Archive | June, 2016

Summer of Hate

29 Jun

I was thirteen in 1967, just too young to take part in the Summer of Love, but was aware of a shift in attitudes, towards internationalism and away from nationalism.

Now I am 62 and am experiencing what might be best described as the Summer of Hate. Here in the UK all hell has been unleashed by the referendum on leaving the EU. There are racist attacks, the murder of a liberal woman Member of Parliament and the most appalling language being used to raise racial tensions.

The referendum was never about membership of the EU. The question should have been, “Do you fear or hate foreigners?” Thar was what it came down to. There was also a political coup engineered against the Prime Minister.

The rise of nationalism is frightening. This is because all nationalism requires people to be divided between us and them. There is no positive side to nationalism. Some parts may be less harmful than others, but it is all bad.

The comedian Mark Steel described a conversation he had with the owner of a small hotel. She said that she loved ‘Fawlty Towers’ because it showed how difficult it was for a small hotelier to deal with stupid guests. That level of stupidity and wilful misunderstanding applied to many people who voted to leave. There were other extreme nationalists, up to and including neo-nazis. Other voters just wanted to make a protest vote and protested about the wrong thing.

Now the reality of the Leave win is dawning and there is almost a panic. It was a victory for prejudice, ignorance and stupidity. It made it acceptable to use racist language and to hate people for what they were, not who they were. The genie is out of the bottle.

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Interesting Times

27 Jun

We live in interesting times. Ever since the referendum result there have been people wandering around with worried expressions. There were four main groups who voted for Brexit, the blue-rinse/wogs begin at Calais Little Englanders, UKIP, ultra-nationalists such as Britain First and those wanting to kick against the system. Of those groups the fourth almost immediately realised that they were kicking against the wrong target and regretting their voting choice.

Looking at the faces of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove on Friday morning it was impossible to see any trace of joy, let alone triumph. They looked like Bialistock and Bloom when The Producers realised that they had a hit on their hands, despite producing the worst play in history. Neither are really conviction politicians and both almost immediately saw that they were in a very tricky position. Boris seemed to think that he would lose, or that if he won then Cameron would set Article 50 into effect immediately. Cameron just resigned instead.

It turns out that the Leave campaign had no plans what to do in the event of them winning. An interview on Sky News with an unnamed Tory Brexiteer proved that. Then Sarah Vine, AKA Mrs Michael Gove, wrote that we all need to get together in the too-late debate, after her husband had declared before the referendum that “Britain is fed up with experts”. He is certainly in need of expert help now.

In failing to set the EU divorce into decline, the nuclear option, Cameron has just shot their fox. Neither Boris nor Gove would be willing to press that particular red button, they are not THAT stupid. The entire campaign was to organise a political coup against Cameron, and it worked. Now Johnson is positioning himself as leader and is stuffed however that pans out. The Cameron loyalists will probably bring him down. Some of them know where the skeletons are hidden. And if he wins he will be unable or unwilling to activate Article 50, so will lose all credibility.

Now a piece of advice for Sarah Vine, and, by implication, Michael Gove. Like you, Mr Gove, I have read Machiavelli, only I see it as a Renaissance management techniques manual rather than a way to plot yourself into power. You can only retain the minimum of respect if you follow these steps.

  1. Get an intermediary to Cameron and plead forgiveness, and admit you were wrong.
  2. Tell him that you will scupper Boris’s bid for PM
  3. Tell him to wait a couple of weeks until prices go up and everyone can see the threat of Brexit from what is happening to their purse.
  4. Tell him that he can end his leadership with an act of statesmanship by recalling Parliament and giving a free vote on the issue.

Maybe after these steps you can be regarded as possessing some insight and wisdom and can be a background worker / junior minister in the next regime.

The Tories have been collecting money in a war-chest for some time now, and I am expecting a snap general election in the Autumn. That is why Labour are frantically trying to find someone more media friendly before then.

Tariffs

22 Jun

I was discussing the Exit debate with a young neighbour and she didn’t know what tariffs were. If you are under fifty you may not know. Tariffs are taxes on trade between countries. Before we were in the Common Market we had to have separate tariffs with lots of countries. It was a nightmare for employers / exporters.

Wars have been fought when trade was threatened by tariffs, for example https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opium_Wars. This isn’t morally defensible, but it happens.

Then there was the application of national standards for imported goods. Different countries had different specifications, so, for example, Land Rovers had to be built to a huge variety of specifications. Assembly lines were based on short runs and retooling, which is really inefficient.

I remember when there were strict rules on how much currency you were allowed to take out of the country and when you needed to get a visa when travelling to many countries.

