Saturday, 28 October 2017

On Monogamy - Part I

This is the first of two ruminations derived from a reading of a 2008 academic paper by Walter Scheidel of Stanford University, 'Monogamy and Polygyny in Greece, Rome and World History' [Princeton Stanford Working Papers in Classics, available online]. The views and conclusions are mine and not his.

Monogamy is 'normal', begging the question of what it is we mean by 'normal' - for us, for society, for a particular society and so forth. 'Normal' means fitting a 'norm', a standard which occasions no comment, that just is as it is. A norm contains no absolute moral worth in itself since slavery was once normal and female genital mutilation is normal today in some societies. The question underlying the question is how something becomes 'normal' in society and whether it accords with our own natures ... or what would be normal to us if we were in command of the social and the social was not in command of us.

Monogamy presents an interesting test case in deciding whether what is normal is imposed or natural. An academic paper by Walter Scheidel of Stanford University, published in June 2008, triggered thoughts since it opens with a question about the normality or peculiarity of Greco-Roman monogamy which, in turn, is interesting to me because it is Greco-Roman monogamy that has set the standard for the Christian world which, in turn, has created many of the unthinking norms of our own culture.

By monogamy here, we mean a social rule that permits only one wife (we have to assume here male dominance whose normality is another question for another time) with no cohabitation with concubines - in other words, the association of an exclusive sexual relationship within a household. It is perhaps not a problem of sexuality (since it does not preclude extra-marital sex outside the home) so much as a problem of property (who has access to it as sexual or just household management partner). The Greco-Roman approach to property provides us with another set of norms that have underpinned Western culture, including capitalism, ever since.

Scheidel notes that genetic monogamy (mutually exclusive mating between two partners) is fairly rare in the animal kingdom and that social monogamy (mutually exclusive pair bonding which is not necessarily connected to reproduction) is common amongst birds but atypical amongst mammals of which we humans, of course, are a species. Humans appear to be unusual - even amongst primates in being monogamous (in effect, a partly social construction) and (he avers) "only mildly polygynous in "genetic" and "social" terms'".

The mildly appears to be an extrapolation from claims about sexual dimorphism and male-female variability in reproductive success which we can take as read. But the reading of that evidence suggests that mildly polygynous does not mean not polygynous and that might be read as either that most people are occasionally interested in two or more partners at the same time or some (a relatively few) males are always interested in two or more partners. This gives us a picture of a free 'natural' society in which most people lived in monogamous states but enabled people in monogamous states either to be temporarily non-monogamous or people to be fully polygamous. The rise of polyamory in itself within conditions of relative social freedom implies the reality of these possibilities although polyamorists still find themselves faced with enormous stigma and social barriers to contend with.

Scheidel's analysis of social conditions perhaps confirms that the polyamorous trend in a post-Christian free society fits with a situation where, historically, most bonding and mating arrangements are monogamous but where societies generally accept polygyny in both its generic and social forms. We might say that most humans most of the time (outside the West) are not rigid in having one system for all but provide flexibility in accordance with the underlying structure of human biological preference. 93% of societies have some form of socially accepted polygyny (polyandry is entirely another matter). Convenience, preference and resource limitations might tend most to monogamy but there is no barrier across the bulk of humanity to multiple relationships in principle, especially amongst elite groups and as 'concurrent concubinage'.

Now, the key element is '-gyny'. The vast bulk of historic social forms are related to multiple partners for males and not for females and may be read in two ways - either that, in general, men and women do not want multiple relationships and are more tolerant of sharing space with other women (which is interesting but unclear and which we may explore in the next posting) or that men simply are so dominant in most social situations that they can impose these social standards and that women are their 'victims' which is probably the 'normal' narrative of most women in the contemporary West. We can read the process of shifting from polygyny in all its forms (including concurrent concubinage) either as the progressive liberation of women from male oppression or as the progressive imposition and cultural enslavement of men to a feminised society. I suggest that both processes have operated in tandem.

The problem with the simple ideological interpretation that monogamy is a liberation of at least half humanity from the other half (or, less charitably, that it is one half's victory in a cultural power struggle over the other half) is that the current stage of human history is unusually free of socially imposed restrictions on sexual conduct. It has become very clear that there are as many women, possibly more, who want sexual relationships classed as polyamorous (that is, the freedom to love more than one person) as there are men. The conclusion may be that women are as mildly polyandrous as men are mildly polygamous and that it is probably true that most women are occasionally interested in two or more partners at some stage while some (a relatively few) females are always interested in two or more partners. In other words that, in a totally free society, and although there may be differences in approach to specific situations, there may be more similarity between men and women in this regard than social norms have permitted.

What we are suggesting here is that we should not entirely confuse polygyny with patriarchy. Nevertheless, what Scheidel does point out is the correlation of matriarchy with monogamy and patriarchy with polygyny. At first sight, this suggests that the link with patriarchy is to be seen in terms of female liberation and female exploitation but this may not be quite what it seems because we have to think about who are the mothers and who are the fathers who rule and how they relate to others of their gender. I would contend that gender here is of less importance than the fact of ruling - it is power that matters.

For example, the logic of the relationship between monogamy and matriarchy might be seen immediately in terms of the need for the mother-to-be to remove all competition from the household - the competition is not men but other women so that monogamy is not a strategy to contain or control men (though that is the net result) but a strategy to exclude other women. A dominant woman can demand in the right social circumstances the exclusion of all other women and the exile of the male's sexuality to the margins in return for exclusivity and stability. That offer, made at point A when emotional bonding is high, might be regreted at point B when the male has literally gone through a ritual that socially closes alll doors to his own future needs and desires - in effect, he has been deluded perhaps by his own hormones or social pressure into a form of quasi-enslavement to which he either reconciles himself or around which he is forced to skulk like a dog. In short, matriarchical monogamy is a power play as anti-liberatory as patriarchical polygyny because it structures social norms around the thrusting of other women to one side (into social nothingness as hidden mistresses, lovers, sex workers and so forth) in order that one woman be dominant in the household. Thus women may be said to oppress women through monogamy as much as (it could be argued) women control and contain (and so oppress) men.

To be fair, we should say, of course, that there are parallel oppressions in patriarchical polygyny but resource poverty means that most normal relationships in such societies remain monogamous - the woman, in such societies, might reasonably say that the man can have his concubine or second wife when he can afford it and not before and such a new entrant into a household would be in a pecking order and be expected to wash the dishes. Elite patriarchal polygyny, on the other hand, brings women into a wealthy household and so provides security but their dependence on the male is clear - the women are not truly free but no more, one supposes, than men who are answerable to other men (the condition of most men in most societies) or if a modern high status female decided to have a harem of poorer males in tow.

The latter type has been historically rare to the point of my knowing of no case beyond some notorious super-elite women such as Catherine the Great and a few Empresses but the point here is that the oppression is at all times one of relative power and wealth before it is one of sexual predation. The predation follows on from the disparities of wealth and power just as the casting couch mediates between the desperate desire of a beautiful young woman to be an actress and the hunger for power and sex of an inadequate pot-bellied aging man with capital. I have no doubt that a society of Amazons with high sexual appetites and great wealth in a resource poor society with too many men around who need to eat would soon develop forms of sexual organisation and household that reflected their power albeit one that would have to deal with the problem of pregnancy. We may live in such a society within our lifetimes.

Monogamy thus has its politics - it is both a means by which women contain and control men and out-compete other women and it is a means by which partnerships of bonded humans are formed to create children or security often under conditions of resource scarcity. As an ideology, it emerges from the first whereas, as a practice, it emerges from the second. It is why so often women engaged in the practice and not requiring to contain and control or out-compete can often reject those ideologies of matriarchalism (such as that of catholicism) and feminism that grow out of anxiety and ressentiment.

Polygyny or polyandry or community variants, conversely, are both a means by which men show their dominant status and control of resources and a means by which in a resource-rich culturally free society individuals meet their psychological and emotional needs. Clearly, the situation is complex but the critical element is competition for, control of and access to resources. We can see that a resource rich society (assuming cultural freedom) is always going to tend to have more polyandrous and polygynous forms without such forms ever being dominant - after all, polygyny and polyandry (like polyamory) are extremely emotionally and resource-demanding alternatives to monogamy. If you do not have spare capital, high revenues and more leisure time than average, monogamy is the easy option and polygynous or polyamorous instincts can be satisfied when it all gets too much by 'cheating' (playing the field and then going home when the game is over).

