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27
May 2013

Even the ‘centre left’ is on The Right

A little while ago I put together a graphic as a metaphor for just how much the political spectrum has shifted (specifically in the western liberal democracies) over the past few decades. This shift wasn’t started by Thatcher and Reagan, but they – and those who followed them – did most of the heavy lifting. The result of this shift was to effectively exclude the left-wing from mainstream politics, so that today, those who would once have been viewed as being centrists, are now the hard-left. Views that would label one as a moderate left-winger in the 1960s would – in the opening decades of the 21st century – place one firmly in the radical communist camp (and as such, essentially irrelevant when viewed from the mainstream).
Modern political spectrum
In my view, this shift has been tremendously damaging to the societies in which it has happened – and to western civilisation in general. By narrowing the discussion, we narrow the possibilities available to us. The result is a significant reduction in the amount of flexibility* within our culture. Thatcher, Reagan, their acolytes and fore-bearers quite rightly must shoulder a large proportion of the blame for this loss of flexibility and consequent social damage. But the blame does not lie entirely with them. Indeed an argument could be made that their role in this political shift was less influential than that of the leftists and centre-leftists who allowed themselves to be dragged – or in many cases, who willingly stepped – to The Right.

And the fact that – for example – the Labour Party in the UK can still be described as “left wing” in the mainstream media demonstrates just how insidious this shift has been (it’s “the country’s leading left-wing party” according to The Guardian; a supposedly “left-wing” newspaper). This is despite the fact that some members of the Labour Party have denounced unions for “exert[ing] excessive left-wing influence” (source). At the same time, the party talks openly of its plans to “rescue capitalism” (source). When rampant capitalism plunges the entire world into major crisis, anyone who is genuinely “on the left” would be talking about ‘a new socialism’ or asking ‘how do we replace capitalism with something more just and sustainable?’ If your priority is to “rescue capitalism” then you are “on the right”. To suggest otherwise is ignorance. Or it’s propaganda.

Meanwhile, across the Irish Sea…

This shift to the right has, of course, not been restricted to a few places. Certainly there are exceptions (often significant ones… most notably in South America), but as a general rule it has swept across the globe and infected almost all so-called “liberal democracies”. Ireland’s socialist traditions were savaged by the Celtic Tiger, and the speed with which our own Labour Party dashed rightwards was undignified in the extreme. They almost kept pace with Tony Blair… and that’s saying something. Strangely enough though, our media appears to be slightly more perceptive than that of our British cousins, and it’s quite difficult to track down a recent example of the Irish Labour Party being described as “left-wing” in the mainstream media. Nonetheless, they are still described as being “centre left” by most political commentators and are still members of Socialist International and the Party of European Socialists.

This ill-informed nonsense really needs to be challenged. When a member of Labour (or indeed one of their critics) describes the party as being “left” or “centre left” they should be robustly lampooned for the sheer absurdity of their utterance. They should be viewed in roughly the same light as a spokesperson for the North Korean regime who insists on describing the nation as the “Democratic People’s Republic”. Sometimes labels are important. And when the Irish Labour Party talk about being “a centre left alternative” they not only make a mockery of our public discourse, they actually damage the political fabric of the nation. How can people – especially younger people who have grown up with this new political spectrum – possibly understand political reality, and hence make sensible use of their political influence, when identical policies born of rampant capitalism are labelled centre-right by one party and centre-left by another?

The Irish Labour Party was formed by James Connolly, William X. O’Brien and James Larkin… genuine revolutionary socialists. When I see the modern Labour Party’s annual Connolly Commemoration, it’s difficult to hold down the vomit. There’s a lot of “comedy of dubious taste” that I will admit to finding amusing. But this graceless charade is deeply unfunny, and they should really be required to stop it. If I were to visit Arbour Hill Cemetery every year to urinate on the grave of James Connolly I suspect I’d soon find myself behind bars. Why should Eamon Gilmore be treated any differently?

An Apple a Day keeps the Revenue Commissioner Away

Of course, these thoughts aren’t new to me (or this blog). But every now and then something will prompt them to bubble back to the surface where they must be vented, lest the pressure build up and blow the top off my head. Today that prompt was provided by Labour Senator, John Gilroy. In a single tweet, he illustrated just how far rightwards the Labour Party has moved since the days of Connolly, Larkin and O’Brien.

The tweet came as part of a conversation between Gilroy and Michael Taft. Taft is “Research Officer” for the Irish UNITE trade union and is one of the most recognisable faces of the modern Irish trade union movement. Of course, just as with mainstream political parties, the Irish Trade Union movement has been a victim of the rightward lurch. Thankfully, they’ve not been dragged quite as far from their original principles as the Labour Party and haven’t been quite as eager to embrace selfish individualism and unfettered capitalism. Yes, they’ve all but abandoned any tendency towards militancy. And their opposition to the austerity policies imposed by – among others – the Labour Party with which they are affiliated, has been muted and ineffective. Nonetheless, Taft and others within the movement have at least continued to publish the data which demonstrates the truth behind government lies.

