Archive for January, 2011



The Midas Voice

Seeing that video of Ted Williams -the homeless man with the golden voice- put me in mind of Blake’s The Human Abstract. The poem is from Songs of Experience, and sits as a response to The Divine Image from Songs of Innocence.

The verse goes like this:

Pity would be no more
If we did not make somebody Poor;
And Mercy no more could be,
If all were as happy as we;

The voice of the person speaking in the poem is that of a person who, nowadays, might do media work for a right-wing think tank – if we didn’t have poor people, then we wouldn’t be able to feel pity, and how terrible would that be? Or put another way, we need some measure of inequality in order to propel forward the system that nourishes our human needs and affects. And, in the same way, it strikes me that what the heart-warming sentimental shit surrounding the man with the golden voice (and his voice is golden because it is identified with a voice of masculine authority that commands us to enjoy and consume) enjoins people to do is to celebrate a system that produces homeless people, because if we didn’t have homeless people, then we wouldn’t be able to enjoy such enchanting moments of pity and awe.

This is the same dynamic behind the countless “Mary Byrne-from-Tesco” exultations in the X-Factor before Christmas. It wasn’t enough that Mary Byrne could sing; it was the implicit lowly status of working in a checkout in Tesco that became the launchpad for her outstanding singing voice. If it wasn’t for the implied gulf in status and power that separates someone who works in a supermarket from someone who owns a TV production company, then -so goes the logic- there would be nothing especially marvellous about Mary Byrne’s singing.

Or, as Adorno put it, ‘the glorification of the splendid underdogs is nothing other than the glorification of the splendid system that makes them so’.

Irish Times: Irish Voters Are Selfish Bastards

Social injustice – The Irish Times – Fri, Jan 07, 2011

A GERMAN study on social injustice in industrially developed countries has ranked Ireland among the very worst. There is no point in being surprised. That situation has come about through deliberate political choices and consistent personal selfishness. As the Celtic Tiger roared, the public was asked repeatedly to choose between the economic models of Boston or Berlin. It chose the former, with low taxes and limited public services. 

Selfish Irish bastards. I myself repeatedly opted Boston at the weekly ballot box and fortnightly lever pulling sessions initiated by Mary Harney when she announced the Boston – Berlin dichotomy in thon speech. For me, Boston was more than a feeling: it was smokin’. Berlin, on the other hand, did not take my breath away.

I came across this sequence of illustrations on an excellent Spanish website called Diseccionando a El País (Dissecting El País). For those unaware, El País is a Spanish newspaper a little closer to Berlin than the Irish Times.

 

 

 

 

Captures things quite adequately, I think.

 

The Enormous Arrogance of a Belligerent Force

Bear with me on this one.

First, an excerpt from Vincenç Navarro – The Church against Jesus in Público

(translation mine)

The military coup of 1936 (which the Catholic Church supported) led by General Franco was the defence of the economic and financial interests of the most privileged groups in Spanish society, interests which were affected by the highly popular reforms carried out by the governments democratically elected during the Republic. Among these privileged groups was the Church itself, which was one of the largest landowners, and as such, affected by the agrarian reform proposed by the Republic. The Church, in the 1930s, also held 12,000 country ranches and 8,000 urban buildings. The Church was also the institution that exercised a monopoly in education, also affected by the educational reforms of the democratically established government that favoured the establishment of public schooling, also a highly popular measure.

It followed from this that the Church became the largest spokesman for resistance to such measures, publicly encouraging the army to rise up against the democratic government. And when the military coup took place, the Church immediately defined it as a Crusade, a crusade that paradoxically had at its vanguard Muslim troops, who were those who led it. It was no surprise, then, that when the coup took place sectors of the popular classes attacked churches and the clergy. The excesses that occurred during those attacks (which should be criticized) should not become an obstacle to understanding (though not to justifying) the enormous hostility from the popular classes toward the church, which, betraying the message of its founder, had allied itself to the most exploitative and oppressive forces existing in Spain, an alliance which continued throughout the dictatorship. Throughout that hated regime, the Church (with very few exceptions) was a part of it.


