Showing posts with label politics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label politics. Show all posts

Saturday, December 21, 2019

I had a weird dream last night.

I dreamed I went into a 24 hour shop on Stokes Croft. 

I dreamed it was mostly selling booze, but had some bread and milk and chocolate and polish cakes.

I dreamed there was a shiny electronic machine which said "Instantly By And Sell Crypto". 

I don't know what Crypto was: a drug? A friendly alien dog? But you could buy it and sell it instantly.

In my dream, I turned around, having bought some bread and some milk and some cheese (but no Cryptos) and saw a pile of tomorrow's papers. 

In my dream, the Prime Minister was a man named Boris. And the newspaper headline was "Boris Promises New Golden Age." 

I dreamed a dream my life would be so different from this hell I'm living. I see the English living in my houses and the the Spanish fishing in my seas. Bring me my amazing coloured coat.

Friday, December 13, 2019

You Told Me So


A few minutes ago I cancelled my Labour Party membership. 

I have at no point in the last four years been an active member of the Labour Party and I do not want a vote in the forthcoming leadership election. I am still a member of a Trade Union. I forget if my membership of Unison allows me to vote for Jeremy's successor, but if it does I will not exercise it. 

If I had a vote I would vote for the socialist candidate. But if Corbyn is succeeded by another socialist, there will be a further decade of sectarian strife between the right-wing (or "moderate") parliamentary party and the socialist (or "hard left") leadership. This would not, in fact deliver a future socialist government. The person who defeats Johnson or his successor in 2029 will be a Centrist -- someone very far to the right of Blair or even Obama, but still slightly to the left of Johnson and Trump. I could not possibly vote for such a person to be leader of the Labour Party, although he is the kind of leader the Labour Party clearly needs. So the honourable thing to do is to waive my right to cast a vote. 

I urge other socialists and Momentum supporters to do the same; we have done enough damage already. I think that we are rather in the position of evangelicals in the Church of England: we are, as a matter of fact, in the right, but it makes more sense to go away and be in the right in our own church rather than spend the next hundred years fighting for control of an institution which is working perfectly well on its own terms. 

I voted for Thangam in Bristol on Thursday and she was deservedly returned with a massive, albeit reduced, majority. She occasionally holds her surgeries in my place of work, and she shows every sign of being a charming and empathic person who relates well to her constituents. Her open letter during the last leadership campaign was one of the few honest and honourable criticisms of Jeremy Corbyn I read during the whole sorry episode. 

However, I wish to be free to vote tactically against Johnson's far-right English nationalists in any future election and tactical voting is incompatible with party membership. I would be strongly in favour of Momentum breaking away from the Centrist Labour party and offering a socialist alternative but I would not personally wish to become a member of such a party.

People are going to come up with a lot of reasons for last night's extreme English nationalist landslide. Hardly any of them will be right. 

Corbyn might have been a better leader and he might have been worse. Some of us found his understated well-meaning geography-teacher what-you-see-is-what-you-get personality refreshing after the fake sincerity of t.c Blair. Some people found it weak and uninspiring. Some of the same people who found him uninspiring accused his followers of being in thrall to his personal charisma; some of those who found him weak also said he was dangerously authoritarian. Nigel Farage should never have been allowed to manipulate David Cameron into calling a referendum; but once the referendum had been lost, Corbyn's policy of a second vote with a straight choice between a known deal and cancelling the whole show seemed to me to be the best way of playing a very poor hand. 

A lot of people said that a strong anti-Brexit position would have won Corbyn the election, yet the Liberals fought an election on a fantasy Revoke platform and were annihilated. Obviously a Lib-Lab coalition could have kept Johnson out of Downing street, but the Liberal party hates the Labour party and the Labour party hates coalitions and everyone hates the Greens. 

Corbyn's reluctance to explain to Ken Livingstone why you don't put the words "Hitler" and "Zionist" in the same sentence even if it's true was clearly an example of weak leadership. Anyone who takes seriously the idea that a Corbyn government would have threatened the existence of British Judaism or would have ushered in a second Holocaust is simply in thrall to myth-making by an over mighty billionaire press. We discovered, late in the election, just how far the Sun is prepared to go in spinning conspiracy theories. The imaginary lines from The Political Correctness Brigade and the Liberal Media and the Social Justice Warriors lead directly back to the Frankfurt Group, a covert organisation of Jewish intellectuals who are secretly working for the downfall of civilization as we now know it. But that obviously isn't even a little bit anti-Semitic. Ed Miliband -- then a dangerous Red, now the greatest Prime Minister we never had -- was vilified by those same papers for a disagreement with a rasher of bacon. 

Corbyn's weak leadership and Corbyn's anti-Semitism are excuses. So, in fact, is the Parliamentary Labour Party's relentless under mining of him, although I am sure that didn't help. 

Jeremy Corbyn lost the election because Jeremy Corbyn is a socialist and the British People do not want a socialist party in government. 

There: I have said it. 

Put another way: Corbyn was unelectable. 

Not because of his jumpers or his jam or his bicycle. Because of his politics. 

I am not the kind of Marxist who is prepared to say "Those are my principles: if you don't like them, I have others." I don't think it is the job of politicians to find out what people believe in and then to pretend to believe what the people believe. I think it is the job of politicians to believe in the right things and persuade other people that those things are right. I agreed with Jeremy Corbyn's ideas yesterday and I still agree with them today. 

