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Oct 28, 1999
This a companion piece to the Joost Elffers book on seduction reviewed earlier [ https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... ] but it is about power rath
This a companion piece to the Joost Elffers book on seduction reviewed earlier [ https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... ] but it is about power rather than sex and is a concise version.
It is interesting as far as it goes and is mostly (like the book on seduction) cynical common sense about human nature and its relationship, in this case, to authority and power.
Much of it derives from anecdotes from pre-modern history although, of course, our world (though not human nature) has changed a great deal since then.
Personally, I get the seduction game as pleasurable though it ceases to be so with age and maturity but the question is begged by this book 'why?' Why bother to play the power game at all when it looks like never-ending work and inauthenticity only to die at the end of it all.
If we are looking for survival tips in a rough world, then the 48 Laws have some value but we should perhaps be looking to reverse-engineer them to keep Power off our backs rather than wasting time bending ourselves into its strait-jacket in order to acquire it.
The book did not excite me in the end. It might be useful as an educational tool for a young man or woman starting to climb the slippery pole of life but if you are still taking this seriously at middle age then you have already lost the plot.
Notes are private!
Oct 03, 2015
Jan 16, 2013
This is one largely for political antiquarians but it has its moments. Wilhelm Reich should need no introduction. These works, from 1929 to 1934, repr
This is one largely for political antiquarians but it has its moments. Wilhelm Reich should need no introduction. These works, from 1929 to 1934, represent the culmination of his socialist experiment in exploring working class sexuality as a means to class liberation.
Reich was a Freudian and a Communist but found his views incompatible with closed and increasingly sclerotic systems of thought. His criticisms of both struck home and he was thrown out of both Party and profession in 1933/34.
The National Socialists had embedded themselves in Germany - the Freudians seeking a fruitless accommodation with Hitler and the Communists in denial about the reasons for their crushing defeat. Reich's critique were to the point but too inconvenient.
Reich had tried to do the impossible in those five years - to merge the scientific materialism of Marxism with the attempt at a scientific psychology by the psychoanalysts. The futility, of course, lay in the fact that neither was open-minded and so truly scientific.
Rather than explain one of the most fertile, unusual and ultimately influential minds in twentieth century thought, I must refer you to the full Wikipedia entry - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilhelm... - and allow you to put what follows into its full context.
The book is certainly not an entertainment. The pamphlets, essays, provocations and the book that takes up the bulk of the text [The Imposition of Sexual Morality] are out-of-date intellectually and filled with jargon and theory from worlds long since discredited.
It is hard-going at times - especially in the 1932 book where the central section is an extensive review of anthropological research long since superseded in the academy and so unreliable as to both analysis and findings.
Having said that, there are insights into the gathering storm inside the Communist Party as it bureaucratised under Stalin and as the free thought of the 1920s began to collapse. Party discipline became enforced under the twin threats of economic breakdown and Hitler.
This aspect alone would not be worth the reading but in the final three pamphlets we have inklings of what would be Reich's more profound contribution to human liberation and its link to politics.
In 1932, he is still fighting his corner but by 1934 he can do little but burn his bridges with a coruscating and accurate critique of the failure of socialism in the face of fascism - a critique as pertinent today of left-liberalism in the face of national populism.
There are powerful insights to be derived from his practical work about what really matters to working class people and why, given the weight of history, they 'rationally' will walk away from socialism and choose fascism unless socialists change their tune.
It is the weight of history that matters - personal and private life, 'patriarchalism' (in its correct sense rather than the propagandistic light weight nonsense of modern post-Marxists) and sexual repression combine to push people to the devil they think they know.
His psychoanalysis is an investigation of the primal drives that express themselves as political choices - expressed more fully in his 1933 master work The Mass Psychology of Fascism. The Marxism is just the liberatory framework in which he wants to frame the findings.
His insights are, in fact, much 'bigger' than either of the two closed systems of the day. They survive formal abandonment of Freudianism and Marxism. What he has found are important correlations between sexuality and social and political attitudes.
His programme of liberation, started as the Sex-Pol movement in Berlin in 1927, was aborted by fascism, Stalinist bureaucratism, the paradoxical sexual conservatism of the Left (a quality in it to be found as much today as then) and war.
