Sunday, 24 August 2014

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN: THE POLITICISATION OF THE MEDIA IN FERGUSON

In these days – these last days? – of hyperinformation and meganews, it is often tiny, incidental details that are the most telling. The news is often to be found in the marginalia and circumstances of reportage and, as Derrida and Freud teach us, much can be found in apparently extraneous asides. The mainstream media (MSM) are masters of padding and sanitising a story, ensuring that a cordon sanitaire is thrown around their favoured groups and causes, and their language is as policed as anything seen in the Soviet era, but what is increasingly emerging is the blatant politicisation of the media. So it is with Ferguson.

For once, Googling ‘Ferguson’ does not bring up on one’s screen the revolting, florid face of the triumphant Scottish football manager. Ferguson is an American town thrust forward by a fatal shooting. The facts are tedious and unremarkable; as American, nowadays, as Mom and apple pie. What has made a liberal-left cause celebre of the affair is not that the shooter was a law enforcement officer and the victim an unarmed civilian, but that the policeman was white and the dead man black.

The grievance industry has swung into action. Thus, you’ll see Al Sharpton, Spike Lee, Eric Holder, Barack Obama and all the usual suspects informing a weary world that racism is once again, has always been, stalking the land of the free. ‘Protests’ – primarily in the form of looting, bomb-throwing and intimidation - are ongoing. One nugget shines out from the ordure, however. Warner Todd Huston is a freelance writer for, among others, Breitbart, and reports from the scene in Ferguson as follows;

One constant tonight on how the police have been handling the media is that they are asking for ‘real media IDs’ and have been heard on the live feed saying only ‘conventional media’ will be allowed to participate in the media areas. It seems the police are trying to differentiate between old-style, network, cable, radio and print media people any anyone working for Internet-based outlets.”

Perhaps ‘conventional’ or ‘real’ fire-fighters might be a requirement at a fire, not just well-meaning bystanders with buckets of water, but the words used in this context show a strange new media world. Paul Dacre, editor of The Daily Mail, has already suggested at Leveson accreditation for the media, and he’s the man who cost the UK habeas corpus over one dead boy. But what represents the ‘unconventional’ or ‘unreal/false’ journalist?

Put simply, online commentators. Given that western media are irredeemably left-wing, dominated by a progressivist trend that has Gramsci as its totem and brooks no dissent of its politically correct ‘narrative’, and given that online commentary is very often from the opposing community, it is important to keep the latter away from anything as mundane as facts on the ground.

And so, the most pertinent fact to emerge from Ferguson is the separation, by an increasingly militarised police force, of ‘conventional’ or ‘real’ journalists from net-based citizen journalists, often unpaid. The journalist, the ‘real’ journalist, can now be defined as someone who is paid to generate and display, for his employers, an inappropriate level of concern over something which is none of his business, her business. It should surprise no one, in this age of genuine transvaluation of all values, that it should be someone as egregiously deleterious to democracy as Alastair Campbell who reminds us that all journalism now is increasingly op-ed. If this is so, why should the ‘conventional’ journalists be the only voice, given their blatant progressivist agenda?

If you judged the implications of Ferguson by the MSM narrative, you could be forgiven for thinking in the last fortnight that Jim Crow was alive and well and open for business. Try this for size, from The Independent’s Kunal Dutta in the issue of August 20; 

“The race-relations crisis engulfing America in the aftermath of the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown intensified on Tuesday after police confirmed the shooting of a second African-American man from St. Louis.”

The race-relations crisis engulfing America exists but is not exemplified by Ferguson. It is exemplified by the Knockout Game, Beat Whitey Night, the events related in Colin Flaherty’s White Girl Bleed a Lot. But not for ‘real’ journalism.

And those real journalists have outriders now. The Ferguson police have shown themselves every bit as determined to protect the narrative concerning real – genuinely real – events as their masters. This sanctity of narrative is directly mandated by the ruling class, the ‘establishment’ of Owen Jones, given the minor adjustment that where Jones sees evil right-wingers, the actual establishment have long been creatures of the far Left. And so only approved commentators can be given access to the facts on the ground. Like a doorman at a nightclub, if your name’s not down, you’re not coming in.

