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Archive for the ‘Provoked by Pulp’ Category

I wrote about how the novel 1984 was Orwell’s view of how the UK was functioning in 1948 here and argued that he may have been right…

I recently read Anna Minton‘s Ground Control and found that all the debates and protests about whether we are living with ‘Big Brother’ are now redundant. Most folk agree that living in a ‘Big Brother Society’ would be a bad thing but then argue about how we are getting there and worries about how far society could/would go…

Well, the situation is worse than we thought.

In 1984 Orwell argued that the ‘proles’ were mostly left to their own devices and they could get on with their own lives. The problem within 1984 was born by those in government or part of the governing class. This is no longer the case. It might have been one of Orwell’s aims that anybody could read his book and be shaken out of complacency to react to the way we were governed by those who were left to rot by the ruling class.

One of the repeated pictures of ordinary life that Orwell gives is a ‘prole’ who continually hangs her washing out on her line – a classic image of life in Britain but now in 2009 there are areas were this – hanging washing out – is banned. Minton goes through the dreadful reality of ‘gated’ communities and some, as part of their conditions for living within their bounds, ban washing lines…

This is a petty point, to be sure, but it indicates the amount of fine toothed infractions on what is still considered everyday life but won’t be for much longer if we’re not careful. To show how bad things have become I wondered over various titles for this post and just as throwaway pictures I’ll give a couple here…

Why be proud of our armed forces when the government is destroying our way of life?

Government destroy our way society – what can terrorists do to us?

Now, they were not particularly thought through and in the end I plumped for the reference to Goerge Orwell. Make no mistake though – I still think they are right. Take our valued and precious ‘Rights of Way’ – these are being destroyed by government policy to allow private corporations to buy up city centres and privatise the streets. To give an example – I was walking down to meet the wife in High Wycombe through the Eden shopping centre which mixes open streets with ones with a high ceiling with my elderly and friendly dog [not the new arrival] and was told by a reasonable ‘guardian’ that dogs were not allowed. I was following a route that was a cut through that previously had no by laws regarding the four legged friends… The ‘right of way’ had been stopped and now it is a ‘conditional way’… True, the reasonable and private security individual allowed me on my way but he did not need to.

If you don’t like strange four legged life forms you may be sympathetic to the Eden centre but think about this stark fact – there are over a thousand ‘designated dispersal zones’ where groups of two or more can be  moved off. How many times have we not merely ‘hung around’ and waited for some friends. We did no harm but then again, we did not buy much then either and the thing we have to understand is that dispersal zones are in both shopping centres and working class areas who don’t, effectively, want the local kids to be able to grow up with friends they used to ‘kick around with’…

Shopping centres are being designed with CCTV of various calibres and one even uses drones that can fly around and watch folk as they meander around.

There is just too much to be stuffed into one post and so I’ll come back to other issues within Minton’s work at another time but for now I’ll leave you with this question – If we are really fighting the war on terror to preserve our way of life, then why does government policy itself tear our way of life apart?

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Not only is this the title for a rather entertaining yarn by Mike Resnick it is a direct reference to one of the CampQuest‘s activities, well at least as part of the UK’s camp experience…

The idea is that the leaders talk about unicorns that live in the nearby forest and there’s a prize to be won for being able to prove that the unicorns do exist. There are various ideas behind this whole thing – the one that is given is that it is to show how the onus is on the propegator of a positive idea to prove their point to the sceptic.

The idea that the unicorns stand in for God at the atheist camp is neglected to be mentioned by those little atheists; the children are merely trained in critical thinking whilst having a fun time in a secular camp…

Part of the idea is from how did we ever get ourselves to the folly of belief  in supernatural things/spooks? Note that this activity is dreamed up by atheists for atheists and their children… amongst other fun and frolics…

So why single this one out as the activity to be blogged about?

Because, dear reader, this is the one with quite a few assumptions behind it. Even perhaps dogmatic assumptions -the ones that are accepted but still open to be contested, if only philosophically. Take Occam’s Razor – the rule here is that between two explanations for the same phenomena the simplest should be accepted because that is a. easier to test and b. more elegant. However more complicated explanations could have a firmer grasp of the various factors that are played out… Occam’s Razor or, as it’s also known The Rule of Parsimony is undoubtedly useful and has its place but I doubt that it is infallible…

The simplest explanation for the unicorns is that they don’t exist – and they don’t. No-one is arguing that the unicorns drawn out of the atheists hat are real. The issue I have is that they are obviously meant to stand in for God. According to atheists there is the same level of chance of existence for God as their precious unicorns…

This is obviously contentious.

