Heartwarming Tales: me being allowed to say anything I like for, like, my whole life

One may also sing whatever one likes in this Land Of Hope And Glory

This blog, and in fact my whole life, has until this point shown a thoroughgoing lack of gratitude for the freedom of speech that I enjoy and have always enjoyed. The aim of this post is to rectify the situation.

It would be remiss of me not to thank the following people for my freedom of speech: David Cameron, George Osborne, the Queen, the Queen Mother, Gary Lineker, Stephen Hawking, Commander Hogan-Howe, George Orwell, Jedward, and John Stuart Mill.

All of these people have, in some undefined but inestimable way, contributed to my freedom of speech. This freedom, in which we glory, is allowed to us not only for our own good but for the good of the nation. How, as Mill said, can rulers know how to rule if they cannot hear the squeaks of their subjects?

While the contribution of Jedward to my being allowed to say anything I like is not immediately obvious then think about it this way: the ability of Jedward to say whatever they like, without fear of arrest, without fear of torture or persecution, helps to create the space for my own words. I, like Jedward, am not tortured, and for this I thank them.

I would also like to thank Commander (or is it Commissioner? – I always forget) Hogan-Howe of the metropolitan police, for never knowingly entering me into a database of dissenters. Why would he know? And definitely Gary Lineker, that brave and owl-like soul, has never done such a thing. So thank you.

Finally I would like to extend special thanks once more to all the ministers in this current government, who in their generosity allow me and everyone I know to say whatever we wish without it bothering them one little bit. Thank you. Democracy is a fine and noble thing.

Let us all now stand and sing the national anthem.

Travel reports: Evo’s Road

Asking people in Bolivia what they think of Evo Morales, the current president, turns out to be less interesting than I thought it would be. In the past the country was very divided on the question of the country’s first indigenous president. There is a long history of deep racism in Bolivia and many people hate Evo for who he is – a man from a poor indigenous background. The racism here turns out to not be purely about skin colour but also about culture. Many self-described ‘mestizos’ have a high percentage of indigenous blood but if they behave in an appropriately European manner they can be forgiven. Evo was a poor llama farmer and coca grower (and as a kid he sold bottles of soda to bus passengers) and to many mestizos you don’t get much less civilised than that.

Meanwhile Evo was swept to power on a tide of grass-roots – mainly indigenous – activism that twice in the last ten years brought the country entirely to a halt. He and his party MAS (Movement Toward Socialism) have implemented some important changes in Bolivia, including outlawing discrimination and changing the constitution of the country to ensure indigenous people can never again be excluded quite so totally as they were in the past. He has also defended coca farmers against the US war on drugs, and although he is not the rampant socialist many of his opponents claim, he has forced gas and oil companies to hand over much higher revenues and used the money for important improvements in education, infrastructure and other necessities.

But I read an interesting thing about MAS before arriving: that it does not have many connections with the broader social movements in Bolivia. It was designed as an implement for placing indigenous people into the formerly pale national elite, and this it has successfully done. It is a party then that depends not on grass-roots support but on wooing the electorate like any other party. And while it has worked to make structural changes to Bolivian politics, it has always worked to ensure its own place in the structure.

Now we come to why it was so boring to ask people about Evo. About a year ago, in a move seemingly from nowhere, Evo cut the government’s subsidy on fuel. Prices shot up overnight, not just on fuel but on food and every other essential item, some prices almost doubling. Overnight, Evo made the poor people who voted for him poorer. Admittedly he made the rich poorer too, and you can argue that a subsidy that helps the rich is ‘inefficient’, but the people who voted for Evo could not afford those rises. There were massive streets protests and eventually Evo backed down and reinstated subsidies. The prices however stayed where they were. For this one mistake it is now difficult to imagine Evo being re-elected. He managed to piss off everyone in the country at once and anyone you ask about Evo will give the same answer: he screwed us. He may have done some good, but then he screwed us. Or from the middle class: he was an ignorant peasant and then he screwed us.

So why did he cut the fuel subsidy? Evo’s claim that he didn’t want to subsidise fuel smuggling sounded a bit weak. Was it because, as in Nigeria, IMF economists decided it was an ‘inefficient’ subsidy? But it seems it wasn’t even outside pressure that did it, or not directly. Allegedly the reason Evo cut subsidies was because of falling private investment in the state oil and gas company. That is, he did it to please international finance.

