Mar 042013
 
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Yesterday, I argued:

The Welfare State is the way to make our society less inhumane.  It’s in our grasp – but it is a choice.  We can spend considerable resource on allowing the fortunate to further concentrate their good fortune – or we can deliberately decide to give the less fortunate the consideration, charity and kindness most belief systems have tended to argue should be made forthcoming.

But what we have to accept is that, either way, it’s a choice.  If we choose to fashion a world where we must walk on the other side of the road from that homeless man who dies at the doorstep of a bungalow, we can.  We will do so, I am sure, in order that ambitious alpha men and women can – amongst the disasters they also commit – achieve what they undoubtedly do.  And this is clearly an act of socioeconomic decision-making at the highest level, committed by coherent men and women.  It is a freely-taken decision. It is an unforced decision to let some people live better at the expense of others.  It is a statistical calculation of risks that approves of achievement at the very top, even as it judges society will not rise up in arms and disintegrate as a result of the anonymous homeless dying distastefully in the streets.

If, on the other hand, we opt to help such homeless people – if our goal is to create a socioeconomic environment where this kind of action is prioritised over other, more aggressively innovative, behaviours – we may create, again entirely consciously and deliberately, a society where survival is ameliorated for a far greater number of our souls here on earth, even as achievement measured objectively loses its bleeding edges.

I repeat these words today, because – on further consideration – I believe we on the Left must accept there are upsides on both sides of the argument.

Of course, the game all politicians end up playing is TINA.  It makes the absurd seem acceptable.  It makes the ridiculous seem reasonable.  Occasionally, it voices a truth of sorts.  But only very occasionally.

The truth in our days – so where does it lie?  “Lie” as in “located” – or “lie” as in “untruth”?  Sometimes, it’s difficult to tell which process takes precedence.  If something is partially hidden from view, it may appear to be quite something else – without anyone actually saying it is.  Politicians aren’t really professional communicators.  More exactly, they are professional obfuscators.  And what’s rankly unfair is when they say we have the politicians we deserve.  We don’t.  We – the ordinary people – have busy lives to live.  We have relied on the supposed integrity of those who made it their (uncertificated and untitled) profession to run our stately affairs correctly.  We were mistaken.  We now pay the consequences for our mistakes.  But we are not deserving – in any way – of such individuals.  We are simply the very sorry victims.

There is no alternative?  Don’t believe anyone who ever says this.  There’s always an alternative – even as obfuscation and clever smoke-and-mirror tactics confuse the partially attendant voters.  The alternative today is as it stands in my quoted paragraphs above.  We can proceed with ever-greater concentrations of wealth, so that there are magnificent pockets of technological prowess in some lucky parts of the planet.  Or we can take a different fork in the path, where technological prowess has its place but where – also – people’s finite natures, which is to say their existences as perishable goods, count for something significant when we prioritise our politics and our economies.  It’s not even a fork in the path.  It’s maybe just a deliberate slowing-down of pace.  The path will be the same – it’s just the number of people you take with you that changes.  And if we leave behind us the sick, disabled and elderly as flesh-and-blood flotsam to die in solitary pain?  We will be no better than the ants.

Which is not to say being like the ants doesn’t have its upside.

This, this very point, is what the Left, what Labour in the UK, must begin to get its head round and accept.  The Right are charging on with the corporate capitalist way – and we are reacting as if there is no need to choose at all.  We can have full-throated corporates at the same time as a Welfare State.  We can launch a rocket to Mars next year and save the young children living in mould-infested social housing.  We can continue to devise evermore clever mobile phones and make the homeless a hot lunch for Christmas.

If truth be told, however, we cannot do it all.  And we have to be honest with our voting public about this: we have to be honest if we want the circles to square.  Under the Left, you won’t get everything which comes with massive concentrations of wealth.  Consultative models of organisation cost more, take longer and need more training to put into practice.  A top-down CEO-dominated hierarchy can (though not always) take key decisions remarkably quickly.  And we on the Left have to be honest about the implications.

If you vote for the Right, those of you who are fortunate to benefit will get better phones, more brand-new gadgets, cooler cars and technological wonders which will serve to turn your heads.  If you vote for the Right, you’ll get all this and more.  Holidays will be wilder; sex will be safer; lives will be longer; music will be cheaper.

The downsides?  The homeless will continue to die on the steps of bungalows.  The mould will continue to contaminate the lungs of hundreds of thousands of children.  Some people will suffer the consequences of entire lifetimes of poorly-paid work.  Some people will never know a holiday.

But that’s the choice.

