts like faith, flags and force. 

If this sounds like it's indistinguishable from Jingoism, well then, that's because it is Jingoism.  This form of patriotism - self-pitying belligerence, worship of a country that doesn't exist and never has existed, aimed at rallying crowds of us to oppose them - is the only kind that counts in politics.  Anything less is inherently suspect.

If you doubt this, consider: we've had an abject lesson right here in Scotland within the last couple of years.  For a large number of Scots, "patriotism" has now come to mean "desiring independence from the UK".  To this part of the populace, the very idea that a person could be any kind of true patriot, and yet have no interest in Scottish independence, is an outright logical impossibility.  It's an absurdity that can no more be true than 2+2=5 can be correct.

I've lived here for 37 years and I have no desire to live anywhere else*.  When I wrote this, I typed up a long ramble about my affection for the people and places I've known my entire life, but then realised - what's the point?  Unless it ends with the words "And thus Scotland should be an independent country", every sentence would be seen as cravenly dishonest, if not actively infuriating, by many Scots.

As it is in the UK, so it is elsewhere.  In Russia, patriotism isn't much more than non-stop, woe-is-us boo-hoo about the rest of the planet's endless disrespect, and dark mutterings that a bit of healthy violence would settle their treachery.  In the US, it means saluting the flag, singing louder and hating anyone who suggests that there's anything wrong with America except for its abundance of traitorous hippies.  In China, the very notion that China isn't the bestest nation ever, or that the Communist Party isn't the most awesome government of all time, is tantamount to treason.

This is why there's really no point in trying to redefine "patriotism", in Britain or anywhere else.  The very attempt suggests that there's something wrong with the idea, which is the same as saying that there's something terribly wrong with the country itself - something wrong with its traditions, its people, its singular contribution to the blah blah of etc. etc.

As well to redefine "Tuesday" or "sausages".  Or maybe better, since nobody's going to kick your head in for re-examining bangers and mash.   

Which is all another way of saying - the Labour Party, the Greens, the Lib Dems, none of these people will ever be accepted as patriots in the way that e.g. David Cameron or Nigel Farage are patriots.  A reasonable discussion of what constitutes patriotism is impossible, because this kind of patriotism is utterly inimical to reason.  It's imperviousness to argument is the very reason for its existence.

Better not to seek acceptance on these terms, when the mere attempt is an admission of guilt.


*Well, I could handle a couple of months of the year living somewhere a bit hotter, but no more than that.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Me & The Government Are Very Sensible

Ah, our sensible centrists - a few twats lob eggs at a protest and it's the Texas Chainsaw Massacre all over again, but bomb a hospital and... well, it's all quite... complicated, isn't it?

Well, as is ever the case, racist UKIP candidates reflect badly upon UKIP, and EDL thugs are a problem for the British far-right, but whenever some prick somewhere is rude to a journalist, the entire left has to get down on its knees to apologise.  Ever thus.

So collectively, we're doing that thing with the noisy denunciations and disassociations that we always do when prodded, as if there's a vague chance that mass disapproval might save us from being held up as if we were all a kind of revenant parade of blackshirts.

And I understand the denunciations, because this kind of aimless aggro is stupid, unpleasant and counterproductive.  And had it not been for these egg-chucking fucks, the headlines tomorrow would've been all about the government's merciless dickishness and their intentional vandalism of the public services on which many of these people rely, right?

Oh, sure.  Maybe on page 12 of the Guardian, they would've been.

No, the sad truth here is that solemn anti-government protests are too boring to attract any kind of serious attention.  So what, a bunch of earnest kids and non-photogenic pensioners and civil servants disagree with the government?  Who cares?

Protests just don't get any positive attention these days, and they haven't had much attention of any type for a long time, unless they're violent or rowdy, or are aimed at an already-despised public figure or nation.  Still though, a few journalists getting hassled and spat at by a couple of crusties isn't so much an insignificant event, as it is actively immaterial.

I know this won't be a popular opinion, but let me lay this on you - the very best that any half-popular popular protest event from the left in the UK can expect, is to be ignored.

If it turns a bit nasty, all the reaction will be about the nastiness.  Note that the actual severity of the nastiness doesn't matter at all - if 95% of today's idiots had stayed away, the remaining 5% would've been more than enough to justify exactly the same response.

