Apr 142010
 

So. After two years of slowly building itself in the wilderness, crafting press releases that media outlets file carefully in the bin, organising speeches, events, and awareness campaigns, and spreading the libertarian word to individuals bit by bit (from giving party cards to shopkeepers to chatting with taxi drivers and barmen), the LPUK has finally appeared on the national scene, doing two television appearances in one week. It never rains but it pours, eh?

Publicity bite number one came this past Sunday, when LPUK leader Chris Mounsey was invited to debate the question, ‘Should the drink-driving limit be dropped from 80mgs to 50?’ on The Big Questions.

As a matter of fact, he was not being asked to form part of the panel – a detail which the producers failed to mention until he actually walked onto the set for the live broadcast. In reality, he was to present a single point of view, in company with a doctor from the BMA, a grieving mother whose son was killed by a driver over the 80mgs limit, and a representative of an auto association. He also discovered when he walked on set that the question was not, ‘Should the drink-driving limit be dropped from 80mgs to 50?’ but rather ‘Should drivers drink?’

Now, it is not for a political actor to complain that the media do not play fair; when he realised his carefully researched data were going to be useless in context, Chris manned up and did his level best to demonstrate that there is no statistical benefit to prohibiting drivers from drinking at all. Unfortunately, he ran straight into:

Maxim 1 of Political ‘Debate': Your opponent will always lie.

The doctor from the BMA had come armed with her own ‘data’ to prove that, hey, a tiny bit of alcohol slows reaction times by 12.5%, and with 80mgs of drink in the blood reaction times are 10 times slower than with 50. Subsequent research has shown these claims to be rather dubious.

Furthermore, he encountered:

Maxim 2 of Political ‘Debate': The victim (or his mother) is always right.

Never mind that only a tiny proportion of people are killed in drink-driving accidents; never mind that only a tiny proportion of drink-driving journeys result in accidents at all. Anyone who does not utterly oppose the conjunction of alcohol and driving, however limited, is essentially an advocate of manslaughter – and, incidentally, a total monster for making a grieving mother cry.

That said, he did at least have the opportunity to say one or two things about libertarianism, and it was encouraging to find the audience applauding rather less enthusiastically for the bansturbators than they had done earlier for those guests who averred that priests abusing children was a disgrace. If banning drivers from all alcohol consumption was such an obvious no-brainer, surely the audience would have given it the same acclamation they gave to the many other no-brainer statements made on the programme that day.

Publicity bite number two occurred this very morning. Again, LPUK leader Chris Mounsey was invited to speak about the party, this time on The Daily Politics. The producers contacted him to say the interview would be part of a segment on the ‘small parties’ and their policies – as if to suggest that, alone of all media outlets, The Daily Politics was responsible and engaged enough to tell its viewers that there actually are more than three political parties in the United Kingdom. Again, Chris agreed to appear.

And again, he found himself wrong-footed. The ‘interview’ would turn out to be a two-and-a-half minute segment during which Andrew Neil actually did most of the talking. Outliers of all types have to be kept in the liminal spaces, of course, and with small parties, there is a distinct danger that if the media actually report their actual views in any kind of detail, those parties might cease to be quite so small.

Andrew Neil obviously entered the ‘interview’ with that in mind, and ensured that every one of his questions reinforced that marginalisation. He asked not one single question about the party’s policies, manifesto or activities during the course of its two-year existence; instead, he asked, ‘Why are you so small?’ and ‘Why are you standing only one candidate?’ These are not invalid questions, per se, but they have as much relevance to what the party advocates as why they chose blue and gold for the party colours, or a gryphon for its logo.

Maxim 3 of Political ‘Debate': If your position is generally perceived to be marginal, your opponent will focus solely on marginalising you.

During a general election when the media is prepared to demand ridiculous levels of detail about main-party policies, they are certainly not going to waste valuable time asking what is the general goal, outlook, or most prominent policy of any small party. It might suck up the time they’d rather spend reporting on Sarah Brown’s wonky toe.

But fair enough. Chris was there to answer Andrew’s questions, and he did a good job. He explained that the party is young and not well enough funded to pay deposits for many candidates, but that the membership is growing steadily.

Then, perhaps unsurprisingly, Andrew asked about Chris’s blog. And thereby made a colossal tactical error. First, Andrew named the blog, breaking:

Maxim 4 of Political ‘Debate': Never give your opponent free advertising.

Then, he repeated several times that he was not permitted to articulate the blog’s content on television! He made it forbidden fruit, thus also breaking:

Maxim 5 of Political ‘Debate': Never make your opponent’s position look attractive or intriguing.

Unfortunately, Chris was not prepared for a fuck-up of this magnitude on Andrew’s part, and found himself rather at a loss. Should he apologise for the unrepeatable content, or should he remain unrepentant (and thus raise his danger appeal even more)? In the end, because he is a gentleman, he plumped for an non-committal statement of regret. One wonders whether he regretted writing ‘inappropriate’ remarks about public figures, or whether it was simply that he regretted Andrew felt the blog was at all relevant to the LPUK manifesto.

The LPUK, and libertarians in general, have now learned some valuable lessons.

First, Chris was right to go and speak on these programmes. Most of the speaking engagements we libertarians do tend to be in front of other libertarians, which is great but is also preaching to the choir. Although these appearances will not have enlightened anybody about libertarian views, they have nevertheless made a lot of people aware of the existence of a libertarian party. We on the series of tubes lose sight of this sometimes (pace Boaty & D), but there are lots of libertarians out there who aren’t bloggers or blog readers, but who do watch television. Now some of them will know there is a substantial, organised community of libertarians out there that they can be part of.