Today for instance, Taft responded to the embarrassing nonsense emerging from the government on the subject of corporate taxation. For those who haven’t followed the story, it recently emerged that the largest corporation in the world (by certain metrics), Apple, “paid taxes of just 2 per cent on its foreign earnings”. It did this “by channelling much of its huge overseas earnings through a network of Irish subsidiaries to minimise its tax bill.” (source) In response to this revelation, the US Senate condemned Ireland’s status as a “tax haven”.

What was the response of the Irish government? Well, initially at least, it hasn’t involved a promise to clamp down on corporate tax avoidance. Instead, we’ve had both coalition parties issue whinging statements insisting that Ireland is not a tax haven, and how dare anyone suggest otherwise. In fact, our government plans on writing a stern letter to the US Senate to that effect.

“Yes”, they will say, “the largest corporation in the world funnels huge amounts of profit through our country. And yes, we pretty much ignore it and don’t even require them to adhere to our already laughably pro-corporate taxation regime. But that doesn’t make us a tax haven.”

They don’t really explain why Ireland isn’t a tax haven. I mean, they try of course; they talk about how US corporations actually employ people and manufacture things in Ireland, which is a far cry from buying a P.O. Box in the Bahamas. But while technically true, it’s misleading to the point of almost being a lie. Apple funnelled almost two-thirds of all profits earned in 2011 through Ireland despite less than 5% of its global workforce being employed here (source). So no, Ireland isn’t identical to the Bahamas, but in terms of tax policy, we certainly have a hell of a lot in common.

And today Michael Taft ably demonstrated this fact with an article (Tax Haven Dictionary) on his website. It includes data to prove that Ireland’s effective corporate tax rate is far closer to the likes of Luxembourg and the Bahamas, than it is to places like France or the UK. This article then sparked a twitter conversation between Taft and the Gilroy (the Labour Senator). Gilroy’s final contribution to the conversation was to pose the question: “does the current tax regieme give ireland a competitive advantage?” If it hadn’t been typed, one imagines it being asked in a fairly triumphalist tone of voice.

Now, Taft’s response to the question was: “Less than is imagined. Will be discussing that in an upcoming post.” However, I want to ignore that response (at least until Taft’s article is published) and concentrate on the question and what it implies about John Gilroy and the Labour Party in general.

The Purpose of Taxation

If you were to ask any one of the founder members of the Irish Labour Party, “what should be the prime motivation of Irish taxation policy?”, their responses would have all been along similar lines. “The redistribution of wealth with the purpose of reducing socio-economic inequality”. Pretty simple really. It’s a philosophy that underpins all genuine socialism, and – I would argue – is at the heart of any attempts to achieve widespread social justice in a large society. Taxation policy, therefore, is primarily designed with the interests of the majority in mind.

By the 1980s however, “redistribution” had become a dirty word and the left wing – as part of their inexorable shift rightwards – had begun to describe taxation policy as a means to fund essential social services for those who could not afford them. Already at this point we see a major change in the mainstream left’s attitude towards taxation. It’s no longer primarily aimed at reducing socio-economic equality and is now focussed on providing a basic safety net to prevent the poor from starving or dying of easily-preventable illness. The rich can get as rich as they want so long as they chuck a few quid into the bucket to pay for minimal social services. Taxation policy by this point (in the eyes of the mainstream left, remember) is no longer about the interests of the majority and has become a question of accommodating the interests of a small minority while retaining enough of a welfare state to ensure corpses don’t start piling up on the streets.

By the late 90s of course, the right wing was already begrudging society’s expectation of a minimal contribution from the rich and powerful. At this point the mainstream left could have salvaged a shred of dignity by standing firm, insisting that they’d already made a massive compromise in their wholesale abandonment of the social justice agenda, and The Right would just have to accept the obligation of the wealthy to allow the occasional crumb to fall from their replete table.

But they didn’t.

Instead they simply bought into the right-wing agenda of rampant greed and the increasing concentration of wealth. So now we have a Labour Party Senator openly acknowledging that taxation policy can be justified by how well it serves the interests of large multinational corporations even if it is clearly not catering for the needs of the wider population. It’s obscene. And any vote for Labour at the next election is obscene too.

Some might suggest that John Gilroy and his ilk are more concerned with the international competitiveness of Irish tax policy than they are with its fitness for purpose. But it’s a lot worse than that. John Gilroy and his ilk see Irish tax policy as perfectly fit for purpose. Because they see that purpose in terms of international competitiveness, not in terms of social justice. John Gilroy and his ilk need to be cast firmly into the political wilderness; they have no right to a place in our national discourse. Instead they should go work directly for the corporations they represent. Though I doubt they’d be considered competent enough to do so.

* I am using the word “flexibility” here in the Batesonian sense; see: “Bali: The Value System of a Steady State” and especially “Ecology and Flexibility in Urban Civilization” (both in Steps to an Ecology of Mind, by Gregory Bateson). At its most basic, Bateson’s “flexibility” can be defined as “uncommitted potential for change”, and he argues that any reduction in this flexibility will have negative consequences on the ability of society to handle crises. Ultimately, if you reduce flexibility enough you will be left with a society that cannot cope with even minimal change without sustaining damage (up to and including finding its very existence threatened). In this sense, flexibility becomes a measure of the health of a society. Bateson also argues that as the flexibility within a culture decreases, there is a corresponding decrease of flexibility within the environment that sustains the culture, but that’s a discussion for another day.