I believe in "from each according to his ability to each according to his need". But I am prepared to settle for "an honest day's pay for an honest day's work." My belief that people who have done the honest work ought to also get the honest pay is by today's standards monstrously radical. I think that everyone with a job ought to get paid enough to feed, clothe and house themselves and their family; to educate their children; to go to the doctor if they get sick; and to have a little bit left over for beer and comic books. I don't mind how we achieve that. We can make the beer so cheap that even the poor can afford it; or we can pay the poor a lot more so they can afford the expensive beer. We can set wages so high that everyone can afford books; or we can lower the price of books so everyone can afford them.  We can drop books on slum districts out of Zeppelins, or we can have free libraries on the ground. I think the best approach would be for the workers (by hand or by brain) to have a general strike and demand a living wage. I think the second best approach would be for the government to tax the rich and use the money to pay for hospitals and schools and libraries. 

Yesterday; I still thought that democratic socialism was on offer. Literally until 10 o'clock I honestly thought Johnson would get a very small majority and that a Corbyn led Liberal-Labour-Green coalition would form the government. This morning, I don't think that democratic socialism is a possibility: not in my lifetime. (I am not about to collapse due to advanced senility. but I'll be doing well if I cast 5 more votes.) The alternative then -- the only other way on offer of securing an honest day's pay for an honest days work -- is to kill all the rich people. This I put in the category of eating a whole box of Maltesers in one go or spending the entire weekend looking at certain very tasteful adult websites. It's in the category of things "one would like to do, but feels one mustn't". I would probably regret it in the morning. Neither democratic socialism nor revolutionary socialism are on the table. So I suppose I am not a socialist any more. 

So: you told me that Corbyn was unelectable; you were right. 

You told me that a party leader needed to be a handsome young guy in a smart suit; you were right about that as well. 

You told me that the people didn't want socialism; you were right about that too. 

You told me that we should concentrating on electing a leader marginally less wicked than Johnson. You are probably right about that. Like the entomologist trying to decide which bug to put in his collection, it is probably sensible to choose the lessor of two weevils. 

Probably the best we can hope for is that 2029 gives us a Prime Minister who is Slightly Less Evil Than Boris. I wish you good luck; I will very probably vote for you. But excuse me if my support is less than enthusiastic. 

I am sending my £5.99 a month to the Trussell Trust. There are probably all sorts of clever reasons why that is not the charity which most deserves my support, and I look forward to ignoring them. I will ask my accountant to work out how much of my champagne money would have gone in income tax had Jeremy been elected and add that to my standing order in due course. 

I have not looked at any news media since midnight last night and I don't envisage restarting any time soon. I am going to largely abstain from Facebook and Twitter for the next several weeks at least.

I will stay as far away from politics on this blog as I possibly can: but I have lots of interesting articles on other subjects up my sleeve. Come back on Monday and find out what euphemism Jesus Christ employed to refer to the lavatory, and why this is actually Quite Interesting from a religious point of view.



I'm Andrew. I write about folk music, God, comic books, Star Wars and Jeremy Corbyn. I have no political opinions of any kind.

Or consider supporting me on Patreon (by pledging $1 for each essay)

Thursday, December 12, 2019

The statistical likelihood is that other civilizations will arise. There will one day be lemon soaked paper napkins. Til then, there will be a short delay.

Monday, November 25, 2019

This is an entirely hypothetical philosophical question.

Imagine that there are three trains, all out of control and without drivers, careening out of control towards the edge of a cliff; you have to choose one of them.

For some reason.

The first train is a racist train; hitched to an even more racist train; and backed up by a big racist train in America.

The second train is, according to some people, a bit racist, or at any rate, a bit slow at dealing with racism in its own carriages.

The third train is not at all racist.

As signalman, do you vote for the slightly racist train, which has a very real chance of winning.

Or do you vote for the not at all racist train and thus maintain your ideological purity, even though, this makes it practically certain, due to the first past the post signalling system, that the very racist train will win the election?

Purely hypothetically.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

A Black Day

Trying to work out how old I must have been at the time.

Primary school age. Before Star Wars but after Spider-Man.

Let us say that it was All Saints Day and that the Sunday School put on a pageant in which each child represented a real-life Saint.

Actually it was more elaborate than that. A full-length play in which both adults and children took part. Possibly it involved a man, possibly played by my Boys' Brigade captain, being questioned by Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates. Saint Peter had a big red book like Eamonn Andrews. I suppose he was played by the Minister. But it certainly involved children from the Sunday School proceeding around the church in the personas of various saints.

Someone recited The Son of God Goes Forth To War as we walked in. (*) I didn't know that "matron" just meant "an older woman" and "maid" simply "a younger woman". I took it that "the matron and the maid" meant "the woman in overall charge of a hospital, and also the woman who does the menial cleaning tasks." Childhood is full of those kinds of confusions.

"Which saint was Andrew selected to play?", you are all asking

I dressed up in a white shirt and a grown-up tie; and presumably some kind of jacket; and for reasons I do not quite understand, a false pair of glasses. This was before I had been prescribed glasses of my own. My "saint" was Martin Luther King, who I had never heard of. So naturally, I wore make-up on my face and my hands. Another girl in my class also wore make up. Of the same colour. I have literally no idea who she was pretending to be. Surely not Rosa Parkes? Mary Seacole was not much known-about in those days.

That narrows it down. I know that I did not wear glasses in Miss Beale's class and did wear them in Miss Griffiths's class. So I must have been eight years old, which takes us 1971 or 1972. Had it really only taken three years for M.L.K to become such a safe, uncontroversial figure that he could be represented in a children's Sunday School pageant? In England? A few years later the Minister mentioned in the course of a sermon that men like Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy, however flawed as human beings, could, in a very real sense, be seen as pictures of Jesus in our own age. I remember my father blustering that if they hadn't had "the extreme good fortune to be assassinated" he would still regard them both as far too "political" to mention from the pulpit.

Fast forward a couple of decades.

It is the middle 1980s. I am at college doing my second degree and playing more Dungeons & Dragons than is good for me. This was the period when I single-handedly and without precedent created the genre of "theater style" live action role-playing games out of my head.

I read it on the internet so it must be true.