The benefits of joining the Common Market were obvious. No tariffs, common specifications and regulated trade. Then there was the ability to travel without visas and take a reasonable amount of money with you. And then there was the added security of not having vicious trade disputes, but ones that could be regulated by a common court of law.

Oddly enough, the left wing of the Labour Party opposed the Common Market because they regarded it as a capitalist conspiracy. They were won over by the rules that led to fairer working practices and greater workplace safety. And I could also say, improved environmental standards for water and beaches.

So, if you want to go back to the situation we were in before we were in the Common Market, by voting to leave, please be aware that Britain was far from being a land of milk and honey.

Racism and the referendum

20 Jun

There has been a good deal said about the inherent racist views of some elements in the Leave campaign. It cannot be denied that various hard right groups are very keen on leaving. These people add racism to their warped vision of nationalism. But I thought I had better give a definition of what racism is. I take this from A C Grayling, again:

Racism

Racism is on its deathbed – the question is, how costly will the racists make the funeral?

MARTIN LUTHER KING

Almost everywhere one looks among present societies, race and racism make angry welts and deep wounds on the body politic. It is an irony that although racism is a reality, and a harsh one, race itself is a fiction. The concept of race has no genetic or biological basis. All human beings are closely related to one another, and at the same time each human being is unique. Not only is the concept of race entirely artificial, it is new; yet in its short existence it has, like most lies and absurdities current among us, done a mountain of harm.

The first classification of humans into races was mooted by Linnaeus, who recognised it as a mere convenience with no basis in nature. He employed the same criteria as in his botanical classifications, namely, outward appearance, giving rise later to the simplistic typing of all humans into ‘Caucasoid’, ‘Negroid’ and ‘Mongoloid’. But advances in genetics have demolished such taxonomies, by taking DNA as the criterion of classification. Linnaeus’s system says that one of Buddhism’s holy plants, the lotus, is related to the water lily; DNA comparison says it is related to London’s familiar and beloved plane tree.

In human terms DNA analysis dismantles the idea of race completely. ‘Race has no basic biological reality,’ says Professor Jonathan Marks of Yale University, ‘the human species simply doesn’t come packaged that way.’ Rather, race is a social, cultural and political concept based on superficial appearances and historical conditions, largely those arising from encounters with other peoples as Europe developed a global reach, with the slavery and colonialism that followed.

It was not only Linnaeus who knew that ‘race’ is a fiction. In the mid-nineteenth century E. A. Freeman famously discredited the whole of idea of ‘community of blood’, as did Ashley Montagu in the mid-twentieth century. Even Hitler knew it, despite making the concept central: ‘I know perfectly well … that in a scientific sense there is no such thing as race,’ he said, ‘but I as a politician need a concept which enables the order which has hitherto existed on historic bases to be abolished and an entirely new and antihistoric order enforced and given an intellectual basis … And for this purpose the concept of races serves me well .. , With the concept of race, National Socialism will carry its revolution abroad and recast the world.’

All human beings have the same ancestors. Human history is a short one; it is less than a quarter of a million years long, with the first migrations from Africa beginning half that time ago. The physical diversity of human populations today is purely a function of geographical accidents of climate and the isolation of wandering bands. The distinctions which have since been drawn between peoples are therefore arbitrary and superficial, even those relating to skin colour -for as a moment’s attention shows, there is simply no such thing as ‘white’, ‘black’ or ‘yellow’ people, there are people with many shades and types of skin, making no difference to any other aspect of their humanity save what the malice of others can construct.

To advance beyond racism one has to advance beyond race. But that goal is not helped by what Sartre called ‘anti-racist racism’, as with the Black Power movement and its cognates. It is understandable that communities which suffer prejudice and abuse should shelter behind a protective assumed identity, but identities grow rigid and become a source of new pieties, new excuses to repay evil with evil-and thereby indirectly entrench the very idea that lies at the root of the problem.

Racism will end when individuals see others only in individual terms. ‘There are no “white” or “coloured” signs on the graveyards of battle,’ said John F. Kenned; and there is a significant moral in that remark.

Nationalism and Brexit

15 Jun

WAlterErrington

This photo is of my late father, Walter Errington. He served throughout WWII, doing his patriotic duty for King and Country. Somehow he managed to avoid most of the glory, but saw a good deal of action. He fought through France and into Belgium where he was billeted on a local family. He found a lifelong friend in the son of the house, who joined the Belgium forces.  There were family visits both ways and I visited and played with his friend’s children.

My father was a working class Tory, but had no time for people who would thump the tub on patriotism and nationalism. I am sure that he would have voted to remain in at the referendum if he had lived.

I grew up after the War, in an age where nationalism was a dirty word. My father’s generation had fought against the National Socialists (Nazis), knew what nationalism led to and passed his attitude on to me.