4 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion


11
Apr 2013

What’s in the wind, I wonder. Money worry.

Typical of the Irish financial industry’s inability to get anything right, today we learnt that the Central Bank is unable even to copy a couple of sentences without screwing up. In what is clearly something of an embarrassment, a limited edition silver €10 coin minted in honour of James Joyce contains an error in the Ulysses quotation inscribed upon it.

James Joyce coinThe coin features a portrait of Joyce alongside a quotation from his most famous work (and perhaps the finest work of literature in the English language). While the error, arguably, isn’t a huge one (the insertion of the word “that” in the second sentence) it reveals much about the Irish Central Bank. Either it’s just a mistake – in which case, we see once again the sheer incompetence of those in charge of our money supply. Or it’s deliberate… and we see yet more of the arrogance of our bankers, believing themselves a better judge of how the lines should flow than Joyce himself. Sheer incompetence or blind arrogance? Neither are particularly desirable traits in those who control our finances.

Personally I think the real problem is the chosen quotation. Don’t get me wrong… “Ineluctable modality of the visible: at least that if no more, thought through my eyes. Signatures of all things I am here to read.” is a glorious couplet. Indeed, you could pluck a line from damn near any page of Ulysses and have a piece of writing worthy of carving into metal. I just think there are more appropriate lines given the current state of the nation. My own suggestion, for example…

I have no money but if you will lend me your attention I shall endeavour to sing to you of a heart bowed down.

Alternatively, they could make reference to the collapse of credit availability with Stephen’s line…

Where would I get money? Mr Dedalus said. There is no-one in Dublin would lend me fourpence.

And there are many many others that would better fit the mood of the times.

Leave a comment  |  Posted in: Opinion


10
Apr 2013

You could make it up (but they’d think you were high)

In a statement that took few by surprise, the world’s satirists today collectively announced their retirement. “There was some discussion about continuing in a more limited capacity”, said Armando Ianucci in an interview published in The Guardian, “I thought we could perhaps scale back to a bi-monthly sketch show on one of the smaller cable channels… but when Steve Bell read out the Downing Street press release again and the words truly sank in, well… I think we all knew it was time to pack up and go home.” Ianucci, Bell and Charlie Brooker have announced their decision to open a pub together in rural Dorset. Meanwhile the editors of The Daily Mash and The Onion have suggested that they intend to remain in digital media and will collaborate on a new website about kittens.

Margaret ThatcherThe decision by satirists to “call it a day” en masse was triggered by the announcement from Downing Street this morning that the funeral of the late Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, would have “a Falklands War theme”*.

Although details of how this “theme” will manifest are sketchy and much of the planning has yet to be completed, some suggestions have emerged from Downing Street.

  • The pall-bearers will be drawn from the armed-forces and will be selected from regiments and units that played a major part in the Falklands conflict.
  • A military fly-past will be scheduled to coincide with the coffin being carried into St. Paul’s Cathedral.
  • A representative of the Falkland Islanders who lived through the war will deliver one of the eulogies.
  • Service men and women who fought in the war will escort the carriage carrying the coffin. Those injured or disabled during the war will be asked not to attend per the original victory parade.**
  • A four second loop of Kenny Everett shouting “Round them up, put them in a field, and bomb the bastards!” will be broadcast over the national anthem on all stations throughout the day.
  • Footballers, Ossie Ardiles and Ricardo Villa will be placed in stocks outside St. Paul’s and members of the public will be encouraged to throw rotten fruit at them during the ceremony.
  • The late Prime Minister’s funeral procession will stop briefly in Trafalgar Square while a carefully selected group of Argentine nationals will be drowned in the fountains.

When contacted for comment, a spokesman for the Cameron government made it clear that while “the primary theme” for the funeral would be the Falklands War, “Lady Thatcher’s legacy will be celebrated in a number of other ways on the sad day”.

“The government has also arranged for several Irish nationals to be denied food indefinitely”, he said. However, officials are quietly concerned that, come the funeral, not enough time will have elapsed for them to have starved to death (“they won’t even be all funny and emaciated by then!” shrieked a demented Norman Tebbit from the cockpit of an RAF dive-bomber above Buenos Aires). George Osborne, however, pointed out that “they will still be pretty hungry” and also mentioned that “we can always deal with them with a tribute to Mrs. Thatcher’s [Northern Irish] shoot-to-kill policy”.

“We are also planning to torture some Chilean nationals as a tribute to Lady Thatcher’s deep friendship with Augusto Pinochet. And we’ll probably beat up some queers and Pakis for old times’ sake”, he concluded.

Meanwhile, plans to burn down every building north of Watford have stalled due to a lack of coal.

* Look, I don’t want to undercut the humour of the piece, but I think I need to stress that bit’s not made up. They really are having a Falklands War themed funeral. The mind positively boggles.

** This, too, also happened. In the end, injured and disabled veterans were permitted to take part in the parade after a media outcry, but the original decision was to exclude them for fear they might depict the war in a negative light. Heaven forbid war should ever be viewed as anything other than glorious.

2 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion


8
Apr 2013

Thatcher: On balance?