A LARP is a game where you dress up in costume and fight monsters with rubber swords. A free-form game is a LARP where you dress up in costume and mostly talk to other people dressed up in costumes. Game guru Paul Mason once said that he couldn't take free form games seriously because they called to mind an image of Andrew Rilstone dressed in a blanket.

One of the freeform LARPs we ran was pirate themed. I think it was set in a dockside tavern. There were people with hooks who said "arr" and other people with hooks who also said "arr" and ladies disguised as cabin boys and kings' custom men disguised as beggars and a treasure map and a black spot and a cannibal witch doctor.

Dressed in leopard skin.

With a plastic bone though his nose.

And black make up.

I believe photographs exist. I would be mortified if anyone saw them.

It is a mistake to say that a racist thing is a thing done by a racist person and that it is therefore impossible for a non-racist person to do a racist thing. This was the circle which the editor of Doctor Who Monthly got into last year when the conversation turned back to Talons of Weng Chiang. Some people thought that the story, which involved a white actor in yellow make up playing a villain who was to all intents and purposes Fu Manchu, was racist. If the story was racist, then Robert Holmes and Phillip Hinchcliff were racists. But the editor had met Bob and Phil and there was no one in the world less racist than they were. Therefore Talons of Weng Chiang cannot possibly have been racist. So it follows that anyone perceiving racism in a story about a Chinese villain who says things like "I understand we all rook arrike?" had been infected with porritical collectness.

I imagine that there were people in my church in 1972 who I would now consider to be racists. There were certainly no black people in the congregation, or indeed the town. We were four years out from "rivers of blood", in a parliamentary constituency which had not returned a Labour MP since 1945. From time to time we had a lady come to talk to us about Home Missions, which meant "children less well off than ourselves" and another to talk to us about Overseas Missions which meant "children in far away lands". There is nothing wrong with sending charity to foreign countries and I doubt if Methodist missionaries at that time were much given to marching into native villages and burning their religious shrines. But there was an undercurrent of grass huts and primitivism about the whole thing. Poor benighted heathens who needed our pennies if they were ever going to learn to read or write.

You can see it in Blue Peter as well: poor strange dark skinned children who won't have anything to eat unless we send them our old teddy bears. Do they know its Christmastime at all? People still told us without irony that we had to eat the burned scrambled egg because they were starving in Africa.

I do not think that there was the slightest racist intention in the first of my two forays into blackface, which is not the same as saying that it wasn't racist. No-one was consciously making fun of black people. Certainly no-one was consciously making fun of Martin Luther King. One little white boy in a collection of twenty little white boys had put black boot polish on his face. Others presumably had swords and dragon-heads and collections of injured animals. Someone's mum had to produce a John Wesley costume.

I would have to place it in exactly the same category as my much-loved and now disintegrating gollywog. The lady who made the toy and put into the sale-of-work was not a racist. My granny, who bought the thing and put it in my Christmas stocking was not a racist. My parents, who let me play with it, were not racists. I was certainly not a racist toddler. And yet there it was: my favourite toy, a Jim Crow caricature of a black man.

We couldn't see the wood for the trees. Which is to say we couldn't see the racism because of all the racism. Lenny Henry was a regular guest star on the Black and White Minstrels. Jim Davidson told Chalkie White jokes in front of the Queen. Robertson's Jam had a gollywog on the label. (He finally retired as recently as 2002.) "Maybe you could think of a contemporary Christian hero which didn't involve blacking up a nine-year-old?" was not a question which had occurred to anyone.

Once someone asked the question, everyone knew the right answer. Nearly everyone. The world split neatly into the majority who said "Dear God in heaven what were we thinking of?" and those who said "We didn't mean anything by it then we don't mean anything by it now so we are going to damn well buy MORE gollywogs to stick it to the liberals."

The live action role playing incident is completely inexcusable, although I hope everyone see the difference between "inexcusable" and "unforgivable". I can hardly believe it happened. The most I can say in my defense is that everyone did stupid things while they were students. A friend of mine immersed himself in a bath of green poster paint in order to play the role of a goblin, and found the next morning that the stuff was almost impossible to remove. Another friend found that he was the only boy who had signed on to a course about feminist literature. He attended the final seminar of term in full drag. And I am told that some of the more sporty students, who were not on speaking terms with us D&D nerds, would occasionally take the bet to run out of the changing room showers and do a lap of the sports center with nothing on.

We didn't think we were doing something awful. I don't think we even thought that we were doing something a little bit naughty, like the streakers and the drag. It was just the kind of thing that people did. RPGs deal in broad, over the top caricatures. There had to be pirates who said "Ahh, bejabbers, me hearties, belay and belike" and admirals who said "I say, blast the bally blighters, what?" and Frenchmen who said "Sacre bleu, oh la-la." So naturally there had to be witch doctor who said "Dis um some powerful magic man."

There are lots of things in my life which I am acutely embarrassed about. Embarrassing memories creep up on me in the street for no reason and make me literally cry out, or bite my own fingers to distract myself. They are nearly all examples of social gaffs and being a show-off. There was one Boys Brigade camp when a different boy was invited to lead prayers each night. This generally ran to "Thank you God for a lovely day, and thank you for the ladies who cooked the sausage stew." When it was my turn I took it upon myself to explain to the assembled multitudes, including the vicar, what I understood by the doctrine of the Trinity. I would like to say that I am acutely embarrassed about having blacked-up for a role-playing game; that I come out in a cold-sweat whenever I think about it. But I don't. I ought to, but I don't. In fact, the only feeling I have about that long-ago evening is a vague sense of pride because I improvised a passably decent one-liner on the spur of the moment.

Cannibal Witch Doctor: To work magic, put powder in mouth, go to bad man, and spit in face.
Governor's Beautiful Daughter: In his face, or in my own face?
Cannibal Witch Doctor: You know how spit in own face, you got more powerful magic than me!

