Nigel Farage

Leave.UK and Boris Now Using Racism to Push Brexit and Get Votes

I suppose it was inevitable. I realise not everyone, who voted for the Leave campaign is racist by any means. A lot of working class and left-wing peeps voted to leave the EU no doubt because of the very real problems with it. Private Eye has been describing for years its corruption, its lack of democracy and accountability of its senior officials, and the high-handed way it deals with member states that don’t toe the line. Years ago it described how the-then president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus, was aghast at the terms it presented him and his country for membership. He complained that his country hadn’t been treated like that for over thirty years. Which meant that he was comparing it to the way it had been pushed around when it had been a Soviet satellite. This drew an outraged reaction from two of the MEPs in the EU delegation, both of whom, I think, were left-wing. One of them was Daniel Cohn-Bendit, French politician, who had been a radical leader during the ’68 revolution. They screamed at Klaus that the EU was definitely democratic, and the architect and keep of peace after the Second World War.  Robin Ramsay, the editor of the conspiracy website Lobster, is an old-fashioned left-wing Eurosceptic. He objects to the EU because economic Conservatism and neoliberalism is built into it. He regards a strong nation state with nationalised industries as the best political and economic system and protector of the rights of working people. Tony Benn was the same, noting in one of his books the real harm membership of the EU actually did to our economy and industry.

But Benn was also realistic, and recognised that we were now also economically dependent on the EU, and that leaving it would also cause severe disruption and damage. 

All of which is not considered by the right-wing supporters of Brexit. They’re not interested in protected our nationalised industries, like what remains of the NHS, because they want to sell it off to the highest bidder. And that means, at the moment, Donald Trump. Thus for all their posturing, they were quite happy to see our railways owned by the Bundesbahn, the German state railway network, and our water by the French, and then the Indonesians. And our nuclear power stations built and owned by the French and Chinese. They’ve got no objections with other states and nations owning our infrastructure, as long the British state doesn’t.

And there is and has always been a nasty undercurrent of racism in the Right’s attitude to the EU. Now with the latest poster from Leave.UK it’s all out in the open. As Mike’s shown in his article, they’ve now put up a poster showing Chancellor Angela Merkel, with her arm raised in a quasi-Nazi salute, or what could be interpreted as one. And there’s a slogan ‘We didn’t Win Two World Wars to be Pushed Around by a Kraut’.

This is just pure racism, expressed in racist language. And the imagery is offensive and wrong. As Tony Greenstein showed in his article, the CDU had its share of former Nazis amongst its members. And incidentally, so was the Freie Demokraten, the German equivalent of the Liberal party. Back in the 1980s there was a massive scandal when it was revealed that neo-Nazis had all been infiltrating them. Even the odd member of the SPD has been outed as a former member of the Nazi party. But that doesn’t mean that the CDU, or any of the other German democratic parties are really Nazi, simply because they’re German. I think Merkel herself is genuinely anti-racist, and tried to demonstrate how far her country had moved from the stereotype left over from the Third Reich when she invited the million or so Syrian and North African refugees to settle in the Bundesrepublik. It backfired badly on her, as people, not just in Germany, were afraid their countries were going to be swamped by further Islamic migrants and the wave of 200 or so rapes by a minority of them provoked an vile islamophobic reaction. But Merkel herself, and her people, aren’t Nazis and aren’t engaged in some diabolical plot to dominate Europe by stealth. As I’ve blogged about endlessly, ad nauseam.

Mike’s article cites the comments from three continental papers, who I believe have rightly assessed the situation and BoJob’s shenanigans with the EU. They differ in that some of them think the Blonde Beast is aiming for a no-deal Brexit, or that, denied that, he wants a Brexit extension. But whatever the outcome, he wants most of all to blame it on the EU. Those nasty foreigners are responsible! He and the Tory press are trying to present it as though Boris and the Tories have done everything they can to secure a deal, and it’s all due to those horrible, intransigent foreigners, and particularly the Germans, that they haven’t. Thus they’re seeking to work up nationalist sentiments so that they’re voted back in with a massive majority, having seen their lead in the polls.

I can well believe it. It’s what they’ve always done.

I remember how the Tories became the Patriotic Party under Thatcher in the 1980s. Thatcher stood for Britain, and anyone, who opposed her and the Tories more widely was definitely not One Of Us. They were some kind of traitor. The Labour party was full of Commies and IRA sympathisers, as well as evil gays determined to corrupt our youth in schools. Thatcher represented Britain’s warrior heritage and island independence. She constantly and consciously harked back to Winston Churchill. Their wretched 1987 general election video showed Spitfires zooming about the skies in what Alan Coren drily called ‘the Royal Conservative Airforce’. Over the top of this an excited male voice declaimed ‘We were born free. It’s our fundamental right’. Actually, the quote comes from Rousseau’s Social Contract, and is ‘Man was born free, but everywhere he is in chains’. Which is a far better description of the free trade, low tax world Thatcher wanted to introduce and her destruction of workers’ rights and the welfare state. Thatcher was our bulwark against domestic terrorism and the IRA at home – even though she was secretly negotiating with them – and the Communists and Eurofederalists of the EU abroad.

The Tories continually used the imagery and memories of the Second World War and the Empire to drum up support.

It’s a crude, nationalistic view of British imperial history. The idea that somehow we stood alone against Hitler during the Second World War is a myth, but one that all too many of us buy into. We survived and were victorious because we had the support of our empire. We were fed, and our armies staffed, by the colonies, including those in the Caribbean, Africa and India. If it hadn’t been for them and the Americans, we would have fallen as well.

And the history of the British empire and its legacy is mixed. Very mixed. I don’t deny that many of the soldiers and administrators that founded and extended it were idealists, who genuinely believed they were creating a better order and were improving the lives of their imperial subjects. But there was also much evil. Like the history of the Caribbean and the slave colonies in North America, or the treatment of the Amerindians and other indigenous peoples, like the Maoris or Aboriginal Australians. They weren’t noble savages, as portrayed in the stereotypes that have grown up around them. But they didn’t deserve the massacre, displacement and dispossession they suffered. The Irish patriot, Roger Casement, was a British imperial official, and was radicalised by the enslavement of South American Amerindians by the British rubber industry in the Putomayo scandal. This turned him against British imperialism, and made him an ardent fighter for his own people’s independence. To get a different view of the empire, all you have to do is read histories of it from the perspective of the colonised peoples, like the Indians or the slaves in the Caribbean. Or, for that matter, the horrific treatment of Afrikaner civilians in the concentration camps during the Anglo-South African ‘Boer’ War. In too many cases it was a history of persecution, dispossession and oppression, fueled by greed and nationalism.

Ah, but the British Empire stood for democracy!

It was largely founded before the emergence of democracy, which everywhere had to be fought for. And parts of the British imperial establishment remained anti-democratic after the Liberals extended the vote to the entire working class and women at the beginning of the 20th century. Martin Pugh in his history of British Fascism between the two world wars states that sections of it were not happy with the extension of the franchise in the 1920s, especially the diplomats and administrators in the Indian office, like Lord Curzon. It’s highly dubious how much of a patriot Churchill was. In the years before the outbreak of the Second World War, Orwell remarked in one of his press articles how strange the times were, with Churchill ‘running around pretending to be a democrat’. And there was a very interesting article years ago in the weekend edition of the Financial Times that argued that it was only because Britain needed allies during the Second World War, that the English Speaking Union appeared as one of the leading organisations in the spread of democracy.