Remember, it's not so long ago that protests used to end in real violence and actual injuries, not this boo-hoo-woe-is-us stuff.  When I was a kid, these types of events regularly ended in full-scale riots and fist-fights, with mounted police and baton-charges, rather than a lot of whinging because some fucker with dreads called a reporter "Tory scum", or similar.

But even if a protest is as nice as a game of Pass-The-Parcel at a playgroup picnic, it'll just be ignored.  Any mention of it that does reach the public will only be negative portrayals of the protesters themselves - if they're young, they're daft poseurs; if they're old, they're dinosaurs; if they're posh, they're self-indulgent; if they're not, they're loutish and thick.

If a protest is about an insane bloodcurdling war, then the war is not the issue - the real issue is some fucking berk waving a Hezbollah flag.  If it's about austerity, then tsk tsk!  We already had an election to decide which version of the Thatcherite consensus would rule, thank you, and attempts by protestors to impose their will on the government is fundamentally immoral, if not outright fascistic.  Swish!

These responses are not about enlightening anyone.  They're about circumscribing politically permissible ideas, a police action on the outer edge of acceptable mainstream thought.  That's why nobody in this country who regularly writes political commentary along the lines of "Me and the government are very sensible, and everyone who disagrees with us is a lunatic" will ever go to bed hungry.

There's no way to win here folks, so just stop apologising.  If a few idiots lob eggs at a Tory, then a simple Yes, fuck those guys will suffice.

And on the specific character of complaints today, which have mainly been journalists complaining that some of the protestors called them Tories...  Again, fuck those guys, but this is probably a good point to assess why lots of young left-wing types believe that the press are instinctively lined up against them, if not actually in open collaboration with the government.

My experience of engaging with the press this last few years has mainly been one of being told that e.g. insane destructive wars that achieve nothing are very, very sensible indeed, and that being annoyed about such things is dangerously crazy.

Kids who are new to politics and even tangentially related to the Corbyn campaign have just spent three months watching every paper in the country indulge in a prolonged fit of gibbering hysterics, all of it aimed at portraying the new Labour leader as if he were a threat to the nation on par with Godzilla or the Black Death.

And when these kids open the paper tomorrow, they're not going to find much in the way of reportage about their aims in protesting the Tory Conference, but they're sure as hell going to find that they feature - as a pack of zoomers, extremists, jackbooted thugs and pantomime racists, or as a shower of preening Tarquins and Samanthas.

From this, they're only going to conclude that the press really are instinctively on David Cameron's side, and I have to say - even in my older, less excitable years - I can't really see how anyone would go about convincing them otherwise.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Political Madness Gone Correct

So the other week a university needlessly banned a feminist advocate for democracy from speaking at one of their events, an act which supposedly demonstrates our rocket-propelled downward spiral into a morass of relativism and political correctness.

It looks like nobody else will say this, so I will - I am intensely relaxed about this situation, and possibly even in favour of it, all things considered.

Why, you might ask?

Firstly, because this story has followed the standard trajectory of such incidents, which almost always go like this:

- Student group asks perfectly reasonable speaker to appear at public event;

- Some puritanical berk or glowering religious ballsack complains about it, on bullshit grounds of ideological deviation or offensiveness;

- A minor student administrator takes a fit of the vapours about potentially offending someone, somewhere, and disinvites the perfectly reasonable speaker;

- A great roaring crowd of self-proclaimed rationalists turns up on the university's digital doorstep, throwing kung-fu shapes and screeching about defending free speech, and then

- The matter comes to the attention of somebody sensible at the university, who immediately overturns the administrator's decision and reinvites the perfectly reasonable speaker.

It doesn't always go like this, but this precise flow of events has now happened so many times that we can predict with a fair degree of confidence that, whenever a speaker is disinvited somewhere, it will play out in exactly this fashion.

This being the case, I think we can agree that what we are dealing with here is usually a minor official making a bad decision, one that can be quickly and painlessly overturned.  This not a particularly difficult problem to overcome and it should be easily dealt with in calm and reasoned tones, with no need for grand declarations or denunciations.

Now, there's a strain of thought* that says such incidents are reflective of a dangerous illiberalism in campus culture, one which reveals a far greater problem in the entirety of left-wing politics, or some such cant.

This hysterical message, most commonly conveyed in apocalyptic tones, does actually contain a grain of truth, and once again - I am entirely unconcerned by this.

It's certainly true that there are plenty of people knocking about who will get their knickers in a twist if you make certain arguments, e.g. "I don't approve of Muslim women wearing the headscarf", or "Prostitution is a really bad career choice", and so on.  It's also true that certain individuals - not many, but actually existing - will attempt to prevent anyone making such arguments on campus.