I am offering this up as a piece of data. I ought to be embarrassed, but as a matter of fact, I am not.

In 1972, I didn't know any better. In 1985, I damn well should have done. But apparently I didn't. Neither did anyone else. Not the person who scripted the game (one of the most right-on guys I've ever met). Not the other players, at least one of whom I believe to have been a left-wing student union rep. Not the astonishingly humourless joke-shop man who sold me the plastic bone. ("I can also do you a bone through the neck, if you'd like one.")

"Would you have done it if there had been any black people in your RPG group?"

Of course not. But there weren't. Which is probably the point.

"What would you say if someone asked you do it now?"

I would say dear god have you entirely taken leave of your senses fucking hell of course not. And if Present Day me could walk in on Past Me, preferably before he put the damn make up on, I would say for goodness sake Rilstone what the hell are you thinking of?

I don't know if bad words or bad costumes or bad make up or bad jokes are less bad in some context than others. I don't know if "Yes, I did say the n-word, but I was rehearsing a play" is ever an excuse, or a partial excuse, or a mitigating factor. I am disinclined to believe that some words and concepts exist as free-floating signifiers, obscene or racist regardless of where you say them and who you say them to. Mrs Mary Whitehouse believed that merely pronouncing the f-word caused concrete social harm. Anne Widdicombe MEP claimed to be physically unable to watch even one minute of In The Thick of It, even after she had agreed to appear on a talk show in which people try out things they don't think they will like. I think they would both have struggled to see any difference between the rugby club prank and a pervert displaying himself to young children in the park.

Jonathan Miller thinks that theater is a special space where anything goes. Could I argue that a live-action role-playing game is a highly stylized piece of improvised theater, so what is permissable for the RSC to do at Stratford is acceptable for the SF&F Soc to do in meeting room L049? Is the stage so sacred so that words and actions which would be unacceptable anywhere else become magically sanctified? I suppose the arch represents an invisible barrier: you aren't in the same room as a naked dude or being sworn at by someone, you are looking at them or listening to them through a mirror or across a wall. I wouldn't take my clothes off on stage for any money. And some sort of subversive racism for a high artistic purpose is a lot different from me playing a stereotype in what was basically a pantomime.

I suppose that they still do Aladdin as panto, and I suppose that it is still set in China and I can't believe they cast exclusively Asian actors. Dear dear Sir Ian once played Widow Twanky, but he conceptualized her as an English lady who had once married a Chinese sailor. Has the D'Oyley Cart quietly dropped the Mikado from its repertoire?

The past is a foreign country. I was an asshole when I was in my twenties and when I am in my eighties I will think that I was an asshole when I was in my fifties. You shouldn't judge someone on the basis of one stupid thing they did a long time ago. I am not a racist: I once did a racist thing. I once did a racist thing: therefore I am a racist. If your society permits gollywogs and minstrel shows and Jim Davidson and what-not then even people who are not racists feel some how permitted to put bones through their noses. People who are racists feel permitted to do very much worse. White people can't see racism when it is literally painted on their faces. "Check your privilege" is not just a cliche. There is stuff which you and me and everyone else are doing now which twenty years down the time line is going to make everyone say "What the hell were we thinking?" So think about what you are doing before you do it. I never wanted to be president of Canada in the first place.


(*)A noble army, men and boys
The matron and the maid
Around the Saviour's throne rejoice
In robes of light arrayed
They climbed the steep ascent of heaven
Through peril, toil and pain
O God to use may grace be given
To follow in their train.







I'm Andrew. I write about folk music, God, comic books, Star Wars and Jeremy Corbyn.

Or consider supporting me on Patreon (by pledging $1 for each essay)




Friday, September 27, 2019

You have to remember that the alt-right truly and sincerely hate us.

They think that the only thing which "liberals" have in common is that they we lie about everything, all the time.

They sincerely believe that those of us who went to state schools are sub-human zombies.

They honestly believe that there is secret organization (the Cultural Marxists, the Political Correctness Brigade, the S.J.W) working towards the downfall of civilization, and they honestly believe that this organisation controls schools and media and universities and have invented lies about climate change and vaccination and media studies and evolution and the world being round.

The Daily Mail literally ran a headline: "How the BBC fell victim to a plot to destroy civilization as we know it."

For these people "goodness" and "decency" are not real.

The worst thing they can call someone is "do-gooder" and "goody-goody".

Anyone who wants to make the world nicer is "virtue signalling" or "politically correct", that is to say, insincere.

Instead of goodness, they have a vestigial belief in "purity" which some of them associate with the Christian church. But their purity rules, like their schools, only exist to separate the world into "us" and "them", people who know the rules and people who do not. The rules of sex and the rules of grammar are about equally important. Dudes can't marry dudes or wear frocks. Children have to use the subjunctive and fronted adverbials. Everyone has to salute the flag or sing the national anthem in exactly the right way. If those rules were ever broken -- if we let gay people get married and started ending sentences with "by", "with", or "from" -- it would mean the end of civilization. They literally say this.

These people are not shocked when Johnson speaks ill of Jo Cox. In their mind Jo Cox was an SJW and a traitor and a virtue signaler and a snowflake and a liar and a LIBERAL. They are not horrified when politicians seem to incite violence against remainer MPs, because in their minds remainers are consciously working against the common good; pretending to support the common market, insincere, traitors, virtue signalers, snowflakes -- LIBERALS.

The majority of the Conservative Party are not part of this alt-right apocalypse cult, but the architects of Brexit and the press barons clearly are -- or at any rate, they are prepared to dance to their tune.

Witness the odious Quentin Letts in today's Times sneering about all the "halos" on display in the Commons. The voices raised against Johnson were not merely mistaken: they were insincere; because liberals always lie about everything; because goodness does not exist.