This institution was, then, a belligerent force in that conflict, and it is an enormous falsehood to present the Church as a “victim”, as Benedict XVI did recently. In reality, its role was predominantly victimiser. In many areas of Spain it was the Church that put together the list of those whom the Falange or the army would shoot, who were, by the way, those who were defending a democratically elected government. And the enormous arrogance that characterises the Church explains why it has not even sought forgiveness for its behaviour toward the victims, who belonged on the whole to the popular classes of the different regions and nations of Spain.

Sometime later, elsewhere:

SUBJECT: ARCHBISHOP URGES MORE USG CRITICISM OF CHAVEZ

Porras said the international community also needs to work and speak out more to contain Chavez and the export of his revolution. Porras said most regional governments have deferred to Brazilian President Ignacio “Lula” da Silva to handle Chavez because the two share leftist ideologies. Lula has been unwilling to engage, however, which has stymied regional efforts to contain Chavez, the Archbishop asserted. Porras said the Europeans have been just as weak on Chavez, especially since the departure of Spanish President Jose Maria Aznar.The Archbishop said that both Latin America and Europe need strong leadership from the USG.

Venezuelan archbishop denies information in WikiLeaks report :: Catholic News Agency (CNA)

Archbishop Porras explained to CNA that the WikiLeaks cable which was reprinted by the Venezuelan News Agency read like “a science-fiction movie script that has absolutely no basis.”

He said allegations that he offered the U.S. access to the infrastructure of the Church are not in keeping with “the actions of the Church” or with his actions as then-president of the Venezuelan bishops’ conference. “None of these things took place,” he said.

Archbishop Porras expressed regret that the Venezuelan News Agency decided to re-print the allegations along with negative comments about the bishops. The government-run media has been engaged in an “orchestrated” campaign against numerous Church leaders in the country, he said, including Cardinal Jorge Urosa of Caracas and Archbishop Roberto Luckert of Coro.

Such actions are intended to merely undermine the credibility of the Church among Venezuelans, he added. Church leaders in the country only seek “to serve and to simply be a voice crying out in the wilderness to make the commandment to love God and neighbor a reality,” the archbishop concluded.

Rewinding a bit. To 2002, precisely. To the day after the attempted coup in Venezuela. The one backed by the US (and Aznar). BBC Mundo, the Spanish BBC News service, has an interview from that day with a Monsignor Baltazar Porras.

Baltazar Porras

The BBC report treats the coup d’etat as a fait accompli, referring to Chávez as the ex-president of Venezuela. Porras, according to the report, had accompanied Chávez in his last hours in the Presidential Palace. The interview is remarkable, not only for the BBC’s matter-of-fact treatment of Chávez’s overthrow, but for the Porras’s beatific smugness while a coup d’etat is underway. An excerpt:

What, in the end, was the act that made him arrive at the conclusion that he should step down from government?

The events of that afternoon, and the violence unleashed, together with the public positions that the different components of the Armed Forces had taken made him think that it was better to avoid a greater spilling of blood and that it was the moment to step down.

According to a testimony from him, from the afternoon on he began to develop and talk through the decision with his closest allies and after 9 that night he had made the determination.

Did he have any anguish, any regrets?

First, to me he asked forgiveness in the way he had treated me and in the end he asked us that we transmit to the whole of the episcopate the request for forgiveness in not having found the path of a more direct and friendly relation with the Catholic Church.

Further in:

What do you believe will be the most difficult problem that the provisional government of Venezuela will face?

To unite all sectors and avoid opportunism for those who always want to interfere in situations like this and look for ways to fish in troubled waters.

It is necessary to overcome so many wounds in different sectors and be able to unite the greatest number of wills and abilities to move the country forward in a moment that is difficult, that is atypical, that is a transition toward full constitutionality.

In the end, a bit like the BBC’s editorial procedures for coup laundry, that transition didn’t really work out too well.

What Do You Think Of Ireland’s Current Problems? Fine Gael ask, I responserate.

Note the ‘Have Your Say‘ format. I wrote about this before.

Anyway, I commented this. Had to distill the 200-point list to a 200-character response. But that is OK: time is short, and we need to be effective and efficient at the same time simultaneously.