But still we’ve had it drummed into us that the Empire was an unalloyed, brilliant institution, our country is uniquely democratic, and the Tories represent both and our national pride and heritage against the depredations of Johnny Foreigner.

Salman Rushdie and the rest are right. We need proper, balanced teaching about the Empire to correct some of these myths.

Supporters of the Labour Party and Remain campaign in response to the latest eruption of bilious racism and xenophobia have released their own posters. One shows Boris Johnson and has the slogan ‘We Didn’t Win Two World Wars to Be Pushed Around by a Fascist’. Another shows Nigel Farage with the slogan ‘We Didn’t Win Two World Wars to Be Pushed Around by a Fraud’. At the bottom is another legend, reading ‘Let’s Not Leave EU’.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/10/09/leave-campaigns-response-to-angela-merkel-is-racism/

They’re right. And the Tories and the Leave campaign are whipping up racism simply for their own benefit. If they get a no-deal Brexit, or win a general election, they will privatise the NHS, destroy what’s left of the welfare state. Our industries will be massively harmed, and whatever’s left of them will be sold to the Americans. 

It will mean nothing but poverty and exploitation for working people. That’s how the Tories use racism and xenophobia.

Don’t be taken in by their lies. Stand up for democracy and peace and harmony between peoples and nations. Get rid of Boris, Farage and Aaron Banks. And support Corbyn and Labour.

 

Labour Promises State Pharmaceutical Company to Guarantee Affordable Drugs

This is really going to drive the Tories and the private healthcare companies that are funding them and dictating policy on the NHS up the wall. According to today’s I for 25th September 2019, Jeremy Corbyn has declared that Labour would set up a state-owned pharmaceutical company to make sure everyone had access to affordable medicines. It’s discussed in the article ‘Corbyn vows to ‘put power back into the hands of the people’ by Nigel Morris on page 17. The article states

Jeremy Corbyn announced that Labour would would set up a state-owned pharmaceutical company to provide cheaper life-saving medicines to all patients regardless of their wealth.

Insisting that the “tide is turning” against the Conservatives, he urged activists to prepare for an election victory that would “put the power back into the hands of the people.”

The Labour leader, whose address was brought forward 24 hours following the Supreme Court judgment on the Prime Minister’s decision to close parliament, won cheers as he denounced pharmaceutical companies which deny vital medicines to ill patients by charging extortionate prices.

And he promised that Labour would redesign the system to “serve public health, not private health” by ensuring all patients had access to generic versions of patented medicines.

Mr Corbyn cited the case of nine-year old with cystic fibrosis, Luis Walker, who is denied the drug he needs because its manufacturer refuses to provide it at a modest price. “Luis, and tens of thousands of others suffering from illnesses like cystic fibrosis, hepatitis C and breast cancer, are being denied life-saving medicines by a system that puts profits for share-holders before people’s lives,” he said.

This is excellent, but it’s really going to rile Trump and his attempts to get his hand on Britain’s NHS. The exorbitant prices charged by the pharmaceutical industry is a continuing scandal in America. A few years ago, Martin Shkreli, the head of one of the American drug companies, found himself vilified when it was revealed that under him his company and massively increased a drug used to treat AIDS to several hundred dollars per tablet from only a couple of dollars. The reason? He didn’t want it bought by poor Indians. The American private healthcare system is such an expensive sham that one of the campaign groups put a video about it up on YouTube, narrated by Stephen Fry. This opened by revealing that in America, simply calling an ambulance can get you charged $200 +. The whole point of the video was to warn people about the dangers to the NHS posed by the Fuhrage and the Brexit party. Farage is in favour of introducing private healthcare, like America. And Trump wants to get his mitts on the NHS. One of the things that annoys him about the NHS, quite apart from the fact that it’s supposed to provide free healthcare, is that it also acts at the moment to stop the American pharmaceutical companies charging what they like. Farage, of course, isn’t the only right-winger to hate the NHS. So do the Tories and the Blairites. They’re just quieter about it.

The only people you can trust with the NHS is Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters.

The article also mentioned some of the other policies Labour were putting forward, stating that Corbyn had received standing ovation after standing ovation for them. In the words of the article, Corbyn

vowed to repeal Thatcherite trade union legislation, introduce a £10 an hour living wage, nationalise railways, mail, water and the National Grid, and trigger a “record investment blitz ” in the UK’s infrastructure.

The Labour leader denounced Boris Johnson as part of “an elite that disdains democracy” who was not fit to be in Downing Street and demanded his resignation.

All absolute correct. And you can see how much the Tories disdain democracy by the frenzied denunciations of the 11 Supreme Court judges by the Tory press. Who really can’t stand the fact that we live in a constitutional country, governed by the rule of law, rather than the arbitrary whim of an unelected populist leader. Like Putin. Or Boris as he’d like to be.

We definitely need Corbyn to be put in No. 10. The health of our people, and the prosperity of our country, and the security of our democracy absolutely depends on it.

 

No, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, You and the Press Are also Guilty for Enabling Johnson’s Dictatorship

Yesterday the I’s columnist, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown took it upon herself to identify the ‘guilty men’ responsible for enabling Johnson’s seizure of dictatorial power yesterday. This followed an anonymous piece by someone calling themselves ‘Cato the Younger’, with the title of ‘The Guilty Men’. ‘Cato’ blames thirteen western leaders, two of whom are women. Alibhai-Brown, however, put up her own, shorter list of six men. They are George Osborne, Nigel Farage, David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson. Now I agree with her identification of all the above as causes of the crisis, with the exception of Jeremy Corbyn. She includes him because he

has been another unknowing collaborator. He still can’t find the voice or moral clarity to oppose Brextremism, and is worryingly beholden to his close, maniacally anti-capitalist advisers. He could come out for Remain and let, say, Caroline Lucas lead a temporary government of unity. It won’t happen. Not even in our dreams.

This is utter balderdash, just Centrist, anti-Corbyn propaganda. Corbyn has made his views on Brexit very clear. He was going to get Britain the best deal he could. If he couldn’t, he would hold a general election and/or second referendum. This, however, has not been reported in the press and media, which still continues to trot out the pat lie that he never campaigned properly for Remain. Swinson, the leader of the Lib Dems, was asserting this outright lie again the other day, claiming that Corbyn was ‘nowhere to be seen’ at the Referendum campaign. He certainly was. Matt Thomas posted a tweet declaring that Corbyn made 123 media appearances, attended 15 rallies and posted 118 pro-Remain tweets. Swinson herself posted only a couple of tweets for Remain.

