Orwell’s Nation

I was reminded today of Wat Tyler, by a fantastic essay written by Dave Semple, which made me think of a narrative that ran through my thinking when I was starting to find my political feet; how do I operate an understanding of nation set with my increasingly internationalist outlook, and if I count the Peasant’s Revolt among my idea of what I like about my country, does this inform a nationalism or patriotism?

I grew up in Basildon, which runs close to Billericay (a restaurant of which is mentioned in Orwell’s Down and Out – just to point to a tenuous link) which was part of the trail to Blackheath, where John Ball, Wat Tyler and Jack Straw and the other Kentish rebels sparked the first protests. My early school life paid homage (I’m not using words synonymous with Orwell for nothing here) to the revolt by constantly taking trips to the local country park, aptly named Wat Tyler country park – a hot spot for soft drugs, and ones elementary encounter with contrarian thought. My flag-waving, ex-military, monarchy loving (yet) left of centre parents (as well as an influential Trade Unionist, Christian, Daily Mail reading socialist Grandad), along with a basic mistrust of the middle classes informed by Wat Tyler introduced me to a wacky world of socialism and patriotism (the former of the two being because, though slightly cherry-picked to suit, I felt inspired by some of the palatable elements of British history).

Some good eggs in the SWP encouraged me to read what I considered to be inharmonious socialist materials on this subject; namely Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities, two books one on Cuban history one on Russian, and then Orwell’s said essay. I’ve still not fully recovered, and I still haven’t entirely made up my mind. I buy into Anderson’s basic premise that nation is a false border, but then it’s weak on the realistic need for borders. He’s right about the arbitrariness of political blocs based on muscle, but it’s a dated premise when we start to look at European capitalism, labour exchange and borders. But is it possible to hold patriotic views as a socialist? Yes, provided you buy into the arbitrariness of borders, realise that though necessary, they have come about in history partly from empire and imperial muscle, and that you mix generously nationalism with internationalism where appropriate.

Orwell avowedly wrote that nationalism

It does not necessarily mean loyalty to a government or a country, still less to one’s own country

which suits me, because it is first and foremost a style of governance that informs my political outlook, and this transcends borders, but there is a feeling of indebtedness to a country you can call your own and to which you identify many positive aspects, and for me Wat Tyler is embedded in that fabric, but I should, too, acknowledge that I am more informed by my politics than an unceasing love of my nation – which could at any time collapse, and I think is politically a weak element anyway.

God of the Christian period

It is very likely that before Ancient Greece, some small unheard of tribe (one forgotten by history) decided to club together and stop the quibbles of other tribesmen over the decision-making, formed an orderly crowd, and gathered a small cohort of trusted men, gaged which of the men the rest of the tribesman trusted the most, and it was he from then who decided which of the tribesmen would hunt on one day, then gather the next – quibble-free (or at least if there were enough quibbles then the tribe could be brought together again and decide that the one who they trusted before no longer has their trust, and a re-election should take place.) It is likely that this, in some primitive form had occured, but yet democracy is attributed (rightly) to the Greeks.

The same occurs with monotheism; we today acknowledge the judeo-christian legacy of monotheism, though it has been speculated upon by some that Orpheus’ beliefs, set out in his verse (others even wonder whether it was he who invented the art of writing, by setting out his religious interventions on slate), point to Dionysious not being one of many deities, but rather a multidimensional monotheistic God, who had different functions, each named and personified, while Zeus is reduced to a kind of mere rulemaker (see for example W.K. Guthrie’s great book Orpheus and Greek Religion or my review of that book here, and also for a comprehensive book on the history of God, see Karen Armstrong’s aptly titled The History of God).

In the same light, therefore, we must attribute certain aspects of society as it is lived today, to eras and epochs that might not be said to have rightly created a way of life, but has it as a kind of historical referent. Forms of democracy may have gone unknown, and we can infer that this is the case, but where we cannot infer, or where the synonym is so strong that we cannot think of any other era to which we attribute modes of societal governance, law or ideas, then we must accept that the legacies of modes of societal governance, law or ideas be attributed (perhaps erroneously) to places in time decided by the historians.

