Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

Did the Tories Start an Advertising Campaign to Discredit Sociology in the 1970s-80s?

October 9, 2017

I heard this from a friend of mine, who has an MA in Cultural Studies. He told me that in the 1970s, the Tories paid Maggie’s favourite advertisers, Saatchi & Saatchi, to start an advertising campaign designed to discredit sociology. The Tories wanted to turn the British public against the subject by presenting it as an intellectually fraudulent pseudo-subject, dominated by Marxists. To do this, Saatchi & Saatchi placed comments sneering at, or otherwise disparaging the subject in other adverts. One of these, my friend claimed, was the advert for BT with Maureen Lipman, in which the actress is delighted that her son has got an ‘ology’, in this case a qualification in sociology.

Cultural Studies arose as a reaction to it, combining some social history with feminist and left-wing cultural criticism, including the French postmodern philosophers Julia Kristeva, Foucault, Derrida and Lacan. While there was a reaction against postmodernism in the 1990s, such as in Michael Sokal’s and Jean Bricmont’s Intellectual Impostures, Cultural Studies was left largely alone. This was because it’s research and conclusions were qualitative, rather than quantitative. It presented a series opinions on the nature of society, but, unlike sociology, it was not dominated by statistics, which had the potential to show unpalatable truths that the Tories would like to hide.

I’d be interested in finding out more about this. For as long as I can remember, sociology has had that image of a non-subject, taught in modish redbrick universities by Communists. And it’s true that Marx has been called the founder of sociology because of his research trying to show how the economic structure of society determined its overall form. However, others have suggested that the origins of sociology go further back to Auguste Comte, an atheist, who wished to establish a ‘religious of humanity’ with its own rituals and priesthood, and who also advocated the use of statistics for investigating social conditions.

One of the other major influences on sociology was Emile Durckheim, the founder of fuctionalism. This is the view that society functions somewhat like a machine or organism, with different parts of it performing different functions according to the needs of society as a whole. From what I understand, Durckheim was a socialist, but not a Marxist.

There’s also a very strong relationship with anthropology, which began long before Marx, and whose major 20th century influence was Boleslaw Malinowski. Malinowski was the creator of ‘participant observation’, the view that anthropologists should ‘get off the missionaries’ veranda’ and live amongst the people they are researching, in order to experience their way of life and see the world and their culture from their point of view. Or as close to it as possible. Ethnographers don’t just research the lives and customs of primal societies in the Developing World. They are also active researching different social groups and subcultures in developed countries like Britain, America and Europe. One aspect of this project was the establishment of Mass Observation in the ’30s. This was founded by a group of anthropologists, who complained that less was known about the lives of ordinary people in this country, than about tribes in remote Africa or Asia, for example. They therefore set about trying to correct this by carrying out research into what ordinary working class Brits were doing.

Some of this research was very bizarre. A book came out on Mass Observation in 1985, and I can remember reading a review of it in the Observer. One bit of research consisted of one of the anthropologists going into the toilets in a pub and timing how long it took the men there to use the urinal. I wonder how the man avoided being beaten up, or arrested. Nevertheless, they did much valuable research, some of which formed the basis for the first television documentaries on the British working class made in the 1950s.

And even in the 1980s, not every Tory stalwart was convinced that sociology was dominated by Commies. I can remember reading a piece in the Torygraph in 1986/7, in which one female Tory stated that while sociology had a reputation for left-wing jargon and viewpoints, ‘there was nothing more Conservative’.

The story that the Tories made a deliberate effort to discredit sociology isn’t one that I’ve heard before, but it does ring true. As does my friend’s opinion that they left Cultural Studies alone because it didn’t back up its critique with statistical facts, or at least, not to the same extent as sociology. Robin Ramsay, the editor of Lobster, has said there that it seemed to him that postmodernism was a retreat from actively critiquing and combating modern capitalism and Conservatism. Instead of presenting a clear expose of the way elite groups and corporations ran governments in order to reinforce the class structure and keep the working class, the poor and other marginalized groups in their place, exploited at the bottom of the social hierarchy, postmodernism instead produced mountains of largely unreadable and intellectually pretentious text, much of which was deliberately obscure. The leading postmodernists were left-wing, but the obscurity of their prose meant that to some they had little to say of any real political value. That was the attitude of Michael Sokal, a scientist of very left-wing opinions, who had resigned from his career in American academia to teach mathematics in Nicaragua under the Sandinistas.

In recent years Cultural Studies has been attacked by the right in its turn. Conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic have declared that it, and related subjects, are full of Gramscian Marxists attacking traditional western society in order to introduce Communism. This has in turn resulted in anyone, who offers any kind of left-wing critique of Conservativism or traditional western society being denounced as a ‘cultural Marxist’.

My friend was convinced that the Saatchi campaign against sociology was part of a wider Thatcherite assault on intellectual freedom in the universities. Thatcher was rabidly anti-Communist, and passed legislation that tried to make it illegal for Marxists, or members of Marxist organisations, to hold tenure at universities. Hence the rise of people calling themselves ‘Marxian’. It was a legalistic device by which academics, who held Marxist views, described themselves as ‘cultural Marxists’, that is, people who had a Marxist culture, which allowed them to hold on to their jobs.

If it is true that Maggie and the Saatchis tried to discredit sociology, then it shows just how afraid the Tories were of their favourite economic theories being discredited by inconvenient fact. As indeed they have been for a very long time. I can remember how they began redefining unemployment to create the false impression that it had decreased when I was at school back in the 1980s. It also shows how deeply, profoundly anti-intellectual Conservatism is. There’s no particularly surprise there. The philosopher Roger Scruton in his book on the new Conservatism in the 1980s stated quite clearly that it wasn’t intellectual, but based on respect for tradition. And more recently we’ve seen a succession of Republican administrations in America attacking the teaching of evolution in schools and trying to suppress the evidence for climate change.

The Tories don’t just rely on propaganda and distorted news to support their rule. They have also been actively engaged in censoring and using propaganda in order to spread ignorance and misinformation against established academic disciplines. Their goal is to keep ordinary working people poor and uninformed. They are a party of anti-intellectuals, who aim to rule partly by spreading stupidity and ignorance.

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Jewish Labour Movement Attempting to Ban Criticism of Israel in Labour Party as Anti-Semitic

August 30, 2017

Tony Greenstein, a veteran Jewish socialist, anti-racist and anti-Zionist, has put up a very important piece on his blog reporting that the Jewish Labour Movement is attempting to insert an amendment into the membership clause of the Labour party’s constitution, which would make criticism of Israel illegal. Greenstein is a proud, secular Jew, and opposes Zionism precisely because it is racist, and venomously genocidal in its treatment of the Palestinians and Arab Jews. He has paid the price for his commitment to anti-racism and human dignity. Like other anti-Zionists and critics of Israel, Jewish and gentile, he has been smeared as an anti-Semite. Many Jews, who are critical of Israel, believe that they actually receive worse vilification for their stance than their gentile comrades. In Greenstein’s case, he’s been suspended from the Labour party, like hundreds of others, received hate mail and been physically assaulted.

The hate messages he has received are hardly distinguishable from the vile screeds of gentile Nazis and anti-Semites. A few weeks ago he posted one such message he got from an outraged Jewish Zionist, which called him a ‘traitorous Jew’ and mocked him for his entirely accurate statement that the majority of European Jews wanted to stay in the land of their birth, the countries that were their homelands, as equal citizens, rather than emigrate to Israel. He was told he should try living in a shtetl – the segregated Jewish village in eastern Europe with the gentiles ruling over him. The writer concluded his message with the statement that he didn’t really like saying this to another Jew, but he wished the angel of death had taken him and his family during the Holocaust.