On the negative side there was…

  • Support for apartheid.
  • Scorched earth monetary policy – a vast proportion of what’s wrong with the world emerged in the 80s thanks to the Thatcher/Reagan axis of evil.
  • Rampant financial deregulation – and we’re still suffering from this
  • “We are being flooded!” – speech about immigration in 1979.
  • Shoot-to-kill policy in Northern Ireland.
  • Section 28
  • The Falklands War. I don’t support Argentina’s invasion, but the relish with which Thatcher exploited it for her own political ends was vile.
  • Massive increase in socio-economic inequality – an inevitable and wholly predictable result of her policies.
  • Fatally undermined local democracy.
  • Beginning of the end of the NHS.
  • “Make a quick buck” privatisation of essential services… introducing the profit motive where it doesn’t belong and making life worse for the average person.
  • Government contempt for a whole swathe of the workforce – social workers, teachers, NHS nurses, etc.
  • “There is no such thing as society”
  • Care In The Community
  • Support for mass murderer, Augusto Pinochet.
  • Ripping the heart out of local communities
  • Treatment of striking workers
  • Poll tax
  • Staggering increase in youth homelessness
  • Harking back to Victorian morality and constant use of the phrase “family values” from a government that included Cecil Parkinson, Alan Clark, David Mellor, Jeffrey Archer and Jonathon Aitkin
  • Beginning of the end of the UK’s genuinely progressive social housing policies.
  • Sheer, rampant viciousness.

On the positive side…

  • Before entering politics was part of the team that developed soft-scoop ice-cream.

… but as much as I like ice-cream… well.

7 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion


5
Apr 2013

The Cuts

Gets to the heart of things in a way a thousand opinion-pieces don’t…

Leave a comment  |  Posted in: Media » Video


3
Apr 2013

Arctic Methane: Why The Sea Ice Matters

I just came across this short film (made at the end of last year) discussing the impact of Climate Change on the Arctic permafrost and the methane hydrates on the floor of the Arctic Ocean. The four contributors are right at the top of their fields and probably know as much about the Arctic environment and climate as any four people on the planet.

I should warn you, however, that what they have to say is bleak. Very bleak. It’s not for the faint-hearted. They seem to feel that unless we do something really quite dramatic to combat the rising Arctic temperatures, we are looking at a global catastrophe. The film has forced me to significantly revise my ideas about Climate Change “worst case scenarios”.

Part 2 of the film is currently in production and is to be dedicated to possible “solutions”. I’d like to think there’ll be something in it to prompt a corresponding revision of my faith in humanity to actually do anything about this. I’m firmly of the opinion that we’ll burn down the last tree before we even consider abandoning the quest for “more, more, more”.

1 comment  |  Posted in: Opinion


3
Apr 2013

The curious case of Inigo Wilson

This post has been brewing for about a month now. Ever since I received a letter from Mr. Inigo Wilson at the end of February asking that I remove a post from this blog. I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to say about it or how I wanted to say it, but I knew I wanted to say something.

First, some background…

Way back in 2006, Tory blogger Inigo Wison wrote a piece at ConservativeHome entitled Inigo Wilson: A Lefty Lexicon. In response to this piece, Mr. Wilson was suspended from his job at telecoms firm, Orange. Although he was later reinstated, he briefly became a talking point within the blogosphere. The vast majority of people – whether they agreed with Wilson’s “Lefty Lexicon” or not – were critical of the actions of the corporation. I myself emailed the PR department of Orange to suggest that while I felt his article was wrong-headed and borderline racist, he should nonetheless be permitted to express his political views on a website completely unconnected with his employer.

Yes, I found his article pretty dreadful, but I nonetheless defended his right to publish it without censure from his employers.

However, I also wrote a piece on this blog with the title, “Inigo Wilson: thick as pigshit”. Why? Well, because anyone writing such garbage under their own (very distinctive) name while working as “spokesperson for community affairs” for a major corporation would have to be as thick as pigshit if they didn’t expect repercussions.

Palestinians – archetype ‘victims’ no matter how many teenagers they murder in bars and fast food outlets. Never responsible for anything they do – or done in their name – because of ‘root causes’ or ‘legitimate grievances’.

Inigo Wilson | A Lefty Lexicon

In my piece, I was quite unequivocal in my condemnation of Orange (and, as I say, I emailed them to say so). However, I was also quite forthright in my condemnation of Wilson. I found his piece pretty obnoxious and I found his suspension from work predictable. Anyone who has ever worked in the corporate world (as have I) and who possesses an IQ higher than that of a brain-damaged bumble-bee, would understand the consequences of publishing such an article while holding the position of “spokesperson for community affairs”. If I read a news story about someone being beaten up by a gang, I will feel dismayed at the action of that gang. However, when I read the next paragraph and discover that the victim was walking through the Broadwater Farm Estate at midnight wearing Arsenal colours and singing “One-nil to the Arsenal” at the top of his lungs…? Well, my dismay at the actions of the gang is not lessened in any way; but nor do I think it wrong of me if the phrase “what a fricking idiot!” springs unbidden to my mind.

No, the attack is not justified. But it is predictable. Likewise with Wilson’s suspension. Which is the point I made in my article… albeit rather forcefully.