And if you vote for the Left?  What will you get?  I’m not entirely sure how to answer that one.  I’m not entirely sure it’s been entirely tried.  But where it was tried most notably – at least in England – was under Tony Blair’s New Labour.  Yes.  Top-down impatience ruined its trajectory.  The Iraq War intervened and saved the Tories from imminent extinction.  And we all know and remember how we felt about certain policies – especially as the implications and consequences of public-private partnerships, and, in general, New Labour’s pick-and-mix way of engineering ideology, have now led us logically to the summary privatisation of so many good and sensible British socialist institutions.

If you vote for the Left – a certain kind of Left (perhaps a Left which could learn from the errors Blair refused to cast aside) – you might not get an iPhone as snazzy as under the Right; you might not get a car as gloriously unsustainable as full-blown and unabashed corporate capitalism might aim to provide you with; you might not even get a lifestyle as chic and as generous as your supposedly libertarian ideals of hedonistic freedoms would lead you to expect.

But what you would get, at the very least, is a Left that tried to save the homeless; that aimed to free the enslaved; that fought to give finite lives the recompense almost all belief systems believe is their right; that, in essence, chose to take not that fork in the path they’re trying to frighten us away with but – rather – that kindness which gives the seat on the train of grace-saving thoughts to as many human beings as possible.

Before they die.

That’s the Left I’m looking at, from down here in the dirty dirty.  That’s the Left I’m looking at, from a position of relative disadvantage.  That’s the Left I’m looking at – when I’m looking at the Left I want to see.

The Left which honestly recognises the upsides and downsides on both sides of the argument – and, in doing so, is able to deliberately, openly, sincerely and directly put the choice to that public whose final say will always be sovereign.

No fork on the path of progress – not this time.

Just a humane gathering-together of those whom the Right has – equally artfully – chosen in its wisdom to discard.


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Sep 082012
 
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Whether you liked it or not – and I suspect it was one of the most curate’s-egg-like movements in British political history – New Labour did lots of things in its time.

It was a manifestation of busyness in political person.  Though not always proper business.

I do wonder, however, whether some of its least attractive consequences were precisely because of its commendable desire to heave as many people as possible as quickly as possible out of the dual pits of poverty and ignorance.  And I also wonder if the consequences in question aren’t particularly a feature of progressive politics.  We are always in such a hurry because we know that people are perishable and finite goods on this planet.  Every life which misses its vocation is a life lost to history, civilisation and a wider society.

Yet there is a significant downside.  Whilst the pendulum swings our way – and every political generation appears to have wanted to exaggerate its swing since the war – many things are done.  But equally, the exclusion of opposition input into the processes leads to a severe frustration whilst in the wilderness of inactivity.

The desire for vengeance, the impulse to recover so much lost time, the blind hatred of the other’s ideas … all this leads to an awful environment akin to a pressure-cooker of prejudice, where time postpones the ability to impose what inevitably become one’s tragic instincts.

Nevertheless, as the pendulum swings back, eventually power does return to the vengeful right – or, indeed, the vengeful left.  And so all those suppressed and supposedly politically incorrect opinions find their voice, their bullying courage and their aggressive channels of communication all over again.

Yet pressure-cookers are only good for cooking food.  Opinion is surely best let out on a regular basis.  As the Spanish would say, only by speaking can we understand people.  And if we choose, on either side, to suppress the right for political movements to participate in democratic process, each time the pendulum swings evermore violently back we can only expect further violence in return.

Edgar Allen Poe was absolutely right.  We are sinking ever further.

And there is little either side in the political class really, essentially, deep down, cares to do about it.


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Sep 072012
 
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Whilst we simply struggle to survive, and whilst our top-flight politicians argue we must – instead – aspire (more here), battling each other violently we find – in both the US and UK to an evermore similar extent – those terrible two sides of the dialectical fence.

Obama versus Romney.  Cameron versus Miliband.  The Democrats and Labour versus the Republicans and the Tories.  And in all this violently public disagreement, the rest of us – society and civilisation in general – are losing the capacity to apply rational thought to the needs and threats of our century.

These are two sides clearly blinded, not by their own ideologies – but by a terrible fear and hatred of the other’s.  No wonder they screech as they do: they do not act out of a desire and intention to gain a better life but out of an awful fear of losing the one they treasure.

How can you build a confident society on the foundations of fear?  Wouldn’t it be so much better if opposing politicians and parties were able to value their opposition – as human beings, logical thinkers and masters and mistresses of the agreed-upon possible?  Wouldn’t it be a grand improvement on everything our political classes currently bring us for voters, politicos, enablers and leaders to be able work to add to the whole world rather than keep from the majority?

This concentrating capitalism is wrong.  There is plenty to go round.  There is plenty wealth to revolve around our communities, peoples and families – if we only choose to do so.

