Thursday, 24 June 2010

A Conservative's Wet Dream.

"When we say 'We're in this all together' we mean it." - George Osborne

As Reginald D Hunter once joked "Batman is a conservative's wet dream, fuck Batman." as he is in essence a rich-white-man who uses highly advanced technology to fight street-level crime. But he leaves supercapitalists like Rupert Murdoch and Donald Trump to do "business", which of course includes much worse crimes against society and the poor. Though it would appear that Hunter's comical theory has some ground in reality. The Con-Dem Coalition have just released the "emergency budget", or perhaps more accurately, the de facto Conservative government has released their "emergency budget". They have described the budget, without irony, as a "progressive budget".  It is actually highly regressive, as predicted, as it holds the majority of society responsible for the irresponsibility of "Big Finance". So as working-class children go without free meals at school, bankers in Canary Wharf can go on as they have done since the "Big Bang" of 1986.

George Osborne, is our Batman, our "vatman", who posed for the journalists, with the "emergency budget" in hand as part of the usual media saturated ritual. Sadly, the public's understanding of the budget will come from the way it has been "spoon-fed" to them by the mass-media. So the regressive nature of the budget will be downplayed and "austerity" will be presented as a necessary evil. The increase in VAT, from 17.5% to 20%, will definitely hit working-people the hardest, as they spend a greater amount of their income than the wealthy and have less disposable income to spend. It would seem that the "There is no alternative" logic of Thatcherism has reared it's ugly head in defence of such a regressive policy - that will raise £13 billion a year, as opposed to the £20 billion that could be extracted from the financial sector with the "Robin Hood Tax". It's possible that this was done to cover the losses incurred by the tax-cuts for corporations, as well as for around 880,000 low earners.

The spending cuts, that will decimate benefits, pensions and education, are part of the assault on the working-class by the "progressive alliance". Notice the proposed cuts to the benefits system are being talked up as an "incentive" to work. But the cuts to taxes for corporations are described as "incentives" to invest, trade and generate wealth etc. The fundamental assumption being that decreasing the income of a poor person is an incentive, but increasing the income of a rich person is also an incentive. There is the clear double-standard that often goes over our heads. Making sure that the ultra-rich become even richer, while the masses get poorer, is "good" for the economy apparently. Of course, there are no jobs for the "dependency culture" to be driven to find, so firms will require exemption from national insurance to employ a greater number of workers - this has the "wonderful effects" of driving down wages for all and undermining unions.

The cuts in spending to pensions will worsen the coming 'Pensions Crisis' and harm some of the most vulnerable citizens in our society - namely, the elderly majority. The Conservatives and Liberals never proposed any method to solve the coming crisis, nor did New Labour, and it was mostly ignored during the debates. If you've been living on the moon, or just England, for the last year you might be totally unaware of the approaching crisis. But the facts are that we have an aging population, soon there will be more pensioners than people working and paying taxes to prop them up. The options to resolve this crisis include: privatisation of pensions, increase immigration or increase taxes. None of these options are particularly appealing to the average person, nor the ordinary bigot, but the latter two may be the only practical solution. As privatisation would leave pensioners largely dependent on volatile market forces that could deprive them of a future.

The cost of Gove's "free schools" will probably be supplemented with funds cut £35 million from education spending which provides free meals for the poorest of children. This as over 400,000 children are receiving free meals, though over 1 million are living below the poverty line and are not "entitled" to free meals. Gove has vetoed pilot projects aimed at expanding the number of children who receive free meals at school. The government have shelved an £85 million programme to feed 500,000 more pupils. So far these cuts are consistent with Osborne's  expressed intent to tighten fiscal policy by £40 billion a year. The way resources will be allocated under Gove could leave state schools neglected, though private schools and Gove's experiment with "free schools" will no doubt receive the best of resources and the necessary funding. This will likely ensure that the 7% of British people who attend private schools will go onto take 80% of the top jobs in the United Kingdom, as they currently do and have done for decades.

Since the release of this "emergency budget", David Cameron admitted that the freezing of child benefits over the next 3 years is effectively a cut due to inflation, the Con-Dems have announced that they are sending letters to 6 million public sector workers to find out what they would cut. This appears to be a move to appear consistent with Osborne's claims that the people will be consulted on what cuts should be made. Interestingly, during Osborne's speech he mentioned that "The British public will hear [the cuts] straight from me here at this dispatch box." So it will be interesting to see if this is just a cynical gesture that they hope may validate the cuts they'll be announcing in full detail later in the year. The cynicism rife in the coalition is evident in the publicity stunts and shallow slogans that rob language of meaning. The way in which some Liberals are now defending the VAT rise is a further sign of what British politics has lost - a principled political system that offers change.

Related Links:
UK Budget Deficit Lower than Forecasted
Regressive School Plan
Osbornese - a Glossary 
Don't Look Down

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Red Liberty - A Freedom for All.

"A society that puts equality before freedom will get neither. A society that puts freedom before equality will get a high degree of both." - Milton Friedman
It is commonly believed that libertarianism and socialism are totally incompatible as the former is ideologically disposition to individualism clashes with the collectivism of the latter. The philosophy of libertarians is dedicated to small government and the freedom of the individual, whereas socialism is devoted to the democratic control of the means of production and distribution. Democracy was feared by classical liberals, and many modern day libertarians, as potentially tyrannical to the freedom of the individual - the tyranny of the majority. The democratic control, or state control, of the means of production have typically troubled libertarians who take the view of taxation as theft and the state as the enemy of freedom. Many libertarians regard freedom and equality as being in opposition, it's one or the other being a pragmatic defence of the free-market. But it could be argued that equality is not opposed to freedom and a radically egalitarian approach to freedom is possible. A major issue in relation to this is distributive justice, as it is where major differences between libertarians and socialists are drawn.