Scheidel, as a classicist, is particularly interested in Greco-Roman monogamy (as we are for different quasi-political reasons). He presents it as at the geographical faultline between the moderately patricentric Indo-European zone and the more patriarchal world of the Eastern Mediterranean and West Asia. The point about the Greco-Roman model is that it did not permit the exceptions for rulers and elites permitted to the Eastern world. This is important because the constraint here on polygyny is not economic (see above) but a matter of norms - a norm has appeared that restricts others, interestingly the power elite more than anyone else but implicitly anyone else who might accumulate the resources to engage with it. And it is this that was inherited by the Christians as the model to be imposed on the West for the next two thousand years.

In this regard, Christianity cannot be blamed for the imposition, only for the brutal intensification of the system. Homeric heroes lived polygynous lives but monogamy was firmly established in Greek culture at the beginning of  the historic period and was presented as quintessentially Greek compared to barbarian culture. In this respect, Christianity followed Greek practice rather than the other way around: it may be useful to consider Christianity as a partially Hellenised heresy of Judaism. This Greek practice did not stop concubinage (and certainly did not stop slave exploitation or the hiring of sex workers) but it did draw the line at co-habitation. Rome too appeared to be monogamous from its early origins although it too may have seen concubines of which it culturally disapproved but in separate locations (like the French 'maitresse'). Slave relationships, which may not always have been obviously exploitative, existed and could result in issue which could be recognised by the fathers.

And we have not mentioned that the modern institution of serial monogamy is also very ancient. Roman divorce law enabling a succession of wives if that suited the man - so that the law provided a form of patriarchy in simply changing sexual relationships from being lateral in time (the harem) to being vertical with one woman after another. Christianity innovated, almost as a trades union for women and slaves, by making divorce harder and then impossible. Roman men, in effect, found the vertical approach rather easy to have stopped whereas unravelling a harem might have been a lot more difficult, certainly harder for Christians to legislate against. After all, protecting incumbent women conservatively in monogamy would then have been replaced with a strategy of 'firing' lots of women to benefit just one of them under polygamy. I do not believe it has been studied but perhaps Christanity found fertile ground in the West and had more difficulty travelling East because its power to create a mass female base was restricted by its inability to represent all women in principle under patriarchal harem systems whereas it could purport to represent all women under systems of serial monogamy and slave exploitation.

It is thus Christianity that strengthens monogamy to the degree that we now see it today but on this Greco-Roman base, with subsequent wars on barbarian polygamy, divorce and elite concubinage that became central to the Catholic Church's sexual politics (which has never been seen by feminists as particularly progressive in most respects). One might say that male power was systematically endorsed by the Church in return for its sexual containment. This is not the place for cod psycho-analytical theory but the levels of emotional and physical violence that became part of the description of masculinity in the West might or might not have something to do with this 'turn' - while it would be naive to believe that males did not have sexual outlets outside the household, the ideology of sexuality and the household itself became zones of male constraint and emotional silence.

Even today, the norm is that the household is so much 'owned' by the couple (which means, in fact, though not in ideology, by the woman) that it becomes unthinkable for a man to invite a female friend into the home without negotiation on the precise terms of entry.  How many women or men would freely enter a married British household without 'clearing' it first with the woman or man who co-habited ... at a certain point, both husband and wife lose all rights to the most innocent of friendships with the opposite sex under conditions where the household is territorialised as sacred space and yet there is no other space that is not public space or the friend's sacred space. And how many partners would be wary, without reason in most cases, of entering the private space of another person of the opposite gender in return. These codes are not rational but encoded from a particular truth ... the monogamous person has no private space unless they have an agreed space within a space which cannot be accessed except through the coupled space with its rules and taboos.

Jewry followed Christianity much as Christianity followed Hellenism. The West in the last 1,000 years (bar a few radical communitarian experiments and Mormonism) has been resolutely monogamous to this day. Even Mormonism recanted in 1890 and then again in 1904. Today's polyamorous tendency has not actually exhibited itself yet as a movement to change the law to permit consensual polygamy and the few Nordic attempts to recognise Muslim polygamy are really responses to the cultural war between Leftists trying to score points against nativists and populists amd have little to do with any seriously radical or well thought out response to what we are as persons. Monogamy is, in short, the 'norm' in the West (and now not only in the West) and remains the norm despite its lack of normality in history and other societies, the undoubted suffering caused to millions of people 'trapped' within its demands over centuries, the effective death of the Church as moral arbiter across much of the West and the fact that it has declined back into its serial Roman form but with women permitted the same rights as men and despite serial monogamy's often bad effects on children. Indeed, it is so normal that the homosexual community have yearned to enter into that state as civil partners or more.

We might say that monogamy, despite its unnatural (as exclusive) state and oppressions and its undoubted false consciousness, is one of the defining characteristics of the West which has been exported globally as part of the West's contribution to modernisation. Japan legislated against polygamy in 1880, Thailand in 1935, China in 1953 (under Communism which is a form of Western heresy and so ultimately a derivative of Hellenised Christianity), India (for Hindus) in 1955 and Nepal in 1963. That means billions of people shifted into monogamous mode in under 65 years. Whole populations have been 'modernised' into a particular gender relations practice by States with no religious intervention. Only Islam (with secularising exceptions) and Sub-Saharan Africa stand out and both are under immense pressure from modernisers and Christians alike. In the latter zone, something like 20-30% of men are in polygynous unions which might suggest the 'all things being equal' norm that might apply in relatively resource poor and non-free (meaning where women do not have the same choice) societies.

The obvious question is whether the West's new interest in polyamory under conditions where the State does not dictate personal morality and where there are relatively prosperous middle classes (albeit under economic pressure) will reverse this trend eventually. Indeed, it might be that resource pressures on equal young men and women (especially over the costs of a household) might actually encourage polygyny and polyandry. Given a figure for 'natural' polyamorists of around 15% of the population, one might anticipate the emergence of such households who will require legal recognition under conditions of serial polygamy/polyandry - that is, core stable units with partners entering and departing over time until a final stable unit, which may revert to monogamy, emerges over time. Legislating for such a development to cover property relations and child protection while not interfering in private choices may present a challenge for traditionalists and legislators as difficult as past struggles over abortion or gay rights and marriage.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Charon - Lesser God of the Dead


Diodorus Siculus claimed that near Memphis, within Lake Acherousia, there was a House of the Dead to which, under the Egyptian rites of the dead, there was a ferryman called Charon whose boat would take the body of the deceased to its new home. There was a death demon of the Etruscans called Charun. But neither story convinces many as the origin of the myth.

Burn the body, close the grave, pay the ferryman, place the coin in the mouth (since the soul departs through the mouth at its last breath), the ritual is all necessary, and so the deed is finally done. An apple or honey cake, a ribbon or a wreath are all signs of the passing. Later (when people might have believed that the dead were going to a better life), the departed would be given perfume, garlands of flowers and food to take on the journey to their new life in death. 

There is also a prayer to be made to the spirits of the River Styx since, without their help, Charon himself cannot easily cross the river and may be forced to wait outside the entrance to Hades’ realm. The mourners cry and as they cry the soul passes into the hands of the God of Death. Their wailing is a call to tame and calm Death and to ask for his care and protection of those they love or to whom they have a duty. 

Imagine him! – very aged and close to senile but strong and horrible in his filthy cloak and proletarian tunic, the hair around his bald pate still black and wild but with white hairs both there and on his bearded chin, eyes that glow and flicker with a radiant soft flaming and skin wrinkled and scorched black by Phlegethon.

Insatiably hungry to get the job done, instinctively harsh and merciless, a supernatural demonic creature, a lesser God, he visibly enjoys preparing the places for the dead in the boat, gently placing the corpses of the innocent to ensure an easy passage while forcing the less than innocent to come to sufficient zombie-like life to row the boat forward.

