Bartlett's Bizarre Bazaar
Comment, Comics and the Contrary.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
The demographic threat
I promised, in the comments of the previous post, to provide an argument that the majority of modern anti-Muslim sentiment is, in fact, racist. Not simply in the minds of critics who might be ‘liberals’ or of the ‘left’. But in the imaginations of those who are anti-Muslim themselves. This is a simple argument, demonstrated whenever an anti-Muslim commentator uses arguments that include the idea of there being a ‘demographic threat’.
Once a ‘critic’ of Islam introduces ‘demography’ to the argument, he or she is not simply attacking the ideas, the ideology, as one might deal with say, fascism, to borrow a piece of their nasty rhetoric. The very idea that a threat is ‘demographic’ places that threat in the people themselves, a defined subgroup of the population that passes its character from generation to generation. People who have an intergenerational continuum, quite unlike the incidental, uneven and irregular intergenerationality of say, fascism. The rhetoric of ‘demographic threat’ is never taken seriously when discussing responses to political ideologies. The deployment of such rhetoric is racist, a fact that the proponents of such ideas tacitly admit, necessarily so in order for their rhetoric to make any sense.
This is true whether it is voiced by the well dressed and ultra-modern neo-Nazi
, whether it is voiced by an Israeli Jewish-ethnocentric
, or simply a fat racist Welsh dwarf
. Prince Charles meets the demographic threat
And this is where those who speak of a ‘demographic threat’ must bite the bullet. They must admit that the sight of little brown children frightens them, that, at the very least that they wish that they would go away. If this is not their response, then to declare that we face a ‘demographic threat’ is simply, disgustingly, dishonest. And if it is their response, what is that other than pure, simple, racism?
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
Billy Bragg has written a song about Rachel Corrie
. As you might expect, this has drawn a welter of criticism. The range of purported political position of these critics is, well, depressingly illuminating.
One the one hand we have the extremely popular US blog populated by eliminationist racists; Little Green Footballs
. There we find comments celebrating, in the most foul manner, the death of Rachel Corrie. Do not worry, the link does not take you to that hate site, but to the much needed work of LGF Watch
On the other hand we have the ‘leftists’ of sites such as Harry’s Place
, who, as far as I can make out take the right-wing line on pretty much every issue of import; Iraq, Iran, Israel/Palestine, Venezuela, Cuba, Islam, free trade, security laws and so on. They support all these lines from a ‘leftist’ perspective, of course. This perspective, though, seems to be justifying their support of these lines by attacking other ‘leftists’. The targets of these pro-war ‘leftists’ share the quality of being of the left almost without exception; this supposed ‘self’ criticism has moved on only a little from the bragging and braying that presented opponents of the Iraq War as belonging in the ‘dustbin of history’ and as ‘objectively pro-Saddam’ . The exception is made, of course, when the targets are Muslims.
I would have thought that a ‘leftist’ support for any of these right-wing lines of thought and action would be one tempered by a vociferous criticism of the rightists holding the power to act. But these ‘muscular liberals’ and ‘decent leftists’ just do not seem to realise that, while the right holds the power to shape the outcome of these actions, their rhetoric does nothing but lend ‘humanitarian’ legitimation to whatever nightmares are dreamt by Cheney and Rumsfeld and the rest of the former butchers of Latin America, and their heirs and sycophants [and worse
], while denying the possibility of effective opposition.
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Double taxation, double nonsense
Arguing against inheritance tax, many people take the rhetorical line of asking why, if people have already paid tax on their wealth as they earn it, should they pay tax again when they die? Dupes.
If I were to hire my son to work for me, he would have to pay tax on his income. But I have already paid tax on the money that I am paying him with. More, this is earned income, not, as with inheritance, an unearned windfall. Should we end this case of double taxation and reward the far more worthy wealth accrual of the employed son?
Of course, anyone receiving a taxable income from any source is a victim of double taxation. Hang on, no. As there are an endless number of links in this chain of income and taxation everyone is the victim of INFINITY taxation. Alert the Daily Mail!
What of the argument; ‘it is my money, I ought to be able to do with it as I wish’? Well, the same problems apply. If you are an Ayn Randian zero-taxer, then all power to you. But, if you believe that there should be any form of tax, you will inevitably arrive at a point where it is possible to claim ‘double taxation’, and, after a moment’s reflection, ‘taxation to infinity’.