Witness the odious  Farage's positioning of himself along side alt-right poster boy Donald Trump.

The alt-right fooled America, and game-played the constitution, and inserted their guy into the White House.

I do not think that it is a foregone conclusion that, if there is ever another election, the British would do the same thing. I don't think that the majority of Brits are socialists or liberals or Liberals, and I don't think that we are any wiser or cleverer than Americans, on the whole. But I think that we have been brought up to believe in Fair Play and Sportsmanship and to dislike Bullies and and be skeptical of Con-Men and to think that Lord Snooty and Bertie Wooster need to fall on their arses, spelt with an R, from time to time.

Also queuing and tea.

But there is no point in appealing to the decency of the alt-right. There ain't no such animal.





I'm Andrew. I write about folk music, God, comic books, Star Wars and Jeremy Corbyn.

Or consider supporting me on Patreon (by pledging $1 for each essay)



Thursday, September 19, 2019

You remember that old Bernard Manning gag?

"I know I tell off-colour jokes. But I don't mean it. Deep in my heart I want the Roman Catholics and the Church of Ireland  -- along with all the Jews and the Atheists, the Muslims and the Hindus and the Sikhs -- to come together in one great brotherhood...and beat up the bloody Methodists."

I think of that every time a politician talks about "delivering Brexit" and then "bringing the country together."

*

Is it at this point too late to consider all the benefits of a Conservative / Labour alliance? 

The Liberals want to Revoke Article 50, but stand no chance of forming a government on their own, and will not form an coalition with Labour under any circumstances. Even though Labour want a fresh referendum with Revoke Article 50 as one of the options. 

The Tories say they want to Leave with a Better Deal than they one we have already agreed, but aren't seriously trying to negotiate one. Labour really does want a Better Deal, although they would really prefer to Remain. 

So: the best solution is to send Boris and Jeremy to Brussels together, as PM and deputy PM and come back with a deal that all the parties will have to accept. So Boris doesn't get his beloved No Deal, but at least he avoids the humiliation of revocation. Jeremy doesn't get to Remain, but at least he avoids the disaster of No Deal. And the Liberals get to spend the next twenty years saying "I told you so" and "I blame Jeremy Corbyn". 

So as in all the best compromises, everyone is equally unhappy.

The time is right. It will work. And no-one will have to get nailed to anything.

Except the common people.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

A Little Bit of Bread And No Cheese

we are totally totally fucked

the liberals who want a second referendum with remain as one of the options and the labour party, who want a second referendum with remain as one of the option are going to spend the next election fighting each other

so whatever happens the next government will be a coalition between johnson's reimagined alt-right tories and farage's fascist tribute act 

the most likely ballot box result to the extent that ballots actually matter any more is still tories largest single party but unable to form a government with the liberals and labour having enough mps to form a working majority between them 

but it seems that any lib/lab coalition is ruled out from the start

so we are totally fucked

yellowhammer is the least of our worries 

some of us may die 

remember statistically it is not likely to be you 

but most of us will presumably not die 

there will be food shortages and medicine shortages and riots and martial law nation will rise again nation and there will be earthquakes and famines in various parts of the earth but  probably more fascists will get shot than non fascists and more old people will die than young people and it will all be over long before jodie whitaker regenerates 

assuming there is a still a BBC

is the whole point of the excercise to provide a pretext for martial law i wonder? the right love martial law. it's just like dad's army and the venture scouts 

but afterwards 

afterwards boris... 

aftewards the people operating boris will get what they have always wanted and the damage will take centuries to undo 

no more trades unions no more health and safety laws very low tax and therefore presumably no more of what we used to mean by state education and certainly no more free health care at the point of need

the NHS will continue to exist as a branding concept 

remember that pageant before the olympic games in twenty twelve? 

one of the tableaux insinuated that the national health service was something to be proud of and that nurses were quite a good thing and the right wing press said that this was propaganda and political correctness gone mad

buccaneering britain a northern singapore complete presumably with hanging and flogging but without noodles or cocktails

in that world there will be no place for people like me 

in fairness in that world there will be no place for people like boris johnson either but he is too stupid to see that 

no trendy colleges where we learn critical theory and play dungeons and dragons but no posh schools where we play rugger and learn about homer either just just grandgristic utilitarianism institutes preparing us to be buccaneering tiger sixteen hours a day flexible high skills low pay employment at will zero hours gourmet pork pie factory

that's assuming they don't really hang us from lampposts

i don't know if mine interlocutor is correct that boris is at heart in the american sense a liberal.

but i am quite sure that none of the sacred liberal cows like multiculturalism and hospitals will survive in buccaneering brexit boris britain 

liberal tears 

smash corbyn

still not tired of winning 

we are fucked

tony doesn't want labour to win if jeremy is in charge

tony doesn't want labour to win if jeremy is in charge even if that were possible 

tony thinks jeremy's ideas are wrong ideas

well tony doesn't put it in those terms because tony doesn't think in terms of right and wrong 

tony thinks in terms of new and old and he thinks that jeremy's ideas are old

workers rights and trades unions and trains which people can afford to ride on and hospitals which are not mortgaged to fast food companies are old fashioned ideas 

i get that 

tony doesn't like jeremy because jeremy is a socialist and tony never was 

i understand why my local MP who i have an awful lot of time for doesn't like jeremy

she doesn't like jeremy because she does't think he is a particularly good leader 

not in the sense of rah! rah! rah! leader! leader! leader! but in the sense of managing people and organizing stuff and running departments and running the country 

she doesn't think he is very good at that 

but so far as i can see the jeremy who jo has ruled out having an alliance with labour ever ever ever even though it means boris and the end of the world is the jeremy of faith 

the jeremy of the right wing papers the jeremy who was created by the people who operate boris 

it turned out to be anti-semitism it could just as well have turned out to be a bacon sandwiches or the national anthem 

it doesn't matter 

there cannot be an anti brexit alliance because jeremy 

therefore we are all fucked 

and yes maybe if the socialists had never voted for the socialist we wouldn't be in this mess 

and yet my own oath holds and thus we are all ensnared

what am i going to do

i have a bucket under the sink which catches water from a slightly dripping pipe. i have one in the corner of the bathroom with a mop in it. i think there is a metal bucket in the shed which was already there when I bought the flat, and somewhere I have one of those purple plastic buckets that I used to make sandcastles with when I was a kid 

i am going to do what i always said i would do in the face of the zombie apocalypse

call up old friends

listen to penguin eggs one last time. 