Humanists will say that the moralism that came to its fore in the Christian era, with notable referents like the Golden Rule, have always been around and have to do with our natural indiscriminate attitudes towards others, and have emerged quite naturally, however through a basic read of the Christian era, we can see some of these moral codes have quite concretely been outlined in their fullest here. Further, the conditions with which these moral codes came about rely a great deal on the time they were written, which of course explains why some of them are wrong – and this is a further commentary on how we view these ideas today, they’re not divine endowment, they are products of a particular time, something which gay Christians, female vicars and liberals may insist on, saying that prejudice may be a product of a less enlightened time on these issues, and actually go against the true principles of Christian love (agape).

Never has a more robust explanation of our limits in knowledge been spelt out than in the Christian concept of a God, that mysterious realm. A God who pronounces love, but lets his Son die on the Cross – not even the Christians themselves could work out what God was, vengeful or caring, imminent or transcendent, one who can interfere or one who, as G.K. Chesterton famously said regarding the problem of evil, “seemed for an instant to be an atheist”. God, the term, works in the way Frege noted that concepts did not. For Frege a concept could not exist without there being attributed to it a material referent of which to properly conceive, but God resists this logic, for what God stands for is the immaterial thing that somehow glues a community together. In a strange twist, for God’s work to take place, a material referent need not exist at all, or more radically, God doesn’t have to exist at all for his work to be done – we as a community ensure God’s work takes place. The Christian concept of community can no better be explained than by Matthew 18:20 “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them”. In the name of Christ, the son of God and his physical embodiment, a community gathered, and our proximity to one another, is bound by the immaterial thing that we call God. It is this that we owe to the Christian era, and it is this which is meant by God, and where it isn’t, it is wrong. There is no bearded man in the sky, there is the thing that exists, and affects us, and makes us act, that fundamentally doesn’t exist at all, and it is this which is the true Christianity, an atheistic Christianty.

For those who dispute the word God in this instance should remember the lesson first expounded at the start of this article, that though we might infer that this moral prescription has existed elsewhere, nowhere has it been so concretely expounded than around the Christian period, for which we, atheist or theist, should unequivocally acknowledge.

A person may act for the better or to the detriment of a community, but this does not preclude an emotional proximity to the community or other people. It is readily accepted that criminals who seem to show no mercy would’ve had to have gone through a severe amount of emotional abstraction or mental trauma, and this is because emotional response is a standard outcome from the proximity between people. An atheism which tips its hat to Christianity at this point notes that a no better understanding, and acknolwegdment of our limit in knowledge, of what is at play here, is realised at it’s most accurate with Matthew 18:20.

My opinion on Homeopathy’s Surprising Allies

Phil at AVPS has just blogged on the suprising allies of the homeopathy cause. They include three left-wing MPs John McDonnell, Alan Simpson and Jeremy Corbyn – but Phil has gone straight in there to ask why

have [they] joined forces with the Conservative member for moonbatshire to get the Parliamentary Science and Technology Committee to take another look at the “evidence” for homeopathy. What is wrong with these people? What possible motive could these otherwise well-respected socialists have for backing this quackery?

