All My Little Words

Thatcher and Her Ism

Posted in Politics, Rage by nickchristian on April 11, 2013

Once upon a time, not so long ago, I was an occasional contributor/compulsive consumer to/of a a fairly popular online forum. I won’t name or link to it. Made up of one subject-agnostic main board and multiple sub-boards catering to smaller groups, discussion could spring from anywhere as threads could be started about anything. The standard of discourse was generally high, the contributors brighter and better informed than your average YouTube commentator: as such I read more than I wrote; I had more to learn than impart. We have two ears and one mouth…. etc etc

Eventually, as one does, I grew tired of it. I had never really fitted in with the community and found the atmosphere to be of an increasingly hostile, Darwinist playground; as a resource Twitter now more than served my appetite for news, essays, opinions and joyous internet nothings. So a year ago I decided not to go back.

Which isn’t really important except that I did go back there on Monday. From before I first visited I remembered that there had been a thread called “Thatcher dead!!!” – there might have been more or fewer exclamation marks but exclamation marks were certainly there – created as a kind of April fool, presumably, to con people into thinking… well, take a guess. There were a few similar threads off which the digital dust was occasionally brushed – Lisa Kudrow RIP being one other notable example – but that one was revived most often. For the lulz.

As long as she was alive, what the thread was about was the promise of jubilation – this is where we will be it said, when that day finally arrives, to record our own exhilaration to pop a digital cork and allow a magnum of vitriolic bubbles to pour forth. After hearing the news the voyeur in me wanted to know if that was indeed what would be happening so I stopped in again briefly. That was indeed what was happening so I didn’t stick around for long.

In a rather more real way that was also what was happening just a few hundred yards from my front door in Brixton. I didn’t like that any more than the online version.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Not even seven years old when she was defenestrated by her own party, some might say that age is what stops me from really “getting it” – “it” being how people feel – but I don’t think you have to have lived through Thatcher and been directly affected by her policies to dislike the outpouring of glee at her death. And it really is, quite specifically, the glee that I cannot stomach.

More than inevitable, it was right and necessary that her admirers and her detractors should immediately take to battlegrounds online, print, radio and television, to debate her impact at the time and her legacy today. Honest criticism of a person who is dead, particularly one so prominent and who had so much impact on so many, cannot be inappropriate and there’s no such thing as “too soon”.

It’s also not that I think an individual’s death should never be source of satisfaction. When a tyrant, such as Gaddafi, is ousted and then executed, what his death delivers and represents is permanence, a promise that that particular rein of tyranny is over. What the campaign to get Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead to number 1 this week seems to either forget or ignore, is that right up to the moment Dorothy’s house dropped on her head the Wicked Witch of the East was an authoritarian dictator and enslaver of the Munchkin people. Liberated in an instant from bondage I can understand why they might want to sing a little bit.

John O’Farrell, who recently took a sound stuffing as Labour candidate in the Eastleigh by-election, was partly undone by the Daily Mail for confessing his regret that Thatcher herself had not been killed by the Brighton bomb in 1984. Fantasizing about or even taking satisfaction in, the death of someone actively powerful, at least makes some sense to me. If you believe that an individual is responsible for harm and that this harm will be interrupted by their demise, while it does not become morally right it at least can be viewed as logically justifiable – or justifiably logical – and is, in fact, the root of every political assassination ever.

Dancing in the street over the death of an old lady who died in her sleep, even one who once wielded great power and committed egregious harm on a people, serves no logical or practical purpose whatsoever. It is instead the manifestation of nothing more than spite, a spirit of unkindness that might even be the clearest evidence that Thatcher did, in fact, win. According to her friends, she would have been disappointed had people not celebrated her departure, so why give her the satisfaction? Those insisting we show no compassion or kindness for her because she showed none for the miners, the steelworkers, the victims of oppressive regimes she befriended and so many others, are the living embodiment of her vision of Britain, and tacitly admitting defeat.

For if Margaret Thatcher represents anything to me, it’s inhumanity, unkindness and isolation – Russell Brand describes her as “an icon of individualism“. Whether or not “there’s no such thing as society” is a quote that has been manipulated beyond its original meaning, for many it serves as an accurate elogy of Thatcherism: even if it was not true at the time she said it, it certainly became so thanks to her. Beyond mere self-reliance to the abandonment entirely of a common good, of tides that lift all ships, to the idea that for good or ill, your standing in life is 100% down to you and you get what you deserve.

The consequence of this has been, much worse than no society at all, one revolving around rivalry and suspicion, that looks up, down, and across in judgment of you as a commodity or competitor before it does so in simple human empathy. Of course the idea that today is less kind than the day before Thatcher could be nonsense; the suggestion that we are more predisposed towards conflict, less towards cooperation than we were before might be baseless; perhaps she was blameless even if such a shift did occur.

Still, what’s striking to me is the contradiction between Thatcher’s capacity to recognize her own unique strengths and her inability to recognise that the very uniqueness of these strengths meant that her experience could not be applied to a population and used as a basis for an organising philosophy of governance.

