Category Archives: Uncategorized

Inconceivable!

One final thought on political language. It is inconceivable that the Brits would ever open a document like the Americans did with “we hold these truths to be self-evident”, we’re just not a declaratory people. It’s a very prosaic way, even when we are doing something very important, the language is very understated, the language of the parliamentary council.

Peter Hennessy, Radio 4, 18 December, 2014

Here’s a funny thing.

Thomas Jefferson, the man who drafted the Declaration of Independence, was, at the time, a subject of the British crown. The Continental Congress that approved the final version were British subjects. Much as the modern rulers of America and Britain would like to pretend that the revolutionaries sprang from the ground like the army of Cadmus, they were British before they were American.

They were in revolt against the crown and committed to the creation of a new nation in the American colonies. But they were, in simple terms, “Brits”.

The British have been capable of all kinds of things. In the eighteenth century they spoke in ways that Lord Hennessy now finds inconceivable. They could see through the magic show that justifies our gimcrack governing arrangements. They made an America, on the other side of the sea.

I wonder what they are capable of now, here.

One thing is sure, once they take possession of the whole inventory of their wits they will cease to sip at the suave dormitives administered by the good Lord Hennessy.

Paranoid Complacency

Every so often one of the big media outlets publish a piece worrying about how conspiracy theories are gaining traction in the mainstream.

These pieces usually:

1.) ignore actual, recent conspiracies in favour of, er, more speculative examples
2.) fail to acknowledge that mainstream belief in conspiracy theories might have something to do with these actual recent conspiracies
3.) reference a belief that is supposed to be ridiculously paranoid but is obviously true
4.) mention the X-Files.

The Threat We Face Right Now

Adam Ramsay has written a piece for openDemocracy, in which he makes the point that the referendum in Scotland has begin to shine a light on the constitution of the United Kingdom. He is right to say that the English need to start thinking about the kind of constitution we want. The financial crash and its aftermath revealed once and for all that bankocracy is a form of the state, the form we have now.

Change is now inevitable. The nature of the change will be determined by the quality of organization, and by our ability to articulate a vision of English independence that speaks to our times. If we do not secure a free state, and soon, then we might as well set this, from Teresa May, to music and make it the new national anthem:

We are engaged in a struggle that is fought on many fronts and in many forms.

It will go on for many years and the threat we face right now is perhaps greater than it ever has been.

We must have the powers we need to defend ourselves.

 

Your Brain on Porn

YBOP-v3.2Today my imprint Commonwealth publishes Your Brain on Porn: Internet Pornography and the Emerging Science of Addiction.

Professor Anthony I Jack writes in the foreword:

Addiction to internet pornography is a very real phenomenon with a very real impact on well-being. It is a phenomenon which has grown exponentially in the last decade, even though it has remained largely invisible and undetected by society. Tragically, its risks continue to be ignored or actively denied by all but a few enlightened medical professionals. It is a phenomenon that is not just here to stay, but also likely to increase. It is almost certainly the cause of the widespread sexual dysfunction found in recent studies of late adolescence. It is a problem that is most likely impacting you, or your loved ones, without you even being aware of it.

Surfing the internet and jerking off to porn is never going to have the outlaw glamour associated with, say, bebop and heroin. But if we are going to have a sensible debate about porn we ought to pay attention to what it is, and what it does to many of its users.

In Your Brain on Porn Gary Wilson sets out to give us the means to talk more sensibly about porn. Of course we could just continue to insist that what we happen to think carries the force of cosmic legislation and to hell with the facts. But I know that, in the end, we want the truth more than we want comforting fantasies peddled by paid lobbyists.*

You can buy Your Brain on Porn via the Commonwealth website, or from Amazon.

*I don’t actually know that, but I am kind of committed to the proposition.

Forty Two Reasons to Support Scottish Independence

42 Reasons Cover blog versionToday the Commonwealth publish Adam Ramsay’s Forty Two Reasons to Support Scottish Independence.

For some time I have thought that the prospect of independence in Scotland is bound to stir up a long-overdue debate about the constitution in the rest of Britain.