The MAS project has been a success, but what type of success is this? In the short term you can get some changes by putting new people into the elite. Reportedly this government works till 8pm at night where previous governments worked until 4pm. They are serious about changing things. But in the long run, as many people in the United States have discovered, it doesn’t much matter what colour your president is. He’s still the president. It is his role that is the problem, target as it is for everyone who already has money and power. It seems a shame that the architects of MAS didn’t think about flattening the elite rather than entering it, that they didn’t try to move power from the government to the grass-roots movements who supported them. Perhaps some of the people within MAS itself may begin to regret it too if they lose the next election.

In the satirical Bolivian film ‘Who Killed The Little White Llama?’, the narrator talks about Evo Morales only once, while standing in the middle of a typical unpaved Bolivian road. “Evo Morales is a first class president,” he says. “While we travel on these roads, he flies first class.”

A brief summary of the political and media reaction to rioting and looting

The GOOD citizens cleaning up their community

This nation has witnessed, in shock and disbelief, the most horrible crimes upon its streets, but we are not going to talk about racist police harassment because that is not the point here; what we are going to talk about it, and we are going to talk about it good and hard, is the UNSPEAKABLE BEHAVIOUR of young people on our streets, rioting and looting before our eyes with no sense of RESPONSIBILITY. Never before have we been presented with such a FAILURE OF MORALS, obviously a consequence of FAILURES IN PARENTING – or at least, not since the Iraq War and the expenses scandal, and they all had GOOD parents so it WASN’T THE SAME.

These feral beasts, these rats in human form, have perpetrated upon UPSTANDING MEMBERS OF THE COMMUNITY atrocious outrages. These people have no morals at all, not even the white ones. They are like savages, even the white ones (see, no racism here!). They have no notion of responsibility to their communities – and it is NOT THE POINT that they have no communities. They have no notion of working hard – and it is NOT THE POINT that there are no jobs. The POINT is that they have been raised in a culture of entitlement, corrupted by benefits culture and probably rap music – even the white ones – and now they expect everything to be handed to them on a platter even though it is only Cameron and Osborne who are actually used to that. They have no politics, no morals, no desires except to TAKE TAKE TAKE, and if that sounds like what we have promoted for forty years then you are stupid to think we were ever talking to THEM.

What we need now is to crack down as hard as we can and give these kids the DISCIPLINE they have always lacked – and if they lacked love or respect that’s just tough because DISCIPLINE is what they will get now. We will teach them to RESPECT OUR AUTHORITAH! It would be absurd, insulting even, to expect US to respect THEM, dangerous little savages that they are, so we must make them respect us – it’s going to have to go one way at least if we are to DEFEND OUR CIVILISATION. And if that means calling in the army then so be it, these crazed THUGS must understand that they CANNOT GET AWAY WITH VIOLENCE and if that means bringing in plastic bullets, water cannons and the stocks to deal with these monstrous children then that is what we must do. We must find the final solution to this menace of immorality within!

This is what you get from years or socialism and liberalism and you may have looked at the people with power in media and politics and thought we are neither socialist nor liberal, and you may have noticed that riots follow in the footsteps of poverty not the footsteps of liberals, but THAT DOESN’T MEAN THE SOCIALISTS AND LIBERALS AREN’T TO BLAME. We must strip these people of benefits and homes and that will definitely stop them stealing and roaming the streets acting all threatening towards TRUE CITIZENS. And if you still see them roaming the streets, REPORT THEM TO THE POLICE, because there is NO REASON for them to be on the streets at all when they could be getting jobs that don’t exist and it is good to see the courts working on making it an OFFENCE to be in the WRONG PLACE.

Let it never be said again in Britain, this GREAT country of ours, that THUGS took what they wanted just BECAUSE THEY COULD. That is the job of the politicians stealing the NHS from you just BECAUSE THEY CAN. We must be absolutely clear that there are consequences to crime, at least if you are POOR. Certain people must TAKE RESPONSIBILITY for what they have done – not us of course. These kids show that our SOCIETY IS SICK and if there are obvious people to blame for our SICK SOCIETY it is fourteen-year-old kids who play no part in our society and aren’t we all glad we didn’t let them now? We therefore call upon the police, our fine, upstanding police, to take a FIRMER HAND with these teenage monsters who KNOW NO RESPECT. We demand that the police use ALL NECESSARY FORCE to keep them away from us and protect us from their MINDLESS BESTIALITY.