The ruling elites of the West face a mounting problem, and it’s not IS (who have, amusingly, a press officer). It is the partial handing over of opinion to citizens not of the media courtier class via the internet, the greatest democratising invention since Gutenberg’s printing press and moveable type. But the problem with the ‘net is that anyone can use it; it is not the private plaything of the courtiers. The elites, as always, love their courtiers. This is why thousands of IS decapitations produce a deafening silence in the press and it takes the slaughter of a courtier – James Foley – to shock the gauleiters.

The problem for the leaders thus becomes how to muzzle the internet. There have already been tentative attempts with hate-speech laws, the harassment of Tweeters and bloggers, Right to be Forgotten, as well as Obama’s Soviet-style suggestions for internet policing. The overarching problem for the elites, then, is that someone other than their courtiers (who must remain silent about this) has seen that the Emperor has no clothes.

Remember, whenever you read the MSM, that this news was brought to you by people who are conventional and real. And enjoy the internet while you can.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

LITERA SCRIPTA MANET*: THE PLEASURES OF RE-READING



For those of us for whom literature has long ceased to be a relaxing pastime and has become instead the greater part of our lives, re-reading books from the past is what we have in place of the sacred. Repeated outings for a favourite book illuminate not just the text, but its reader. It is one of the undoubted pleasures of ageing that it becomes possible to read again books last closed a quarter of a century or more previously.

I read Allan Blooms’ The Closing of the American Mind for the first time much more recently, but it is becoming more essential and prophetic by the year and, in a Panglossian best of all possible worlds, would now have a companion volume dealing with what’s left of the European mens cogitans. What has become of American higher education – and not just at the hands of liberalism – is both salutary and happening here. Bloom is equally at home charting the importation of European existentialism into America as he is describing the caving in of American campuses to ludicrous ‘Black Power’ groups and their hangers-on in the 1960s. The American academic atmosphere is summed up beautifully as ‘nihilism without the abyss’. The book – with a foreword by Saul Bellow, of whom more later – is a modern lament over the post-modern and its idiocies. And you don’t have to travel to America to witness the destruction of higher education; it has long since reached the UK and mainland Europe. Media Studies, anyone?

Next in the back catalogue was Malcolm Lowry’s 1941 novel Under the Volcano. This haunting book describes the final day of alcoholic British consul to Mexico Geoffrey Firmin, and is a nightmare of alienation, despair and mescal. Lowry combines Joycean stylisation with the narrative control of Conrad. I first read it over 20 years ago and I wasn’t ready for its studied experimentalism. It’s a frightening book.

Underworld, by contemporary American master Don DeLillo, vies for contention as the Great American Novel. Spanning half a century, and threaded by that most American of symbols, a simple baseball, the book combines the broad sweep of narrated Americana with DeLillo’s usual prose economy and accretional character developments. I shouldn’t really, but I’m sure I will re-read the chilling The Names before long.

Another American master at the height of his creative powers was the Saul Bellow of Humboldt’s Gift. Charlie Citrine is another in a long line of the loveable pawns of hubris in which Bellow specialises. You could make a strong argument for DeLillo accepting the baton from Bellow, the authentic narration of a haunted Americana is the stock-in-trade of both men. Martin Amis, a personal friend of Bellow, must have spent many hours in silent rage that he will never match the effortless and erudite style of the Chicago man. There is an infamous story of Amis taking the late Christopher Hitchens to dinner chez Bellow, although it is a story which ought to be read from both sides, both in Amis’s autiobiography Experience ­and Hitchens’ reminiscences Hitch-22.

With all these masters of their art about the place, it seemed only natural to dip again into Shakespeare’s beautiful island pastoral, The Tempest. The Bard of Avon weaves the occult into several of his plays: the fairy magic of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the witchcraft of Macbeth, the deep Hermetic undercurrents of A Winter’s Tale. But nowhere is it more pleasing than in the figures of Prospero, Ariel and Caliban. Shakespeare may have had John Dee – court astrologer to Elizabeth I – as his model for Prospero, and his invention of the name ‘Miranda’ is widely taken to be an allusion to Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Renaissance hermeticist and the author of the wonderful and proto-existentialist Oration on the Dignity of Man.