And Tory Fibs also tweeted

That is a provable lie. During the EU Referendum Campaign 7 May-22 June 2016, Corbyn, over 46 days, campaigned as follows:

• Traveled 5851km
• Spoke at 15 rallies
• Sent 100 Remain Tweets
• Achieved 33,760 retweets
• Received media exposure 120 times

and contrasted this with Swinson’s own lamentable performance. While Professor Andrew Russell pointed out that the Lib Dems, by contrast, were ‘conspicuous by their absence’.

Academic exposes ‘invisible’ LibDem’s Brexit hypocrisy. Swinson pushing UK toward no-deal Brexit

As for Corbyn being ‘worryingly beholden’ to ‘maniacally anti-capitalist advisers’, this is just a bit of doubletalk trying to stir up the Red Scare about Corbyn and the Labour party a little more. One of Corbyn’s advisors is hard Left. Seumas Milne is, I believe, a real Stalinist. But Corbyn isn’t, neither is he a Trotskyite, or any other kind of Communist. And the Labour party’s programme is simply a return to the mixed-economy, strong welfare state with strong unions that gave Britain three to four decades of prosperity and economic growth after the War.

And then there’s Alibhai-Brown’s whinge that he didn’t make way for Caroline Lucas’ female-only unity government. But this was never a realistic proposal. It was profoundly sexist, and ignored the profound differences between all of the women Lucas invited to join her. It looks to me far more like an attention-grabbing stunt than a serious proposal. It also belies Alibhai-Brown’s claim to be concerned about the poor. Earlier in her article, attacking George Osborne, she states quite correctly that he

punished the neediest, weakened the welfare state and rewarded the richest. Those “left behinds” who voted for Brexit were deliberately left behind by this coldly ideology, small-state Tory.

All of which is correct. And it also describes precisely many of the women Lucas invited to join her unity government. They were also ideological Thatcherites, determined to punish the poor, reward the rich, and destroy the welfare state. And it’s remarkable that Alibhai-Brown, who has spent her journalistic career fighting racing, hasn’t pointed out that not one BAME woman was included on Lucas’ list.

Of course, the real reason Alibhai-Brown is trying to dump on Corbyn yet again, is because she shares her masters’ fears about a Corbyn government that would really empower working people and bring the profiteering super-rich to heel. And so a fair amount of the blame for BoJob’s seizure of power should go to the men and women of the Fourth Estate. 

Murdoch’s papers naturally share a very large part of the blame, because they have relentless hyped and promoted the Tories and particularly Boris Johnson. So have the Torygraph, owned by the weirdo Barclay twins, while the Heil and Depress have also pushed the same extreme right-wing views.

But the nominally left-press should also shoulder their fare share of the blame. The Groaniad, Absurder and the I followed the Tory press in lying about, vilifying and smearing Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters, for exactly the same reasons as the Tory papers: they are afraid of anything that really empowers the working class. The only difference is that they have tried to dress up their Thatcherism with some shreds of progressive ideology. The I, for example, tried promoting Sandi Toksvig Women’s Equality Party. That feminist organisation’s credentials went out the window when Toksvig declared her backing for Hillary Clinton in the American presidential election. Clinton shared her husband’s attack on the American welfare state, such as it was, passed racist legislation designed to come down hardest on Blacks supposedly to tackle the ‘war on drugs’, and presided over an aggressive programme of regime change every bit as militaristic as George Bush’s. Clinton was very much a member of the American establishment, but she tried telling everyone she wasn’t, ’cause of her gender. Now we have Alibhai-Brown trying out the same tactics in promoting Lucas against Corbyn. And in doing so Alibhai-Brown shows what a hypocrite she is.

She, and the rest of the press, have also contributed to Johnson’s resistible rise. All of them have supported the neoliberal economics that have empowered the Tory Brexiteers, even when, like Swinson, they claimed otherwise. The left-wing press could have got behind Corbyn. They didn’t. And so they deserve their share of the blame, along with the Tory rags, for keeping the Tories in power, and allowing Johnson to elevate himself to virtual dictator. 

Vox Political: Pictures of the Resistance to Dictator Johnson

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 30/08/2019 - 3:59am in

Yesterday, Boris Johnson took it upon himself to ask the Queen to prorogue parliament so that he could force through his unwanted no deal Brexit against the opposition of MPs. Boris Johnson himself hasn’t been elected. He was foisted on the British public as their leader by the Tory party, who represent a vanishingly small section of the British people. With this act, Johnson has assumed dictatorial powers. And the British people aren’t standing for it. There have already been demonstrations against him on College Green, and Mike has put up a selection of pictures of them by Rachael Swindon, Marcus Chown, Mr Bliz, Steve Bray, Carole Peters, the EU Flag Mafia, as well as a video by former Labour cabinet minister, Andrew Adonis, calling BoJob’s action what it is: Massively unconstitutional. He also encourages Brits to take heart, as he feels we’re still going to win this. He says that this is actually a sign of weakness from Britain’s Trump Junior. Boris hasn’t called an election, because he knows he’d lose it, and he’s aware that the Remain Alliance made last week is too strong for him. Adonis feels that there is still enough time left in September and October for parliament to make its voice felt. And Boris hasn’t made any kind of deal with the Fuhrage, who would eat him alive. So people, who want to see Britain a constitutional country at the heart of Europe should feel encouraged: ‘we’re still going to win’.

Thousands demonstrate across the UK to #StopTheCoup

There is also this petition against the Johnson’s Machtergreifung. Please sign it if you, like me, deeply object to this trashing of British democracy by an autocratic, mendacious clown.

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/269157

Mike says in his article about it that it won’t make a scrap of business. Boris is a Tory MP, which means that he automatically ignores demonstrations. Mike’s right about this. But this does show the sheer strength of feeling by the British electorate. With MPs across the party political divide ranged against him, and condemnations from Nicola Sturgeon, the Scots First Minister and the Welsh Assembly, and the resignation of Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Tories north of the border, this is adding to the pressure against Johnson. It may not affect him, but it might scare some of his backers.

We hope. 

 

The Stepford Daughters of Brexit and Slavery and the Emergence of Capitalism

Yesterday for our amusement the awesome Kerry Anne Mendoza posted a video on twitter made by two very definitely overprivileged girls talking about the evils of socialism. The two young ladies were Alice and Beatrice Grant, the privately educated granddaughters of the late industrialist and former governor of the Bank of England, Sir Alistair Grant. With their cut-glass accents and glazed, robotic delivery of their lines, they seemed to fit the stereotype of the idiotic Sloane perfectly, right down to the ‘Okay, yah’, pronunciation. Mendoza commented ‘I don’t think this was meant to be a parody, but it’s the perfect roast of the “yah-yah” anti-left.’

Absolutely. In fact, what the girls were describing as socialism was really Communism, completely ignoring democratic socialism, or social democracy – the form of socialism that demands a mixed economy, with a strong welfare state and trade unions, progressive taxation and social mobility. It also ignored anti-authoritarian forms of socialism, like syndicalism, guild socialism or anarcho-Communism. They were also unaware that Marx himself had said that, regarding the interpretations of his views promoted by some of his followers, he wouldn’t be a Marxist.