The EDM is as follows:

EDM 908 SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY COMMITTEE REPORT ON HOMEOPATHY

23.02.2010

Tredinnick, David
That this House expresses concern at the conclusions of the Science and Technology Committee’s Report, Evidence Check on Homeopathy; notes that the Committee took only oral evidence from a limited number of witnesses, including known critics of homeopathy Tracy Brown, the Managing Director of Sense About Science, and journalist Dr Ben Goldacre, who have no expertise in the subject; believes that evidence should have been heard from primary care trusts that commission homeopathy, doctors who use it in a primary care setting, and other relevant organisations, such as the Society of Homeopaths, to provide balance; observes that the Committee did not consider evidence from abroad from countries such as France and Germany, where provision of homeopathy is far more widespread than in the UK, or from India, where it is part of the health service; regrets that the Committee ignored the 74 randomised controlled trials comparing homeopathy with placebo, of which 63 showed homeopathic treatments were effective, and that the Committee recommends no further research; further notes that 206 hon. Members signed Early Day Motion No. 1240 in support of NHS homeopathic hospitals in Session 2006-07; and calls on the Government to maintain its policy of allowing decision-making on individual clinical interventions, including homeopathy, to remain in the hands of local NHS service providers and practitioners who are best placed to know their community’s needs.

Source: http://edmi.parliament.uk/EDMi/EDMDetails.aspx?EDMID=40517

My thoughts on this, which I have voiced over at the AVPS website, is that since I can’t imagine John McDonnell et al support that shit, probably wouldn’t want taxpayers to pay for placebos, and I’d guess (out of congruence with their other pricniples) that they’d like to see libel reform, that there must be more to it.

It is possible, simply, that those three that stuck out for Phil wanted to hear more from PCT experts, just to have their backing and credability to back things up. With things like this, often the motion for and against does not sum up one person’s entire judgement, but they have to vote on whatever one is closest. For example, I am not for or against fox hunting, strictly speaking, I am for it being regulated on account of need, but against it being the bloodsport it has been turned into. If it was a case of for or against I wouldn’t have a clear platform, and would have to go with the closest of the two (I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but thank goodness for the Lib Dems who do have a third way on this, see Lembit Opik and the Middle Way Group, then Dave Semple’s article here – though I will add he has never been third way, and good on him).

This, I should imagine is what has happened here, or at least I hope so.

I saw Ben Goldacre give an incredible 15-minutes at a pub in victoria the other night, along with the excellent Dr Evan Harris (I’m not now being paid by the Lib Dems, I should add), and many more, where he was unscripted, huffing and puffing from being late, then dashing off like the vanishing mediator. I think David Tredinnick  has a loose tongue, he shouldn’t be so sure Goldacre is not an expert. Though, back to the point, it maybe has to do with PCT voices…just my guess/hope.

Reform Reform Reform

Cohen on Sunday said:

Like the leaders of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the further up the hierarchy [of for example RBS – but by implication he is also talking about Cafcass  – looks after the interests of vulnerable children before the family courts] they travelled, the less they knew about the true state of the organisations they claimed to be governing.

By implication, Cohen wants to show what is in jeopardy in the public sector by a culture of fear, or what Gordon Brown is being accused of at the moment (the good thing that came from the bullying accusations was finding out what we shall now call the Ballsy Bargain where, when you fear how your manager will react to bad news, deliver good news first, then let rip on the bad to soften the blow, named after its Ministerial purveyor Ed Balls).

Cohen’s contention is to highlight a spanner in the works for top-down, public sector (New Labour-esque!! – my charge) managerialism. T’is not in my name.

I was speaking to an MP yesterday who voted on the issue of the children’s bill (includes reforms of the Family Courts – remit of Cafcass), currently in its report stage, and who said that they were unconvinced by a newspaper editors’ evidence (no names were mentioned), and saw nothing but a thirst for licentious details.”

As far as I can tell, Judges = powerful lobby / MP’s unconvinced by public interest argument from newspaper eds. – I think this could be a very tricky run for Mr Straw. Myself, there might be a case for family courts reform opening up, for purposes of scrutiny, and mainly public scrutiny, just a pity the media acts as, well, a mediator to this, because I would quite agree that the spokespeople for the type of democratised reform that a lot of people – Cafcass included – would like to see should not be newspaper editors with dubious motives.

Now let us hope that that democratisation reaches the top-end of the public sector – free information be it in Cafcass or the courts cannot be left underestimated.