Having mislaid my rat-eared copy of Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, I was forced into plan B; Doctor Faustus. Posing as the biography of fictional composer Adrian Leverkühn, the Second World War and the dark destiny of Germany provide the canvas for Mann’s treatment of the Faust myth, running through the blood of Germany as it does. Mann is simply a colossus among novelists, and Doctor Faustus treats the porous border between genius and insanity without the clumping truisms of other writers’ efforts to do the same. Borrowing heavily from the life of Nietzsche for the circumstances of Leverkühn’s tumbling down, the book also features the famous conversation with the devil, a vignette to rival that of Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov. Also, Mann achieves what, after Wilde’s caustic comments on the funeral of Dickens’s Little Nell, might have been thought unachievable; the death of a child without the schmaltzier type of pathos. It is very difficult to read Mann’s account of the death of little Nepomuk Schneidewein and remain the proprietor of a dry eye.

These, then, are excursions so pleasurable the first time round that we cannot resist another spin. I am currently engaged in re-reading Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives, a book I definitely didn’t do justice to three years ago. This will lead inevitably to another outing for the strange and enticing 2066, the author’s magnum opus.

One of life’s great concerns, as I watch 50 recede like a tide and look forward to 60 rolling around, is that I will not get to read even 10% of the books I need to read. This is why I used to fear re-reading as self-indulgent. Now, however, a second (or more) reading of a sacred book is like discovering a loved one from the past has moved in next door and would like nothing more than to chat across the garden fence. And even if the act of reading again is self-indulgent, literature itself is full of examples of the advantages of mixing the sinful with the sacred.

 

* From memory, I came across this phrase in an essay by John Dewey on neurobiology. Litera scripta manet means, roughly, ‘that which is written down remains/endures’.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

YANKEE GO HOME: THE STRANGE DEATH OF THE PAX AMERICANA

It is a paradox that while we have more information at our disposal than any other people in history, we have fewer facts. For every standpoint there is an opposing one, equally fought for and bolstered by just as many proclaimed ‘facts’. To support any position or its opposite, and as the deconstructionists used to say, a reading of the text can be organised. Take as an example global warming.

One side in the debate believes mankind has accelerated climate change to an unsustainable degree – as in Michael Mann’s infamous ‘hockey stick’ graph – while the other (think Bjorn Lomborg, Mark Steyn and Christopher Booker) believes the role of man in global warming (although it exists as the expression of a temporal cycle) is grossly exaggerated to protect revenue streams via government funding, as well as emphasised so the AGW coalition can bask in the sunlit uplands of the moral high ground, that much-disputed territory. To take a reasoned stance in this tsunami of conflicting information, I find myself reduced to applying the Three Wise Monkeys principle. Simply put, if David Cameron, Nick Clegg and David Miliband – aided and abetted by their courtiers in the media – tell me something is the case, the opposite must a fortiori be true.

But if the emergence of facts from this morass moves at a glacial pace, and is even then hopelessly moot, there is one unassailable truth that seems to be emerging from the chaos; the decline and fall of the pax Americana.

With the phrase named for the famous pax Romana of the Roman Empire – which also declined and fell, as Gibbon notes – the world order dependent on America is no longer underwritten by that waning power. After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, no one could seriously doubt America’s hegemony. Moralists can churn out verbiage about the bombing of Japan all they like. It ended the war because America said the war must be ended. America spoke and the world listened. It was the rationale of the cosa nostra, but the war was over.

If you thought America’s twin A-bombs were insane, prepare yourself for Harry Truman’s commentary on the vaporisation of two cities. The atomic bomb, America’s atomic bomb, was ‘another weapon in the arsenal of righteousness.’ This is reminiscent of F1 driver Alain Prost commenting on an insanely dangerous manoeuvre by his nemesis, Brazilian Ayrton Senna. Senna had almost run Prost, who backed down, off the track. The sad-eyed Frenchman said in an interview; “How can you race against someone who has God in their car?”