Lack of strong leadership. For this we need to look to Fine Gael’s partners at European level in the EPP. Take Fidesz in Hungary: their new media law means the economy will be protected from Ice-T’s foul-mouthed gangsta rap and also from journalism.

Your move, Enderator.

It Didn’t Turn Out Fine

This is a great record.

He never made another album. For two decades, alcohol had dominated this creative and intelligent man’s life.

Naming The Beast

Some thoughts on the upcoming election in Ireland before I ignore the matter for another while.

The elections will take place in the depths of a massive economic and political crisis, but none of the main political parties who seek a role in government will address the fact that the crisis -the cost of which is borne by
ordinary people, and most of all by the poor- is a product of neo-liberal capitalism.

The beast will go unnamed. In fact, any proposals to address the crisis will studiously stay clear of any
language that might imply a break with the policies characteristic of a neo-liberal state. There will be talk of better management and governance, of fairer policies, of an end to crony capitalism, and so on and so forth.

All these promises pose no threat whatsoever to the neo-liberal order. If anything, they reinforce it, by creating
the impression that affairs of government need to be reordered in the same manner as those of a private corporation, and by letting the nebulous idea of fairness function as a substitute for justice.

Nothing will be said by any politician who aspires to govern that might refer to the class antagonisms upon which the neo-liberal order depends, unless it is to deny that such class antagonisms exist.

The Labour Party, which presents itself as a left-wing party, will say nothing about redistribution of either income or
wealth. It will say nothing about the relation between labour and capital. Never mind James Connolly: even Abraham
Lincoln’s words
on that subject would, by the standards of a Labour Party declaration, appear incorrigibly ultra-leftist.

If the Labour Party enters government, as looks likely, it will pursue policies in line with constraints imposed by IMF loan
drawdown conditions. Where the next government deviates in some small measure from the prescribed path, this will be presented as a brave victory, even though the shrinking of the welfare state, the brutal internal devaluation strategy and the lockdown of neo-liberal politics, with its demands that the population be subservient to corporate power, will continue. The situation prior to the EU-ECB-IMF bailout, in which Ruairi Quinn admitted that was no disagreement in political Ireland on the necessity for massive
cuts, will most likely disappear down the memory hole.

Of some interest is the matter of Sinn Féin. Sinn Féin is the only party with Dáil representation that has presented economic proposals which reject policies based on the neo-liberal consensus. Given the fact policies deriving from this consensus have destroyed the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people in Ireland, and will cause even more destruction in the years to come if allowed to continue unimpeded, a visiting alien might imagine these proposals
would receive some measure of media attention. But since Irish media exists in the main to mobilise the collective unconscious of businessmen and their political acolytes against the population, the party’s proposals were mostly ignored.

Ignored, that is, in terms of their content. But there was a response to Sinn Féin’s position. The criticism that Sinn Féin stand against neo-liberal policies in opposition but implement them when in government -as in the Northern Assembly- may prove accurate, should the unlikely event of their participation in the Southern government arise. What
interests me here, however, is not the detail of Sinn Féin’s position, which on the whole seems to me reasonably progressive, but how vehemently any dissenting position -which is to say, one which goes beyond the standard bromides of ‘reform’, ‘fairness’, ‘better government’ (none of which are dissenting positions within a neo-liberal order anyway)- is stamped upon by media machinery.

Consider what happened before Christmas, once Pearse Doherty had made the Dáil speech that seemed to chime well with popular anger. Doherty made his speech on Wednesday 7th December. At the beginning of the following week, the top news story in Irish media was the matter of a Wikileaks cable concerning Bertie Ahern’s belief that the Sinn Féin leadership was involved in the Northern Bank robbery. The substance of Ahern’s allegations were public knowledge five
years previous: the leaked cable communicated no information that had not been widely available to the Irish public at the time.

The newsworthiness of this story had been determined, as Gerry Moriarty put it in his Irish Times piece probing the potential impact to Sinn Féin’s ‘credibility’, by ‘WikiLeaks bringing all these issues back on to the agenda‘. It was as though it had been WikiLeaks, and not the Irish media, who had decided to seize on the content of the cables and place it as the main headline on Monday morning radio bulletins, thus returning the matter of the Northern Bank to the public attention.