Distributive justice, as a political goal, could be described as a way of resolving political and economic injustices. However, there are competing views as to how the distribution should be accomplished along the lines of desert, merit, human rights, needs and utility. For instance, the provision of health-care by the state paid for with public money could improve the standard of living for millions of people, who may not have been able to afford sufficient health treatment in the past. But this is one view of the issue of health-care, the principle being applied in relation to distributive justice is that of needs. People need health-care and therefore it should be a priority to have universal health-care funded by taxes. Another view, is that the distribution of wealth and property should be determined according to the merit of individuals. Thus, health-care should be distributed according to the merit of individuals and not on the basis of need. This is the view typically taken by free-market libertarians.

Free-market libertarians, the ilk of Robert Nozick and Ayn Rand, might argue that taxing the income of individuals to fund such a public service diminishes the freedom of the individual. As the income and wealth of most people is derived from the individual's merit and is indicative of their character and talents. Therefore, taxing the income and wealth of individuals is in effect depriving them of their desert, which they earned through sheer hard-work. This undermines the freedom of the individual as it diminishes the ability of the individual to enjoy and to flourish to the extent that their hard-work allows them to do so. Thus, some libertarians have gone as far as to claim that taxation is a form of theft. But in regards to individual rights they might argue that the version of justice, which is preoccupied with needs, is contrary to the right to private property. Because the private ownership of property could be seen as an inalienable right, libertarians have argued that distributing land and wealth is against the rights of individuals to accumulate private property.

From this point-of-view, it could be argued that the inequality that might arise in a  libertarian society would be natural as it would reflect the natural talents of individuals and the level of self-determination there is in that society. Conservatives might argue that distributive justice, of a needs-based variety, could lead to a culture of dependency amongst the lower classes which could undermine the natural hierarchy and threaten the "fabric" of communities that make up society as a whole. Whereas, socialists are focused on the idea of distributive justice as centred around needs as a way of distributing wealth and property in the long-term pursuit of an egalitarian society. It is not that libertarians and conservatives do not adhere to a kind of distributive justice, it is that their view of justice differs greatly from the needs-based formula of socialism. The idea that wealth and property should be allocated according to merit is the kind of distributive justice that libertarians and conservatives tend to believe in. In a sense, one man's justice is another woman's oppression.

The view that individual rights and a needs-based idea of distributive justice are incompatible seems to have some ground. Though it could be argued that this kind of distributive justice diminishes individual freedom is too simplistic. The view could be overly simplistic as it depends on the conception of freedom that we're talking about. In regards to the freedom of the individual from constraint, also known as negative liberty, taxation is an infringement on freedom as it functions as a constraint on the individual by decreasing their disposable income. But in relation to positive liberty, which is not just about the freedom from constraint and is more about enabling individuals with the capacity to act freely, it could be that individual freedom is enhanced by a needs-focused distributive justice. This is because the state provision of education and health-care empower individuals to flourish, as the obstacles of insurance payments and tuition fees are removed at the expense of a wealthy few.

The view that wealth and property should be distributed according to the merit of individuals assumes that the gap between rich and poor is a result of a natural difference between individuals. This fails to take into account the way wealth and property is often handed down from one generation to the next further perpetuating privilege and power. The ignorance of free-marketeers to inheritance and the ways wealth can be concentrated in a minority goes beyond innocent naivity. As Rand acknowledged by revelling in inequality, she viewed the poor as "mud to be ground underfoot, fuel to be burned." To Rand it was deeply immoral to show these "lice" compassion, who are feeding off of the success of the "Masters of the Universe", as selfishness is the only virtue. Inequality is justice. This merit-based variety of distributive justice that free-market libertarians adhere to is a narrow and simplistic kind of justice. The conception of liberty that they so adore and actively promote is equally narrow, as it abandons the individual with a set of choices to make and nothing but autonomy as a means to flourish.

It could be said that the free-market brand of libertarianism is liberalism for the ultra-rich, as in that kind of society they would have the greatest freedom and the least amount of "constraints" on that freedom. But for the rest of society, the "maximised" freedom for the individual would mean a life of total subservience to the most tyrannical. This is an absolute truism in regard to the "Greed is Good" variant that Ayn Rand espoused. Whereas, at the limitation of the disposable income and economic freedom of a small few, the rest of society could derive a far greater freedom that enables choices and not just permits them. The kind of individual freedom that right-wing libertarians are pursuing is only for the opulent few and is derived at the expense of the many. And the liberty which socialists and anarchists are pursuing is for all, not only as individuals but as communities as well.

Significant Links:
Two Biographies of Ayn Rand
Responsibility to the Poor
Ayn Rand Interview
Milton Friedman on Libertarianism
Ron Paul on the American power structure
Noam Chomsky on libertarian socialism

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Malice in Wonderland.

Down the Rabbit Hole.

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea, known to all outside of Pyongyang as North Korea, is often described as a communist state and a relic of the Cold War. The state was founded following WW2 as a satellite of Stalinist Russia. What should be remembered about all supposedly communist states is that they were founded on Marxist-Leninist ideas. The state of affairs in countries like China and Russia, was that they were undeveloped and arguably pre-capitalist in nature. As revolution by the working-class was supposed to occur in the most advanced capitalist society. In North Korea socialism was considered impossible to develop as capitalism had not yet reached it's peak. Thus, the DPRK is a state "holding" society in preparation for the "real revolution" which would come in an advanced capitalist state. This was the internal "justification" for the totalitarian regime in North Korea, it's dynasty, personality cult and the disparity between rich and poor being the result.