But it would obviously be too much to expect such extremely rich, public school girls to know any of this. They clearly believed, and had been brought up to believe, the Andrew Roberts line about capitalism being the most wonderful thing every invented, a mechanism that has lifted millions around the world out of poverty. Etc. Except, as Trev, one of the great commenters on Mike’s and this blog, said

If “Capitalism works” why are there a million people using foodbanks in Britain today? Not working that well is it? Why did the Government bail out the Banks using our money? Why did the Banking system collapse in the first place, was it because of Socialism? I don’t find these idiotic spoilt brats in the least bit funny, I feel bloody angry. When was the last time they ate food they found in the street? Bring back the Guillotine!

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/08/14/these-young-ladies-of-brexit-need-to-be-seen-to-be-believed/

The two girls were passionate supporters of the Fuhrage and his wretched party, and were really looking forward to a no-deal Brexit. It shows how out of touch these girls are, as Brexit is already wrecking the British economy, and a no-deal Brexit and subsequent deal with a predatory America would just wipe it out completely. Along with everything that has made post-war Britain great – the NHS and welfare state. But these girls obviously have no connection with working people or, I guess, the many businesses that actually depend on manufacturing and exports. I think the girls’ family is part of financial sector, who stand to make big profits from Brexit, or at least are insulated from its effects because they can move their capital around the globe.

The girls’ views on the EU was similarly moronic. They really do seem to believe that the EU is somehow an oppressive, communistic superstate like the USSR. It wasn’t. And the reason anti-EU socialists, like the late, great Tony Benn distrusted it was partly because in their view it stood for capital and free trade against the interests of the nation state and its working people.

And they also have weird views on slavery and the EU’s attitude to the world’s indigenous peoples. To the comment by David Lammy, the Black Labour politico, who dared to correct Anne Widdecombe for comparing Brexit to the great slave revolts, they tweeted

“Lammy being pathetic as usual. The chains of slavery can be intangible, as amply shown in China, the Soviet Union and the EU; to deny that just shows your ignorance and petty hatred for the truth”.

To which Zelo Street commented that there two things there. First of all, it’s best not to tell a Black man he doesn’t understand slavery. And second, the EU isn’t the USSR.

They were also against the Mercosur deal the EU wishes to sign with the South American nations, because these would lead to environmental destruction and the dispossession and exploitation of the indigenous peoples.

“As usual the GREED and selfishness of the EU imposes itself using their trade ‘deals’ in the name of cooperation and fake prosperity. The indigenous tribes of the Amazon need our protection not deforestation”.

To which Zelo Street responded with incredulity about how they could claim environmental concern for a party headed by Nigel Farage.

And they went on. And on, going on about how the EU was a threat to civil liberties. And there was more than a touch of racism in their statement that Sadiq Khan should be more concerned to make all Londoners feel safe, not just EU migrants. They also ranted about how Labour had sold out the working class over Brexit in favour of the ‘immoral, money hungry London elite’. Which shows that these ladies have absolutely no sense of irony or any self-awareness whatsoever.

In fact, Zelo Street found them so moronic and robotic, that it dubbed them the Brexit party’s Stepford Daughters, referring to the 70s SF film, the Stepford Wives. Based on the novel by Ira Levin, the films about a community where the men have killed their wives and replaced them with robots.

See:  https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/08/brexit-party-presents-stepford-daughters.html

There’s a lot to take apart with their tweets. And perhaps we shouldn’t be two hard on the girls. They’re only 15 and 17. A lot of young people at that age have stupid views, which they grow out of. But there is one issue that really needs to be challenged.

It’s their assumptions about slavery and the genocide of indigenous peoples. Because this is one massive problem to any assumption that capitalism is automatically good and beneficial.

There’s a very large amount of scholarship, much of it by Black activists and researchers, about slavery and the emergence of European capitalism and the conquest of the Americas. They have argued that European capitalism was greatly assisted by the profits from New World slavery. Caribbean historians like Dr Richard Hart, in his Blacks in Bondage, have shown that transatlantic slavery was a capitalist industry. For the enslaved indigenous peoples and the African men and women, who replaced them when they died out, capitalism certainly did not raise them out of poverty. Rather it has done the opposite – it enslaved them, and kept them in chains until they were able to overthrow it successfully with assistance of European and American abolitionists in the 19th century.

And among some left-wing West Indians, there’s still bitterness towards America for its constant interference in the Caribbean and Central and South America. America did overthrow liberal and progressive regimes across the world, and especially in the New World, when these dared to challenge the domination of American corporations. The overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz’s democratic socialist regime in Guatemala is a case in point. Arbenz was overthrown because he dared to nationalise the banana plantations. Which upset the American United Fruit Company, who got their government to overthrow him in coup. He was replaced by a brutal Fascistic dictatorship that kept the plantation workers as virtual slaves. And the Americans also interfered in Jamaican politics. They were absolutely opposed to the Jamaican Labour party politician, Michael Manley, becoming his nation’s Prime Minister, and so did everything they could to stop him. Including cutting trade.

And then there’s the enslavement and genocide of the indigenous peoples.

Before Columbus landed in the New World, South America had a population of about seven million. There were one million people in the Caribbean. I think there were similar numbers in North America. But the indigenous peoples were enslaved and worked to death. They were also decimated through diseases carried by Europeans, to which they had no immunity. The Taino people were driven to extinction. The Caribs, from whom the region takes its name, were able to survive on a reservation granted to them in the 18th century by the British after centuries of determined resistance. The conquest of the New World was a real horror story.

And Britain also profited from the enslavement of indigenous peoples. I doubt the girls have heard of it, but one of the scandals that rocked British imperialism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was that of the Putomayo Indians of South America. They had been enslaved by British rubber corporations. It was this abuse of a subject people that turned the Irish patriot, Roger Casement, from a British civil servant to an ardent Nationalist.

On the other side of the world, in the Pacific, British imperialism also managed to dispossess an entire Polynesian people and trash their island. This was in the 1920s. The island was rich in mineral deposits, and so moved the indigenous people out, ultimately relocating them to Fiji. Their island was then strip-mined, leaving it a barren, uninhabitable rock. In the 1980s the survivors were trying to sue the government over their maltreatment, but with no success.

This is what unfettered British imperialism and capitalism did. And what I’ve no doubt Farage and other far right British politicians would like to do again without the restraints of international law. It’s why I believe that, whatever the demerits of the Mercosur agreement are, it’s probably better than what individual nations would do without the restraint of the EU.

The girls are right to be concerned about the fate of indigenous peoples. But they are profoundly wrong in their absolute, uninformed belief that unregulated capitalism will benefit them.

It doesn’t. It enslaves, dehumanises and dispossesses. Which is why we need international organisations like the EU, and why the Brexit party isn’t just a danger to Britain, but to the world’s weaker, developing nations and their indigenous peoples.

Australian Dairy Industry Begs Protesters To Throw Milkshakes Not Eggs At Nigel Farage

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 07/08/2019 - 8:10am in

web-farage-shake-1558644491709

The Australian dairy industry has passionately pleaded with protesters to go with milkshakes instead of eggs when they protest UK Right wing ‘voice’ Nigel Farage’s visit to Australia next week.

“This is not a political thing for us we just need people to start buying more dairy,” said a Dairy industry Spokesperson, “I mean sure eggs are easier to throw and conceal, but pouring a milkshake on someone is a way better visual.”