Strangely, WikiLeaks’s powers of bringing issues onto the agenda did not work too well when it came to the cable detailing the US Embassy’s suspicions that the Fianna Fáil government, in 2007, had introduced
stricter checks at Shannon Airport for US Military planes for electoral gain, even though it had ‘consistently .. acted to ensure continued U.S. military transits at Shannon in the face of public criticism‘.

Dissent, particularly direct action, is painted as violent. In November, Joe Duffy pressed éirígí councillor Louise Minihan on whether the next step from throwing red paint over Mary Harney would be snipers on the
streets.

The ICTU march in December was prefaced by media rumblings about the possibility of riots. Sinn Féin is habitually presented as a murder gang, even though the party received more votes than any other party in Northern Ireland in the last Westminster elections, and continues to acquire a solid position of mainstream respectability.

A personal observation here: I find it infuriating to see Southern politicians, media pundits and their parrots to go on about Sinn Féin’s IRA history when they have no experience of living with the effects of either paramilitary violence or the violence of the British State. Partition affords them a security blanket to engage in sweaty-palmed pacifism. The denunciation of people with an alleged role in IRA atrocities rarely goes hand-in-hand with the denunciation of people with a role in the use of Irish territory as a springboard for the bombing of Arab children.

Writer Eduardo Galeano having a conference at ...
Image via Wikipedia

The spectre of explosive violence is an effective coercive tool in orienting voting preferences. Reading a collection
of Eduardo Galeano’s essays the other day, I came across one on Spain from 1966. The Franco regime was holding a referendum on a new constitution, on account of the need for ‘democratisation’ in order for Spain to access the Common European Market. The content of the referendum was farcical, the voting count was farcical too, with a remarkable number of blow-ins appearing in each voting constituency to beef up the voting turn-out. But the regime covered the country with posters intended to mobilise voters to go out and vote yes ‘POR LA PAZ’, i.e. for peace. As one woman who spoke to Galeano put it: “We had to vote yes, for peace, because if not, my boyfriend said there would be a war like the one in Vietnam.”

See the video below:

The newscaster, commenting on the 95% in favour, declares that Spain “has voted for herself, and for the peace she has enjoyed in the last 30 years.” Or, as Franco in this video puts it, the yes vote was the “most dynamic, transcendental and effective ¡Viva España! ¡Arriba España!”

The ‘national interest’, whether in a fascist dictatorship or a modern neoliberal state, will always stand for peace, harmony,
getting on with things. They -the reds, Al-Qaeda, the far-left anarchists, the Provos, or whoever the existential bogeyman may be- stand opposed to a national way of life, a way of life which is outward looking, confident, dynamic -and peaceful. The existential bogeyman is how the state marginalises dissent. The existential bogeyman promises to revisit past trauma.

If anything approaching a substantial challenge to neoliberal orthodoxy materialises in the coming months -even at a merely rhetorical level- expect the spectre of explosive violence -from IRA bombers, Bolsheviks, anarchists and so on- to be called forth to haunt the Irish population”s political imagination.

By contrast, the structural violence of unemployment, job insecurity and the withdrawal of essential public services prescribed by the EU-ECB-IMF, willingly administered by politicians ensconced in neoliberal doctrine, and cheered on by the Irish media, will be put forward as the poultice for healing the trauma. One Ireland, moving forward, dynamically, transcendentally, at peace.

An urgent question, then, is how to get people to recognise the structural violence outlined above, and the endless flow of
managerial silver bullets from political parties, as the product of a particular discourse: that of neoliberalism.

The conditions of the EU-IMF-ECB ‘bailout’ are not pointy-headed economic prescriptions: they are a lockdown, designed to evacuate politics from policy, to destroy collective institutions, so that financial institutions receive their pound of flesh, and so that the logic of the free market unfolds unimpeded.