Recently North Korea, has been in the news and not for the usual reasons. The reason is the World Cup and the fight the North Korean team put up against Brazil, holding them off for the first half of the match and scoring a goal, before being humiliated by Portugal. Though the people of North Korea will not see either match as the DPR was not victorious. But there are far more serious issues at hand in regards to North Korea. The last few years have been turbulent for the hermit state, to say the least. The country has collapsed economically and the state has yet to resolve mass-starvation since the famine in the 90s. The Bush administration added North Korea to the "Axis of Evil", possibly to reassure the world that the "War on Terrorism" is not a "War on Islam". Lately, the regime has been developing nuclear weapons in defiance of the USA. The aim of which is probably to deter a "pre-emptive strike" by the US, the kind seen in Iraq, which could easily tear apart the country.

It's possible that we could see regime change in North Korea soon, as Kim Jong-il has suffered strokes and may be suffering from cancer. Though the "Dear Leader" has supposedly been grooming his son to succeed him, his brother-in-law may also be a candidate, it does seem likely that the dynasty will end with Kim Jong-il. A military junta might "fill" the power vacuum, after Kim has passed on, given the militaristic nature of the DPRK government. This seems likely as Kim Jong-il is dependent on the support of generals for power. Because Kim Jong-il is not the official ruler of the country, because his father has been made "Eternal President", he is only the leader of the Workers' Party of Korea and the Korean People's Army. The bankrupt regime sustains itself by placating a nomenklatura consisting mostly of generals and atomic scientists in Yongbyon. It is possible that Kim's death has the potential to destabilise the country, especially if the passing of the "Dear Leader" led to a turbulent power-struggle.

The declining grip of Kim Jong-il on power is not only due to ill-health, the revaluation of the won last year caused a decline in the standard of living for North Koreans including the elite. The aim of the devaluation was to divert the proceeds of black markets into the economy. Instead the devaluation of the currency was the biggest disaster since the famine for the poorest of North Koreans. There was even word of demonstrations about the devaluation, which led to the regime raising the limits on how much currency citizens could exchange. The won plummeted by over 95% to the dollar and the state soon backed away after a riot by traders led to shootings. Though the devaluation succeeded in decimating private stores of money accumulated through the black market, it damaged the living standard of the elite. The "Dear Leader" has since attempted to soothe the "bruised coffers" of his generals with luxury cars. Similarly, workers were promised their salaries would be restored - but they only received a month's pay in the end.

At the Tea-Table.

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea was actually named in reaction to the founding of the Republic of Korea, at that time a virtual satellite of the US. During the reign of Kim Jong-il all references to communism and Marxist-Leninist ideology have been removed from the constitution. Instead, Juche and Songun have been enshrined in the constitution. The former essentially being self-reliance, which was first implemented to deal with the Sino-Soviet Split. The latter emphasising military as the driving force of the revolution and socialism. Though it is more likely a way for Kim Jong-il to maintain power, as by putting the Korean People's Army first the "Dear Leader" can remain in de facto control. It was likely that the jingoistic elements of Songun were comprised to unite the masses around the identity marker of the Korean nation. At the same time, the DPRK sought this shift in ethos to keep South Korea and the US at bay after the collapse of the USSR.

Therefore, the various acts of terrorism committed by the DPRK over the years, are probably ways of "holding-off" an invasion. The latest "outburst" from Kim Jong-il came in the sinking of the Cheonan, a South Korean naval ship, by a torpedo fired by a submarine from the North, which killed around 50 people. The North Korean regime soon went into denial as the outrage rippled across the world. Some analysts have concluded that this was a desperate act, the aim of which was to get the attention of the US, but also a show of strength and fearlessness to restore confidence among the military elite. The act certainly maintains the DPR government's reputation for jingoistic behaviour. Though the logical conclusion of this kind of foreign policy would be that powerful long-range nuclear weapons are a better tool for preventing a military strike in the future. Of course, the goal is not just to maintain the regime and fend off possible invading armies. It could be a way of gaining greater aid from the West, with the threat of a nuclear strike.

It is widely regarded that China has the greatest influence in North Korea, though due to the policies centred around an ethos of Juche the Chinese influence in Pyongyang has diminished. The ways in which the Chinese government supports the DPRK, economically with fuel and food aid, do not give China a great deal of control. The regime led by Kim Jong-il is fully aware that the Chinese will support them regardless of the development of nuclear weapons. Because the collapse of North Korea would be a disaster which could spill out into China, while at the same time making the US-backed South Korea a neighbour. The recent revelations that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld wanted to engineer a new "Cold War" with China, turning them into another Soviet Union, and essentially take US-China relations back 40 years.  Cheney and Rumsfeld were thinking of the interests of "Big Oil" and the military industrial complex, but not of the US economy as a whole which could be destroyed by such a conflict with China.