“And the egg industry is doing just fine right now not like us poor dairy farmers.”

Organisers of Mr Farage’s visit were asked about the dairy industry’s call for milkshakes over eggs to which they said: “Very good, very good we right wingers can take a joke you know. But I call on people not to egg, milkshake or waffle our speakers.”

“Although if there is a demand for this sort of thing maybe instead of a meet and greet which we charge people hundreds for we could do a meet and egg or a meet and milkshake which we could charge thousands for.”

“By jove you lefties are onto something.”

Mark Williamson
www.twitter.com/MWChatShow

You can follow The (un)Australian on twitter or like us on facebook.

Boris Johnson Cynically Tries to Appeal to Gay Community

Boris Johnson and supporters.

This weekend and last has been the occasion for gay communities across the world to hold their annual Pride celebrations. Yesterday Bristol’s gays held a march, before going on to hold a pop concert up on Durdham Downs. I think last weekend was Pride Day in America, as it also was in London. According to Points West down here, Bristol Pride was a huge success, with thousands of people enjoying the occasion celebrating diversity. I’ve no doubt this was also the case in America and London. But one person, who was definitely not welcome at the party was Boris Johnson when he tried to use it for a bit of electioneering.

Johnson put out the following Tweet

Salute all those celebrating today. I have fond memories of my pink Stetson march as Mayor! Britain leads the world in LGBT+ equality and I’ll continue to champion the cause if I am lucky enough to become our country’s Prime Minister.

This was grossly hypocritical, as Johnson has been a massive homophobe. As Britain’s gay community and their supporters well knew, and weren’t going to let Johnson forget it.

Chloe tweeted back

you called gay men ‘tank-top wearing bum boys’ and compared same-sex marriage to a person marrying a dog, didn’t attend london pride 2011-2015, allowed gay marriage ban in bermuda, and have a homophobe running your leadership campaign – so fuck your salute and fuck you too.

Amy Ashenden also tweeted

The UK is far from leading the world on LGBT+ equality and YOU are a homophobe! Don’t think we don’t see through your attempt to look pro-LGBT in time for leadership election.

Other tweeters told Johnson precisely where he could stick his salutes. Jack D remarked

So, how about you take this tweet…and shove it so far up your back passage it comes to rest next to all your other ideas. Bigot.

Quite.

Mike remarked in his piece about it that this was far from being an isolated incident, and that Johnson had very many times expressed views that could cause him embarrassment were he to become Prime Minister, stating

And you can bet that, if he becomes PM after July 23, that is exactly what will happen. And with a clown as prime minister, you can be sure the whole world will be laughing at us…

… Even people who are usually afraid of clowns.

Boris Johnson caught out over London Pride – if he becomes PM this could happen daily

Now it’s possible that Johnson could have changed his mind on gay rights. When Tony Blair first introduced civil partnerships and then gay marriage, polls were quoted showing that 75% of the British public were against it. Since then the number of people, who are against gay marriage has apparently fallen to 50% or below. And having grown up in the 1970s and ’80s, I can understand why some people have trouble coming to terms with it. Although homosexuality had been decriminalised by Labour’s then Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins, c. 1967, there was still massive hatred against gays. John Hurt risked his career playing Quentin Crisp, the gay rights activist and personality, in the BBC drama The Naked Civil Servant. I can remember listening amazed one lunchtime at school when one of the older lads told us that the previous night’s edition of Whicker’s World had shown a gay wedding in Las Vegas. Attitudes were beginning to change in the 1980s thanks to campaigners like Peter Tatchell and ‘out’ pop stars and celebrities like Boy George, Mark Almond, Jimmy Summerville, and bands like Bronski Beat and the Communards. The ‘8os also saw Labour controlled local councils attacked by the right-wing press and media for funding gay organisations and festivals, along with attempts to tackle other forms of prejudice, like racism. This was when Thatcher tried to pass legislation banning schools from teaching that homosexuality was natural, and there were real fears that this would be just the prelude to the Tories rounding up gays and imprisoning them in concentration camps like the Nazis. And as Thatcher was friends with the Chilean Fascist dictator, General Pinochet, the Union of Conservative Students was supporting apartheid South Africa and demanding the hanging of Nelson Mandela and adoption of racial nationalism and there was a very strong strain of Fascism and intolerance in the party, this was not an unreasonable fear.

It was David Cameron, who tried to change this and modernise the party, the same way Blair had modernised Labour. The Tories were to be thoroughly anti-racist, putting up Black and Asian candidates, cutting links to the Monday Club and expelling those with links to the Far Right. They were also now to be pro-gay. The party started fielding openly gay candidates, whereas in the past it had many closeted gays. Many of these were extremely anti-gay themselves, and there were a number of very high profile resignations when these Tories were outed. I can remember one of the new, openly gay Tory politicos confessing that his favourite band were The Scissor Sisters. As this fellow was very much an aristo, I wondered if the band really were his favourite, or if he had been advised to say they were in order to appear down with the kids. Like various Tories claimed to like the Spice Girls when they were riding high in the charts.

But there seems to be a very strong element of homophobia in the Tory party, just as the racists still exist despite Cameron’s purges. And they’re even stronger in UKIP and Fuhrage’s Brexit Party. The internet author Moggsmates released a number of tweets from Johnson’s and Rees-Mogg’s supporters’ groups revealing just how racist the pair’s respective supporters were. And I don’t doubt that they hold similar horrendous views about gays.

The gay community is very wise to reject Johnson’s cynical attempt to marshal their support. And all Britons, whatever their sexuality, should realise from this just how unprincipled and cynical Johnson is in his electioneering.

Douglas Murphy on the Corporate Elite, Environmental Collapse

In my last post, I reviewed Douglas Murphy’s Last Futures: Nature, Technology and the End of Architecture (London: Verso 2016). This is about the rise and fall of Modernist architecture. This style, whose antecedents can be traced back to the Great Exhibition and the Crystal Palace, and which was strongly influenced by architects and thinkers as widely different as Le Corbusier and Buckminster Fuller, was an attempt to create cheap, available buildings to cater for the needs of the future, as it was predicted in the 1950s and ’60s. This was an optimistic period that looked forward to economic growth, increasing standards of living, beneficial technological innovation, and, crucially, the ability of the state to plan effectively for people’s needs. This was a future that looked forward to a future, which automation would mean that people only worked for three days each week. The rest of the time, people would voluntarily go back into education to develop themselves. As Buckminster Fuller enthusiastically proclaimed that ‘within a century the word “worker” will have no current meaning’.

As automation eliminates physical drudgery, we will spend more time in the future in intellectual activity. The great industry of tomorrow will be the university, and everyone will be going to school’. (p. 27).

Fuller was one of the pioneers of the nascent environmentalist movement, and coined the term ‘spaceship Earth’ to describe the loneliness and fragility of our planet and its ecosystem.