Second, our assumptions about the media have all been true. They are not interested in reporting, nor are they in any way responsible holders-to-account of public actors. They are a business, and like all businesses they exist to sell their product. Consumers of news media enjoy both outrage and scandal, which unfortunately run-of-the-mill public figures do not provide in great supply. Liminal public actors, therefore, must take up the slack by submitting themselves not to questions designed to elucidate, but to statements designed to confront and incite. There is nothing necessarily wrong in this, but it does require the we liminal types adjust our own strategy accordingly. If the media want shocking interviews, we must shock unapologetically. If the media want to focus on what makes us marginal, we must learn to wear those marginal views with pride. After all, we have nothing to be ashamed of. Pity and guilt have no place among libertarians.

We often wish that public figures did more straight speaking during interviews – the constant diet of pabulum fed to us by the news outlets is so wearying. This criticism still applies to print news, of course, but I think we can all recognise now that live interviews are very different. Whether you’re a shady MP or a total nub, your interviewer’s goal is the same: to ask you only questions that put you on the back foot. I guess that’s why MPs have obfuscation techniques drummed into them from the second they join the party. We, at least, don’t have to obfuscate, so I suggest a different strategy. Instead of assuming that such questions are meant to draw us into a discussion, we should realise their purpose is to back-foot. And instead of stepping neatly into this trap, we should refuse to play – by answering the question, and nothing more.

So that when Andrew Neil says, ‘So you’re a five-man band?’ we don’t explain. We simply say ‘No’ and wait courteously for the next question. So that when he says ‘Do you think this kind of unrepeatable language is appropriate?’ we don’t qualify. We simply say ‘Yes.’ Because that’s the honest answer. And if Andrew Neil wants to call us unmitigated monsters, then the only appropriate response to such idiocy is an insolent shrug. That’s the only response it deserves.

Finally, we know that preparation is pointless. For a twenty-minute speech to other libertarians, we come armed with facts. In such company, we expect to be asked to justify our views with reference to reality. Well, plainly facts and reality are not wanted by media hosts and audiences – and even if they are wanted, the host will negate any you’ve gathered by changing the question at the last moment. So no more data, no more evidence, no more statistics. Why bother? Even when people do listen, they have no idea whether or not you’re telling the truth. If our integrity is such that we can’t permit ourselves to lie outright, then we simply emphasise over and over whichever single statistic most powerfully proves (or supports) our point. Otherwise, extemporise. Then we’ll be flexible enough to respond to the questions we actually end up facing.

After his appearance this morning, Chris offered his resignation to the party. The LPUK refused to accept it. Libertarians, we are who we are. Chris’s only mistake was assuming his hosts actually wanted a calm, logical defence of libertarianism. He was nevertheless magnificent. And the LPUK were right to refuse his resignation. What they need is a leader who is fearless, unapologetic, and completely certain of the rightness of his position. As we all know that’s exactly what the Devil’s Kitchen is, Chris Mounsey need only be himself to succeed.

And lest you think my point of view is biased, allow me to direct you to other apologia here and here and here and here.

UPDATE: And here. And here and here and here and here (sort of) and here and here.

UPDATE 2: And here and here and here and here.

On the other hand, if self-congratulatory I-told-you-sos are more to your taste, go here. With what horrific vocabulary is the Devil’s Kitchen accused of crimes against decency! Bad Conscience is tearing into first place in this contest of the vapours: ‘Highly offensive’ – ‘frequently deliberately outrageous’ – ‘heinously and wilfully offensive’ – ‘personalised, pornographic, narcissistic, grievously offensive invective and vitriol’ – ‘heinously offensive [again]’ – ‘disturbing’ – ‘nasty vitriolic crap.’

Please, dude. Don’t make yourself such a Victorian lady. I bet you’re the first to proclaim what a magnificent satire of the selfish Thatcher-and-Reagan era is Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho. And the Devil’s Kitchen has nothing on him.

Feb 252010
 

When I heard about the dude in Texas who flew his plane into an IRS office, my second reaction was, ‘Well, crap.’ Mostly because I knew this would hurt the cause of anti-tax, limited-government advocates everywhere. We would all be tarred with the same brush, and the mildly irritating, deliberate misinterpretations of that movement in the US (see, for example, this ethnography of the Tea Party, lush with contempt and condescension) would become either (a) outright denunciations of hypocrisy and extremism, or (b) even more explicit in their belief that anyone expressing suspicion of government is a tinfoil-wearing lunatic. Or both.

And indeed, this is precisely what has happened. To the point where some other wanker at the New York Times has written an opinion piece about it – which neatly combines views (a) and (b) as expected.

I don’t doubt that Tea Partiers are on balance on the right, and if their movement ever crystallizes into a political party that will be its location. But until the requisite winnowing happens, a person with Stack’s fuzzy ideology wouldn’t feel terribly alone at a big Tea Party.

I emphasize that I’m talking about his ideology, not his penchant for flying planes into buildings. Still, some of the ingredients of that penchant — a conspiratorial bent, a deep and personal sense of oppression, an attendant resentful rage — can be found in the movement, if mainly on its fringes. There are some excitable Tea Partiers out there.