A war on the Korean peninsula would be a disaster, from which very few if anyone would benefit, as it has been estimated 100,000 people could be slaughtered in the first week. Seoul could easily be decimated by North Korean artillery. As the so-called "de-militarised zone" between North and South is the only place in the world where there are nuclear mines sewn into the soil and two armed forces are placed to watch each other 24/7. Though South Korea would likely be victorious in such a conflict the cost of seizing the Northern half of the peninsula could outweigh the rewards. After the collapse, Chinese and South Korean cities could be subject to a massive influx of desperate North Koreans. This is not needed nor desired by either Chinese or South Korean officials. So it would seem that conflict would be an unlikely reaction to North Korea's latest stunt. Diplomacy is probably the only way forward, to defuse the situation and move towards reunification in the long-run.

Related Links:
Behind North Korea's Closed Doors Part 1
Cheney wanted "New Cold War"

Saturday, 12 June 2010


We're all in this together.

The budget deficit racked up by the last years of 'New Labour' as Brown was trying to bring Britain out of recession "Keynesian-style", for which he was attacked by the press on the grounds of "fiscal irresponsibility". If Brown had stood back and done nothing, as Cameron claims he would have, Brown would have been attacked by the press anyway. The recession is over and we are now living under a coalition government. The media has shut up about the recession and the recovery, but is loyally spouting the party-line of "Cuts! Cuts! Cuts!" Though there are good reasons to be concerned about the budget deficit, as it is approaching to £170 billion. Cameron's argument is that the deficit is an unjust form of taxation on our children and their children, so we must cut now and take the consequences of our actions as a responsible adult should. However, there is a fallacy at work here which the media are not acknowledging, in fact they are actively ignoring it, for the sake of the nomenklatura.

As cutting public spending will inevitably involve mass job-cuts, most of which will have little productive effect as firing an employee that costs £25,000 a year would only save the state £2,000 over the same period of time. £23,000 would still be lost in tax-revenue and benefits payments to the "redundant worker". In order to pay for a deficit of £170 billion through such cuts, the government would have to cut the jobs of 85 million people which is an absurd proposition. So it would seem that there will have to be some tax increases at some point, though the proposed spending cuts could increase unemployment. The cuts also have the potential to further the decline of tax-revenue in this country, which has been a major contributor to the budget deficit. The media prefers to focus on reckless public spending as the cause of the deficit, which supports the argument that we must slash spending to save future generations from the burden of £170 billion.

It would appear that there are ideological reasons for the cuts in public spending. As seen in the US, recessions and the subsequent budget deficits provide a pretext to cutting public spending and dismantling the changes made by the New Deal reforms. These actions have made the financial sector a central part of the economy, the banks have become particularly influential in government. This is why the US Treasury Department is referred to by regulators as "Government Goldman" due to prevalence of former bankers, specifically those who used to work in Goldman Sachs, in the Department. This is a long-term consequence of Reaganomics in the US, the British equivalent being Thatcherism that has led to the financialisation of the UK economy. The cuts which George Osborne is proposing belong to this same current of dismantling the welfare state that was constructed in the years of social democratic reforms back in the 1940s.

The current, which I am referring to, is that of Thatcherism which has become the political orthodoxy in Britain, as it has dominated policy since 1979 and may do for years to come. Thatcher led the way in mass-privatisation and deregulation, which destroyed entire communities centred around manufacturing and mining. These policies were combined with a crippling attack on trade unions which led to the decline of workers' share of GDP (received in wages), this culminated in the early 90s with some of the biggest wage cuts in the world. The financial sector became increasingly important as it flourished under the Thatcherites, especially after the "Big Bang" of 1986. The rise of 'New Labour' slowed the increase of inequality but failed to reverse the massive increase that happened between 1979 and 1997. And after 13 years of Labour wages for working-people increased by 45% while wages for the upper-classes increased by around 300%. We as a society are now more unequal than we were 40 years ago. This is the ignoble current that Cameron and Osborne belong to.

The 80% cuts and 20% taxes approach of the Con-Dem Coalition is likely to harm working-people the most, whilst protecting the upper-classes from their responsibilities to wider society. The words of George Osborne "We're all in this together" only applies to the rich-white-men in government and their primary constituency in Canary Wharf, who have contributed £16 million to the Conservative Party since 2006. 18 out of the 23 Cabinet ministers are millionaires, 19 are male and 22 are white. Though this may have changed slightly since David Laws left the Cabinet following the revelations about his expenses and sexuality. But there are definitely still 19 men and 22 whites because we live in a "meritocracy". Because we live in a "meritocracy" Stuart Rose - the Chief of M & S and a supporter of the Conservatives in the face of a Labour "job tax" - has his salary and bonus increased by 140% while you can expect to see public services slashed for the  "good" of the country.

Fortunately for the Conservative Party, David Cameron and his artful oik can rely on a large chunk of the mass-media to back them all the way as he has "wooed" the media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, who stamps out dissent wherever he hangs his hat. Murdoch controls around 40% of the media in Britain and had backed Cameron in the PM campaigns. Thankfully, the kind of commentary Murdoch spews in the US is not tolerated in Britain at the moment. Even The Sun is moderate when compared to the "fair and balanced" reporting at Fox News. Nevertheless, the criticism that will inevitably land on the government will be marginalised and "diluted" by Murdoch's influence. The most read attacks will come from the reactionary populists like Richard Littlejohn and Melanie Phillips, which will likely consist of accusations that the government is "too left-wing". For them the only explanation for the failures of state-capitalism is that there is an elite of liberals and socialists who are keeping utopia.

