Sunday, 29 September 2013

The Racist and His New Clothes.

 
In recent years Britain has become a hotbed for anti-Muslim bigotry like many of its neighbours on the Continent. It has become the primary means of mobilisation for marginal elements on the radical Right. Old canards against immigrants are being recycled and directed purposely to siphon off disenfranchised working-class and lower middle-class support for mainstream parties in this way. For instance, the BNP’s accusations that there are South Asian paedophile gangs were transformed into ‘Muslim’ paedophile gangs as if the grooming and rape of non-Muslim children has any basis in theology. It is now a staple of right-wing commentary that there are ‘Muslim’ paedophile gangs in the shadows of every city in the country. No focus on non-Muslim paedophile rings.[1] Naturally, the mainstream media has plenty of time to feed its own rape-mania and has no qualms about fanning the flames of anti-Muslim racism in doing so. No real concern for the victims of child abuse.
 
 
Given that the Muslims have become the main target of groups like the BNP the old targets have had to take a backseat. The main reason for this is that it has become more acceptable to express disdain for Islam than the West Indians who settled here in the 1950s. Likewise it has become completely unacceptable to engage in old-fashioned Judeophobia. Meanwhile bashing Muslims has become an umbrella for spreading enmity against South Asian British citizens.[2] The slur ‘Paki’ has been replaced with ‘Muslim’ in the vocabulary of every racist in the country. The EDL have attacked Sikh temples in the past and have marched under the chant ‘We love the floods! We love the floods!’ in reference to the floods which devastated Pakistan in 2010. Of course, the EDL has no qualms about exploiting the sectarian tensions on the old Indian subcontinent and soaking Sikh and even Hindu support. In that way the rabble of aging football hooligans and skinheads can claim to non-racist in its joy at the prospect of Mother Nature drowning Pakistani children.
 
 
This is the same reason the EDL has been filmed wagging Israeli flags, and making Nazi salutes. When Lee Rigby was killed the EDL was quick to jump on the scene and soon there emerged a video of the goons yelling for the ‘black bastards’ to be deported. Mostly unreported went the attempts by the EDL to make headway in electoral politics. The British Freedom Party was founded in 2011 with Paul Weston, a former UKIP blogger, as well as with an influx of ex-BNP members. In one of the speeches given by Paul Weston he said “In fact, Islam is worse than Nazism” before sounding off about the stoning of women.[3] He went on to claim that the growth of a Muslim population will lead to the breakdown of British society, pointing to the Lebanese Civil War and the collapse of Yugoslavia. In other words, Weston places the blame for the collapse of these societies on Lebanese Muslims and Bosnian Muslims.[4] That would imply Weston takes the side of the neo-Fascist groups in Lebanon and the nationalist fantasists of a ‘Greater’ Serbia.
 
 
In spite of his courageous support for the ‘lesser evil’ to Islam the new party soon evaporated. Its existence lacked the strong presence of a fart in the wind. Not content with this failure Paul Weston formed Liberty GB with much of the same herd and little deviation from the comradely affection for Stephen Yaxley-Lennon.[5] The new group soon found plenty of friends in soaking up the right-wingers of the blogosphere united in their hatred of Muslims and non-whites. Soon Mr Weston was on YouTube again looking to beat the competition posed by various videos of cats flushing toilets. He had some more revealing words too. By the summer of 2013 Paul Weston was giving talks on what he described as the “racial and cultural war against the indigenous people of this country.”[6] Going on to deem this “genocide” Weston goes on to claim the cities are “inundated with the Third World”.[7] He lists the places which have been “inundated” as follows: Tower Hamlets, Bradford, Birmingham, Luton and Leicester. The plot thickens.
 
 
All the while Paul Weston is adamant that it’s not just the Muslims that are the problem. Oh no, most certainly not! The Muslims are only the ‘pawns’ in Weston’s mind, a foreign race imported to undermine and destroy white Britain.[8] The people responsible are broadly pinned as ‘liberals’, ‘hippies’, ‘multiculturalists’ and ‘Marxists’. In his more blunt moments Mr Weston claims that it’s all the Frankfurt school. From beyond the grave Jewish Marxist intellectuals such as Theodor Adorno and Herbert Marcuse are responsible for political correctness, multiculturalism, feminism and mass-immigration.[9] It’s all a part of a calculated plot by the Jews who deems ‘cultural Marxists’ who created critical theory to wage ‘cultural terrorism’ against Western civilisation.[10] He claims elsewhere that “the Left now control pretty much everything”.[11] Yet again the raison d'être of National Socialism resurfaces in the clever language of a ‘counter-Jihadist’.


The anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that the Frankfurt school are responsible for a vast array of problems has become increasingly popular and mainstream on the Right.[12] It originates in the mad ramblings of Lyndon LaRouche and in the twenty years since it has been taken up by American shock-jocks and the reactionary press in Britain.[13] It has been promulgated by many cultural conservatives as well white nationalists.[14] Naturally the BNP have moved in on this. In 2011 Nick Griffin put across his non-understanding of the Frankfurt school in a talk with Simon Darby and posted it on the Party’s YouTube channel.[15] This year the BNP appears to have gone on to hold a knuckleheaded talk on the Frankfurt school where the Jewish intellectuals were painted as belonging to an international conspiracy alongside the Freemasons, the Illuminati and Bilderberg.[16] If anything it’s good to see that the Illuminati conspiracy theory has finally been given the audience it deserves.
 
 
Not coincidentally, Anders Behring Breivik promulgated the same theory in his manifesto and considered ‘cultural Marxists’ to be “traitors” deserving of execution.[17] In that same manifesto Breivik praises the EDL as a ‘blessing’ and quoted Paul Weston’s Gates of Vienna blog posts predicting ‘a European civil war.’[18] Fortunately, the economic crisis in Britain has not been so severe as to produce the conditions necessary for a full-blown fascist resurgence as we have seen in Greece for instance. The rabbles organised by the EDL come nowhere near the ranks of Blackshirts led by Sir Oswald Mosley. It’s primarily an online phenomenon with the potential to influence psychopaths and thugs to take action. It was this that led to Breivik’s rampage and the numerous attacks on mosques and Muslims since the Rigby murder. It would seem that this could get a lot uglier before the liberals wake up to find what they have allowed to flourish and take it seriously.

 
This article was originally written for and posted at the Third Estate on September 29th 2013.



[1] Bard-Rosenberg, R; Daily Mail Lies: Are Asian gangs targeting white girls? (2010): http://thethirdestate.net/2010/11/daily-mail-lies-are-asian-gangs-targeting-white-girls/
[3] Paul Weston on Islam & Nazism: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZjOd-A5HDM
[4] Ibid.
[6] Paul Weston on the Woolwich killing, Islam and the State of Modern Britain: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ocqyqjaVSg#t=271
[7] Ibid.
[8] Paul Weston ‘Is Britain sustainable?’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RBhe4nsm8rI
[10] Ibid.
[11] Paul Weston ‘Is Britain sustainable?’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RBhe4nsm8rI
[13] Jay, M; Dialectical Counter-Enlightenment: the Frankfurt School as a Scapegoat for the Lunatic Fringe (Skidmore College, 2010): http://cms.skidmore.edu/salmagundi/backissues/168-169/martin-jay-frankfurt-school-as-scapegoat.cfm
[15] ‘EU-Frankfurt school neo-Marxism’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMTULjwiG08
[16] ‘Frankfurt School & New World Order’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZoj2fLbYk0
[17] Seymour, R; Anders Behring Breivik and 21st Century Fascism (2012): http://www.leninology.com/2012/08/anders-behring-breivik-and-21st-century.html


The Evacuation of Meaning.

 
 
You may have heard recently that the Labour Party has rediscovered itself as the revolutionary vanguard ever ready to play dictatress to the proletarians of the UK. Unfortunately the slogan won’t be ‘Peace, Bread, Land’ exactly because Ed Miliband has pledged to freeze energy prices for 20 months, to protect the minimum wage, repeal the bedroom tax and to incentivise private companies to develop on the land they own. No promises to reverse course on tuition fees, certainly not on ‘free schools’, the coming sale of Royal Mail and the on-going privatisation of the NHS so ignored by most of the mainstream media. If you read The Telegraph, The Daily Mail, The Sun and The Daily Express you will of course know this is the most radical position ever taken in the last thirty years. That is only demonstrative of just how deeply the termites have spread and how well they have dined. Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson have condemned Ed Miliband’s positions for abandoning the New Labour script of triangulated means to compete for the Conservative vote and, naturally, taking the working-class vote for granted. The Blairites are totally on board for the Cameron prescription of fiscal conservatism (for the poor anyway) to restructure the welfare state and public services.

The right-wing commentariat are on the offensive to safeguard the existing order (or should that be disorder?) of bloated energy oligopolies and the particular approach Cameron has taken to pumping up a housing bubble in London. The bedroom tax has appeal because gutting the benefits system will make some in the public feel good that Nicky Welfare isn’t getting away with spending his £60 a week on lager anymore. That’s the only discussion we’re allowed about benefits. No one wants to talk about the fact that Nicky Welfare’s housing benefit doesn’t go on his drinking habits, but it does go straight into the pockets of a landlord. The housing crisis is not up for discussion anymore. The Conservatives and Lib Dems have been hard at work trying to patch up the system as it was when Gordon Brown was in the Treasury. All of them will talk the talk about the need to build more houses to stoke the chronic shortage and lift people out of dilapidated housing. There is no serious commitment to extending public money to building more social housing. Instead the government and the so-called left-wing opposition are signed up to selling off these houses thereby feeding the same processes of debt and property speculation which laid the basis for the last crash.
 