If people can’t name it, they can’t resist it. As a result, they get caught up in the interminable managerial gasbaggery about reform of political institutions, the relentless focus on ‘waste’ in public services (as though the funnelling of countless billions to banks never happened and is not happening), and a creeping disenchantment with the potential of politics to change anything.

This disenchantment will be fuelled, of course, with ad infinitum junk promises of ‘new politics’, ‘reform’, ‘fairness’ and so on. If nothing changes but the government, then once the cheap high of a change of government fades, and unemployment continues to rise, and living standards continue to fall, the disenchantment will slip into the desperate nativism that is the flipside of the shiny, dynamic, transcendental One Ireland.

So, as you can see, I am quite optimistic about the prospects for the forthcoming election. All
that is needed is a massive popular movement with a robust communications apparatus that is able to name neoliberalism as the beast to be slain. How that might be achieved is a matter of some concern, though I do think the United Left Alliance (but jeez, why not just United Left?) is one strand of a small move in the right direction, but once that question has been resolved, a bright future awaits us all. Hurrah for 2011!

I apologise for the glib ending: I must leave the room now as I have a protest to attend.

Capitalism: Live To 70 At Least!

I had resolved to wage war on capitalism in 2011. But then I saw this video. Game over commies, I’m off to git me a Milton Friedman bust and a loan secured against the parents’ house while money is cheap!

Inaugurations

The WordPress app for iPhone ate my first post of 2011 the other morning. Secreting honey, almonds and champagne through every pore, I woke in the early hours not long after going to bed to tap out a post in the darkness about the use of the word ‘we’. Writing in the dark, in bed, half asleep, into a little screen a few inches in diameter, has its advantages. For one, you don’t get tempted to look at a whole load of other internet sites to see if anyone else has been saying something similar to what you’ve been saying.

And everything in that state of consciousness reads great! It’s not that far off the sense of being in a dream where you’re reading a newspaper and you think, “Wait a minute, this is a dream? I had no idea my mind could write paragraph after devastatingly coherent paragraph of unalloyed good sense! Holy shit!” I suspect, though, that if we tried the Freud-prescribed practice of writing down the content of the dream, the manifest content committed to paper would be a bit disappointing. But only because our puny waking minds could not capture in mere text the richness of the meaning served up by our unconscious, mind you.

What happened was this: after writing several long paragraphs in the tenebrae, I wanted to double-check a quote from Winnie The Pooh. So I tried the toggling thing to open up iBooks, and on my return to the WordPress app, my night’s labours had vanished. I resolved to get some sleep, and then do a rewrite in the morning. But when I awoke, I couldn’t remember a damn thing I’d been writing about. But wait, it’s drifting back to me now, albeit in a way close to how the written description of the manifest dream bears only the dimmest of relations to the marvel and terror of the dream. It was that good. I’m sure.

Harry Nilsson sang “I can’t live/If living is without you”. This is not just a desperate and overwrought plea to get someone into bed for the last time. It the desperate and overwrought statement of an ontological axiom. The “I”, or the ego, has no existence without other people. It’s not just you without whom I cannot exist: it’s him, her, them. The “I” unfolds through social encounters borne by language: I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.

Even the most dedicated narcissist anarcho-capitalist survivalist rugged individualist, out to fend off the apocalypse by feasting on his stockpiles of beef jerky and tinned pineapples in some deserted and undisrupted spot well away from any other human being, can not escape the fact that the language he uses to plan his escapade is a social product. When he decides to look at the best before date on the long life breakfast packets, as he will every now and again, he will do so using knowledge acquired through language, which is a load of stuff that he didn’t make. It was made by other people. Self-made men always give their creators far too much credit.

What’s more, if some Man Friday arrived on the scene and made off some of with his beef jerky, he might use the language of private property law to justify cracking Man Friday’s nut open with a lump hammer. It isn’t just that no man is an island because he requires assistance to address even the barest of his animal needs: what is more, he cannot exist as himself unless others exist. Like Donne says: “I am involved in mankind”. Human interdependence is not something you can opt out of, short of killing yourself. What sort of language might you use to say “Enough of this being human bullshit: I’m off to found my own species!”? And to whom would you say it?

More later. For now, Happy New Year, humans.


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