Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category

Simon Pegg and SF and Comic Book Infantilism

May 23, 2015

I was on holiday last week, which was why I haven’t put anything up for a few days. Never mind – I’m back now, and ready to pour more scorn, criticism and bile on the Tory government and the establishment sycophants and global corporate exploiters that support it.

But before I do, I’d like to tackle one issue that’s been bothering me, ever since I read about it in the papers and Radio Times last week. Simon Pegg got in the news for claiming that contemporary culture was being infantilised through Science Fiction, comic books, and the movies that were based on them.

As Pegg himself admitted, this is deeply ironic comic from him. He’s made his name as an SF and comic book nerd. In Spaced, the comedy he co-wrote, he played a struggling comic book artist/writer, who worked behind the counter at his local SF and comic shop. As well as the zombie rom-com, Shaun of the Dead, he also wrote Paul, his homage to science fiction geekdom, in which he and Nick Frost play a pair of SF geeks, who stumble upon the real alien that the US government has kept secret ever since the Roswell crash. The interview in the Radio Times, in which he made the comments, begins with a discussion of his role as Scotty and one of the writers on the new Star Trek movie.

Pegg made his comments about the infantilising effects of comics and SF when talking about how he was trying to smarten up and not be a ‘slobby husband’ for his wife, Maureen. As part of which, he had stopped drinking, turned to living a healthier life style, and stopped dressing as a teenager. The Radio Times then went to state how this new, adult perspective had changed his view of Science Fiction and comics. It said

This new grown-up perspective chimes with Pegg’s views on the culture in which he made his name and plies his trade. As Mark Gatiss said in Radio Times last month, “The geeks have indeed inherited the Earth.” On the other hand, this empowers the fanboy who wrote an autobiography called Nerd Do Well.

But on the other… “Before Star Wars, the films that were box-office hits were The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Bonnie and Clyde and The French Connection – gritty, amoral art movies. Then suddenly the onus switched over to spectacle and everything changed.

Now, I don’t know if that is a good thing. Obviously I’m very much a self-confessed fan of science-fiction and genre cinema. But part of me looks at society as it is now and just thinks we’ve been infantilised by our own taste. Now we’re essentially all consuming very childish things comic books, superheroes … Adults are watching this stuff, and taking it seriously!

It is a kind of dumbing down in a way, “he continues. “Because it’s taking our focus away from real-world issues. Films used to be about challenging, emotional journeys or moral questions that might make you walk away and re-evaluate how you felt about … whatever. Now we’re walking out of the cinema really not thinking about anything, other than the fact that the Hulk just had a fight with a robot.”

Now Pegg hasn’t said anything that a multitude of other, SF writers haven’t said before. Ray Bradbury, the author of The Martian Chronicles, famously said that the ‘Golden Age’ of Science Fiction was thirteen. Brian Aldiss, who amongst his various works wrote the short story, Supertoys Last All Summer Long, on which the Kubrick/ Spielberg film A.I. was based, was highly unimpressed by Star Wars. In his history of Science Fiction, The Trillion Year Spree, he made the sneering observation of its massive fan popularity that ‘a thousand throats thirsting for escapism must be slaked (if not cut)’. Many SF authors moved away from writing SF over their careers, such as Christopher Priest. Priest denies that he was ever an SF writer, but does not despise the genre or its fans. He’s said that he still has affection for the genre. Michael Moorcock, the editor of the SF magazine, New Worlds, leader of the SF ‘New Wave’, and author of the cult Elric novels, in the edition of the 1979 series on SF writers, Time Out of Mind, also stated that Science Fiction was essentially an immature form of literature. Moorcock then considered that the reason why so many SF writers had stopped and gone on to other forms of literature was simply that they’d grown up.

The great Polish writer, Stanislaus Lem, made pretty much the same point from his own personal experience in his book on Science Fiction, Microworlds. Lem’s an extremely highbrow Polish writer, who amongst his various works wrote Solaris, which was later filmed by the Russian director, Andrei Tarkovsky. Lem has been very strongly influenced by the South American ‘magic realist’ writer, Borges, and was deeply impressed by Philip K. Dick. In Microworlds, he talks about the ‘transformation of trash’, in which the shop-worn props of Science Fiction – robots, aliens, mutants and spaceships – were transformed into a new kind of serious literature by Dick. He hoped, through his own writing and literary criticism, to make a similar contribution and raise the literary standards of the genre so that it could take its place as serious literature. He abandoned this, and the genre itself, as impossible.

Moorcock also began his career keen to raise the literary standard of Science Fiction. He was keen to import the experimental styles explored by William S. Burroughs and other, contemporary, literary writers. Again, in Time Out Of Mind, he talks about how he find his attempts to do so rejected and condemned by the SF old guard, particularly Frederick Pohl.

Now it’s fair to say that much Science Fiction is escapist fantasy, as is much literature generally. Nevertheless, much Science Fiction literature and cinema has tried to tackle serious issues. SF at times has been the ‘literature of warning’, exploring the terrible consequences that could arise if a particular political, social or technological course is pursued now. It’s also been used to critique and criticise existing society. This was particularly true of SF in the former Soviet Union, where writers like the Strugatsky brothers wrote in the ‘Aesopian mode’, to present Science Fictional fables to say obliquely observations about the true state of Soviet society, that could not be said openly.

It’s possible to draw up a list of Science Fiction novels, films and short stories, that have made serious points about human existence and the state of society. Most fans of the genre undoubtedly have their own favourites, or can think of others, that also do this. This is just happens to be the list I’ve drawn up at the moment.

1. War of the Worlds.

H.G. Wells’ novel of the devastation of Earth by Martian invaders had its origins in a discussion between Wells and his brother about the destruction of indigenous, primitive societies, by European colonialism. Wells wondered what it would be like, if a similarly technologically superior invader came and did the same to Great Britain, the leading imperialist power of the late 19th century.

The book remains relevant to contemporary society even today, more than a century after its publication. Stanislas Lem has praised the book for its depiction of the nature of total war, and what it feels like to be the victim of an invader determined to wipe you out utterly. Lem lived through the Nazi invasion and occupation of his home country. Apart from their aim of exterminating the Jews in the Holocaust, the Nazis also saw Poles, along with Russians, Ukrainians and the other Slavic peoples as ‘subhuman’, who were to be worked to death as slave labour. Their treatment of the Poles was similarly brutal. Lem felt that Wells’ novel of alien invasion gave a far better depiction of what the Nazi occupation was actually like, than many purely factual accounts of this dark period in his country’s history, to the point where he got annoyed with them and discarded them.

2. Brave New World.

Aldous Huxley’s classic dystopian novel of the dehumanising effects of biotechnology, in which humans are artificially gestated in hatcheries. In this technocratic, hedonistic society, real culture has withered away and society itself grown static because of the concentration on the purely sensual.