Islamophobic – anyone who objects to having their transport blown up on the way to work.

Inigo Wilson | A Lefty Lexicon

Anyway, thanks to my ‘Mad SEO Skillz’(tm) my post appeared at the top of google results for “Inigo Wilson”. Any time someone typed “Inigo Wilson” into google, they were greeted by the phrase “Inigo Wilson – thick as pigshit” in bright blue bold letters at the top of the page. I wasn’t actually aware of this, never having recourse to type “Inigo Wilson” into a search engine, but clearly Mr. Wilson has been doing a little Egosurfing over the years (and let’s be honest, who hasn’t at one time or another?) and was less than happy at the results.

Which is why at the end of February I received a registered letter from Inigo Wilson (why he didn’t just email me, I don’t know) requesting I remove the “offensive” post.

Back to the present…

It goes without saying that my first reaction to the letter was “over my dead body!” The article that provoked Wilson’s suspension (and the condemnation of about half the blogosphere) has not been removed despite – I am quite certain – numerous requests to do so. It’s still there for all to see. If Wilson refuses to take down something he wrote that offended a whole bunch of people, why should I – at his behest – take down something I wrote because it offended one or two? I suspect that any request to remove “A Lefty Lexicon” would be met with faux-hysterical shrieks of “left-wing censorship!!” and the more hyperbolic of Wilson’s advocates would doubtlessly use the term “Stalinist”.

So yes, my first reaction to the letter was one of irritation. Here’s a guy who under the cloak of “humorous satire” labelled all Palestinians, “murderers” and equated Islam with terrorism. But he gets his knickers in a twist when someone calls him thick. Don’t dish it out if you can’t take it, Inigo. Why the hell should your capacity for offence trump anyone else’s? And why did you write such an article if you felt that people had some sort of right not to be offended? We’re all hypocrites from time to time, but this was particularly brazen.

But then I went back and re-read my piece, and you know what? I wasn’t impressed with it. It had been dashed off in a few minutes and not only wasn’t it well-written, it actually came across as mean-spirited. Uncharacteristically so for me (in my view). So after some hmming and hahing, I decided to remove the post from The Quiet Road. I just wasn’t proud of it, even if I still completely agreed with the sentiment. And just because I felt that Wilson’s original article was mean-spirited doesn’t absolve me of the same offence. On top of that, and despite my best efforts to avoid it, I did feel kind of bad for the guy. I wouldn’t be too happy to see my name followed by “thick as pigshit” pop up every time anyone googled me. My opinion about Wilson’s article and the whole farrago surrounding its publication haven’t changed, but I’m not comfortable hanging a digital millstone around his neck like that.

At the same time though, I didn’t feel comfortable just taking it down and saying nothing. Letting it disappear down the memory hole. As I say, Wilson has felt no compulsion to remove an article that he knows offended many people (I’m not personally offended by it, incidentally… I tend not to take offence at such things… but I do see how others could be. So in that sense, it’s definitely “an offensive” article). Also, by revisiting the whole thing I ended up re-reading not only his original article, but several others spawned by the brouhaha. For example, there’s the celebratory post at ConservativeHome upon Wilson’s reinstatement at Orange. It concludes with the sentence:

I understand that emails from supporters of Inigo outnumbered emails against him by more than five-to-one… a real victory for the conservative blogopsphere and a real defeat for those Muslim extremists who want to close down debate.

ConservativeHome | Inigo Wilson reinstated

First up, describing it as “a real victory for the conservative blogopsphere” is plain nonsense. I know at least two bloggers, excluding myself, who would be considered “of the left” by conservatives and who emailed Orange to support Wilson’s right to publish his article despite their distaste for it. I doubt we were the only three. But heaven forbid we should expect balance or fair-mindedness from such a partisan source. Also, the notion that his suspension was the result of “Muslim extremists who want to close down debate” is utter twaddle of the highest order. It’s a statement made either by someone who hasn’t the faintest idea how corporate PR works, or who does know how corporate PR works but wants to take a cheap shot at Muslims. I suspect it’s the latter because that’s the kind of nastiness one expects from Tories.

And when I re-read Inigo Wilson: A Lefty Lexicon, I found myself irritated by it all over again. Not only isn’t it the slightest bit funny, it’s badly researched, badly written and – as I say – pretty mean-spirited. So while Mr. Wilson will now be spared the “thick as pigshit” soubriquet, his article does not deserve a free ride. Let’s take a look at it…

Inigo Wilson: A Lefty Lexicon

The article begins with several paragraphs decrying what he views as a “curious Lefty-inspired patois”. By this he means the vague, euphemistic language of spin that has utterly engulfed political and corporate communication. This isn’t – of course – “Lefty-inspired” at all, but aside from that, I’m in complete agreement with his initial sentiment. The language of “spin” does indeed damage our cultural discourse and should be resisted. But Wilson’s notion that the root of such deliberate obfuscation can be found in left-wing, post-modern academia displays a breath-taking ignorance of the history of propaganda. For that is what this is; make no mistake; it’s propaganda. Over the years the actual techniques change as the culture evolves and the expectations of the audience shifts, so the specifics of the “patois” shift and mutate, but it’s something that’s been going on for years before post-modernism came on the scene.