America does not have God in its car anymore. It doesn’t have too much of anything. It still has military muscle, but much of this is engaged tip-toeing around Islam both at home and abroad. In the growing vacuum, Putin knows he can do what he likes. So too Kim Jong-Un, Assad, Netanyahu, ISIS, Boko Haram or whoever else is this week’s bad guy, today’s recipient of the two-minute hate. If the best that the rest of the ‘free world’ can muster is a strongly worded rebuke from the UN, tyrants will scarcely quake. In the coming realignment of global power, those crushed under the tyrant’s heel won’t get very far calling Sweden.

And while the liberal-left smiles smugly at the demise of the country they regard as the Great Satan just as strongly as their new head-hacking friends, we may look ahead at what replaces America. When the Islamic and Chinese historians of the future come to write the history of the 21st century – for we are told that the victors write the histories – what will they say about the might, vanity and hubris of the United States?

They might say that here was a country embodied as an ideal and underwritten by a Libertarian constitution. They might also say that here was a superpower that scolded itself to death. Just as Orwell wrote of England, the US is a family with the wrong members in control. America differs from the UK in that it never had to be sold multiculturalism because it was founded on that very principle. But there is a new kind of liberalism abroad, a poisonous fraternity every bit as dangerous as George W. Bush’s Skull and Bones.

Now that the magic fairy dust has finally rubbed off Obama (note that the queue of Western politicians clamouring for a photo-op has dried up), people can see the Emperor’s lack of apparel. He has added $7 trillion to an already unsustainable debt. He has personally overseen the de facto opening of the USA’s border with Mexico. He has publicly stated that ‘the future does not belong to those who slander the prophet’, alluding to Mohammed. Add this to a list of near-impeachable scandals – IRS, NSA, Benghazi, Fast Track – and you can see the wisdom of putting an ex-community organiser mentored by Communists and Black Liberation theologists in place as CEO of the world.

Financially, the game is up for America. As Mark Steyn writes, you can bail out Greece. There isn’t enough money in the world to bail out America.

We have had an ambivalent relationship with postwar America; we snipe at it while we scrabble after the gewgaws of its culture. I’m so bored with the USA, sang The Clash, although they would soon be dressing as American rebel icons and champing at the bit to tour there. We are all, even the progressive left who dominate UK ideology, in thrall to this cognitive dissonance.

One more fact amid the flotsam and jetsam of modern dis- and misinformation. When those robed and severe historians do come to pen The Decline and Fall of the United States of America, they will take a little time to ponder and puzzle – and find an appropriate translation for a phrase alien to them – over the quaint solecism ‘human rights’. They will be a thing of history, as well as one of the stoutest knots in the rope with which, as Lenin predicted, the West hung itself.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

THANK YOU MASK MAN: GOODBYE LENNY BRUCE



This week saw the 48th anniversary of the death of American comic Lenny Bruce. I learned this from Ladies and Gentlemen: Lenny Bruce!! a 1974 biography of Bruce by Albert Goldman based on the journalism of Lawrence Schiller. If you like Lenny Bruce, or are interested in 1950s America, the book is mandatory.

Goldman makes the words swing on the page as a perfect complement to an artist performing in an age when comedy wasn’t the new rock ‘n’ roll but the new jazz. And, like jazz, Bruce’s audience were looking for the risqué, a flirtation with taboo, a walk on the wild side.

 

“Yes, Lenny’s hot now. He did business at that dump, the Duane. But this is not a little cocktail place. Here is a very chic club for middle-aged people who live on Sutton Place and come by after the show to drink a Scotch and Perrier and see a couple of French or English acts, something witty, clever, sophisticated. Lenny Bruce is different. He’s with obscenities and fast talking and inside humour and hostility. People will be offended. There’ll be walkouts.”