He is a terrible creature, who takes pleasure in the tears of the grieving. He steers the black boat of the dead, decked in trailing river weed, across the Styx, the howling, wide and bottomless Acheron Lake and across the Lethe towards a place which Apollo never visits. Charon thus removes us from the exhaustion that is life. He takes slaves and freemen, putting all at the oars or at least those he dislikes and he hears no claims for precedence.

For the journey, all we need is a jug, the clothes we are buried or burnt in, a bundle of necessaries and the ‘obol’ – the coin that is the price of a day’s wage, the last day on earth. Hades is a mercenary place. Hermes Psychopompos who guides the soul to the boat, wants his payment from the obol he gives Charon (which suggests that change has to be given somewhere in the transaction), so does Charon, of course, often considered greedy, and so does Aeacus the greedy gatekeeper into Hades.  The chthonic gods are human traffickers. It is a business.

We might add the greed of Pluto (though not the Greek Hades) though how one obol would cover all these costs is another mystery. It must be a bulk commodity business. War must be profitable. This mercenary side may just reflect a late Roman obsession with contracts and consideration (we pay, we get entrance). Some in the lower classes would put in more coins into the grave than a Greek would have needed.

Some have said that there is no fee, some just the obol and some, though they are wrong, two. For the Greek, the real price is the burial rite or the funerary pyre. Those who have no burial rites, no mourning, no pyre, are left to wander on the near shore of the Acheron pursued remorselessly by vicious beasts and demons, not on life’s shore but another shore altogether.

The obol is symbol of all our earthly wealth being transferred to the ferryman and lost to us forever. It is our passport and also the confiscation at the frontier. As refugees from life, we go into the shadow world with nothing. The payment is also the closing of the grave as much as the tombstone being in place. What you can take with you (according to the philosophers) is your wisdom, your integrity and your true nature.The payment may also reflect a far more ancient fear of the dead as avaricious, hungry ghosts. If you pay them now then perhaps they won't come back and ask for payment later.

There are two sides to this coin – the obverse is the remembrance of the dead by the living and the reverse is a new existence in the realm of the dead or non-existence. It is the representation of a new mode of existing at the cusp of two worlds – mental and supernatural. If a man refuses to die willingly, Death will give him a nudge. He will execute all who refuse to die and without mercy. He kidnaps the young. All are equal in his attention even though he will show unaccustomed grace, gentleness, kindness and tenderness to young mothers and their babes, to the innocent who may even be exempted of their fee. 

And, though fearful of Charon, men still praise him when a tyrant dies. A cult of Charon emerged from Palestine to Mauretania and up to Milan and coins were widely placed in the mouths of the dead in the Second Century AD. Just saying the name Charon could inspire fear by then. He becomes Charondas in much later Greek folklore. 

Once in the boat, there is no return. Only the dead can cross the Acheron. With so many sallow-faced souls on board, the boat threatens to sink but it never does. Some say that the boat expands to fit the dead and grows to huge size after major battles. Some say Charon even carries the souls of all the animals as well. And some say that there are places on earth which provide a shortcut to Hades – such as the land of the Hermionians. 

Very rarely a hero such as Hercules (the only hero strong enough to beat Charon in a fight), Orpheus or Aeneas or heroine such as Psyche may enter Hades as a living soul and return, but for the rest of us there is no golden branch or road money that will allow us to enter and return to the land of the living. 

We cannot pass in and out of death or ride on Charon’s boat and enter Hades before our time. Even Orpheus was denied a second visit until his time was due and Charon was himself punished once for letting Hercules through, albeit that he probably had little choice in the matter. 

And if we think this is a fairy tale and there is no Hades and no Charon, still it is true that Death subsists in any case, as an eternal exile from Existence, irrevocable. But we cannot accept the late glosses that merge into the Christian mythos in which Dionysos represents the triumph of life over death. Perhaps many Romans (though not the Greeks who had a grim view of the underworld) believed that Charon was taking their souls to a better world beyond the grave. But belief is not truth.

The Freedom Agenda - Polyamory as Exemplar

I have made no secret to my true friends of my polyamorous nature. I not only make no apology for it, it helps define who I am. It is by no means all that I am but I would not be true to myself if I did not accept that it was an important part of who I am. I am lucky to live in an immediate environment that finds this no problem but, observing the reactions to polyamory of those outside that immediate environment, it has given me an abiding intellectual interest in the relationship between individual freedom and society and the cultural pressures that effectively enslave people to the control, expectations and aspirations of others.

Freedom is never just about something as one-sided as sexual orientation - freedom is about belief systems, consent, relations to the state system, the family, the locality and the work place, one's positioning by others in a corrupted media, control of your body, adequate resources (which is why the true libertarian must ultimately be, at least in part, a form of socialist), politics, education, friendship and emotions. Freedom is about the totality of being in the world.

My own position is that each person has the right to express themselves in any way they wish so long as they do no harm to another person. I cannot count harm as challenging other people's emotions, sentiments and thoughts but I can count harm as hurting their material selves, their private property and their reputation or status.

The society that controls my language to save the feelings of another is an oppressive society but the real harm it does is in not creating the space to enable a culture of good manners to emerge that will minimise harms without suppressing risk and challenge. It would be bad manners for someone to disrespect me as polyamorous but it would also be bad manners for me to 'out' someone polyamorous without their very specific consent. The failure to create this space is why we live in a culture of weak emoting and terror-stricken snowflakes instead of increasingly strong, resilient and fundamentally compassionate people.

The fine balance between an individual (which, in the sexual sphere, includes all orientations including the often forgotten asexual and, of course, the monogamous) and society is sometimes difficult to hold. In my case, the discussion of these issues is conducted amongst friends in a set of Facebook Groups that have now been running for nearly six years in some cases and cover a wide range of freedom and society issues (ideology, culture, the internet, sexuality, philosophy, music and art). A six year old erotica one is now moribund because of mounting Facebook intrusion into a secret group of consensual adults of around 30 people (actually disproportionately women!). The group was a deliberate canary in the mine to track Facebook's emergence as social control mechanism and it has proved fruitful in defining this even if the canary is now effectively as dead as Monty Python's parrot. Facebook's social control role was tracked and exposed over time.

What is clear is that the total social system is now tending towards a top-down corporatist control of freedom not out of malice but out of fear of the system's own lack of control of the general situation in response to the failures of a globalisation that it had promoted and the sometimes spurious and sometimes real threats arising from terrorism and organised crime. The system created the conditions for terror, economic collapse and organised crime and now wants us and not itself to pay the price. Big business, fearful of regulation that will cut into its profits, is conniving in the process, most notably with its setting of online standards that intrude into private life.

My own view is that the genie of freedom is out of the bottle and that there is no way that the total corporatist system can crush dissent except by cultural means which is why it has turned its attention to its alliance with the media again. Controlling culture is the standard mode of the hegemonic system - with cash if necessary as we saw in the promotion of abstract expressionism by the CIA in the 1940s. Today, we are increasingly able to see through this manipulation and create islands of cultural resistance that can connect with others despite the attempts at informal algorithmic censorship and control. The new technologies increase control and increase abilities to resist in a call-and-response process that means that the controlling system can never quite win over all aspects of human existence. Sexuality is increasingly that canary in the mine - now repressed, now channeled into an absurd identity politics, now culturally appropriated and now a mode of resistance.

In fact, the means and modes of resistance through the internet and through a new awareness of personal freedom (and, above all, a new preparedness at the margin to stand for personal autonomy and take risks) have resulted in a powerful half underground and half overt energy directed at ensuring that every strike against freedom results in a tenfold determination to strike back, often in a fluid and 'queer' way so that eventually the state system is going to have adapt to us rather than we to it if we are both to work together to remove those who are actually dangerous to safety and society (as opposed to those periodically witch hunted in order to enforce policy). The really dangerous person is not at the top but at the white collar middle management (the 'kapo') level and the soi-disant 'creative' or 'intellectual' embedded in the cultural or policy system - these people are generally second rate minds living in a state of anxiety.  It is these people who seek to master the algorithms. These are the people who failed to protect the child abuse cases in Rotherham. This is why the Labour Party is now dangerous. It is becoming the party of that class.