Take a historical view. If anybody looks back through time to the documents prepared for the camp they would find that the whole activity was a sceptical study – we have historical documents [ie manuscripts that go back through centuries] that speak about historical events and who some call and called God. The role of this ‘Super Being’ is supposed to have done various things – one of which is to have created us and the world and universe around us…

Kant managed to disprove that Creation was Proof of a Creator back when he wrote Critique of Pure Reason but did not then say that disproved the presence of a creator… which is what some would have argued. The problem is that we are losing the ability to balance evidence – only being able to take a ‘proof’ rather than think things through. There are what we theists sometimes call ‘footprints’ of our Creator. Whilst a contentious being some beings have been completely assumed and recreated from one impression in the ground from millenia ago… and accepted by the scientific community.

If you follow the link at the CampQuest site to the clip from this  radio 4 programme then you’ll hear camp followers argue that we have a universal moral code and that we do not need any divine laws to make us ‘behave’… This is sloppy thinking – at the moment I’m reading a terribly engaging book on hunger – Hunger: An Unnatural History by Sharman Apt Russell and the ninth chapter is ‘The anthropology of hunger’ where diferent cultures who suffer from near starvation, notably two of interest here are the Ik who lived near the northern border of Uganda and Kenya and the ‘People of the Alto’ in Brazil. Both of these populations are or were, used to a near starvation diet and if the humanists are correct we should be able to see similar values and cultural norms between the two peoples. This is not the case.

Both societies are also a great deal diferent to the modern western norms. These norms come from a history of a common faith. They are not universal norms that all humans share but becuase there is a great deal that we like about ‘our’ norms we assume that these are universal and correct.

I can argue for my values and norms but I find it interesting when I challenge atheists and humanists about why they think something is ‘right’ about how we should behave; we move onto the shifting sands of debate. There is nothing wrong with debate – I like a good debate as much as the next person and quite possibly moreso… but it shows that there is not this ‘universal’ view of right and wrong.

Perhaps rather than sending kids off to stalk a fictional unicorn they should think things through more and go in search of what is the universal code of behaviour…. Maybe that would be more ellusive than they assume.

Could it be a worthy quest to be undertaken and at the end of the search they might discover something as valuable and as precious as a unicorn would be.

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yes it’s that book by George Orwell

My rather plush copy came with a forward by Robert Harris although that had nothing to with my purchase – I simply mention it here because he claims in the forward that George originally thought that he had produced a gem of a book but by the time he had typed it up he despised it, not that Harris offers any explanation of that change himself…

I think it is simple – originally he wanted to call it 1948 and in changing the title to 1984 it was robbed of the intended impact Orwell intended it to have.

Awhile ago I read George’s book of Essays and found them such a profound read I blogged about them [please note that there are more essays in this collection than the recently released Shooting an Elephant with an introduction by Jeremy Paxman who does have a grand mind so if you want a smaller slice of Orwell and a word from Paxman this volume might be more to your liking – as a note just to be clear, every story in ‘Shooting…’ is in the collection of Essays…] and to make my case that 1984 is 1948 I’ll have to go back to those essays…

Part of the book has comments that Orwell made as observations in his essays. The prolonged rationing of the post war years gives credence to the idea of perpetual war and the ‘why’ of it. There were still identity cards…

Alright the extensive camera and listening devices were not around in 1948 – but all else in the book would have been possible then.  Indeed the ideas of doublethink and thoughtcrime were lifted from his pointed criticism of the intellectual left.  The idea of having a political class always in power subject to various tests – ability and hunger for power could well be the critique of someone who has seen anarchy and collectivism work – this is what has become quite clear in the british model of democracy, indeed this has grown and become even clearer since Thatcher and Blair… And when was the last president of the USA to be elected with a smaller campaigning budget than the other guy?

The most mentioned departments are called [and no spoilers here, thank you] Ministry of Peace, Love, and Truth – at one point the War Department became the Ministry of Defense… The judicial arm of the government is called the ‘Home Office’ where we can all feel a warm glow of being looked after… Ministry of Truth is harder but if you read Orwell’s Essays you find that he thought that the owners of the press, part of what was [and is] called ‘The Establishment’ and because they wish to continue the status quo ie staying in an influential place where there situation is protected – it is in the media’s interest to sell the story that they think will create the right reaction from within us… Either things don’t get reported and therefore never ‘happen’ in any way we would know or they are told in ways that will provoke the right reaction – note how folk accept each paper has an ‘editorial view’…

The other piece in this jigsaw is the civil service who can be vetted and made sure that their views and work comply to their orders and of course the higher up the ladder they climb and the fewer they become the more closely they can be watched.