In the end the proposed set of spending cuts and the increase of regressive taxes will probably be pushed through. When it is possible to cut the budget deficit by increasing some taxes, while cracking down on tax evasion and closing loopholes that cost this country £100 billion every year in tax revenue. But the Conservatives, despite claiming to be pragmatic, are not acting out of practicality and have a deep-rooted dedication to slashing public services that will benefit the majority of the population. A dedication to taxation would require a genuine dedication to progressive aims, while the Con-Dem Coalition has only reactionary goals. The Red Tory rhetoric is shallow and the labelling of this coalition as "progressive" is deeply deceptive. As this government appears to be dedicated to the same cause as the Blairites and the Thatcherites. Thus, Osborne's statement "We're all in this together" should be replaced with something more befitting like "From each according to his gullibility, to each according to his greed."

Related Links:

Saturday, 5 June 2010

The Shining and the Slaughter.

The Genius of Kubrick.

The 1980 film The Shining, adapted from the Stephen King novel, directed by Stanley Kubrick  is a cinematic masterpiece of psychological horror. Today tales of madness and isolation, telepathy and the supernatural, are commonly churned out of the Hollywood machine in such a manner that it can only be put down to the profit motive. But The Shining is one of few great films in the horror genre that has not been diluted by the "invisible hand" that pushed out The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and then squeezed out as many sequels as possible, before resorting to remaking the entire bloody saga. Though it could easily be asserted that The Shining is of a superior standard of art and film, by comparison the slasher flicks of that era appear exploitative and devoid of the intelligence which refined King's story into a classic that stands the test of time. Even 30 years after it's release, the film can be watched and appreciated on many different levels due to the polysemic nature of the story.

To the displeasure of Stephen King fans everywhere, Stanley Kubrick altered the plot of the story, cutting away a great deal of back story, and in doing so diminishing the themes developed throughout the novel. For instance, Jack Torrance is a much more sympathetic figure in the novel and has a moment of redemption as the plot concludes. Whereas, Kubrick's Jack Torrance is devoid of such qualities and in that respect may have more in common with Alex DeLarge of A Clockwork Orange. Perhaps this is indicative of the pessimism often associated with Kubrick's films. Though similar arguments have been made regarding Kubrick's preceding adaptations, notably A Clockwork Orange and Lolita, but the completed projects were some of the most innovative and enthralling contributions to modern cinema. Though there is another side of The Shining that is often overlooked, no pun intended, the political themes and messages in the film that most horror films are simply devoid of.

What should not be ignored is the way in which Stanley Kubrick littered his films with socio-political messages. For instance, in 2001: A Space Odyssey the HAL 9000 computer represents IBM. Each letter of the acronym "HAL" is one letter ahead of the letters that make up "IBM". But there are other references, towards the end of the film while HAL is being dismantled the computer begins to sing 'Daisy Bell'. The first ever synthesised computer speech was produced by an IBM 704 computer which first sang 'Daisy Bell'. It was at a lab in Urbana, Illinois that this demonstration first took place in 1962. While being dismantled HAL makes reference to this historic event by naming the same location as the place of which HAL was built. The scene in which HAL cheats during a chess game may imply that Kubrick distrusted and was suspicious of IBM. Kubrick had good reason to be, IBM had devised a traffic management system, centred around punch-cards, for the concentration camps of the Third Reich.

Sins of the Nation.

If we accept that the work Stanley Kubrick is typically littered with politicised symbolism and messages, it seems highly likely that The Shining also carries such symbolism and messages. The idea that The Shining could be interpreted as commenting on the slaughter of Native Americans is nothing new. It goes back to an essay written by Bill Blakemore and has recently been explored in great depth by film analyst Rob Ager. Today this is still a commonly neglected interpretation of the film and is no doubt an interesting view of the story. Arguably, the major political theme of The Shining is the suppression of a violent history. At the time, Kubrick was planning to make a film about the Third Reich and the Holocaust. He would later abandon the project after Schindler's List was released in 1993 and the overwhelmingly depressing research that he had undertaken in pursuit of his goal. It could be that Kubrick focused on political themes relating to war and ethnic cleansing in his films, like Full Metal Jacket and The Shining, out of an obsession with producing a film about the Holocaust.

The way in which the United States was "created" is often described in semi-biological terms which distort the magnitude of the slaughter and displacement of Native Americans, what is understood in terms of genocide and ethnic cleansing today. The genocide of Native Americans was downplayed for over 150 years, while Hollywood capitalised on the slaughter by churning out dozens of Westerns featuring the typical "Cowboys-and-Indians" dynamic. It wasn't until the 1970s that there was even a real debate on the issue that there was once an advanced civilisation consisting of over 80 million people, around 95% of the Native population had been exterminated by the mid 17th Century. It was following the American Revolution that Thomas Jefferson, an advocate of assimilation and acculturation of the Natives, first proposed the idea of an "Indian Removal Plan", a precursor to the Indian Removal act of 1830 which Andrew Jackson put in place and used to drive many tribes to west of the Mississippi.

As Rob Ager points out in his analysis of the film, there are numerous references to Indians and settlers throughout. The music, as Jack Torrance is making his way to the Overlook Hotel by car, is at one point reminiscent of Native American chanting. Jack and Wendy are informed by Ullman that the Overlook Hotel, itself riddled with Native American artwork and symbols, was built on an Indian burial ground and a few attacks by tribes had to be "repelled" to complete construction. In the car, with his wife and son, Jack tells a story about a group of settlers who get lost in the wilderness and resort to cannibalism to survive. The Hotel is littered with art that appears to be Native American in origin, the paintings above the fireplace for instance are Native American sand paintings. The 'Gold Room' is the place in which Jack goes to get away from his wife and first encounters the mysterious bartender. The room is a clear reference to the days of the gold rush which motivated many to head west in search of prosperity.