Crude attempts at censorship and cultural control are yesterday's tools ... the system can track everything we do or say but what it cannot do is stop us doing anything legal (and sometimes illegal) or saying what we like or kicking back to organise to make what we want to be legal to be legal, sometimes simply by making the law unworkable if it is foolish. Censorship of hate speech has simply made heroes out of the hateful. Attacking pornography has simply normalised it. Disrespecting sex workers has provoked them into more effective organisation. The destruction of the authoritarian pseudo-liberal Left has now become as important as the containing of the authoritarian Right - more so, since the Right has adopted the freedom agenda for private life in stages since the 1990s.

The new Einsteinian politics of individual mobilisation and volatility which is replacing the systems-based Newtonian politics of the West is only in its early stages. The Catalonian experiment under way today is an amusing and even playful as well as deadly serious game of cat and mouse between a pompous State machine and local aspirations. Brexit is going to go in the same direction as the attempt to ensure a corporatist solution to a populist decision results in the slow emergence of a country revolt against the pretensions of the liberal middle classes. As Frank Furedi has pointed out, the Hungarian resistance to cultural bullying is another, wholly misreported in our increasingly unreliable official media - the BBC is little more than the Pravda of a failed system.

There will be flows back to the Newtonian and then new discoveries until a major paradigm shift takes place and we are in a new world of Globalisation 2.0, intelligent and stabilised populism and strong but responsive States that have been forced to abandon their presumption that they are more important than the people they serve. The Churchillian Imperial approach is dying on its fight but so, we will find, is the absurd 'all must have prizes' New Left Socialism of the narcissistic Baby Boomers. Identity politics is rapidly travelling up its own orifice.

In that context, since the personal is the political, I produced a discussion paper on just one small aspect of the Freedom Agenda for the Facebook Group on Sexuality (which anyone can join who is not a troll- we are not snowflakes, we execute trolls). I reproduce it below for the record. Variants could be produced for all parts of the Freedom Agenda - other forms of sexual conduct, mental health, internet freedom, personal liberation from party, corporate or tribal loyalties, child-rearing, property-holding, corporate demands on our time, virtue and moral obligation, freedom to believe nonsense if it does no harm, command of our own bodies, fair redistribution, the management of technologies and community and family obligations. Try inserting asexual into the text and with a few sensible adjustments you have a liberatory strategy for asexuals.

The challenge here is to balance an oppressive inherited communitarianism in society, which still has some value as solidarity in bad times and which need not be oppressive at all, with a new and responsible libertarian impulse that still permits the freedom to create sustainable communities. So, here are seven propositions about polyamory for discussion and you can insert any orientation and any private belief system you like and adapt it to your own needs:
  1. Many people who are polyamorous generally cannot be happy without recognition of their polyamorous nature although others can be happy enough but not entirely fulfilled. The polyamorous need to connect emotionally with others. They are not driven primarily by sexual need although the sexual element cannot be ignored. The essential drive remains emotional. Why this is so is irrelevant. It is not a disease or a weakness. It is simply so. 
  2. The bulk of society cannot comprehend the polyamorous sensibility, largely because it does not think about it. This is its problem which has become that of polyamorous people. Polyamorous people should not allow it to be their problem. 
  3. The social barriers for polyamorous people meeting other polyamorous people and developing sustainable relationships are formidable. 
  4. Many people who have a polyamorous orientation cannot communicate that orientation to their family and friends and so they are not able to develop an open and transparent relationship with others. They are locked into social conformity by their condition. This breeds not so much loneliness (because they have existing sustainable emotional relationships) but lack of personal fulfilment and dissatisfaction.
  5. The ‘self-closeting’ of the polyamorous (out of concern not to cause pain or upset to others for whatever reason) is a serious barrier to the sustainability of polyamorous relationships as well as to meeting other compatible polyamorous people. The pool of possible contacts is thus made smaller by social conformity.
  6. There is no intrinsic reason why anyone should limit their natures to the private and the secret to satisfy the social prejudices of others. It is a form of subservience to society which society has not earned the right to demand.
  7. Lifestyle polyamorous communities (centred on the narcissism and anxieties of defensive polyamorists) are simply reproducing the anxious defensiveness of the communities that they are trying to isolate themselves from. The polyamorous person must be able to assert their normality in all those respects that matter while remaining polyamorous.
If these propositions are true, what conclusions can we draw from them? It is from the answers to that question that liberation can start to take place.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Facebook & Arbitrary Power

"Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number,
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you-
Ye are many - they are few."

Facebook has just proved itself to be an idiot again - or rather its algorithms have proved idiotic. Its guidelines on 'nudity' (a particular cultural neurosis emanating from the dark recesses of American disgust with the otherwise perfectly natural human body) are actually crystal clear that if an 'artist' paints a nude, then it is somehow just dandy.

This is, of course,  a concession to the nonsensical idea that, for some romantic reason, artists can represent safely what is not permitted in the real world. However, those are the guidelines - no nudity (except for a political concession to breast feeding mothers) unless it is art and then it is permitted. Let us be clear - if it is an artistic representation, it is expressly permitted.

In this particular case, I posted, in a Closed Group dedicated to art and with members who are all invited adults, a picture by the mid-level baroque female painter Artemisia Gentileschi, somewhat of a feminist icon. Indeed, I have the cynical notion that Facebook only backed down when I threatened to set the feminists on it for blocking their heroine, one of the few female artists to 'make it' in the seventeenth century - actually a fairly average and over-hyped artist.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, not only did their moronic algorithm not recognise a work of art and blocked it but the operation did something unconscionable - it arbitrarily halted me from posting anything and anywhere for 24 hours. It gets worse by the way, but wait for the end on that one.

My response was immediate, aggressive and utterly contemptuous. They got a message on their help desk every five minutes for two hours pointing out the idiocy of the blocking with a one hour twitter campaign of direct contempt for their inability a) to recognise art and b) to understand their own guidelines as well as an expression through every means of direct anger and outrage that they should arbitrarily block anyone for 24 hours rather than just block something that their idiot algorithm could not recognise as a rather unerotic bit of baroque flummery.

The net result was that the block on my posting was lifted within six rather 24 hours and the picture was restored but my contempt for this arbitrary act and algorithmic stupidity has returned me to my high level of distrust for Facebook that had existed some three or four years ago when they suspended my account without adequate cause and were forced to relent after another time-wasting and determined twitter campaign and complaints to the regulatory authorities in Ireland. At least this time, it was a matter of hours and not months!

But then they blundered again. This time in a way that is almost comical. I made it clear to two Groups that I would no longer be posting on them as a mode of resistance to self censorship but also to preseve rights that now seemed to threaten my right to post in some 15 or so others of an educational nature.

A debate ensued in which a bit of consciousnes was raised about Facebook's arbitrary power and then I commented on another sixteenth century Northern Renaissance nude, posted in the past where others saw 'attachment unavailable'. In other words, Facebook had arbitrarily stopped others from seeing it without giving me fair warning of why this was so. When I commented on it, the result was that the algorithm stupidly marked this art work (well within Facebook's guidelines) as problematic and, yes, in another arbitrary act, banned me from posting for another 24 hours. There is a moron out there, either a programmer or an AI.

Facebook needs to understand that it has every right to set the rules for its platform but there are two things it cannot do. First, it cannot breach its own guidelines - those guidelines give a rather silly priority to art but that commitment to permit art must be met. Second, blocking a picture may be unfortunate and immature but it is permissible within those guidelines. However, it is outrageous that it can behave like a medieval despot and remove posting rights and make threats of loss of account on any basis, let alone a breach of its own guidelines. Body neurosis is tiresome - it shows a weak and decadent culture incapable of standing up for maturity. It also evidences an even more tiresome American cultural imperialism. But this weird thing about Art/Good and Body/Bad remains Facebook's privilege. Arbitrary incompetence or algorithmic malice does not.

What is really disturbing here is something much deeper. Because of its administrative errors, my digital existence is being put at threat because these blunders are inexorably leading to my own digital arbitrary execution.  

The Debate on the Art Group during the brief period when I had access to posting was instructive because Facebook's acts are raising a sort of 'revolutionary consciousness' through its arbitrary acts which have not just affected me. It is a sinister algorithmic attempt at socialisation that is going very badly wrong.