I’m pretty sure there’s something about it in Machiavelli’s The Prince – for example – though don’t hold me to that as it’s almost two decades since I read it. However, it’s definitely addressed in Gustave Le Bon’s hugely influential text, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind (published in 1895… a little while before those dastardly post-modern academics gained such a stranglehold on our civilisation). Le Bon’s trenchant views on the subject of white-European racial supremacy would probably exclude him from the kind of ‘Lefty academia’ that Wilson considers so insidious. Le Bon’s views were dissected and critiqued by Freud when Uncle Siggy wrote on the subject of Mass Psychology. But Edward Bernays was less discerning (as was Adolf Hitler who incorporated a number of Le Bon’s ideas into Mein Kampf).

Bernays is seen as the father of “spin”, and was about as far from being a “Lefty” as it’s possible to get. His books provided the template for the modern public relations industry which is actually where this tendency towards vague language and obfuscation originates in the modern era. Remember his “torches of freedom“? Was there ever a more insidious use of spin?

George Orwell’s glorious “Politics and the English Language” is an early example of criticism of this kind of euphemistic language. In reality, both left and right wings are equally capable of twisting language for political purposes. Equally capable and equally guilty. However, I do find it interesting that the “manual” on how to do it emerged from The Right, and the first well-known attack on it comes from The Left. Precisely the opposite of Wilson’s ill-researched analysis (though anyone who – with a straight face – describes the Blair government as “left wing” probably can’t be trusted when it comes to politics).

In fact, before I go any further, let’s clarify something about modern politics (I’m talking here about western liberal democracies here). There is no longer any mainstream left. It has completely disappeared. That’s not hyperbole. The modern political spectrum has been narrowed to such an extent that it now extends from the “pretty dodgy right wing” all the way to the “centre right”. The Blair government didn’t advocate a single genuinely left wing policy… they weren’t quite as bad as the previous and subsequent Tory governments, that’s true, but the attempts to redistribute wealth from top to bottom were half-hearted tokenism at best. Where were the wholesale nationalisations and massive increases in wealth taxation? Those are genuine left-wing policies, and anyone who felt the Blair / Brown administrations implemented them are just plain wrong.
Modern political spectrum
Modern politics has completely integrated the capitalist conservative model. Every mainstream political party in northern Europe and the United States is a right wing party. Every single one. Southern Europe has seen a (very recent) resurgence in socialist parties in response to the financial crisis. But even there, none of them have actually gained power and those that came close (I’m thinking specifically of Syriza in Greece) still don’t quite make it all the way around to “Socialism” on that graphic… though they are at least pushing that direction.

Personally, I don’t locate myself on that graphic. Anarcho-syndicalism with technocratic leanings doesn’t really fit into the standard left-right model though I obviously find far more allies on the red side of the picture than I do on the blue. But when you have “Labour” parties (in the UK and Ireland) aggressively pushing free-market policies of privatisation, they can no longer be described as “of the left”. To do so merely betrays a lack of imagination, a complete ignorance of political philosophy and a refusal to update one’s belief system in the face of new evidence. It’s essentially a faith-based position.

So Wilson’s introductory section to his Lefty Lexicon is not only badly researched when it ascribes the politically motivated use of obfuscation to “the left”, it also completely fails to acknowledge the realities of the modern political landscape. It is conservatism at its most pure – steeped in the mythology of a non-existent past and seasoned with a generous dash of wish-fulfilment.

And it gets no better. The actual lexicon is – I think – supposed to be funny though I can’t see how it would raise even a smile in anyone other than a blindly partisan conservative. It even finds itself guilty of the very thing it’s supposed to be lampooning – the political twisting of language. For example, we have:

Fascism/Nazism – apparently the ‘opposite’ of Socialism – despite sharing party members, ideology and – in National Socialism – the name.

Inigo Wilson | A Lefty Lexicon

The clear implication of this entry is that ‘National Socialism’ is somehow connected with ‘Socialism’ because of “the name”. Somehow I doubt this is coming from a man who honestly believes ‘The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’ is genuinely ‘democratic’. But look… it’s part of the name! That must mean something, right? Or does it only mean something when it’s politically convenient? Talk about spin.

Wilson’s piece does contain some valid criticism of the more nonsensical recent examples of vague political language and management-speak. The entries on ‘Consultation’, ‘In partnership with’, ‘Issues around’ and ‘Key’ (amongst others) make legitimate if obvious points. However, he also pours scorn on “Green issues”, the notion of institutional racism and even “human rights”. This doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Praising the United States for being the “world’s most productive economy” is akin to praising the former Soviet Union for having the world’s most productive biological weapons facilities. If you honestly think that converting the world’s natural resources into cheap consumer garbage destined for landfill constitutes “productivity” then it might be time to reassess your use of that word.

In conclusion

So yeah. I removed the original blog post as per Mr. Wilson’s request. It wasn’t a good piece. It was slightly nasty, which really isn’t how I want to be. And for that, I’m genuinely sorry (I wouldn’t have removed it if I wasn’t sorry, so you can take that apology to the bank). However, it wasn’t half as bad as the piece that started all this. I wanted to address that piece as well as draw attention to the fact that I’ve removed an article from my blog – something I don’t like to do without explanation (especially if it has generated a comment thread). And that’s all I have to say on the subject for now.