3. Rossum’s Universal Robots.

Karel Capek’s stage play introduced the word ‘robot’ into the English language. It was one of the very first to explore the possibility that humans could one day be overthrown by their mechanical creations. The robots in the play aren’t mechanical so much as artificially created humans, very much like the Replicants in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Capek was writing at the time working class, radical Socialist and Communist revolutions had broken out in central and eastern Europe, and the play can also be read as a parable about their threat to the bourgeois European order.

If anything, the book has become even more relevant today, as scientists and social activists have become increasingly alarmed at the threat that robots might shortly do exactly as described in the book. Kevin Warwick, the Reader in Cybernetics at Reading University and former cyborg, begins his pop-science book on robots, March of the Machines, with a chilling depiction of the world of 2050. In this world, the machines have very definitely taken over. The mass of humanity have been exterminated, with those few remaining either living wild, if lucky, or enslaved as domesticated animals by their mechanical masters.

Some international agencies share this alarm. There is a pressure group actively campaigning against the construction of killer robots. A few years ago the international authorities were so alarmed that they actively forbade the use of such robots on the battlefield after one country made the suggestion that such machines should be used today, based on existing technology.

4. Silent Running

After working on 2001, Doug Trumbull wanted to produce a less coldly-intellectual, more emotional SF film than Stanley Kubrick’s epic. This was film is one of the first with a ‘green’ message, about humanity’s destruction of the environment. It’s about one astronaut’s quest to save the last green spaces from Earth, now preserved on spaceships, from destruction. He disobeys the command to scupper his ship and return to Earth, and takes them to safety in the rings of Saturn.

Other films exploring similar themses include Zero Population Growth and Soylent Green. In Zero Population Growth, the world is massively overpopulated to the point where most animal and plant species, including domestic pets, have become extinct. The government therefore mandates a total cessation of reproduction for a generation. The film tells the story of a couple’s attempts to preserve the life of their child after the wife finds out she’s pregnant. The husband and father is played by Oliver Reed, who was a brilliant actor as well as notorious drunk.

Soylent Green, starring Charlton Heston, and based on Harry Harrison’s book, Make Room! Make Room!, was the first SF book to explore the possible consequences of the global population explosion and mass starvation.

5. Solaris

Based on Lem’s novel of the same name, Tarkovsky’s novel explores the problem of communicating with a genuinely alien intelligence, and what this would say in turn about human nature. The story follows the attempt of an astronaut to find out just what is happening aboard a space station orbiting the eponymous world. The planet itself is one vast organism, which creates replicas drawn from the human explorers’ own minds to try and work out what they are. One of these replicas takes the form of the hero’s ex-lover, with whom he begins a second, doomed romance.

Among its comments on space and humanity’s place in the universe are the lines ‘There are only a few billion of us. A mere handful. We don’t need spaceships. What man needs is man.’

The film was remade about a decade or so ago by Steven Soderbergh. His version is shorter, but apart from adding a sex scene and making Snow, the physicist, a Black woman rather than White man, there really isn’t much difference between the two, to the point where in some places they’re shot for shot the same. I prefer Tarkovsky’s original version, but you may feel differently.

6. Stalker

This is another movie by Tarkovsky, based on the novel by the Strugatsky brothers. The stalker of the title is an outlaw, who makes his money taking people into, and retrieving objects from, a mysterious, forbidden zone. In the book, the normal laws of nature do not apply within the zone, and its hinted that it is due to the crash of an extraterrestrial spacecraft. In Tarkovsky’s version, the zone is result of some kind of disaster. Tarkovsky’s film explores the nature of guilty and responsibility as the various characters attempt to venture further into the zone. The highly polluted, dangerous environment has a destructive effect on the biology of those entering into it. The Stalker himself has a disabled daughter, Monkey. Some hope for humanity is indicated by the fact that, although she cannot walk, Monkey nevertheless has developed psychokinesis.

Although this is another classic of Soviet, and indeed SF cinema generally, I think it’s seriously flawed. Tarkovsky cut out most of the special effects sequences from the books on which Stalker and Solaris were based, in order to concentrate on the human characters. As a result, the film suffers from a lack of genuine, shown menace, and instead is verbose and actually rather boring. Also, the central character in the book is far nastier. In the final scene in the novel, he wilfully sacrifices his accomplice to one of the Zone’s traps, so that he can retrieve the central, alien object coveted by everyone venturing into the zone – a golden ball that grants wishes. This is a film, which in my view does need to be remade by a director like Ridley Scott.

7. Blade Runner.

Apart from its sheer immense style, and the beauty of some of the scenes, this is another film that attempts to explore human nature through the mirror of its artificial, bio-mechanical opposite. Although it’s told from Deckard’s perspective, in many ways he’s actually the villain. The Replicants he hunts are bio-engineered slaves, who have escaped their bondage and come to Earth in the hope of extending their extremely short, artificial lifespans. They can’t, but in the process grow and develop in psychological depth and as moral beings. To the point where they are morally superior to their human creators. The penultimate scene where Batty saves Deckard from falling shows that he has passed the Voight-Comp test, which judges a subject’s a humanity according to their empathy and desire to save a trapped, struggling animal. It also has one of the most quoted poems in SF cinema – I have seen things you people wouldn’t believe, ships on fire off the shores of Orion…’

8. They Live.

This alien invasion drama is also a sharp satire on modern, global capitalism. A homeless construction worker discovers that the world is secretly dominated and exploited by skeletal aliens, who are at the heart of global capitalism. While it’s a low-budget action piece, Carpenter has said in interviews that he intended to give it an extra element by using it to criticise contemporary politics and economics. In the film, humanity’s exploitation by the interplanetary corporate business elite and their human shills and partners is responsibility for mass poverty, unemployment and homelessness – all to boost profits. If you cut out the aliens, this is pretty much what the bankers and global corporate elite have done and are still doing today. And it’s got the classic line, ‘I’ve come to do two things: kick ass and chew gum. And I’m all out of gum.’

9. V For Vendetta

This is another film, which has been denounced by the author of the work on which it’s based, in this case the SF strip of the same name by Alan Moore, which first appeared in the British anthology comic, Warrior before being published by DC in their Vertigo imprint. The strip was very much a product of its time – Thatcher’s Britain, and the new Cold War with the former Soviet Union. The strip envisaged the emergence of a Fascist Britain following a nuclear war between the US and the Eastern bloc. Moore has said in interviews that the strip attempted to explore the moral ambiguities of violence, whether it can be justified against innocents as part of a wider campaign against an unjust system. He also wanted to make the point that many of the supporters of the Fascist regime could be considered otherwise good people, just as many otherwise decent Germans supported the horrific Nazi regime.