I do not accept defeat but I recognise the reality of power which is that Facebook, if I persist, can remove, in an arbitrary way, my entire six year Facebook ouevre comprising engagement in over 15 groups and with nearly 400 Friends and 160 Followers. In other words, Facebook, like a despotic ancien regime estate, can execute me in the digital world on the whim of one of its own aristocratic algorithms. It is as decadent, corrupt and villainous as any ancien regime. 

So what does a rebel do? He does, as Churchill points out, like any oppressed peasantry take to the hills ... or he engages in guerrilla activity or he emigrates or he gets educated and plots or he engages in a calculated 'dumb insubordination' and 'go slow' or he raises the next generation to understand power and eventually seize it. Or all of those as circumstances dictate. The understanding of power is a fine art - first one must know one's powerlessnes (which few really appreciate) and then one must know the power of the powerless (as Foucault pointed out) in its insidious ability to destroy its oppressor. Eventually conditions change and there is a revolution against arbitrary power.

Every arbitrary act by the ancien regime increases resentment and eventually the heads of the aristocrats roll, eventually humanity will command these AI-driven platforms by revolutionary fiat. I engaged the platform in struggle and temporarily won the 'pay rise' to which I was owed anyway but the power relationship has not changed and the capitalist may still fire me at will when conditions change. He may have put me on a blacklist. Indeed, that is what happened. Within hours of the first suspension, I got 'locked out' again with the suspicion that I am a 'marked man'

I can engage in an idle and short term trades union reformism or I can take the revolutionary route and plan for the long game - the utter overthrow of the arbitrary regime and its replacement by a dictatorship of the subjects! The Art Group remains - it just does not have me posting. It is for others to carry on the revolution in the factory. Better to die on your feet than live in fear on your knees so off to the hills I go with mental kalashnikov in my fist. My investment elsewhere is too valuable in the revolutionary cause and there is nothing they can do about that except 'kill' me. And, if they kill me, others will arise to protest their arbitrary power. My very small amount of power has been redirected with more force. The only thing I can hope is that I have raised the revolutionary consciousness of my own fellow Facebook proletariat.

What is going on here? I think Facebook is running scared of legislation from an equally neurotic government structure and is trying out algorithms that restrict and contain us, all on the spurious grounds of protecting us. The platform is weak and governments are oppressive and, between them, we could be but nuts in their nutcracker. The answer is simple as it is to all arbitrary power - expose it, fight it and apportion blame where it is due: in this case, cowardly and greedy unchecked corporate power and weak and oppressive states. We must never be the nuts ... the nut cracker must be broken, and we should be allowed to grow into great oaks.

Appendix: My Protest At The Second Suspension

To Facebook

I cannot believe your stupidity or is it the stupidity of your algorithms. Yesterday, you suspended me for 24 hours on a seventeenth century artwork which met your guidelines. Six hours later you restored me. I commented on 'old' posting of a sixteenth century artwork (well within your guidelines) this morning and you suspended me again for 24 hours. Now I fear that your algorithms are marking me out for account loss on your idiot mistakes.

This really is not acceptable. I want the painting restored. I want the 24 hour suspension lifted. I want my algorithm corrected to remove all references to these arbitrary actions outside your guidelines.

If this is not done clearly and quickly, I will do the following: I shall write to the regulatory authorities and to my elected representative (who is a member of a minority government putting datas regulation through Parliament); I will produce a blog posting on your failures which I shall circulate widely; and you will have a Twitter reference every ten minutes for as long as it takes.

This is an absolute outrage - two blunders in 24 hours against your own guidelines with arbitrary and unjustified attacks on service provision.

UPDATE

On July 22nd, 2017, I posted a photographic art work in a thread on the photographer Man Ray in the same closed Art Group censored above. In this case, it was borderline because it is moot whether a photograph is art to some people though few actually contest Man Ray's status in this respect and the picture was part of a series, all classically correct, as representative of Man Ray's work including his anodyne but attractive 'Pebbles'.

This particular work was interesting because it was a staged (and very obviously staged) image of 'crime passsionel' which only a moron would not see as expressive and poetic rather than either as a) an incentive to crime or b) some sort of vicious misogyny though, of course, some of the half-educated wallies coming out of the universities nowadays seem unable to draw a mental distinction betwen reality and fantasy which is, I suppose, a sign of the times. If the American President cannot do this, it is probable that his subjects may have difficulty as well.

However, accepting that Facebook are not sophisticated and they have rules, in this case, I am perfectly happy to see the picture removed as borderline since they are clearly trying to protect any one in any sex-negative, body-fearing, unthinking culture to which they want to flog their advertising from having their imagination or brain cells tested very far.

What I do not accept is a) the blocking from posting for 24 hours and b) the bullying threats associated with the blocking. What they should do (as I made clear in my main posting) is remove the picture without threats and advise that this has been done and suggest the possibility of a problem if there is a pattern of such activity within some system of adequate due process. This is what I wrote to them:

"You've done it again .... removed an art work. In this case, a clearly staged photographic art work by the great photographer Man Ray in a thread about Man Ray's work in a closed Group dedicated to Art.

"I have dealt with your censorship behaviours in depth in the past (as above) which I urge you to read with care ....

"In this case, I recognise that it is borderline in terms of the actual posting and that it is reasonable for you to remove the picture in the light of your guidelines - idiotic though the act is in every other respect (the closed and dedicated nature of the Group and its dedication to art amongst consenting adults who do not include primitives).

"However, it is not acceptable to block an individual for 24 hours and offer threats but only to remove the picture and a note to this effect will be added to the posting if posting rights are not restored within one hour.

"I accept that the picture may be removed. I do not accept your arbitrary decision to block posting without due process."

Thursday, 22 June 2017

A Very Personal Conclusion About Recent Events

Position Reserved, at various times, has been an outlet for exploring a variety of cultural and political issues of interest to me as well as a means of putting my case and the facts in controversial areas where the mainstream media have failed to 'get it right'. I am, with perhaps just very rare future interventions 'for the record', reducing activity, not only because of pressure of work but also because I may have run out of things to say in public. This posting says most of what I have left to say until the world changes again: then my opinions may have to change in response. From now on, you are likely to get only very rare personal ruminations as the mood takes me, maybe odd discussions of obscure academic papers that don't fit with my Goodreads account or anywhere else and, of course, statements of fact if some malign media half-wit decides to have another go at me.

There are three great lessons learned from several years of writing these posts.

First, that search for some special meaning in the world is pretty futile. The world is as it is. It should be understood just as it is. This is not simply a matter of having a prejudice towards science but having an essential scepticism towards all human narratives. The questions have always to be - who invented the narrative and for what purpose and who is using the narrative and why as well as whether a narrative is true. Truth is a sticky issue. Many facts are not recoverable. All facts are interpretable. A moderate scepticism about all stories we tell ourselves, while understanding that narratives are still necessary for society to function, is the way forward.

The end game is thus detachment but with a degree of compassion for peoples' need to tell stories and a decision somewhere along the line to construct a workable but flexible story for oneself that best accords with the facts of one's condition in life. In my case, my narrative is rather workaday. Having exhausted most evenues surrounding the magical and the spiritual and the ideological, I am really perfectly happy just to go with the flow now and maintain an ethic of civilised survival. My core values are what they always were - a mish-mash of existentialism, libertarianism and basic compassion for the weakest and most troubled.

Second, the melange of social narratives criss-crossing our culture and competing with each other have now gone beyond a joke. It is easy to condemn the dreamers and ideologues as stupid but even the most formally intelligent seem to have extended their psychological flaws and preferences into complex systems and structures that seek to bend reality to their will. There is nothing more deviantly sinister than the human ego that denies that it is an ego. Again, detachment and a determination to stand one's ground with one's own story, while being questioning about its own validity against the facts, is easily the best stance. Social existence is a brutal struggle within a framework of accepted conventions and order and it should be seen as such. It cannot be otherwise and those looking for reason and perfection are doomed to disappointment.  Two areas of recent life brought this into focus.