Not every being with a human face is human

– Carl Schmitt, President of the Union of National-Socialist Jurists, 1933

Reasons not to…call particular politicians arseholes

Reason enough

Okay, fine, I hate Tony Blair. I despise him for his greed and self-interest like I despise few other people on the planet. I hate David Cameron. I think he is a spoilt brat with dangerously high levels of competence. These are emotional reactions to some of the most noxious human turds ever to float to the top of our political toilets, but they are not political analysis. I think it’s dangerous to focus on these thoughts too much because it leads us into one of the most useless dead ends of all political thinking: the idea that what we need is nicer people at the top.

There are a couple of problems with that idea. We all, at least dimly, have some idea of what it takes to get ahead in politics. We know that politicians have to lie and cheat and manipulate. We know we can’t trust a word they say. We know they betray their fellow party members for a sniff of power. We know they have to put on a good face as a likeable person but that they don’t act according to their public face. So we know there is a filtering process in place, and it is the turds that get through. So how do we want nicer people to get through? By sheer luck? Sneaking in the back entrance by bribing security?

The second problem is much bigger: the niceness or not of politicians is probably not that important. For one thing, as soon as they get anywhere near power they start to feel the pressure from various powerful groups: financiers, media moguls, other politicians, lobby groups with lots of money but low public profiles. Some of these groups are so powerful that they can and do hold politicians hostage. The finance sector and the media in particular has the power to do this. Conventional wisdom in the UK says that whoever Murdoch and The Sun supports will win the election. This may be an exaggeration but it is certainly not lacking in truth altogether. When certain people and lobby groups ask for an appointment with the Prime Minister they get it.

But I’m more interested in another thing that prevents a person’s ‘niceness’ being any good. They act within certain political and economic structures with long histories. When they get into office they are put in the cockpit and presented with the levers of power, so to speak. And these levers do have a lot of power still, despite the power held by corporations and other unaccountable groups. The problem with the levers of power is they are very blunt instruments. They force the person at the helm to start making decisions in certain ways: utilitarian decisions that sacrifice some people for a greater goal or for some other section of  society. The person at the helm is a long way away from the people who are affected by their decisions. They don’t hear the screams as they pull the levers. Power corrupts not just in allowing leaders to be greedy and self-interested but in insulating them from the effects of their decisions. Power forces our leaders to make those decisions that result in them appearing on television and explaining to us that they had to make ‘difficult’ decisions: code for YOU HAVE BEEN SHAFTED.

And conventional wisdom says leaders do have to make these difficult decisions, have to sacrifice certain people for the ‘greater good’. This conventional wisdom is used very dishonestly much of the time of course – in fact they are sacrificing many of us for the benefit of a few, as David Cameron is doing right now – but let’s assume this is done honestly too.  Should we accept a system in which this is the only way of operating? Is there really no way for us to imagine a political system in which individuals do not have so much power? Is there no way for us to imagine a world without those levers in the hands of a few? Where those levers don’t exist even? To take that leap maybe we need to steer away from thinking of certain politicians as arseholes. Maybe that’s a distraction. Because the insult implies there would be some other politician whose ‘niceness’ would save us, when the political and economic structures currently in place make it impossible for that to happen.

So those are the reasons not to call particular politicians arseholes. I think they’re good reasons. But I just can’t leave the post there. Because there are reasons we should call them arseholes after all – reasons that go beyond George Osborne’s face I mean. When institutions have been in place a long time, with those levers of power sitting there toyed with by different people for decades and centuries, it is pretty likely that a political culture is going to develop to match it. What will be considered desirable in politics are the qualities needed to pull those levers and not worry too much about the consequences. What is needed are people who can take ‘necessary’ and ‘difficult’ decisions and still sleep at night. The qualities most admired will be those that enable the ‘pragmatism’ needed to use power: a shrivelled sense of empathy and an acceptance that the distance between you and your victims is right and proper.