It’s a superhero movie, which does nevertheless accurately show the realities of life in a Fascist dictatorship – the mass internment of political prisoners, arbitrary censorship, and experimentation on those considered subhuman or ‘dysgenic’ – in the language of eugenics – by the authorities. It lacks the contemporary relevance of the original strip, as Margaret Thatcher and the Tories did have strong links to the far right. Thatcher was an admirer of Pinochet, for example. The strip explored many of the issues thrown up by contemporary stories of corruption in the political, social and religious establishment, like paedophile clergy. Despite Moore’s rejection of the movie, it’s still a piece of genre, comic book cinema that does try to make an extremely serious point about Fascism and intolerance by placing it in modern, 21st century Britain.

10. Children of Men

Based on the book by P.D. James, and starring Clive Owen and Thandie Newton, this is another dystopian yarn. This time it takes a completely different view of the future and its perils from Soylent Green and Z.P.G. In this future, humanity has been afflicted with mass sterility. No children have been born for 18 years. Owen plays a policeman, charged with protecting an immigrant woman – Newton – who carries the only child to be conceived for over a decade. As a consequence of the sterility, society in volatile and unstable. Only Britain has a relatively stable system thanks to the establishment of a Fascist-style dictatorship.

Although fiction, James’ book nevertheless explores a genuine social issue. Globally, populations are falling, to the extent that some demographers have predicted a population crash sometime in the middle of this century. In Britain and much of Europe, they’re below population replacement level. This is particularly acute in Japan, and is one of the causes of that country’s massive investment in the development of robot workers. Much of the fall in birth rates is due simply to people limiting the number of children they have in order raise their quality of life. There is, however, the additional problem in that the sperm counts of western men is falling, to the point that during this century a significant number will be considered medically sterile. Children of Men is another dystopian work that is chillingly plausible.

It’s possible to go on, and add further works of serious SF cinema, such as Terry Gilliam’s Brazil and The Zero Theorem and Gattaca, with its depiction of a stratified society ruled by the genetically enhanced. Now I have to say that I agree with Pegg that an awful lot of SF films since Star Wars has been escapist fantasy, and can see his point about some of it having an infantilising effect. This is by no means true of all of it, as I’ve attempted to show.

Even films like Star Wars that are pure, or mostly spectacle can be worth serious discussion and consideration, if they’re done well. For all its escapism, Star Wars was astonishing because it showed a detailed, convincingly realised series of alien worlds, machines and space craft. Moreover, the second movie – The Empire Strikes Back – did present Luke Skywalker with a genuine moral dilemma. His friends Han Solo, Leia, Chewbacca and the droids have been captured and are being tortured by Vader and the imperials. Skywalker is faced with the choice of trying to help them, and in so doing losing his soul, or preserving his moral integrity by letting them suffer and die. His confrontation with Vader present him further with another, particularly acute moral dilemma. Vader reveals himself to be his father, and so if he kills him, he commits parricide, a particularly abhorrent crime. This also has literary antecedents. In one of the medieval Romances, the hero is faced with the revelation that the leader of the foreign army devastating his lord’s realm is his father, and so he is confronted with the terrible dilemma of having to kill him.

Now I don’t think that the potential of Science Fiction to explore mature issues and genuinely relevant problems has been fully explored in the cinema. One of the solutions to the problem is for fans of genre cinema to try and support the more intelligent SF movies that are released, such as Moon, which came out a few years ago. This would show producers and directors that there’s a ready audience for genuine, thought-provoking, intelligent SF as well as the gung-ho, action escapism.

Morning Star Reports UKIP Porn Star Reported to Policy for ‘Incitement to Prostitution’

April 11, 2015

Back on Thursday I wrote about two reports in the Bristol Post and the Mirror about John Langley, the Kipper candidate for Stockwood ward in Bristol. Langley had been outed as a porn star, who had been threatened with legal action by the University of the West of England last year for filming one of his grubby epics there.

Now the Morning Star reports in their piece Ukip Candidate Accused of ‘Incitement to Prostitution’ that the Feminist charity, Object, has contacted the police about his attempts to persuade volunteers to perform as extras in group sex scenes in his movies last year. They consider this to be ‘incitement to prostitution’, which is illegal.

The article begins

Feminist activists made a police complaint against pornographer and Ukip council candidate John Langley yesterday after he advertised pay-to-perform “gang bangs” online.

Anti-sexist charity Object reported Mr Langley to Bristol police after the candidate allegedly broke the law by “inciting prostitution for gain.”

Mr Langley, known in the industry as “Johnny Rockard,” runs a porn actors’ agency.

He was “happy to confirm” that he had been working in porn for over 40 years when he was outed by the press on Thursday.

But Object chief executive Roz Hardie said: “We have become aware of the practices of ‘Johnny Rockard’ over recent months.

“He appears to be treading a thin line between making pornographic films and profiting from the unlawful sale of sexual services.”

The article can be read at: https://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-0483-Ukip-candidate-accused-of-incitement-to-prostitution

Hat tip to the SlatUKIP site for posting this.

I don’t think Object will be successful in getting a conviction, as despite Langley’s advert coming very close to the crime, it’s still about appearing in a movie, rather than prostitution per se. They are still right to make the complaint, however.

The girls in Langley’s films are teenagers, which should worry anyone concerned about the exploitation of the young and naïve. The University of the West of England were absolutely right to threaten him with legal action when he shot his movie there. It showed him asking the female students for sex, until he finally found ‘Xzena’, who was willing to perform with him.

This is particularly dangerous as the burden of tuition fees has forced many students to turn to the sex industry, including prostitution, to pay them off.

Langley stated in the newspaper interviews that UKIP appeared entirely comfortable with his choice of career. Well, this says much about the Kippers in Bristol, and none of it admirable or complimentary. The Kippers managed to get into the news before, as they were caught liking various neo-Nazi groups on Facebook. They then got very irate and complained when one of the local schools in Bristol linked them with the Nazis and other race hate organisations in a lesson about racism.

It also shows how desperate the Kippers in Bristol must be, if they don’t have any other candidates to stand in the Stockwood ward apart from a porn baron. They’re really scraping the bottom of the barrel this time.

Private Eye on the Tax Avoiders in Cameron’s ‘Business Council’

April 10, 2015

I mentioned in the last post on the Daily Mail’s hypocrisy in demanding that Kraft foods stop avoiding paying British taxes, while its owner, Lord Rothermere, is another tax dodger using the non-dom status inherited from his father. The right-wing press was outraged this week by Ed Miliband’s statement on Wednesday that he was going to end the non-dom tax loophole that allows Rothermere, and others like him, to avoid paying tax. They claimed that it would drive senior businessmen out of the country.

Way back in their issue for the 15th – 29th October 2010 Private Eye published a brief article on the numbers of businessmen avoiding taxes through offshore companies and the like. They were a refutation of Cameron’s continued refrain that ‘we are all in it together’, and that everyone was suffering equally during the recession. They had also benefitted personally from Cameron by being selected for his business council.

David “We’re all in this together” Cameron has chosen a patriotic bunch to sit on his “business council”.