Yup, all there. Tea Partiers are simultaneously lame and dangerously crazy. Just on the fringes, though! Wouldn’t want to make sweeping generalisations or anything!

Oh wait:

…I’m not sure how purely conservative the Tea Party movement is anyway.

Yes, it mobilized against a liberal health care bill and the stimulus package, but it also opposes corporate bailouts. Sure, Tea Partiers hate taxes, but that alone doesn’t distinguish them from many Americans. On social issues the Tea Partiers include some libertarians along with a larger number of family-values conservatives.

And when you move to foreign policy, things don’t get more coherent. Though some Tea Partiers are hawks, many follow Ron Paul’s lead, combining a left-wing critique of military engagement with a right-wing aversion to the United Nations and other multilateral entanglements.

In the end, the core unifying theme of the Tea Partiers is populist rage…

Apparently this guy thinks that opposing government intervention (health care bill, stimulus package, corporate bailouts), government intervention (in foreign countries in illegal wars), and government intervention (allowing the global government of the UN to determine the policies of individual countries) is a ‘squishy,’ ‘inchoate,’ and ‘undefined’ ideological position.

And apparently the core unifying theme of the Tea Partiers, who couldn’t be more direct about their core unifying theme – opposing government intervention – is actually populist rage. Truly, there are none so blind as those who will not see; and there are those who will never see, even when they have all the info at their disposal, because they would rather view the Tea Party as lunatics with conspiracy nuts on the fringes, with terrorists on their fringes, than as a legitimate electoral bloc with a valid point to make.

My, how times are changed. It used to be the privilege of the left to distrust the government and suspect it of base motives. I guess now that the left are the government, that once-noble perspective is no longer tenable.

Mind you, our ex-hippy overlords seem particularly distraught that the voice of the new generation is a weak one. A couple of days ago, I wrote in the comments to this post that it was a key feature of the baby-boom generation to strangle the life out of today’s youth and then demand to know why it wasn’t trying to breathe.

And lo, what should be in the newspaper on Monday but the results of a poll showing that today’s youth are ‘more boring’ than their parents.

Having been told from birth to shun smoking, drinking, sex, drugs, and pretty much anything else that could be interpreted as either exciting or ‘interesting,’ the yoof turn out to be rather hard-line Puritans. Quelle surprise. And for this, the baby-boomers have the nerve to complain that their kids are no fucking fun.

***

Oh, and the plane-up-the-IRS man? He’s called Joseph Stack, and you can Google his suicide note. You’ll discover there that, far from being a general anti-tax weirdo, he was the victim of a long a vigorous shafting by the revenue. I’m sure it appealed to him to couch his rage in ideological bombast, but it couldn’t be more clear that this ‘terrorism’ was nothing more than revenge served up to the nearest target. And hey, nobody is forced to work at the IRS giving it up the backside to faceless Americans who can’t understand the impenetrable tax code.

I guess complicity really is all around us.

Feb 182010
 

Stephen Hill at CiF posits some kind of equivalency between Greece’s budget catastrophe, and the ensuing debate about whether the solvent EU countries should bail it out, and California’s budget catastrophe, and the debate about whether the solvent US states should bail it out.

Apparently Greece isn’t that large a proportion of the EU economy, so no big deal – but California represented a whopping 14% of the US economy before it went bust.

California’s situation in some ways is more worrisome than Greece’s. Having a state that is one-seventh of the national economy in dire straits is a threat to the nation’s economic recovery. It is analogous to having Germany struggling instead of Greece, striking at the heart of Europe. California has been shaken by widespread layoffs and furloughs – the city of Los Angeles just laid off 1,000 more workers – and core social programmes have been slashed. Millions of low income children have lost access to meal programmes, and community clinics have been closed. Almost 3 million low income adults have lost important benefits such as dental care, psychological services and mammograms.

In addition, while both California and Greece are in major belt tightening mode, at least in Greece all families and individuals still have access to healthcare and a long menu of other social supports that Europe is known for. In California, even before the crisis millions had no healthcare, and now more have lost their jobs and their health insurance. Unemployment compensation is miserly, as is the overall safety net, which impacts consumer spending and further weakens the economy.

In this case, then, it was terribly mean of the Obama administration to deny California a federal bail-out paid for by the taxes of the other 49 states. That’s, like, super unfair, because:

But ironically California’s current plight may serve as a warning to Germany and France. Over the last several decades, California’s once thriving economy served as a kind of backstop for other American states. California has subsidised low population (and often conservative) states by only receiving back about $.80 for every federal tax dollar it sends to Washington DC. Californians have sent tens of billions of dollars to conservative states such as Mississippi, Alaska and North Dakota, which receive about $1.75 for every dollar sent to Washington.

Yet when Governor Schwarzenegger asked the federal government for a return on that long-term support, the White House shut the door and the Republican states long subsidised by California were unsympathetic. Memories are short, as is gratitude.

Leaving aside the question of optimal single-currency zones – which Hill never addresses – let’s look at this central point about the unfairness of leaving California to its fate.

For years, Hill says, California was the wealthiest state in the country, and the federal taxes its wealthy citizens paid subsidised the poorer, less populous states of the union. Now California has farked itself, allowing and encouraging its legislature to spend the state into massive debt – and wealthy California wants the poorer states to subsidise it!