Other influences on Modernist architecture were Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, about the devastating effect pollution, and particularly the insecticide DDT was having on wildlife. and the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth. Silent Spring’s title referred to the massive decline in America’s bird population caused by crop spraying with the insecticide. Limits to Growth was based on an attempt to use computers to model the performance of the world economy and the effect this would have on the environment. It assumed that resources were only finite and a growing global population. The intention was to test various changes in policy and see what effects this would have in the near to mid-future. The results were extremely ominous. The first run found that

If the present growth trends in world population, industrialisation, pollution, food production, and resource depletion continue unchanged, the limits to growth on the planet will be reached sometime within the next one hundred years. The most probably result will be a rather suddent and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity. (p. 176).

This prediction of collapse was constant in subsequent runs, despite the changes in factors. Sometimes the collapse was sharper. One variation meant that it would be put off for fifty years. Another left some resources still in existence after the collapse for some kind of civilisation to continue. But all the models predicted disaster.

Moreover, technological innovation was unable to prevent the collapse. The authors of the experiment stated that technological optimism was the most common and most dangerous reaction to their findings, because it tended to solve some of the symptoms of the problems while leaving the actually causes untouched. The only real solution was to halt population growth, reduce the consumption of resources, switch capital investment from industry to education, combat pollution, improve agriculture and extend the productive life of capital.

While this is extremely restrictive, nevertheless the authors of the report believed that there was still room for optimism, because it allowed what many would consider the most desirable and satisfying human pursuits – education, art, music, religion, basic scientific research, athletics and social interaction, to continue.The book was highly influential, and discussed by powerful figures like Kurt Waldheim, the UN Secretary General in 1973, and President Giscard d’Estaing of France.  It was also widely criticised. Its critics complained that the model was too simplistic, and the authors themselves acknowledged that the model was rudimentary. It was also asserted that capitalism would find solutions to these problems, and industry would switch to a different, more productive direction. And also humanity would in time find solutions, both social and technological, to the problems.

However, Murphy goes on to comment that despite criticisms and attempts to move industrial society away from its current disastrous direction, the book’s predictions appear to hold true. He writes

Despite the massive emotional and political investment in moving the world away from its destructive course and onto more sustainable paths, none of the great many harbingers of doom from the period managed to shift capitalism off its growth-led and industrially intensive direction. There may be no need to defend the primitive systems of Limits to Growth and its ‘world model’ of 1972, but in recent years it has become a common sight to see the graph of the ‘standard model’ catastrophe with actual data from the subsequent forty years superimposed upon it. When this is done the graphs match almost perfectly, right up to around the present day, which is the point where the collapse is due to begin. (p. 180, my emphasis).

One of the responses to the predictions of environmental collapse was the proposal that special biospheres – enclosed buildings enclosing parts of the natural environment – should be built to protect some areas from destruction. One example of such a project is the Biosphere 2 experiment of the 1990s, in which a group of eight volunteers attempted to live inside such an enclosed artificial ecosystem for three years.

In his conclusion, Murphy points out the difference between the ’60s prediction of the benefits of automation and those of today, writing

Back then, automation was seen almost universally as a rising tide that would set people free from drudgery, but now, the mass automation of intellectual work promised by the algorithms of the technology industry seems much more likely to raise the drawbridge between the wealthy and the masses even further. Instead of people working a few days a week and fulfilling themselves with creative leisure at other times, it appears more likely that people will become more tightly squeezed into the last remaining jobs whose empathy and emotional labour the robots cannot synthesise.

And instead of enclosed cities, in which all citizens can live in harmony with nature, he predicts these will instead become the sole preserve of the rich.

Finally, instead of living in giant structures balancing the energy needs of cities with the natural world around them, it seems more likely that the lack of action on carbon dioxide emissions, combined with rising inequality across human society, will lead instead to the creation of climate enclaves, fortified cities for the super rich, self-sufficient in energy and food yet totally barricaded off from those outside who will be left to fend for themselves – the ultimate in Slotendijk’s bubbles. (p. 221).

When I read the above passage remarking on the apparent accuracy of the predictions in Limits to Growth, I thought of all the figures in big business and right-wing politics telling us that there’s no need to worry and we can carry on polluting and destroying the planet – the Koch brothers, the Republicans in America and Conservatives and Lib Dems over here, the oil and fracking companies, the newspapers pushing climate denial, like the Daily Heil and the Spectator, Nigel Farage and the Brexit party, Mick Hume and the wretched Spiked magazine and all the rest. And my reaction was the same as Charlton Heston’s in the 1968 Planet of the Apes, when he finally finds out that he is not on an alien world, but on an Earth after humanity has virtually destroyed itself in a nuclear war.

I really hope that the predictions are wrong, and that this isn’t the high point of our civilisation and that there won’t be any collapse. I’m sure that there are plenty of good objections to Limits to Growth.

But we still need to combat the environmental crisis, and kick out the corrupt politicians, who are taking the money from polluting industries and allowing the destruction of the Earth’s precious environment and the squandering of its resources. We need an end to Republican, Conservative governments and the political parties that aid, like the two-faced Lib Dems, and the election of genuinely Green, socialist governments under leaders like Jeremy Corbyn.

 

Attack of the Clowns: Widdecombe Compares Brexit to Slaves’ and Serfs’ Revolts

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 06/07/2019 - 7:24pm in

How stupid, moronic and just plain offensive can the Brexit party get before the British public wake up and realise that they’re a bunch of Fascist buffoons turning Britain into a laughing stock. A few days we had Nigel Farage himself going full Nuremberg at a rally, which began with the sound of air raid sirens. You know, to evoke the spirit of the Blitz, because Britain leaving Europe is exactly like that time in the Second World War when Britain stood alone against the might of Nazi Germany. Except that, er, we didn’t. We had the resources of the entire British Empire, as well as the members of the free forces of occupied Europe to help us. Like the Poles, who served in the RAF, and who shot down more Nazi planes than the bryl-creem public school boys. Zelo Street was particularly offended, posting up an article about the real horror of the Blitz, and the carnage Britain suffered, especially in area vital to the war effort, like Liverpool. Of course Brexit isn’t remotely like the horrendous death and destruction Britons suffered during the War, and to make the comparison trivialises it.

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/07/nigel-farage-back-to-nuremberg.html

The at the opening of the European parliament, they all turned their backs as the EU’s anthem, Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ play. Despite their bluster and protestations, this is exactly what the Nazis did in the Reichstag, and similar shows the Brexit party’s Fascistic psychology. Especially as Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ looks forward to peace and harmony amongst the world’s peoples.

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/07/brexit-partys-ode-to-nazism.html

And now the woman one gay Christian I know refers to as ‘the Widdy bigot’ position of her attitude to gays has also joint the ultra-patriotic orgy of crass stupidity, and compared Brexit to slaves’ and serfs’ uprisings and colonial revolts.

After first stating her objects to what she considered the unelected status of particular EU officials, Widdecombe declared

“There is a pattern throughout history of oppressed people turning against their oppressors. Slaves against their owners, the peasantry against the feudal barons”. 

To which she added her comment about ‘colonies rising against their empires’.

She’s wrong about the various officials and leaders of the European Union being unelected, as Zelo Street has pointed out in this article here:

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/07/eu-leaders-unelected-my-arse.html

As Mike reported yesterday, EU leader Guy Verhofstadt’s response to her nonsense was to call her a ‘clown’.