I had a sleepless night wondering why the Brexit supporters seem to be immune to logic or evidence and was wondering how this could be challenged. I picked up a book by A C Grayling, ‘The Meaning of Things, Applying Philosophy to Life’. I really am that sad. Actually, I saw him speak at the Hay Festival and wanted to know more of his work. There is a mini chapter in the book on Nationalism, and I will include some of it here as it seems relevant to the referendum, and hope that he doesn’t sue me for breach of copyright. He seemed like a nice chap.

Nationalism

Nationalism is our form of incest, is our idolatry, is our insanity. ‘Patriotism’ is its cult.

Eric Fromm

Nationalism is an evil. It causes wars, its roots lie in xenophobia and racism, it is a recent phenomenon – an invention of the last few centuries – which has been of immense service to demagogues and tyrants but to no one else. Disguised as patriotism and love of one’s country, it trades on the unreason of mass psychology to make a variety of horrors seem acceptable,  even honourable. For example: if someone said to you, ‘I am going to send your son to kill the boy next door’ you would protest. But only let him seduce you with ‘Queen and Country!’, ‘The Fatherland!’ ‘My country right or wrong!’ and would find yourself permitting him to send all our sons to kill not just the sons of other people, but other people indiscriminately – which is what bombs and bullets do.

Demagogues know what they are about when they preach nationalism. Hitler said, ‘The effectiveness of the truly national leader consists in preventing his people from dividing their attention, and keeping it fixed on a common enemy.’ And he knew whom to appeal to: Goethe had long since remarked that: Nationalistic feelings ‘are at their strongest and most violent where there is the lowest degree of culture’.

Nationalists take certain unexceptionable desires and muddle them with unacceptable ones. We individually wish to run our own affairs, that is unexceptionable. Most of us value the culture which shaped our development and gave us our sense of personal and group identity; that too is unexceptionable. But the nationalist persuades us that the existence of other groups and cultures somehow puts these things at risk, and that the only way to protect them is to see ourselves as members of a distinct collective, defined by ethnicity, geography, or sameness of language or religion, and to build a wall around ourselves to keep out foreigners’, It is not enough that the others are other; we have to see them as a threat – at the very least to ‘our way of life’, perhaps to our jobs, even to our daughters.

When Europe’s overseas colonies sought independence, the only rhetoric to hand was that of nationalism. It had well served the unifiers of Italy and Germany in the nineteenth century (which in turn prepared the way for some of their activities in the twentieth century),and we see a number of the ex-colonial nations going the same way today.

The idea of nationalism turns on that of a ‘nation’. The word is meaningless: all ‘nations’ are mongrel, a mixture of so many immigrations and mixings of peoples over time that the idea of ethnicity is largely comical, except in places where the boast has to be either that the community there remained so remote and disengaged, or so conquered, for the greater part of history, that it succeeded in keeping its gene pool/pure’ (a cynic might say ‘inbred”.

Much nonsense is talked about nations as entities: Emerson spoke of the ‘genius’ of a nation as something separate from its numerical citizens; Giraudoux described the ‘spirit of a nation’ as ‘the look in its eyes’, other such meaningless assertions abound. Nations are artificial constructs, their boundaries drawn in the blood of past wars. And one should not confuse culture and nationality: there is no country on earth which is not home to more than one different but usually coexisting culture. Cultural heritage is not the same thing as national identity.

The blindness of people who fall for nationalistic demagoguery is surprising. Those who oppose closer relations in Europe, or who seek to detach themselves from the larger communities to which they belong  do well to examine the lessons of such tragedies as the Balkans conflicts, or – the same thing writ larger – Europe’s bloody history in the twentieth century.

 

To me that totally sums up the position of those wishing to leave. They are nationalists of the dog-whistle, demagogue variety. Their position is one one of extreme and unacceptable nationalism. My father, who knew a thing or two about nationalism, would have despised them.

Relativism and the Brexit debate

14 Jun

Relativism is the concept that points of view have no absolute truth or validity within themselves, but rather only relative, subjective value according to differences in perception and consideration.

In terms of debate and reporting, relativism equates to saying that all points of view are equally valid. The result of this is that one side of the debate might have all the evidence and verifiable arguments while the other side has little or no evidence to support their opinion, but both sides of the argument are given equal weight.

A case in point was last night when the BBC economics reporter stood in front of a blue screen graphic. On one side of this graphic was a pile of books labelled with the TLAs and FLAs* of international economic organisations such as the IMF. On the other side was a much smaller pile of books, (two actually), one of which appeared to be labelled ‘A Man’s Guide to Brexit’.