The twin girls, who were killed by the caretaker Grady, have parallels in Navajo folklore in which twins were used to depict the duality between "father sky" and "mother earth". There is also symbolism which suggests that Wendy is representative of a Native American wife. The way she dresses and braids her hair is very similar to that of a Native American woman. Many Native American women had to marry white men to gain citizenship in the US. But also many slave women were exploited sexually by their masters, which is a reason that many African-Americans have white ancestors. So it is possible that Wendy represents either a Native American woman or an African-American. The river of blood that rushes out of the elevator could quite conceivably represent the blood of Native Americans that the Overlook Hotel was built upon. The colours red, white and blue are seen in several scenes, on clothing worn by Wendy, Danny, Jack and Ullman. These are the well known colours of the American flag, which also appears in several scenes and carries patriotic connotations and indifference to the ethnic cleansing that the Republic was built upon.

The character Dick Hallorann may represent the Otherness, composed of both African and Native Americans, which was destroyed. Hallorann is juxtaposed with a can of baking powder that has a stereotypical "Indian Chief" as its logo. It could also be argued that Hallorann is resembles a Native American in terms of his facial features. As Jack is talking to the phantom bartender and sipping a glass of bourbon he refers casually to the "white man's burden", a reference to Rudyard Kipling's poem on imperialism. It isn't until Jack meets Delbert Grady that the implicit racism of the characters spills out onto the floor for all to see. It is done so  suddenly, Grady casually drops the deeply repugnant slur "nigger" with a look of complete hatred about him. Interestingly, the conversation takes place in a gentleman's toilets which is decorated entirely in white and red, the toilets are also immaculate. This reflects the decades of white supremacy that the US went through and the blood that it was predicated on. Hallorann is later murdered by Jack with an axe, he dies on a floor made up of tiles with a pattern similar to fabric seen in Native American culture. 

Delbert Grady describes the killings of his daughters and wife in terms of doing his "duty" and "correcting" them. Presumably, Grady believed the duty to protect the Hotel outweighed his responsibilities as a father and husband. Similarly, Jack rants at Wendy about his "responsibilities" and emphasises the importance of the "contract" which he signed freely and in doing so accepted such "responsibilities". This is just after Jack caught Wendy looking through what he has been working on for so long. The idea of a "social contract" was a liberal idea associated with the philosopher John Locke. Locke's work inspired many of the ideas expressed in the US Constitution and in the Declaration of Independence. In this sense, it could be that the "writing project" that Jack Torrance was working on for so many months was symbolic of the Declaration of the Independence. An implication of this may be that Jack represents Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration, who had a relationship with Sally Hemings, a slave who bore him a child.

 Time to Shine.

The Shining was released in March of 1980, which would place it in the limbo nearing the end of Jimmy Carter's time in office just before the "Reaganite Revolution" that heralded a new era in American politics. Carter was elected as a figure of "hope" in the aftermath of the scandalous Nixon era, which decimated the public belief and trust in politicians, but disappointed and left largely a failure after just one term. This led the way for the Reaganite zeitgeist of 1980s America to fill the void left by the perceived failure of "liberal politicians" in the 1960s. This is the source of the prevalent disdain of liberals on the American Right and the demonising of liberalism that has taken place in the US over the last 30 years.  But on the back of the failure of Democratic administrations under the likes of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, the Republicans have continued to reinvent themselves and have led populist "rebellions" against the "liberal elite" who want to destroy the American way of life.

It could be argued that the story of The Shining is indicative of this transition from liberal disillusionment with politics to reactionary anti-politics. Jack Torrance is a hard-working blue-collar guy and the primary breadwinner in a nuclear family. The reason Jack took on the job as a caretaker at the Overlook Hotel is to find the time and seclusion he needs to complete a novel. The inspiration for the story came from the months Stephen King spent writing in isolation at an almost totally empty hotel.  Though the risk posed to his son Danny and Wendy's instant reaction, to get Danny to a doctor as soon as possible, are obstacles to Jack's writing ambitions. In a sense, it is his self-interest that he sees blocked by the interests of his family. This is much like the clash between conservatism and liberalism in America, the latter representing individualism and the former being social democracy. What should be kept in mind is that conservatism and liberalism in the US differ greatly from the traditions of conservatism and liberalism.

Perhaps Jack's murderous rage and delusions of a glorious past represent the most vicious and reactionary tendencies in what is commonly referred to as "conservatism" in the US today. A precursor to the angry white men who emerged in the early 1990s, at first it was to seize the House of Representatives and the Senate from the Democrats. But a much more ugly side to this phenomenon has emerged, the oldest example being shooting sprees targeting civilians. A more "modern development" is the killing of abortionists being primary examples. Let alone the thousands of private armies, commonly mislabled as "militias", who are preparing to take on the Federal Reserve, the UN or the Devil. The culmination of years of neglect that led to the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995, an act of terrorism perpetrated by men with extreme right-wing views and sympathies with the militias. Today it is the Tea Party Movement, which is another figment of the angry white male phenomenon, and is doing it's best to stifle the moderate changes proposed by the Obama administration.

Significant Links:
Noam Chomsky Meets the Pioneer Spirit 
A People's History of the American Empire  
Noam Chomsky on "anti-politics"

Friday, 4 June 2010

Enter the Doom Loop.

Capitalism with Asian Values.