It’s deeply unpleasant, racist stuff. Greenstein put it up on his blog as an example of Zionist anti-Semitism, to make the point that instead of Jewish critics of Israel being anti-Semitic, it was the Zionists. It’s a good point. The Zionist’s message is racist and anti-Semitic. It abused Greenstein because he was Jewish. As for being a ‘traitorous Jew’ – that’s the language the Nazi and Fascist anti-Semites employ when they claim that Jews and people of Jewish heritage are really foreigners, outside the nation, and secretly plotting its downfall. Like the stupid and murderous ‘stab in the back theories’ that circulated in Germany after the First World War, which claimed that Germany had been defeated because of Jewish treachery. These were monstrous lies. Jewish Germans had been extremely patriotic in their response to the war, serving their country with pride and honour. The captain of Hitler’s unit during the War, who had put the future Nazi leader up for an Iron Cross, was Jewish. And the Jewish ex-servicemen’s league was a real problem for the Third Reich, as these old soldiers couldn’t easily be accused of treachery.

This is the same type of language we heard from the Nazis marching at Charlottesville, chanting ‘the Jews will not replace us.’ One component of contemporary Nazi and White supremacist ideology in the states is the sick notion that the Jews under the Zionist Occupation Government are engaged in a vast conspiracy to destroy the White race through racial intermixing and the promotion of Black civil rights.

As for physical assault, Mr. Greenstein in his blog has also described how he was assaulted on the street by an irate Israeli. But because Greenstein fought back, he – not his attacker – was charged with assault, although this was later dropped. It’s a clear, manifest injustice.

Now he reports the Jewish Labour Movement are attempting to define racism, anti-Semitism or islamophobia as whatever is perceived as such by a member of the affected groups. He points out that it’s based on a skewed reading of Shami Chakrabarti’s citation of the McPherson report into the death of Stephen Lawrence.

If implemented, this would outlaw criticism of Israel on the grounds that a Jewish Zionist could simply say that it was anti-Semitic.

I’ve no doubt that this will happen. Mike said that after the sorely misnamed Campaign Against Anti-Semitism libeled him as an anti-Semite, he had Zionists turning up on his Facebook page complaining that his comments about Ken Livingstone were anti-Semitic, because they felt they were. And that was sufficient.

I’ve also seen debates between Zionists and anti-Zionists in which the latter included Jewish and Israel anti-racism activists – where the Zionist has accused his opponents of anti-Semitism, simply because they did not share his belief that Israel has a divinely given right to the Occupied Territories.

This is a deeply hypocritical, and very dangerous game. When New Labour under Blair and Brown wanted to introduce tougher legislation against hate speech, the Tories went berserk and accused them of introducing the same assumption into its definition. That something constituted a racist offence, if the victim thought it was, including racial abuse.

This adds a dangerous element of subjectivity into the argument. Of course, in the case of the JLM, it’s intended to rule out of bounds any criticism of Israel or Zionism, because as soon as anyone raises the subject they’ll scream ‘anti-Semitism’. Even though this may consist of nothing more than the truth: that Israel is an apartheid state, that it is engaged on a decades-long campaign to cleanse its territory of Arabs, and that Arabs in the Occupied Territories can be killed, attacked, have their drinking water fouled, and their homes and other property seized with impunity. They may also be jailed for no other reason than publishing a poem urging their brothers and sisters to resist, as occurred to Dareen Tatour.

Ezra Levant, one of the brains behind the Far Right Canadian media group, Rebel Media, once argued in one of his videos against legislation outlawing hate speech. Levant’s Jewish, and he argued that Jews had long learned from experience that the weapons you give the state to protect you, can also be turned on you. So if you give the state the power to censor or ban certain types of speech, they can use those same powers to silence you. He argued that this was the case with Nazi Germany.

Levant’s part of the Islamophobic ‘counter-jihad’ movement, and what he was really worried about was western countries – Europe, Canada and America – passing legislation to ban speech or writing inciting the hatred of Muslims. But he does have a point regarding the treatment of Jews.

One of the elements in anti-Semitism has been the belief that Jews believe themselves to be superior to and despise and sneer at gentiles. Since the Haskala, the Jewish Enlightenment, western Jews have taken great care to show that they don’t have this attitude. Indeed, in 1920s Germany I believe one traditional prayer was dropped from the synagogue service, in case it gave gentiles this idea. Jewish theologians and writers have also made the point that God gave the Torah to Israel and made them a people for His own possession, not because they were superior or stronger than the neighbouring peoples, but because they were weaker. Israel was to be a servant nation, acting as moral exemplars, and therefore ‘a light to lighten the gentiles’. Mr. Greenstein has also put up another piece on his blog about a Canadian rabbi, whose book on Jewish resistance to Zionism makes precisely this point against Zionism.

But if you introduce the idea of subjectivity into the definition of hate speech, it means that Jews are also vulnerable to unfair accusations of racism. A chance comment or remark, which may only just be a case of bad phrasing, may become a case for prosecution, simply because the person hearing it thinks they are being insulted, whether they are or not.

The insistence of the subjective perception of anti-Semitism also shows how close the Zionist lobby is coming to outright Fascism. Irrationalism was one of the formative components of Fascist psychology and ideology. Rational belief didn’t matter. They were just rationalisations used to justify a pre-existing belief or act. What mattered was how something felt, and this meant primarily one’s passionate commitment to the ethnic group and its character according to nationalist and racist theories. The JLM and the Zionists can’t argue against facts, and so their attempting to use the subjective perception of whether something is anti-Semitic to justify their attempts to close down discussion of Israeli racism and human rights abuse instead.

As for the Jewish Labour Movement, Greenstein makes the point that this is a sister organization to the Israeli Labour party, which is racist to the core. Recently, one of their MKs expressed his disgust that 61 other members of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, were Arabs, and made it very clear that he despised Arabs and wanted them expelled from Israel.

He also discusses the example of the far right Israeli leader, Gopstein, a member of a racist nationalist group, Lehava, who made a speech encouraging Israelis to burn down churches and mosques. Despite calls from the Vatican that he should be arrested, Gopstein’s still free.

And Jewish Arabs have also been subject to discrimination and monstrous human rights abuse. Greenstein and Counterpunch have published several articles describing how the Zionist pioneers, as European colonialists, believed they were inferior, and wanted to destroy their Arab character. This even included forcibly taking the babies born to Yemeni Jews away from their mothers and giving them to rich, childless European Israelis or American Jews.

This is not only a crime against humanity in itself. It is also included in the UN definition of genocide, which includes the forcible removal of one part of an ethnic group to another. This also occurred during the Third Reich, where the Nazis sought Aryan bloodlines amongst the conquered Poles. Polish babies with blonde hair and blue eyes were declared to be of German stock, and were taken from their parents to be brought up as Germans.

The JLM are apologists for a viciously racist, genocidal state and political order that is ruthlessly intolerant of its critics, vilifying anti-racist gentiles as anti-Semites, and making the same, or even anti-Semitic insults at decent, self-respecting Jews. If Labour is serious about tackling racism and inequality, this amendment should be thrown out. At the very least, by introducing the element of subjectivity, as the Ezra Levant has pointed out, they have given a potential weapon to the real anti-Semites. And they won’t hesitate to turn it on them.