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31
Mar 2013

All fools

Tomorrow is April 1st. The day when, traditionally, we’re encouraged to play practical jokes on one another. Over in the UK, the Tory government (note: just because the Lib Dems are part of the coalition doesn’t stop it from being a Tory government… Clegg’s All-Star Sell-Outs are merely craven enablers) has got a truly hilarious jape up their collective sleeve. Because that’s the date when the new tax and welfare reforms come into force. “Hilarious?” Well, historically speaking, heaping misery upon the poor and vulnerable has generally provided an endless source of amusement for those in power.

Iain Duncan-Smith (the face of evil)Make no mistake, what’s happening in the UK tomorrow is not an honest attempt to reduce the deficit or “balance the books”. Rather, it’s the introduction of yet another series of policies aimed at transferring wealth from the bottom to the top. Tax cuts for the wealthy coupled with benefit cuts for the poor can’t be honestly interpreted otherwise. Especially when occurring in tandem with the wholesale dismantling of the National Health Service. It’s my contention that the UK is currently witnessing an extreme example of class warfare. One wonders when the poor will consider fighting back.

Certainly, social media is buzzing with exhortations to “rise up”. But in our digitally mediated world, that seems to translate to little more than adding one’s name to an online petition. And I’m sorry to say it, but I just don’t see the Tories changing their policies because lots of people type their email address into a website.

What’s more, the last polls I read suggested that a snap General Election would result in an overall majority for the Tories (with the Lib Dems facing complete meltdown, coming in fourth behind Labour and UKIP). This is not because the majority of voters are being made better off by these “reforms”; it’s because people are apparently easily persuaded to vote against their own best interests.

… under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights.

Albert Einstein | Why Socialism?

Michael Noonan (the face of evil)Of course, it’s not just the British people who are guilty of this kind of self-harming behaviour. Here in Ireland the public have been reduced to a flock of turkeys consistently voting for Christmas. The heart was ripped out of the country by more than a decade of Fianna Fáil government. In response, we voted for Fine Gael – a slightly more right wing party whose policies were essentially identical to those of Fianna Fáil. And then we acted all surprised when nothing changed. Current polls suggest that Ireland is angry at this lack of change… and that as a result, Fianna Fáil are making huge gains once again. Seriously.

A Word About Cyprus

Meanwhile, on an island in the Mediterranean Sea something strange is happening. In an attempt to save their economy, the government of Cyprus (under extreme pressure from Germany and the ECB) is imposing a windfall tax on bank deposits above €100,000. The right wing see it as an outrageous attack on private wealth (though when they learn that the money will be used to prop up the banking system, some of them reluctantly accept it as a necessary evil). The left wing, meanwhile, find themselves backed into a contrarian naysayer corner. They oppose the policy because the ECB are in favour of it. And they warn that Cyprus is just the test-case, and that this policy will spread.

To which I reply… “Great!” I mean, isn’t this essentially a wealth tax? Isn’t that what the left have been calling for since this financial crisis began?

Personally I’d have set the limit a little higher than 100k (so that pensioners wouldn’t be hit quite so hard), but even at 100k this is a policy I would support not only for Cyprus, but for Ireland and on a pan-European basis. Of course, the extremely wealthy tend not to leave most of their wealth lying around in banks, so the policy should be introduced in tandem with a tax on stock-holdings and other investment devices. The fact is, Cyprus is the first nation to genuinely force the wealthy to bear some of the burden of austerity. Despite claims that “we’re all in this together” or “the burden must be shared”, European austerity measures have hit the poor and vulnerable hard while actively protecting the wealthy and powerful. Cyprus has turned that on its head and should be loudly applauded for it.

Meanwhile, here in Ireland (and across the water in Britain) our corporate media continues to push the market-capitalist, neoliberal agenda on the people. And we lap it up willingly despite the fact that it’s demonstrably against our own interests. April Fools… the lot of us.

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25
Feb 2013

Comparative losses to Irish exchequer

Earlier this month, a chap called Andrew Fisher posted a diagram to Facebook demonstrating the relative losses to the UK treasury produced by tax evasion / avoidance and benefit fraud.

Rather shamelessly, I decided to nick the idea wholesale and use it to illustrate the same point in an Irish context. The Irish government, however, makes the exercise far more difficult than their UK counterparts. They do not publish any estimates of unclaimed social welfare entitlements. Nor do they publish any estimates of income lost through tax evasion / avoidance. However, they do publish estimates of social welfare fraud. This fact alone is extremely revealing and seems to answer the question… is our priority to balance the books? Or to demonise the poor?

However, an international organisation called the Tax Justice Network does publish a country-by-country estimate of revenue lost to tax evasion / avoidance. So that figure is available despite the best efforts of the Irish government to hide it from us. The amount saved in unclaimed payments, however, is not – to the best of my knowledge – available anywhere. If someone has a reliable source for this figure, then please do let me know in the comments.

So the next time you hear a government minister lambast welfare fraud, or see a tabloid headline shrieking about “benefit cheats”… well, the diagram speaks for itself.