reread moby dick

set up a large and complex star wars role playing game for as long as the internet holds out 

if we are going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things 

praying working, teaching reading listening to music bathing the children playing tennis chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts

not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs 

i am going to live as much like a narnian as i can even though we are definitely leaving narnia come all hallows eve

we are totally fucked 




I'm Andrew. I write about folk music, God, comic books, Star Wars and Jeremy Corbyn.

Or consider supporting me on Patreon (by pledging $1 for each essay)










Monday, September 16, 2019

P.S

Richard points out that I have mixed up two different plays. The peril in the play by Ibsen was not a shark, but a complete different kind of marine creature. This is why it was called Anemone of the People.

Richard also points out Ibsen sets up a very Norwegian moral dilemma in the Hall of the Mountain King sequence in Pier Gynt, This is why it is always referred to as a Troll-ey problem.

Finally, Lawrence Miles points out that during his run for Mayor, Boris Johnson literally said that the Mayor in Jaws was in the right.

Hulk through with political analogy. Hulk want cookie.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

3D6+1

Didn't intend to write this.

Intended to write about Christopher Robin.

Wrote this instead.

If you want to read the beginning of the argument, which I wouldn't recommend, it is in the comment section beneath my piece about coups and referenda.

S.K is arguing that if you are not going to obey a referendum there is no point in having one; and that indeed going against a referendum involves a patronizing disregard for the opinions of ordinary people.

I invoked a famous play by Ibsen as a counter example.

The play is set in a beach resort. In Norway. At the beginning of the play, a pretty girl is eaten by a shark. The chief of police, having consulted with all the top shark experts, decides to close the beach, because the shark is bound to strike again. But the people of the town, who make their living selling ice cream and running hotels, have a meeting, and the democratic will of the people determines that the pretty girl probably wasn't eaten by a shark, or that if she was, there is no reason to think that the shark will come back, and that if it does, it is almost certainly a vegan shark. The police chief obeys the will of the people and the next morning a little boy becomes the shark's dinner.

This leads the police child to his famous conclusion:

“The majority never has right on its side. Never, I say! Who is it that constitute the majority of the population in a country? Is it the clever folk, or the stupid? I don't imagine you will dispute the fact that at present the stupid people are in an absolutely overwhelming majority all the world over. But, good lord! — you can never pretend that it is right that the stupid folk should govern the clever ones.”

There is also syphilis. And an excellent score by John Williams. Or possibly Edvard Grieg.

Now read on:


The proposition is "we must always obey the voice of the people". Once you have had a plebiscite you have to obey it otherwise there was no point in having a plebiscite in the first place and democracy falls.

This is currently the only argument being made for Brexit. No-one any longer pretends that there is any practical case for Brexit. The only argument anyone is making for Brexit is the democratic principal

Ibsen's story about the shark is an example of a trolley problem—a concrete ethical dilemma intended to interrogate a supposed moral principal.

Lots of people say that they believe in "the greatest happiness to the greatest number". We have to act like the sailor who found that both his remaining ships' biscuits had been nibbled by disgusting insects, and chose the lessor of two weevils.

But it turns out that if you give them a concrete example, a lot of people no longer chose the utilitarian path. Suppose you are the signalman on a railway and suppose that a train-full of children is hurtling towards a cliff edge. As signalman, you can move the points and divert the train onto a different track. But unfortunately a pretty lady has been chained to the other track by her wicked uncle, the Hooded Claw, who wants to steal her inheritance.

Do you pull the lever?

Most people answer "no". They think that if they were actually in that position they would rather do nothing and let the kids die than do something and directly cause the death of the pretty lady.

This doesn't prove that utilitarianism is wrong, exactly but it does prove that at some deeper level most people are deontologists.

"Oh, but as a matter of fact, a German officer is not in the process of raping my grandmother."

"But as a matter of fact I am not the acting Captain of a Star Fleet vessel, and my best friend has not been taken over by the Borg collective, so the question doesn't arise.

"No, you are mistaken, I have never been down the road from Jerusalem to Jericho and even if I have I certainly have never seen an injured man lying by the wayside, so it's a silly question".

"I have never stolen a loaf of bread in my life, and so far as I know there is no-one living who is my exact double and even if there is they are certainly not in any danger of being sent to the galleys in my place. It seems like a very unlikely set of circumstances, if you ask me."

Well, quite. But hypothetical questions are interesting precisely because they are hypothetical.

In Ibsen’s scenario Roy Schieder has to decide between acting on his own convictions and on the advise of experts and closing the shark-invested beach or following the democratically expressed will of the people and allowing it to remain open. I asked SK what they would have done in the police chief's situation and they wouldn't answer.

I deemed that "not answering the question" was the same as "not pulling the lever". The beach is left open. A small boy is eaten by a shark. 

What follows from this?

Should we say "The policeman did a bad thing by obeying the will of the people: he should have ignored it and done what the experts told him and what he personally believed was right."

Or should we rather say "The policeman did a good thing by obeying the will of the people because the will of the people is always to be obeyed without question. It is better that one child be eaten than that the will of the whole people be circumvented."