Sam Seder: Trump Advisors Shocked that He Says in Public His Private Racist Views

August 20, 2017

This is another important clip from Sam Seder’s Majority Report, in which Seder and his co-hosts discuss Trump’s vile moral equivalence between the Nazis at Charlottesville and the anti-Nazi counterprotesters. They make the point that his advisors, who are now declaring their horror at Trump saying that there were fine people on both sides – which means he thinks Nazis and White supremacists can be fine people – aren’t really horrified at his racism per se. They were quite well aware of how privately racist Trump was. What has shocked them is that he revealed it publicly.

After debating whether the mass resignations of the businesspeople on his manufacturing council did so out of genuine moral concern, or because they simply didn’t want to be associated with such noxious opinions simply for commercial reasons, they then get on to the topic of the two Jewish members of Trump’s cabinet, Gary Cohn and Steve Minuchin. Seder and his fellows on the programme are Jewish, so for them it’s particularly shocking and unacceptable that any self-respecting Jew should give aid to someone actively supporting Nazis. Seder says of Cohn that he must be profoundly grateful that it’s a long time till October, when he has to go to the synagogue for the Rosh Ha-Shanah festival. When he turns up then, there are going to be a lot of people looking at him. He states very clearly that the Jewish community should put pressure on Cohn to resign from Trump’s cabinet. Once he goes, Minuchin won’t want to be the only Jew left in it. After he’s gone, there’ll be a cascade of people resigning.

Seder debates which Jewish organization should put the pressure on these two men. He doubts the ADL would do it, because they’re a right-wing organization. J-Street might, possibly. But he concludes forcefully that there should be a coalition of left-wing rabbis, who believe in equality, who should stand outside their door first thing after sundown on Friday evening. This is when the Jewish Sabbath begins.

I’m not surprised that a couple of Trump’s leading officials are Jewish, despite his equivocation about the Nazis at Charlottesville. You can always find people in all races or religions, who are prepared to support those, who hate or would otherwise wish to harm their community. Karl von Luegerer, the anti-Semitic mayor of Vienna, who influenced Adolf Hitler, had Jewish friends. When he challenged about them by his fellow anti-Semites, he declared ‘I decide who’s a Jew and who isn’t’. One of the scandals of American support for the Nazis during the Third Reich was that this included prominent banking families, who advanced loans to them even while Jews were being deported and exterminated.

Many American, and for that matter, British Jews, are either emigrants or the children and grandchildren of Jewish Germans, who were forced to flee the country during the Nazi era. And these people had relatives, who were killed in the Holocaust. Michael Brooks has said in a previous video, in which he refutes criticism that the show and his boss, Seder, are anti-Semitic, that not only is he Jewish, but he’s specifically German Jewish. Trump’s willingness to support the goosesteppers has a direct, personal relevance for very many members of the American Jewish community.

Seder also attacks Cohn and Minuchin as they’re the weak links in Trump’s chain of command. The others aren’t directly affected by Trump’s support for the White supremacists and racists. They might even support it. But this isn’t the case for Cohn and Minuchin.

Regardless of their personal ethnic or religious background, I hope they, and others of Trump’s cabinet, do resign. Seder says in the video that the only Black official in Trump’s administration has done the decent thing and handed in his notice.

You can’t give the slightest support to Nazis and White supremacists. Trump states that there were ‘very fine people on both sides’. Part of the problem is that some Nazis and White supremacists can be personally very charming people. Way back in the 1990s I was listening to a programme on the Beeb, in which a German Jewish fellow described how he had successfully infiltrated and brought down a neo-Nazi group over there. He states that they included some people, who were otherwise perfectly friendly. They included not just real anti-Semites, but also normal Germans, who didn’t believe the Holocaust had occurred. Primo Levi, the Italian chemist and writer, states in his memoir of his incarceration during the Holocaust that there was personally no difference in character between the guards and the people interned. In his words ‘they had our faces’.

This is one of the aspects of the Holocaust, which make it so horrific and chilling. You don’t need to claim that Hitler was some kind of demon-possessed black magician, as some of the writers on the occult fringe have done. There was nothing supernatural or paranormal about the Nazis’ evil. Instead, it shows how otherwise normal people, who went back to their families at weekends or during leave as loving members, were capable of the most monstrous crimes against humanity.

As Mike pointed out with the Tweets he put up on his post from a very wide range of people, including Mr Sulu from Star Trek, George Takei, being a Nazi automatically rules you as a fine person. Or as Mr. Takei said, he ‘never met a fine White supremacist. Ever.’

Like Seder and his fellows, Takei has personal reasons to hate White supremacism. He’s a Japanese-American, who was active in the struggle to get reparations for the members of his community interned as enemy aliens during World War II.

Historians and political scientists have also pointed out that when the Nazis started out, they initially received miniscule support. The numbers, who voted for them in the early ’20s were comparable to those, who backed the BNP or NF today. The year before their election victory, Hitler’s party was bankrupt and had to go begging on the streets. One of the factors that boosted their support, apart from the Wall Street Crash and an agricultural crisis in Schleswig-Holstein, which allowed them to pose as the party of the beleaguered peasant farmers, was that influential members of the upper classes openly supported them. This included the philosopher Heidegger, who announced ‘Ich sage ‘Ja!’ – ‘I say ‘Yes!’.

This is the very good reason why no-one with any political power, or personal or social cachet, should give the slightest support to Fascism or Nazism. And why it’s necessary to condemn Trump, and deprive him of any support, for his own support for them.

The Torygraph Pours Scorn on Corbyn at Glastonbury Festival

June 28, 2017

Jeremy Corbyn was one of the guests at the Glastonbury Festival last week, introduced on stage by no less a man than Michael Eavis himself. Corbyn gave a roaring, impassioned speech, inveighing against the Tories’ attack on the welfare state, their privatisation of the NHS, and their forcing of millions into poverty. If I recall correctly, he also mentioned how the Grenfell Tower fire was a direct result of decades of Tory policies dismantling health and safety legislation for the benefit of private landlords. He ended with a rousing passage from Shelley’s The Mask of Anarchy, urging the British people to rise up ‘like lions’ ‘for ye are many, they are few.’

And the crowd loved it. They cheered, and there were spontaneous chants of ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn!’ This graphically showed the popularity of the Labour leader, at least with a section of the young and not-so young people, who can afford to go to Glastonbury.

Needless to say, the Tory press hated it. The I newspaper yesterday carried a quote from the Telegraph, in which they moaned that it was ‘the day that Glastonbury died’, Eavis was going to lose tens of thousands of visitors and supporters of his festival by inviting Jeremy Corbyn on, and what did it say about the Labour party anyway, when it’s leader was cheered by metropolitan liberals able to afford the exorbitant entrance and camping fees.

Actually, it says that the countercultural spirit of Glastonbury is alive and well, that Eavis has always been against at least some of the policies the Tories espouse, and that the Tories contemplating the spectacle of the young and hip supporting Labour are nervous about their own future.

Michael Eavis was awarded an honorary doctorate or degree by Bristol university at their graduation ceremony a few years ago. Bristol uni is rather peculiar in the conduct of these ceremonies. While other universities and colleges allow the person awarded the degree to make a speech themselves, at Bristol it’s done a special orator. The orator describes their life and career, while the person being so honoured stands by, smilingly politely, until they are finally given the scroll, when they say ‘thank you’. The orator in his speech for Eavis said that he was basically conservative, who shared the work ethic.

Well, perhaps, but I can remember the 80s, when the local Tories down in Glastonbury hated him, the hippies and the other denizens of Britain’s counter and alternative cultures, who turned up to the pop festival with a passion. They were trying to get the festival banned at one point, citing the nuisance and frequent drugs violations.