Priorities

Total social welfare budget: €19.797 billion
Estimate of “fraud and error”: 3.4%
(average of lower and upper estimates – 2.4% and 4.4%)
Proportion of “fraud and error” attributed to fraud: 31%
Proportion of “fraud and error” attributed to error: 69%

Tackling Social Welfare Fraud (an Irish government publication)

The estimate by the Tax Justice Network of amount lost in tax evasion / avoidance is reported in the Irish Examiner.

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25
Feb 2013

Oscar night on The Quiet Road

Welcome to my much-anticipated live-blog of tonight’s Oscar ceremony. Sadly, due to a scheduling conflict (who knew the Oscars were today!?) it was necessary to write the post last week. But thanks to the wonders of WordPress, it will be automatically published on Oscar night. So, in a sense, this is better than a live-blog as it’s actually ahead of its time. I also made sure to include at least 10% more than the minimum number of exclamation points mandated by the Academy.

And so to the red carpet where lovely celebrities wearing expensive clothes are smiling and having their picture taken. Wheee! What fun! Don’t they look lovely!

There’s whats-her-name! Sporting a beautiful full-length gown by that designer everyone’s talking about. And look who it is by her side… why it’s that famous actor in that film about things blowing up. Good for them! They look both rich and happy. Yay!

Because of its tremendous solemnity, death is the light in which great passions, both good and bad, become transparent, no longer limited by outward appearances.

Søren Kierkegaard

And there’s that guy off the telly. Doesn’t he look dashing in that tuxedo. And what rugged stubble he has. Good for him.

Ooooh… and that actress who always wears daring outfits is wearing a daring outfit. The skirt is split right to the thigh and the word “strapless” will feature prominently in the photo captions tomorrow. Good for her. And look who it is by her side… why it’s that famous actor in that film about things blowing up. Good for them! They look both rich and happy. Yay!

There’s a pop star. Wooo! A pop star.

Far from idleness being the root of all evil, it is rather the only true good.

Søren Kierkegaard

Ha ha ha! The famous actor made a mildly witty remark to one of the reporters holding a microphone in front of his face. Chortle.

Uh-oh, there’s Hollywood bad-boy whats-his-name! Wherever he goes, controversy is never far behind. Look! Look! He’s wearing brightly coloured unmatched socks… what did I tell you… controversy!

Winners and losers

Of course, everyone’s a winner tonight. There are no losers. Just being nominated… heck, just being invited… makes you a winner in the eyes of this live-blogger.

And now, here’s your host… that dude! Look at him! He’s funny. Gosh! Did he really say that!? Talk about edgy. Ha ha! It’s funny because it’s true! Zing!

People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.

Søren Kierkegaard

And now the Oscar for best use of hand-held cameras in a fight scene involving supporting actors… that woman from the telly pauses dramatically before opening the envelope. And the Oscar goes to… well, no surprises there. Anyone who saw that film was surely expecting it.

Oooh, a song. From a film. Lovely. Just lovely.

And now the Oscar for best explosion in a period drama. Impossible to call. Critics agree that all five explosions are amongst the best we’ve ever seen. And the Oscar goes to… well, I never! I know some people will say that’s sheer tokenism… positive discrimination at work… but I thought it was a worthy winner. And an explosion we’ll be seeing again and again for years to come.

Listen to the cry of a woman in labour at the hour of giving birth – look at the dying man’s struggle at his last extremity, and then tell me whether something that begins and ends thus could be intended for enjoyment.

Søren Kierkegaard

And it’s another song. By a different singer. Oooh… and some dancers too. Lovely. Just lovely.

And now the Oscar for best cameo appearance by an animated parrot. And the Oscar goes to… well, well, well… that makes it three Oscars in five years. And you know what? It’s absolutely deserved. Well done.

Ouch! Did the host really say that!? Zing!

The mood turns a bit more serious now… a short black-and-white montage of all the much-loved Hollywood personalities who have put on weight this year. Accompanied by Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. There’s hardly a dry eye in the house.

If I am capable of grasping God objectively, I do not believe; but precisely because I cannot do this, I must believe.

Søren Kierkegaard

Not to worry though… everyone’s soon laughing again as the Oscar for best use of product placement in a romantic comedy features some truly hilarious moments. No surprises who wins though!

And now, one of the most highly anticipated moments of the night as the Academy awards the Oscar for Lifetime Achievement in the Field of Science Fiction Costume Design. Ha ha! A funny anecdote from the actor with the stubble introducing the award. “This woman’s costumes in that 1964 classic were what inspired me to become an actor!!” You can almost hear the exclamation points! And there she is! Old yet sprightly. Well done her!

Zowie! Did the host really say that!? I bet he’ll get a telling-off in the tabloids tomorrow!

Once you label me you negate me.

Søren Kierkegaard

And now, the one we’ve all been waiting for… Best Film. For weeks now, absolutely everyone has been debating which film was the best. And now we’ll finally know! Lots of people will be pretty darn sheepish when they discover the film they said was the best turns out to not be the best. That actually, there was a better one than the one they said was the best. Though for some, this moment will be one of ecstatic vindication as they discover they were right all along. That the film they said was the best film, actually was the best film.

The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.

Søren Kierkegaard

And the winner is…

you.

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