One of them, Martin Sorrell, has already moved his company, advertising group WPP, offshore to avoid tax; while Paul Walsh, of drinks company Diageo, has threatened to do the same.

His company already diverts most of its profits out of the taxman’s grasp, having “offshored” ownership of British drinks brands such as Johnnie Walker. A similar ruse helps drugs giants GlaxoSmithKline avoid millions of pounds of tax, but that hasn’t stopped its chief executive, Andrew Witty, from joining Cameron’s council as well.

Also among the business sages is the man behind a great deal of such dodging over a decade at the top of one of Britain’s biggest beancounters, KPMG, Sir Mike Rake.

The captains of industry will no doubt have been pleased to note the shift in rhetoric on tax dodging from chancellor George Osborne in his party conference speech. Gone was the “immorality” of (legal) tax avoidance that his Lib Dem deputy Danny Alexander had condemned the week before. In a carefully worded speech, Osborne’s ire was conspicuously directed only at illegal “tax evasion”. This gives Britain’s top businessmen – not to mentioned the hedge fund managers and beancounters who have funded the Tories so generously over the last year – plenty of room to squirrel a few billion away while remaining on the right side of Nos 10 and 11 Downing Street.

The attack on the tax evaders is pretty much an attack on Tory donors. It shows that Ed Miliband himself is independent of at least some of the corporate interest that New Labour also competed with the Tories for. and it also shows the deep, self-interest of the Tory party and their mouthpieces in the British press in moaning about the potential loss of income for these extremely rich men.

As Mike has shown again and again on his articles on some of the prize specimens of Tory MPs, many of them, from Jacob Rees-Mogg to education minister Nicky Morgan and the Wicked Witch of the Wirral, Esther McLie, vigorously demand tax cuts for the rich, and the transferal of the tax burden to the poor through VAT.

It’s not enough that the rich should get richer. They want the poor to get poorer. It’s one of the reasons why they should be voted out next May.

Anthony Sampson on the Meanness of the Rich

April 10, 2015

Anthony Sampson in his book Who Runs this Place? The Anatomy of Britain in the 21st Century has a passage discussing the way 21st century Britain is now far meaner and much less generous than in the 19th century, and America today. The people most willing to give money to charity, however, are the poor. The rich are the least likely and willing to give to charity. He states:

While the rich in Britain have become much richer, they have not given more away. Their incomes relative to the poor have increased, but they feel much less pressed than their predecessors to share their wealth, whether prompted by social obligations or by a religious conscience. The connections between business and philanthropy which were so marked among Quakers and other practising Christians have largely disappeared. ‘As inequality of wealth balloons back to nineteenth-century levels,’ wrote Will Hutton in 2003, ‘there is no sign of nineteenth-century levels of civil of engagement and philanthropy by the rich.’

It is a striking fact that 6 per cent of the British population provide 60 per cent of the money given to charity, but it is more striking that the poor give away proportionately more of their money than the rich. ‘It’s more surprising because the rich can give away without noticing it, while the poor make a sacrifice,’ said one charity chief. ‘But the poor have more empathy with less fortunate people.’

The big corporations have been equally reluctant, and most boardrooms have shown little interest in charities. In 1986 two leading businessmen, Sir Hector Laing, a committed Christian, and Sir Mark Weinberg, and ex-South African, set up the Percent Club to urge companies to devote 1 per cent of their pre-tax profits to charity, but they soon had to reduce the target to 0.5 per cent, and their results were still disappointing: by 2001 the top 400 companies were giving exactly the same percentage, 0.42, as ten years before. A few big corporations stood out above the average. Reuters gave £20 million in 2001, amounting to 13 per cent of its pre-tax profits, which were sharply down. Northern Rock, the mortgage company based in Newcastle, gave away £15 million, or 5 per cent of pre-tax profits. Other big companies provided gifts in kind, rather than money, though they were not always as generous as they looked. (Sainsburys gave away food that was past its sell-by date, which avoided the cost of dumping it in land-fill sites.) Most companies have shown little interest in more giving.

‘Corporate donations … are worth less now than they were in 1991,’ said Stuart Etherington, the chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations. ‘Clearly it is time for the government to get tough with the business sector.’ But the New Labour government showed little desire to get tough.

By 2000 the two chief overarching bodies for charities – the NCVO and the Charities AID Foundation – were so concerned about the lack of funds that they approached Gordon Brown at the Treasury. His budget provided major tax concessions to donors – which are now as generous as the Americans’ – and he also helped to finance a Giving Campaign, chaired by the former head of Oxfam Lord (Joel) Joffe, an unassuming but persistent South Africdan who worked closely with Weinberg. The campaigners have had some success in giving more prominence to charity, but donors have been slow to exploit the over-complicated system of tax relief; and the charities are still very disappointed by the response, both from corporations and from individuals – whether entrepreneurs, corporate directors or the million-a-year men in the City.

Joffe, like other heads of charities, is struck by the contrast between attitudes in Britain and America where giving is part of the culture. ‘If you’re rich in America and don’t give,’ he said, ‘you’re regarded as an outcast.’ Americans give on average 2 per cent of their income to charity, compared to the British figure of 0.6 per cent. The British have often argued that their governments have take over the roles of philanthropists in health, education and social services, to which Americans devote much of their giving. ‘People still expect the government to pay for the basic social and artistic causes,’ says Hilary Browne-Wilkinson, who runs the Institute for Philanthropy in London. But the expectation is much less realistic since the retreat of the welfare state and the lowering of taxes, while the rich in the United States remain more generous than the British, and more systematic and effective in attaining their objectives. ‘British charity is more reactive, sometimes responding quite generously to television coverage of famines and disasters,’ says Joffe. ‘The Americans have a more strategic sense of what they want to achieve and plan their giving accordingly.

Many of the American mega-rich a century ago, like Carnegie, Rockefeller and Ford, converted part of their fortunes into foundations which today provide a powerful counterweight to the prevailing profit motive. ‘He who dies rich, dies disgraced, ‘said Andrew Carnegie, who gave away his fortune to finance free libraries and a peace foundation. More recent billionaires like George Soros and Bill Gates, have continued this tradition. When Ted Turner, the founder of CNN television, gave a billion dollars to the UN 1997 he quoted Carnegie and mocked his fellow billionaires: ‘What good is wealth sitting in the bank?’ The rich lists, he said, were really lists of shame.

But there are only a few comparable British bequests, like the Wellcome, Sainsbury or Hamlyn foundations, and most of the old rich feel much less need to commemorate their wealth through charity. The British aristocracy have traditionally seen their main responsibility as ensuring the continuity of their estates and families, in which they have succeeded over the centuries, helped by the principle of primogeniture which allows the eldest son to inherit the whole estate. Their argument can appeal to anyone who values the timeless splendours of the countryside, with its landscapes of parkland, forest and downland which owes much to the protection afforded to large landowners. Old money in Britain has been interlocked with the environment as it has never been in most parts of America, where land is less valued, and where the rich have more urban and nomadic habits.