As for Eavis himself, I can remember him appearing in an edition of the Bristol Evening Post, in which he made it very clear what he thought about Reagan and Thatcher’s new cold war, and the horrors committed in Nicaragua by Fascist death squads trained, equipped and backed by Reagan’s administration. Accompanying the article was a picture of him wearing a T-shirt with the slogan ‘How Can I Relax with Ray-Gun on the Button?’, which mixed a reference to Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s notorious disc, which had been banned by the Beeb, with the American president’s ‘Star Wars’ programme for a space-based anti-missile system.

As for the hip young dudes cheering Corbyn on, whom the Torygraph sneered at as ‘metropolitan liberals’, this is the crowd the Tories, and Tory organs like the Telegraph, would desperately like to appeal to. These are wealthy people with the kind of disposable incomes newspaper advertisers salivate over. These people also tend to be tech-savvy, which is why the Torygraph imported an American technology guru a few years ago to try and make the rag appeal more to a generation increasingly turning to the Internet for their news and views.

It didn’t work. Sales continued to decline, along with the quality of the newspaper as a whole as cuts were made to provide the savings needed to fund the guru’s wild and fanciful ideas. The young and the hip are out there, but they ain’t reading the Torygraph.

And their also increasingly not joining or supporting the Tory party. Recent polls have shown that the majority of young people favour Labour, while the Tories are strongest amongst the over fifties. For any party or other social group to survive, it has to appeal to young people as well as those of more mature years. And the Tories aren’t.

Lobster a little while ago carried a piece on the current state of the Tory party, which reported that a very large number of local constituency parties really exist in name only or have very, very few members. The membership is increasingly elderly, and several local parties responded to inquiries by saying that they were closed to new members. In short, the Tory party, which was at one time easily Britain’s largest party with a membership of 2 1/2 million, is dying as a mass party. Lobster concluded that it was being kept alive, and given millions in funding, mainly by American hedge fund managers in London. It should be said here that the party is also benefiting from extremely wealthy donors elsewhere in industry, and the very vocal support of press barons like Murdoch, Rothermere, and the weirdo Barclay Twins.

The Telegraph’s attitude also seems somewhat hypocritical considering the attitude of the press to the appointment of a Conservative editor of Rolling Stone magazine way back in the 1990s. This young woman praised George Bush senior, stating that he ‘really rocks’. This caused a murmur of astonishment amongst the media, amazed at how a countercultural pop icon could embrace one of the very people the founders of the magazine would have been marching against back in the ’60s and ’70s. The magazine was accused of selling out. It responded by replying that it hadn’t, it had ‘merely won the revolution’.

Nah. It had sold out. As one of the French philosophers – Guy Debord? – wrote in The Society of the Spectacle, capitalism survives by taking over radical protest movements, and cutting out any genuinely radical content or meaning they had, and then turning them into mere spectacles. This is what had happened to Rolling Stone. And as Glastonbury became increasingly respectable and expensive in the 1990s, there were fears that it was going to go the same way too, at least amongst some of the people writing in the small press culture that thrived before the advent of the internet.

I don’t remember the Torygraph saying that Rolling Stone had ‘died’ by appointing a deep-dyed Republican as its editor. And I imagine that it would have been highly excited if Eavis had called on Theresa May to appear on stage. Now that would have killed Glastonbury. But the appearance of Corbyn on stage shows that Glastonbury hasn’t yet become a cosy item of bourgeois entertainment.

Corbyn is one of the most genuinely countercultural politicians in decades. He stands for policies which the political establishment, including the Blairites in the Labour party itself, loathe and despise. Until a few weeks before the election, all the papers were running very negative stories about him, as well as much of the TV news, including the Beeb. Corbyn is a threat to the free trade policies that the Thatcherite political establishment and media heartily support, and so they attack him every way they can.

But as the mainstream media attacks him, ordinary people support him. Much of the support for Jeremy Corbyn came from ordinary people on blogs and vlogs outside corporate control. Counterpunch a week or so ago carried an interview with one of the ladies behind Corbyn’s campaign in London. She described how they set up apps for mobile phones, to show volunteers for his election campaign which wards were marginal so they could canvas for him in those vital areas. She said that they had so many people volunteering that they had to turn some away.

And youth culture was part of this mass movement. Kids were mixing his speeches in with the music they listened to on their ipods, so that there were movements like ‘Grime4Corbyn’. Again, this was being done spontaneously, outside party and corporate control, by ordinary kids responding to his inspiring message.

Glastonbury is now very expensive, and unaffordable to very many of the people that Corbyn represents. But this does not mean that it is only wealthy metropolitan liberals who support him, or that the well-heeled souls, who sang his praises at Glastonbury at the weekend were somehow fake for doing so ‘champagne socialists’, in Thatcher’s hackneyed phrase. Corbyn also has solid working class backing and the support of the young. He is genuinely countercultural, and so had every right to stand on stage.

And he certainly does share some of the ideals of Michael Eavis himself, at least in the ’80s. As I said, Eavis made his opposition to American imperialism and war-mongering very plain. Corbyn has said that he intends to keep Trident, but in other respects he is a profound voice for peace. There is a minister for peace and disarmament in his shadow cabinet, and he has said that he intends to make this a proper ministerial position.

And so Corbyn stood in Glastonbury, with the support of the crowd. A crowd which the Tory party hoped would support them. They didn’t, and it’s frightened them. So all they can do now is moan and sneer.

Guy Debord’s Cat on the Scum and the Heil’s Smear of Corbyn as Supporter of Terrorism

May 25, 2017

Yesterday the French philosophical feline, Guy Debord’s Cat, put up a great article rightly condemning the Scum and the Daily Heil for claiming that Jeremy Corbyn is somehow a supporter of terrorism. This follows leaked information that MI5 kept a file on him in the 1980s because he, along with many other members of the Labour party and the Left at the time, advocated talking to the IRA in order to end the cycle of violence in Northern Ireland.

I’ve already posted a couple of pieces about this smear. It also appeared in the Torygraph and the Sunday Torygraph, as well as the Scum and Mail. Buddy Hell describes how the Sun’s editorial column, ‘The Sun Says’ claimed that innocent people were murdered because Corbyn and John McConnell ‘sucked up to the IRA’. Mr Hell states that this was an attempt to make Corbyn appear somehow responsible for Monday nights horrific terrorist attack in Manchester.

Equally grotesque was the cartoon by the Daily Mail’s ‘Mac’, real name Stanley McMurty. This shows a couple peering out from behind their curtains as a couple of men with Kalashnikovs and black ski masks head up the drive. Below is the hilarious caption, “Oh dear. Will you answer the door? I think they’re canvassing for Jeremy Corbyn”.

The Cat describes the Sun’s attack on Corbyn as what it is: libel. He says

isn’t journalism or anything like it. It’s a blatant smear; a character assassination that is based entirely upon a historical revisionism. But The Cat has a question: who signed this off? This is evidently libellous and we know Murdoch has pockets that are as deep and as wide as the Pacific Ocean, but did The S*n’s editorial team think it could swerve around the law? Clearly it did and the paper has learned nothing from the Leveson Report.

As for Mac’s wretched cartoon,

Mac can claim he’s being humorous, but it doesn’t wash: this is a blatant piece of propaganda dressed up as humour. In this, it is reminiscent of the cartoons found in Der Sturmer, the official newspaper of the Nazi Party (below).

Underneath is a cartoon from the Nazi newspaper showing a cowed, blonde ‘Europa’, being shown off by a stereotypical evil Jew to a stereotypically thuggish Black man. Unfortunately, this type of racism and the racist conspiracy theory it produced didn’t die when Hitler blew his brains out in the Berlin bunker. The real, anti-Semitic neo-Nazis really do believe that the Jews are promoting racial intermixing between Whites, Blacks and other people of colour in order to destroy the White race. This presumably includes the members of the Alt-Right screaming about ‘White genocide’ whenever they see a film or TV series with a non-White as the star. And especially if the lead is female.