 

In an age made tiresome by the offence industry, we find it difficult to understand what offence genuinely meant for early baby-boomer America. If Bruce played a London comedy club tonight with his bits about ‘queers’ and ‘cocksuckers’ and ‘spades’, any walkouts would represent a criticism of derogatory language used about minorities. When Bruce was playing to sophisticated 1950s wine-and-diners, any walkouts would be because Bruce had reminded them that those minorities even existed. And this reminder had to come from a wise-cracking, irreverent Jew. It could not have come from any other quarter of American society, a society which, Goldman writes, “more than any society since Ancient Rome has taken show business as the symbol of its national values.”

Bruce was controversial in a way we can’t imagine. The police attended his shows despite receiving no complaints from the public. He was routinely arrested and harassed. He ended his life obsessed with the law, reading constantly and becoming conversant with obscenity precedent.

Now that the chattering classes are unshockable outside the strict cordon sanitaire they have thrown around the minorities – ethnic, sexual, religious, gender-based – there could not be a Lenny Bruce. Instead, we have Russell Brand.

It seems significant that 1950s America had Lenny Bruce and we have Russell Brand. Another famous ex-junkie, Brand is not hassled in the street by vengeful cops looking to bust a bigmouth in the news. Instead, he is lionised and pawed over at government committees on drug abuse, staunchly defending the idea that addiction is a medical condition and not a lifestyle choice. He clashed with Peter Hitchens over this and, while for me Hitchens won the argument at a stroll, Brand employed all his childish cultural prestidigitation to twit Hitchens and claim a victory for hip. But Russell Brand is not hip. He is a deeply unfunny multi-millionaire. Lenny Bruce was trying to rustle up cash to score even when he’d made it. Also, Bruce was surprisingly anxious about being disliked on a moral plane. He wrote to trial judges imploring them not to judge him morally. It is a certainty, for me, that Lenny Bruce would not have left the salacious messages on an old man’s tape machine, as Brand and Jonathan Ross did. But Brand could not perform a piece based on Adolf Eichmann – chilling, genius - and make it work. Und we made them into soap…

The other main theme of the book is Bruce’s crippling drug habit, and this is truly shocking even in our jaded times. Bruce was a phenomenal junkie who could have given Johnny Thunders a run for his money. He would shoot anything, and these are the sections of the book – and there are many of them – that are hardest to take. The topography of the junkie, all puncture marks, embolisms and sores, is dwelt on. If there is such a thing as a ‘war on drugs’, the book’s sections on Bruce and his habit ought to be included as a deterrent. Eventually, and inevitably, it killed him, and Goldman is firmly on the side of the conspiracy theorists concerning Bruce’s corpse, bloated and punctured in his Hollywood bathroom. The setting, said Bruce’s friends, was all wrong for a Lenny shoot ‘em up, too organised, missing chaos. A police officer at the scene is said to have shown friends of Bruce photographs of the corpse. “I thought you might like to see these. They could make one helluva album cover.”

My own introduction to Lenny Bruce came seven years ago when I chanced across The Trials of Lennie Bruce by Ronald Collins and David Skover. In the back sleeve of this book – drier than Goldman and Schiller but no less informative – was tucked a free CD, narrated by Nat Hentoff, which featured snippets of Bruce live. It was the first time I had heard Bruce, and so my introduction to Thank You Mask Man, one of the most famous bits by the self-titled ‘Superjew’.

In this skit, the grateful townspeople demand to know why The Lone Ranger never waits around for a ‘thankyou’ after he has saved them. Kimosabe reasons that he would have neither the time nor the inclination to save them at all if he spent all day receiving gratitude. However, for them, he tries it, and is soon obsessed.

 

“'Thankyou Mask Man.' Mmm, I like that. I’m going to get a book. I’ll put it in the Thankyou Mask Man book. Now, I’m going down to the mailbox to see if the Thankyou Mask Man man has been today.”