That is our real and only enemy.

It is a concentrating capitalism we must really aim to vanquish if we are to rescue our century from the stupid.

The stupidly concentratingly self-centred and inefficient rich.

And for their brutal incompetence above any other reason or motivation.

For we, as aghast spectators, are not even mainly jealous or envious of their riches.  Rather, we are revolted by their inability to do their job well.  And that is the real motive we have for demanding profound and long-lasting change to a model which is clearly not only damaging people but also – just as manifestly – wasting sensitive and hardly infinite resource.

____________________

A curiously contrary postscript to this post: if, as I suggest, both sides do fear the other more than they value themselves, does this not mean they half-wonder and half-believe that their dreadful opposition and enemy might occasionally be right in what they argue?  And if so, does this also not mean we are losing opportunities on an industrial scale for a constructive collaboration between both?

What fear can do, even to the expensively educated … and – meanwhile – those who have most to lose (the wealthiest, I mean), lose least.


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Apr 072012
 
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Amazon’s been in the news the past couple of days.  First, this story from the Guardian brought to our attention the fact that it allegedly paid no corporation tax on UK sales even though such sales generated billions of pounds.  It would appear, however, and this is something I shall focus on in this post, that the profit margins on the income generated are generally around 3.5 percent.

Compare that with Apple’s massive cash mountain of more than $80 billion and it does take the edge off some of the allegations.

But then, on the other hand, Amazon has always been known for aiming for market share above early profits: destroy the competition first has always been the promise; the benefits will surely come later.

Today, then, we have Tim Waterstone, of the British bookstore chain Waterstone’s, saying this kind of thing of his main competitor:

[...] No trader has ever been so successful in its concentration on consumer pricing – all this impervious, of course, to the broader considerations of the overall welfare of the industries in which it is operating. It’s all so simple. Make and build your brand on a reputation for absolutely rock-bottom pricing. Do this single-mindedly and ruthlessly. Even say it upfront, insultingly and aggressively, in your advertising – go, Mr Consumer, go to Harrods or wherever it is, inspect and admire the goods, then come home and buy them from us. Online. At a deep, deep discount. And fuck Harrods or whoever it is for their trouble. More fool them. And more fool Waterstones. Go and browse through all the books there, in Waterstones, or Daunt’s, or your lovely Topping stores, then put them back on the tables (fingered and soiled) and order those you want from us. Why pay more? Why worry about the consequences?

And I can sincerely feel for what Mr Waterstone expresses with such clarity.  Even as I am a pretty gung-ho Amazon consumer.  I began to use it when I lived in Spain and couldn’t get English-speaking books locally.  When I came back to Britain, continuing to use it was a natural progression – a progression someone who loved the Internet really couldn’t resist.

But, even so, I can see from the bitterness of the above passage what Amazon has done to a whole industry of honourable individuals.

There was no industry in the world more dependent on its different elements for its good functioning than the publishing industry.  And now people like Amazon, and Apple too, are integrating massively so that all potential for making a living lies entirely in the hands of single companies.

We no longer need editors; we no longer need typesetters; in an age of e-books we no longer need bookbinders; we no longer need printers; we no longer need designers; all we need are the individual creators prepared – probably unbeknownst to them – to sign away the future of all traditional diversity.  In the name of empowering the authors, we destroy the ways and wherefores of a profoundly rich and complex sector.

*

What I am more worried about, however, is that 3.5 percent profit margin.  Even if Amazon did pay corporation tax in Britain on the sales its Luxembourg arm is responsible for, on such a margin how much of what Amazon moves would actually  end up in the pockets of the interventionary state so beloved of democratic socialists?

So what’s happening here then?  What are the wider implications?  Essentially, in our latterday capitalism consumers have taken over from schoolchildren, teachers, parents, patients, doctors, nurses, police officers, social workers, council workers, councillors pensioners, MPs and a whole host of other interested parties.

Our economies no longer function for the benefit of wider societal needs and justifications.  Large companies like Amazon have realised, whether consciously or unconsciously, that, by dropping their prices to the lowest rock-bottom levels which Mr Waterstone talks about, they can not only guarantee their futures on the killing-fields of corporate engagement but also remove all need to hand over any cash to the state.  In fact, it will soon become unnecessary to avoid paying tax.  Corporations will generate enough profit to keep going but not too much to have to contribute to the public sector.

Perhaps, in their terrible wisdom, this is what the neoliberals have seen – and what the rest of us are refusing to recognise.  In such a way, the state will, indeed, run out of cash – not because capitalism finally fails but because, rather, human beings in the guise of any other role but that of consumer will die a long-drawn-out death akin to the dinosaurs of old.