The actual position is that all, yes ALL, international and independent financial agencies think that the UK leaving the EU is a really bad idea. The BBC had to invent some title to put on the book on the other side because nothing actually exists. The reporter then explained the positions of the two sides in equal detail. The justification is that the BBC was trying to be even handed. In terms of providing unbiased information it is a disaster, and moral cowardice. If there is no evidence to back up the argument of one side, then that side is wrong, and the reporter should have said so.

Relativism is cowardly because the reporter was not providing the forensic weighting for fear of offending and dangerous because most people rely on information from ‘experts’ to tell them how good the argument is. In any field of study where evidence needs to be considered relativism is an intellectual sin.

The most popular newspapers, the Sun and the Daily Mail are not guilty of relativism#. They actually do not present the Remain campaign’s opinions at all, and just make personal attacks on the messengers. In other words, a large part of their reporting is unfiltered lies. This is what propaganda is in the modern world. Tell a lie often enough, over a long enough period and it will be regarded as the absolute truth.

One last rant, I keep hearing people say that they do not have the information and that politicians should provide the details for them. Many are just too bloody lazy to look anything up on Wikipedia or do not want their delusions challenged by reality.

*Three Letter Abbreviations and Four Letter abbreviations

# Philosopher Hilary Putnam, among others, states that some forms of relativism make it impossible to believe one is in error. If there is no truth beyond an individual’s belief that something is true, then an individual cannot hold their own beliefs to be false or mistaken. A related criticism is that relativizing truth to individuals destroys the distinction between truth and belief. That is why so many people get angry when you challenge their beliefs. They hold the view that if they believe something, then it must be true.

Empty promises

13 Jun

I was watching a Midlands version of the In / Out debate last night. But I had to stop watching because my blood pressure was rising. Lord Digby Jones accused Tristram Hunt of lying over a point on immigration. What Tristram Hunt said was utterly verifiable. Digby Jones did not apologise. I had hoped for a more from him than the UKIP guy, as you can never get any sense from a ‘Wogs begin at Calais’ moron anyway.

What really caused me to splutter was the very same Digby Jones’ assertion that we can negotiate a different sort of trade deal with the EU than that settled by Norway and Switzerland. Both these countries have to allow the free movement of EU citizens in their countries. So why should the EU not demand that of us as well? In fact, given what many leading Brexiteers, (All for out, and out for ourselves), say, then the EU would have to be very forgiving to allow us even that.

Further, Digby Jones said that we are not properly trading with the rest of the world, and that this was a great opportunity. So, just what planet are you from, Digby? It takes on average 28 months to negotiate a trade agreement. What do we do for nearly two and a half years until it comes into being? Do the Out campaign actually have ANY plans?

You see, there is this thing about trade deals, the bigger guy beats up the little guy. It is like a dairy farmer trying to sell his milk to a supermarket chain. You know who is going to end up shafted. So if we try to do a deal with China they would probably agree after five years negotiation, but we would need to agree to fully opening our markets while having to wait ten years for the reciprocal arrangement.

Dairy farmers have to get together as co-operatives to do the negotiations or the supermarkets just divide and conquer. So, why, when we already have a trade agreement via the EU would we want to put ourselves in a weaker position? And, take note, we have already seriously pissed off our friends and neighbours.

Finally some facts about last year’s immigration figures. Of the three hundred odd thousand, more than half were from outside the EU. We already have full control of that segment. We already have a points based system, like Australia. If you want to come to the UK from a non-EU country you have to jump through numerous hoops and fill in endless forms. We have not signed up to the Schengen Agreement that opens borders. Leaving the EU would probably result in no fewer immigrants.

As for the EU migrants, they are almost universally young and healthy, in work and paying taxes, and they tend to go home after a few years, unlike the British pensioners in Spain whose return really would put an extra burden on the NHS.

It is too easy to blame foreigners and immigrants for our own failings. For years we have blamed the EU for red tape and petty-fogging rules. How come other countries are less burdened than us? There are approximately 7,500 EU ‘Civil Servants’ and 400,000 British civil servants. We are imposing this burden on ourselves. A change to EU employment law justified a 124 page booklet in the UK and a single sheet of A4 paper printed on both sides by the Dutch. If you blame it on the EU everyone has a moan, but are moaning at the wrong target. There are no EU inspectors. None, zilch, nada.

Successive governments have failed to build enough houses, especially affordable houses. The result is a housing crisis almost on the scale seen after WWII. Are more houses built? Does the government have a policy at all? The policy is to let things drift and not interfere. This allows the racists to blame the problems on immigrants. They are such an easy target.

But, don’t you worry about any of that, just believe the distorted or fully invented figures tub-thumped by the Out campaign. The snake-oil salesmen of the campaign will promise anything and be able to deliver precisely diddly squat, apart from completely fucking up the economy.