Surely this is exactly what Guardian writers (and readers) loathe, the idea of the poor subsidising the wealthy? They certainly profess to hate incidences of it in the UK and cry that the transfer of money from poor to rich is a massive injustice (that will, no doubt, be further perpetrated by the Tories if they win the next election). California’s budget crash has not made the poor states it used to subsidise any wealthier; in fact, it’s probably made them poorer. So why in the world should the poor states make themselves even poorer because the people of California were happy to elect legislatures that spend like drunken sailors?

Somebody please explain to me why, suddenly, the Guardian is in favour of the poor subsidising the rich.

Jan 122010
 

Perhaps the “hardest” language studied by many Anglophones is Latin. In it, all nouns are marked for case, an ending that tells what function the word has in a sentence (subject, direct object, possessive and so on). There are six cases, and five different patterns for declining verbs into them.

One cannot decline verbs, as any fule kno. And there are seven cases.

This system, and its many exceptions, made for years of classroom torture for many children. But it also gives Latin a flexibility of word order. If the subject is marked as a subject with an ending, it need not come at the beginning of a sentence. This ability made many scholars of bygone days admire Latin’s majesty—and admire themselves for mastering it.

Meh. Sure, there’s a flexibility of word order in Latin. There is in English, too, though not perhaps to the same extent. But even in Latin, one doesn’t just arrange the words any old how. Word order is stylistic, just like word choice and syntax. An elegant word order is one that provides the audience with the clearest possible meaning, the greatest possible emphasis, and the most pleasing conjunction of sounds. Exactly like English, in fact. And where English is more constrained than Latin because of conventions regarding word order, Latin as a language has far fewer vocabulary choices from which to choose when constructing a sentence.

Also, that last sentence – scholars admire themselves for mastering Latin, eh? Is it a requirement now that every journalist, be he ever so mistaken in his facts, insert a snide dig at anyone mentioned in the article who has ever accomplished anything of value or difficulty? Jesus, no wonder journalism as a profession is dying. It’s because its practitioners are a pack of unjustifiably smug assholes.

Dec 022009
 

This from Bob Ward: ‘Climate change denial is the new article of faith for the far right.’

Illustrated by a photograph of Nick Griffin.

‘No evidence of research misconduct,’ George Monbiot guilty by implication of joining the ‘climate change denial lobby’ because he called for the resignation of Phil Jones, ‘hysterical witch hunt…desperation’ etc.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the hysterical atmosphere created by the emails has encouraged more of the denial lobby to emerge from the shadows. The British National party leader, Nick Griffin, gave a speech in which he claimed that climate change was a leftwing conspiracy, in much the same way as Lord Christopher Monckton has in his recent speeches in the United States. Monckton and Prof Ian Plimer then helped the UK Independence party to launch its own declaration of climate change denial this week. Suddenly climate change denial has become a new article of faith among the far right.

I’m much less interested in this piece for its arguments about climate change than for the tone of its debate.

Humans are very good at creating word associations and reading their connotations, and the chain of association Bob Ward appears to want his readers to follow is this:

Climate change denial = Nick Griffin = racism = evil.
Climate change denial = Nick Griffin and UKIP = far right = fascism = evil.

Thus by the imposition of Nick Griffin into our tautological exercise, the transitive property eventually gives us climate change denial = evil. (Leave aside for the moment that somehow UKIP has become part of the ‘far right.’) Now, Bob Ward never says this directly, but nevertheless these are the associations he wants us to make. It’s not so much that he thinks climate change denial is wrong-headed and happens to be supported by Nick Griffin; it’s that climate change denial is wrong and anyone who supports is complicit with an evil racist fascist.

I’d like to try Bob Ward’s strategy myself.

Now, according to the BNP’s website, that party (and, obviously, its leader Nick Griffin) advocate:

Power should be devolved to the lowest level possible so that local communities can make decisions which affect them.

We will implement a Bill of Rights guaranteeing fundamental freedoms to the British people.

According to the Labour party website, it advocates:

Ensuring a fair say for all by devolving power away from the centre and to local people; giving councils more power to promote local democracy to increase citizen involvement and improve services by making them more responsive to local needs and ambitions.

A green paper to examine the case for developing a Bill of Rights and Responsibilities.

So.

Power to the people = Nick Griffin = racism and fascism = evil.
Labour Party = power to the people = Nick Griffin = racism and fascism = evil = climage change denial.

Using Bob Ward’s Griffin Tautological Principle (reductio per Griffinum), I think I’ve just proved that the Labour Party are all climate change deniers and that local democracy and rights are a fascist evil.

Bob Ward is guilty of a tremendous number of argumentative fallacies, the worst of them being false attribution. Because Nick Griffin is a racist fascist (and therefore evil) does not mean everything he says is wrong or distasteful. The fact that he is a racist fascist has absolutely no bearing on the climate change debate. If climate change denial is wrong, it is because it is contrary to truth, not because it is a belief held by certain unpleasant people. If the ‘far right’ are wrong, it is not because some of them deny anthropogenic climate change. Deliberately conflating these propositions, in order to associate a view the author disputes with an unrelated view many people dispute, is dishonest, manipulative, and lazy.