Mostly, this is because students tend to be young and daft, and have always been prone to seeing the world in definitive terms that they will relax later in life.  To a lesser extent, it's also because there's a small but vocal minority of tiresome knobheads wandering around, but this has always been the case.

Nonetheless, the actual real-world effect of such people's actions translates into a bit of hassle, rather than tyranny.  We can, I think, all survive a bit of hassle by knobheads - we've all been dealing with it all of our lives after all, and we will probably survive a bout of knob-headery in even its right-on form unharmed.

More to the point, I see much of this as the inevitable result of our much-improved interpersonal relations in recent decades.  When I was a kid, racism and sexism were indulged to a far greater extent, and homophobia was only seen as a serious problem by a few activists who were repeatedly mocked in the gutter press as a shower of loony-left woofters.

Now, not so much.   The social unacceptability of these forms of prejudice has greatly improved everyone's lives, I think, and this situation is resented mainly by people who would prefer to go back to the bad old days.

Unfortunately, this has also spawned tiny gaggles of irritating self-appointed Commissars, mostly on social media, but occasionally bleeding out into the world.  I consider this an annoying but entirely acceptable cost.  The fact that these jokers get up the noses of e.g. Melanie Phillips or Brendan O'Neill is unfortunate for them and for others of their ilk, but is no reason at all to imagine that we're worse off now than we were before.

*I made an effort here not to launch into ad hominems, but I think that a few are called for.  It's worth noting that the loudest screamers about campus activism broadly use student dafties as stand-ins for their political foes, none of whom are thick enough to give them the kind of ammunition that only a bunch of painfully right-on 19-year-olds can supply. 

Suffice to say that I think this is a dishonest trick, and that any writer in their forties who regularly gets up on his or her high-horse to issue grand proclamations about student politics, is probably telling you more about themselves than they are telling you about student politics.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Replicant Army Zeta

"Bombing to support a genocidal tyrant isn't the same as bombing a terrorist organisation...  pursuing a malign policy for malign goals is worse. Hence, yes, there is a difference in reactions... You must see the quantifiable difference". 

So says a long-time reader in response to this post, a bashed-out ramble about our noticeably lesser levels of indulgence for Russian ultraviolence than we display for our own.

Taking these comments in context, I'm inclined to agree.  There are notable and marked differences between our military hijinks and those of the Russian armed forces.

For one thing, Bad Vlad Putin - a vicious cartoon KGB gangster straight out of Bond-villain central casting - has only just embarked on his first murderous death rampage in the region.

We, however, are now approaching a decade-and-a-half's worth of trying to make the Middle East and north Africa sit still and behave by repeatedly blatting several countries with thousands upon thousands of missiles.

Are Vlad's war aims much worse than ours?  Well, sure!  He's bombing one crew of nutty jihadists and a tiny clique of possibly-theoretical secular liberal warriors at the behest of the mass-murdering Syrian dictatorship, which is itself a vicious tyranny that tortures dissidents to death.

We, on the other hand, are blasting fuck out of an even nastier army of mass-murdering death-cultists on behalf of the Iraqi government, which machine-guns protestors and only tortures its dissidents mostly to death, while we quietly pass boatloads of cutting-edge explosives to the Sauds for use on Yemeni civilians.

So you see, it's really quite a stark moral contrast. 

Joking aside though, that post was mainly about the welcome return of open suspicion and ridicule for great power "interventions".  Bad Vlad's ludicrous pronouncements this week have been met with open mockery, and the Russian armed forces' claims to nobility have been torn to shreds in a riot of feral press hostility.  We are, in short, treating Russian military malfeasance with the appropriate level of credulity, i.e. none at all.

The difficulty with this is that it makes our own boot-licking, self-fondling fluffery of "the Coalition" - since that's the latest fruity name that we're giving what is basically the American government and its air force - look every bit as comical as the Russian media's supine surrender to Vlad.

You'd think that, after we've been bombing huge tracts of the planet for this long with nothing at all to show for it but ever more carnage and chaos, we might finally be shamed into maybe... just... shutting the fuck up, for five seconds.

Not so.  Instead, the Americans fret about Russian malevolence supposedly "inciting extremism" in the Middle East, as if US armed forces weren't still locked in combat with an army of brain-eating Islamic zombies... Themselves the product of America's own recent military stupidity.  Such a statement would be met with open hilarity, if it weren't quite so serious.