The Exaro experience, whether good or bad in the sum, demonstrated the degree to which power manipulates narrative. The conduct of the mainstream media in this matter made me understand, without condoning, the resistance of populists to the claim that their propagandistic fake news was actually any worse than the constant devious manipulation of the MSM. It often struck me that the MSM's real gripe with Trump was that he was exposing their monopoly of falsehoods by simply making what they do subtly be done more crassly.

Fortunately the internet permits the individual to challenge the MSM on the record (which is what I have done on several occasions) knowing that, while the exercise is rather futile, the bulk of MSM coverage is equally transient and distrusted by anyone with half a brain. At least there are now many voices telling half-truths and porkie pies rather than just a few with presumed authority - that is progress of a sort since the detached observer can now compare far more narratives and then use their judgment to come up with some rough approximation of reality.Admittedly, most apparently highly educated people seem to have a problem with their judging faculty but, hey (as Tony Blair used to say), you can't have everything.

The second area of interest was and remains transhumanism which I intend to remain involved with, albeit in my classically detached way. This is a school of thought of considerable importance in translating the coming technological revolution into sets of questions that need asking and which still pass most politicians by. This community has produced creative ideas around the application of innovation like cryptocurrencies and technologies like automation. It has promoted ideas that are now being looked at by policy-makers such as Universal Basic Income. It has also created, however, some insanely apocalyptic thinking about existential risk and a quasi-religious narrative that can make practical men like me cringe with embarrassment.

And why? Because too many of the enthusiastic nerds and engineers involved still read too much science fiction and find themselves driven by their own extrapolations and weak understanding of 'really existing humans' rather by any understanding of social and political reality. Still, although the hysteria surrounding these communities and their often shambolic organisation is a bit depressing at times, nevertheless, these are the people throwing up all the ideas now about the possibilities for humanity, ideas that correct our stupid belief in certainties. Square the flaccid complacent folk culture of the establishment with the trans-human lunacies and you might yet get to see a pathway to understanding future probabilities.

Finally, there is politics. Oh my God, politics! This has become the art of posturing one's story as if your powerlessness mattered, at least as far as most social media discourse is concerned. Most people simply do not understand the nature of power and how to use it. They cannot accept that simply having strong opinions is too often just posturing that expresses psychological anxieties or is a primitive demand for respect in the ape-like world of social competition yet moves the world not one jot forward. We all have opinions but few of us truly understand where power actually lies, when and where we can make some small difference and how acquiring more power by its very nature shapes us into the victims of our own wielding of it if we are not aware of what is happening to us. We all need to make positive decisions on how to use the little power that we have effectively and with full understanding of probable consequences.

I have come to the view that politics must be treated either as a cynical game played by moral inadequates (which is not to my taste) or be considered as an expression of core sentiments and values, beyond conventional morality, where one chooses rationally to see through the expression of our prejudices according to the power that one actually has. There are people out there who we should not want to have any power because of their intrinsic irrationalities and cruelties. Representative national democracy still strikes me as the best means of keeping these wolves off our backs even if our representatives are deeply flawed and not always the sharpest tools in the box.

Most people's values are rarely thought about, contradictory and situational but they do make up who we are and democracy squares millions of confused world views into something broadly consensual. Reforming the machinery of it all (as liberal nerds want to do) is less important than reforming the informations flows and education that enable people to make better judgments in their own interest and according to their own values. Even sociopaths have rights in this respect if only to balance out those dangerous radical empaths who think so much of themselves. To cut the posturing, I certainly put the economic and personal survival of myself and my immediate family first and anyone who doesn't do the same is already probably someone who needs to be kept an eye on.

Beyond that, I have a hierarchy of values which include the general sanctity of life (a Catholic upbringing), a loathing of bullying and sympathy for the underdog, a gut patriotism for soil though not blood, a distaste for people who break promises without clear explanation, a distaste for the use of secrecy to gain advantage and a prejudice against all forms of abstract universalism. There is also a belief in the benefit of pragmatic non-ideological flexibility that permits opinions and actions to change easily with new information. Part of that pragmatism is that you cannot take on the burdens of the world ... concern should start with the self and work outwards through concentric circles lest one become the sort of humanitarian Napoleon who destroys the world in order to save it. Much liberal universalism strikes me as being derived from immaturity and anxiety in weakly formed selves who are unable to build an independent existence outside the group-think of the ideologically like-minded.

I also seem to have been surrounded, through Brexit and recent political events, by many people who have taken what values they have out of their mental box but then constructed rigid systems from them that seem not only completely out of kilter with the facts but drives them to believe that things could be as they never can be. This is the idiotic politics of naive idealism, wide-eyed hope that almost always presages great cruelties and incompetencies. It is compounded by the hysteria of the media whose interpretative and analytical skills are barely existent in the drive to tell stories thoroughly detached from reality. Reading the FT on Brexit is watching a sort of cultural oozalum bird in full flight. Watching the BBC is like watching a rather confused old dear try to deal with the i-phone someone gave them for Christmas. Reading the Daily Mail is like being cornered by a perpectually snarling mad dog.

Over the last few years, I have decided that I don't really like people who don't have clear values (I have no problem with people whose core values are not mine) and who cover up their feelings with ideology and pretence. I have removed them quietly and without rancour from my social circle as intrinsically rather stupid and boring. Those who cover their class interest or personal interest with a coating of emotional idealism, whether it be their stake in the NGO industry or their interest in cheap labour to keep their fluffy businesses going, are perhaps the ones who most exhibit 'mauvaise faux'. Unfashionably, I still have an admiration for people who can put personal material interest second to personal values and I always prefer the ruthless materialist who knows that he is a ruthless materialist to the self-deluding clown who pretends they are not.

My own ideological positions are simple, pragmatic and contingent - for Brexit, for an intelligent democratic socialism (which, in my opinion, is only possible under conditions where sovereign democratic nation states can be abstracted from regulatory empires) and then for strong national defence directed at peace. War should be the ruthless defence of the homeland and never more. But even these are flexible positions. Brexit is a necessity for example but I see no reason why it should require a primitive and inflexible nationalism. I would go with the Corbyn-McDonnell approach if I trusted the Labour Party more, while I see no inflexible nationalism in the Johnson-Gove position. In other words, once Brexit is decided (as it has been), there is every reason to go with the flow of national consensus (which actually there is, despite the whining of Remoaners and the posturing of the Populists) and then and only then engage in struggle over whether it is to be a Brexit for Labour or a Brexit for Capital. The behaviour of Remainers is now a national embarrassment.

The same apples to democratic socialism. My heart is very much with Corbyn and McDonnell and I find myself cheering much of their speeches but then I look at the detail and sometimes blanch. The aspirations are great - they are mostly my aspirations - but then I look at my own experience in international affairs and the market and I see that the populist promises currently under offer, combined with the failed ideological liberalism of the still dominant soft Left of the Party, create reasons for serious concern. Will we see a twentieth century welfarism, shorn of warfarism, that still fails to understand the massive import of the coming technological revolution, fails to lead it and misses the boat just as Globalisation 2.0 takes hold as a mix of anarcho-capitalism, strong nation states and decaying authoritarian empires? Quite possibly.

At the moment, I see little more than platitudes reminsicent of Harold Wilson's 'white heat' and a weak sub-Marxist understanding of power. At the time of writing, I feel disinclined to renew my Party Membership in September. It would be better to become, once again, truly independent and observe with my customary detachment, employing what tiny power I have very carefully in the direction of understanding and managing Globalisation 2.0 rather than granting it to a mass party of semi-educated enthusiasts whose programme seems doomed to disappoint. Once Brexit is done, one might reconsider one's position.

However, all in all, I know what I want. I want a smooth Brexit broadly along the current Government's lines. Accordingly and logically, I want a stable Tory minority Government until that is completed precisely because the PLP and Labour activist membership cannot be trusted on the issue. This does not seem compatible with Labour Party membership for the next two years or so. And then, two or three years on, I want to see a strong and stable, radicalised and intelligent Labour Party come to power with a working majority of 50 or so to implement a programme of democratic socialism better than the one we saw in the catch-all 'package of measures' Manifesto of a few weeks ago. Brexit first, a credible democratic socialism second, Globalisation 2.0 third. 