Do we say "We should obey the will of the people even though it is clearly stark raving mad. The law which says 'obey referenda' overrides the one which says 'prevent children from being eaten by sharks'."

Or do we say "We should obey the will of the people because as a matter of fact, the people can never be wrong or mistaken. The fact that the people want a thing is sufficient evidence that the thing is right, and if the facts say otherwise than the facts are undemocratic."

SPOILER: Everyone knows that we will in practice go with the last option. The people voted to let the little boy go swimming. The people are always right. It follows that there was no shark. It follows that no child was killed. Richard Dreyfuss was engaged in project fear. The dead boy is Fake News. The body you saw being pulled out of the water was a crisis actor. This is literally what would happen and what is already happening. That is the world we are now living in. That is the inevitable result of blind allegiance to the people's will.

Of course, Ibsen's conclusion that majorities are always wrong is not literally true. If it were then you could infallibly arrive at the right decision in all cases by having a vote and going along with the minority view. I don't think that is workable. In a multiple choice question, would you go with the second most popular option, or would you go with the option which had least votes? Or do you look at what the majority votes for and do the opposite? And anyway, pretty soon, people would be smart enough to work the system and refrain from voting for the position they agreed with. Like when Miles Morales deliberately got 0% in a test and the teacher realized that the only way of doing that was by knowing all the correct answers.

Anyway, the claim is not that the majority is always wrong, only that it is never right.


So: the example of the shark establishes that it is morally justifiable to disobey the will of the people when the will of the people is fucking stupid. (This would also apply in the case of, say, a health spa where the water was infected with tuberculosis. Just saying.) That is: there is at least one circumstance in which the will of the people should not be obeyed. So the proposition "the will of the people must always be obeyed" falls: the most we can say is that the will of the people must usually be obeyed, or that it must be obeyed except in the most exceptional circumstances, or in short that the will of the people must sometimes be obeyed and sometimes not.

So, very boringly, the question becomes "how do we find out that if this is one those cases where the will of the people should be disregarded?". And the boring answer is "By looking at the evidence; by asking hard questions of the experts; by applying our innate moral judgement and whatever moral authorities we believe in; by discussing it in great forensic detail in a committee or a court room."

A long time ago, about last Tuesday, none of this would have been necessary. We would not have had to introduce sharks and TB infested water and out of control trolley cars into the question. We would merely have pointed out that referenda would not have approved the decriminalisation of homosexuality, the extension of the franchise to women, or the abolition of hanging. In those far off days, no-one would have dreamed of saying that we should have carried on locking up gay people on general democratic principles. At least, no one worth paying any attention to. Nowadays populism is all the rage and it is only a matter of time before someone says that it was undemocratic of Wilberforce to abolish the slave trade until this drastic step had been approved by the will of the people as expressed in a referendum.

Interestingly enough, SK says that the hyper emotive question of capital punishment is one which it would be sensible and reasonable to put to a referendum. And indeed, people who like strangling people have been saying for sixty years, very probably correctly, that a referendum on the subject would result in a pro-strangling majority.

It seems to me that this is a desperately bad augment and demonstrates the exact problem why referenda are never a good idea.


Capital punishment, simply as such, does not exist. What exists are particular laws and constitutions which allow people to strangle other people under certain specific circumstances. If you repealed the 2001 Human Rights act and restored the death penalty for high treason, piracy, naval sabotage and impersonating a Chelsea pensioner, then you would have "brought back" capital punishment. If you repealed the 1963 murder act and restored the death penalty for five specific and rare categories of murder, you would have "brought back capital punishment". The state of California has capital punishment: it asphyxiates serial killers at the rate of about one a decade. China has the death penalty: it thinks nothing of shooting several hundred people for tax evasion and corruption every Monday before breakfast. A certain vocal minority of Boris Johnson's supporters thinks that Remain voters should be hanged, specifically from lampposts. (Which seems a little impractical. They ought to watch that film with Timothy Spall.)

So: you can't simply have a referendum on "capital punishment". So far as I can see you have two options. Either your referendum says "the next time the government reconsiders the criminal justice laws, do you give them permission to consider strangulation as one possible criminal penalty for certain crimes?" The government would then go away and look at all the arguments in favour of capital punishment, of which there are none, and say "We've had a very good look at this, but we've decided that the present system of life without parole being the worst possible punishment is working just fine."

The other option is for the government to have the long, boring discussion first, and to come up with a parliamentary bill which includes strangulation as one of the options. They could then ask the public to approve or disapprove of that specific law. So the question is not "in a general way, would you be okay with us occasionally strangling someone?". It would be more like "do you endorse section 53 of the criminal justice (strangulation) bill?".

I understand that this is how the Irish system works. They don't take a popularity poll. ("Gay marriage—love it or hate it?") They say "Here is a new law that the government has written, which changes the definition of marriage in the following way, with lots of dull small print about divorce and adoption and inheritance. Do you endorse or reject this new law?"


Now, the Irish system has the advantage of not being obviously insane. But legislation is by definition long, boring and difficult to understand: so you are asking Seamus Public to endorse or reject something he has probably not read. The MPs have spent hours and weeks and months in committees listening to evidence from lawyers and psychologists and people who have been murdered, and gone through the law with a fine-tooth comb to make sure that every single word makes legal sense. How is it sensible to give people who were not at the meetings the final say?

And then what happens next? Suppose the motion put before the Popular Will is, in effect, "go through Criminal Justice laws; delete 'life imprisonment'; replace with 'death sentence'." Does this bind all judges for the rest of time to hand down death sentences where they would previously have sent people to jail? If a judge hands down a lessor sentence, or accepts a plea of mitigation, or if the Queen or the Home Secretary commute a sentence, is the Daily Hate within its rights to say "Traitor! Enemy of the People! Hanging Means Hanging!" And what about five or ten years down the line? After the tenth or twentieth innocent person has been strangled? Is the government of the day entitled to say "we've looked at the evidence, this isn't working, we are going back to how we were before and sending murderers to prison"? Is the Daily Hate not allowed to say "the people gave you a one off irrevocable instruction to start strangling people: if you go against it you are an enemy of the people!"