Consider - ourselves and the Americans know for an absolute certainty that our current strategy of drone-bombing hell out of buildings and vehicles in pursuit of nominated targets occasionally kills large numbers of civilians - wiped-out wedding parties, unlucky car passengers, and so on.  (Update - and the occasional party of Medicins Sans Frontiers clinic staff).

We know we are going to kill innocent people while we're splattering our way through the latest batch of Al-Qaeda Number-Three-Most-Wanteds, or whatever other terribly critical, high-value target we're aiming at - and yet we do it anyway.

Civilian casualties have long since become a normal aspect of our strategy, a regretable but supposedly unavoidable expense, factored in to a well-calculated cost.  These incidents happen so frequently that we can no longer reasonably claim that they're unexpected, or even really kid on that they're unintentional.  They are militarily acceptable, politically acceptable, morally acceptable.  This is what we do.

And this might even be fine, if there was some reason to believe that these people were dying to effect some grand strategic achievement, to orchestrate an endgame to this war or that.  Reader, it is not part of such a strategy.  The plan, just as it was in 2007, is to keep killing motherfuckers until the remainder settle down, or until there are no motherfuckers left to kill.

In 2007, complaints about this wacky plan were met with firm tickings off about the dangers of "moral relativism" and "equivalence", the type of patter that is supposed to emphasise our national rectitude but is almost always deployed in service of the firm message - It's fine when we do it.  

In 2015, the message is unchanged, and the relentless warfare is no closer to an endgame.  You think our dumbass bombing campaigns are morally problematic?  Why, you must be one of those gosh-darned relativists who can't see the difference between Our Boys and Ol' Journalist-Shootin' Putin!  

What this tells us is that fourteen years into our great, superviolent war on whatever, we have learned no lessons at all, and that almost nobody has been held to account for their misdeeds.  It tells me that there is literally no catastrophe so great that it can dent our endless faith in our own towering virtue; that there is no pile of rubble and corpses so high that it can't be mounted for use as a podium to issue stern lectures upon comparative morality.

It baffles me to say it, but it means that for some people, being a better human than Vladimir Putin is a real achievement in itself.

I mean, I'm taller than my cat, but I don't expect anyone to congratulate me and suck my dick for it.

Anyway, I raise all this, just as a little reminder of the context in which these grand morality plays about our wildly-different military methods and objectives play out.  I don't expect to change any minds, nor to inspire anything more than mild annoyance.

We can be sure though that ten thousand years from now, while Her Majesty's Royal Drone Force battles the resurgent 17th Glorious Ball-Peen Caliphate or whatever on the plains of Mesopotamia, some joker somewhere will still be explaining that actually, this war is not at all like the last, and that there is a vast moral difference between our war aims and those of Replicant Army Zeta.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

War Is Good/Bad - An Update On The Rules

Using my special sarcasto-blogger sense, I've concluded that Vladimir Putin's retarded and deranged Syria intervention is about to have an interesting and immediate effect upon our own political and media establishment.

It's not going to change their basic view of airstrikes and bombing campaigns of course, since their opinion on wars is generally comparable to a teenage boy's attitude towards free pornography.  Nonetheless, I think the Russians' idiotic actions are going to lead the UK war party generally to announce a few major ideological tweaks to our national morality on military hijinks, at least insofar as they're perpetrated by countries that aren't us or our allies.

Firstly, I suspect we're about to discover that nations engaging in warfare sometimes employ the language of security and humanitarianism to cover up their shady ulterior motives. 

This type of deceitful propaganda is bad, because governments should always be honest about their motivations for attacking and/or occupying other nations.  Governments definitely shouldn't ever make up any excuses that aren't true to justify their military adventures.  Also, people who repeat the lies that these governments tell will now be regarded as thoroughly despicable human beings.

We'll also learn that attacking the territory of a foreign nation without explicit authorisation from the United Nations is now very bad and illegal again.   Attacking other nations in this manner is now a very serious crime that should be unhesitatingly denounced by all, and punished with economic sanctions and severe criminal penalties

Attacking other nations will stay very bad until the next time that Britain wants to bomb some dipshit Brummie jihadist near Raqqah, at which point it will revert to being perfectly legal and reasonable

Such attacks on other nations will remain perfectly legal and reasonable until the Russian Air Force blows up a different shower of crazy jihadists, at which point they will once more become very bad and illegal.

