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An Erratic Orbit

A bipolar perspective on the 3rd planet

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A Sermon On The Evils Of The Transcendent Spirit

The circumstances we find ourselves in are material, and of material. Bodies and resources, and even, ultimately, capacity and propensity toward suffering, are not distributed uniformly by an indifferent universe which must simply be lumpy (i.e. non-uniform) for us to exist in it. It is up to humans to redistribute resources and to ease suffering.

People get confused because thought seems to be different in quality to the material. It was in theory possible that our sciences would not demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that our thoughts, and indeed all our behaviours, are materially caused. It is theoretically possible that, for example, smacking in childhood didn’t lead to worse material outcomes and behavioural problems. Yet it does.

People generally want to think they can transcend their circumstances. This idea of a “transcendent spirit” is an important motivator for the Animal Who Can. It is impossible to beat the odds but thinking you can may help you to try to take on what are actually low odds, or a least seem so.

For all that, can we say we are truly more motivated than all other animals? It seems unlikely. The truth is we have brains far better at understanding and solving problems. It seems more likely then that the “transcendent spirit” is simply a way of suppressing that part of the understanding which recognises low odds. The trapped tiger persists because it doesn’t know the hopelessness of its situation. The human persists because she suppresses the knowledge of that hopelessness. After all, unlike the tiger we know that we get weaker and that eventually, one day, our bodies will fail altogether.

It is not my purpose to kill all illusions for good. Let us have some mindfulness of our illusions, however. The “transcendent spirit” is a tool, as is all belief. If we can be agile with our beliefs, yet committed as need be, then all the better.

Let’s look at what we are doing when we apply this notion of “transcendent spirit” to others. Clearly there is some value in “You can!”, up to a point. What though when we start to apply it negatively, as in our suppression of the knowledge of the material circumstances which make our friend who he is? “You haven’t” isn’t beyond redemption, if it might be motivational. If. Is that why we said it?

We might even explicitly apply our notion of transcendence divisively, to exclude others or to justify our own advantages, and there is everything grubby about this, nothing lofty at all.

“I had many challenges and yet I have succeeded and you have failed. There is no excuse.”

…As if there is an “I” distinct from the material circumstances of what made you, an “I” superior to the other!

Or even,

“Of those with less, we must help only those who want to be helped.”

which is half a step from the lie of the undeserving and deserving poor.

Those who want to insert a magic Will, whereby some people are good and some are bad, are seeking to mitigate a basic fact: the intrinsic unfairness of this material world. Thus we get a justification of the evil of centrism, which is a half-baked approach to inequality, and a demonstrably failed method for tackling it. We scarcely need mention any politics to the right of this. Of more consequence, we will find many a self-professed Socialist who hasn’t fully grasped the full moral implications of materialism.

To those who say there are none, this sermon was never intended for you. So be it.

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The Importance of Socialist Narratives

A conversation starter for a recent discussion on Socialist Narratives at our Labour Party branch meeting

Imagine, on the days life is an uphill battle, on your most disconnected days, when you’re not quite yourself, when nothing is right… imagine that your feelings of unease are caused by an elusive figure, a trickster god, a humourless, drudgery-embracing counterpart of Loki, Loki without blood or a smile… and that this evil sprite was the one confusing you, jumbling up our stories, taking your voice, distracting you, showing him distorted mirrors, whispering to us divisively, blinding us with flashes of gold, turning the world into things and numbers, rushing you , making us miss lunch, put in unpaid time, as your relationships suffer… and this trickster spins us and you round and round… until we see each other, and ourselves, as products, goods on a conveyor belt, commodities… and, as numbers, as prices…

People on conveyor belt and menacing grappling hook
Image: https://www.crystalgraphics.com

We might try to cure ourselves with “retail therapy” but goods defined by the value we paid for them can’t make us richer and they certainly don’t make us feel more human.

We put on the TV but we can’t trust what we see or hear. We pick up a newspaper but…Our bloodless Loki is in everything… Worse, we have been told that any explanation of this topsy turvy world is fiction. It’s all a kaleidoscope of views. We are free to believe everything and nothing.

Post-Modernism word cloud
Image: https://literariness.wordpress.com

Post-Modernism has its positives. Yet it is borne of the trickster-god. Understanding of the *world* is possible. I have, after all, just been describing something universal, and it’s a Socialist concept. Alienation. Being disconnected from the fruits of our labour, and from other people (who become themselves products), living in a world where value is constantly reduced to prices, where money overrides other values, it’s easy to forget about the universal and the unifying. Common narratives can get replaced with a hyperskepticism, the belief that nothing can be known, a false world of speculation, where shadowy elites make knowledge anyone’s guess because they, it is said, “control and have hidden the truth itself”. These leaps to false flags and crisis actors are succumbing to alienation. It is not the elites who obscure truth itself. What obscures the knowable is the economic processes of a system built on the accumulation of capital, the gathering of gold.