Monday, 1 May 2017

When The Facts Change ... the British Election Plays Out

I am not sure I have been so detached from a General Election in my life. Others seem to feel the same - excepting committed left wing activists who are clearly highly energised, far more than conservatives who seem to be asleep and complacent, at least on social media.

Just under two weeks ago, it seemed simple. The issue was Brexit and that meant a simple decision - to go with a Government that promised to see it through against an Opposition that could not be trusted on the issue, perhaps despite itself. Two events have shifted opinion slightly though not yet decisively.

The first is the sheer energy of the beleagured Labour Party. While everyone else is complacent or whining about things already done, Corbyn's campaign team has come out slugging in all directions on matters that are quite separate from Brexit and which should be matters of public debate regardless of our entrapment in the European political project.

This is still, frankly, mostly talking to the support base, reminding wobblers that the faith is strong but it does seem to have pushed Labour up to 30% and halted the Party's decline even if the total package is not in place and still seems incoherent. Above all, Corbyn has raised issues of austerity, public services, poverty and peace and war that a complacent Conservative Party has thought to bury under the carpet.

The second was the intervention in The Sun of the pseudo-patrician Boris Johnson who managed, in one rather ridiculous attempt at populism, to alienate in a few hundred words many natural Labour voters who were prepared to give the Tories the benefit of the doubt on the basis of May's promise of good governance in a time of crisis.

He reminded us that the Parliamentary Tory Right operated in a sub-Churchillian rhetorical world that talked down to the voter and still behaved in foreign policy matters as if the Crimean problem was no more than a re-run of Palmerston's. May's barely suppressed irritation at the intervention was no comfort because it reminded us that these fools on the Parliamentary Right would have a say on Brexit when the right message to get across was one of national unity in the face of a potential foreign threat - and I don't mean Russia!

In fact, Johnson showed to his Leader a cynical disregard of the national interest in his own interest, not even the Party's. A big majority for May allows her to dispose of him, a rather second rate politician who managed to ride the tide of history last year but who is really surplus to requirements. By making a bid for leadership of the populist Tory Right as last of the Etonians, Johnson was really trying to ensure that he remained a Big Beast in a post-Election reshuffle and was quite prepared to knock off 1-3% of May's national unity vote to do so. I hope she sends him to the back benches for that act of occult disloyalty alone.
 
But why be so detached? This is certainly the most critical election in a very long time in terms of the national interest. Perhaps because it all appears to be absurd. Perhaps because the combatants seem not to be able to rise to the occasion for all their energy (Labour) or promise of stability (Tory). The Prime Minister mounted a sort of coup against a divided and useless Opposition which has not come to terms with the events of last year but seems incapable of ensuring that the Conservative Party conveys a national interest rather than a party interest argument for office.

The Labour Party itself is just not ready for office. It is deeply unstable and may end up being the lynch pin for a coalition that would include parties I really do not like. These parties will divert the people's resources and the State into issues (green, petty nationalist and liberal) that are irrelevant to our primary concerns which are economic survival and some degree of cultural cohesion. Their presence in Government would be disastrous.

On the other hand, the Tories are about as trustworthy as the Blairites, which is tantamount to saying no more trustworthy than a rattlesnake, on a number of issues. As we have seen with Johnson and his circle of buffoons, they seem to have rapidly degenerated into the worst sort of tub-thumping militaristic foreign policy and to be utterly blind to the necessity for necessary sacrifices to be necessarily made in a fair way.

Labour does not seem to get our serious economic situation (which actually has nothing to do with Brexit and everything to do with the previous Labour Government and the last lack-lustre Coalition Government). Its policies to date are a mish-mash of crowd pleasers without coherence. The Tories certainly do not get that their policies are set to create social problems that will cost more to rectify than the savings they hope to make from austerity.

Both sides are out of touch still with the country and its needs. Corbyn and Starmer have trimmed once too often. May and Hammond have no finger on the national pulse but are hoping merely to ride the general fear of instability in difficult times. The tribal loyalists on all sides may be getting very excited but what we really want is competence and, of course, stability so I am sticking to three principles for the moment:-

1. What we need as a country is not partisan stupidity, whether it comes from excitable activists or Boris Johnson, but strong Government to see us through Brexit and out the other side. Anyone seeking to limit strong Government in the hope of reversing the vote on June 23rd is giving comfort to the enemy in a tough negotiation on which all our futures depend. When Article 50 was invoked, from that day on, the EU became 'the other', our opponent. Not being able to trust a possible progressive coalition to understand this - which is actually one of choosing treachery over patriotism (there is nothing shameful in patriotism in a crisis) - is a serious barrier to voting Labour on June 8th.

2. Once Brexit is out of the way, the Tories really will need to be removed but not by a ramshackle, squabbling bunch of competing and rather dim-witted egoists. The Blairites and Hard Remainers need to be isolated and contained, the Liberals, Greens and Petty Nationalists thrust into the dustbin of history and a serious hard-edged alternative to class-based Toryism needs to develop that can seize power by democratic means in 2022. This can either be a transformed Labour Party or a New Party of the Left (since UKIP is now an obscene and destructive joke) but it has to happen or the Tories will complacently be in power for over a decade, only to be replaced by some depressing abortion of the Centre-Left carrying on the Tories' policies in muted form.

3. Theresa May and David Davis are tolerable as the caretakers in these difficult times but not so second raters like Johnson, Gove, Hammond and Fox. Moreover, even May should be tolerated only because of the need to see through Brexit. She should be challenged on her class-based politics, her Deep State militarism, her insistence on still being a poodle to Washington and the essential unfairness of her Government's approach to what should be fairly shared burdens as we adjust to new conditions. She is no more to be trusted than the Labour Party apparat that would knife Jeremy Corbyn at the drop of a hat.

So what would be the best result, knowing that such a result is not in our power and that each of us is making fine judgements on local constituency politics? In my case, Johnson has obliged me to withdraw, as a matter of honour, my planned loaned vote to our very nice and competent liberal Remainer Tory who will loyally serve his Prime Minister. It does not yet have a home to go to.

Nationally, out of my control, the best result would be a sufficient majority for the Government to be able to stand up to both Tory Remainers and Hard Brexiters alike during the process of negotiation, so long as there are no compromises on national democratic self determination, but also a relative strengthening of the Labour Party against the Liberal Democrats, Greens and Petty Nationalists (not necessarily in terms of numbers of seats but in terms of an increase in the share of the vote from the low opinion polling levels of recent weeks).

It would be good to see the Liberals wiped out, the Greens and UKIP positioned as extra-parliamentary forces and nothing else and the Petty Nationalists reduced to minority status in their own territories. It would also be good to see the balance in the PLP shift towards the Left and Corbyn secured as Leader in order to undertake the two to three year programme required to democratise the Labour Party and change its culture, with new candidates systematically in place before 2022.

By all means, given its base, the Labour Party should challenge the Tory Government throughout the Brexit process in the interests of the vulnerable and workers but it should not be so foolish as to seek to overturn the result on June 23rd or give comfort to the enemy during the negotiations. Once Brexit is out of the way, the Labour Party can surely, by then, have earned our trust as a unified national democratic socialist alternative to the decadent posturing of the current Party of the State.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Position in the Forthcoming UK Election [always subject, however, to new information]

This is going to be one of the most complicated elections to date - class and regional interests will compete with cultural priorities (as in Brexit, Scotland and Ireland) and assessments of leadership. Personally, the matter is simple. National self determination and democracy first, then socialism.

We need a strong Government to see through national independence and then we can fight over the results. I regret that Labour failed to offer a strong socialist Brexit but it didn't and it must take the consequences of that failure of nerve. The SNP, Liberal Democrats and Greens are now mere creatures of a foreign power. UKIP are behaving like morons. 

Five years of Tories (even ten) is a small price to pay for national independence. It may be a lesson to the Left in not expecting foreign bureaucrats to deliver a programme that you failed to persuade your own people to accept ... so it is a lesson also in political education and democracy as well.

Once national democratic self-determination is secured, we can get back to the business of national socialism (before the term was lost to fascists) and inter-nationalism as we used to understand it before bureaucratic federalism by nincompoops became the fashion.

