A Mind @ Play

random thoughts to oil the mind

Category: Politics Page 2 of 9

Brexit Bullshit

Back in the UK for a while watching the Brexit bullshit slowly roll from one stagnant puddle to the next, occasionally spattered by the shrill wailing tweetarrhia from Trump’s cot, it’s sometimes tempting to imagine we are really all lying inert, plugged into machines while hackers play pong on the Matrix. Is there an infectious disease going around causing collective cerebral atrophy? Maybe a race of bodysnatchers seeding the populace with cretins wondering how long it will take us to twig? Or are we just watching the unfolding of H. L. Mencken’s prophecy and the glorious consummation of democracy and technology?

Politics isn’t normally something I bother writing about, but occasionally peering into the quagmire every few months and seeing the same revolving vortex of bullshit is as maddening as trying to thread a needle with no arms. I need to vent.

What Brexit Means

As Danny Dyer so succinctly put it, no one knows what Brexit means. It isn’t quite the riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma as Churchill once referred to the Soviets, even though it’s entirely possible those selfsame Russian national interests are the key. But it isn’t surprising given the fact that the referendum on the subject was more of a gesture than a manoeuvre.

For me, the issue is simple: Brexit is backwards. Look to the future, and what world do we want to see? A world governed by sensible values, humanity living in harmony with itself and its environment, where equality is more or less a reality rather than a buzzword and people are free to live their lives with equal opportunities yadda yadda. Wait for the bile to go down, but that’s an essential hope and dream that we find embodied in any image of the future. I’m no trekkie, but I don’t recall there being a footnote for sovereign island rights under the United Federation of Planets.

Nation states were a nice stepping stone to an organised society, but they must shrivel to the fake sound of progress and become a vestige of the past. Brexit is the childish fear of change embellished by the subcutanean jingoism that riddles the British psyche and is perpetuated by its education system. Splendid isolationist Britain went it alone before, it can do it again. None of that kowtowing to unelected Brussels, we have our own laughably undemocratic philistines to obey. Take back control, give our sovereignty back to someone else!

It’s here that several points of view conflate. Who voted for Brexit? There are obviously a few core groups. By far the largest I would maintain is made up by the Thickies, Brexit’s rank and file. Before you start, yes, there’s a whiff of condescension on your retinas. These are people who lose out during every economic hiccough, and have done significantly badly since the last singularly spectacular singultus. Meanwhile they devour mendacious tabloid headlines and have neither the time, the inclination nor the wherewithal to really inform themselves. For them, the EU bogeyman is responsible for all the woes that could fairly be placed at the British government’s feet.

Were it not for that amorphous mass of malleable mammothrepts, Project Brexit would never have gotten off the ground. But useful idiots can easily be manipulated into nayvoting, rallied by the Reactionaries and roused by the Cynics. The former are the classic Tories of yore, the true believers still sore about the ’45, who genuinely believe that the ‘great’ in Great Britain is synonymous with ‘excellent’ rather than ‘large’. The latter are harder to distinguish, except that they couldn’t care less about the political outcome, as long as their hunger for self-importance is slaked. Economically they’ll do just fine thank you very much; in fact the greater the upheaval, the better the opportunities.

What the People Want

The soup is rather clouded by the cynicism in the recipe. The Brexit referendum was advisory, but is being treated as a binding mandate; the people most directly affected by the decision – EU nationals in Britain, as well as many British nationals in the EU – were excluded from the vote; the result was not statistically significant. The classic argument from the hardliners is that whatever deal is proposed or muted, it’s not ‘what the people want’. Which is just a petulant way of saying it’s not ‘what I want’. Otherwise such paragons of democracy couldn’t give two figs for what ‘the people’ want. Assisted dying? The legalisation of cannabis? A reformed House of Lords? More money for the NHS? Nuclear disarmament? No, no, no, ‘the people’ don’t know their own minds! But backing out on Brexit would be a betrayal.

We’re told Brexit is all about money and sovereignty. £350 million per week which could be spent on the NHS, if it weren’t for foreign intervention. To say nothing of £900 million per week spent at the behest of Brussels… oh wait, that’s NATO’s 2% guideline. Brexiteer politicians remain curiously silent when it comes to fawning to demands from another organisation with its headquarters in the Belgian capital. Hell, Britain’s about one of the only sodding states to pull its weight on that particular demand. Presumably because the table-bashing comes indirectly from Washington and is only routed through Brussels? Gotta keep that special relationship sweet, or sugar daddy might start looking elsewhere.

What the People Will Get

Ever so occasionally I’m lured into believing, however briefly, that May is playing a delicious sleight of political grandmastery, a glorious symphony of subterfuge to bring Project Brexit crashing back to the status quo. Or it may be that May be taking an even longer look at history than Braudel, and hoping to see Britain reapply for membership under normalised terms. Then I remember her professional career and realise I’m daydreaming. And so is she.