At the same time, the Labour Party has not reclaimed Clause 4 to recommit itself to the nationalisation of industries and assets. Instead Miliband waffles as the NHS is sold off bit by bit and even as the delegates vote unanimously in favour of renationalising the railways the Labour leadership looks for the door. Yet ‘Red’ Ed can’t help himself from affirming a vague commitment to an even more vague democratic socialism. It seems like just five minutes ago Ed Miliband was calling himself a “modern progressive social democrat” and affirmed a commitment to a “responsible capitalism”. It shows how far things have gone, Tony Blair knew what he had to say to get ahead back in 1983 when he described himself as a socialist influenced by Karl Marx. Keep in mind ‘Red’ Ed is the same leader looking to chuck out the troublesome unions, while he has taken the side of Boris Johnson in his support for a “use it or lose it” policy on land ownership. Even Margaret Thatcher maintained a 60p tax for nine years, but Ed is so ‘red’ for supporting the 50p rate. The truth is the spectrum has moved considerably to the Right and now the much lauded centre is hardly a bastion of moderation. At best Labour offers to hold back a bit more than the Conservatives: austerity lite, rather than austerity.
 
Meanwhile the liberal press is in just a bad shape as it agrees with the right-wing analysis for the most part. The liberals love the idea that the socialist movement and its project are long dead. To them Ed Miliband is a nuanced centre-left politician, better than Tony Blair but not as bad as Tony Benn. It’s just another variation on the Third Way paradigm of New Labour and New Democrats. There is virtually no difference in rhetoric as Miliband has been oh so very careful not to distinguish himself from the odious stench of Blairism. Nor has he set out to distance himself from the Brown mound. He doesn’t want to define himself or to be defined and yet he expects to win an election on the same old pablum. The conservative press have already laid down their script, as they had done from day one, Ed Miliband is a leftist and his failures are to be taken as failures of the Left. The liberals more or less have swallowed so much of the premise as to tie themselves to this conclusion. When it came to Syria the Labour leader was distinguished not by his success but by his failure to push through his ‘yes’ motion. It would’ve made his father proud. It might only be reasonable able to hope Miliband can produce more of these fuck ups once in office.

This article was originally written for and posted at the Third Estate on September 27th 2013.

Monday, 16 September 2013

'This book is dedicated to mankind.'


There are some novelists who can’t be avoided in the charged instability of their prose. We find this in the literature of extremes, and one such recent case is Michel Houellebecq. In Atomised (1998) Houellebecq portrays a vision of late capitalist society as in the thrall of its own decay. The chaos of the market society and its depredations has blown away the traditional order of morality. Sexual liberalism has prevailed to the extent that the very act has become a commodity in a marketplace, but this has left winners and losers. Elsewhere Houellebecq calls for a ‘sexual communism’ and a ‘sexual social democracy’ where the unattractive are not excluded from the exchange centres of pleasure. The cultural revolution of the late 20th Century did not leave us all unscathed to enter into a new sexual utopia. Even though Houellebecq seems to accept a conservative thesis on culture he is pessimistic at the possibility of any kind of deliverance from this process. The collapse of the old order is irreversible. It may be better to take what pleasure can be procured from its final twitches than to try and turn the clock back as Evelyn Waugh had wanted so dearly. It may be that the analysis has been prompted by the conditions demanding a response of some kind. No wonder then it has been said that Houellebecq uses the language of the Left to launch a right-wing attack on the soixante-huitards, the Hippies and New Age spirituality.

In his nihilism Houellebecq identifies more so with the decay of culture which he seems to disdain. Even as he identifies the descent into hedonism Houellebecq does not call for a return to the conventions of monogamy. He seems to prefer the idea of turning the sexual marketplace into a more democratic mechanism which everyone can enjoy. The pages of Atomised (1998) are littered with philosophical conundrums, scientific theory and the historical pre-conditions for modern society. He focuses a great deal on the emergence of sexual freedom in the 1960s, its origins in the Hippie scene and the spread of the Commune movement around Europe and America. His protagonists Michel Djerzinski and Bruno Clément endure the explosion of new possibilities before even reaching pubescence: abandoned by their Hippie mother, only to drift through the years reared by their grandmothers and then through numerous encounters and non-encounters with members of the opposite sex. It is a deeply tragic tale, but not one without any hint of sentimentality. In the same way that Houellebecq gives the middle finger to a whole host of liberal assumptions and beliefs he cannot get away from this plain of thought. It could’ve been an even more despairing work in some respects.