Nevertheless we should not forget that in the end it was liberal Americans, over-reacting to his late mental problems, who jailed him and burned his books. He was uncomfortable not just to conservative psychotherapists and sexually repressed Communists ...
Reich himself must be counted a failure of sorts - much like Leary - one who possibly did the cause of responsible sexual liberation no long term service (any more than did Leary responsible psychedelic use) but, without him, we might not even be discussing the subject.
A strange man, he was also intellectually brave and (I suggest) was limited only by his need to try and justify within sets of ideology (Science, Marxism, Freudianism) what, in fact, needs no such justification and which many of us now see as simply intuitively true.
Beyond the sexual aspects of the case, the final essays have other and often staggeringly to-the-point insights into political mobilisation - even if one can quibble with this or that suggestion or conclusion.
If the soi-disant Left ever came close to understanding some of what Reich, in his sometimes clumsy way, tries to tell them (and us) about engaging with the masses, with full respect for their own perspective, then it would not be in the mess it is in today.
Just as Communists' and Social Democrats' high seriousness, bureaucratism and talking-down to the masses were trounced by more emotionally canny Nazis with some real flair, so the same mistakes are being repeated today by left-liberal intellectuals and civil society.
As I write, the liberal-left is probably congratulating itself on the 'win' against liberal governments in getting migrants accepted into Europe. It appears to control the media agenda. But the larger mass has not yet spoken and come election time, it will.
Reich would have seen the potential for disaster here because the liberal-left has picked and chosen the identities that we are to privilege and yet has neglected to respect the identity (objective condition) of the indigenous working and lower middle classes.
There has been no strategy of engagement and political education, just an attitude of patronising self-righteousness about theoretically self-evident moral propositions. The liberal-left witters on about empathy but fails to enter into a dialogue on values with the masses.
Although 'rationally' the interests of the masses might be one with those of the migrants against the neo-liberal system, left-liberals have actually not explained why this should be so. The resentments of the masses may be primal and, if so, will out at some stage.
Reich's Politicising the Sexual Problem of Youth (1932), his long pamphlet What is Class Consciousness of 1934 and his short paper Reforming the Labour Movement all deserve careful study as relevant to current conditions.
There is also (in this edition) a rather worthy but inconsequential 1972 Introduction by Bertell Ollman which reminds one that the Marxists of the early 1970s, like the Bourbons, had learned nothing and forgotten nothing.
Notes are private!
Sep 09, 2015
Aug 21, 2007
Aug 21, 2007
A quick and basically competent run-down of Foucault's career and main works marred considerably by the intrusive feminism of the author who seems to
A quick and basically competent run-down of Foucault's career and main works marred considerably by the intrusive feminism of the author who seems to have missed the point that Foucault was making about ideology.
It is now rather old and so out-dated. There is always the Wikipedia entry and there are better guides but it might be a useful starter pack for some students. ...more
Notes are private!
Jul 19, 2015
Jan 01, 2012
There are a number of possible reactions to this book - it is nonsense for gullible people, it is a spiritual text, it is simply part of a cultural tr
There are a number of possible reactions to this book - it is nonsense for gullible people, it is a spiritual text, it is simply part of a cultural tradition with cultic aspects.
I prefer to see it as an interesting contribution to a particular type of speculative fiction, the post-modern grimoire. Once you accept this, you can relax and, if you like that sort of thing, enjoy it.
This is not to be dismissive of the role of speculative fiction in our culture. What genre fiction (speculative fiction is just an element of genre) does is provide catharsis for an emotional state.
Women are drawn to crime novels because the narrative relieves a genuine anxiety about threat in the world by acting it out in a narrative with a mise-en-scene, a puzzle and a resolution.
Erotic fiction, like 'Fifty Shades of Grey', permits the professional woman to enjoy sexual submission without actually submitting to anyone or anyone in the world.
Science fiction can be (though it is now much more than this) an analogue for male desire to master his material conditions as well as express awe while the Western and imperial adventure story died when hope died of a frontier on earth.
The modern grimoire derives from an early modern and very lower class interest in getting a short cut to wealth or power by summoning demons. It was, of course, a futile exercise but the futility was not the point, the fantasy was.