Brexit will not be a disaster. It’ll bring plenty of setbacks and hardships, cause difficulties and unnecessary stress for millions of people, flow tears as businesses go belly-up and families are faced with extremely hard decisions. But it won’t be a disaster. Like the linear model of radiation poisoning, the few million microsieverts from the Brexit fallout will seed plenty of cancerous harm throughout the population, but the seismograph will barely waver. When London’s streets are packed with protesters on 20 October, nothing will change except that perhaps another generation will be disillusioned with our sham democracy.

Brexit is liable to end without a deal. Britain will spend some years catching up to where it was, while with any luck the rest of the EU just bloody gets on with it. The aftershocks in Britain may cause some fault lines to crack, with Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar likely candidates for a realignment. Some years ago I’d have burned the big fish in the SNP at the stake for high treason; now I’d be willing to fund their next kickstarter for independence. And then burn them.

What the People Deserve

The Brexit beans are out of the tin now, and tensions are too high to solve it without sparks flying. While many just want it to be over, the shadow is likely to hang over the nation for a while whatever happens. Perhaps the die-hards can all be rounded up and sent somewhere to settle their differences. Naseby perhaps?

Otherwise it’s time to move the democratic experiment up a notch. When more than 60 million people can cast their votes for an unelectable dunce, people are clearly crying out for an end to the suffering suffrage. Voting rights should be limited to the likes of th’X-Factor and Britain’s Got Talent. Before that, Britain’s political landscape could use some topiary work. We should find the time machine Jacob Reese’s Moggie fell into and send him back to the early 18th century where he belongs. Boris John’s son should be reverse expatriated and forced to resume his Americanhood. Meanwhile Theresa Mayday should be given a brain and a conscience and sent on a package holiday to a place with lots of cornfields so she can let her hair down.

But enough ranting, it’s a waste of good vitriol. I’ve some naturalisation papers to fill out.

[Photo by Sara Kurfeß on Unsplash]

Don’t make ‘em like they used to

Sparks of a move to label products according to their expected life spans

It’s a situation many of us are familiar with. The milk turns sour, the yoghurt has curdled, and there are patches of water on the kitchen tiles. At fault in this tale is the refrigerator, which, barely three years old, has started to gurgle and appears to be reaching the end of its useful life. And like the DVD player, vacuum cleaner and coffee machine before it, the warranty has expired and the costs of repair far outweigh those of buying afresh. Yet according to a new survey, these failures might just be deliberate.

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The Female Eunuch

femaleunuchReading The Female Eunuch now feels to a certain extent like reading a pamphlet from the Suffragist movement; the arguments are clear, but the backdrop is somehow distant and faded. How much that changed backdrop is a result of the efforts of people like Germaine Greer is for the historians to say, but this book clearly earns its place on the bookshelf as one of the most important works in the women’s liberation movement.

Despite being written in 1970, there is nothing stale about this book. Greer’s writing can be very punchy, at times witty, and the threads of her argument are clearly and logically set out. For a book that has sold over a million copies, she is extremely eloquent, at times even a touch grandiloquent, and her choice of words sometimes had me reaching for a dictionary. That aside, the book is fairly easy to read for its subject matter.

Nevertheless, it is not Greer’s arguments or her choice of phrasing that are difficult to understand, but the context in which they were written. It is difficult for anyone born after that time to comprehend how much society has changed in that period, at the most fundamental, interpersonal level. In this light, Greer’s arguments can seem overdramatised, perhaps even alien to someone reading them today, but there is plenty which bears relevance to understanding how we got where we are today, and perhaps knowing what we have yet to go.

Greer covers the whole gamut of the female experience, from birth and childhood, through sex and marriage, to the workplace and public sphere. In covering this massive range of subjects, from the most tangible in terms of jobs, wages and taxation, through to more esoteric notions of imagery in language and psychology, one gets a clear notion of Greer’s ideal vision. Although there are far more criticisms of the status quo than overt recommendations for change, in questioning some of the core units of society, it leads all of us to critically appraise our modes and ways of life.

Many people who haven’t read this book, and men in particular, assume it must be written by a man-hater, an irrational and fiery-hearted misandrist nailing her theses to the church of patriarchy. In truth, the book is a deep and basic criticism of that day’s society, pointed as much at women as at men for perpetuating a system which essentially encouraged contempt for half of the population, in many ways treating them as second-class citizens. There is an important distinction here between sexual equality and women’s liberation, for Greer argues for fundamental changes as a way to improve the lives of everyone. This is not a call to gender war in a Marxian vein; in fact, although Greer has a clear leftist bent, it seems she did not put faith in the class revolution to put society on the correct footing.