And this is were the Thought Police come in… with the job of maintaining the work so ordered by the political class in the Post War Consensus… And the rest of us are left to sink in a way that blurred the lines between the middle and lower classes – partly by raising some up and making it possible only for so many to rise higher… Leaving the grand rump of society to a different set of rules that seek to govern their behaviour and to hide the insidious truth of the thoughtpolice and the hopeless plight they were in under the political rulers .

The question to some extent runs about why Orwell wrote this book. I think he wanted to have a much wider audience for his political observations than his essays received and in so changing the dates to coincide with the publishers demand that it not be ‘1948’ he felt it was robbed of it’s power and force – which would answer the question of why he thought it a terrible copy once he had typed it up…

Ironically one can see the sense that in the publisher being part of the establishment makes the case, in a small way, for the de facto Ministry of Truth…

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Just by a strange coincidence at the same time I was mostly through that tedious but famous read Frankenstein – the news broke that Newcastle and Durham’s collective University project has worked out how to manufacture sperm… As I mused on the wild silliness of that old feminist idea that men [as in the male half of the species] are not really needed and this can only add to that strange and destructive argument…

Of course one thing is that as they’ve worked out how to make a sperm from a skin cell – How long before they can make an egg? And then who will be needed? Alright – so that’s science fiction at the moment but last week making a sperm was as well. I’ll stick my neck out and say How Long Before Pregnancy Is A Luxury For The Rich Or Something The Poor Cannot Avoid?

In the late eightees I remember there was some interest in a ‘wet incubator’ that was having some success and how much more interest in developping a wet incubator will there be when sperm and egg can be manufactured, vetted and then wed… why not let them develop slightly longer in the lab… and if possible would the rich spend money on not being pregnant, would folk investigate a full term ‘artificial womb’ or incubator as it would relieve the poor from having to work hard and carry their child?

Frankenstein in his pride wanted to make a creature better than he – We in our pride are content to manufacture ourselves… and make ourselves redundant?

Will we abandon sex completely for the sake of  descandants? Will we automatically turn to contraceptives so that we need never worry about what could occur outside the Lab? Could this be the road to Barbarella where only the eccentric or the rich [possible only the rich eccentric] carry their babes?

Barbarella is a vision of a future without sex – could we turn towards sex as nothing more than fun and then for prudes to allow us to worry about diseases and dirt to say that we should refrain?

I don’t think the future is sexless or genderless, even though that might become possible by design… but I do wonder how wise we’d become in a world where hardship is having to go to the shops… How could we relate to another’s pain when all pain is striven to be discarded?

Now I’m sure there are some who have problems with the old ‘plumbing’ and that given that I’m not against an incubator that could help – I’m against what the widespread use of such could mean… Ordered children? Frozen embryoes to be thawed out at a given notice? Just come along at the appropiate appointment and take your child away and here’s some drugs to get you to lactate [if you so desire]… Male or female there could be a drug for either… [Men can lactate given real hardships… for more ask or be bewildered.]

Don’t want a screaming infant? Well, we could use a new and not quite tested method for allowing them to develop a bit more… yes, nutritional supplements and programmes for languages…

Why don’t you just say how old you want them and perhaps take one off the shelf?

If this were to pass over the years [at least two decades I think but I could be wrong…] would we notice any diference in how we related to each other, would we just say that we had come into some Golden Age? and what would we lose?

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I have just finished Penguin‘s deceptively thin volume of George Orwell’s Essays. For four-hundred and sixty-six pages it is less than half the width you would otherwise expect – add to that the small type face used and you have a substantial amount of words per penny. True, it is still a collection of selected essays rather than a complete volume but it does contain essays written between 1931 and 1949 and within the gathered essays there is a huge width of issues tackled; from the time he felt he had to shoot an elephant to maintain the appearance of imperial power to the somewhat tawdry apology of the life of a book reviewer.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in how politics stretches into all the crevices of life. Indeed, one of the main things I have tried to uncover within these pages is the answer to this question – What was Orwell’s political view?

Previously I have half read Animal Farm as a teenager and then some years ago read, with fervour, Homage to Catalonia. So it was no surprise to find a strong current of anti-authoritainism within the essays. What I was surprised to find is that in someone so frankly honest and keen in seeing the hypocrisy of virtually all political allegencies that the question arose – What does he believe?

The answer may seem frankly plain when he says that he believed in ‘socialist democracy’ as he ‘understood it’ but therein lies the problem – how did he understand it. In no essay does he seem to favour democracy at all save in a way to get the governments which we deserve – hardly the biggest endorsement I’ve ever heard.