As science fiction has moved towards a synergistic relationship with science through the geeks and nerds who both read it and undertake real science so the original simplistic model of the grimoire has transformed, partly through the agency of Crowley, into something much more sophisticated.
In this particular case, the author has constructed something that has to be taken on its own terms - as an intent to command the universe of power and desire with a poetical description of reality that refuses to accept that powerlessness and unfulfilment are the natural state of man, without becoming involved in the fantasy of 'politics'.
The book is subtitled 'A grimoire of occult hyperchemistry' and the reference to hyperchemistry is a backhanded reference to alchemy and a recovery of it from scientific method.
It is persuasive once you accept that the author is not dealing with otherwise knowable things - this is science free territory because science has nothing significant to say on will, feeling and the 'somanoetic'. The grimoire fills a gap in reality.
It is actually a remarkable work, derivative of a number of sources - as eclectic as all such grimoires must be: alchemical, Typhonian, Voudon, Lovecraftian, gematriac, tantric, qabbalistic, theosophical and more. The text demands access to a certain cultural complex.
If one was so inclined, nearly every paragraph could be used to explore terms and build magical mountains of one's own but this book has a greater purpose. It is best to follow it through to its end but it is a deeply tragic work in some ways.
The language is certainly not dull. It is not badly written but the author chooses to use language with repetitions that reproduce the tone of the chant without being overly obvious about it - telesma, somatonoetic and so on. This mentalised chant is part of the process.
The grimoire slowly builds up, through much magical exposition that could be nonsense or could be a matter of psychological insight, towards its real purpose which is the fundamental reason why this sub culture has emerged.
It skirts Being as a hungry dog skirts a camp fire. But it is really about transcendental sex as the dog is about assuaging his hunger. Not simple rutting or satisfaction of an itch but sexual expression as trigger for seriously altered states of mind and meaning.
The book draws toward this only as we reach the last fifth and it ends in a sexual working, highly Crowleian in inspiration, that leaves one with two fundamental impressions - it might very well work to transform the persons engaged in it and the working of it for the vast mass of humanity is about as likely as a snowball in hell.
This is the nub of the problem with such grimoires and workings. They are both working on something truly primitive and beyond reason that speaks to any person honest enough to recognise their own origins and yet what it requires is only possible amongst humans who have moved far beyond the current state of the species.
This is the tragic and painful paradox. It all requires superhuman, almost sociopathic, commitment to the 'work' but it is working on 'prima materia' that goes back aeons in time and is fundamentally without mind and will.
We do not know what post-humans will be like but if they have lost their 'somatic aspects' (endocrine system or chakras as you will) to become silicon-based entities, none of this will amount to a hill of beans.
The body is the basis for the transcendence. Without the body there is no move forwards (certainly not on the basis of pure reason or the grace of some deity) so we may be in a race against time to become transcendent before we become virtualised or siliconated.
Perhaps people of high sensitivity, wealth and leisure might reproduce this process in order to attain transcendent internal power but I doubt whether even this is possible - the very imbalances of power involved would dictate inauthenticity, delusion, egoism and court orders three decades later by vengeful feminists.
No, what is expressed here as a dynamic possibility - transcendence through sensory overload, loss of inhibition and mutually constructive and consensual objectification - slips from reality back into the world of speculation very quickly once we remember precisely what a sad-ass mainstream culture we live in.
As speculative fiction, such a grimoire becomes analogous to its science fiction counterpart - an expression of what might be possible in inner space (as science fiction is to outer space) and an inspiration to mortal men and women to seek immortality through action in the world. But it is not a description of current or near future reality.
For all the space opera and TV dramas, humankind has still not returned to the moon in decades and its renewed space programme will get up there again only to deflect asteroids and visit nearer planets and moons. Flying between the stars is another matter altogether.
And so it is with the analogical thinking of this grimoire. To find two persons who can, as secure and stable psychological equals of different genders, undertake an operation of transcendent sexuality without neurosis or 'baggage'in order analogically to call down 'praeterhuman intelligences' for total transformation is to ask more of current humanity, as risen ape, than it can bear.
As with science fiction, such grimoires are texts of wish fulfilment and desire albeit with a motivating energy that might one day inspire humanity at its best to break through the barriers that limit it to one planet or to one rigid socially constructed identity ... one day.