Of course, the English in particular will take a lot of persuading that continental innovations like popular sovereignty and embedded rights have any place in this, the land of cosy crime, cups of tea and breakneck shiftiness in the corridors of Westminster-Whitehall. But a new constitutional settlement is coming, I suspect, no matter what the result is in the September referendum. And the Scots now have something of a head start in thinking about the implications of doing away with the Crown-in-Parliament.

Adam Ramsay is one of the most interesting writers that I have come across in the context of the independence debate. He has argued tirelessly for the merits of independence in Scotland on the grounds that independence will be better for the people who live in Scotland, better for their neighbours, and better for the world.

The Poverty of Policy

Yesterday the Sunday Times reported that Jon Cruddas was unhappy about the way the Labour leadership was treating his policy review. On the same day Radio 4’s The World This Weekend invited Matthew Taylor on air to discuss the role of policy in politics. As the former head of policy in Tony Blair’s Policy Unit, Taylor speaks with considerable authority:

… If you’re in opposition, policy is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, if you have a good idea the government party can adopt that. Labour announces an energy price freeze and the Coalition immediately started taking steps to tackle the issue of the behaviour of energy utilities. If you have a bad idea it can be hung round your neck.

What’s striking here is that Taylor doesn’t pause to consider that the Labour party might publicly advocate a “good idea” that can’t be adopted, for whatever reason, by a Conservative-led coalition. Good ideas are, in this formulation, ideas that the two main parties are happy to adopt. Bad  ideas are ideas that “can be hung around your neck” (by and in the media, presumably).

This tells us something important about the status of “policy-making” and its function in public speech; It is a, fairly minor, part of the communications efforts of the big parties. What the parties actually intend to do in government is far too serious to be shared with the electorate.

Labour party insiders, on the rare occasions when they’ve tried to stop me saying disobliging things about them, always tell me that Miliband is much more social democratic than he can let on. Perhaps that’s true. We do know for sure that the Conservatives had much more radical plans for the NHS  than they ever let on during the 2010 election.

The idea that the electorate votes for a party on the basis of a clear understanding of their agenda for the country is a gross simplification. Parties compete for power and then do more or less what they like, within the limits of a contested consensus. Their actions are then assessed by a media system that is closely integrated with the state in general and the political parties in particular. The public’s irrelevance is baked into the process. We have to be told something, for form’s sake. But what we’re told and what the parties end up doing in government have no necessary connection.

If we want to stop austerity and improve matters for ourselves and the great majority of people in the country, we might want to start making policy ourselves. Our ideas won’t be “good”, in the sense that they can be plugged indifferently into the messaging efforts of the Labour and Conservative parties. Instead they will form the basis for a new relationship between society and the state.

As such they will frighten the life out of the creatures that have evolved to prosper in the current arrangements.

A little bit of photojournalism

When the London won the 2012 Olympic Games there was much talk of legacy. The billions were to be spent with one eye on the city’s future.

Doubtless there was something to all this. But a couple of weeks ago I went to the Olympic Park to have a swim. The pool itself is a triumph. But finding it isn’t as straightforward as it could be.

The station itself is fine. I’ve got nothing against the station …

All pretty straightforward ... This way to the park. Forgive the image quality. I am not really a photojournalist.

All pretty straightforward … This way to the park. Forgive the image quality. I am not really a photojournalist.

The trouble is, neither does the station.

Which way to the Olympic Park?

Which way to the Olympic Park?

No sign, I mean. Nothing at all to see, except a gigantic shopping centre on the left and an electronic billboard dead ahead, for gambling. On the World Cup, naturally.

Can there really be nothing to point the visitor towards the legacy?

Ah, what’s that, in the corner, past the smoking area?

Makes you proud ...

Makes you proud …

Aha …

A glorious legacy ...

A glorious legacy …

Here it is, partially visible from the station exit and at least three foot high.

Needless to say, it is not possible to miss the shopping centre from the tube. Because it is massive.

If the Olympic movement is to persuade other cities that the games aren’t a racket, they might want to have a word with London. Having spent £9 billion, the public should really be able to find the swimming pool without having to ask a security guard at the shopping mall that’s parked between the park and the tube station.

As it is, it looks like nobody really gives a fuck about the legacy.