The love story between Michel and Annabelle stands as evidence of Houellebecq’s sentimentality in that he couldn’t just have them never come together in the first place. Some of the saddest pages tell of Michel and Annabelle growing up, failing to get together as teenagers and ultimately depart on the cusp of adulthood in the middle 70s. Funnily enough, Michel lost Annabelle (not that he had had her yet) to a wannabe rock-star in a communal setting and partly with the help of Bruno. Take from that what you will. Many years later, Michel bumps into Annabelle by chance and falls limply into a relationship with her. She too had been failed by the world in which she was born to. Throughout the relationship Michel remains indifferent even to her affections, only taking enjoyment in their embraces in the most intellectualised way. Even still, this was as close as it came to the two of them making a ‘go of it’ as they should have as twenty-somethings. In a fit of desperation Annabelle had bluntly asked him to procreate with her – for fear that he was going to Ireland to leave her for his research project – and characteristically the good scientist agreed with a murmur. During the sexual act Michel remains distant and envisions a cell splitting, before describing the brink of orgasm as ‘a little suicide’. Afterwards Annabelle finds not only can she not have the child but she has uterine cancer and has to have a hysterectomy. Not too many pages later Annabelle commits suicide and Michel moves on with his research in Ireland only to disappear himself. We might say Houellebecq takes love deadly seriously, just not the prospects of finding and holding onto it in a world like this one.

It was quite something to flick from page to page, but it is revealing of the French poet who is a recovering Stalinist and former agronomist. Houellebecq could have opted for another version where Michel and Annabelle briefly meet again, only for them to never follow each other up. That would have led to the same conclusion, especially as it would still be twinned with Bruno’s doomed love affair with Christiane. Bruno goes mad after Christiane is left paralysed and chooses suicide as he had stopped seeing her. That was a much less sentimental series of events. And yet Houellebecq can’t resist the temptation of Michel and Annabelle coming together; it reminds one of the most overused lines of Tennyson “‘Tis better to have loved and lost/Than never to have loved at all.” Bruno represents the failed attempts at hedonism divorced from the utopianism of the '68 Generation; whereas Michel languishes in an anhedonic and rationalist distance from human relations to prioritise the life of the mind. The dichotomy is set between the unsated and the undesiring to lead us from the 1960s to the 90s. Like the society in which we live the brothers are forever shaped by the events of the 60s. Both of the siblings are heirs to unfettered freedoms. The hedonist Bruno is ensnared in a culture which he cannot extricate himself from and he wouldn’t want to if he could just get laid more. On the other hand, Michel would probably have liked to have been left alone to his scientific inquiry – which was impossible given the obligatory nature of the relations so alien to him – we shouldn’t be surprised that he may have jumped at the opportunity to finally exit this world. By the end of the book there was nothing binding him to this life, he had completed his project and heralded a biogenetic revolution to outmatch the legacy of sexual liberation in expunging its pre-conditions.

It was that legacy which Bruno found himself so entangled with. Never sated by the amount of pornography, prostitutes, masturbation, sex shows, girlfriends and orgies he could ever muster the energy to find. It brings to mind Freud’s point that satisfaction is distinctly unsatisfactory. We can’t just do it, and nor can Bruno, but not want of trying; Houellebecq seems to retain the hope in the market of sexual exchange if only it can be transformed into a more democratic space. Only then will the bulbous and desperate Bruno, with all of his emotional baggage, find a scintilla of contentment. The affair with Christiane may have been a glimpse of such a life, where Clément finds a partner willing to take the lead and indulge in his insatiable appetites in courting nude beaches in search of swingers. Retrospectively we have the incident with Adjila, an Arab student, whom Bruno finds irresistible – to the point of exposing himself to her in a lesson and subsequently being sectioned. The girl standing as the nexus between the man’s sexual voracity, his misogyny and his racial ressentiment; in later interviews Houellebecq (partly defending himself against accusations of racism) draws a distinction between Arabs and Muslims insofar as the former can be assimilated. The author is right to locate in Bruno unending lust in conjunction with an immense dissatisfaction, which lends itself to sexual jealousy and racism ultimately. The obsession with Adjila is not to be disassociated from Bruno’s loathing of a black male student in his class and interprets his behaviour as rivalling him in the capacity to regress to ‘our animal selves’. He even goes as far as penning and trying to publish a racist pamphlet and contemplates joining the Front National.

In the end Bruno gives up on the written word (unlike Houellebecq) and finds some brief fulfilment with Christiane before losing his mind. It is apt that Michel Djerzinski not only diagnoses the condition but provides a cure, not for Bruno but for the human species. The biogenetic revolution amounts to the transcendence of the human species with a new race of clones (who are free of this unceasing desire). It means the end for mankind, but the book stands as an ode to humanity written in the mid 21st Century partly looking at Djerzinski’s follower and successor Hubczejak. It is wonderfully satirical in this sense, in that the book charts the decline of Western civilisation only to cheer it on, and even welcome the end; then present the record of cultural decay as the only homage humanity deserves. It’s in this darkly amusing way that Houellebecq intends the words “This book is dedicated to mankind.” It is an appropriate frame for the events of the sad lives of Bruno and Michel, as well as the pages on scientific theory, social and cultural issues. It may be backward-looking in some respects, as well as outright reactionary in other moments and even be an extension of Houellebecq’s bitterness over the women in his life. I would contest the claim that Houellebecq should be dismissed for these reasons. As the man himself remarked in a BBC interview “Perhaps the mistake is to think of me in actual fact…” We may do better to bear in mind that we may not be able to prefigure the long-term legacy of a writer like Houellebecq. Somewhere in Atomised Houellbecq writes “Death is a great leveller.”