Russia attacking Syria is also very bad because it's making things worse, in a way that arming random factions to the fucking teeth is not, and in a way that hurling missiles at violently-inclined fuckwits definitely isn't. 

We're also about to discover that so called "surgical" weapons aren't quite as precise as we might previously have been led to believe and that if anything, they're actually pretty destructive over wide areas and hazardous to nearby civilians.

It's true that any civilian deaths resulting from these "surgical strikes" were once entirely accidental and unforeseeable, and thus immaterial.  Now, it's going to turn out that actually, everybody knows that firing massive payloads of high explosives into heavily-populated urban areas is incredibly risky, and is almost certain to result in civilian deaths.

Any civilian deaths occurring in Syria as a result of Russian military action will thus be an unacceptable outrage and a travesty, in just the same way that all those incinerated Afghan wedding parties were regrettable accidents that couldn't ever have been foreseen by anyone, and for which nobody is really to blame.

Some of you may have been under the impression that there are no laws of war, or that violent attacks on other nations are perfectly acceptable, provided that they seem reasonable to the Prime Minister and to the editorial staff of the Times.

You may, for example, have believed that any paramilitary force that conceals itself in heavily-populated urban areas is using the civilian populace as human shields; that this is in itself a war crime, and that any military force attacking such paramilitaries isn't responsible for any resulting deaths.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  Belligerent parties are now required to take steps to avoid needless civilian casualties, and they will be right up until the next time the IDF bombards Gaza City, at which point this rule will become utterly invalid to the point of hilarity. 

Finally, readers are instructed to immediately assemble for a now-admirable anti-war protest outside the Russian Embassy, where they definitely will not be joined by the legions of hacks who have spent the day complaining smarmily about a lack of anti-war protests.

Thank you. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Officer Class

If you'd asked me at the start of the week how the pig-fucking revelations would affect the Prime Minister's personal approval ratings, I'd have said Not a jot.

Now that the results are in unchanged, I'm actually surprised that he hasn't seen a bit of an improvement.

To the various analysts, this non-reaction seems to confirm that the public aren't interested in "gossip and tittle-tattle".  I mean, necrophilia and bestiality aren't quite like rumours of secret drinking or secretary-fondling, but that appears to be the consensus.

And let's not mess about - I imagine that most of the Tory voters of Britain actually believe, like I do, that Dave really did fuck that pig.  What are we supposed to think, when Dave's own friends go on TV to downplay accusations of corpse molestation, rather than to deny them?

The strenuous effort this week to rehabilitate farmyard frolics as a bit of adolescent fun, that tells me that the PM's own supporters believe that it's perfectly possible that he did it, and if not the pig-sex specifically, then something similar.

Anyway, my take on Dave's unaffected approval ratings is a bit different.  I think Dave's supporters voted for him at least suspecting that he was the type of guy who would gladly fuck a pig's severed head for personal gain.  The only thing that's changed this week is that now, they know it for sure.

I'd say the interesting thing here is that Dave has not only survived both the pig-diddling and the cronyism, in a way that few other politicians could, but that he's almost entirely untouched by them.

Never mind the cozy cash-grubbing.  Can you see e.g. Gordon Brown or Nick Clegg getting away with having beasted a dead animal in exchange for access to influential circles?  Would John Major or William Hague have laughed it off, if they'd bummed a badger or fingered a flamingo?

Not a chance.  Any one of those guys would've been summarily executed, politically speaking.  Yet it's not so for all British politicians, because for quite a few, the expected standards are somewhat lower.

Now, I'm not saying that Boris, for example, would have to strangle two prostitutes before he'd get into serious trouble... But I am saying that I wouldn't be at all surprised if he was able to shrug off one.  So long as he could convincingly claim that he'd killed her in a bumbling, accidental manner, of course.

But an Ed Miliband or a Charlie Kennedy?  They'd have been flayed and crucified if they'd appeared on television while a bit tipsy and cheerful, or had eaten a bacon sandwich in a socially-disapproved fashion. 

I think we need to be quite clear about where this disparity springs from.  It's due to the fact that David Cameron is officer class*, and we Britons are nothing if not understanding towards posh berks.

If you or I snorted a load of cocaine and staggered pissed about the streets calling pedestrians oiks and scumbags, pissing on tramps, everyone in earshot would break their wrists dialling 999.  The same rules do not apply to the Bullingdon boys.