If climate change admitters, or whatever they call themselves, want to win more flies, they should stop implying that ‘deniers’ are evil by association, and try honey instead. There are many ways to sweeten the pill of dealing with climate change. Most people would be happy to change their behaviour if it meant a better life in the short run as well as the long run. Finding out how to make that possible shouldn’t be impossibly difficult. But, as a commenter on Ward’s piece points out, the admitters are manifestly against that:

Is it any wonder that many people think climate change is a left wing conspiracy when the proponents of the AGW theory make statements such as these:

  • “We need to get some broad based support, to capture the public’s imagination… So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements and make little mention of any doubts… Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest.” – Stephen Schneider, Stanford Professor of Climatology, lead author of many IPCC reports
  • “Unless we announce disasters no one will listen.” – Sir John Houghton, first chairman of IPCC
  • “We’ve got to ride this global warming issue. Even if the theory of global warming is wrong, we will be doing the right thing in terms of economic and environmental policy.” – Timothy Wirth, President of the UN Foundation
  • “No matter if the science of global warming is all phony… climate change provides the greatest opportunity to bring about justice and equality in the world.” – Christine Stewart, fmr Canadian Minister of the Environment
  • “The only way to get our society to truly change is to frighten people with the possibility of a catastrophe.” – emeritus professor Daniel Botkin
  • “Isn’t the only hope for the planet that the industrialized civilizations collapse? Isn’t it our responsiblity to bring that about?” – Maurice Strong, founder of the UN Environment Programme
  • “A massive campaign must be launched to de-develop the United States. De-development means bringing our economic system into line with the realities of ecology and the world resource situation.” – Paul Ehrlich, Professor of Population Studies
  • “The only hope for the world is to make sure there is not another United States. We can’t let other countries have the same number of cars, the amount of industrialization, we have in the US. We have to stop these Third World countries right where they are.” – Michael Oppenheimer, Environmental Defense Fund
  • “Global Sustainability requires the deliberate quest of poverty, reduced resource consumption and set levels of mortality control.” – Professor Maurice King

http://www.informationliberation.com/?id=27941

Now, I haven’t sourced those quotes, so I’m just taking this person’s word for it that they’re genuine. The real kickers come from Maurice Strong, Michael Oppenheimer, and Prof. Maurice King. They appear to welcome the collapse of industrialisation, the continued poverty of the third world, and global poverty in general, as a consequence of mitigating climate change. Is it any wonder, then, that ‘deniers’ are so obdurate? Admitters are looking forward to the collapse of society and impoverishment of the human race, whilst calling those who disagree with them evil (and labelling them with a frankly inflammatory word that is obviously meant to associate climate change ‘deniers’ with Holocaust deniers).

Anyone who thinks climate change is ‘all about the science’ is either lying to themselves or lying to everybody else. This issue is no longer about science or truth. And the more acrimonious the debate becomes, the less the truth even matters, because even if it could be demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt, the people who ended up being on the ‘wrong’ side would, out of pride, stubbornness, and resentment, refuse to believe it.

And the onus for stopping the acrimony is, I’m sorry to say, firmly on the admitters. As long as they keep insulting, belittling, and misrepresenting everybody who doubts their claims, and drooling expectantly at the thought of poverty and the demise of the industrialised world, they’re never going reach a ‘scientific’ consensus, let alone a social one.

Nov 132009
 

I have never had quite the problem with Gramsci that some of the writers of the Libertarian Alliance blog have – as I mentioned to David Davis (not that one, the other one) at the LA conference a few weeks ago. And I admit to feeling rather dubious when Melanie Phillips popped up as a defender of liberty against these insidious underminers of culture.

I didn’t actually get around to reading her article until today, however, when I happened across David Osler’s reaction to it on Liberal Conspiracy. Presented with an argument by somebody I tend to disagree with, and a refutation by somebody I tend to disagree with, I was intrigued: which of them would I agree with?

The answer is, predictably, neither.

Here’s Phillips’s redux of Gramsci:

This was what might be called ‘cultural Marxism’. It was based on the understanding that what holds a society together are the pillars of its culture: the structures and institutions of education, family, law, media and religion. Transform the principles that these embody and you can thus destroy the society they have shaped.

This key insight was developed in particular by an Italian Marxist philosopher called Antonio Gramsci. His thinking was taken up by Sixties radicals  –  who are, of course, the generation that holds power in the West today.

Gramsci understood that the working class would never rise up to seize the levers of ‘production, distribution and exchange’ as communism had prophesied. Economics was not the path to revolution.

He believed instead that society could be overthrown if the values underpinning it could be turned into their antithesis: if its core principles were replaced by those of groups who were considered to be outsiders or who actively transgressed the moral codes of that society.

So he advocated a ‘long march through the institutions’ to capture the citadels of the culture and turn them into a collective fifth column, undermining from within and turning all the core values of society upside-down and inside-out.

So far, so uncontroversial. When you remove the qualifiers – Gramsci was a Marxist taken up by ‘Sixties radicals’ who was opposed to particular values – he’s actually right. What holds a society together are the pillars of its culture; undermine them and replace them with the values held by the moral ‘outsiders,’ and you change the society. This happens all the time, now and throughout history, and usually it happens deliberately. Undermining the pillar of the Roman Catholic church certainly overhauled European society in the 16th and 17th centuries; undermining the pillar of totalitarianism caused the fall of the Soviet Union (which, incidentally, appears to have inspired Phillips’s writing of this article). Gramsci was stating a simple truth about one of the ways in which society evolves.

