Friday, November 23, 2007

Righteous Anger

This I like. "[H]e may think he's looking for f*cking Narnia, but actually he's just in the closet" indeed.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Gods Of Chaos On Their Side

I've just started David Peace's new novel, Tokyo Year Zero. He's been compared to James Ellroy, and you can see why: the brutally clipped, minimal sentences, and the subject matter, not just of bent cops, but more or less bent everything; the excavation of the sordid, corrupt and corrupting nature of the exercise of power. Ellroy himself has got in on the act, with a recommendation for the new book neatly placed in small black type above its title. One thing which differentiates him from Ellroy, I suppose, is that he's prepared to write about the powerless: each chapter of GB84 begins with a page of visceral stream of consciousness from one or other of a pair of miners slowly seeing their lives crushed by a nakedly political conflict they cannot help but take sides in, and The Damned Utd is the story of a man stripped of power, left only with its trappings. The style is also slightly different, less brutalist, less interested in the rhythms of speech and more of an internal monologue, of a mind worrying away, of harried repetition. The setting of Tokyo Year Zero displays though a kind of serendipity, a city destroyed, clinging to survival under an occupying army. The contemporary political connotations are presumably pretty clear, although the serendipity I was thinking of was with Mike Davis' Planet of Slums, and how Peace's novel makes real the hideousness of the kind of existence Davis shows more and more having to bear. Davis' book ends with an attempt to re-imagine the War on Terror as a war between the forces of the global order and the multitudes that order excludes and marginalises, unstable and with little to lose. Although Davis criticises Hardt and Negri's optimism about the revolutionary potential of those multitudes, he can't resist the thought that "[empire's] outcasts have the gods of chaos on their side". What Peace shows, I think, is that those gods are little help indeed; to be subject to power is precisely to be chaotic, to be left in its fickle hands. Cheerily, next on my pile is Raj Patel's Stuffed and Starved, which Chris Brooke has been relentlessly pimping.

Full Of The Glories Of Their Common Sense

I was recently lent a book by a friend which I'm actually slightly surprised they thought I'd like. It was a kind of reminiscence of a place, an attempt to summarise its singular charm. These sorts of things, when done well, when alive to both what's stifled and what flourishes in a particular social environment, can be good, although now I struggle to think of any that I really like. The risk, always, always, is that, as Rousseau put it, chains end up being gilded with flowers; that a kind of unreflective nostalgia kicks in, and a given social milieu is presented as a pictureseque, organic whole, with all happily playing their appointed roles in its totally natural heirarchies. Marx had his fun with this, and I see no reason why I ought to put up with it more than a hundred and fifty years later. A book whose text begins with the masking of a justification for political subordination - masked because by showing its face it'd fall apart, as it creates the conditions of its own justification - as a page-long and not very funny joke at the expense of the fatalistic political niavety of the working class, and, more, the working class in the presence of their betters, is one I am hardly likely to enjoy.

What is objectionable here is the reification of contingent and idealised social relations, that of the prole, incapable by virtue of an innocent stupidity of occupying any position other than supplication to their masters, and an elite, motivated by a laughing noblesse oblige to provide an overarching guidance to their less fortunate subjects, to structure their lives so as to avoid exposing them to the consequences of their foolishness. That sense of entitlement - entitlement which of course relies on characteristics it itself produces for its justification - is, I think we could pretty safely say, an important part what drives my politics: in true Republican style, I want its total and utter eradication from the world, which must be a quite vain goal. It's why, for example, last Saturday night, when I saw two groups of young men, clearly all drunk, squaring up to one another in the street, I thought, 'if anyone's going to get a kicking, I hope it's the bastards wearing dinner jackets' - which of course isn't to say that I hoped anyone did get a kicking; one can consistently oppose the death penalty and think that if we are going to judicially murder someone, it would be preferrable that it were some rather than others. Or why, despite thinking that the state ought to be neutral between competing conceptions of the good, I am quite happy to justify banning foxhunting on what are effectively class-war grounds; and more than that, am suspicious of the politics of people who don't think that class-war grounds are good ones for banning foxhunting. After all, no feudal society could be just, and its remnants should be torn out root and branch.