I suspect there are social circles to go along with this: ‘prestigious’ circles of people, the requirements for entry of which will be an uncritical attitude to those levers and their use. A sense of entitlement even, a feeling that they must be used, and we are the people to use them. These personality characteristics may well develop in public schools, yes, but they are also the markers of a certain class in our meritocracy. I think the lack of the more old-fashioned markers of class – country manors, barbour jackets, butlers – at least outside the Tory party, often deceives us into thinking we don’t have a political class with a high barrier to entry. In the world of New Labour’s new meritocracy, the barriers to entry are personality traits, attitudes, ways of seeing the world. Anyone can be an arsehole now.

So the individual arseholedom or not of politicians is not the point. They are arseholes as a class, as a matter of ‘necessity’, to make the institutions of the state function. That’s not to say one doesn’t slip through the net sometimes, someone with highly developed empathy and the ability to hide it from those around them. But as I said above, they won’t get far once they do get some power. And they don’t appear often enough to undermine the ways our meritocratic liberal democracies actually operate: we are ruled by a class of arseholes. And I now use the term ‘arsehole’ as a technical term, to denote a certain set of personality traits that make a person suited for power.

We accept this, or many people have done for a long time, partly because it wasn’t us that suffered for it. Our lives were comfortable enough. The wars happened in other countries. Now the chickens are coming home to roost. The Structural Adjustment Programs once used to asset-strip poor countries are being imposed on Western economies. Don’t blame David Cameron the arsehole for it. Blame the power structures of meritocratic liberal democracy. Not many people chose David Cameron, but for too long too many people have given explicit or implicit consent to a system that relied upon a class of arseholes.

Government propaganda announcement: if you want political change, set up your own party

[FIZZZ, CRACKLE, SCREEEEEECH]

THIS IS YOUR LOCAL NEIGHBOURHOOD LOUDHAILER. PLEASE LISTEN CAREFULLY TO THIS GOVERNMENT BROADCAST AND MEDITATE UPON ITS CONTENT FOR THE NEXT EIGHT HOURS. THE STABILITY OF YOUR SOCIETY DEPENDS ON IT. ALSO YOUR FOOD VOUCHERS:

[FIZZZ, CRACKLE]

THE CORRECT RESPONSE IF YOU FIND THAT THE POLITICAL PARTIES ARE NOT TO YOUR LIKING, OR FULL OF LIARS, OR RIDDLED WITH CORRUPTION, OR UNWILLING TO LISTEN TO PEOPLE, OR IN HOCK TO BANKERS, OR RUN BY PEOPLE YOU WOULDN’T TRUST TO SELL YOU A USED CAR, OR ALL OF THE ABOVE, IS TO SET UP YOUR OWN POLITICAL PARTY.

REPEAT EACH PHRASE AFTER ME: THIS IS A DEMOCRACY. IF I DON’T LIKE THE PARTIES ON OFFER OR THINK THEY DON’T REPRESENT ME, I CAN RUN FOR GOVERNMENT MYSELF OR SET UP MY OWN POLITICAL PARTY. THIS IS A DEMOCRACY. ANYONE CAN RUN FOR ELECTION. THE PUBLIC HAS A CHOICE. THIS IS A DEMOCRACY. THE CORRECT WAY TO CHANGE THINGS IS THROUGH THE BALLOT BOX. WE ARE GRATEFUL THAT WE LIVE IN A DEMOCRACY.

[SHUFFLING NOISE, SOUND OF FLUTTERING PAPERS]

BOLLOCKS.

*GROAN*

OH WELL. THIS A GOVERNMENT WARNING: THE PATH OF THE BALLOT BOX IS NOT EASY. IT IS ONLY FAIR TO WARN YOU OF THE OBSTACLES TO DEMOCRATIC CHANGE:

1. YOU NEED A LOT OF MONEY TO RUN A SUCCESSFUL POLITICAL PARTY

2. THE PEOPLE WITH MONEY TO SPARE ONLY GIVE IT TO THOSE THEY POLITICALLY AGREE WITH

3. THE PEOPLE WITH MONEY ARE, BY DEFINITION, INVESTED IN THE STATUS QUO

4. THEY ALSO LIKE CHANGE THAT BENEFITS THEM, BUT ARE ACTIVELY AGAINST CHANGE THAT MIGHT SHIFT THE BALANCE OF POWER BETWEEN THEM AND ORDINARY PEOPLE

5. YOU MAY BE ABLE TO ‘CROWD-SOURCE’ YOUR FUNDING, BUT THE OTHER THING YOU NEED IS THE SUPPORT OF THE MEDIA FOR YOUR PARTY TO BE SUCCESSFUL.