 

An increasingly crazed Lone Ranger is then offered a range of prizes, chooses Tonto, and turns out to be gay. It’s iconoclastic in a time when that was still possible and, more importantly, it is very funny. It is refreshing in an age when everyone is funny, and yet no one makes me laugh. Goodbye, Lenny Bruce.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

WELCOME TO TRAUMAVILLE

“Pay no attention to that old man behind the curtain!”
The Wizard of Oz

 

Shortly before film director Stanley Kubrick died, he was at work on his final movie when he gave an interview to film and television journalists. One television listings magazine ran Kubrick’s comments, including his explanation of the source for his last work, Eyes Wide Shut. The film, Kubrick explained, was inspired by a German novel written in 1926 by an Austrian, Arthur Schnitzler, and titled, apparently, Traumaville.

Schnitzler’s book is usually translated into English as ‘Dream Story’, and this is the accepted translation of the German ‘Traumnovelle’, which is what Kubrick had actually said but which had been misheard either live or via a recording as ‘Traumaville’. It is perfect; a very modern mistake and a place, a location, is born.

Traumaville is where we all live now. A hybrid of Plato’s Republic and Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There, a combination of Orwell’s 1984, Huxley’s Brave New World, Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange and a department store catalogue, Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon ghost-written by a PR team launching a new fashion line. A strange mix of the real, the unreal, and the surreal, Traumaville feels increasingly like home, if not quite as secure.

In Traumaville, an increasingly desperate political class is trying to hold on to power by a combination of deception and selective truth-telling. A powerful media class struggles to maintain a Potemkin village of culture and social cohesion. The inhabitants of Traumaville are fed just enough distractions to keep them away from the sanctum sanctorum of the ruling classes but, like little Toto uncovering the Wizard of Oz operating gears and levers at the back of his machinery, those inhabitants are slowly beginning to understand both that Traumaville is not what it seems, and that it is about to change into somewhere considerably more dangerous. The political class and its media courtiers will continue to deny, like the wizard, that there is anything of significance to see.

“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” is what the old man says in the film after Toto’s unveiling. But there is something to see, and the simple folk of Traumaville are beginning, in their twos and threes and notably online – Burke’s ‘little platoons’, perhaps, in virtual form - to become more inquisitive.

The classic, jokey English postcard used to read ‘Wish you were here’. You already are, whether or not you live in rainy, gorgeous, fading old England. You live in Traumaville, and these essays, each with a 1,000-word limit, are postcards from Traumaville, short notes from a troubled town.

THE BOO/HURRAY THEORY: OPINION, EXPECTATION AND THE TWO TRIBES OF GAZA

In an effort to understand the current troubles in and around Gaza, I elected to move from the busy plains of media discussion and graze instead in the rich pastures of Amazon, where historical books can often be downloaded without troubling my already parlous bank account. I came across The Making of a Nation: The Beginnings of Israel’s History by Charles Foster Kent. Now, this book must join the lengthy queue that is my reading list, and join at the back and not jostle or push in or cheat its new neighbours. What will detain us here is one of the customer reviews of the book, by a person called ‘Zero’:

 

“I was expecting a history of the modern state of Israel including the mistreatment of the Palestinians. This is a horrible rehash of religious myths. The Bible does a much better job of retelling these urban legends.”

 

In passing, we note the delight Freud and Nietzsche would have taken in the notion of a ‘horrible rehash of religious myths’, perhaps finding it an apt description of civilisation. Charming too is Zero’s gracious approval of the Bible as a more informative source than Mr Kent.

More importantly, what this snippet tells us is that readers – particularly around an emotive subject such as Israel – are opinion-holders, and are loath to have those opinions undermined by reading unwelcome material. I forget the name of the psychologist who minted the phrase ‘the me report’ to describe people’s behaviour when garnering facts from the media – a word which in itself contains ‘me’ – but it serves to explain the type of behaviour which uses expectation and prejudice to bolster what other psychologists have called the ‘self-serving bias’, or the tendency to boost one’s self-esteem as a shield for the sensitive ego.

Generally, we like to read material – rapidly becoming materiel in the case of Israel and Palestine – which reinforces our beliefs, and we shun that which undermines those articles of faith. Although we ought to ‘catholicise’ our reading choices and consider opposing viewpoints, we are pack animals unwilling to become runts, pariahs or pharmakoi.