Partly, this is down to the fact that most of the major professions are led by members of the same royal class, and it's certainly never hurt either Dave or Boris, that their mates own most of the papers.

Mainly though, it's because we're spiteful people, and our spite is easily tweaked.

I've been coming out with variations on this theme for a long time, but this week has given us the perfect illustration.  Collectively, we prefer to be ruled by a vicious pigfucker who hates the poor, than to countenance being lectured about being a bit nicer to each other.

We didn't wind up with a government of super-wealthy arseholes hammering the needy and a TV schedule full of poverty-baiting, without being at least fairly spiteful.  I'd say that it doesn't reflect well on us as a nation, that we cut people more slack, the wealthier and more privileged they are.

I don't know how far this is a humanity-wide thing, rather than a specifically British one.  I suspect that the presidents of France or America could probably bum a goat live on national television without suffering a serious electoral setback, so long as they did it while saluting the flag, singing the national anthem and promising to crack down on immigrants.

Sadly, it's not the Americans or the French that have a pig-podgering, flag-saluting Prime Minister - it's us.  And looking at the way things have been going this last few years, you'd have to say that we probably deserve it.

*"Officer class" in a way that, ironically, Paddy Ashdown or Iain Duncan Smith are not officer class. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Virtue and Virtuer

So the new boo-phrase for our whinier opinion hacks seems to be "Virtue Signalling".  Particularly in a social media context, this appears to mean that

- Saying that bad things are bad or  
- Saying that good things are good

...is really only a way of saying that  

- You personally are good.

This terrible behaviour makes you an insufferable prick, although whaddayaknow?  It apparently doesn't tell us anything at all about opinion hacks who spend half their lives condemning things and people on social media*.

So this one seems to have originated from a particularly dull bout of blah at the Spectator (again!) and, as tends to happen with such things, it's now been approximated by every right-wing opinion hack with an axe to grind against people who annoy them on Twitter, i.e. quite a lot of them.

Anyway, the emergence of "Virtue Signalling" as terrible, condemnable behaviour has a direct application to the themes that I've been harping on about here for many long years.  As applied generally to foreign policy, it now means that:

- If you do say that the idea of hurling troops, guns and bombs into other nations is idiotic and counterproductive, you're a despicable apologist for tyrants;

- If you don't regularly state that what's going on in Godforsaken Warzone (x) is terrible, and that the people responsible for it are terrible, then you are shamefully silent about the suffering of the people of Godforsaken Warzone (x), and

- Now, apparently, if you do regularly state that what's going on in Godforsaken Warzone (x) is terrible, you're an insufferable prick, doing nothing more than signalling your immense and throbbing personal virtue.

That's quite an extensive list of forbidden behaviours, and if it ever catches on with anyone apart from highly belligerent opinion columnists and rubbish politicians, it's likely to leave most of the populace in a state of what I can only call original sin.   If we can't approve, disapprove or ignore it, what the hell are we meant to do?

Well, that's a good question in the context of conflicts, because I notice that the only option this would leave us for extirpating our sin would be... Furious demands for lots of wars, followed by fervent prayers for victory.

Here, I think we begin to see why the idea of "Virtue Signalling" as a terrible moral flaw is going great guns with certain opinion hacks**, especially those who have long received former left-wingers' confessions, conversions and epiphanies with loud hosannas, as if they were so many miracles.  It's certainly popular with those whose eyes have been sharpest in the search for blasphemy or heresy, and who are most enthusiastic about excommunication.

All of which ecumenical behaviour is quite surprising to behold, when you consider that so many of them (though maybe not all) would probably describe themselves as secularists.

But to return to a theme that I've been arsing on about recently: let's note that all of this is yet another example of what happens when opinion journalism collides with the public in an age of instant global communication - most often, mutual fear and loathing.

And this is understandable to a certain extent, since a good chunk of the public has little to say to the hacks except fuck you and I hope you die in these graphically-described terms, and quite a few of the hacks are only marginally less offensive.

Still though, it's worth noting that most of the hacks manage to retain a sense of proportion about the many things that people say on the internet, even in the face of extreme provocation, not least because maintaining a sense of proportion is one of the basic requirements of professionalism.

Others, though...


*This one does strike me as particularly odd, since it seems especially targeted at people who - for good or ill - are at least trying to do something decent.  Quite a lot of people don't even bother with that. 

**Also because this applies to e.g. Austerity, or telling refugees to sling their hook.  Oooh, look at you, feeling sympathy for suffering human beings, you horrible little arse, you.