6. THE MEDIA IS RUN BY THOSE INVESTED IN THE STATUS QUO, AND IN THE CASE OF MOST OF IT, BY PROFIT-MAKING COMPANIES THAT SELECT PARTIES BASED ON SELF-INTEREST

7. IF THOSE IN CHARGE OF THE MEDIA DO NOT LIKE THE CHANGES YOU PROPOSE THEY WILL CONSTRUCT A NARRATIVE TO PORTRAY YOU AS ‘EXTREMIST’ AND PUSH YOU ONTO THE SIDELINES

8. HAVING NOTED THE DIFFICULTY OF CREATING A SUCCESSFUL POLITICAL PARTY INTERESTED IN REAL CHANGE, YOU MAY WISH TO NOTE THAT MOST OF THE STRUCTURE OF GOVERNMENT IS NOT AT ALL DEMOCRATIC ANYWAY

9. YOUR PARTY WILL THEREFORE BE ATTEMPTING TO EXERCISE CHANGE WITHIN A NON-TRANSPARENT STRUCTURE COMPOSED OF MANY THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE, THE ENTIRE MACHINERY OF GOVERNMENT THAT PURSUES ITS OWN AGENDAS AND IS INFLUENCED BY LOBBYING FROM ALL SIDES

10. YOU MAY ALSO NOTE THAT PARLIAMENT ITSELF, THE ENTITY SUPPOSEDLY AT THE CENTRE OF GOVERNMENT, IS NOT A DEMOCRATIC INSTITUTION. IT WAS SET UP TO RESOLVE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN COMPETING GROUPS OF WEALTHY PEOPLE AND THIS IS STILL ITS MAIN FUNCTION

11. THE IDEA THAT GRAFTING ELECTIONS EVERY FEW YEARS ONTO THIS UNDEMOCRATIC INSTITUTION WOULD TURN IT INTO A DEMOCRACY CAN BEST BE DESCRIBED AS A FAILED EXPERIMENT – ONE NOW SADLY REPLICATED AROUND THE WORLD

12. YOU WILL FIND IT WILL BE ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE FOR YOU TO ACT DEMOCRATICALLY WITHIN THIS STRUCTURE, SINCE YOU WILL BE EXPOSED TO THE NON-TRANSPARENT INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL PRESSURES THAT – RATHER THAN THE DEBATES IN PARLIAMENT ITSELF – LARGELY DETERMINE WHAT PARLIAMENT PRODUCES

13. OVER TIME YOU MAY SEE THE NEED TO MAKE A SERIES OF COMPROMISES TO ENSURE YOUR GRIP ON POWER. THE COMPROMISES WILL BE MADE BETWEEN YOUR PARTY AND THE MONEY PEOPLE WHO WILL FIND A THOUSAND WAYS TO HOLD YOU TO RANSOM.

14. THESE COMPROMISES WILL BE CLAIMED AS A VICTORY FOR THE MODERATING EFFECTS OF DEMOCRACY, RATHER THAN THE TRIUMPH OF THOSE WITH MONEY, NOW EXERCISING THIER WILL THROUGH THE PARTY THAT WANTED TO REDUCE THEIR INFLUENCE

15. YOUR PARTY WILL NOW BE HELD UP AS A PERFECT EXAMPLE OF HOW NEW PARTIES CAN ENTER INTO THE SYSTEM, AND THUS AS PROOF THAT DEMOCRACY WORKS, EVEN THOUGH IT HAS FAILED TO CHANGE WHAT IT SET OUT TO CHANGE

16. VOTERS WILL ONCE MORE HAVE A CHOICE OF PARTIES THAT ARE ALL THE SAME BECAUSE THEY HAVE COME UNDER THE SAME PRESSURES FROM THE SAME PEOPLE INVESTED IN THE STATUS QUO

BUT PEOPLE OF THE NATION, WHAT CAN WE SAY? THIS IS THE WAY IT WORKS. ONCE AGAIN, REPEAT EACH PHRASE AFTER ME: THIS IS A DEMOCRACY. ANYONE CAN RUN FOR ELECTION. THE PUBLIC HAS A CHOICE. THIS IS A DEMOCRACY. THE CORRECT WAY TO CHANGE THINGS IS THROUGH THE BALLOT BOX.