That is why I like this book. It is not perfect. It requires a level of cultural knowledge that will pass most people by.
The author, however, has started to bridge the gap between the secretive, neurotic and occult world of magical thinking and mass culture by offering something that could, in its way, inspire people in general much as science fiction writers have inspired engineers.
I look around and I know the transformation will not happen in my life time. Possibly, it may take 30,000 years to change if we are not turned into or replaced by robots but it all has to start somewhere and this book is as good a place to start as anywhere else.
Notes are private!
Jun 19, 2015
Jan 01, 1990
Nov 15, 2007
I would call this book a magnificent failure and yet it has many fine qualities, not least genuine learning and some exceptional novelistic writing. S
I would call this book a magnificent failure and yet it has many fine qualities, not least genuine learning and some exceptional novelistic writing. So why is it a failure?
Harpur (as perhaps only those who read to the very end, and I mean to the very end but no cheating please or there really is no point in starting the book) has a little bit of the Loki in him.
That trickster element is, I think, the thing that redeems the work. He certainly 'seems' (who knows) to want to engage the reader with alchemical thought and its Jungian analogue as sincere attempts at self-individuation.
Failing to resolve the issues raised by analogical thinking in any way, perhaps because he does not want to and perhaps because he cannot, he then falls into the double trap of obscurity and didacticism in style.
That seems harsh but a full half of the book, perhaps more, is made up of material about alchemical theory and practice that you would expect to find on the non-fiction shelves - with foot notes.
In producing this material in this way and then offsetting it against not merely one narrative but two, with layers of narrative within the narrative in the 'best' tradition of the 'modern' novel, he creates something that will certainly appeal to some.
I find it overly manipulative for my taste. There is something deeply conservative and priestly, almost obscurantist about the tone of this book.
However, that 'spiritual' position is constantly being subverted by the evident lies, half-truths and delusions peppered through the fictional element and, as I will argue, nothing can be taken at face value when it comes to the values expressed in the work.
Is it all one fiction masquerading as truth, a game worthy of Calvino (who we do not admire)? After all, Calvino famously used the Tarot to similar effect. As a literary game, it is a remarkable achievement.
But as a trick played on the lonely reader, it may be cruel. The alchemical element is not merely obscure but holds out the promise of some hidden meaning of spiritual value that cannot be honoured.
This is dangled like a fishermen dangles his bait on a rod, only to make spirituality, actually obscurantism, the cloak for a degree of literary manipulation that may help no one.
So let us move on to the fiction which is tricksy and a suitable offset to the two embedded interpretations of the alchemical - the traditional and the psychological.
The difference is that we expect manipulation in fiction so we can be far more relaxed when it is out in the open by being hidden in a story.
Harpur is extremely good at creating credible characters in the Reverend Smith and Eileen, from different generations but interlinked by their role in other unreliable narratives, most notably that of Bradley and Nora.
Forget the detail (read the book). He draws us persuasive pictures of two types of over-intellualised, sexually repressed and confused English - the mid-century middle class male and the rising bluestocking of the generation that followed.
They are, in fact, archetypes. You would not imediately think so from this tale told of English country life but this is a mildly decadent Ambridge riddled with symbolism, sinking into the water table, with pagan fertility stones on the high hills and sacred woods that aren't.
The novel refers back to the long tradition of literary intellectuals observing the ways of the country folk and that contains Hardy and folk horror within it.
At times, I was reminded of John Cowper Powys, another writer who mixes magical thinking with close attention to character detail. There is even the violent country mob which so terrifies the urban bourgeoisie and is found as a recurrent image in the horror genre.
It is true that when he has his two main characters speak in their non-fiction voice, he manages to de-nature them and nearly turn them into one and the same authorial voice with different angles on alchemy but when they are back 'in the world', the world that they live in appears very real and finely observed indeed.
There are significant minor characters - a suicidal artist, a catholic woman of passion trapped in a loveless marriage, Eileen's father who clearly has secret sexual vice and an inability to analyse his own condition.
Whether these are avatars of the author I do not know but he builds up a set of archetypes of traditional English twentieth century culture which slyly gives us a full picture of sexual repression, well meaning self-destructive stupidity and finely tuned cultural evasion.