Friday, 13 September 2013

The Resurgent Right?

obama-lied
 
Since the Crash of 2008 we have witnessed the resurgence of free-market libertarianism on the American Right. The bailouts of the banks may have kept the cogs turning in the capitalist system, but it was a violation of everything held most often by free-market libertarians. It didn’t take long and the Tea Party movement emerged as the basis for a renewed Republican opposition to the Obama administration. Backed by Fox News and associated nut-hatch Republicans the Tea Parties flourished at city halls where they fought for health-care to remain privately run for profit and not on the basis of need. It seemed peculiar for liberals and radicals that the conservatives had managed to mobilise protests across the crisis-riddled body of America. Even for conservative Republicans it was an odd sight, right-wingers taking to the streets like anti-war protestors. The parallels reached an apogee of high farce with Glenn Beck leading demonstrators to Washington in an obscene satire on the March for Jobs and Freedom. In a way these farcical scenes are nothing new.
 
It may be a surprise for some, but there is a long history of this on the American Right. It was Christian rightist Paul Weyrich who infiltrated the activist circles of the New Left in the 1970s. He would set out to use these same methods to mobilise the conservative evangelical community as an electoral bloc for the Republican Party. The right-wing televangelists were easily organised once it looked like the churches might lose their tax-exempt status. The spiritual leader of a hippie commune Francis Shaeffer snapped at the landmark decision of Roe v Wade on abortion. He had been a figure of the 1960s cultural revolution and yet Shaeffer flipped and became a major fundamentalist leader on the issue of abortion. He would lobby the Ford administration and even advocate terrorism as a necessary method in the battle to defend the sacred foetus and its right to life. By the time Shaeffer died the Moral Majority had taken over with much more reactionary agenda of rolling back advances in women’s rights and gay rights (causes that he had actually supported).

roy cohn
 
Developments on the Right are not to be separated from the circumstances of the time. The revival of a Protestant Right came in the 1980s in reaction to the dramatic cultural changes of the 1960s when a greater sphere of freedom was attained for African-Americans, as well as homosexuals and women. Feminism had emerged from the failure of the Commune movement in its descent into patriarchal forms of domination. The increased accessibility to contraceptives and abortion had liberated individuals from the old sexual morays of the past. There was a burgeoning opening for civil liberties and rights, as well as some economic opportunities, for African-Americans. The Right did not need so much an economic reaction as a cultural reaction to try and slow these developments. And so the Christian Right swooped in to elect Ronald Reagan in a coalition with the anti-Communists, the neoconservatives and the libertarians.
 
We find the same when we look into the history of the anti-Communist Right. The cause of anti-Communism had belonged to the liberal wing of the Democratic Party in the 1940s originally before it was absorbed by the Republican Party with the demagoguery of Joe McCarthy and the ‘Red Scare’ of the 50s. The best way to support a rightward shift in the Democrats was to co-opt the means by which the Truman administration had sought to justify the military-industrial complex.  The Republicans had found a way to outmuscle the Democrats. This was later made further evident by the Democratic administrations which launched the war in Vietnam. The Republican administration of Nixon intensified the war to win not just one term but two terms in office. So anti-Communism became a solid pillar of American conservatism until 1989 when the Berlin Wall, unexpectedly, collapsed when faced with the might of the German people.

Bush, Daughter & Elephants
 
After that the anti-Communist Right largely lost its purpose as its mission seemed to have been fulfilled, and not by American hegemony but by forces endogenous to the Soviet system. Significantly, old Cold War conservatives such as Pat Buchanan have moved to a non-interventionist position on foreign policy since the Berlin Wall fell. The CIA agent Chalmers Johnson and army man Lawrence Wilkerson have made similar ideological shifts. It is consistent because if one believes that the American hegemon was necessary to safeguard the free world from the tentacles of the Soviet conspiracy for world domination then once the threat is gone the US should retreat and become a normal country. This has opened up a space for other rival tendencies on the American Right: such as the neoconservatives who updated the rational for American military aggression. Yet it also created greater space for scepticism of the military establishment from such sectors as the free-market libertarian Right.
 
By the end of the first decade of the 21st Century the prevailing forces of reaction would have largely discredited themselves and opened up a space for the Tea Party movement. The Bush administration was a lot like the Reagan administration in that it was an alliance of the Christian Right with the neoconservatives. Bush had posed as a ‘compassionate conservative’ pledging a prudent foreign policy of staying out of other peoples’ business. Before the election of 2000 was successfully stolen Bush had found an ally in Dick Cheney, a hawk of unbelievable proportions. Once in office the Bushites jumped at the opportunity to crackdown on civil liberties and engage in multiple wars. The Protestant and Catholic Right were mobilised to support the Bush administration in its support for abstinence promotion in Africa, its opposition to abortion, gay marriage, as well as euthanasia and stem-cell research. The neoconservatives moved in to provide the rationalisation for the bloodbath in Iraq. By the election of 2008 both the Christian Right and the neoconservatives were left largely discredited just by association with the crimes of Bush.
 