Orwell is a libertarian and here he seems overly cautious about any socialist or communist utopian seeing them as societies which will oppress folk within their own minds rather than just having laws which we could wish to break and then fall to and concede our actions to the exterior law. After his experiences in Spain and Stalin’s collusion to see the end of the government forces against Franco’s rebellion, well, who could blame him? His view however would seem to be well founded and littered through the essays we can see the evidence for his caution.

But he did fight for Anarchy. Or at least was prepared to be a stretcher bearer on the front line despite his claims within Homage. Perhaps there is something to be said for looking at the guidelines he gave for writing english –

i. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
ii. Never use a long word when a short one will do.
iii. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
iv. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
v. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
vi. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

from ‘Politics and the English Language’ [Essay no. 31]

The one I’m interested in is the last. This says that rules are not meant to govern by but that we should be pragmatic and useful – plain writing, thought through but not straight-jacketed by a set of imposed ideals or rules.

Anti-authoritarian, liberal with a profound sense of the injustice of our world – noting how the british working class are leeches upon the even poorer folk in the colonies and downtrodden around the world.

Personally, I’m left with the feeling that Orwell left socialism behind and crossed that strange frontier within the philosophies of anarchy from left to right. Stirner would have similar views to Orwell about quite a lot of things – the question is, given that the debate about/between anarchists and activists in the Spanish Civil war and then the inteligentsia of Britain was loaded upon the left wing – had Orwell heard of the writings of right wing anarchists?

I don’t think so – I don’t know what his reaction would have been towards it had he heard of it, but within the pages of the collected essays I hear the voice of someone in search of an ideology in which to put his faith. I think he would have disagreed with Stirner but that, upon knowing of right wing anarchic thought, on the whole he would have sympathised with it with far greater clarity than we may guess.

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Not that I’m trying to sound provocative to feminists [or others]…

But I’ve just finished reading ‘The Book of the Body Politic‘ by Christine de Pizan and ok, she’s wrote it in the first years of the 1400s in a France torn by war with not only itself but also the English but I find her idea about the ‘knights’ to be overly bloody…

So, why do I cast her idea as worthy of the Girl Guides?

Well, Samuel Pufendorf wrote ‘On the Duty of Man and Citizen‘ back in1673, after the rather Mad Troop Leader Hobbes had written his ‘Leviathan‘ during the English Civil War, when Sweden and Denmark were slogging it out – Pufendorf himself having been imprisoned by the danes at one point. I should perhaps point out that whilst there are cheaper versions of these texts, although Christine’s will be in french, I find the quality of the background to the text and author as good and the quality of paper and print combine for an easy read although the text doesn’t at times… And the actual links provide a good synopsis of the work even if you don’t want a copy, Dear Reader.

Anyway, back to the point. Christine shares the view of the greek and roman authors that the most important thing about ‘the body politic’ are the leaders and thus gives half of her book on how a prince or king should behave – nicely and with morals, about a third to the knights and how they should conduct themselves and what little remains to the rest of us – who should behave, be loyal and even if we have a genuine complaint should mind our tongues.

This contrasts with Pufendorf’s work which is divided into two books – one on how in general we should all behave to one another and the second about how various things should work out practically from that. And to be honest he’s so tediuosly boringly boy scoutish I did not finish the second book…

But here’s the difference – Christine sees the knights, more or less, as a pack of well trained war hounds whereas Pufendorf would not go so far. Indeed, whilst he argues that war should be understood universally as something we shouldn’t pursue and the suffering should be limited as best it could be Christine gives examples of brutality to spur knights on in being obedient and savage in their pursuit of their prince’s command.

One of the problems I have of Anarchist theories is that I do not know of one by a woman, here however we can see that there is no difference, essantially in the ability of male and female to think similarly to each other. We can probably all think of examples of iconoclastic women who would, if we thought about it, give an example of following the anarchist creed. Mary Shelley, Godwin’s daughter did indeed live her own life, despite the Father of Anarchy disapproval of her romance with the poet Shelley, indeed Godwin’s first wife, Mary Wollstonecraft wrote political works [although I can’t say I’ve read them…]and in the Spanish Civil War women played an equal and as important part of the various government militias against Franco.

So, I find some strange comfort that a ‘girl guide’ view of political theory is as bloody as it is – there is no difference in the divergence of thought within the genders as there is across it, even if we don’t necessarily have a good written account of a female anarchist theory – women, just as men, can see the benefit of anarchy if only they are able to undo the shackles in our minds, as Stirner would put it, but this seems to be an universal problem engendered by states’ resistance to the idea that we could behave if we were left to our own devices and supported by many who would fear that we would all turn into slavering beasts if we took away the state…

There is enough evidence from social anthropology to say that cultures where there was no central authority are as rich as any others of their time. Sometimes, possibly, richer.