The intellectual engagements of the neurotic Smith and Eileen provide a clever (though is it wholly intended?) dissection of a race of people forced to dance in a conformist socially directed ballet that is just 'not enough' for them at heart.
Perhaps all peoples in all cultures find in their souls that what is before them is not enough but the literary English middle classes are peculiarly adept at a sort of spiritual mending and making do expressed in their country Anglicanism and Oxbridge academicism.
I take the book as an attempt to unpack this culture and this class and its search for meaning (and its lack of courage to be direct about that search, seeking it in acceptable analogical thinking) that may or may not be an unfolding in the author himself - who can possibly know except the author!
The book is a significant achievement in destabilising the assumptions of a whole culture and it does so in ways that are not cruel at all unless you take content at face value. If you do, it is cruel.
The fictional persons are considered with compassion and there is a desire to love within this book that rises above the trickery. There does not appear to be the cynicism that purely formal literary writers tend to offer us.
I will not go much further because this is a book that has to be judged through reading rather than through the sort of intellectualism that acts as a carapace for Eileen who may or may not be as nutty as a fruit cake.
Any cruelty only lies in the unfulfilled expectation for the spiritual searcher who expects omething consoling in this novel, the sort of vulnerable searcher to be found in every nook and cranny of the educated middle classes.
I think such people need a bit more brutal honesty in their lives and to be shaken out of their cocoon. What they do not need is to be is to be led into a maze. This book and its literary brothers and sisters tend to discomfit a little but leave people in their hole.
Perhaps losing yourself in analogical speculation and theory - whether alchemical or Jungian - might get you out of that spiritual hole but I don't think so.
In the end, it just gives you a better 'ole. Still a better 'ole may be all that you really want, like moving up the spiritual property ladder.
The book's message (for me) is that, in fact, such thinking is likely to be merely palliative, an evasion as likely to end in madness, failure and fantasy as it is to find a workable way to some sort of wholeness by removing the detritus of what our history and culture has left us with. It is a way of coping, not overcoming.
Still, it is a stimulating and valuable book, frustrating perhaps because you really do not know what the author intends but perhaps that is the point. You should not really expect any writer of texts to solve your problems for you.
Notes are private!
Jun 19, 2015
Sep 17, 2001
Jun 01, 2002
We recently reviewed a book from the left of the trades union movement, written twelve years ago, to see what insights it might give us into the curre
We recently reviewed a book from the left of the trades union movement, written twelve years ago, to see what insights it might give us into the current (2015) UK General Election - https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
This is a similar exercise but the review takes place after an 'unexpected' (to the sort of pundit who writes these sorts of book) Conservative victory and amidst a renewal of ideological infighting inside the Labour Party that lost power in 2010.
This is a lesser book than Andrew Murray's account of trades unionism but still useful. Written in 2001, this edition is a 2002 'update' although the final part merely shows a rushed attempt to ensure decent paperback sales.
Fortunately, James Naughtie has contained his tendency to develop rhetorical 'cadences' after the introduction so you get broadly straight reporting of the political history of the relationship betwen Blair and Brown through to the beginning of their second term.
Naturally, this book will tell you nothing about the central event of the second term, the divisive Iraq War, nor the bulk of that term, nor the third term and Brown's succession and brief rule in which his plans were thrown into the air by the damaging Crash of 2008.
The period of rule from 1997 to 2010 was remarkable by any standards. Its 'true historie' has yet to be written but this book gives us insights into the political phenomenon of New Labour through observing the twin leadership just beyond the point of reaffirmed power in 2001.
One does suspect that, writing contemporaneously as a journalist relying on interviews rather than as a historian with access to papers, Naughtie is giving us a convenient narrative to create meaning rather than giving us the absolute truth of the matter.
Sometimes the story seems a little to pat, too much like the morality tale much beloved of newspapermen that fails to take into account the messiness of life and the complexity of people. I would not take the story over-seriously and there are occasional errors.
For example, no one expected the massive landside in 1997 - I was there, in the Labour Party system, and the general expectation was of a majority of around or up to 50. This expectation is important because if you do not understand it, you do not understand the politics.