The Cat goes on to make the point that

What is quite absent from the claims about Corbyn’s non-existent sympathy with terrorists, is any acknowledgement on the part of the media’s interviewers and commentators of the role of the British state in Loyalist violence. Worse, perhaps is the morbid nostalgia that seems to accompany these claims. It’s as though the Good Friday Agreement never happened and the power-sharing government never existed. Instead, what we’re treated to are selected fragments of Tory memory larded with a narrative that’s been constructed from misrepresentations and outright lies. For the Tories and others, the Provisional IRA is still active and still bombing the country. Meanwhile, the Loyalist paramilitaries are treated, in not so many words, as heroes or simply not mentioned.

He also points out that May is trying to look like a stateswoman again, after her party cut the police, army and firefighters over the past seven years. He concludes

Who’s the bigger threat to the country? I’d say it’s Theresa May and the British press. (Emphasis mine).

https://buddyhell.wordpress.com/2017/05/24/this-is-not-journalism-or-anything-like-it/

There’s an abundance of evidence showing that the British secret state colluded with Loyalist terrorists in Ulster, and that the SAS operated in secret there, beyond the control of the regular army, as a death squad murdering prominent republicans. The parapolitics magazine, Lobster, has published any number of articles on this over the years.

http://www.lobster-magazine.co.uk/

Regarding the question of who signed off on the Scum’s smear of Corbyn, it may well have been the paper’s editor, without any referral to the Dirty Digger himself. One of the facts that emerged about Murdoch’s sordid empire has been that, while Murdoch has tried to present himself as being a ‘hands-off proprietor’, he still bears the responsibility for the actions of his underlings. They’re very carefully selected to do exactly what he wants them to do. He doesn’t have to interfere in the day to day running of his empire of filth, because he knows they’ll do exactly what he wants anyway.

And in cases where the Digger’s own views are required, Murdoch has a very cavalier attitude to libel. It was reported by one of his underlings that when the question of libel comes up, Murdoch used to look over to his legal advisor, who would hold up the number of fingers representing the thousands of pounds or so that News International would have to pay in fines and damages if the victim sued. Murdoch would take note of the figure, and if it was low enough compared to the number of papers he hoped to sell with the smear, authorise its publication.

As the judge tells Norman Stanley Fletcher in the voiceover in the opening titles of the Beeb’s prison comedy, Porridge, he’s ‘an habitual criminal’. Unfortunately, unlike the character played by Ronnie Barker, he has never been sent to HM Prison Slade for five years.

The Sun itself also has form for publishing racist material. Way back in the 1990s, or the first years of this century, Private Eye reported that the Scum had had 19 judgements against it by the Press Complaints Commission on this score. This includes its cartoons. One of the most noxious showed a couple peering at a line of pigs marching in the street waving placards. The caption read ‘Now the pigs are protesting against being compared to Arabs’.

And Mac in the Daily Mail has also published other racist, or racially offensive, cartoons. This seems to clash with the effort of at least one of their cartoonists to appear hip and bohemian. I remember a documentary on TV back in the 1990s, which featured the Heil and showed its cartoonist at the time. From what I recall, he seemed to be dressed in the Beatnik style of 1950s intellectuals. This made an impression, as the Daily Mail is anything but hip and bohemian. It’s ferociously anti-intellectual to the point where I get the distinct impression that Paul Dacre and the entire editorial staff would have a fit if they caught someone in the office reading Sartre or any of the French phenomenologists.

Also, the title of the Sun’s editorial column is surely a misnomer. The Scum has slavered, screamed, shrieked, yelled, ranted, raved, accused, denounced, thundered and harangued, but it has never, ever merely ‘said’ anything.

And through its history, it has spread lies and smears about the Labour party and its leaders. It’s started doing it again, doing to Corbyn precisely what it did to Michael Foot, Ken Livingstone and the others back in 1983.

Don’t be taken in by the lies and hysteria.
Vote Labour on June 8th for a genuinely safer Britain. Without the Sun’s and Daily Mail’s xenophobia and ultra-nationalism.

Trump and the Republicans’ Attack on Transgender Rights

February 25, 2017

On Thursday Mike also posted a short piece about another minority that is now under by Donald Trump – transgender people. After trying to ban people from seven majority Muslim countries, Trump has decided to revoke Barack Obama’s legislation about the use of toilets by transgender students. Obama ruled that students should be allowed to use the bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity, rather than biological sex. This has been too much for Trump and the Republicans. In his article commenting on Trump’s repeal of the ruling, he makes the point that transgender people don’t pose any threat to the people of the US, as far as he could see. But Trump’s discrimination against them does make him a threat to the transgender community.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/02/23/transgender-students-are-targeted-for-hate-by-trump/

Milo Yiannopolis, one of the Alt-Right Breitbart squadristi, turned up on the Bill Maher Show on American TV. Yiannopolis is a strange, contradictory figure – a half-Jewish, self-hating gay with a Black boyfriend, who is bitterly anti-feminist and also very racist. Yiannopolis tried to claim that the ruling was quite correct, because there was a dangerous of transvestites entering female toilets to abuse women and girls. He claimed that there was a far greater rate of sex offences amongst transgendered people than amongst ordinary, straight individuals.

Where did he get this statistics? Where do you think! He made it up. And while Maher apparently did little but fawn over Yiannopolis, according to some viewers, one of the guests, Larry Wilmore, solidly refuted Yinnopolis comments again and again. See this video below.

For some reason, the Republicans have had a bee in their collective bonnets about transgender people for some time now. In fairness, not all of this concern is fear-mongering based on prejudice. Right-wing critics of the current medical attitudes towards those, who have problems with their gender identity, have pointed to a paper by a doctor, which has questioned whether many of those undergoing gender realignment surgery really want to be women. According to the paper, those undergoing the transition have a higher rate of suicide than those who remain in their biological gender. Now, there have been instances where people, who have made the transition, have regretted it and taken their own lives. There was a case in the British papers a few years ago about a transwoman, who drowned herself in a river. She left a note stating that she now wished she could return to being a man.

Such cases are tragic, and should be a cause of legitimate concern. But I don’t think this is really what’s driving the issue.

This is really all about cultural decline and the politics of masculinity. The Right has a very traditional attitude towards gender roles. I’ve blogged before about the various right-wing politicians in America, like the highly obnoxious Anne Coulter, who don’t even believe women should vote. The idea that gender roles, and gender identity itself, can be fluid and subject to change is bitterly rejected. Hence this attack on the toilet rights of transgender students.

One of those, who has weighed into this debate is the anti-feminist philosopher, Camille Paglia. Paglia had been a feminist, I gather, before she did a complete reversal some time in the 1990s, and decided that feminism was damaging men and having a generally destructive effect on society as a whole. I think she still considers herself some kind of feminist, but, as Mel Smith’s blokeish character on his and Griff Rhys Jones’ spoof of the BBC talk show, After Dark, she seems to be ‘the kind of feminist, who is not a feminist at all’.

There’s a video on YouTube of her arguing in an interview that transgenderism is responsible for the fall of all civilisations, from ancient Rome to the European empires of the 19th century. This can be seen in the way Greek art moved from depicting muscular hunks to a more androgynous style of masculine figure.