‘Zero’, then, expected a book with ‘Israel’ in its title to conform to his or her political and emotional expectations and desires, those modish trappings which show a tribal allegiance every bit as relevant today as the Twelve Tribes of Israel were in ancient times. Again;

 

“I was expecting a history of the modern state of Israel including the mistreatment of the Palestinians.”

 

For Zero, there is no possibility of education as to whether or not there has been ‘mistreatment’ of ‘Palestinians’. For Zero, there simply has been such, and his/her choice of reading matter will be circumscribed by this shibboleth or totem (the language of Freud can never be far away here). We are reminded of then Cabinet Minister Patricia Hewitt in 2006, talking of commissioning research ‘to show’ the advantages of home birthing. Scientists would be surprised at this use of ‘research’.

Now that Twitter, weblogs and the internet in general have granted everyone a voice and the ability to express an opinion, what holds the attention is rarely those opinions themselves but their symptomatology, the allegiances to which they refer, as red spots refer to the presence of the measles virus.

Take Twitter as an example, where there is insufficient textual space to develop ideas further than a version of the ‘Boo/Hurray theory’, as defined in The Oxford Companion to Philosophy:

 

“Apt nickname for crude version of emotivism [Note: Emotivism is a theory of ethics]. The theory states that we use ethical words to express our feelings or attitudes and to evoke similar feelings or attitudes in other people. Hence, ‘x is wrong’ or ‘x is right’ amount only to ‘Boo!’ or ‘Hurray!’”

 

Of course, there is question-begging here; if I say murder is wrong then of course I am saying ‘Boo!’ to murder, in a rather childishly expressed way. Where the Boo/Hurray theory functions in modern social media is at the level of expectation and allegiance. In other words, if I am a creature of the Left, and the Left is against fracking, I may declare myself against fracking without taking the trouble to read up on it and form my own opinion. If I am of the Right, I might champion the free market without making much effort to understand its full range of consequences. Flat-packed, tribally affiliated opinion is a symptom of the internet age.

This, of course, leads to a deal of cognitive dissonance, or the holding of two conflicting opinions at the same time. ‘Boo! to homophobia!’ says the adherent of the Progressive Left and, at the same time, ‘Hurray for Islam!’, seeing no contradiction. But peer group affiliation has no problem with the law of contradiction and can, like Carroll’s White Queen in Wonderland, easily believe six impossible things before breakfast.

On the subject of Gaza, the conflict acts as a filter for opinion, and expectation and the self-serving bias are at the forefront of the opinion wars. Broadly, the Left holds Israel responsible for intimidation, disproportionate response, ethnic cleansing and a host of other crimes. Similarly, the Right – these are necessarily broad brush strokes – champions Israel’s right to defend itself as a legitimate democracy under de facto attack. There has been a deal of discussion on the virtual Right concerning the failure of the virtual Left to acknowledge, for example, the hundreds killed in Syria each week. The Left, say the Right, are only interested in Muslims killed by Jews, not in Muslims killed by other Muslims. Many opinionators [neologism alert!] hold that criticism of Israel is just Jew-hatred in a masquerade mask.

Whether there is a right or wrong to the Gaza conflict brings us to morality, and that is a subject for another day. There are certainly twin booming choruses of Boo! And Hurray! Meanwhile the combatants swap high explosives, innocents on both sides are killed, and opinion in a foxhole is something of a luxury. What did you expect?

Friday, 1 August 2014

THE END OF THE UK SHOW

“To be born an Englishman is to win first prize in God’s lottery.” Not Dr Johnson or Rudyard Kipling, but English businessman and politician Cecil Rhodes, who gave his name to racist, colonialist Rhodesia before that south African country turned itself around and became the beacon of democracy and economic success we know today as Zimbabwe.

Times change, of course, and although there is still a first prize for winning the divine lottery, it is not simply to be born an Englishman, certainly not just at the moment or any time soon. No, the winning ticket this week goes to those, like me, who were born an English baby-boomer. And it is still a prize to be cherished, as long as you value sheer entertainment. In the comically titled United Kingdom, the only way to deal with our current decline and eventual and inevitable ruin is to relax and have yourself a good time. As our young London waitresses say but don’t mean; Enjoy!