What is commonly referred to as "Capitalism with Asian values" is essentially state-capitalism without a formal democratic system. This is the kind of system seen in China today, which is formally communist but in practice is a state-capitalist system, an authoritarian capitalism which is even more productive and dynamic than the Western liberal variety. Arguably, this was first put into practice in Singapore under Lee Kuan Yew who took Singapore from the developing world into the developed world in 30 years. Despite the fact that his years as Prime Minister ended in 1990 Lee Kuan Yew still dominates the government of Singapore at the side of his eldest son. Whereas, in China it was Deng Xiaoping, an admirer of Lee Kuan Yew, who brought about the reforms which have made China the economic powerhouse it is today. This new brand of capitalism does not necessitate democracy and is more efficient as a result. It looks as though this kind of capitalism is heading west, in Russia since the rise of the Oligarchs and in Italy under Silvio Berlusconi.

The Russian economy underwent a radical transformation in the 1990s as the old controlled economy was broken apart, the red-tape was cut up and entire industries were sold off, not long after the fall of the Soviet Union. The architects of these free-market reforms believed that the end result would be a new form of democracy, in which the market and not politics provides the people with what they want. What actually did emerge from years of economic "shock therapy" was a new elite of ruthless businessmen as millions of Russians were left in poverty. This led to economic chaos and political instability, culminating with the occupation and subsequent military assault on Parliament, Yeltsin ruled by decree and exerted state-power to pander to the wants of the Oligarchs. When Putin came to power the majority of Russians were disillusioned with democracy and wanted order above freedom, they welcomed Putin's authoritarian style of governing and nationalistic rhetoric. The corporatism that began under Yeltsin was further affirmed by Putin, except his tough approach brought some order to the economy.

It has been said that we may be in the "end game" of democracy as we know it. It may sound apocalyptic to talk in these terms, but it is sadly not an exaggeration as old threat to the political system are becoming even more threatening. Take the power of corporations, the US Supreme Court recently ruled that corporations have a right to freedom of speech and have removed all constraints that prevent "Corporate America" from contributing so much money to political campaigns. It should be noted that in the last election Barack Obama received around $730 million from "Big Business", now the funding is likely to rise and may exceed $1 billion in 2012. This is a major threat to the democratic process, as it is the increasing influence of the wealthy that diminishes the influence of the poor who cannot make such large contributions to the campaign. What is left of the American democratic process is being eroded and rendered ever more meaningless by a tacit alliance between the ultra-rich and politicians.

We have witnessed the passing of the USA Patriot act in the aftermath of 9/11, which may be a sign of things to come in the West. On the surface the widely known human rights violations by the US government are recognised as a consequence of the Patriot act. It is not widely known that the Patriot act undermines Magna Carta and by extension human rights in the West. If the depravity of torturing people on mass does not concern you, the way in which Magna Carta has been flushed down the toilet should. As the state-sanctioned kidnapping and torture of "enemy combatants" provides a pretext to infringing on the rights and freedoms of Westerners in the future. Guantanamo Bay is not the only indication of this, a far less known instance is the database that the NSA are currently building in Utah. The complex will be bigger than Washington DC and cost the American tax-payer over $2 billion to construct. The database will house all information derived from "signals intelligence" - phone calls, emails, text messages and data trails like web searches - which can then be analysed to determine which citizens are or may become "terrorists".

Beware the Boris.

This is not the only troubling development, the increasingly inhumane and racist policies on illegal immigrants may be another sign of the shift away from the liberal rhetoric about human rights and freedom. One well known instance of this is the Arizona Senate Bill 1070 which holds that anyone of Latino appearance has to carry documents proving that they are citizens of the US. If you're of Mexican descent and have lived in the US your whole life you still have to prove you are a US citizen. If the police stop you and you can't prove that you're an American you can be arrested, fined and even deported. Whites can also sue the police if they are seen not stopping a person who just happens to look hispanic. Even if such a person has a job and has lived here their entire life, if they cannot prove they are a US citizen they are not entitled to the same rights as US citizens. The immigrant population of the US are not regarded as human beings by the state, as a result so-called "immigrants" are required to show documentation to prove their citizenship just to pick up food stamps for their children. Again, a pretext for undermining the rights and freedoms of all people regardless of whether they are citizens or not.

A less well known example is the measures Silvio Berlusconi has taken to "curb" the influx of illegal immigrants from Africa into Italy. The Berlusconian measures effectively sanction the sinking of boat loads of Africans sailing illegally to the Italian Republic, the boot of Europe. An example was made of a group of fishermen who had saved illegal immigrants from drowning in the sea, each of them faced 15 years for "aiding and abetting illegal immigration". This has functioned to encourage Italian fishermen to beat away illegal immigrants with sticks and leave them to die in the sea, as fishermen responsible for this kind of behaviour do not face trial or even arrest. In 2008 Berlusconi even declared a state of emergency and deployed 4,000 troops to parts of cities "vulnerable" to illegal immigration, as of 2010 the state of emergency has yet to end. Berlusconi's sexual escapades are what the press prefer to focus on, meanwhile   illegal immigrants are being excluded from the civil order. Many in the US now believe that the rights and freedoms guaranteed in the US Constitution only apply to Americans so "foreigners" have no rights.