The point was that, in 1997, New Labour was not quite a done deal. The majority made it a done deal - for the moment. Before 1997, Blair was anticipating have to draw in the 'soft' Left (about 50 active MPs) to counter the 'hard' Left (about the same).
Note the numbers - which was why MPs like Fatchett and Hain were suddenly seen on platforms in the last days of the election and why Hain was fast-tracked into the higher ranks of the Government where he was to stay.
If you know this, then the talks with the Liberals become less some ideological obsession of Blair's and more a case of practical politics for him that, a politics that would be intrinsically less attractive to Prescott (whose power increased with the power of the soft Left) or even Brown.
The Liberals were simply no longer necessary as it became clear that New Labour had established itself within the Party and that, though reduced, decent majorities could be had from that point on and, more to the point, by then, the Hard Left was practically defunct.
The real story of the national politics of this period is the systematic destruction of the old Left (which wholly failed to take advantage of public concern at the warrior mentality of the Prime Minister) and the eventual containment of the trades unions.
By 2003 (after this book ends), New Labour was paramount so that, in 2010, when a new Leader had to be elected only the heirs of the two founders of it could realistically contest its leadership - and they happened to be brothers!
Where the book is far more useful and well worth reading today is in the Scottish origins of the power struggles within the Party and what we begin to see is just how dependent and how related to Scottish politics was New Labour.
Think about this - after another Celt [Kinnock] departed, the next Leader was Scottish [Smith], his successor was educated in Scotland [Blair], the dominant economic figure [Brown] was Scottish and the leader of the Soft Left was Scottish [Cook].
Naughtie, a Scot himself, gives us a picture of a Party always looking sideways at its dominance of the sister nation to a complacent England and he tells us much about the debates over the Union and devolution that led to the victory of the proponents of the latter.
These debates have proved central to the plight of the Party today. Elsewhere - http://positionreserved.blogspot.co.u... - we have argued that, as a coalitional party, the loss of Scotland is highly dangerous to it.
That loss, made manifest a few days ago, was written into a script that Naughtie outlines for us but which, perfectly reasonably, he could not follow through to a predictive conclusion.
Cook argued that Labour should stick by the Union. Brown argued for devolution as a concession that would stop the SNP in its tracks and preserve Labour hegemony. Brown won but ended up arguing for Union against a near-run Independence Referendum over a decade later.
While the 2014 Brown won his battle within devolution, his Party lost the war and, in losing Scotland, they lost the motor for the social justice modernisers that he represented.
With Balls losing his seat, Miliband having to resign as Leader and the 2008 Crash looming over Brown's prudential redistributive strategy, the Brown vision of the Labour Party as responsible governors of the Union is all but dead.
Meanwhile, the Blairites are still standing and ready to demand a return to the Radical Centrism of the Blair era, perhaps not understanding that Cameron has already stolen that territory and is ready to expand on it with five years to do it in.
The last fully English leader of the Labour Party before Milliband and the temporary incumbencies of Harriet Harman (metropolitan intellectuals) was Michael Foot and he also was a Hampstead intellectual. We do not count the temporary incumbency of the capable Margaret Beckett.
If you look at the history of the Party, its leaders were almost entirely Scottish from 1908 to 1932 (with one brief year under the forgotten Clynes). From 1932 to 1983, they were exclusively English.
Scottish socialism ideologically drove the Labour Party disproportionate to the population but proportionate to its role as 'work shop' of the Empire but a national Party was strong when it was seen to be British, meaning in reality able to appeal to the English working class.
The strategy of dumping the English worker in favour of identity groups of which the biggest is women (who refuse to be corralled in this way) but which also includes ethnic minorities and LGBT is not unconnected to this withdrawal from 'England'.
The more recent return to Scottish dominance suggests that Labour was indeed losing its base in the south while simultaneously, as New Labour, appealing to its prejudices.
But the appeal was always form and not substance. It thus strikes this reader that 2015 was an accident waiting to happen and Naughtie's earlier chapters provide valuable background here.
So what of the main subjects of the book - Blair and Brown and their rivalry? We have already intimated that the journalistic narrative demands that the rivalry be talked up.
I have to say that I find this over-done - this partnership lasted many decades and, though no doubt it had its frustrations and serious squabbles, the core of it was sustained, albeit as rival and often childish courts.