Enemy of the People is the title of the play about the shark, incidentally, although most experts now think "a public enemy" is a better translation. There's also one with a duck in it.

There is more.

SK says that the question of capital punishment could reasonably be put to a public vote because it is a question without a correct answer. It depends on fundamental moral values, apparently. 


This is of course exactly what people who are on the losing side of an argument always say. No-one ever says "Oh, I am afraid I just have a gut feeling that the world is round and there is no way you can convince me otherwise, nor should you want to. We will just have to agree to differ." It is Tony Blair, when his positive case for invading Iraq falls apart, who says "I just happen to kinda feel sincerely that killing Saddam is the right thing to do, and only God can judge me." It is David Cameron when he has exhausted the sensible arguments in favour of first-past-the-post elections who says "This is not the kind of question that you can answer rationally. I just know deep in my heart that single transferable vote is unBritish".

I reject the idea that one's support for or opposition to capital punishment necessarily rest on unarguable moral assumptions. I think that one can demonstrate that capital punishment is wrong in principal and useless in practice by the use of logic, evidence, moral principles, and common sense. Hanging enthusiasts would doubtless wish to point out flaws in my logic, challenge my evidence, and cast doubt on my moral principles: this precisely proves the point that it is the sort of question about which you can have an argument. (It was Prof Lewis's go-to example of "a question on which good people can disagree", a thing which is "not certainly right, but not certainly wrong either".)

It may perhaps be true that some people maintain their support for or opposition to capital punishment regardless of the arguments one way or the other. This may be what SK means by "fundamental moral values". One guy says "I know that capital punishment has no tendency to reduce the murder rate; is more expensive than prison to administer; and will certainly result in the killing of many innocent people; but I don't really care, I just kinda like the idea of bad people getting strangled." The other guy says "I know that natural justice and retribution are sound moral principles; I accept that some people are so wicked that they will never reform and I concede that killing someone is hardly less cruel than incarcerating them for life, but I don't really care, the idea of the state employing someone to ritually strangle other people disgusts and appalls me." If anything, these are aesthetic premises rather than moral ones. I think that killing someone in cold blood is ugly; you think that the suffering of a bad person is beautiful.


You might, I suppose, go a stage further and say that all of our so-called-arguments are really only ever post-hoc justifications for our aesthetic preferences. You say that you are concerned with deterring crime, but really, you just have a gut level liking for hanging people. I say I am concerned with the possibility of killing an innocent person, but really, I am just squicked out by the idea of executions. It might even be that all arguments are like that. We just as well abandon all that pesky evidence and logic and vote with our guts.

That's another reason why referenda are so dangerous. In order to justify them we have to reduce complicated questions to gut feelings and then say that gut feeling are the only feelings which matter.

I think this country has had quite enough of experts.

I agree with A. J Ayer that moral questions can't be answered in a vacuum. The question "Is capital punishment right or wrong?" is literally meaningless: you have to ask "Is capital punishment right or wrong according to Christian morality?" or "according to the universal declaration of human rights?" or "according to the principle of the greatest good to the greatest number?" So it might be that after carefully weighing up all the pros and cons we find that I am opposed to capital punishment because I am a Christian, and you support capital punishment because you are a utilitarian. But it doesn't follow that no communication is possible and we might just as well have a straw poll and find out whether my lot outnumber your lot. We could have a grown-up discussion about whether our present constitution requires us to base our decisions on Christian or Utilitarian principles; and if that fails; about how we decide which set of principles should be enshrined in the constitution; and whether that is itself an ethical question, and so on "back to the original and highly controversial creation of the universe".

But perhaps there are "beliefs" which are even deeper and holier and more axiomatic than "I am a Christian", "I am an humanitarian", "I am a Tottenham Hotspur supporter." Perhaps we are looking for a unified field theory of morals. If you say "Anyone who has killed anyone else must be killed", I can say "And why do you think that?" If I say "No-one should kill anyone else under any circumstances", you can say "And what would happen if everyone agreed with you?" Perfectly good questions with perfectly good answers. As long as you can carry on asking questions, you haven't got to a first principle. Why is the sky blue? Because of the way the atmosphere refracts the visible spectrum. Why does the atmosphere refract the visible spectrum in that way? Because of the chemical properties of the gases which it is composed of. Why is the atmosphere composed of those gasses...

But if we keep digging for long enough, perhaps we will discover some fundamental bottom level gut
level archetypal irreducible heartfelt foundational beliefs that can never change or be questioned. Maybe it is like, I don't know, gender, or your True Name: a thing which is part of you on the inside and which no one else can know or challenge. The Bishop of Woolworths talked about The Ground of Our Being and said that these irreducible heartfelt foundation beliefs are what we are really talking about when we talk about God. And perhaps your fundamental bottom level gut level archetypal irreducible heartfelt foundational beliefs are different from my fundamental bottom level gut level archetypal irreducible heartfelt foundational beliefs. Perhaps my FBLGLAIHFB says that what is ultimately of value is Freedom. And perhaps your FBLGLAIHFB says that what is ultimately of value are Extensive Collections of Different Varieties of Rare and Exotic Newts.

Newts versus freedom.

Freedom versus newts.

Across such a chasm there can be no further communication.

Whereof we cannot speak thereof we should be silent.


I'm done.






I'm Andrew. I write about folk music, God, comic books, Star Wars and Jeremy Corbyn.

Or consider supporting me on Patreon (by pledging $1 for each essay)