Widdecombe says Brexit is like the emancipation of slaves. No wonder Verhofstadt called her a clown

Black politico and activist David Lammy was particularly offended by her comparison to slavery. He tweeted

Anne Widdecombe just compared Britain leaving the EU to “slaves” rising up “against their owners”.

It is impossible to explain how offensive and ahistorical it is for you to equate my ancestors tearing off their chains with your small-minded nationalist project. Shame on you.

Exactly. To show how grossly offensive Widdecombe’s statement is, let’s consider the status of Black chattel slavery in the British Empire.

There have been different types of slavery throughout history, some types milder than others. But Black chattel slavery – which is the closest in history, and whose effects are still being felt – was particularly horrific. In this form slavery, which Mr Lammy’s ancestors suffered along with millions of others, slaves have zero rights. None. Nada. Zilch. They are property.

  • They have no political rights. They cannot vote in elections, nor stand for election to parliament or some other representative assembly. They cannot act in any official capacity whatsoever.
  • They have no legal protection under the law. They cannot serve on juries, nor can crimes committed by slaves be decided in a court of law. They have absolutely no right to due process or legal protection.
  • They may not claim equality or associate themselves with Whites.
  • As property, they have no property rights. Any property they hold is that of their master.
  • They have no right to family life. Families can be split up at their master’s pleasure. Slave women may be separated and sold apart from their men. Slave children may be separated from their parents and sold.
  • Their masters may feed, clothe and work them how they wish. Some colonies passed legislation providing that their masters had to provide some clothing for them. This was a shift – petticoat – for women, and drawers – underpants – for men. That’s it, provided once a year. Visitors to the West Indies described slaves frequently working naked in the fields.
  • They are absolutely and completely at their master’s mercy. Their owners may treat them how they wish, as they are property, not legal persons. Punishments for slaves include gagging in horrific iron masks, flogging, castration, amputation and being dissected alive. Along with other punishment too disgusting to be described here.

The status of European serfs during the Middle Ages is similar, but less severe. Serfs differ from slaves in that they are bound to the soil, while slaves are the property of individuals. European serfs also had some property and legal rights. However, they were still considered property themselves.

  • Serfs are not free but the property of the lord of the manor. Crimes between serfs are decided in the manor court.
  • They have families, but these are referred to in law as sequelae – broods.
  • They have their own land to work, but must work several days a week for their lord. They are subject to a beadle, an overseer, who presides over them with a whip as a mark of his authority. Like the slave drivers in later chattel slavery.
  • Women are not free to marry as they wish. Apart from being under their father’s authority, they are also considered property of the lord. Thus, if a serf’s daughter wishes to marry, then her father has to pay the lord compensation, called a merchet.
  • At a serf’s death, any property he holds from the lord immediately escheats back to him, and the parish priest may take his ‘best beast’. Widows have to plead in the courts, and follow various ceremonies in order to be granted their former husbands’ land and property.

Widdecombe’s stupid speech recalls the reasons why the great Black anti-slavery activist, Frederick Douglas, once attacked White American patriotic celebrations of independence in his speech ‘What To The Slave Is The Fourth of July?’ Douglas pointed out the complete irony of White Americans claiming to have thrown off the yoke of British slavery, when their Black brothers and sisters were still very much in chains.

American independence did not free all Americans from slavery. And Brexit isn’t remotely like any slave revolt or uprising. And it’s massively offensive and ahistorical, as Lammy says, for Widdecombe to claim it is.

Examining Jeanette Winterson’s Ideas on AI and Literature

Last Saturday’s I for 1-2 June 2019 carried an interview in its ‘Culture’ section with the literary novelist, Jeanette Winterson, about her latest work, Frankissstein. This is another take on Frankenstein, with one strand of the book set in the contemporary world and exploring AI, the downloading of the human mind into computers and literature. Winterson’s the second literary novelist, following Ian McEwan, to turn to the world of robotics for their subject matter. I’ve critiqued both of them, based on reviews in the papers, because this comes across to me very much of another instance of ‘literary’ novelists appropriating Science Fiction subjects and issues, while disdaining and ignoring the genre itself.

Winterson’s interview with Max Liu was also very interesting in other respects, and worth reading. While I am not remotely inclined to read her book, and have real objections to some of her statements on philosophical grounds, I also found that there was much that she said, which I agreed with. Particularly about the exploitation of British communities under Brexit.

The Interview

The article, on page 49, was prefaced with the statement Jeanette Winterson talks to Max Liu about AI and why the novel could die if it doesn’t reinvent itself’. It ran

Jeanette Winterson would like to upload her brain to a computer. “It were possibl, I wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation to find out what it’s like to live without a body,” she says when we meet to discuss Frankissstein, her new novel about artificial intelligence. “I had a very religious upbringing, so to me, the idea that the body is just a house is normal.”

The 59-year-old wrote about her Pentecostal childhood in her semi-autobiographical debut novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985), and her memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (2011). For the past couple of years, she has been reading about AI and robotics at the same time as thinking about Mary Shelley’s Gothic classic, Frankenstein. In her latest novel, the young Shelley appears as a character.

“I started writing about Mary in Italy at the beginning of the 19th century then worked my way to the present,” says Winterson. “There was no point setting a novel about AI in the future, because I wanted readers to realise the future is here. We don’t know how far big money has gone in developing AI, but I suspect it’s much further than we think.”

Winterson believes “we’re living in an ahistorical world where people don’t know how we got here”, the pace of change since the Industrial Revolution leaving us bewildered. “By its nature, reading slows us down,” she says,”so I’m pushing against the acceleration of modern life, creating imaginative space for readers to inhabit. Anybody who can imagine something is in control.”

Her new novel’s present-day characters include Ry, a transgender doctor, and Winterson says: “One of my godchildren identifies as transgender and I’ve been reading a lot about that because I thought I needed to understand. The idea of identity being provisional fed into this novel. Much Western thought rests upon the idea that there is a core self that we can know and perfect, but probably there isn’t.

Ray falls in love with Ron, who is trying to make his fortune by designing sex dolls. Ron plans to exploit post-Brexit tax breaks by opening a factory in Wales. “I hate to see how my class has been manipulated by people who have no thought and no care for them,” says Winterson. “I’m ashamed of my country for turning its back on a European project and choosing nationalism.”

Were she to live for another 100 years, Winterson says she would retrain as a scientist. Does this mean she doesn’t see a future for the novel?

“The novel is only on its way out if it doesn’t change,” she says. “In the 80s, it was too middle-class and too male. Then Angela Carter came along and was so fresh, but she had a terrible time initially. The example of English literature’s conservatism that kills me is when Anita Brookner’s Hotel du Lac won the Booker in 1984 and Carter’s Nights at the Circus wasn’t even shortlisted. It was the year before I published Oranges and I just thought: “This is so dull.”

In Frankissstein, one character says the urge to write comes from vanity, but Mary counters that it’s about hope. Which is it from Winterson? “My writing is a message in a bottle. I won’t be here long enough to get my brain uploaded, so I’m chucking this message overboard in the hope it will move the conversation on.”