THIS IS A DEMOCRACY
THIS IS A DEMOCRACY
THIS IS A DEMOCRACY
THIS IS A DEMOCRACY
THIS IS A DEMOCRACY
THIS IS A DEMOCRACY
THIS IS A DEMOCRACY
THIS IS A DEMOCRACY
I BELIEVE IN FAIRIES
I BELIEVE IN FAIRIES
I BELIEVE IN FAIRIES
I BELIEVE IN FAIRIES
I BELIEVE IN FAIRIES
I BELIEVE IN FAIRIES
I BELIEVE IN FAIRIES…

[FIZZZ, CRACKLE]

*AHEM* THIS IS THE CHIEF PROPAGANDA OFFICER. PLEASE IGNORE THE…MISTAKES IN THE ANNOUNCEMENT YOU JUST HEARD. THE DEPUTY SUB-MANAGING PROPAGANDA OFFICER HAD BEEN READING TOO MANY FAIRY TALES. HE WILL BE SENT FOR REEDUCATION AT A POLITICAL SCIENCE DEPARTMENT SPONSORED BY GLAXO SMITH-KLINE. MEANWHILE PLEASE CONTINUE AS NORMAL AND FORGET THE ERRORS YOU WERE JUST SUBJECTED TO. BE HAPPY AND PRODUCTIVE. ABOVE ALL, BE GRATEFUL THAT YOU LIVE IN A DEMOCRACY. THIS ENDS TODAY’S GOVERNMENT BROADCAST.

[FIZZZ, CRACKLE, SCREEEEEECH]

What to say when people say… I don’t go on protests because they don’t work

Facts: You are right that marching from A to B in an orderly fashion has rarely caused politicians to come out in a stress rash. The civil rights movement in the US marched, yes, but people also used other tactics that probably scared politicians a lot more than marching. And yet from time to time, when people have had enough of being abused by those in power, they take to the streets in large numbers to try to take back control of their lives. This has worked repeatedly, but it works when people are really pissed off and they don’t much care whether Mr Policeman or Mr Murdoch like what they’re doing. And when they don’t all go home at 5pm. And when there are large enough numbers to cause serious economic disruption and disruption to the messages the politicians are putting out.

Thoughts: It may be that what you really meant was ‘I can’t be bothered to protest’, or ‘I can’t be bothered to think about what would work’. If so, move along, don’t spare it another thought. But if what you really meant was ‘I don’t think we’re pissed off enough yet to cause the serious disruption that would force the hands of politicians or force them out of office’, then why the hell aren’t you pissed off enough yet? Do you think they’re going to start providing a good quality of life for everyone when they wake up one morning full of a new-found benevolent joy that turns them into cuddly teddy bears? They’re not acting for you. They’re acting for the money people. If they are taking things away from you, it’s because you’re letting them. They won’t give you nice pressies freely. You have to take them, by acting together with other people. And if you don’t have the numbers or the organisation to do that, at the very least you can disrupt the illusion that there is any kind of consensus about their activities.

Opinion: We have a government in the UK that, even if you accept our system as ‘democratic’, has very little democratic legitimacy, and they are dismantling public services people fought very hard for, including the NHS – I don’t know anyone who voted to dismantle that. Protests don’t work in the UK partly because people aren’t pissed off enough yet. I recommend getting pissed off. They really will take everything away from you if you let them. You might as well pre-empt the shitty America-lite no-safety-nets, low-quality-of-life state they want and get pissed off now. And when you’re pissed off enough, you might just believe that protests will work. You might take the actions necessary to make them work.
 
 

Note: This is a series of posts called ‘What to say when people say…’ Obviously they do not provide the definitive answers to most questions (except the ones marked with an asterisk, like so*). They simply provide ideas, helpfully broken down into Facts about Things People Say, Thoughts about Things People Say, and Opinions about Things People Say.