The only transaction which will work in this brave new world will be that of business to consumer.  As long as your needs refer to consumer needs, you will benefit mightily from such a dynamic.

The problem is if you will ever be a worker for one of these businesses; or a person in need of medical support you can’t afford; or a child in need of a soup kitchen which doesn’t exist.  Then, of course, you will miss the Welfare State – a state which no longer exists because our economy only cares any more about consumers.

This may be part of how and why the Welfare State is all of a sudden being disembowelled.  Those who are organising it, whilst certainly looking to fill their own already deep pockets, may also see the dangers of the Amazon dynamic to their ability to control the heaving masses: if we don’t sort out some way of engineering support services in a world where 3.5 percent profit margins become the norm, the recent demonstrations across Europe and the US against the injustices of the current crisis in capitalism will be but a harbinger of much worse times to come for these ruling elites.

We on the left, for example, may see the destruction of the NHS as the worst betrayal of all that we have held most dear in a society where common interests used to structure how we distributed resources.  On the other hand, those on the right might actually be looking to salvage from what they see as the unstoppable juggernaut of their own unfortunate economic history a modicum of society-protecting humanity.  Even if this is simply to protect their interests as that ruling elite.

Do try and be charitable about this, folks – at least for a moment.  The situation is becoming so grave we really do need to think a little laterally.

There is, of course, an alternative – there always will be.  In this case, to understand the Amazon dynamic for what it is – and change society so that our economy doesn’t only serve and contemplate the interests of the customer.

“But the customer is king,” I hear you say.  Well, perhaps we have lived this cliché for far too long.  A society where the customer is king and the king reigns above and beyond the interests of everyone else is a society ripe for considerable upheaval.  And the consumer society – the society where the customer is the most important driver of almost everyone’s interests everywhere – is surely approaching such a moment.

It is time we rethought society profoundly.

The question is whether anyone’s capable of understanding that it’s actually there to be rethought.  Before it becomes too late to rethink it.


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Feb 202012
 
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I had an exchange with Anthony Painter on Twitter today.  It got me thinking.  Especially his last couple of tweets.  First, referring I think to my criticism of the right’s stewardship of Labour for more than a decade:

@eiohel But if you are going to proceed with some sort of emotional populism instead the mistakes will be even greater.

And second, when he said something I absolutely agree with:

@eiohel As I say, when rationality and emotion coincide then there is change…..

The question that arises – of course – is why they don’t coincide.  And that was the issue I was really interested in; an issue which – in the event – I was unable to get across.
 
Both of us, I think, were being forced a little unhappily in the exchange into a simplistic definition of the right versus the left.  Painter’s rationality thus became a kind of synonym for the right; my emotional call to understanding and relating to how people felt a kind of shorthand for the left.

Of course, such labelling is very limiting and hardly constructive.  It sort of leads to the semi-sloganising I certainly fell into the trap of committing.

I do however strongly believe there is an issue here which needs to be explored.  If emotion in the Labour Party drags us so often away from Painter’s rationalism, surely we need to ask the question why.  It is not enough to say it is the case – and then accuse the left of being inward-looking and entirely to blame. 

The right, after all, was in command of millions of members, supporters and voters whilst Blair was in power – what then was their legacy; what then was their responsibility?  How did they deal with what people really felt?

And are you really telling me that Blair’s popularity wasn’t a case of emotional populism – at least on the very surface of the beast?

*

Simply put, I would find myself arguing – from the perspective of the critical left – that the left are where they are in Labour because the right have always divorced themselves from the personal impact on real people of their rationalism.  Labour’s left is therefore overcompensating heavily for the absolute lack of a trustworthy emotional connection between voters and right-tending leaders.  When the right do use their emotions, it is fabricated and calculating.  The voters love it; the pundits call it realism; the commentators lap it up; and the disjunction between left and right is thus consecrated in a wilful act of political abandon.

The only sustainable solution to the dichotomy between right and left is for the left to be allowed to let go of some of its attachment to fiery emotion.  And this can only happen when the controlling right learns to convince the rest of us that it really doesn’t believe its message-massaging rhetoric. 

What then would be our response on the left?  To work to move the wider political environment leftwards.  An absolute priority now in the light of the fact that the Tory right has been so good at doing the opposite. 

Yes.  Our leaders can only effectively operate within the habitat and DNA we generate at the grassroots.  If little by little we can convince the many constituencies in the country that some of what we believe in – on the NHS, on education, on crime, on immigration, on identity, on communities, on Europe and on the Union – is worth listening to and taking onboard in some gentle and persuasive way, perhaps in a generation it will be possible to chip away at that monolithic right-wing façade which bewitches so many climbers of greasy poles and excises their ability to remember the daily grind of poverty.