Bush with Obama

With the incoming Obama administration the Republicans had to open up a new front as Obama was following a more hawkish position in foreign affairs than Bush. The prospect of economic reform had to be fought because the country was in a deep recession and the Left might win greater ground in such desperate times. What is called ‘Obama-care’ really comes out of the conservative searches for an alternative to serious health-care reform in the 1990s. It was supported by Newt Gingrich. The individual mandate was a means to safeguarding the state of affairs which denies the American citizen a fundamental right to adequate health-care. Reform is somewhat inevitable given the role that the health system has played in bankrupting American industry. But at the other end the pharmaceutical and health insurance industry will be pushing hard to make sure their interests are covered. As if this situation weren’t bad enough the Koch brothers moved in to finance a surge in libertarian protest. Faced with this the Obama administration had no reason to establish a national health service. Once again, serious and much needed reform was offset and America would remain the only advanced capitalist society – other than South Africa – without universal health-care.

So the space had been opened up for a resurgence of interest in Ron Paul, the Austrian economists and even the fiction of Ayn Rand. The paranoid rambling clown Glenn Beck rose to stardom. Significantly Mitt Romney picked Paul Ryan, a member of the Ayn Rand cult, as his running mate. It was a necessary front opened up by the bailouts of banks under Bush and Obama. The agenda of shrinking the state had newfound support given the new mission was austerity to destroy what little of the New Deal had survived the decades of erosion by Republican and Democratic administrations. It should also be noted that the space has been opened up to paleoconservatives who have positioned themselves against the military adventurism of the neoconservatives. Yet it has been the libertarians who have been able to muster a position in mainstream American politics. The Tea Party movement succeeded in providing the basis for a Republican victory in the midterm elections of 2010 and Ron Paul made it into the debate at the 2012 election. Even still this is more so a symptom of chaos on the American Right – to be compared with Barry Goldwater’s winning the Republican ticket in 1964 – than an emergent platform to see take office in 2016 or even 2020.
 
This article was originally written and posted at the Third Estate on September 12th 2013.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

The Proper Task of Life.


 
The anti-philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche deemed art the proper task of life.” He had moved on much farther than the view of Schopenhauer's, where art is a means to deceive the Will and escape from the treadmill of its domination. Nietzsche advocates a radical acceptance of the imperfection of the world and this life in resistance to the otherworldly. He associates art with this embrace of the domination of the Will. This is far from a glum acceptance of a horrible existence. He wants us to rejoice in existence and laugh at the world in all of its absurdity. The knowledge of our existence beyond the precepts of religion provides us with a certain freedom. It is not that man should be freed from emotion, rather life is made meaningful by the passions - which are a source of insight, orientation and understanding. The attachments we build through our passions provide meaning, whether it be the attachments we form with people, ideals or aspirations. The creativity involved in art is particularly important here, especially the attachment forged with a work of art.

It is in this light that the Will to Power is to be understood as a celebration of the passionate life rather than in terms of metaphysics or motivation. Art is not just an escape route but an affirmation of existence, as it can even serve as the process of revaluation insofar as art allows us to participate in the nature of things. This is the development of culture out of the unfolding of human capacities. It is not simply instrumental, works of art may be seen as ends-in-themselves. For this very reason culture is not undermined by heterogeneity, far from it. It is homogeneity which leads to culture going stale and even becoming a lifeless scroll rolled up in the canon. Before you know it, we are to impart this stale culture to the next generation without reflection. Yet high and low culture are not fixed in stone. As Terry Eagleton has observed, there are works once considered canon-worthy which are much less brilliant than the early episodes of The Simpsons. Culture is not ahistorical or unchanging, it is forever transient.
 
 
Loving Decay
 

Too often culture is taken to be ahistorical and unchanging. Only for change to be received as deeply threatening to the artefacts preserved in formaldehyde by a cultural elite. To presuppose this is to accept a rather narrow conception of culture. Even still it is a widespread understanding of culture. We even find it in the work of Michel Houellebecq, a new self-styled Céline, in his nihilism. In Atomised (1998) Houellebecq portrays a vision of late capitalist society as in the thrall of its own decay. The chaos of the market society and its depredations has blown away the traditional order of morality. Sexual liberalism has prevailed to the extent that the very act has become a commodity in a marketplace. Even though Houellebecq seems to accept a conservative thesis on culture he is pessimistic at the possibility of any kind of deliverance from this process. The collapse of the old order is irreversible. It may be better to take what pleasure can be procured from its final twitches than to try and turn the clock back as Evelyn Waugh wanted.