I agree that, to one extent or another, there is always something we can do to improve our own situations in life, but I also believe that we all need help and that we all are lucky, or unlucky, to varying degrees. My problem therefore, with Conservatism in general, but Thatcherism in particular, is that it denies the very idea that anyone’s opportunities to succeed are inferior to anyone else’s, or that opportunity plays any part in success at all.

Individuals will always say that they want their children to have better than they did – we know we’re making progress as a society if the next generation climbs higher than the one before. Yet for every generation of government since Thatcher’s, to be in need of the support and assistance of “society” is a reflection of personal failure and private weakness: all that’s needed is a kick up the arse and the will to work – no help is needed, none should be asked for and none, if they can help it, will be given.

Yes, the grocer’s daughter can be prime minister, and the scouse kid from the estate CEO of Tesco but only if they’re exceptional, whereas any idiot can be Mayor of London if they went to the right school. As long as the deck is stacked in favour of some over others then a helping hand and a unifying force, in the form only government can deliver, is required. Thatcher and her progeny believed that government that provides for people was a force for evil: then and now, they could not be more wrong.

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Zero Dark Thirty – Tortured Logic

Posted in Foreign Policy, Human Rights, Media, Politics, Rage by nickchristian on February 19, 2013

After a couple of aborted attempts I finally managed to see Kathyn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty at the weekend. While perhaps not quite the equal of its Oscar-winning predecessor, The Hurt Locker, it’s nevertheless a remarkable piece of cinema, deftly depicting an extremely complicated chronology of the real life events which culminated in the death of Osama Bin Laden in May 2011.

One of the things I love most about Bigelow’s films – certainly these last two – is the way she presents location as a catalyst of tension: taking the focus off character scenes are frequently preluded with gloriously wide shots of the mountainous Khyber or tighter, lingering glances through a bustling Pakistani market; several seconds longer than others might dare and accompanied only by a natural background bustle. It’s not that something will happen, but that anything could; when the audience is so familiar with the nuts and bolts of the story this is quite a feat.

Jessica Chastain as Maya, the CIA operative at the centre of the hunt for America’s most wanted, is extremely plausible – certainly more so than Homeland’s Carrie, supposedly based on the same individual – as she doggedly, and arguably coldly, pursues her quarry. While her superiors might challenge Bin Laden’s strategic significance to the war on terror, Maya goes hard not home and it comes as no surprise when she get what she wants.

Nevertheless, as impressively as Bigelow presents the “where” and the “who”, this is a film driven by the “how”, and it is this “how” that has provoked the shitstorm of controversy. Amongst them Glenn Greenwald has said that Zero Dark Thirty “glorifies torture by depicting it as crucial to getting bin Laden” while philosopher Slavoj Žižek states that the film depicts the “normalization” of such methods, analogous with their endorsement. There are numerous others out there like them but these two seem to me to represent the main schools of objection to the film. Falling very much within my wheelhouse, having seen the film – unlike Greenwald before he had his say – I can’t help but engage with the critique.

In my view Zero Dark Thirty does:

Suggest that torture can elicit truthful information that sometimes amounts to useful intelligence.

At the same time however, the film does not:

Depict torture in a morally neutral way.

The first of these forms the basis for Greenwald’s objections. Unfortunately, as difficult and distasteful as it might be for many of its opponents to acknowledge, subjecting someone to torture in order to get them to reveal useful information will – sometimes – do just that. Reduce someone to a powerless, helpless, subhuman state and there’s a fair chance that, if they know something, they’ll give it up.

Sometimes they won’t, of course.

Sometimes, even if they don’t have what’s being demanded of them, they’ll likely want to say something – anything – that might make the pain stop. It might be a lie, deliberately delivered to mislead and misdirect, to waste time for and to buy it. It also might be the truth, but not a new truth as far as the intelligence agents are concerned, rather something that they’ve already picked up, or could pick up, somewhere, or from someone, else, in some other way. Because there is always some other way.

Some other way might require more patience, more energy, more money or more luck but it will not require that someone, as Žižek correctly characterizes it, “forsake his or her soul”. But what Žižek seems to conclude is that either no soul is shown to be sacrificed in the making of this movie or that only one is and that’s okay, because she gets her man in the end.

The truth is torture cannot be depicted in a neutral way and if it is, then what’s being depicted isn’t torture at all. Thankfully the interrogation scenes are brutal as they ought to be: no shot conceals; no cut is premature; every close-up is agony. We are also told nothing of who this man is or what he might have done to find himself in a CIA black site and see him only as helpless, hopeless, and terrified. The worst of the worst? Hardly.

For further evidence of the immoral weight of torture remember that the New York Times for a long while avoided using the term entirely, opting instead for such grim Orwellian euphemisms as “enhanced” or “intense” interrogation. Yet Mark Boal’s script twice reaches for the correct term – one instance of which sits atop this post – and does so pointedly enough to tell us what the film’s authors think about it. Make no bones about it, Slavoj, there’s nothing “normal” going on here.