A Message

Guest Post – Poet Parapet

For some time now I have been wondering who I would prefer to see

undo in parliament the existing mess in politics today. The Tories may

carry with them plans for ownership reform, co-ops, the abolition of the

king (well, maybe not that one) but I know deep down this stuff of

Yesteryear was the stomping ground of the Labour party. To become an

option in our hearts and minds, the Tories have had to swing something

unbelievable to the rhetorical left – and that should appease us, but no.

The problem is just that, it’s rhetoric, the old players are still there,

odiously complaining about us commoners, while the new ones smell

retribution – praise for their apparent “nasty-party” disavowal, when

in actual fact what counts as progressive is actually more of the same in

every vain attempt at shedding skin, we see more of the same; same

shit, with a different triple barrelled troglodyte saying it.

Theses on Progressive Conservatism

I

Republicanism, communitarianism, John Lewis, EasyCouncils, co-operatives, mutuals, the ethic of engagement, the reinvention of the firm, motivation and productivity in employee ownership and a market economy based on common ownership. Suggestive of the fact that from both the left and right a convergence will soon take place that seeks to undermine the legacy of Thatcher, or an effort from both the left and right to pretend to the electorate that they have their interests at heart? Maybe something else, but it is all rather indicative that what is fashionable in British politics today is the return to community – this will have large cultural effects as well – and the surpassing of current modes of government and market structure.

II

Progressive conservatism, a project by Demos and led by Max Wind-Cowie, rolls with this contingent, and like the Red tory Philip Blond, is avowedly anti-Thatcherite with regards to an embrace of greed and yuppie idolatry. There is a wider reason other than to change the course of politics for this emergence, and time has a lot to do with it, namely that 13 years have passed of a New Labour government, poverty gaps are still rather large – perhaps larger than in the eighties, and even before the recession took place – and the Tories are an electable force to be reckoned with in the North now.

Furthermore, industrial plants are closing down, there are massive job losses, like with the current events in Middlesbrough with the Corus steel factory, with little that Labour can do about it – even if Peter Mandelson, First Secretary of State,Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, had acted a little sooner – and by disavowing Thatcher (whose image is synonymous with factory closures) a new generation of Tories seek to throw off their nasty party image.

III

Despite what some on the right have called Cameron’s lefty language on community empowerment, there is nothing inherently different in the new emergence of co-operative theory and capitalism, in fact even the LRC document cited above on common ownership actively endorses competition among worker owned industries so as to increase ingenuity and innovation. Perhaps it is less that the right are moving to the left, and that the left are moving to a new capitalism.

Progressive conservatism most definitely seeks to save capitalism, but on the way hopes to replace what it sees as a crippling (and basically laziness promoting) benefits system with a recapitalisation programme – with the idea that if capitalism – in a slight modification of those famous words by Winston Churchill – is the worst form of economic system, except for all the others, should the poor be destined to poverty in the duration?

IV

However, of course, problems arise from within the progressive conservative programme. Firstly, a charge that Wind-Cowie has on the way our benefits system is operated is that the state decides what money one deserves, and by this way decides what that individual or household should do with the money (in the form of housing benefit, for example). This won’t do for progressive conservatism. The poor, on their way to being recapitalised, should be given vouchers to ‘save and to accrue assets’ (p.21). But this can only work if the state promotes an ideal for what people do with their income support. Now, I’m sure that Wind-Cowie isn’t against people who need a sum of money be provided for their living arrangement, what his main anxiety is that the state too much decides what income support is to go towards, but I’d say this is thoroughly a better tailored system than assets – cynically I’d say there is little difference in the two other than the fact that one has to hope their assets grow in order that that person be able to pay the gas that month.