Impressionistic picture of barely human people in office clothes with supermarket trollies
Image: https://economicsociology.com
We do not have to flail in the dark. Right wingers refuse to consider that the capitalistic motive of gun sales, the fascism of extreme libertarianism, and alienation heated by an impossible meritocratic Dream *inevitably* drive individuals to mass shootings in America. Infowars want these big events to be the unverifiable convoluted machinations of shadowy figures or to not even have happened. It’s all part of the denial of the dehumanising effects of Capitalism. Let me suggest that Socialist concepts like alienation can provide a unifying, clear eyed alternative to hyperskepticism and wild speculation. We can diagnose the malaise and recognise the solution: Economic control by the many not the few.

How To Avoid Fake News, Propaganda, And Downright Nonsense: 5. Conspiracy Theories. A Socialist Perspective.

‘Conspiracy Theory’ is a phrase invented by the CIA to stop people questioning the official version of events.

These are the words of former CIA operative, Steven Julius Bakerfield, regarding his department’s attempts in the 1960s to frustrate all independent investigations into the assassination of JFK.

SJ Bakerfield in 1968

Although some of us are more wary than others, we are all programmed to believe what we are told (and so what we read). Unless there is something that raises our suspicions the default is to think the other person is telling the truth. This makes sense. Too much paranoia isn’t just physically unhealthy, most of the time people do actually tell the truth, or at least what they think is the truth, so paranoia tends to leave us isolated from, not closer to, reality.

Image from http://wellingtonretreat.com/blog/2013/07/adolescent-psychosis/

This is why, if you didn’t know that the quote that starts the article is a deliberate lie, you most likely believed it. You might have even seen it before. Yet it is not true. Not in the slightest. I made up the name Steven Julius Bakerfield too.

I hope you forgive me. I wanted to drive home the important starting point that gullible IS in the dictionary and it can be applied to anyone, at times. If you are aware that you, like all humans, are fairly easy to fool, then you are already on the way to being one of the least easy to fool.

Dictionary entry for

Conspiracy theories are much older than the 60s and are identifiable products of certain ways of thinking.

Firstly, our amazing ability to see and indeed create patterns. So, you can probably think of something to link Microsoft and dragons, although there is no real world link. For example, dragons are huge powerful creatures who hoard great wealth. That just came to my mind.

Secondly, a tendency to think that big events must have big causes. If the President is shot, the reason must be a huge story to do with the Russians and the Mafia, right? The Russians and the Mafia are part of the background after all, they MUST be the reason. But why, when you think about it? Because we think big events must have big causes. But sometimes they don’t. One man shot John Lennon. One man probably came up with the plan to shoot JFK and carried it out. (I’m not saying he wasn’t a terrorist. Terrorists can act alone and they are still terrorists). We think that it can’t just be about one person because we are looking to make sense of the world. If one person can cause such shockwaves, that’s scary. It’s also true. Sometimes one person can.

A Socialist does have the tools to make sense of this. Though we cannot control the world, we can have the understanding that small causes – Timothy McVeigh, Lee Harvey Oswald, Charles Manson, or even an ISIS cell – are also symptoms. They are signs of the socio-historical forces that influence us all. The Cold War DID contribute to killing JFK, after all, and Jack Ruby WAS influenced by the Mafia. Not directly, most probably. Not in opposition to patriotic motives. One can see how, though, that an organisation exploiting working class deference (and the Mafia, for all intimidation, can’t function without exploiting working class deference) and operating as its own (self-interested) police force could influence Jack Ruby. Individuals can be canaries, their motivations a pocket of concentration of widespread anxieties, showing us little images of the waves and echoes of history at work in a localised sense. Even Donald Trump is a symptom. The forces that installed him are more important than his venality, low cunning, narcissism, disinterest, lack of concentration. Hyperconsumerism (eg Reality TV), alienation, white power, cronyism and various effects of late capitalism are the Why of Trump. Trump’s personality reflects what Capitalism is doing to us as a people.