In his nihilism Houellebecq identifies more so with the decay of culture which he seems to disdain. The pages of Atomised (1998) are littered with philosophical conundrums, scientific history and the material pre-conditions for the society which we inhabit. He focuses a great deal on the emergence of sexual freedom in the 1960s, its origins in the Hippie scene and the spread of the Commune movement around Europe and America. His protagonists Michel Djerzinski and Bruno Clément endure the explosion of new possibilities before even reaching pubescence: abandoned by their Hippie mother, only to drift through numerous encounters and non-encounters with members of the opposite sex. Bruno represents the failed attempts at hedonism divorced from the utopianism of the '68 Generation; whereas Michel languishes in anhedonic distance from human relations to prioritise the life of the mind. The dichotomy is set between the unsated and the undesiring to lead us from the 1960s to the 90s. Like the society in which we live the brothers are forever shaped by the events of the 60s. 
 

Grand Catastrophes


The cultural revolution of the 1960s had an undeniably profound impact on the people who lived amidst its birth pangs. In 1986 a film crew came to make a short documentary about the writer JG Ballard. In the interview, Ballard pointed out that the world which we inhabit requires a certain amount of oil to make the cogs go around and keep the wheels turning. For Ballard it was sex which played such a role in the 1960s, but now sex is no longer a new frontier and increasingly violence has become the oil which keeps the wheels turning. The media landscape of narratives thrives on sensation and requires sensation to go on, like a drowsy beast we find ourselves in need of constant electric shocks just to stay awake. Ballard suggests that the electric shocks are provided more so by violence today.

A major focus of Ballardian fiction is a secondary world which has been constructed on the media landscape of television, film, radio and the press etc. For Ballard we live in an environment saturated to the extent that we live in a two-tier world, we inhabit a dual reality. The immediate reality of everyday life and the secondary reality forged as the media acts as a map in search of a territory. It is a search for something in ordinary reality which meshes with this secondary reality, only to magnify disasters, confrontations, personal tragedies and so on. At once this secondary world is the subject matter of Ballard's novels, it is described and developments within it are predicted. Too often do we assume that the violence on television is bad for us, the truth about violence is good for us and cannot be repressed. The edge is a cautionary one, e.g. Dangerous Bends Ahead, Slow Down! with the paradox being Crash (1973) in which Ballard bellows “Dangerous Bends Ahead, Speed Up! All in an appreciation of the chaos underneath the surface of modern civilisation. Ballard may have basked in the fires of this chaos, but he was ultimately on the side of it.


Living the Dirt
 
 
If we turn to the post-Beat scene of writing from the American West Coast we find another noteworthy literary creature. The poetry of Charles Bukowski stands in contrast to Houellebecq's nihilism. Bukowski's dirty realism pulsates with the same themes as Houellebecq albeit with much more in the way of exuberance. He doesn't so much languish in complacent affluence as live and breathe the filthier side of life. Bukowski remains an essentially American writer in his unabashed individualism, which serves to complement the reservoir of squalor and misanthropy in his prose. He has no coherent social message to convey only defiant exultation in the decline of civilisation. Take the closing lines of Dinosauria, We “And there will be the most beautiful silence never heard” only to add “Born out of that./The sun still hidden there/Awaiting the next chapter.” Thereby Bukowski turns the Apocalypse into another twisted turn in the anfractuous road of progress. We are to be superseded, along with the transient stage which we have made for ourselves. Perhaps Bukowski and Houellebecq share an appreciation of the flux of this world because they were both poets.

In his reasoning Bukowski derided other writers for starting out with pretentious attempts at setting a captivating scene for the readers. It was dead prose, no longer wriggling with life. Instead Bukowski went for the jugular and opened Post Office (1971) with a real hook “It began as a mistake”. He was a working-class poet, often unemployed, usually drifting and forever inebriated. He found the bottle analogous to a fine symphony - something he knew plenty about in his love of classical music. His publisher John Martin considered Bukowski the Walt Whitman of the 20th Century in putting pen to paper in the gutter. He conveyed the grittiest of experiences in his own melancholic brand of free verse. Black Sparrow Press marketed Bukowski as the poet who wrote for the average man in contemporary America. Yet Bukowski was much more misanthropic and self-centred in his alcoholism to be concerned with the wants of the masses. Even still the dirty old man chewed up Wagner and Kant only to spit them back out in his portrayals of a life lived in the darkest corners of American society.


Beautiful Chaos


As Ballard was the middle-class doctor who ventured into bohemian territory after the death of his wife, Bukowski yearned for a normal life and Houellebecq accepted that it would never be found. With Chuck Palahniuk it seems more so that there is more joy to be found in the absurdity of modern society. Picking fun at society by highlighting its more obscure and obscene side is not a new method for satirists. Neither are the themes developed in Palahniuk's work particularly earth-shattering. If you haven’t read Chuck Palahniuk then you should rush out and obtain, possibly by violent means, a copy of Survivor (1999) or Fight Club (1996) as soon as possible. He originally set out to emulate much more conventional modes of writing, but ended up in Tom Spanbauer's workshop. There Chuck took on a radical minimalism which has become the form for the transgressive content of his novels. Though transgressive in content Palahniuk's corpus contains thematic links reaching back to the origins of English literature. You can find courtly love in the deliberate variations made on the boy-meets-girl frame of events in his writing. The foreground stories with their dysfunctional and deranged characters falls against a background worth further examination. Fight Club is not just a tale of madness, or even the love story concealed within it, there is the emergence of an anti-capitalist terrorist network working to bring down America's credit system.