Or, how about; ‘I’ve earned my money, so…’ – let me stop that one right there. You have earned your money. The beneficiaries of your will have not. If you justify your own wealth by means of the workings of some kind of meritocratic economy, then you have laid the first planks of an argument against you children receiving a windfall of unearned wealth.
Finally, what if you were to say; ‘okay the Daily Mail arguments are just nonsense. But wouldn’t it be better to scrap inheritance tax and put more on income tax’? This is incredibly regressive. Inheritance tax is not simply a means to raise funds for state spending, but a means to prevent the incremental concentration of wealth through generations, a problem made even worse as family size shrinks. Imagine, say, this situation. Person A has an identical character, personality, education and subsequent career to that of Person B. Despite their class differences, the wonderful meritocratic economy ensures that these largely identical people receive identical careers and earned income. But Person A inherits a large house at, say, 40. Person B inherits nothing. Given that most people have not paid off their mortgage at 40, Person B is, in an instant more than twice as wealthy as person A. As Person A and Person B are of identical worth in the terms of this perfectly meritocratic economy, Person A will never be as wealthy as Person B. If we add in the perfectly reasonable assumption that wealth begets wealth, through, say, investment in property and exploitation of the superior market position of the wealthy, this disparity between our two people of equal worth, according to market-derived moral justifications of inequality, then this disparity will increase as we pass through the similarly identical subsequent generations of A1, B1 and A2, B2. Somewhere down the line Bn is the landlord and employer of An.
The only escape from this is to deny that earned wealth is morally deserved, in which case you undercut the ideology that accepts economic inequality in the first place. So long as we, or at least, society at large, accept this ideology, then inheritance tax, set high, is a moral necessity.
Monday, March 20, 2006
Current right-wing Labour politics appears to misunderstand just what ‘rights’ are, and more importantly, what ‘rights’ are for
. We hear members of the Government arguing that the various new legal constructs that they propose that will restrict civil liberties are protections of our ‘Human Rights’ from ‘the terrorists’. But this thinking is not only muddled, it is completely the wrong way round.
Human Rights exist to place a check on the activities of legitimate
powers; governmental, institutional, corporate or otherwise. Legitimate powers are those actors that are able to act within the law to shape the lives of individuals. Human Rights are inventions that allow us to restrict the effects of these legitimate powers on individuals without necessarily having to make each possible form of action individually illegal. If a government uses its legal powers to interrupt my Human Rights, it is though these legal devices that I seek redress. If, say, my employers, a legitimate power, sought to use their power to restrict my Right to Free Expression, I would use the language of Human Rights to defend my freedoms in court.
On the other hand, when illegitimate
powers act, redress is sought through straightforward criminal laws. If, say, I receive threatening letters telling me to ‘shut up, or else…’, then this is a criminal case of the standard, well-established kind. Criminal acts may well restrict my freedoms, but it is a mistake to talk about this situation as an offence against my Human Rights. Not just legally, but politically. When Government spokesmen cloak their affronts to Human Rights by describing them in the rhetorically popular language of protecting Human Rights – when what they mean* is that these changes are ‘strengthening’ of criminal law – they cut away the very foundation of the legal constructs that are one of the key principles of the protection of the citizen in a liberal, capitalist state dominated by legitimate, but not necessarily benevolent, powers.
*When I say ‘mean’ I am offering my most generous interpretation of the rhetoric of the Government; that there pronouncements involve little thinking and reflection. Of course, I could be that the case that when the authoritarians in Government are chortling and their wonderful strategy of using the language of Human Rights to undermine their power to work effectively in pursuit of their correct purpose. It would, after all, be such a hilariously ironic way to persuade people to back authoritarianism.
Round-a-bout, I get to a particular misunderstanding of ‘rights’; that of Nick Cohen in The Observer. Of the ‘March for Free Expression’, he wrote; “I think it's fair to say that previous generations would be astonished that their descendants would have to take to the streets to demand such a basic right, but after the death threats against cartoonists, it seems we do.”