So there are big causes but they are NOT, most often are not, the deliberate and convoluted plans of vast secretive networks. If something happens that shocks us, the Socialist analysis is not to assume “it can’t be like that” but to look at why it might be like that. It can be that “senseless shootings” happen in American schools. Yet they do make sense in the context of a seam of thinking that runs throughout US history and is perhaps best encapsulated by Ayn Rand. The extreme tiny-state libertarianism of the wealthy US elites is a way of securing their future at the expense of the less powerful. They sell this ‘dream that can become reality for You’ as “Freedom”, but of course it is “might makes right”. Those who own not just the means of production but the means of mass militarisation tell the people that their puny militias of one are the means of liberation. Yet they are ultimately the means of subjugation. The alienation that results does makes sense. You don’t even have to be poor for the dream not to come true. As long as you’re not a square chinned industrialist, you’ve failed. Now this facet of alienation is only a partial explanation of school shootings but there’s a brutal sense here, not a world that is so outside comprehension that tragedies must be staged by crisis actors.

The conspiracy theory is itself only allowed to flourish through alienation. Once we can find a way to accept that awful things happen, or that those who oppose the right/West are often not progressive, or that the Russian Revolution was usurped and went sour, or specifically that ANY Socialism in Russia died a good two decades ago, that the world isn’t fairy tale simple so sometimes even Tory governments tell the truth, or that there might be some nuance regarding the BBC, then we are starting to be Socialist commentators. Only then do we need to bear in mind that “false flags happen” and the like. That is, we understand not only are they rare but we are now beginning to have the tools to engage with such complexity. Before that we are cowering at the messiness of the world and refusing to see it as it is.

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Further reading on the etymology of “Conspiracy theory”: https://www.csicop.org/specialarticles/show/nope_it_was_always_already_wrong

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Part 4

Back to the beginning

Communism and Monsters

In The Spectator, Douglas Murray argues that Communism and Fascism are morally equivalent. His reasoning is that we would not applaud someone saying “I’m literally a fascist (you idiot)” because “we know where fascism leads.”

This is of course untrue. We would not applaud someone saying “I’m literally a fascist” because we know what fascism IS.

Mussolini with caption:
Mussolini photo: http://www.phactual.com

The potential of Communism, bad or good, the practicalities of Communism, these are up for debate, but there is nothing intrinsically morally disgusting about common ownership without private property, money, social class, or a state.

Workers of the world, unite!
Image: Weknowyourdreamz.com

Fascism is, by any accepted definition, rule by force, a straightjacket on creativity and culture, suppression of ethnic and religious minorities, denial of democracy, a state set up to provide greatest benefit for a few. Fascism, then, is intrinsically morally repugnant on several counts.

Perhaps a moral argument can be made against Communism on the grounds that it must lead to a totalitarian nightmare, something other than Communism, in fact. First one would have to establish those grounds as true. In any case, even if Communists were misguided, there is a clear world of moral difference between Communism, you idiot, and the sociopathic monstrousness that is Fascism.

Sign:
Sign: http://www.azmoderate.com

Identity

People often say to me “Dave, in today’s fraught and polarised world, how can I tell if I’m turning into a bigot?”

And I say,

“Have you found yourself using any of the following four phrases in a negative way, in some rant about things that you didn’t have much interest in until you found yourself turning either reddish pink, or with an almost imperceptible alteration to your skin tone ( because I don’t want to be “racist against white people” or bloodpressure-ist)? Have you found yourself getting angry and ranting, whether your skin colour changed to something resembling a joint of ham or not? Whether you’re white, straight, a farmer, a Tory, a foxhunter, an immigrant-hater, a murderer…. Whatever your orientation… whether you loathe the NHS or want to see us all vaporised in mutually assured nuclear destruction… Whoever you are, gammon or any other kind of red faced man. Or magistrate-

Peter Cook as a judge
Image: https://garethstack.com/category/history-of-comedy/

-Have you found yourself using any of the following four phrases in some kind of rant about how the world isn’t concentrating on The Important Things… ?”

Now I’m not trying to stereotype people, because I know there are people who say “I’m on the left. I bought that Sting album once. I sing along to Billy Bragg at festivals. I hate the Tories. I want the working class to, well, not own the means of production- Let’s not go overboard- but maybe smell the means of production. Or at least have weekend visitation rights to the means of production, for a small fee. And that small fee will help pay for a theatre project, perhaps. I don’t know. The point is, Dave, I’m not a right wing reactionary…I actually want to renationalise the railways and…stuff…”

…some people who would say those exact words without hesitation, deviation, or repetition… Yes them… some of these people might accidentally use the four phrases. So you see, its not a straightforward thing, turning into a bigot. It can sneak up on the most liberal people… And those four phrases that, if you use them disparagingly, might give you a clue you are turning into a reactionary bigot, or the supposed concepts they represent, are, according to people who are turning into reactionary bigots, the reason we aren’t living in a Socialist utopia like Canada (where workers can view the means of production through a coin operated telescope).