The connection there, that at least part of our justification for banning foxhunting is its undeniable connections with patterns of class and status distinction, and the barriers that those patterns put up to the achievement of something looking like justice, their distorting effects on the distribution of social power, both directly, through controlling access to positions of advantage, and indirectly, as means of structuring aspiration, is crucial. Unfortunately, though, if anything, I think that sense of entitlement is on the advance. It's very difficult to tell - without engaging in much more serious research than I can really bothered with - whether this is an effect of advancing age and consequent distance from the concerns of eighteen year-old living away from home for the first time, or the objective observation of an actual trend, but undergraduates seem posher and less ashamed of it than when I was an one. I've even heard stories from older hands than me which lead me to believe that there was even a time in the dim and distant past when cross-dressing had not been co-opted as a kind of reinforcement of conservative gender roles by misogynist homophobes and admitting to being a member of a drinking society was tantamount to social death; when Boris f*cking Johnson had to pretend to be a supporter of the SDP to get elected President of the Oxford Union.

Of course, I am willing to admit that I go a little far. It doesn't seem to be entirely fair to more or less write off the suburbs as an institution of bought-off, deadened acquiesence, but I doubt that that's really going to stop me doing it. Equally, so much of what is brilliant about English pop music - and it is English - is driven precisely by what is so loathsome about the English class system, and indeed perhaps its particular manifestation in what I see as the basic emptiness of suburbia. Pulp, for example, with Jarvis' persistent intertwining of sexual and political ennui over what in a way sounds like a kind of perverted lift music, or Suede's desperate cracked glamour, again with the inability to prevent sexual politics and a broader set of concerns from leaching into each other; these are compensations, a sort of sublimation of a more obviously political rage, a way of speaking about it without speaking about it, and in that vein my recent discovery of The Long Blondes - thanks, El - in a way answers this demand. But still, that march of a sense of entitlement, a common sense that is neither common nor makes very much sense, I think explains much of the background to that demand. Where are our glories?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Piss Off And Die Already

Long-term readers may recall my absolute loathing for John Gray, slanderer extraordinaire (see here and here, for example). I have recently had the misfortune to come across his handiwork again, in the Postscript to his actually pretty good book on Mill's On Liberty. I think the Mill book must have been his DPhil, and it shows; nothing else I've read by him displays anything like the level of rigour or charity to opponents, and of course none of the other things I've read by him was required to pass muster amongst a group of actual philosophers. The Postscript was added thirteen years later, and it shows. The first three or so pages, which is as far as I got before giving up in utter disgust, contained two basic claims: that, because Mill's liberalism was based on a theory of history as progress, all liberalism must be based on a theory of history as progress, and that no contemporary liberalism is based on a theory of history as progress. Now, the first claim is transparently unjustified; although everyone should hate John Gray, it is not because I hate John Gray, but because he masquerades as a respectable participant in debates in political theory when in fact he is the epitome of gratuitous misreading and misrepresentation in the service of the dubious kinds of political ends whose achievement rests on such lies. This shows that we should do x when there are good reasons for doing x, not because some other person does x: they, after all, may lack good reasons for doing x. The second claim is equally mendacious. Rawls, whom Gray mentions, does have a theory of history; it's the foundation of his theory of stability and in particular of the overlapping consensus. John Gray is only 59. It's a pity.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Scraps

Some rather disparate and often quite out of date links. I do have other things to do, you know.

The disappearance of Fafblog is indeed a thing of much regret.

This is not a substitute, but it is very good.

Neither is this, but it is also very good (via).

More topically - or it would have been last week - this and this are quite right. Of course it's a serious problem and one perfectly sensibly regarded as being something that people ought to be publicly held accountable when MEN WITH GUNS SHOOT DEAD SOMEONE WHO WAS NO THREAT TO ANYONE AT ALL, not least because WE WANT TO KNOW WHY THEY THOUGHT, CONTRARY TO FACT, THAT HE WAS A THREAT, AND HOW TO AVOID SAID MEN WITH GUNS THINKING THAT OTHER PEOPLE WHO ARE NOT A THREAT, LIKE US, ARE ALSO SO THREATENING THEY SHOULD BE SHOT DEAD.

Also, this.