But the argument is less valid today, when much of the responsibility for the environment has been taken over by English Heritage or the National Trust. Many old families with large estates still have incomes which greatly exceed the cost of their upkeep, and they still have responsibilities to contemporary society. Many of the new rich are happy to follow the earlier tradition, but they are still less encumbered. Most people of great wealth in Britain today show a remarkable lack of interest in using their money to improve the lives of others.

Above all they feel much less need than their predecessors to account for their wealth, whether to society, to governments or to God. Their attitudes and values are not seriously challenged by politicians, by academia, or by the media, who have become more dependent on them. The respect now shown for wealth and money-making, rather than for professional conduct and moral values, has been the most fundamental change in Britain over four decades.
(pp. 346-8).

So the rich have become much meaner, while the poor are the most generous section of the population. Charitable giving has declined along with notions of Christian morality and an awareness of need. People still expect the government to provide, despite the attack on the welfare state. The aristocracy don’t give, because they’re still concerned with preserving their lands and titles. While the new rich are feted by the media and society, simply for being rich, without any concern for morals or charity. And because universities and the media are dependent on them, they are reluctant to criticise them for their lack of charitable giving.

This was inevitable. Modern Conservative ideology was all about greed, shown most acutely in the Yuppies of the late 1980s and 1990s. And because the Tory attacks on the welfare state concentrate on attacking the poor as scroungers, there’s no incentives for people to give to them either. If someone’s labelled a scrounger or malingerer, giving to charities to support them is just as bad as government tax money.

This marks another, massive failure of Thatcherism. She thought that if the welfare state was rolled back, charitable giving would increase. It hasn’t.

Thatcherism has made the rich meaner, and the Tories continue with the same attitudes and visceral hatred of the poor.

Private Eye’s Review of Rees-Mogg Snr’s ‘Picnics on Vesuvius’

March 31, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political has posted a piece criticising the views and career to date of Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Tory MP for part of BANES in Somerset. His constituency includes Bath, and, I think, part of Keynsham, a small town between there and Bristol.

Rees-Mogg is one of the new bugs, who came in with Cameron. Private Eye covered him in their ‘The New Boys’ on-off column. He’s a tall man, with impeccable patrician manners and the same air of condescension towards the lower orders. Which is just about everyone else. Mike cites a description of him as ‘the minister for the early 20th century’. It’s entirely apt. He cuts a strangely Edwardian figure, as if someone from the first few decades of the last century somehow fell through time to emerge nearly a century later, to be bemused by the strange technological devices, manners and ever-so-slightly vulgar social conventions.

He began his political career charging about Scotland, campaigning for the Tories in a Scots mining town. He announced that his platform was to convince the Scots that they vitally needed an unelected, aristocratic Second House. Clearly, his constituents and just about the rest of the country north of the border decided that they didn’t. No doubt he encountered some extremely forthright views while canvassing them.

He has gone to Glyndebourne, the great operatic festival in Kent. While there one sunny day, he got his wife and nanny to stop him getting sunburn by holding a book over his head. I’m as surprised that he actually wasn’t embarrassed to mention this as I am that he actually did it in the first place.

Rather more seriously, the extremity of his right-wing views are shown by his membership of the Traditional Britain group. This is another bunch of rightists, who stand for the restoration of the traditional feudal hierarchy, the absolute destruction of the welfare state and the privatisation of the NHS, and absolutely no immigrants. And particularly not Muslims. They were last seen a few years ago on the fringes of UKIP’s annual conference. You also see them posting on the anti-Islam, ‘counter-jihadist’ site.

Young Jacob is the son of William Rees-Mogg, a former columnist for the Independent and then subsequently the Times. In 1992 Rees-Mogg pere published his magnificent octopus, Picnics on Vesuvius: Steps Towards the Millennium. It was then reviewed and suitably done over by Private Eye in their literary column. Here it is:

Scrambled Mogg

Just before Christmas, William Rees-Mogg wrote his last column for the Independent. Some bolshie sub gave it the derisive headline: ‘Is this the end of life as I know it?’ Henceforth his compositions will be appearing in the Times.

Senior staff at the Independent are heartbroken. From the launch of the paper, they have found him such a dependable guide to the meaning of life, the universe and everything. All you need to do, they discovered, is read Rees-Mogg’s columns carefully and then believe exactly the opposite. It never failed, they say tearfully. Now they don’t know what to think.

At least Rees-Mogg has left behind this treasury of past triumphs, so we can look back and admire the almost supernatural accuracy of his forecasting. On 22nd January 1992, for example, looking into Fergie’s tea leaves, Rees-Mogg wrote: ‘Nor do I believe for a moment that the duchess’s antics, innocent as they seem to be, are doing any damage to the monarchy. the question of the future of the crown is a non-question; it is all got up by the press.’ Put a few ‘nots’ in there, in the right places, and this was an almost uncannily far-sighted assessment.

Or again on 11 march 1991, when base rates were 13 per cent, Rees-Mogg warned ‘any further reduction in interest rates is likely to restart a major house boom’. Indeed! Or rather – not! For those lucky few sharing the secret of how to interpret Rees-Mogg, this was priceless information.

No less inspired was his evaluation of Robert Maxwell on 11 November 1991, concluding: ‘I am glad he was buried yesterday on the Mount of Olives, which is a place of grace. I shall remember him with affection …’ To the initiated, there could hardly have been a more savage condemnation.

Yet is not just for his power of prediction that we must revere Rees-Mogg. Rather, it is for the sheer grandeur of his style, the way he sweeps so impressively from the tiniest detail of his own life to the great questions of history, with scarcely a pause – in fact, let’s admit, with never a pause – between.

Who else would are begin an article (‘Landmarks in a Life Which Has Seen the Shadow of War Lifted’) like this: ‘On my tenth birthday, 14 July 1938, I was given an ice-cream cake with a cricket-bat and ball on top; it was big enough to be shared with the 30 boys in the my house at school. Four months before, Hitler had invaded Austria … Two months after my birthday, Neville Chamberlain flew to Munich’?

At the time, Rees-Mogg was probably alone in realizing which was the critical date of the three. Now we are all privileged to share that thrilling perspective – and there are many such moments here.

Truly, he is a man of destiny. ‘Destiny has a way of making itself,’ he says here in passing of his own marriage. She may have been his secretary, but it was meant.

It is this sublime confidence in himself, as a Mogg and a Wessex man, that permits him to take such long views, not just from year to year, but from century to century, millennium to millennium, into eternity indeed. For Rees-Mogg, it just all joins up.

So what does the great seer foresee? Good news! He foresees dooooom.

Yup, things are going to be OK! Who would have thought it?

According to Rees-Mogg, the world is facing imminent economic and social collapse, what with the slitty eyes beavering away, mugging getting out of hand, overpopulation, nuclear proliferation, Aids and all.