I don’t know enough of Greek art to refute this, but I know enough history to say that it’s twaddle. Despite the comments by Roman moralists, like Tacitus, about the decadence of late Roman society, what actually brought the Empire down were a mixture of severe economic, political and military problems that have precious little to do with gender identity. If at all. The late Roman empire was beset by galloping inflation, massively disproportionate taxation falling on the poor as the senatorial elite sought to evade the tax burden, depopulation caused by plague as well as economic decline, and, of course, the barbarian invasions.

In the east, the late Roman and Persian Empires were overrun by the Muslim Arabs basically because they had fought each other to exhaustion, and simply no longer possessed the military power to fight off the invading Arabs. In the case of Egypt and some of the other eastern provinces of the Byzantine Empire, the Arabs offered religious tolerance to Christian denominations persecuted by the official Greek church. The politics of gender identity simply weren’t involved.

As for the European empires, these fell, retreated or transformed themselves due to the rise of nationalist movements in their colonies and the decline of the metropolitan centres. Much of this was hastened by the Second World War. Britain and France emerged exhausted from the conflict, and global power passed to America and the Soviet Union. Again, gender politics weren’t involved.

Paglia, however, draws on the literature of late Victorian writers, including the French Decadents, for her views. These did see the decline of gender identity and roles as a sign of cultural and racial decline. The French Decadents, who saw madness and genius as inextricably linked, celebrated androgyny, while at the same time holding very strong misogynist views. They felt that, like ancient Rome, the fall of the new French empire was also inevitable, and were going to enjoy being Decadent as much as possible during it.

Paglia’s fears about the social damage created by the decline in traditional notions of gender and sexuality are also really a symptom of more general fears of American social and imperial decline. Martin Pugh in his book on the rise of British Fascism between the First and Second World Wars, comments on the role played in its rise by the moral panic created by Pemberton Billing about homosexuality. Billing was a right-wing Tory MP, who believed that the British war effort during World War I was being undermined by gays working for the Germans. He claimed to have a black book with the names of 50,000 ‘devotees of Sodom and Lesbia’. He was sued for libel by at least one of the people he smeared, but the trail collapsed when he accused the judge of being gay.

Pugh also points out that this period also saw the rise in fears about lesbianism for the first time. He states very clearly that the reason why the British government had not legislated against female homosexuality in the 19th century was because they simply didn’t see it as a threat. It was not because that they, or Queen Victoria, depending on the version of the myth you’ve heard, didn’t think it exist, or because Victoria herself didn’t think it was physically possible for two women to have sex. She and they knew it happened, but weren’t bothered about it. It wasn’t considered to be a threat to society like male homosexuality.

This all changed after the First World War. Pugh makes the point that it was widely believed that the War had killed the flower of British manhood – all the really intelligent, brave and capable men. The guys, who were left, were the second raters. As a result, British society was in crisis, a crisis which only aggressively masculine parties like the NSDAP in Germany and the Fascists in Italy could hope to correct.

And something similar has also occurred in America. It’s been argued that the rapid expansion of Communism after the War was a profound shock to America, not just to the self-confidence of capitalism, but also to notions of American masculinity. This can be seen in depictions of Jesus. For a period after WW2 the traditional depictions of Christ with rather soft features disappeared in favour of more ruggedly masculine representations of the Saviour.

America is a very masculine society, and the link between capitalism and masculinity is very strong in the parties and ideologies of the Right, the Republicans and Libertarians. The Left, and its egalitarianism, is seen as anti-masculine and unpatriotic. It is not accident that Richard Spencer in one of his wretched speeches tried to appeal to American women by saying that his movement offered them ‘pregnancy and strong government’. With the involvement of the gun lobby, we are very much back in the realm of Mussolini’s Fascist slogan ‘Fighting is to man what motherhood is to woman.’ The American Right also strongly opposes women entering the workplace, feeling that they should stay at home instead to raise children to counteract White demographic decline.

This is the real ideological background to Trump and the Republicans’ attack on transgender people. The actual number of transgender people, as a percentage of the population, is probably very small. They’re not really a threat to anyone. Instead, this all about the politics of gender as part of the wider issue of racial decay and American imperial decline.

Lem’s Robots and Marvin the Paranoid Android

February 15, 2017

lem-pic

Polish SF Maestro Stanislaw Lem

Remember Marvin, the Paranoid Android from Douglas Adams’ Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? He was the manically depressed robot with a brain the size of a planet, who also suffered from a terrible pain in the diodes all down his left side. I was reminded of him yesterday when reading one of the short stories in Stanislaw Lem’s Mortal Engines (Harmondsworth: Penguin 2016.

Lem’s a highbrow Polish SF writer, who uses his fiction to explore deep philosophical issues, sometimes stretching and challenging the conventions of the short story form itself. One of his volumes, A Perfect Vacuum, consists of reviews of non-existent books. Another one is blurbs, also for books that don’t exist. As you can see from this, he was strongly influenced by the Argentinian writer, Jorge Luis Borges, after whom he’s been hailed as the ‘Borges of Science Fiction’. But he could also write straightforward stories, some of which could be hilariously funny.

Two of his works are collected short stories about robots, The Cyberiad and Mortal Engines. The stories in the Cyberiad, and several in Mortal Engines, are literally technological fairytales, in which electroknights sally forth to battle robotic dragons. Or mad robotic inventors compete with each other to create the most impressive machines, machines which usually go disastrously wrong. One of the stories in Mortal Engines, ‘The Sanatorium of Dr Vliperdius’, is about a journalist who goes to visit a mental hospital for robots. At the end of his visit, just as he is going out, the journo encounters yet another troubled cybernetic soul.

On my way back with the young assistant I met in the corridor a patient who was pulling behind him a heavily laden cart. This individual presented a singular sight, in that he was tied all around with bits of string.

‘You don’t by any chance have a hammer?’ he asked.
‘No’.
‘A shame. My head hurts.’

I engaged him in conversation. He was a robot-hypochondriac. On his squeaking cart he carried a complete set of spare parts. After ten minutes I learned that he got shooting pains in the back during storms, pins and needles all over while watching television, and spots before his eyes when anyone stroked a cat nearby. It grew monotonous, so I left him quickly and headed for the director’s office. (P. 131).

There’s a serious philosophical issue here, apart from Lem’s literary exploration of the kind of delusions mentally ill robots could suffer from, such as the robot earlier in the story, who believes that he’s really organic, but that somebody has stolen his human body and replaced it with the machine he inhabits. If humanity ever creates genuinely sentient machines, which are able to think and reason like humans – and that’s a big ‘if’, despite the assertions of some robotics engineers – then presumably there will come a point when these machines suffer psychological problems, just as humans do.

Mortal Engines was first published in America by Seabury Press in 1977, roughly at the same time Hitch-Hiker came out on radio over here. Hitch-Hiker is full of references to philosophical problems, such as the debate about the existence of God, so clearly both he and Lem saw the same potential for using robots to explore spiritual malaise, and the psychological implication of genuine Artificial Intelligence.

American Scientists Plan March against Trump

January 28, 2017

After the massive numbers of people involved in the women’s marches against Trump held around the world last weekend, American scientists are also planning to organise their own demonstration against the Orange Caudillo in protest at his disastrous environmental and health policies.

In this video, TYT Nation’s Jeff Waldorf discusses a report in Forbes’ discussing the formation of the new group of scientists planning this march. The group has it’s own internet page, and in five days its members grew from 200 to 200,000 +. The group says it will include non-scientists as well as scientists, and is intended to advocate the greater involvement of science in government. It’s purpose is to defend climate science, evolution, and alternative energy. Waldorf states that he too believes strongly that science should be more involved in government. He also quibbles with the phrasing in the Forbes’ article, taking issue with the magazine’s description of the scientists as ‘believing’ in the environmental damage caused by the fossil fuel industries. Waldorf argues that scientists’ in these areas don’t believe, because they have proof that oil pipelines, such as DAPL, can rupture, creating massive oil spills and environmental destruction.