Moravec, Transhumanism and Max Headroom

It would be interesting to find out what Winterson had been reading as her research for her book. My guess it would almost certainly include Hans Moravec and the downloaders and transhumanists. They aim to upload their minds into machines. A little while ago they held a party at which they avowed their intention to meet each other on the other side of the Galaxy in a million years’ time. Which is some ambition. I think Moravec himself believes that by this middle of this century the technology should have been perfected that will allow a human brain to be read in such minute detail that its functions can be reproduced on computer. This was the premise behind the Max Headroom pilot, 20 Minutes into the Future. In this tale, broadcast on Channel 4 in the 1980s, Headroom, a computer-generated TV personality, is created when his human original, an investigative journalist in a dystopian future London, knocks himself unconscious going through a crash barrier to escape the villains. The journo’s body is retrieved, and used by a teenage computer whizzkid, Brice, who seems to spend his whole life in the bath, to create Headroom as an experiment. The character takes his name from the last thing his original sees before he goes through the barrier: a sign saying ‘Max Headroom’.

Sladek’s The Muller-Fokker Effect

I also wonder if she read any of the SF literature about downloading and cyberspace, including one of the first novels to tackle the subject, John Sladek’s The Muller-Fokker Effect, published in 1970. This is about Bob Shairp, a man reduced to date and stored on computer tape. I haven’t read it, but according to Brian Aldiss and David Wingrove in their history of Science Fiction, The Trillion Year Spree,

it is a deeply satirical book, homing in on the US Army, evangelism, newspapers and the like for its target, with an overall sense of fun reminiscent of the work of Kurt Vonnegut, Philip K. Dick and Sheckley. (p. 307).

Future Shock and the Global Rate of Change

Winterson’s comment that it was useless to set the book in the future, as the future is already here, is very similar to the remarks I heard about two decades ago by William Gibson, one of the founders of the Cyberpunk SF genre. Speaking at the Cheltenham Festival of literature, Gibson said that the future was already here, it was just wasn’t spread out the same everywhere, so there were parts of the world, such as the developing countries, where it wasn’t present to the same extent as the more advanced West. As for her comments about living in an ahistorical age, where people don’t know how we got here, and the pace of change is accelerating, this sounds very close to Alvin Toffler and his idea of future shock, where societal change is now so advanced and rapid that it is profoundly disorienting. But it is possible to exaggerate the speed of such changes. I can remember reading an article a few years ago, that argued that the impact of modern technology is vastly overestimated. The internet, for example, it was claimed, isn’t half as revolutionary as it is made out as it is only a development of earlier technologies, like the telegram. It’s a contentious claim, but in many ways the most rapid technological, social and economic changes were in the century following Queen Victoria’s coronation in 1937. That was when Britain was transformed from an agricultural, almost feudal country into a modern, industrial society. Britain’s empire expanded massively, communications improved allowed the rapid movement of information, goods and people across the globe. It was the period when new transport technologies like the railway, the automobile, the electric tram, dirigible balloons, aeroplanes and the rocket were created, along with inventions like the X-Ray, electric light, the telegram, telephone, radio and the first experiments in television, and, of course, sound recording and the cinema. Contemporary technological advances can be seen as refinements or improvements on these, rather than completely new inventions.

Transgender People and the Question of Core Personality

I also have objections to her comments about whether or not there is a core, human personality. I’ve no doubt that one argument against it is that many people would be very different if they had had a different upbringing. If they’d been born into a different class, or allowed to study a particular subject at school or university, or if they’d decided to pursue a different career. And, obviously, if they’d been born a different gender. But twin studies suggest that people do have some aspects of their character determined by their biology rather than their upbringing. And I don’t think she makes her argument by pointing to transpeople. As I understand it, many transpeople believe very strongly that they have a core personality or nature. It’s just that this is at opposition to their biological gender. Hence their desire to change. It isn’t simply that they simply decide at some point that they want to change their sex, which would be the case if it was simply the case that they had no core personality. But perhaps Winterson’s godchild is different.

Computers and the Existence of Self 

I’m also suspicious of the idea, as it sounds rather close to the ideas of Daniel Dennett and Susan Blackmoore that consciousness is an illusion and that the brain is simply a meat machine for running memes, discrete units of culture like genes are discrete units of biological information. On the other hand, when she says that existing as a disembodied entity on a computer doesn’t seem strange to her because of her religious background, she’s in agreement with Paul Davies. In his book, God and the New Physics, he stated that he’s prepared to accept that life can exist outside the body because of the way computers could be used to simulate human personalities. I can remember reading that the wife of one of the leading downloaders was a Methodist minister. He commented about this apparent contradiction between their two disciplines by saying that they were both trying to do the same thing, but by different methods.

The Manipulation of the Working Class

I do agree wholeheartedly, however, with Winterson’s comments about how her class is being manipulated by people, who give them no thought and no care for them. The idea that the creation of tax breaks for businesses after Brexit would allow an amoral entrepreneur to build a factor for sex robots in Wales is all too credible. Just as I agree with her about Britain turning it’s back on the EU, though I also have strong criticisms of the European Union. But Brexit has been and is being used by the Tory extreme right and its related movements, like UKIP and Farage’s noxious Brexit people, to manipulate the working class and exploit them. If you look at what Boris Johnson and Farage want, the privatisation of the NHS to American private healthcare firms is very much on the table.

Conservatism, Sexism, Literature and Literary Snobbishness

She was also right about the conservatism and sexism of the literary world in the 1980s. Private Eye’s literary column attacked Hotel du Lac for its snobbishness at the time. And the Orange Prize for literature was set up because it was felt that women were being unfairly excluded from the main literary prizes. However, the remarkable success of women writers in winning the mainstream awards has also, in the view of Private Eye a few years ago, also called into question the reason for Orange Prize. Why have a separate prize for women when that year the lists were dominated by female writers? And as for Angela Carter, I wonder if some of the problems she had didn’t just come from her writing feminist magic realist tales and fairy stories, but also because the genre SF/Fantasy crowd liked her. Flicking through an old SF anthology I found in one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham yesterday, I found a piece by her about literary theory along with pieces by other, firmly genre figures. A few years ago Terry Pratchett commented that the organisers of the Cheltenham Festival looked at him as if he was going to talk to his fans about motorcycle maintenance, and he was certainly subject to appalling snobbery by the literary critics when he started out. I think it’s therefore quite possible that Carter was disdained by those who considered themselves the guardians of serious literature because she was too genre. But I also wonder if Winterson herself, despite her deep love of Carter’s work, doesn’t also have the same attitude that sees genre fiction as somehow not proper literature, as she, Martin Amis, Ian McEwan and the others write.

I have to say that I don’t see the death of novel being anywhere near imminent. Not from looking along the shelves at Waterstone’s, and particularly not in the genre fiction, crime, horror, and SF. But it says something about the apparent lack of inspiration in literary fiction that it is turning to SF for its subjects. Winterson said some fascinating things in her interview, but to me, genre SF still did AI, robots and downloading first and better than the mainstream novelists now writing about it.

 

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