On Aids, says Rees-Mogg with a touch of justifiable pride, he has done ‘special work’. There’s a whole section about it here, and his conclusion is, as ever, that only religion can save us: ‘Christian morality is a strategy for survival’, you see. Condoms are useless. ‘The “unzip a condom” approach to the HIV epidemic reminds me of the filter-tip response to the issue of cigarette smoking and cancer,’ he says scornfully.

There may be those who will say that this remark shows that Rees-Mogg, for his wisdom, is a little out of touch with modern life. After all, they might observe, most condoms these days use the more comfortable button-fastening; zips are hardly ever seen.

But this is petty quibbling. Of the basic truth, that only becoming a Catholic right away can avert the end of the world, there can be no doubt. The millennium is coming, you see. ‘By the year 2000’ is Rees-Mogg’s favourite way of beginning a sentence. ‘As we approach 2000 years after Christ, this ancient human fear of some final calamity is not as unthinkable as it would have seemed 50 years ago,’ he says.

Only a ‘worldwide spiritual revolution’ can help. Only the Pope can resist Islam. Only saints, and sages from Somerset, can lead us now.

Travelling the country, he met some black people once. ‘I was particularly touched by the young black boy, with the scars of handcuffs on his wrists, who said to me: “It6 must be grand to be a lord.”‘

What he seems not to realize is that we all feel like this about him. Our gratitude is bottomless. For as he says, ‘saints are so important in the spread of religious belief. They profess their faith, but their conduct is the real evidence of its truth.’ Yes, indeed.

‘I am certain that we are all eternal spirits, with an eternal purpose, ‘Rees-Mogg tells us. ‘We are all like eggshells filled with spiritual realities we cannot begin to understand, filled indeed with the whole glory of Heaven.’

Some of us hardboiled, some soft, other poached, and a few are scrambled, but we all can, if we choose, entere the new year and eventually the next millennium, hand in hand with Lord Rees-Mogg.

From: Lord Gnome’s Literary Companion, ed. and introduced by Francis Wheen (London: Verso 1994) 293-4.

I don’t share the writer’s hostility to religion, or their apparent hostility to Roman Catholicism, although that may just be an entirely suitable comment on Rees-Mogg’s own, rather sectarian religious beliefs, which clearly discount anyone else’s who isn’t a Roman Catholic. It does, however, show the lofty patricians tone Rees-Mogg’s views, and explains why Rees-Mogg junior is the way he is.

And with any luck, Rees-Mogg fils will be another Tory looking for a job after May 7th.

In This Fortnight’s Private Eye: Daily Mail Journalists Lurking Outside Hospital

December 10, 2014

The ‘Street of Shame’ column in this week’s Private Eye for 12th-19th December 2014 reports that staff at St. George’s Hospital, Tooting, discovered a photographer with a long lens camera hiding in the bushes near Accident and Emergency. When he was asked what on Earth he was doing by hospital security, he replied that he was working for the Daily Mail. Janet Tomlinson, the Mail’s associate picture editor, confirmed this, when the hospital contacted her. She explained that the Mail had sent out photographers all over the country to snap ‘party people’. This means drunks about whom the Mail could publish long rant about how they were wasting NHS time and resources. According to the Eye, the hospital was spectacularly unimpressed by this and the Mail’s attitude, and threw the snapper off the premises on the grounds that the hospital was non-public regarding patient confidentiality.

Fleet Street as a very long and dishonourable history of violating the privacy and sanctity of hospitals. Either the Sun or the News of the World, as I recall, sent two of their journalists to burst into the hospital room where Gorden Kaye, the star of the WW II sitcom, ‘Allo, ‘Allo, was recovering following being struck down in the gales of 1989. As ‘Allo, ‘Allo featured the sort of bawdy innuendo common to a lot of the series written by Perry Croft, like Are You Being Served, one of the journos involved thought it would be a jolly lark to wave a cucumber around.

The press also burst into the hospital room of Russell Harty, when the BBC chat show host was dying of an AIDS-related illness. Even after they were thrown out and physically barred from the premises, they still continued to invade the privacy of the dying man by renting a room in the house opposite and snapping him through the window.

Recently I’ve posted a few pieces from Pride’s Purge, in which Tom Pride has described his own harassment by Mail journalists, who have tried to disclose his secret identity and threatened his friends. Just this week the good satirist has posted pieces about his complaint to the Daily Mail about their failure to protect adequately the identity of two children the Mail featured in a story about a family of ‘benefit scroungers’, who nevertheless still managed to spend £1,500 on Christmas. This was, of course, another hate piece on the unemployed and desperate. Given the tenor of the article, it was no surprise to read the remarks of another commenter on Tom Pride’s article that it had originally been written by the Sun, and the interview with the family had been obtained by deception. The family had been persuaded to give the interview, believing it would be a more neutral story about people on benefits and low incomes nevertheless finding ways to celebrate Christmas with style.

Tom Pride’s complaint about the newspaper was in part provoked by the outrageous news that Paul Dacre, the foul-mouthed editor of the Mail, is now chairman of IPSO, the government body regulating press conduct. This reminds me of the joke in the Walter Matthau/ Jack Lemon comedy, The Front Page, about a journalist trying to track down and interview an escaped prisoner in the Chicago in the 1930s. Lemon plays the journalist hero, with Matthau as his sleazy, amoral editor. One of the final jokes in that movie is that Matthau’s character then goes on to become a lecturer in journalistic ethics at Harvard.

We’re in pretty much the same situation here, with Dacre as head of IPSO. Only unlike the great comedies made by the Hollywood duo, that ain’t no laughing matter.

ATOS Assessors Now Asking Disabled People Why They Haven’t Committed Suicide

December 6, 2014

Every now and then something occurs which makes me ask whether there is no depth too low for the Conservatives, anything so immoral or repulsive that they won’t do it. And the answer appears to be that there isn’t. Just when you think they can’t go any lower, they find a way to do something worse. And that applies equally to the various companies that have signed on to carry out the functions of the privatised state.

The latest revolting atrocity by ATOS is the question many of their assessors are putting to depressed claimants during their interview. Mike reports in his article Work capability assessor asked why depressed claimant had not committed suicide that

An ESA claimant has explained how an Atos work capability assessor asked her why she had not yet killed herself, after she admitted suffering with depression.

Abi Fallows described the interview on the I bet I can find a million people who DON’T want David Cameron as our PM Facebook group after reading Vox Political‘s article on the hidden cost of the Coalition Government’s benefits policy.

“At my last Atos ‘assessment’, when mentioning depression, the ‘assessor’ asked me why I hadn’t killed myself yet,” she told astonished members of the Facebook group.

She said the assessors’ attitude seemed to be that she couldn’t be depressed if she had not already killed herself: “I’ve noticed a few people, over the last year or so, going to Atos with depression are being asked that same question.