We can be truly emotional and truly rational – but only if right-wing Labour accepts its errors too.

And part of that acceptance must contemplate an admission that where we are now is not because of a failure of nerve at a crucial moment in the past decade on the part of Labour’s rational thinkers but rather – quite precisely – because of what, of everything they did, our erstwhile leaders believed they managed to do most right.

For what they believe they did most right is what has made Andrew Lansley’s NHS bill come almost into being; is what has brought about the slavery that is workfare; is what has led to the evil of benefits being cut for the benefit of the awfully rich …

So before you accuse the left of being inward-looking, examine how you yourselves created the conditions that have allowed such anger to flourish and justify itself.

And then maybe emotion will weigh rather more appropriately for you.

And then maybe we can begin to rationally talk.


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Jan 232012
 
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That’s the issue to hand, isn’t it?  How to empower the poor.  The right obviously believe that what the poor really need is a good kick up the backside; and according to such theses, we need, as a society, to put the frighteners on them all so that – out of thin air – they will somehow manage to magic themselves better jobs, better schools, better housing and better lives.

On the other hand, the left are looking to implement ameliorative policies which, little by little, succeed in providing a better environment first – an environment which, so the argument goes, will lay the foundations for future success. 

The left say that without the environment, everything is unfair.  The right say that without the fear, nothing ever gets done.

But surely what we all need to do is sit down round that inevitable negotiating table – for a battle and war of sorts it has certainly been to date; and then proceed to ask the poor how they actually see the situation … how they would best like their lives to pan out.

Instead of grandly doing and undoing prejudiced generations of political guesswork, how about we truly empowered the very people at the centre of it all?  Give them the control and hold over the very levers of power.  Directly.  Without prejudice. 

Without political grandstanding.

Give them – for the first time ever, that is – both the right and holy duty to actually decide what gets down, how and why.

And in the process, remove both fear and amelioration from the equation that is poverty on this planet.


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Jan 032012
 
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There are some quite superlatively excellent evidence-based blogs out there.  From the precise idiosyncrasies of Though Cowards Flinch to the focussed pedagogy of Stumbling and Mumbling; from the persistent ideologies of Norman to the breadth of vision of Liberal Conspiracy; from the self-proclaimed champion of the genre Left Foot Forward to the occasionally explosive but always clearly fashioned coherences of Shuggy … all in all, these bloggers and many more I have neglected to mention this morning strive to pursue logical trains of thoughts with evidence clearly to hand.

Yet one of the plagues of our modern society and Western civilisation – a plague which has led to recent white-collar crime, economic misery and an emptying of the public coffers in the interests of a painful socialism for the rich and already wealthy (a socialism which I am afraid a lost generation will have to end up paying for) – is precisely the kind of Chinese walls of specialisation which evidence-based blogging is simply one more unhappy example of.

The whole financial services sector, built as it is on the backs of heavily corporate structures (and their corresponding intensely separate divisions of labour), failed to have that keen overview of its highly specialised areas of functioning which might otherwise have avoided the disastrous decline of its solvency and effectiveness.  And the very fact that this is a paradigm for the rest of Western civilisation – those fragile links between complex machines which serve to make our society function so tenuously – doesn’t seem to have struck anyone usefully in power for the moment: everyone continues blithely on in their corresponding silos of ingenuity, as if nothing untoward had happened in the last five years – or, perhaps, as if anything that might have happened was nothing more than a simply unpredictable and unpreventable Act of God.

And so to our dearly beloved evidence-based blogging.  Whilst incredibly perceptive, accurate and effective on the terms it cares to perform, no one can argue with the following reality: all the time, it is operating in the context of the agenda the right has been setting for years.  In specialising in the process of rebutting any and every right-wing incoherence, it leaves little time to re-imagine the future in any other way.

What we are missing, then, from the modern didactic left-wing landscape, is a space where the futile and barren puerilities of our political right are left to suppurate in their own sour juices; for by choosing to rebut each and every one of them, and by a contamination and pollution through an almost physical contact, we have become as futile, barren and sour as they have shown themselves to be.

And if we continue to specialise in a detailed deconstructing of the enemy, whilst this will allow us to have the intellectual satisfaction of preaching the truth to our converted, the future which should surely belong to the imagineers in society will revert to the conservatives and their capacity to set a course of inimitable and tragic thought.

However two-dimensional, lacking in creativity and ingenuity that course might be.

Perhaps it is not time to discard evidence-based blogging entirely.  But what we do need to add to the mix is an editorial mission to combine reactivity with pro-activity; reaction with action.