We British baby-boomers may have caused the coming collapse of the UK – perhaps we should be re-christened baby-busters - but that is not going to stop us pulling up a deck-chair, pouring ourselves a pint of warm bitter, digging into our cod and chips and watching the entertainment on offer. Like fictional Englishman Harry Flashman observing the doomed Light Brigade at Crimea in George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman at the Charge, it might be quite something to watch my country rushing in exactly the wrong direction. So, if you’re sitting comfortably, on with the show!

Gasp while our political elite imports the world’s underclass in the name of tolerance and diversity! Marvel while eco-loons demand that you live in a pile of turf and eat rabbit-pellet-and-twig ragout before watering the family horse with hopper-fresh dew, just as they catch a ‘plane to the latest AGW-junket in Brazil! Roll up, roll up! See our Prime Minister on TV, the day after a soldier is beheaded (also on TV) on a London street by Koran-quoting Muslims, and then explain that the butchery was a betrayal of Islam!

Swoon in amazement at the Lawrence Report, produced after a black teenager was killed by genuine racists, and which states that any incident is now deemed to be racist if any one party to the incident believes it to be so! Applaud as Members of Parliament claim expenses from the tax-payers for moat-cleaning, second homes, duck-houses and porn movies! You won’t believe your eyes as crippled ex-servicemen beg you for change while imams and their wives receive state benefits!

You want political prisoners, folks? Right this way! Tommy Robinson, ex-leader of the anti-Islamist English Defence League (EDL). Tommy was spuriously imprisoned for 18 months for falsifying mortgage documents. On release, a condition was that he had no contact with EDL members, a caveat entirely unrelated to his crime. Paul Weston, erstwhile colleague of Mr Robinson, was arrested for quoting from The River War by national war hero turned pariah, Sir Winston Churchill.

From the greatest empire on earth to the greatest show on earth! From having an empire on which the sun never sets, the UK now has a PR sharpster for a Prime Minister, a certifiable lunatic next in line for the throne, and a state broadcaster who demonstrably despises the majority of the people who fund it, and who will imprison you if you don’t pay your licence fee.

Bravo! We export talented engineers to the Middle East to help those unable to extract the oil they are sitting on top of, and in return import crazed jihadis equally well trained in their area of expertise. More! Our police force has been re-named a police service, and its notorious failure to attend simple domestic burglaries has given rise to the joke that the quickest way to get the British police to come to your house is to tell them a homophobic racist has stolen your child pornography. Encore! British emergency services stand and watch while children drown because their health and safety authorisation does not allow them to enter the water.

You will be on the edge of your seats as British prisons are sociologically engineered to become micro-caliphates, taxation is diverted from innovative private sector revenue into a public sector slush fund for neo-Marxist local authorities, and the entertainment industry is encouraged to become an IQ-free pigsty of celebrities famous for being famous.

Laugh at the realisation that your grandmother would be better cared for in a British jail than a British care home, particularly if she converts to paganism. Snigger at your child’s history homework, as you help her write a letter to an imaginary African friend explaining that slavery was the fault of white people. Give a cheery wave as you walk to the graffiti-smeared train station to board an over-crowded, late train, all the while scrutinised by more CCTV cameras per capita than North Korea.

And games? We got ‘em! Try to get through those tricky ‘Shariah zones’ of east London if you’re a Jew, a gay, a drinker or even a woman! Guess which coloured recycling bin to put your tin cans in and on which day, then watch those crazy council guys fine you for getting the answer wrong, wrong, wrong! Take care now, as you choose what you can and can’t say on social media to avoid that early-morning knock at the door!

Then there is the sideshow of the European Union (EU), which the UK cannot leave even as its component economies crash and burn. Why, that old goombah EU has failed to have its accounts signed off for almost two decades! How we laughed! It falsified accounting to allow two of its member states – now economic basket cases – to join! Its unelected leaders read like a history of Communism! And our political gauleiters and their lickspittle media courtiers just can’t get enough! Now, that’s entertainment.

And don’t worry, folks. There’s more to come, and we’ll be right back with you after the break.