There are just a couple of criticisms I have about this edition. The first is that there is no index, which I feel would have been a useful addition. Although Greer divided the book into well arranged and clearly labelled chapters, it is still difficult to find references without having to guess under which subheading you might find them. Secondly, as part of a Flamingo’s Seventies Classics Series, this really should have come with an introduction. Printed over thirty years after its initial publication, with so much having changed in the intervening period, a simple outline of the society in which this book was written, and an overview of its reception and responses, would have been an extremely welcome addition.

Atlas Shrugged

Atlas ShruggedPerhaps the most significant book in post-war American literature, one which has regained popularity since the start of the economic crisis, Altas Shrugged is the embodiment of an ideal society, the ultimate vehicle for Ayn Rand’s philosophy of objectivism. Weighing in at over 1,000 pages of tightly-packed print, it’s also one of the longest novels in English literature. Is it any good?

Well, as a novel, Atlas Shrugged unfortunately falls flat, in ways that Rand’s first novel, We the Living, didn’t. There is foremost no humanity in the novel, the characters are dismembered, dessicated mouthpieces to Rand’s philosophical diatribes, with everyone fitting neatly into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ camps. Rand herself claimed that using characters as symbols was never her intention: “My characters are persons in whom certain human attributes are focused more sharply and consistently than in average human beings.” But what we are left with are flimsy apparitions, lobotomised automatons fulfilling the roles required of them to extol the virtues of her philosophy. Even this is taken to extremes, with one of the proponents delivering a 60-page long theoretical speech around which the rest of the novel might well be seen as scaffolding.

To complement this set of lifeless characters is a plot which similarly confounds understanding. In an America which technologically resembles the period in which Rand was writing, yet industrially feels set in an earlier period, and borrows heavily from the Great Depression, the main events and the decisions of the characters jar heavily with what the reader knows and expects from society. As another reviewer pointed out, what’s missing is the overt understanding that the story takes place in a parallel world or a different timeframe, to create a genuine sense of credibility. True, there are some hints that push this novel into the realms of science fiction–a super metal alloy, power derived from static electricity, weapons based on sound waves etc.–but the world is definitely our own, even if the people and their decisions are alien. Key to the story is the gradual collapse of the economic system, and the disappearance of the champions of industry. What happens in Rand’s universe when the creative minds of the world go on strike? Apparently, they settle down on the frontier and, working one month a year, create a fully-fledged miniature utopia. Personally, I imagine they’d starve.

A bad book can still be a good delivery vehicle for an interesting message. Yet this unwieldy book fails even to achieve the latter. For its mammoth length, Rand’s message could have been relatively concise, but for the plot’s repetitiveness. If you are interested in Rand’s philosophy, there are plenty of other places to turn which will provide a far more succinct and detailed explanation, without the repetition or padding necessary for its delivery in novel form. Whether you find place for Rand’s philosophy in your own, or like Gore Vidal consider it “nearly perfect in its immorality”, there are simply better summaries available. For the converted, this is probably a wonderful book, but for anyone else it simply isn’t worth risking the investment of time and energy.

No one can deny this book’s enduring popularity. That alone gives rise to curiosity strong enough to keep it fresh in the public consciousness. But it is a far cry from a great piece of literature, and as an allegory, a philosophical harbinger, its ponderous and verbose nature should have the curious turn elsewhere. The novel opens with the question: “Who is John Galt?” A thousand pages of largely disappointing text will reveal the answer, but you’d be better served just reading the appendix.

Rauschgiftwirtschaft

Von Personalstelle zu unternehmerischer Gesellschaftsverantwortung: Verwaltungsstunden von den Drogenbaronen Mexikos

Übersetzt aus dem Englischen (Narconomics)

Juli 28. 2012 | The Economist

MEXIKO hat 11 Milliardäre, der Zeitschrift Forbes zufolge. Zehn werden oft bei Benefizdinners und anderen vornehmen Veranstaltungen lächelnd fotografiert. Der Elfte, Joaquín Guzmán Loera, hat ein ziemlich unähnliches Porträtfoto. Abgebildet in einem billigen Anorak sieht man ihn fröstelnd im Regen binnen der Betonmauer eines Hochsicherheitsgefängnises. Besser bekannt unter seinem Spitznamen El Chapo („der Kleine“) ist Herr Guzmán durch die vermutete $1 Milliarde, die er als Geschäftsführer des Sinaloa-Drogenkartells verdiente, ein von Lateinamerikas erfolgreichsten Exporteuren. Seitdem er 2001 versteckt in einem Wäschewagen aus dem Gefängnis ausbrach, gibt es wenige Fotos von El Chapo.

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