Can you see what Cohen’s problem is yet? Well, let us begin with his ahistoricism. Is he really saying that ‘previous generations’ enjoyed more extensive rights to free expression than we, in 2006? That is, simply, nonsense. Which previous generations enjoyed the glory days of free expression and would look on the situation facing us, their descendents, as one of, comparably, freedom threatened? Those living in the Victorian Era? The peasants of Medieval England? When? This ahistorical nonsense is a real problem for the pro-War ‘left’; they do not understand that ‘universal Human Rights’ are a political assertion, a statement of how we would like the world to be. They are not a description of how the would is. We can see how insensible the pro-War ‘left’ has become when Jack Straw, a Government Minister, says that ‘a desire for democracy burns in the heart of every person’. Democracy is an invention. It is a good invention. But is clearly does not burn in the heart of every person. We might want it to, but to manage an aggressive foreign policy of the basis that it actually does is madness.
On from ahistoricism and the corollary misunderstanding of universalism, we reach Nick Cohen’s misunderstanding of rights. Our ‘basic right’ to free expression has not been threatened by death threats. Death threats are the actions of illegitimate powers. The individual cartoonists are protected by the workings of criminal laws that prohibit the making of death threats. Cohen might be arguing that it is not individual rights that are the issue, but our collective rights. The problem here is that if we take the death threats to individuals to be a threat the right of all of us to free expression, then there are far bigger fish to fry. The obstruction of a Right is an affront to the idea of Human Rights even if, or more accurately specifically when, the obstructing actor is legitimate. Over the past few weeks we have seen two straightforward offences against free expression; the New York run of My Name is Rachel Corrie was cancelled and the statue of Winston Churchill in a straight-jacket removed. The Danish cartoons, by contrast, were reprinted across the world. There was no obstruction of free expression, but there was a criminal offence. Will the March for Free Expression carry banners demanding that the play is run after all, and placards urging the erection of the statue?
No, they will not, because the whole cartoon affair has been an exercise in racism from the very start. Free expression is obstructed every day. In the case of the Danish cartoons, popular racist expressions were not obstructed. In fact, the cartoons were seen around the world. So why, as Nick Cohen does, suggest that the threat to free speech comes from the dangerous brown people? And that this threat is new, and special? It is not, it is ahistorical to suggest that it is new, and it demands a perhaps unconscious acceptance of a racist ideology to believe that it is special. I do not think that Nick Cohen is a racist. But I do think that he is buying into the very clever racist rhetoric that presents itself, pace Pim Fortuyn, as a defence of liberalism and tolerance.
Thursday, March 16, 2006
Neo-Conservatism? Neo-Nazism would be far more apt
Douglas Murray author of 'Neo-Conseravtism: Why we need it" and a stablemate of the contemptible Oliver Kamm at the Social Affairs Unit (SAU)
, presented a lecture titled “What Are We To Do About Islam?”
That this was a speech to the Pim Fortuyn Memorial Conference On Europe And Islam ought provide us with a hint to the bigotry that we will find in the text of the lecture.
Here are the highlights:
He invokes the Second World War to rally white people, sorry, Europeans, to his standard, which I expect is red and black and has some dramatically simple wheel-like symbol at the centre. Oh, you think that is hyperbole? Please, read on: He bangs on about ‘dhimmitude’ a hell of a lot. If you di“In their efforts to avoid war, Europeans are once again choosing dishonour. They refuse to cut back their welfare budgets or significantly increase their defence spending, and they still refuse to enforce the measures required to cease or reverse the disastrous effects of mass immigration… Yet in their effort to avoid confrontation now, Europeans are making a worse confrontation down the line more likely: in their effort to pretend-away the risk, the risk is swelling. The word for dishonour this time is Dhimmitude.”
He bangs on about ‘dhimmitude’ a hell of a lot. If you didn’t know, this term, in the hands of writers like Murray, means any kind of accommodation with or sensitivity to Muslims and Islam.“On the battlefield this enemy is defeated every time… It does not mean that they cannot win the battle of ideas… If you doubt this, then just think back on the so-called "defeats" which we are meant to have suffered since 9/11. Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, 100,000 civilians alleged to be dead by a fanciful survey courtesy of The Lancet magazine. What did our enemy do to win these victories? Absolutely nothing. It all came from within.”
The ‘within’ that furnish these ‘defeats’ are not the brute military machine or even the ‘rotten apples’, but those who complain at these egregious offences against what we hope are ‘Civilised values’. As he writes; “it’s guaranteed that modern Europeans will finish the job much better than any two-bit thug or terrorist could have done.”