This is why I don’t have a problem with Gramsci; for if you accept the fact that our previously liberal, free-market oriented society has been undermined from within and replaced with restrictive redistributionism, then you also must accept that the only way we’re going to change that is also to employ Gramsci’s plan and undermine the current value systems of society. Essentially, cultural ‘Marxism’ can be used by anyone, for any purpose, and (and this is what makes Gramsci’s insight so valuable) ought to be, as it’s both more gradual and more peaceful than other common methods for change, such as violent revolution. It also means that the ‘winners’ don’t usually have to enforce their values at the point of a gun, as they’ve succeeded in persuading the ‘losers’ to accept those values on their own initiative.

So Gramsic’s ideas are actually useful; it’s only sets of values that are good or bad.

And as I suspected would be the case, I don’t entirely agree with what Phillips sets out as a good set of values.

The nuclear family has been widely shattered. Illegitimacy was transformed from a stigma into a ‘right’. The tragic disadvantage of fatherlessness was redefined as a neutrally-viewed ‘lifestyle choice’.

Education was wrecked, with its core tenet of transmitting a culture to successive generations replaced by the idea that what children already knew was of superior value to anything the adult world might foist upon them.

The outcome of this ‘child-centred’ approach has been widespread illiteracy and ignorance and an eroded capacity for independent thought.

Without wishing to go too much into my own strange ideas about family, I will say that fatherlessness and illegitimacy are not the problem. Single-parent households are the problem. Having two mothers, or two parents who are unwed but live together, is not a tragic disadvantage. Being raised by one parent is, if you believe the statistics. Nor is the removal of ‘stigma’ the problem; coercively funding this lifestyle choice through taxation is. I don’t think any child should face being stigmatised for choices that weren’t his own, and I wish that every child born could have the kind of healthy, non-deprived upbringing we all want for our own children. But the reason we have single-parent households is because the state subsidises them, not because we’ve removed the stigma and destroyed the appeal of the nuclear family.

Likewise, education has not failed because we tell children they are all little Einsteins; it’s failed because we tell them they aren’t. Capacity for independent thought hasn’t been eroded, but the desire for it has. Free thinking leads to culture’s not being transmitted, as free thinkers are able to reject the moral contradictions in any and every culture and argue for their abandonment. The key to transmitting the culture you want to impressionable children is to deny them an outlet for their free thought and prevent them from accessing ideas that might result in the rejection of that culture. Children are smart; they perceive things in ways adults don’t. But we’re not in the business of educating them to perfect their thinking; we’re in the business of teaching them memes. And with a curriculum developed centrally by government-directed education ‘experts,’ this should be no surprise.

Law and order were similarly undermined, with criminals deemed to be beyond punishment since they were ‘victims’ of society and with illegal drugtaking tacitly encouraged by a campaign to denigrate anti-drugs laws.

The ‘rights’ agenda  –  commonly known as ‘political correctness’  –  turned morality inside out by excusing any misdeeds by self-designated ‘victim’ groups on the grounds that such ‘victims’ could never be held responsible for what they did.

Feminism, anti-racism and gay rights thus turned men, white people and Christians into the enemies of decency who were forced to jump through hoops to prove their virtue.

Again, here it is not the theory that is wrong, it is the practice. What causes crime? Isn’t it a good idea to eradicate those causes? We’d end up with fewer criminals down the line. What’s happened is that we’ve put the cart before the horse, and started trying to pretend criminal behaviour can be mitigated before the causes of it have been eradicated. The same with the ‘rights’ agenda Phillips dislikes: it is absolutely true that there has been historical oppression of minorities, and as a society we started to recognise that that was inexcusable. But now we’re over-compensating by granting those historical minorities entitlements not available to the rest of the population.

And let us not be ridiculous: men, white people, and Christians have been the perpetrators of many acts inimical to decency. Their virtuousness is not a given. We should all have to prove our virtue, majority and minority alike.

This Through The Looking Glass mindset rests on the belief that the world is divided into the powerful (who are responsible for all bad things) and the oppressed (who are responsible for none of them).

Well yes – that’s right, isn’t it? People without power to do things are, y’know, without power to do things. Right after this paragraph would have been a great opportunity for her to continue, ‘But the world is divided into individuals, who are responsible for their own actions, and even the oppressed are capable of harming others, while the powerful are capable of benevolence.’

She doesn’t say that, however, because she doesn’t actually believe in individual responsibility, viz. ‘illegal drugtaking’ above.

This is a Marxist doctrine. But the extent to which such Marxist thinking has been taken up unwittingly even by the Establishment was illustrated by the astounding observation made in 2005 by the then senior law lord, Lord Bingham, that human rights law was all about protecting ‘oppressed’ minorities from the majority.

What the fuck? That is what human rights law is all about! It’s about saying, ‘I am a human being, I have certain inalienable liberties, and not even a democratically-elected majority can deprive me of those liberties, because those liberties are protected by the rule of law.’ If that’s Marxist, then I’m a fucking Marxist too. Sign me up.

However, the terrifying fact is that they form a totalitarian mindset that replicates the way communist societies clamped down on any other than permitted views. Thus the intolerance  –  or even arrest  –  of Christians opposed to gay adoption and civil union, or the vilification as ‘racists’ of those opposed to mass immigration.

This mindset also led to the belief that a sense of nationhood was the cause of all the ills in the world, precisely because western nations embodied western values. So transnational institutions or doctrines such as the EU, UN, international law or human rights law came to trump national laws and values.

Okay, these are both true. But that doesn’t really support Phillips’s premises, except insofar as we’re not clamping down on what she thinks are the right views to clamp down on (Christian views okay, pro-drugs views bad; Western national laws and values good; non-Western national laws and values bad).