Waldorf also argues that, although he understands why people in America’s coal country wish to retain the industry for as long as possible for the sake of their jobs, renewables are now becoming cheaper than oil for the first time. It’s time to move from the horse and buggy to the automobile, is the metaphor he uses. He also notes that 75 per cent of Trumps’ own supporters are also in favour of solar and wind power, and natural gas. Waldorf himself is not in favour of natural gas, as it’s still a fossil fuel, with the environmental problems that poses. At the moment, the movement is still in the planning stage, but hopes to issue a mission statement soon. In the meantime, they state that a government that sacrifices science to ideology is a threat not just to America, but also the world.

I wish the scientists the best of luck in their campaigns against Trump’s attack on climate change and green energy. I think, however, Waldorf has a rather too optimistic view of science. There’s quite a debate in the philosophy of science over what constitutes ‘proof’. In one view, articulated by the great philosopher of science, Karl Popper, science advances through falsification. You can’t prove a particular theory. What you do instead is show that other explanations are false. In many areas of science, the observable effects of experiments, may be tiny and ambiguous. This is why scientists have developed very sophisticated statistical methods for sorting through their observations in search of factual evidence that will support or disprove their theories. Thus, at the risk of nit-picking, it might be fairer to say that climate change and environmental damage by the fossil fuel industry is far better supported by the available evidence, than the minority view that no such change or damage is occurring.

I also think you have to be careful about relying too much on science to solve social problems. The British philosopher, Mary Midgeley, in one of her books pointed out that in some areas, what is needed is a social and industrial solution to a particularly issue, rather than scientific innovation. For example, it could be argued that in the struggle against world hunger, what is needed is not new, genetically engineered crops which produce vast yields, but better transportation methods and infrastructure to supply people with the food that has already been grown.

Despite these very minor quibbles, it is true that orthodox, respectable science in the above areas has been under attack for a long time to serve powerful interests in the fossil fuel industries. Trump this week imposed gagging orders preventing scientists and government workers in the Environmental Protection Agency from revealing their findings. Climate change is happening, and is a real danger to America and the globe. But this awareness frightens the Koch brothers and their wealth in the petrochemical industry. So they, and millionaires like them, are spending vast sums to keep the facts from ordinary peeps. America’s scientists are right to challenge this. Let’s hope their march in support of proper science goes ahead and is well-attended.

Jeremy Corbyn Suggests Capping Director’s Pay – Media Goes Ballistic

January 11, 2017

Mike yesterday put up a piece reporting on another good suggestion from Jeremy Corbyn, and the predictable response of outrage and sneering from the meejah. The Labour leader had said on an interview on Radio 4 yesterday morning that he believed that there should be a cap on the pay earned by company directors and senior execs. The media naturally responded by pointing out that Corbyn has an annual pay of £138,000 a year, and tried to draw him into giving a price figure for what the maximum amount earned should be.

The story got onto the One Show yesterday evening, where they did a brief survey of people in the street. Opinions were, as they say, mixed. One elderly objected to the cap on the grounds that it might take away the incentive for people rising to the top. Looking at the headlines on the various papers this morning, it was very clear that it had riled someone at the Torygraph, as this was the story they shoved on their front cover. Other newspapers, like Mail, led by claiming that Labour’s policy in immigration was ‘in disarray’. Mike’s also written another article this week showing that’s also rubbish.

Mike in his article makes the point that compared to some of the vast, bloated salaries awarded to company executives, Corbyn’s own salary appears very modest indeed. He suggests that it is stupid to try to lay down a particular set figure – it should be based on company turnover and the lowest wage earned by an employee at that company. He also makes the point that the casting of particular star actors can make a great difference to how well a movie does, and that when this happens, everyone else who worked on the movie should also enjoy the films’ financial awards.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/01/10/if-we-examine-who-is-complaining-about-corbyns-maximum-wage-idea-well-know-why/

This is all correct. And there’s something else that needs to be added:

Japan already has maximum wage legislation.

Yep, it’s true. Japan is one of the world’s five wealthy countries with a very capitalist economy. The centre right Liberal Democratic party has ruled the country almost uninterrupted since the Second World War. And it also has a cap on how much company directors may be paid. I think it’s set at about 20 times that of the lowest paid employee, but I am not sure.

And the limitation of wage differentials is not something that has been simply added on in the course of reform, but an integral part of the dominant, guiding vision of the nature of Japanese society. East Asian societies can be extremely collectivist, stressing group loyalty over individual opportunity or achievement. In Japan the goal was to create a harmonious, middle class society, where there would be no extremes in wealth or poverty. This isn’t quite the case, as the Burakami, an outcast group rather like the Dalits in India, and those of Korean descent are still subject to massive poverty and discrimination.

The Japanese have also tried to justify their collectivist outlook through racist pseudo-anthropology. One school textbook claimed that Japanese society was more collectivist and co-operative because the Japanese people were descended from agriculturalists, who had to forge strong links with each other in order to cultivate and harvest rice. We Westerners, however, were all isolated individualists because we’re all descended from hunter-gatherers.

As anthropology, it’s rubbish, of course. Some social historians have argued that agricultural societies are more prone to tyranny and absolute government, which would include the type of Asian absolute monarchies described by Western observers as ‘oriental despotism’. But all human societies were originally hunter-gatherers, including the Japanese. And European society has practised settled agriculture since the beginning of the Neolithic 6,000 years ago.

The origins of Japanese and East Asian collectivism probably lie more in the influence of Confucianism, which stressed the right relationships between the members of society, such as between the prince and the people, and between elders, parents and children, and the still powerful influence of feudalism in structuring social relationships. Instead of a samurai warrior giving his loyalty and service to a daimyo feudal lord, it’s now the sarariman – the corporate warrior – becoming part of the retinue of company employees under the lordship of the director.

And European individualism probably comes not from any vestiges of our hunter-gatherer deep past, but from the effect of Hobbesian Social Contract political theorising and the free trade economics of the French Physiocrats and Adam Smith. Hobbes has been described as the first, of one of the first philosophers of the emerging bourgeois society of the 17th century. This was the period which saw Cromwell sweep away the last vestiges of feudalism in England, and the emergence of modern capitalism. But Hobbes’ philosophy views people as social atoms, all competing against each other, as opposed to other views of society, which may stress the importance of collective or corporate identities and loyalties, such as family, feudal lordship or membership of trade and professional bodies. Similarly, the founders of the economic theories of modern capitalism, such as the Physiocrats in France and Adam Smith and in Scotland, also stressed unrestrained individual competition. They were also specifically arguing against the mercantilist system, in which the state regulated trade. For example, in the 17th and 18th centuries the British government enacted a series of legislation governing trade with its emerging colonies, so as to tie them to the economy of the home country, which would benefit from their products. Modern Western individualism come from these theories of capitalist society and the perceived operation of its economy.

The collectivist nature of Japanese society also expresses itself in other ways in the structure and management of Japanese corporations. Singing the company song in the morning is one example. Management are also encouraged or required to share the same canteen as the workers on the shop floor. Both of these practices, and no doubt many others, are designed to foster group solidarity, so that management and workers work together for the good of the company.

This isn’t a perfect system, by any means. Apart from the immense pressure placed on individuals in a society that places such heavy emphasis on the value of hard work, that individuals actually keel over and die because of it when doing their jobs, it has also made Japanese society and corporations extremely resistant to change. Confucianism places great stress on respect for one’s elders and superiors. While respect for the older generation is an admirable virtue, and one which our society in many ways is sadly lacking, in Japan it has resulted in a mindset which resists change or apportioning due blame for historical crimes and atrocities.