This country could be a paradise, so they say, were it not for four things:

Cultural Marxism.
Political Correctness Gone Mad.
Identity Politics.
And, Gary Lineker.

Gary Lineker
Image: Christophe95 (Wikipedia)

And you might say in response,

“Well… Hold on. What you’ve done there is yourself conflate four things you dislike but are all different. Namely, genuine right wing reactionaries, misguided liberals, unsophisticated Marxists who fear any challenge or nuanced approach to a tentative 19th century historical framework, and Piers Morgan.”

Maybe so but to me they are all the same. These minor differences of identity are irrelevant, I say, and cannot be allowed to detract from the overarching narrative. That is, they are all shitstains.

They say these four concepts are the REASON FOR the rise of fascism, the literal cause of Donald Trump. A Tanzanian Lesbian Mothers’ Bookclub: That’s what’s causes Nazis! Don’t know about you but I had to start worshipping Hitler when I heard about Disabled Irish Men Against Hate. How dare they? Fucking up our radical post-neoliberal economics with their collective organisation and critique of failures to put in wheelchair accessible entrances in Cork. No wonder America embraced the right. You made Steve Bannon happen, feminism, with your demands for maternity leave and equal pay.

Bing image search: Tanzanian Lesbian Mothers Bookclub

Then Piers Morgan or the dogmatic resident of the 19th Century says “No. It’s not those things. Obviously we are for those things. But the failure to put them in the proper socio-economic context allowed Thatcherism to take hold.” And I say, yeah, thats why the public rejected Keynesianism. Nothing to do with the oil crisis, unemployment, stagflation, or the undermining of the unions by various forces. It was black women in academia! It was Alan Turing having the thoughtlessness to get chemically castrated as a punishment for being gay despite not being remotely proletarian.

“But the GLC alienating the public by building multiculturalism when what the people needed is Volume 3 of Capital…”

Page from Capital Vol 3

Volume 3 of Karl Marx’s Capital, also known as ‘Raw Sex: The Hot Bits’.

“But all this about hedgehog flavour crisps insulting gays… It’s identity politics gone mad. It’s a Gary Lineker marketing ploy!”

It invariably turns out that it wasn’t like that at all. They got the wrong end of the stick.

“But what about all the books they are highlighting as racist? Why are they bringing attention to racist books? What harm have racist books ever done?”

Statue of Robert E Lee being taken down
Image: https://abcnews.go.com/US

“And the statues. General Lee… Wilfred Rhodes. Who next? Before you know it, they’ll be wanting to tear down the statue of Churchill. Or the one of Oliver Cromwell outside Parliament.”

I don’t discriminate. I don’t get bogged down in these insignificant differences of identity. So to all of those people:

Fuck off, Piers Morgan.

The Brexit Metonym

If anything is certain about Brexit it is that it will go down in European history as a metonym for rushed decisions made on the basis of prejudice rather than good information.

Rotting strawberries
Picture: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/feb/09/lack-of-migrant-workers-left-food-rotting-in-uk-fields-last-year-data-reveals

As highly knowledgeable, well informed, anti-racist campaigner Lexiteers will be aware, that doesn’t mean it was the wrong result. Although, clearly it was, for much the same reason you don’t free a cat by dragging it through a barbed wire fence. You can tell me how awful the fence/barbed wire/cat/metaphor is in the comments but I don’t think you can do a damned thing about the collective European consciousness now you’ve voted to not be a part of it.

“What do you mean? I didn’t vote for that! I voted Leave because the EU is a protectionist neoliberal barrier to world Socialism. And because I like Tony Benn. We’re still Europeans, Dave! It doesn’t mean we voted to cast ourselves adrift from Europe.”

Actually, it does mean that. You didn’t mean it to mean that but here is the enduring symbol of Brexit, like it or not. Rotting fruit on a vine and the fruit farmer who voted Leave.

“That’s not a vine, it’s a forb. As a well-informed Lexiteer I’m as certain of that as I am that the EU will hinder Corbyn’s proto-Socialist agenda-”

-thus, as much by virtue of the human tendency to commit to a classification on the basis of a single common feature rather than meaningful commonalities here you are… fucking up my monologue rather than- Tell you what just look at the bloody picture and look at the fruit farmer. Is he you? No.