In order to persuade us that European decency and tolerance – and, indeed, socialism – is cowardice he offers up a laughable analysis of the Spanish election in 2004. He suggests that spinelessness on the part of the Spanish people led to elect “a sympathetic socialist who has spent his time in office so far offering up concessions to Islam”
rather than an ideological descendent of Franco. This analysis can only be maintained by a studied ignorance. It is a fact that Aznar led his nation to war against the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the population. It is a fact that Aznar’s ministers insisted that the Madrid bombs were the work of ETA. They did not merely suggest, they insisted that ETA were responsible and that this truth could not be questioned. Unless these ministers are so stupid that they insist on improbable truths in the knowledge that they are ignorant of any evidence to support these truths, then Aznar’s government compounded acting against the wishes of the people with lying to the people. Murray is wrong, and he knows it. But he is keen to grasp at any opportunity to paint decent people, tolerant people as cowards.
But, what to do with Islam, eh? “Militarily, this is relatively easy to deal with, and in foreign lands there is a solution to the problem.”
But “our societies in Western Europe are too weak-willed, tired and degenerate to act decisively.”
It is a shame that our ‘weakness’ does not stretch to significant moral qualms at the mass killing of brown foreigners. But ‘degeneracy’ at home? I think that I have heard that call before, a call which Murray, and we, will return to.
He continues along the lines of his historical antecedents when he quotes the biological metaphor of Mark Steyn; “Radical Islam is an opportunist infection, like AIDS: it's not the HIV that kills you, it's the pneumonia you get when your body's too weak to fight it off.”
Of course, ‘radical Islam’ may be this, it may be that. But Murray’s thesis does not deal with 'radical' Islam. It is a thesis that attacks Muslims.“[I]n the current war the enemy is, as a demographic and political fact, massed not just on foreign shores, but within the gates of our cities. The collision of forceful Islam with European spinelessness and dhimmitude is fatal for our free societies.”
‘Gates of our cities’ in this context is a reference to the ‘Gates of Vienna’, where brave Christians repelled the Musselman horde. This a mythic rallying point for the militant Muslim-haters. And we have seen this careful building of a historical narrative in the service of ousting degeneracy and the building of a strong ‘culture’ before.“The first thing to do is to address the problem at home unsparingly. It is late in the day, but Europe still has time to turn around the demographic time-bomb which will soon see a number of our largest cities fall to Muslim majorities. It has to. All immigration into Europe from Muslim countries must stop… [and] Those who are currently in Europe having fled tyrannies should be persuaded back to the countries which they fled”
. Why not send them all to Madagascar, Murray? Just in case they do not know their place in society; “Conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board”
. And what measures does that include, and where do they stop?
Advocating a new round of wars on variously Islamic and secular Muslim states he writes; “We must remind the malignant that this war and this era will be dictated on our terms - on the terms of the strong and the right, not the weak and the wrong.”
I mean, come on, is this a fucking satire, or is he just plagiarising fascism here?
Well, perhaps he is. For, as well as the Semitic enemy population within that needs solving through a battle of demographics, and a round of threatening, but weak enemies abroad to act as foci of proud, brave aggression, the real battle is with the ‘degeneracy’ within the Volk, sorry, body
politic.“[T]the reason why the war at home is not working as well as it should is because of the underlying disease of the West. We could decide with our immune system low that we should simply cut off all contacts with the outside world, try desperately to ensure that no malicious viruses – however small – get through to us. We can go some of the way to doing that, but there is a much better option. That option is to strengthen our societal immune system, to re-energise and build-up ourselves as a society”.“And we must become absolutist – absolutist in defence of our societies, our traditions, our heritage, culture, freedoms and democracies. There is only one way to destroy relativism, and there is only one way to conquer the rise of Islamic militancy and that is to be uncompromising and absolutist. If people want certainty then let us give it to them here. Ignorant people will still say, "Ah, but I'm not sure what European culture is". Well that's their fault, not the fault of European culture.”
Well, I know what ‘European culture’ is. Or I know what ‘European culture’ is when the excreta spills from Murray’s gob. And it had its heyday between 1933 and 1945.
Monday, March 13, 2006
Teaching creationism in schools?
Both the BBC
and the Guardian
carried the news that creationism is going to be taught in science classes. Both the BBC and the Guardian have got the story wrong.
The headlines and thrust of the stories, and their choice of interviewees, suggest that the plan is to adopt some kind of principle of ‘equal time’, or to teach evolution as if it were a current scientific controversy.