V

Another problem is the problem of choice – in the same vein as thesis iv. The document states

It is wrong that money that is designated for individuals’ use – because of need, illness or entitlement – is spent at the discretion of the state and not of the person.
(p. 58)

This is in a part of the document that seeks to revolutionise housing benefit for the better, saying that the government  should not be subsidising landlords. A noble sounding, real progressive element, right? But this as a mode of choice falls well short. The option, when the state no longer subsidises housing benefit in the way we know now, is for the government to instead give the individual the choice – which is to subsidise the landlord! It would seem on reflection that the best that the progressive conservatives can do is not give straight to the landlord himself, but give you the choice of whether to pay him or not, which if you want to keep your house or flat, you will have to. No choice there then. Which is not directly the Tories’ fault – but it does nullify their claim to change.

VI

The progressive conservatives will not change the system, they will only trivialise it. Futile attempts to promote the Singaporean system in the UK (p. 34 – though we know this is a false analogy), the illusion of choice in housing benefits, and the option of assets instead of a tailored benefits system – without the underlying patronisation that runs throughout, suggesting that benefits are for, and only promote, laziness – are all part of their master plan. Aren’t we in trouble.

VII

Even anti-Thatcher Tories patronise benefits claimants (else why bother with poverty recapitalisation – I fail to see a difference for the individual) – is this the best they have to woo the North, who have been hit with recent job losses?

Ideology and the Femail

Is there a moral difference betwixt The Daily Mail’s bird magazine Femail or the Guardian’s woman bit Women? There is notable content difference, because by and large contributors tend to lean either on or to the left, and on or to the right respectively. But isn’t the inclusion of a supplement dedicated to woman’s issues itself gender divisive? If the content of that magazine has bits in it that talk about equality of the sexes rather than ‘Of course we women don’t want a male pill – it would end those happy little ‘accidents‘ or “I lost 10 stone in a year – and here are the pictures to prove it!” then does that secure a progressively moral high ground?

Similarly, is a female car more sexist if an Iranian company makes it than if a car is made in Europe that is advertised for women? Both magazines mentioned above are designed with women in mind, like both cars mentioned, but is it the content alone which satisfies our leftist sensibilities? If so, is this not a little weak? What does the content tell us about what women want (to use that old chestnut): if the content is on gender inequality is this a marker that we are not there yet? Or, if the content is about cosmetics, is this a marker that women are equal and this an expression of what it means to be female today, and not just the desire (often hidden in equality discourse) to be more like men – like that was a symbol, or an End Point, of equality.

If we think the content of those magazines are moronic, then isn’t the problem not that women magazines are made, but that they are bought?

After pondering these circular questions I wanted to find out the ideology behind using Buddy Holly’s song Everyday as part of the advertising campaign for the Daily Mail’s female magazine Femail. Could it be for the reason that Buddy Holly’s widow Maria Elena Holly, who owns the rights to Buddy Holly’s  name, image, trademarks, and other intellectual property, has throughout her life used these things for her own gain? As one article mentions “[m]uch of the tension existing between Maria Elena and Lubbock [American city in the state of Texas] stems from Maria’s desire to make money off anything baring Buddy Holly’s name or image”. By some accounts Maria wanted to name a street the “Buddy Holly Walk of Fame”, and call a terrace “Buddy Holly Terrace” – all at the expense of the city of Lubbock. She also tried, unsuccessfully, to sue Peggy Sue Gerron, the woman to whom the 1957 Buddy Holly classic “Peggy Sue” was dedicated – for releasing an autobiography called “Whatever Happened to Peggy Sue?”, in 2008.

Here was a woman who tried, and often failed, to amass capital – and charge people for the pleasure – from her husband’s name. She presumably owns the rights to the song Everyday, which the Daily Mail have paid to recreate as part of their advertising campaign for their women’s supplement Femail. Is it implicitly because this is the sort of feminism the Mail subscribes to? Female capitalism in the Name of the Father – the paternal function which imposes the law and regulates desire? Probably.

See more Gender Targeting in Print Ads by Nicola Batchelor (first result, opens as doc. file)

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