This is truly astonishing, and dangerously irresponsible. Apart from the obvious fact that many people have depression, who haven’t tried to commit suicide, there is always the very real danger that emotionally vulnerable people could be provoked into suicide because of that very question. Doctors have already reported a marked rise in the number of admissions for depression and anxiety, including to the level where the sufferer’s life is threatened, because of the stress of the ATOS assessment.

ATOS’ claim is that the assessments are performed by qualified medical professionals, who follow a rigorous procedure. This is rubbish. See Laurattelottiepearson’s comment for her experience in dealing with an ATOS assessor, who claimed to be a nurse, while having absolutely no knowledge of the condition for which Laura was assessed.

It also directly breaks the Hippocratic Oath, a form of which doctors traditionally swore since Greek antiquity. One of the most vital and celebrated clauses in the Oath was the commandment, ‘First, do no harm’. The question itself threatens the health and wellbeing of the people, to whom it is asked, as it implies that they should have taken their lives. The commandment not to harm the patient was proudly quoted in several episodes of Star Trek Voyager by the holograph doctor played by Robert Picardo. Which shows that even fictional holograms have greater medical knowledge and ethical considerations than ATOS.

There’s a very sinister, Nazi ideology underlying the question. The Nazis were extreme Social Darwinists, who believed absolutely in the murder and sterilisation of those they considered to be racially or genetically unfit. This included ethnic groups such as Jews, Gypsies and Slavs, as well as the disabled. I’ve blogged myself about the way the Nazis implemented a programme of extermination by the SS group, T4, of the congenitally mentally and physically disabled. These policies, however, did not originate with the Nazis. Rather, the Nazis drew on the ideas of previous Social Darwinist movements, including legislation providing for the sterilisation of the disabled in America and many European states. The ultra-nationalistic movements that preceded the Nazis took the line that the ‘disgenic’, the genetically unfit, would voluntarily refrain from having children. I’ve got a feeling that some, however, seemed to believe that they voluntarily commit suicide.

So it’s a fair question whether the Tories are beginning an ideological progress towards encouraging the people they see as unfit to end their lives, in accordance with their Social Darwinist ideas, exactly like the Nazis’ predecessors.

Mike’s article is at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2014/12/06/work-capability-assessor-asked-why-depressed-claimant-had-not-committed-suicide/. Go and read it.

Ancient Greek Medicine vs the Tory Privatisation of the NHS

November 12, 2014

As with so much of western culture, western medicine has its basis in that of ancient Greece. One of the greatest of the ancient Greek medical texts is the Hippocratic Corpus, the bulk of which were written sometime between 430 and 330 BC. The authors of these treatises were not only concerned with the physical, technical aspects of their profession – the structure of the human body, the nature of disease, and methods of healing. They were also concerned with moral status of the doctor and correct ethical practice. Until a few decades ago, doctors were bound by the Hippocratic oath, which amongst other things forbade them from practising surgery, performing abortions, administering poisons and using their position as a doctor for sexual exploitation. They were required to be chaste and religious, and to do no harm.

‘I will use my power to help the sick to the best of my ability and judgment; I will abstain by harming or wronging any man by it.’

Although there was no state provision of health care in the ancient world, and doctors charged fees for their services, nevertheless the Hippocratic authors condemned greed and stated that there should be occasions when the doctor should be required to treat patients for free. Furthermore, the doctor should not withhold treatment simply because he has not agreed a fee with the patient, nor to upset his patient by discussing the cost of treatment before treating him or her.

The Hippocratic Oath itself contains the pledge

I will pay the same respect to my master in the Science as to my parents and share my life with him and pay all my debts to him. I will regard his sons as my brothers and teach them the Science, if they desire to learn it, without fee or contract. I will had on precepts, lectures and all other learning to my sons, to those of my master and to those pupils duly apprenticed and sworn and to none other.

Thus there is the beginning of the notion that medical education should be free.

In his introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of the Hippocratic writings, G.E.R. Lloyd writes

Several of the Hippocratic treatises that deal with questions of medical etiquette and ethics warn the doctor against avarice. Precepts (Ch.6) recommends that the doctor should consider the patients’ means in fixing fees and, as already noted, suggests that the doctor should be prepared, on occasion, to treat a patient for nothing. The same work also says (ch.4) that the doctor should not begin a consultation by discussing fees with his patient. This may well cause the patient anxiety, for he may believe that the doctor will abandon him if no agreement over fees is reached. As the writer puts it; ‘It is better to reproach patients you have saved than to extort money from those in danger of dying.’ Decorum (ch5), too, mentions lack of the love of money as one of the qualities a good doctor should show.

This contradicts the spirit of the Tory privatisation of the NHS, as this is very much driven by the greed of private contractors, a fair number of whom employ or are headed by Tory MPs, and their desire to exploit the sick for their own profit. Indeed, Private Eye ran a detailed article on the origins of Private Finance Initiative a little while ago, showing that it had its origins in a scheme by Peter Lilley under John Major to allow private industry access to income from the N.H.S.

Yesterday I posted a piece about Mike’s article, over at Vox Political, on Keith Willett’s suggestion at a conference by one of the private health contractors, Urgent UK, that the government should pay doctors to sign clients back to work early. Yet in the sections ‘Aphorisms’, the very first piece of advice in Chapter 1 is

Life is short, science is long; opportunity is elusive, experiment is dangerous, judgment is difficult. It is not enough for the physician to do what is necessary, but the patient and the attendants must do their part as well, and circumstances must be favourable.

This suggests, amongst other things, that regardless of the skill of the doctor, the healing process will take as long as it takes. It can’t be forced. Which clearly goes against Willett’s apparent view that with a bit more money, doctors could force people back to work earlier. Presumably before they had got properly well.

The Tories are, of course, trying to introduce the American system of private medical care, and so make it fee paying. As I said, medicine in ancient Greece was private, although some doctors were employed by a few of the ancient Greek city states, probably in order to keep them there, as well as receiving fees from their patients. However, the sheer greed behind the Tories’ reforms contradicts much of the ethical spirit behind ancient Greek medicine. They are not just dragging us back to the period before the foundation of the NHS, but even into the most rapacious aspects of medicine in the ancient world.

Source

G.E.R. Lloyd, ed., and J. Chadwick, W.N. Mann, I.M. Lonie and E.T. Withington, trans, Hippocratic Writings (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1973)

Blair, Mussolini, Neo-Liberalism and ‘The End of the Ideology’

March 4, 2014

Mussolini

Fascist Dictator Mussolini adopting typically grandiose posture

After the scrapping of Clause 4, the section of the Labour party’s constitution committing it to nationalisation, Tony Blair’s ‘New Labour’ government was hailed by many as the expression of the new pragmatism in politics. With ministers drawn from outside as well within the Labour party itself, New Labour was celebrated for its empirical approach to politics. Instead of following the dictates of ideology, the party was instead formulating policies and appointing personnel according to what worked. Just as Francis Fukuyama described the new political era ushered in by the Fall of Communism as the ‘end of history’, so there was a tendency to describe Blair’s government almost as the ‘end of ideology’. This type of rhetoric resembled some of the attitudes adopted by Mussolini’s Fascist dictatorship when it seized power in the 1920s.