Not a hoary old desire or instinct to triangulate the opposition out of existence but a truly intellectual impulse to pursue a series of better truths: a mission to make the world a better place for everyone who treasures coexistence; an ideology which consciously accepts that to progress, certain ways of thinking must be visibly disregarded.

Not for the first time in history does being right mean being wrong.

It’s time for us now to recognise and accept this reality.  As well as, in the light of such recognition, act in a coherent consequence.

Even as our moral philosophies have – to date – encouraged us to respect almost everyone.

*

I saw Brian de Palma’s “The Untouchables” last night – and wonder if its message is weighing heavily on my soul today.  Chicago in the Thirties was an evil place of physical danger.  Western civilisation in the early 21st century is simply an awful place of morally unacceptable decisions.

No comparison, right?

No comparison.


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Aug 192011
 
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A lovely piece posted at the BuzzFlash blog a couple of days ago, which shows the knots some God-fearing American capitalists tie themselves in:

In essence, the modern prosperity theologians who dominate the right wing of the Republican Party are essentially heretics. They’ve grafted on a post-industrial-age emphasis on the acquisition of capital and material goods to the alleged son of God, Jesus, who was himself essentially the father of socialism (as recounted in the bible).

At the next Republican debate, we would like to see a test of faith. All the candidates should be required to thread a camel through the eye of a needle.

If they can’t do it, they have to shut up about Jesus, Christianity and the bible.

And in fact, God-fearing seems to be just about what they really aren’t.  If they really did fear God, they wouldn’t spend so much of their time in narcissistic admiration and self-promotion.  They’d think about sharing far more than concentrating their wealth.  And they’d surely stop walking by on the other side of the road when faced with the rank poverty that so sadly resides amongst the wealthiest citizens in the world.

You know that people are only out to justify their own good fortune when they choose to define a human-made set of injustices as a natural and immutable state of affairs.

Meanwhile, BuzzFlash.com definitely looks like an interesting place to return to.  And if you’re looking to find out more, you can always follow its writers on Twitter.


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Aug 182011
 
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The state is always supposed to be the preserve of the left whilst the right are seen as out-and-out defenders of the individual.  But if we accept the establishment is inevitably a right-wing construct, whether the government in power is nominally progressive or not, it does occur me to think quite otherwise.

It’s recent sentencing policy, as the Mirror describes it, which makes me want to beg to differ.  Whilst the danger to an established order posed by the looting carried out by thousands would seem to indicate that David Cameron’s zero tolerance to crime is a shared response – by many on the right – to the need to uphold the integrity of the rights of victims, I do begin to wonder exactly who that victim is – and whether we couldn’t argue that the state as a whole takes priority here over any other.  The fact that the police and a wider establishment appeared to do everything it could to brush under the carpet the thousands of crimes against the privacy and integrity of individuals – apparently committed by people working for the News of the World newspaper – would suggest something quite different from the line Mr Cameron is currently trying to spin on the subject of protecting us all: that is to say, it would suggest that the right loves the state a jolly lot more than the left has ever been accused of so doing.
If we are happy to leave unchecked for more than four years more than four thousand examples of phone-hacking because they only affected individuals individually (that is to say, they didn’t threaten the oneness of the state), and yet manage to rush through in less than a week more than one thousand convictions in London alone related to the recent rioting and looting, what does this say about our regard for the integrity of the individual?  Individuals’ property – and what this represents – I’ve no doubt has weighed heavily on people’s minds (and quite rightly so).  But individuals’ right to privacy and to the integrity of their communications?  Doesn’t that count for anything any more?  For what we’ve been talking about in the recent phone-hacking scandals is the making of money out of the unhappy privacies of ordinary people.  The invasion, in fact, as painful and psychology hurtful as any looting might be, of personal spaces we surely all have a right to maintain.
If we are willing to intervene and interrupt Blackberry Messenger when and if it is necessary to protect the state from being perceived as too brittle, we should be more than willing to also intervene and interrupt – as well as duly, and in a timely manner, pursue and prosecute – the misdemeanours of those who attack the fabric not of the state as an entity but rather, quite separately, of its component parts – component parts which also serve to generate tapestry and wholeness.

By which, of course, I mean to say individuals’ lives we all experience and which form at an individual and discrete level

Any other response might lead the cynical amongst us to conclude that – even in Coalition Tory-land – the primacy of the state is far more of a priority than the reality and true needs of the individual.

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Aug 142011
 
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I was following an exchange on Twitter a moment ago where the question arose of why conservatives seemed better than progressives at providing game-changing moments in history.  The particular example in question involved first-time moments for women (first woman prime minister, first woman chancellor, first woman president of the United States), but the thesis could just as easily be applied to moments such as the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the final fall of Communism and other key historical events in recent political history.