The way in which illegal immigrants are being deprived of rights and liberties is related to the issue of a superfluous population. The US economy became centred around finance and banking in the 1970s, manufacturing has been abandoned and millions of Americans are no longer needed in the economy.  These superfluous Americans include the 50 million people who don't have health insurance, most Latino and African-Americans also fall into this category, "illegal aliens" are also superfluous as they are mostly unskilled. In Colombia, the government deals with their superfluous population through "social cleansing" which amounts to the state-sponsored murder of impoverished Colombians who are not needed in the economy. This has also been seen in Brazil and Guatemala. But in the US, there is a more civilised way of dealing with the people who aren't needed - namely the prison system. This is the reason that over 7 million people were in prison, on probation or parole, in 2006. The US has the highest incarceration rate in the world and 25% of the world's prison population are in America.

Britain has a superfluous population too, it is concentrated mostly in areas of Wales, Scotland and Northern England that once thrived in areas such as mining and manufacturing. Finance and banking are now of central importance in the economy. The right-wing media blame immigrants for the lack of work available in these unnecessary communities, but really most immigrants are part of the same unnecessary population. Sadly, it may be that the kind of regime constructed in Italy is the future of Western politics. Berlusconi's reign is characterised by cynical and obscene media spectacles, his scandalous sex-life being an example, but also a more sinister side which has kept Italy under a state of emergency for 2 years to supposedly "fend off" illegal immigrants, sexual deviants and the Mafia. Berlusconi's populism blames communists and immigrants for everything that is wrong in society. Someone like Boris Johnson could well be the British Berlusconi one day, this possibility should be deeply unsettling to us all.

Significant Links:

Blood and Soil in the "Free World".

"The nationalist does not only not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them." - George Orwell

There has been a lot of "noise" recently, over the last couple of years, regarding "Britishness" and the "anti-English sentiment". Just as in the US the accusation of "anti-Americanism" is often hurled around at critics of the government. In Britain the discourse that has utilised the phrases "Britishness" and "anti-English", as well as the debate over what it means to be British, was stimulated by 'New Labour' as it became increasingly authoritarian. The debate seems to have first began when Jack Straw pushed for flag waving regardless of a regulation preventing the government from doing so, except for 18 days of the year. Not to mention the mad scramble for a national day of pride that was the British equivalent to the July 4th celebrations in the US. The question of what is "Britishness" is often asked, and when you think of "Americanism" it is equally difficult to decide what that actually means. But really this question is irrelevant, as is the concept of "Britishness".

Now the labels appear to have been hijacked by the xenophobic likes of the EDL and the BNP, who use it to vilify opposition as "anti-English". Though this is nothing unique to our concepts, the concept of "Americanism" is commonly used as a tool of vilification to stamp out dissent. This is so because the idea of "Americanism" is to conjure up a utopian image of a harmonious and unified society - devoid of domestic tensions relating to class, gender and sexuality - that is only threatened by external forces like immigrants. Concepts like "Americanism" and "Britishness" only have counterparts in totalitarian states like the USSR where "anti-Sovietism" was used for crushing dissent. The purpose of terms like "Americanism" is to justify the use of terms like "anti-American", "anti-English" and "un-Australian" against critics. It's an effective method, as the mud-slingers cannot lose as the focus turns to whether or not the accused is hateful of the country and away from the real issues that plague society.

Frankly, it is typically extreme right-wing movements and groups that latch onto these labels and use them to vilify the opposition as in some way "hateful". Terms such as "anti-English", "Anglophobia" and "anti-British" are often used interchangeably with terms like "anti-white". In doing so, the aim is usually to place criticism of England, Britain or of white people in to the realm of racial hatred. This is indicative of the warped nature of nationalism, that equates society and identity with the nation-state, turning attacks on the state into attacks against the society and the identity of the people. When the difference between "anti-white" racism and anti-Semitism is that Jews have been oppressed and persecuted for centuries, whereas it was  mostly white men who were largely responsible for the pogroms and the death camps. Similarly, labelling criticism of the British government as "anti-British" is equally inappropriate given the centuries of British hegemony that was only diminished in the 20th Century.

The aim of those applying such tools of vilification is to guide the rage of the embittered and disenfranchised against targets cherry-picked for purely political reasons. Those who equate society and identity with the nation-state typically attempt to drive this rage against asylum seekers, illegal immigrants and ethnic minorities in general. As the tendency of nationalists towards racism take human beings and turn them into some variant of undesirable "foreigner", which they regard as a source of rot in our society. But this vilification is arguably indicative of authoritarian tendencies that still linger in the West. The fact that these labels are typically used to crush dissent in totalitarian states like the Soviet Union reflects this. It's deeply ironic that such methods are now common to the so-called "Free World", where criticism of US government policy can be shot down as "anti-American". Since the US government does not represent most Americans the concept of "anti-Americanism" appears incredibly absurd.

As Orwell once pointed out, nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. The nationalist is obsessed with the superiority of the nation, along with the people, culture and traditions of that nation. Thus, nothing less than the blind support of all state policy - which they themselves approve of - is good enough for nationalists. Whereas, the patriot is devoted to their country and way of life but has no intention to impose this way of life on others. Patriotism is defensive while nationalism is aggressive. Patriotism is devoid of tendencies towards self-deception in the face of their country's flaws and the crimes of the state, as it is the country which is the subject of devotion. Nationalists are blind to the flaws of the state, they have to believe in it's superiority and perfection, this is why critics have to be vilified as "liars" and "racists" as they are the greatest threat to the delusions of a jingoist. As military might and racial purity are fallacious theories which are easily proven incorrect, the nationalist needs vilification to defend views so utterly indefensible in any intellectual capacity.

Significant Links:
Notes on Nationalism - George Orwell
Americanism - Noam Chomsky 
Make Mine Freedom
BBC on Britishness