Unlike Houellebecq and Bukowski, Chuck Palahniuk is not a nihilist for he still clings to modernism and romanticism at heart. He may have much more in common with the existentialist tradition. He sets out to carve out a unique place as a writer, dismissing the likes of Martin Amis as a purveyor of “beautifully padded sentences”. It is not enough to try and posture as a living classic as Amis and McEwan does. To put it as Chuck has “We're living in a different world than Charles Dickens lived in”. A radical minimalism strips down the prose for all to view, but this is not a reductionist task as the battle is to build deep layers into the narrative in themes, allusions, symbolism and ideas. To this end Palahniuk may have recycled old themes and fed them into his projects. The mission of dangerous writing is to seek out and cover those aspects of life most uncomfortable, embarrassing and unsettling for us to confront. That is the locus of transgressive fiction and its purveyors. This is the flux of culture before our eyes.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Proxy Motivations.


The backbone of calls for intervention has long been Turkey. How may we make sense of this? The government of Erdogan has its own fantasies of neo-Ottoman glory and may want to reassert its authority and influence over the region it ran for so long. That goes hand-in-hand with the old aim of carving a Kurdish Republic out of the body of a nearby neighbour to answer the Kurdish question, conveniently, without handing over any pieces of Anatolia. That aim has almost been achieved in Iraq where the Kurdish province has become more and more independent of Baghdad through its oil arrangements with Turkey. The Kurds of Syria are under threat from certain rebel forces, leading to 40,000 of them fleeing to Iraq and now the bridge over the river Tigris has been closed. That doesn’t particularly worry the Turkish government. But Erdogan might like to see a conclusion of some kind hastened by force in order to cease the influx of refugees to camps on Turkish soil.

All the while the major support for the Syrian rebels comes from Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The Saudi royal family want to see the competing model of Ba’athism dead and has no scruples about sending swarms of Wahhabi fundamentalists into Syria to finish the job. In doing so the House of Saud hopes to see the life of the republican and secular nationalist rival snuffed out. No such thing as Arab unity when it comes to holding onto the oiliest dirt in the ‘Middle East’. The sectarianism of this war was triggered by factors not totally internal to Islam. In Syria there is a class basis for sectarianism as the military is dominated by Alawite Muslims and economic power rests in the hands of a Sunni Muslim elite. Perhaps the Saudi oligarchy hopes to see a new regime which relies on the Sunni elite in Syria and not on the military dominated by Alawites. It would be a convenient move to flood the country with arms to Islamist groups who wish to deal with the Alawite Muslim minority.

Not coincidentally the Syrian regime is the only Arab ally of Iran, an officially Shi’ite republic, to the extent of backing Khomeini in the fight with Saddam. The Iranian government is now returning the favour in pledging support to Assad and going as far as sending 4,000 troops to assist in quashing the rebellion. The Assad regime is the stable route of arms to pass from Iran to Shi’ite militia in Lebanon and Iraq. Both the Iranians and the Hezbollah are anxious at the possibility of greater isolation in a region vulnerable to the military adventures of Washington and its proxies. Hezbollah may have defeated Israel in 2000 and 2006 at a huge cost. Hassan Nasrallah will be more than aware that the Israelis are not going to forget about Lebanon any time soon. Significantly, Lebanon has refused to grant the US permission to utilise their airspace to launch the attack. The Jordanian and Iraqi governments have joined with Lebanon in this refusal. So that would effectively rule out an attack from the Fifth Fleet in Bahrain and Diego Garcia. If there is to be a strike then it will have to be orchestrated from the Mediterranean.

Meanwhile the al-Maliki government would prefer not to see Syria bombed by the US for it may stir the sectarian impulses which are already pulsating within its own borders. Perhaps Nouri al-Maliki fears a Sunni rebellion. The Shi’ite militias of Iraq have already clashed with rebel forces in the defence of Assad’s regime and have threatened further action. Likewise the Hezbollah have threatened to take action should the US start flinging cruise missiles like pebbles. On the other side of Lebanon, the Israeli government wouldn’t mind if Assad disappeared but fear what might arise in Syria if he actually does fall. The possibility of an unencumbered fight between Israel’s enemies doesn’t appeal much, but neither would free elections. Note that the Israeli airstrikes against Syria were not stepped up to take out the Assad regime; instead it seemed to be more directed towards prolonging and exacerbating the conflict. So long as Hezbollah and Iran are left vulnerable it doesn’t matter how high the mountain of Arab corpses rises.

This article was originally written for The Third Estate on September 2nd 2013.