Greenwald’s fear is that by showing torture as even loosely effective, Kathryn Bigelow serves to justify its practical utility. What he and Žižek both seem to forget is that morality is far more robust than that: if they allow the debate to become about the extent to which torture works – implying that it can be justified or supported if it works 100% of the time or a majority, or occasionally – then it’s the left that has made the moral concession, not the right. Just as murder is murder, torture is torture and Zero Dark Thirty is a very good film.

Right, Posh Boys

Posted in Culcha, Politics, Rage, Theatre by nickchristian on June 23, 2012

Posh PLay

So, OK, they want all this stuff, they want the massive fuckoff plasma-screen telly, so they borrow more money than they can ever afford to pay back. They want a big house, they want a fat German car. So they go on a massive spree with this fairy money, they’re obsessed with upward mobility but they’re not prepared to put the work in, it’s all credit cards.

Then when the great New Labour shop in the sky goes up in flames ’cause it turns out there isn’t an endless supply of toys and sweets, there can’t be  – so they call us in to sort it out ’cause yes, we’re good at that. But they don’t want to give up the big house and the massive telly, ’cause now they’ve got used to the idea that they’re worth it.

So rails the Riot Club’s Alastair in Laura Wade’s Posh, currently on at the Duke of York’s Theatre. The play imagines a lavish meal held by a gang o’ chaps loosely based on Oxford University’s notorious Bullingdon Club. How loose is this basis is hard to know. The real-life accounts, of fastidiously formulated, fully financed debauchery, are now lore but still sparse in detail. Gaps remain and questions hang over what happened, when, how and, most importantly, who of our current political crop were involved.

It is to Wade’s immense credit that in her version of an event she does not attempt to fill these gaps, or answer these questions, with parody or caricature. To do so would only serve undermine the play’s message, to take out the terror, by inviting sympathy for the protagonists and rendering them unreal.

For what is so terrifying about the above speech is how plausible it is in the attitudes it expresses, despite being completely illogical and utterly inconsistent. With one breath the Riot Clubbers denounce the culture of entitlement and the work-shy poor; with the next they bemoan the efforts their families must make to maintain the stately seat, all because the inheritance tax denies them what is rightfully theirs.

For if the Posh boys believe in anything, it is in the justness of their own privilege: there are no accidents of birth – their collective semen is pronounced “the finest in all the land” – and no obstacle which status or sterling cannot enable them to overcome.

Great wads of cash – “fifties” –  emerge each time it seems they might not be allowed to behave exactly as they’d like. “We always pay our way” pronounces Alastair at one such point, as “…unlike the poor” hangs airborne, as venomous as it is unspoken. You find yourself asking: Where did this money come from? Ah, of course.

Your Government Thinks You’re Stupid

Posted in Politics, Rage by nickchristian on October 13, 2011

Recent weeks have seen a flurry of policy proposals and initiatives that the government has been keen to draw as much attention to as possible. All utterly meaningless, utterly toothless and utterly unlikely; it doesn’t matter though, does it, as long as the headlines are grabbed?

A few weeks ago it was the bins, followed closely by a mooting of an increase in the national speed limit. On Tuesday Dave was desperate to announce that Internet Service Providers would soon be making pornography an “opt-in” provision. Besides being seemingly live-streamed from a Melanie Phillips wet dream (and by “wet”, I obviously mean “sandpaper dry”) this last one rather reminds me of this:

As a friend of mine neatly hash-tagged it: #britainisrunbygibbons.

I’d like to believe it, but maybe not. I wouldn’t go so far as to say “it’s so stupid it’s ingenious” but I suspect they think it is. That each policy could be explained to (or by) a three year-old, is not just entirely deliberate but, mores the point, indicative of the cynicism of the current ruling class. As stupid as they seem, that’s nothing as to how stupid they think WE are.

For Cameron, Osbourne, Pickles, Gove and whoever else you care to name (not Clegg though, I can’t believe he actually does anything), these are the issues they think really mean something to the people – the equivalent of the Roman emperor distracting the masses with gladiatorial exhibitions while depriving them of basic sanitation and watching them die of dysentery.

For while the government has been dangling its car keys in front of us – and by the way, Liam Fox is every inch the car key – it continues to merrily shred the very fabric of our society. Yesterday saw a significant milestone passed in the marketisation of the NHS, while this morning the first effects of the government’s decision to ditch the EMA was revealed and – guess what? – it turns out fewer poor kids are doing A Levels this year. The rate of public jobs being cut continues to rapidly outpace private sector job creation – just as we were told it wouldn’t – with youth unemployment about to hit the nausea-inducing heights seen in (royally fucked Greece), Portugal and Ireland.

All the while we are expected to be appeased by gifts of increased speed and reduced porn.

Won’t somebody please think of the children?

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