Unless, of course, the Left continues to be dumb enough to be Jacobites under the Hanoverians ... in which case it deserves permanent exile and a New Left needs to arise.

Some people really do not get it - there is no socialism without democracy and there is no democracy outside the organic nation state and there is no peace in the world without organic nation states that are socialist.

But before you get to peace and socialism, you have to have the secure, organic and democratic nation state in the first place. In 1975, we had not completed the task of democratising our own country before we started handing over powers to a foreign empire - 42 years later, we can start to get back on track again.

Logically, for the first time in my life, I am going to have to vote for my nice liberal Tory in Tunbridge Wells to secure the Revolution of June 23rd and resist the devious attempt of the local Liberal Democrats to reverse a mass democratic vote in favour of a malign centralist ideology (Labour simply does not matter where we live and is staffed by Europhiles in any case).

In other constituencies, other political equations will result in other decisions (in some cases, there will be a strong argument for Labour) but at least I know where I stand - with some regret since I would much have preferred a Corbyn-led Party of the Left to rule.

But I just don't trust his Party machine nor his MPs not to undercut him and the nation and he clearly lacks the authority to command them. His and McDonnell's messages about the economy and austerity are right but meaningless without national democratic self-determination and the trimming required to retain power and keep their Party together creates profound distrust.

There are three questions to ask in each case: what effect does my vote have in my locality if I am not interested in making a mere gesture for the national totals?; is the leading candidate committed by free choice (most Tories and some Labour) to democratic national self-determination?; and, if not, who is the next best candidate committed to that core value.

So there we have it ... a necessary evil. The Left completely out-classed by the usual suspects. In the end, one goes for the candidate in each case most likely to serve the cause of democratic national self-determination both by values and by ability to win. The rest is for the future.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Trump's Bombs - An Analysis

The question today is whether the Assad Government (the use of 'regime' is a propaganda tool otherwise we would say Trump Regime or Hollande Regime, only our enemies are 'regimes') used chemical weapons in Idlib. There are five reasonable theories:

- a) it did

- b) Assad is not in control of his forces and one of his Syrian airbase commanders undertook this action without authorisation (in which case he must still take responsibility if he does not expose and remove the commander, that is, if he can),

- c) the Syrian Air Force (as the Russians once said) accidentally struck a chemical weapons dump in rebel hands (this is plausible but we have to add the possibility that the air force deliberately bombed such a dump),

- d) a chemicals dump in rebel hands was deliberately used in a false flag operation by rebels or proxies for political reasons against its own people (unfortunately this really cannot be dismissed as a possibility given what is at stake and the ruthlessness of all parties in the struggle),

- e) chemical weapons were brought into the area by an unknown group in order to create an incident or provocation for political reasons.

The truth is that we really do not know what happened and the reasons to take d) and e) seriously without accepting them as necessarily true are these:

- i) chemical weapons stocks cannot be assumed to be solely under the control of the Syrian Government nor unavailable from a range of proxy actors in the country,

- ii) all proxy actors have shown the ability to disregard civilian life in the past when it is politically useful or deemed necessary (just as much as the Government in Damascus),

- iii) proxies and their client rebels were in a desperate political situation in relation to the US Presidency increasing the motivation for a desperate acts,

- iv) the timing was totally counter-intuitive to Syrian state interests to the extent that option a) above is almost certainly irrational: Damascus appears genuine in its anger at the turn of events (only the radically absurd notion that Damascus was testing Trump to the limit accounts for the fact unless a faction of the Syrian Air Force undertook the action to scupper the peace process),

- v) Russian protests at the claims should be treated with care but the firmness of the protest indicates genuine anger at the claims with Russia in a better position to understand the facts on the ground than the West.

There are other considerations to be taken relating to the Western side. Western intelligence has proven poor in the past. Its incoming intelligence may come from the very persons who may be motivated to undertake a 'false flag' operation. Western allied assertions have often been dictated by their unified stance towards Russia and not by the facts on the ground. Whatever the truth of the matter on the ground, conservative Republicans, European allies, pro-rebel activists (who are well funded) in Washington, and senior State Department, intelligence and Pentagon officials are all engaged in manouevres to place an unstable Presidency under control and force him into a defining interventionist line. The underlying aim is to shift his policy from a populist one to the standard line that has existed since 1945 of forward defence against Russia.

This last motivation is not to be dismissed. Trump has threatened to over turn American foreign policy priorities. In this one action, he has proven that he is not willing or able to do that when push comes to shove. Because of what is at stake, without conspiracy theory being required, these facts provide the motivation for taking d) and e) seriously. Given the long history of such operations in American and Western foreign policy, provocation must be accepted as a real possibility in the context of what has been called the American Deep State (that is, those career military and foreign policy officials with skin in the game of a particular policy line). The speed of alignment of allies indicates that this manouevre represents a major political win for the international shared position underpinning the NATO model.

This is not to say that the American Deep State engaged directly in a provocation but only that its reaction to a provocation and its own difficulties in controlling the Presidency would have made the calculations of third parties capable of a provocation ones that encouraged direct action. However, this is not to say that d) and e) are true representations of events and we do not want to go down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theory with no more facts in favour of a provocation than one of deliberate state action but only to say that d) and e) are, at this point in time, no more nor less possibly true than a), b) and c). The wise and fair approach would have been either to undertake investigations in order to bring the matter before the UN or supply sufficient reliable intelligence (better than the rubbish presented to the UN in 2003) into the public domain that would incontrovertibly justify direct action that we could all support. In this regard, Jeremy Corbyn is absolutely right in his caution.

Without public access to intelligence, a reasonable suspicion has to be that Trump was guided into a machismo gesture by motives far beyond the simple direct response to a humanitarian disaster. If so, it was not even directed at Russia primarily, let alone Damascus. It was directed at halting a certain turn in American foreign policy, signalled only days before, and shifting it back in a conservative direction through the advisory intervention of an array of forces within the Washington and NATO establishment with two aims in mind - the restoration of the elimination of the Assad Leadership from the ultimate game plan for Syria (a position strongly advocated by France and Britain) and the re-assertion of a policy of contestation for territory and influence with Moscow and the final burying of any suggestion of a Washington-Moscow detente.

Again, we are not saying here that a) and b) were not possible - far from it - but only that the trajectory of events seems not to be a simple one of a proven war crime resulting in a efficacious direct response but rather one of a crime veiled in the fog of war and being used in such a way that it raises the reasonable suspicion (no more) of it being a provocation. Eliminating all chances of it being a provocation through rapid investigation (with a refusal by the Syrian Government to permit investigation being a reasonable admission of guilt) should have been prior to what amounted to an act of war. 

Postscript

Since writing this note, we have seen the publication of the important letter from Theodore A Postol, Professor Emeritus of Science, Technology, and National Security Policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which casts severe doubt on the intelligence assessment on which the bombing was based and which indirectly raises questions that relate directly to the analysis above. 

It may be useful to note that Al-Nusra (or rather its successor organisation which really is just a rebranded Al-Nusra, meaning Al-Qaeda) is on the very border of the town, that it was reported as quarrelling with the other rebel groups as recently as January and that the original Al-Nusra seized one Syrian air base and besieged another before the September 2013 Chemical weapons Agreement and then captured the second after it (conditions would never have been ideal for any decommissioning). Most observers agree that some chemical weapons are in the hands of rebel groups and Al-Nusra declined to sign the 2013 Agreement. 

This is definitely not to say that Al-Nusra 'did it' (we have no evidence of that) but only to say that a lot more questions needed to be asked before lobbing missiles around and reversing policy on the say-so of analysts working for agencies with skin in the game of preserving the policies of the previous Administration. Maybe answering those questions would have led back to Damascus but it seems a lot of key questions were not being asked any more than they were in previous 'shoot from the hip' American operations. 

This is not a cowboy show on 1950s TV with men in black hats and men in white hats who can see each other clearly across the saloon, designed to entertain tired less-than-well-educated punters at the end of a tough working day ... it is complicated and it decides whether tens of thousands live or die or are maimed or made homeless. This means that a high level of intelligence analysis is required without the 'sources' (which include the 'white helmets') being given too much leeway as if they had none of that 'skin in the game' themselves.