19th and early 20th century Reformist Social Democrat politicians had believed that society and history proceeded by fixed laws, laws that were leading to the inevitable triumph of socialism. In their defence and advancements of socialism, the British Fabians, for example, who strenuously rejected Marx’s doctrine of the Class War, argued that Socialism was merely the continuation and expansion of existing government policies interfering with and regulating the economy. Sidney Webb, who with his wife, Beatrice, was one of the founders and leading Fabian intellectuals, wrote

The practical man, oblivious or contemptuous of any theory of the social organism or general principles of social organisation, has been forced, by the necessities of the time, into an ever-deepening collectivist channel. Socialism, of course, he still rejects and despises. The individualist town councillor will walk along the municipal pavement, lit by municipal gas, and cleansed by municipal brooms with municipal water, and seeing, by the municipal clock in the municipal market, that he is too early to meet his children coming from the municipal school, hard by the county lunatic asylum and municipal hospital, will use the national telegraph system to tell them not to walk through the municipal park, but come by the municipal tramway, to meet him in the municipal reading-room, by the municipal art gallery, museum, and library, where he intends to consult some of the national publications in order to prepare his next speech in the municipal town hall, in favour of the nationalisation of canals and the increase of Government control over the railway system. ‘Socialism, Sir,’ he will say, ‘Don’t waste the time of a practical man by your fantastic absurdities. Self-help, Sir, individual self-help, that’s what’s made our city what it is’.

Sydney Webb, Socialism in England, quoted in E.C. Midwinter, Victorian Social Reform (Longman: Harlow 1968) p. 94.

This idea of slow progress leading to the gradual victory of Socialism seemed to be shattered by the reality of the First World War. This seemed to show that all such ideologies of historical laws of gradual progress were wrong. To the activists and intellectuals that formed part of Mussolini’s Fascists, the War instead showed that history was made through will. As a result, Fascism vigorously promoted itself as the first movement that was no constrained by ideology or values. Some non-Fascist Italian intellectuals were initially favourable to them because of this. It seemed to look past the political stalemates that had occurred in the Italian parliament through the conflicts between the different political groups.

Adrian Lyttleton in his book The Seizure of Power: Fascism in Italy 1919-1929(London: George Weidenfeld and Nicholson Ltd 1987, describes the situation thus

The interventionist intellectuals conceived of the war as an assertion of will and energy in defiance of the supposed ‘laws’ of historical development. ‘The world war has destroyed the ideology of progress as a slow ordered succession of events and institutions … it has destroyed the bourgeois, reformist, evolutionist conception.’ In the postwar period, activism ceased to be merely an intellectual fashion and became a widespread state of mind. The confusion and dissatisfaction with all existing ideologies had become acute. While other parties appeared to deny the existence of a crisis of values, Fascism not only recognized by glorified it. Mussolini’s attitude of tough-minded pragmatism, his claim to have seen through and ‘transcended’ the old ideologies, appeal to may intellectuals. They celebrated Fascism as the end of ideology, as the first realistic political movement free from both moral and intellectual preconceptions, one in which practice would precede and form values instead of the other way round. Fascism taught the value of Negative Thinking. There were echoes here of Nietzsche’s ‘transvaluation of values’; the Fascist felt himself to be the superman freed from conventional moral restraints, and this helped him to act with confidence and ruthlessness. (p. 367).

Regardless of the rhetoric surrounding Blair’s government as indicating the end of ideology, Blair was not, unlike the Fascists, a moral nihilist. He did not reject all systems of morality nor celebrate force and violence. Indeed, he was always keen to promote some kind of moral reason for his actions and policies, some of which, like the invasion of Iraq, were indeed highly questionable. Nor can the Blair regime be seen as inaugurating the ‘end of ideology’. Blair’s New Labour did not reject ideology – it just rejected traditional socialism in favour of Neo-Liberalism. They still retained some belief in social justice and state interference in the economy for the good of society, but this was to be kept at a minimum. Following Thatcher, who gave her official endorsement of Blair when she met him at 10 Downing Street after his election, private enterprise was regarded as the foremost solution to the problems of the economy and society. This attitude has continued to inform politics after Blair’s departure. It underlies Brown’s management of the economy, and now, in a far purer and more extreme form, that of the Coalition.

I don’t, however, believe that the Neo-Liberal consensus has meant the end of ideology. The vast majority of the population, for example, do not want the privatisation of the NHS. Nor did they wish for the privatisation of the Post Office when this was mooted by New labour. Furthermore, as Mike has pointed out, there is considerable support for the renationalization of the railways and the utilities. What has changed is not so much the opinions of the electorate, but that of the governing political elites. And this is leading to a crisis of faith in politics. Increasing numbers are not voting, because they see little difference between the parties. These particularly include the young, the poor, the unemployed and disabled, who believe that there is no point in voting, as none of the parties are interesting in doing anything for them. This has not led to a revolt, whether of the Left, like the Communists, or the Right, like the Fascists. But it is corroding democracy in this country. If we are not careful, it will lead to the emergence of a managerial, technocratic elite, who govern without a mandate and whose policies do not reflect the will of the electorate, even more so than the Coalition at present.

The Punishment of Starving Thieves: The Barbarism of Modern Britain

March 1, 2014

Medieval Law Court

A 15th century law court

One of the commenter’s to Mike’s blog, Vox Political, R. Jim Edge, reported an appalling miscarriage of British justice. The comment is on Mike’s post, reblogged from Pride’s Purge, about the death of a mentally ill man, Mark Wood, from starvation. Wood had been sanctioned by Atos, and this exacerbated his mental illness. He developed an eating disorder, and refused money his family gave to spend on food. He died weighing just over 5 stone, with a body mass index of 11.5. The full details are on Pride’s Purge and the Void. R. Jim Edge commented

Its going to get worse, just this week in Chester a woman who stole some groceries from TESCO because she had had her benefits stopped was (and this is the good bit) fined £30 and ordered to pay £80 compensation to tesco.

This is actually a more unjust legal decision than the notoriously harsh punishments associated with medieval law. The popular image of the medieval punishment for theft was that thieves had their hands amputated. In England the punishment depended on the amount stolen. If it was over a certain number of shillings, then the thief was fined. If it was over the amount, he was hanged. However, theologians argued that if someone stole bread because they were starving, then that person had done so out of necessity, not wickedness. In their opinion, they should not be punished.

The woman in Chester was clearly motivated from hunger, if she had had her benefit stopped. By the standards of medieval law, therefore, she should not have been fined, nor had to give compensation to Tesco. By this standard, the law now is worse than that of the Middle Ages. IDS and the Coalition really are leading us back to barbarism.


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