I responded with the following thought, which I guess in retrospect should’ve had a question mark after it:

@LukeBozier Things happen in society thru’ pressure of progressives – but only take place thru’ final acquiescence of conservatives.

And whilst writing this post, I was also reminded of another tweet I saw this morning (apologies to its owner – I’ve been unable to find it) which said something on the lines of:

When you fall, don’t look at where you finally slipped but rather at where you started slipping. 

To say that the telling of ultimate home truths to society is the job of conservatives everywhere is therefore not to underestimate the importance of being a progressive.  Without the pressure I mention above, nothing would ever change.  But without the final agreement of important conservative opinion-makers, in the face of overwhelming and contrary evidence to their readers’ and viewers’ dearly held dogmas, such home truths would never hit their targets.

And certainly not from the easily rejectable sources of progressive and oppositional thinking generally deposited quite elsewhere.

I think it was New Labour which tried to square this circle – which tried to convince us all it was possible to be progressive and an ultimate game-changer.  But, in so doing, it lost its progressive cloth and feel – and became as corporately centralised as any of the more traditionally right-wing organisations happily choose to be.

It is, therefore, my evermore strongly held belief that the true progressive must be resigned to winning such wars without the opportunity of sealing their corresponding peace treaties.  We can be witnesses to injustice whenever we wish, but must be prepared to allow the right to have its days of curious glory.

That is the responsibility of those on the right – who we must accept, emotionally more than anything else, have the means to trigger the change only our continually moving goal-posts can set the framework for.  We may paint the sidelines and run the defence.  But, in this weird game of politicised football, if we attempt to take on the roles of striker and midfield, the fame and fortune such a role entails immediately makes us unfit for the job.

Is this a home truth we on the left must take onboard?  Perhaps it is.  But we can surely live with it – as long as we know that long-term ordinary people are going to benefit.  Being in power and exerting it – as business leaders the world over know most fully – are not exactly the same things.  And a defender of the truth is much more singular and useful than a gold-awash striker of sporting glory.


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Aug 112011
 
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I misread a Twitter conversation this morning and assumed someone was saying that moral relativism and focussing on self went together:

@LNJStokes @Phillip_Blond Not sure principle of focussing on self & moral relativism necessarily go together. Thatcher focussed on self …

But the idea got me thinking, anyhow.  Whilst moral relativism, especially the allegedly liberal kind, often leaves us without any anchors, focussing on self directs us to the greed and exclusivity – the inevitable abandonment of community – which both political players (MPs’ expenses) and financial actors (the credit crunch and successive crises) have chosen to exhibit.

And now, in amongst all this rioting, it’s the turn of the underclasses.

Nothing new there, then.  This meme is, in fact, widely going the rounds now.

However, reverting back to Thatcher and New Labour, they were, even if in their very different ways, essentially moral articulations of how societies should be run.  Their shared emphasis (at least in their discourse) on self and personal aspiration – as drivers of a wider good (in Thatcher’s case, the trickle-down effect the economic growth of the very rich supposedly delivers; in Blair’s, the primacy of economic growth to provide a broader socialism by stealth) – to the exclusion of a more overt and altruistically embedded conceptualisation of community constituted, both, leaps of faith which only true believers, those with a messianic fervour I mean, would find themselves able to deliver.  At, I might add, a terrible cost.  As I pointed out in a comment at Chris’s place:

@jameshigham – I’ve been thinking about this idea of lies vs truth in politics, and have even written about it in relation to this very post. To be honest, Chris isn’t saying lies are good: he’s just saying he’d prefer to have a politician who didn’t believe – perhaps in messianic fervour mode (and who does that now remind us of?) – everything they said.

Perhaps a more constructive axis of argument might be to posit our discussion around eloquence vs brevity of discourse. I’ve seen plenty of examples of eloquent politicians who start out with excellent goals, but as time goes by realise that their very ability to charm others allows them to do things they’d never have dreamed of doing at the start.

Meanwhile, someone who can explain their objectives and politics competently but is not up to the job of enchanting the socks off us is more likely to spend their time focussing on the job and results to hand.

An over-dependence on charisma brings out the worst in all of us – politicians and voters both. And it is from this quality that most of the lies probably begin to issue forth.

Thus it is that the messianic fervour I mention is verily a sad and destructive element to have to deal with, in a 24-hour politics where the “gotcha” moment tends to override all other instincts.