But the truth is that to be hostile to the western nation is to be hostile to democracy. And indeed, with the development of the EU superstate we can see that the victory over one anti-democratic regime within Europe  –  the Soviet Union  –  has been followed by surrender to another.

For the republic of Euroland puts loyalty to itself higher than that to individual nations and their values. It refused to commit itself in its constitution to uphold Christianity, the foundation of western morality.

Also true. But democracy is not a perfect system (although it tends to be better than anti-democratic ones), and I for one am pretty pleased that we are not constitutionally bound to uphold Christianity and its moral system – at least as practised throughout most of history, or even as practised today, when it tends to manifest as ‘bend over and take it – self-sacrifice is the highest virtue.’

My essential problem with Melanie Phillips is that she appears to have no problem with cultural ‘Marxism’ in principle, just that it’s been deployed to undermine her own particular values. And as her particular values appear to be stigma, indoctrination, the tyranny of the majority, and white Christian nationalism, I’m kinda glad she hasn’t got her way.

I’m not so happy that the pillars of society I do value have also been undermined – individual responsibility, equality under the law, and the protection of inalienable rights – but at least I’m not bitching about the mechanism that was used to accomplish it. I’m hopeful that I, and like-minded people, use the same mechanism to turn things round again.

Winning the ideological battle is, in large part, a result of being able to frame the terms of debate. Gramsci recognised this, and he was right. It’s the difference between asking, ‘Should we redistribute wealth?’ and ‘If we were going to redistribute wealth, how should it be done?’ The first question wonders if redistribution is a good thing; the second question assumes that it is. The second question is framing the terms of the debate. That’s how the enemies of liberal society have been getting away with their policies for decades; we, as liberals, ought to take a page out of Gramsci’s book and do the same thing. No more of this ‘Should the scope of government be reduced?’ We should be asking, ‘If we’re going to reduce the scope of government, where should we start?’

Ron Paul did this to great effect when he went on the Colbert Report a couple of years ago. I’m having trouble finding a link, but what happened was this: Stephen Colbert announced that he was going to start reading out the names of government departments, and he wanted Ron Paul to raise his hand at each one he would abolish. Ron Paul said something like, ‘Well, I’d rather just keep my hand up, and put it down if you say the name of one I’d like to keep.’

That’s framing the debate. Colbert assumed that all government departments are necessary except for those one might like to abolish; Ron Paul insisted on the assumption that no government departments should automatically be maintained.

UPDATE: Commenter Celteh has provided a link to this video. And I discover that I’m wrong; it’s Colbert who says, ‘Keep your hand up, and put it down when I read the name of a department you’d like to keep.’ The point about framing the debate still stands, of course, but I should remember to give Stephen Colbert the credit he deserves.

This is where David Osler’s reaction to Phillips comes in; his allies have been so successful in framing the debate that he no longer recognises that the debate has a frame at all. He could have made the objections to her that I just did: that she’s just not happy with her pet pillars being undermined, that she has no respect for individual liberties or the rights of minorities, but he doesn’t do that. What he actually seems to believe is that society is exactly how Phillips has always wanted it, and that he and his political allies have been fighting a losing battle against the forces of exploitation and oppression. There must be some sort of psychological term for looking at your victories and calling them defeats, but I don’t know what it is.

After basically accusing her of plagiarism (and what do I know, he might be right), he says:

Our basic problem is that we are ‘hostile towards western civilisation’ and thus seeking to bring it down. We just can’t help hating freedom, thanks to our ‘totalitarian mindset that replicates the way communist societies clamped down on any other than permitted views’. This is tantamount to reconstituted ‘communist ideology’ that is actually worse than full on Stalinism, being ‘even more deadly’ as an ‘active enemy of western freedom.’

Got that, folks? Forget the Red Terror, forced collectivisation, the Great Purge, Hungary 1956, the Cultural Revolution, the suppression of the Prague Spring, and Cambodia in the Year Zero. Political correctness is ‘even more deadly’.

This is from a guy writing on the same website that will allow commenters to call Daniel Hannan a ‘cunt’ for daring to criticise the NHS whilst claiming that his ideas are too patently false to bother debating (’cause that’s not clamping down on un-permitted views). And this is from the same guy who called a rape victim a ‘starstruck teenybopper’ and an ‘LA Lolita’ on a website that supposedly prohibits misogynistic comment.

There could not be a better demonstration of the ‘what we say is okay, what you say is outrageous’ mindset than David Osler writing at Liberal Conspiracy.

But hey, LC isn’t putting anybody into camps or massacring them, so they don’t hate freedom or prohibit views and debates.

Indisputably, there has been an erosion of social cohesion in Britain since the 1970s. But the primary reason is not the clandestine machinations of closet Gramscians, but the abandonment of social democracy for exactly the kind of inegalitarian society driven by the very market forces that Phillips applauds for ‘carrying the torch of liberty’.

And if feminism, anti-racism and gay rights really are that wicked, with what should they be replaced? Presumably the return of the traditional mother and wife, penalty-free racial discrimination and a retreat to the times of hush-hush homosexuality.

According to David Osler, we’ve actually abandoned social democracy, and the free market actually erodes liberty and equality. And the only alternative to special pleading is, apparently, 1950s-style sexism, racism, and cultural oppression.