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The third and last part of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists of Radio 4’s Classic Serial has ended and with it so I find the ending of the book – I made it about two thirds of the way through it and faltered to a halt, although I will try to pick it up and finish it in the near future.

It describes in down to earth terms the horrific life of the working man and his oppressor at the start of the 20th Century – and the same arguments to prop up the capitalistic machine of degradation and the distractions of blame away from the bosses for the conditions they have to put up with; the most startling is immigrant workers. It seems as if these arguments have been used immemorial.

Consider, briefly the amount of immigrants that have come into this country since then and that we have, for the most part, coped with and then think how this could have been a genuine problem at the turn of the former century…

The book is a genuine tour de force for socialism and a break in capitalism but it has it’s blind spots.

Being realistic I can understand why the writer, living in those conditions would not have noticed them but he does show the effects of the upper classes benevolence as both pathetic and patronizing – as arguments to maintain the status quo. This is where Tressell’s point is problematic for me.

I agree that capitalism births monsters who can justify themselves given the ‘way the world works’ and that the hand outs at the time were mere sops to both stave off the poor from their doorsteps by redirection of their pleas to their ‘benevolent funds’ and to stop any idea of revolt from the workers. It is with some irony that it was a conservative government (If I’m wrong, Dear Reader, please say so – on this or on any other point.) which started the ‘Welfare State’ possibly to stop a revolution rather than in any way to ‘help’ the poor.

So, whilst I agree with Tressell on his diagnosis I don’t accept his socialist cure.

For the state to step in and help the poor only replaces the ‘bosses’ and their iniquity. The hand outs given by the rich for the poor were inadequate to their needs and so are the state’s. The state has made many more folk dependent on it and now we have what are called ‘sink hole estates’. During an open day at an university for the Religious Studies department there was also a sociology lecturer giving a, well, lecture… At the end of the day I asked a couple of lecturer’s if they’d mind if I continued to sit on their lectures – the sociologist being one of them – both assented and I was confronted with a mass of information and terms.

Most ‘sink hole estates’ are predominantly white or to put it in BNP terms – of the ‘indigenous population’ some are almost completely made up of folk who are unemployed and thus think that that’s socially acceptable – true there are estates that would be similarly marked if they were made up of working working class folk and even within the worst of these there are those who turn their hands and eat the bread of their own toil. My argument is not with any of these folk but with the system. These folk are ‘kept’ by the state and then used by the state. For example most assaults, burglaries and so on occur within these estates but the statistics are then used to frighten everybody else into accepting ever more criminal charges and security measures. My old Grandma used to complain that ‘the streets’ weren’t safe but in her little area of retired folk crime was virtually nil. True the media has to shoulder some of the blame for scaring folk with their agendas of scaring folk into buying their paper with outrageous headlines but what is the root of the problem?

Bakunin famously said ‘I am truly free only when all human beings, men and women, are equally free.’ The problem with folk being in the pocket of the state is that they are not free – they aren’t given enough and they are always answerable to the state for their wellbeing. It almost seems like a clarion call to a completely free market. But it isn’t. Bakunin also said something on the lines of from each according to their faculties to each according to his needs… not quite a capitalistic banner line. It is instead a radical call to a different system.

Why are ‘sink hole estates’ maintained by the government in such a way that those within them can see no way out of their present circumstances if not to use them for it’s own agenda? Merely as a side note – most of these estates may also be classed as ‘no-go’ zones by those who like the phrase and so most of the ‘no-go’ zones are inhabited by us – the general population – not by immigrants.

Communism would seek to do the utmost to answer the question of equality but then it would also impose a layer of bureaucracy – of those deemed ‘worthy’ enough – who would then say what a fair days work would be for each and every one of us – so much for freedom and equality. So what then is there?

Capitalism is now reaching beyond states in our global economy and given child workers for western companies it is still just as oppressive as it was in Tressell’s day – the western companies are not paying enough for their workers not to send their children out to work… and communism is all but dead on its feet.

No, we have to try to hold out for something else and whilst anarchists may never succeed they should be listened to as they point out the flaws in every system. As Peter Marshall echoes George Woodcock in his book ‘Demanding the impossible A history of Anarchism’ he argues that whilst anarchy may never arrive the anarchist challenge to a different way, a better way [I am after all of the anarchist view] will always provide the arguments against the current injustices and state oppression being beneficial to the rest of the folk out there…

In the end what thought has sought to free folk from their shackles and make society a place where everyone is valued equally? Capitalism? Socialism? Communism? In the end only anarchy seeks to empower us all and set us upon our feet as equals.

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