*

And so to conclude: moral relativism on the one hand and focussing on self on the other may seem – to some observers – to be poles apart.  But isn’t it curious how both seem to be leading us in directions of similar distress?  For whilst the morality geeks in society will be bemoaning the command that rank consumerism has over the public, their solutions – ranging from more family and more discipline to more religion and more belief – negate philosophies at either end of the political spectrum.  From the highly charged right-wingers whose underlining faith inscribes the right of the individual to act out his or her political fantasies to the “woolly-minded” left-wingers (I myself have been thus accused) who excuse all acts of personal transgression as part of a wider tapestry of societal misdemeanour, no one – it would seem – is entirely free of culpability.

You know what?  I’m beginning to think that this is Broken Britain after all.  And what the Coalition has managed to turn itself into over the past year or so of misgovernment is precisely that final straw which broke poor Breaking Britain’s back.


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Jul 122011
 
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Chris comes to this conclusion:

[...] Debate about public service reform has crystallized along boring left-right lines. Rightists who don‘t give a toss about equality, be they Blairites or Tories, have promoted reform whilst the conservative statist left has opposed it. This, though, has led to neglect of a more interesting idea – that perhaps public services might be reformed in genuinely egalitarian directions.

This is clearly a question of confusing the owner and the owned.  But as to who’s to blame for the confusion, here I think the matter gets rather more complicated.  Blair was a complex leader of the Party – and seemed to use fear of losing, touchstone policies and being in hock to Murdoch as a battering-ram to create the power bases he needed to get both Labour and himself into power.  In fact, his relationships with News International appeared almost to indicate that he relished the challenge of both getting and keeping them onside.  He liked the power that giving in to Murdoch and his ilk gave him to deal with his own.  He had, then, the perfect excuse not to step back from some of the wilder excesses of his regime; wilder excesses which he clearly found rather sexy and implementable.

If we’ve got confused so much between the men and women who propose and the proposals themselves, surely this is partly to do with the fact that so many politicians like to control with policy-making rather than use it to liberate.  Blair was a clear exponent of such strategies.  Sadly, in my view.

And if we need to understand how unhappy tabloid influence on British politics has been, it’s precisely in the neglect that Chris identifies here – yes, we might very well have already considered discussing how to reform public services in genuinely egalitarian directions if it hadn’t been for the pressures of scurrilous journalism.

*

I’ve been reading my second 14-day trial edition of the Guardian newspaper via Kindle.  Being thoroughly of the Internet age, I’d forgotten what an endeavour putting together a daily newspaper must be.  As I’ve already pointed out, the virtues of the Kindle are many, but for me in particular lie in the fact that it most definitely isn’t a promiscuously standard channel-swapping Internet experience:

Yes.  The ability to download a book wherever you find yourself is marvellous.  Adding digital annotations and sharing electronic highlights is very Web 2.0.  Searching three hundred pages is so very practical.  And reading off a page which is clearer than paper is clearly a game-changer – as well as a considerable achievement.  But what I most like about the whole Kindle experience is that in some intangible and inexplicable way it has managed to use digital technologies to turn me away from hypertextuality.

I love the Internet – always will do, of course.  But Amazon’s Kindle has reminded me of the simple pleasure of burying oneself in a text – a pleasure I had lost in an online maze of endless restless clicking.

And whilst you can get the Guardian for free using (for example) the mobile version on the Kindle’s own browser, it doesn’t give you the same immersive experience the traditional publishing industry was so good at.  If anything is going to rescue this kind of publishing from the Internet, it will be e-readers like the Kindle more than tablet PCs like the iPad.  In fact, if we need an explanation as to why Mr Murdoch is so gung-ho about getting out of British newspapers and into British broadcasting, it’s precisely because he’s tried and failed to get and deliver the Internet experience other publishing institutions have understood far better.

Mr Murdoch’s whole history has been in broadcasting – writer to reader, anchorman to viewer; it’s the only hierarchy he understands.  And yet it’s not a bad hierarchy.  It is, in fact, as I have pointed out in my Kindle piece, a hierarchy I have relearnt to value in certain contexts of trust where morality and honesty exist.

Whilst reading today’s (or maybe yesterday’s) Kindle edition of the Guardian, I remember reading an article which prompted in me the following question:

Do we want a lot of people reading newspapers which destroy sensible and sensitive political discourse or do we prefer a smaller number of readers engaged in proper dialogue and true conversation?

The kind of conversation, in fact, which would allow us to contemplate confronting Chris’s dilemma of how to develop a truly egalitarian set of public services.

And I think, to be honest, in the light of the house of horrors that is News International, the far more democratic and sustainable approach is proper dialogue and true conversation – even if limited to a smaller number of adepts.

‘Dunno why.  It seems to grate a little.  But what’s absolutely clear, in the light of recent revelations, is that the democracy of dog-eat-dog simply doesn’t create civilisation.


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