It is nothing of the sort. The plan is to devote a handful of lessons to teaching how knowledge, as a product of human social action, emerges from a historical, social and economic context. Should this be in a science class, rather than a history or sociology class? Perhaps not, but teaching this is no less science than lessons devoted to the social and historical impacts, rather than constitution, of scientific knowledge.
Presenting the teaching of the historical, social and economic contexts of science as if it were the teaching of creationism is akin to arguing that teaching children about the emergence of Nazism is, in actual fact, teaching them Nazism. At best it terrible journalism. Worse, it is a scare-mongering lie that will keep an insightful analysis of science and knowledge off the curriculum. And at worst it is obscurantism masquerading as a defence of rationalism.
If the press would like to look at a real threat to a decent, open-minded education, they would identify our Government's anti-democratic obsession with handing power over education to those with capital as the villain.
Thursday, March 09, 2006
Two to watch
Watch more teevee! Or at least, watch these television programmes. It is not all mind rot.BBC2 – 7pm The Culture Show.
Includes a very rare interview with Alan Moore, my personal cultural hero and writer of works such as Watchmen and V for Vendetta, and my favourite graphic novel (though he disdains the abasement before a cultural heirachy that is implicit in the appropriation of the word ‘novel’) From Hell. Jonathan Ross and Iain Sinclair are among those discussing his work.Channel 4 – 9pm The Road to Guantanamo.
A factual drama directed by the award-winning Michael Winterbottom. Combining interviews and dramatised footage, The Road to Guantanamo tells the story of four British teenagers who were to be branded the ‘Tipton Taliban’, three of whom were imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay. Returned to the UK amid much hysteria, no evidence has been presented that any of these men were in any way connected with al Qaeda. Without acknowledging the irony, the British police detained and questioned the actors who had played the ‘Tipton Taliban’ on their return from the Berlin Film Festival where they had won the Silver Bear.
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
Island of Tyranny
George W. Bush, I will let you have that phrase for free. Claim it for your own and use it in your next State of the Union address.
The island of Sark has recently decided against instituting democracy
, instead opting for a feudal political system that reserves much power for the landowners. This decision, of course, was made by an unrepresentative body, the Chief Pleas.
Looking at this situation, if you are of a like mind with the rhetoric of men like Blair and Bush then there is only one morally acceptable option here. Invasion! Despite the exclamation mark I am serious. If, as Jack Straw asserted, a ‘desire for democracy burns in the heart of every human being’, then the people of Sark are being denied their political freedom. What can be done? Well, if a bloody invasion and murderous occupation is an acceptable means of spreading democracy, then the relatively bloodless knocking over of a few tin-pot landowners and liberating the people of Sark would be a perfectly acceptable means to a democratic end. What is more, it would be comparatively easy, and a perfect laboratory on which to test the principles of democratisation through invasion. The methodology can be refined on the islands of tyranny close to home, before being deployed on larger ‘outposts of evil’.
Come on Hitchens, Cohen, Aaronovitch and all your various hangers on in the First Fighting Keyboarders, this IS one that you can do this in person. You could be the liberal liberators, a post-Left ‘Dogs of War’. Go and bring ‘modernity’ and ‘enlightenment’ to the people of Sark.
Monday, March 06, 2006
Crème Eggs; or, How do you eat your Britishness?
In a moment of sudden reflection, it seemed utterly odd. Crème Eggs are sold as icons of Britishness, their sale and consumption an annual event that unites people across Britain and nowhere else. Odd, both on the basis of that bare fact, and the simple truth that follows; Crème Eggs are more a symbol of any special Britishness than football or cricket, trade unionism or free markets, binge drinking or non-conformist temperance, democracy or the monarchy. These are all found elsewhere, and find their equally British contradictory conditions. But Crème Eggs, well, their manufacture, and characteristically British uncodified but nevertheless ritual consumption is contained within the boundaries of Britain, and there is no antagonistic and yet equally British tradition.
So, if we must engage in the absurd debate on ‘Britishness’ (see here
), then dump the wishful thinking that suggests that a particular ideological or political tradition is peculiarly British. They are patently not, and exercises which seek to make them so are nationalistic exercises in exclusion by definition of the other as foreign. If we must, let us celebrate those little things which are British, which do not exclude, and, despite being a little too sweet for many palates, are enjoyable treats on an annual basis.