These people just do not get it; just because some people are ‘less oppressed’ than they used to be doesn’t mean others aren’t more. We’ve exchanged one world in which some people are demonised and unfree for another world in which other people (market apologists, as you can see) are demonised and unfree. But the demonisation and lack of freedom continues. Osler doesn’t see this, of course, because he’s actually partially succeeded in his aims. But like a child, he complains that he and his ‘mates’ have been on the back foot for thirty years.

Whatever anyone thinks of society today, it is the creation of Thatcherism and Blairism, which are both essentially variations on a neoliberal theme. Lenin would not – as Phillips crassly concludes – be smiling if he could somehow see it from his mausoleum. But Hayek certainly would be.

Any real liberal will tell you that Thatcher and Blair were just as much the enemies of freedom as Lenin and Marx; and Hayek, after weeping silently from the great beyond for the past 17 years, is now spinning in his grave at this bastardisation of what he’d be smiling at. Hayek, smiling at Britain in 2009? David Osler, you are both ignorant and blind.

In short, Phillips already lives in the kind of country that is the only conceivable outcome of the brand of rightwingery she herself represents; she might at least be that little bit more graceful about it.

Yeah, she does; and you live in a country that is one of the milder forms of the brand of leftwingery you yourself represent; you might be a little more graceful about it, and thankful that it hasn’t turned into any of those hideous tragedies you mentioned above. Because you’ve both gotten exactly what you wanted: a culture of liberty and individual responsibility demolished, and a society of restriction, coercion, and collective punishment raised up in its place. The two of you are a hell of a lot more alike than you are different.

And poor Gramsci is probably sitting there next to Hayek saying, ‘I know, man. WTF.’

Oct 052009
 

Charlie Brooker:

I’m fairly certain I recently passed a rather pathetic tipping point, and now own more unread books and unwatched DVDs than my remaining lifespan will be able to sustain. I can’t possibly read all these pages, watch all these movies, before the grim reaper comes knocking. The bastard things are going to outlive me. It’s not fair. They can’t even breathe.

Clearly, some sort of cull is in order. It’s me or them. I pick them. My options need limiting.

Here’s what I want: I want to be told what to read, watch and listen to. I want my hands tied. I want a cultural diet. I want a government employee to turn up on my doorstep once a month, carrying a single book for me to read. I want all my TV channels removed and replaced by a single electro-pipe delivering one programme or movie a day. If I don’t watch it, it gets replaced by the following day’s selection. I want all my MP3s deleted and replaced with one unskippable radio station playing one song after the other. And every time I think about complaining, I want a minotaur to punch me in the kidneys and remind me how it was before.

In short: I’ve tried more. It’s awful. I want less, and I want it now.

Charlie, you sad bastard. Discover some self-control, for Christ’s sake, stop being such a baby, and limit your fucking options yourself.

Sep 142009
 

I’ve read one or two things today indicating that there may have been a march on Washington DC to protest Obama’s healthcare reform. But how many protesters were there?

The BBC says tens of thousands.

The Daily Mail says both one million and two million.

Glancing around other news organs, ‘tens of thousands’ appears to be the consensus, with 75,000 the estimate given by the Wall Street Journal via the DC emergency services.

So where is this Daily Mail number coming from? Were there a million? There’s a world of difference between 75,000 and 1,000,000. Does anybody really know?

And may I also add that even in the American newspapers I checked, in none of them does this protest appear to be on the front page (of their online editions, at least). Why isn’t this bigger news? Everybody knows middle America, bovine herd that they are, never normally protest…

UPDATE: Apparently I’m not the only one wondering what the attendance numbers were…

UPDATE 2: Still nobody seems to know what the numbers were. Google ‘how many people at washington protest’ and you’ll see what I mean. There’s a nasty debate going on, with supporters claiming that national media outlets deliberately underestimated, and opponents claiming not. From what I can tell, there were enough people at the protest to suggest that this should have been a bigger story than it was.

This source offers a nasty little quote (although I can’t speak for its accuracy:

On Sunday, White House senior adviser David Axelrod said of the protests, “I don’t think it’s indicative of the nation’s mood. You know, I don’t think we ought to be distracted by that. My message to them is, they’re wrong.”

I say again: given middle America’s general antipathy toward protesting, David Axelrod et al. could probably stand ‘to be distracted by that.’

Aug 052009
 

Oh, George. Read your own words:

As any old hippy will tell you, festivals aren’t what they used to be. Gone are the days when you could announce a happening, call up a few mates with drums and guitars, and put the word out that something groovy and free was about to kick off. In these buttoned-down times, it would be treated like an al-Qaida training camp. Today, you must apply for a licence and spend months of your life filling in forms and liaising with the various responsible authorities. There are good reasons for this: it ensures that no one is crushed to death and that local people aren’t harried by intolerable noise and disruption. There are also bad reasons: the controlling, snooping, curtain-twitching state tendencies which insist that all spontaneity be planned six months in advance, that no one can ever take her top off or smoke homegrown weed or get a little bit outrageous – even within a festival site – for fear of offending some tight-arsed busybody in desperate need of a life.

You didn’t defend us when they snooped in our rubbish bins. You didn’t defend us when they fined us for not recycling properly. You didn’t defend us when Jamie Oliver wanted to dictate what chickens we buy at the supermarket. You have been, for some time now, one of the tight-arsed busybodies in desperate need of a life.

And now they’ve turned on you and your pet causes, too. Doesn’t feel nice, does it? Lie in the bed you helped to make, George. Lie there and learn to love it.