At the corporate level, the slow down of the Japanese economy in the 1990s meant there was no longer such a pressing need for company staff to work such long hours. However, so great is the corporate inertia, that staff still feel that they have to keep working past six O’clock in the evening, even if there is little or no work to do, because they don’t want to be seen as breaking with the approved practices of previous generations of employees.

And at the national level, it has been suggested that the exaggerated respect for one’s elders and ancestors is the reason why Japan has had such immense difficulty confronting the atrocities their nation committed during the Second World War. Japanese school texts and official histories have been criticised because they’d don’t discuss the atrocities committed by the imperial Japanese army. One school textbook even talked about the army’s ‘advance’ through Asia, rather than its invasion. The reason for this failure to admit the existence of these crimes, and criticise those who perpetrated them, is that respect for one’s elders and social superiors is so engrained in Japanese society, that except for a few extremely courageous mavericks, casting shame on those responsible for such horrors and, by implication, the whole of society during this period, is unacceptable. Even though many over on this side of the Eurasian landmass would consider that a failure to confront the atrocities committed by one’s nation to be even more shameful.

Japanese and Asian collectivism is not, then, perfect. But a maximum wage cap certainly did not hinder Japan’s advance to become one of the world’s foremost industrial countries. And the goal of creating a harmonious, co-operative society where there is little disparity in wealth is a good one.

The title of Mike’s article on Corbyn’s suggestion for a maximum wage states that the identities of those complaining about it reveal why they’re doing so. Indeed. The proprietors and leading executives of newspaper companies, like the Barclay twins at the Torygraph, have awarded themselves immense salaries. They’re multimillionaires. This wealth is increasingly not being shared with the hacks, who do the actual work of putting the paper out. The Torygraph has been particularly struck with declining sales to the point that Private Eye’s ‘Street of Shame’ column regularly reported further job cuts. Many of the big newspaper companies depend on the work of unpaid interns, particularly the Groaniad. And even if they’re not being threatened with the sack, conditions for the paid staff are becoming increasingly Orwellian. For example, the Eye reported a few months ago that one of the managers at the Torygraph had tried to install motion detectors on the staff’s desks to prevent them moving around too much, just like the staff at call centres are also monitored. The hacks were so annoyed, however, that management had to back down and the motion detectors were removed.

As for the film industry, the presence of big name Hollywood stars can sink a movie simply through the sheer expense of paying. For example, Arnold Schwarzenegger was paid $7 million for his appearance in the second Terminator movie. While that was a box office success, the presence of ‘A’ list celebrities in a movie does not guarantee that a film will be a success. One of the reasons why the film Ishtar became such a notorious flop in the 1990s was that the producers cast three major stars, who all commanded multi-million dollar salaries. This pushed the bill for the movie towards $20 million or so, even before the film had been shot. The film was thus under financial pressure from the start.

Apart from the Japanese, there are other, successful European nations that also deliberately avoid huge inequalities in wealth. One of these is Denmark. The newspapers have been full of articles analysing and celebrating the traditional Danish concept of ‘hygge’. This has been translated as ‘cosiness’, but it actually means much more than that. The way I’ve heard it explained by a Danish friend, it’s about being content with the homely necessities. I got the distinct impression that it was similar to the Swedish notion of ‘lagom’, which translates as ‘just enough’. You make just enough to satisfy your basic needs, but no more. And from what I’ve heard about Danish society, the social attitude there is that no-one should try to appear ostentatiously better off than anyone else. This is not to say that everyone has to do the same low-paid job, or that they should not earn more than anyone else. But it does mean that they should not be conspicuously more affluent.

This is the complete opposite from the values promoted and celebrated by Thatcher and the wretched ‘New Right’ of the 1980s. They demanded making conditions harsher for the poor, and giving ever larger salaries to management on the grounds that this would act as an incentive for others to do well and try to climb up the corporate and social ladder. The result has been the emergence of a tiny minority, who are massively wealthy – the 1%. Like the Barclay twins, Rupert Murdoch and just about every member of Theresa May’s cabinet. For everyone else, wages have stagnated to the point where a considerable number are finding it very difficult to make ends meet.

But wage caps and an attitude that discourages inequalities of wealth have not harmed Japan, nor Denmark and Sweden, which also have very strong economies and a very high standard of living.

The massive difference between the millions earned by the heads of the big corporations has been a scandal here in Britain, to the point where David Cameron and May made noises urging company directors to restrain their greed. Corbyn’s suggestion is eminently sensible, if Britain is to be a genuinely inclusive, prosperous society. The outrage shown by various media execs to it shows that the Tories are still committed to a policy of poverty for the many, riches for a very few. And all their concern at reining in executive pay is just platitudes to make it appear that they’re concerned when the issue becomes too embarrassing.

Dr Cornel West on Standing with the Native Americans, Teaching Public Philosophy and Castro

December 2, 2016

This is a clip from Democracy Now, in which the anchor, Amy Goodson, talks to the very distinguished radical Black professor, Dr. Cornel West. Dr. West is a radical Christian theologian and philosopher, standing up for the poor and minorities. In his personal appearance and speaking style, he reminds me of the great, progressive evangelical preachers of the 19th century, who campaigned against slavery and the exploitation of the poor in both America and Britain. His clothing style strikes me as rather 19th century, and when he talks, he describes people as ‘brother’ and ‘sister’. He’s campaigned for Bernie Sanders, and also for Dr. Jill Stein of the Green party.

In this segment, he talks about going to Standing Rock to show his solidarity with the water protectors and the Native peoples. He states that this is the greatest coming-together of the 200 First American nations since the 19th century. He doesn’t intend to anything, except follow orders and support them. Amy Goodson asks him what he thinks about Barack Obama, as Obama visited Standing Rock in 2014. This was unusual for a president, and he has talked about supporting Native Americans. He sent in the US corps of engineers, and has tried to broker arrangements between the three parties involved. Dr West agrees, but says that Obama has managed to impress people by talking ‘pretty words’ while actually doing very little about the situation.

Dr. West also talks about how he is about to take up a new post at Harvard, teaching engagement in public philosophy. He looks forward to this appointment teaching young minds about taking up the great issues that confront America and the world. He also says that it’s going to be post where he shares and learns from others from different political perspectives, such as Conservatives and Centrists.

Finally, Goodson asks him about his views on Fidel Castro. West makes it clear that he admires the Cuban dictator, and the support he gave to the struggles of Africans and the Cuban people against imperialism. He also condemns Castro as a dictator. He criticises him for the way he hung to power and oppressed his people. He himself has gone to Cuba, and was taken to the palace to be upbraided by the Cuban authorities. He was a radical, democratic Socialist, who believed in the circulation of elites. That means not letting anyone person stay in power for too long, and throwing them out after a little while to get a fresh leader in. He made that point about Castro, and so was accused of being counterrevolutionary. But he also makes the point that the Cubans were oppressed under Battista. He therefore salutes Castro for his anti-imperialism, and the Cuban medical and educational systems. He says that Castro was a great revolutionary, ‘and I’m a revolutionary Christian. I love it.’

Many Black Americans have expressed and given their support to the Native Americans at Standing Rock, and identify with their struggle. And I don’t think it takes a genius to see why. It seems to be that both peoples have a shared history as the dispossessed, exploited victims of White supremacism, a supremacism that is coming back under Trump, and which many Whites are also very firmly against. It’s excellent that Dr West is giving the Native peoples his support, and it’d be interesting to hear his experiences of standing with the Water Protectors.