The same picture of rotting strawberries
Look at it

…What?…You have to imagine the fruit farmer. I understand that might be beyond the capabilities of a Brexiteer… imagining things…

That was just a joke. Obviously simply because you voted for Brexit along with idiots who believed Brexit would mean £350 million a week for the NHS that doesn’t mean you believed that. Just look at the picture. That’s what I’m telling you. That’s what Brexit means. That’s ALL it will mean in the collective European consciousness in fifty years. It will be in films, on posters…

“But Dave, a business shouldn’t be run on the basis of cheap migrant labour, should it?”

No, it shouldn’t. But you’re forgetting the fruit farmer aren’t you? He voted for this. Him. Not being able to imagine that the people he wanted to control away from our borders might be the same people who wouldn’t want to come pick his fruit any more. So fuck off out of my monologue. I won’t tell you again…

One more time
Sans fruit farmer. “Sans” means “without”. Not that it matters any more.

There will be coasters, keyrings, pencils, mugs with this picture of the rotting fruit and no, not the fruit farmer because the person who bought the mug didn’t vote to leave the EU did they? So they can IMAGINE the fruit farmer… Huge billboards, pop up ads… “Don’t Be Like The British”… cautioning you to install antivirus software before browsing porn, with a picture of rotten strawberries…The collective European consciousness, which none of us Brits, not even me, can be part of now… rotting strawberries… and [deep bass voiceover] “Imagine A World Without Jam”…

…and Claude or Bruno or whatever his or her name is- What do we care? We’ll never meet anyone with those names again- Claudia or Brunhilde will shudder and she’ll dip into her jam and thank her lucky yellow stars. But remember this, that jam she’ll be eating will be subject to EU regulations. And do you know what that means? For the purposes of EU regulations that jam she’s eating- I mean we won’t have any jam but if you could imagine there was such a thing as jam in some far distant place like France- that jam Brunhilde is eating could, according to EU regulations, be made from cucumbers or sweet potatoes or radishes. All those things they define as jam, made from some faceless Brussels bureaucrat’s idea of fruit… Cucumber jam! Imagine…

So, all things considered, on balance, it’s probably quite a good thing we’re leaving.

Children In Need 2009

Party Politics

Party politics is millionaire MPs justifying why they voted to deny disabled people a reasonable quality of life. Party politics is “I know the country isn’t a meritocracy but” where what follows is the unconscious belief in why you deserve the property portfolio, the large salary, to be wined and dined, the expensive clothes, the restaurants several times a week… while making up excuses for “pragmatism” that are entirely down to your own mindset, that ole middle class self interest.

Party politics is smiling politely and using the right knife. It’s where our status quo is better than their status quo. It’s where those who have the least are accused of tyranny, ill discipline, and unfairness against high earning owners of prime real estate. It’s where white middle class sticklers in tiny secretive committees replicate society by dispensing “discipline” to outspoken black women and the wrong sort of Jew.

Party politics is where minority interest groups shut down the interests of minorities.

Party politics is being told to play nice with the friends of proto-Fascists because “We Are All The Party”.

Party politics is a wheedling ghost in my ear using every dirty trick to protest against my part in its downfall. Yet it was not me who killed the comfortable life for the middle. I’m just here with a mirror. And a knife which could never entirely be to your liking.

Party politics is a swelling mass movement, a new broom, bright light on the cobwebs, the release of steam, the new found confidence of the left, seeing through the games, dragging the leviathan screaming, half a million scalpels, the collective drive to a new universalism that is the only efficient future that doesn’t require the subjugation of the masses.

Pull Up The Roots?

Athenian Democracy was, on a modern understanding, an elitist system, excluding women, immigrants, and slaves. Less than a third of the people of the city were empowered with voting rights. British Democracy, an ongoing tussle to disperse the undue power of a very few centralised around, even today, the monarchy and the church, could not be said to be less exclusive until the 20th Century reached maturity. Universal voting rights (suffrage), at least for unimprisoned adults, might be younger, and are unlikely to be very much older, than your oldest family member.

There’s no sensible argument to be made from this to abandon the entire project, yet if we’re talking about feminism or the civil rights movement the global political atmosphere has emboldened some to denounce those movements wholesale. On the left, this attitude comports with the mistaken belief that class conscious politics naturally overcomes all other discrimination, despite much evidence to the contrary. It is in itself a form of entitlement, and more than a lack of awareness: in fact, a lack of awareness of a lack of awareness.

Fortunately, this retrogressive and naive idea of “One size fits all” Socialism is not driving the mass left movement focused around Jeremy Corbyn, its prime movers either steeped in 70s/80s progressive Labour politics exemplified by the GLC or from a young metropolitan base who have absorbed its legacy. The message is straightforward: The battle for a diverse agenda has been won. To try to counter this, however well intentioned, is to only get in the way of the genuine struggle towards Universality.

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