The secret to New Labour power was compartmentalisation and containment. Blair's political genius lay in containing centres of power (such as trades unions or the political Left in Parliament) in order to give himself total freedom where it interested him to be free.
It just so happened that he really was immensely bored by economics once he had laid down the general rules of 'aspiration and inclusion' (in David Miliband's phraseology) and happy to have Brown sort out boring interdepartmental squabbles over resourcing.
In return, when he decided to strut on the world stage or offer us 'aspiration and inclusion' homilies, the alternative centres of power in Parliament and the Party had nothing to say because they were so busy protecting the feudal estates granted them by his Majesty.
The secret to New Labour is that it moved from being a truly federal Party with competing centres of power creating policy through struggle (but making itself increasingly unelectable) to a feudal Party, headed by a Sun King and his Court, only interested in the sinews of war.
The fact that the succession was disputed by two brothers only makes the feudal analogy more appropriate. The Kingdom is now, accordingly, riven by rebellions (Scotland) and no doubt 'assassinations' and 'plots and counter plots'.
The character of Brown is well drawn in this book, possibly because Naughtie as a Scot, has a better feel for his origins and culture than many others.
He comes across, I think truthfully, as a serious and moral if difficult man with a genuine concern for poverty and social justice. He is also a pragmatist (a curse word on the Left) who sees, rightly, that poverty alleviation must depend on sustainable resources.
Blair is another kettle of fish and my attitude changed to him as I read the book. He really is the cuckoo in the Labour nest and it is staggering that even the desperate post-Kinnock Party allowed this man to rule it in a deal with the devil.
At one level, there is something of the likeable rogue about him with a refreshing lack of seriousness about politics as understood by most activists, who wears his undoubted intelligence lightly and just wants to enjoy himself in office.
Where one starts to worry is where one should worry - his stealthy introduction of communitarian religiosity into a party of the secular Left that always had plenty of room for Catholics and Methodists alike but which, while respecting them, did not let them dictate the terms of policy.
Naughtie does not cover the later stages of this proces domestically - the earnest entry of faith-based interests into higher councils, the careful attempt to cover up faith in the Leader himself except when it suited, the link with American religiosity, multiculturalism as cover for excessive tolerance of illiberal communitarian practices.
He is also not good on the link between the messianic visionary stance of New Labour concerned with extending values globally (Brown has a similar distracting focus on global debt when he should perhaps have been concentrating on his own people) and war.
Both men took the internationalism that was always part of the socialist message, removed the core 'national' socialist element, and turned it into two very different 'crusades' for values - social justice in the case of Brown and liberal politics in the case of Blair.
Brown was more justifiably socialist, this is true, but both became part of something bigger, an expansion of values by an entirely different sort of hegemon, the global hegemon in Washington.
Although fully backed domestically by considerable constituencies that Cameron has had to court - the liberal internationalists in the NGOs and churches and authoritarian national militarists - both men looked not to native but to Atlantic traditions.
Naughtie brings this out but perhaps fails to inquire more deeply into how this came about and what it meant in terms of the pre-2008 drive towards Western hegemony that seems to be collapsing around us as we write.
Brown's politics seem to have been based on a life-long love for the progressive Democrat tradition (which, of course, was never a socialist tradition but one of moderated state-managed capitalism), forgetting that the UK and the US are entirely different societies.
Blair's values of freedom extension as markets, rights and democracy (and to be fair to him, he really does hold to the rights of people previously second-class in Western politics like gay people, minorities and women) soon became identical with neo-conservative ideology.
This Atlanticisation of the Labour Party which started in earnest under Kinnock in the general fascination with Clinton's victory in 1992 alongside the Europeanisation that started with Delors Speech to the TUC in 1988 re-orientated the Party back from 'national' social democracy to 'international' social liberalism.
This is not to say that the US State Department and NATO-driven Atlanticism have not had a powerful influence over the Labour Right since the 1940s but only that this was the first time that the link was out in the open and dominant, proud of its Presidential links whether Democrat or Republican.
Under Blair, it would be almost unthinkable that a British Labour Prime Minister would decline to support the US in an operation overseas as Harold Wilson did over Vietnam.
This is the importance of the Syrian vote in Parliament when the Labour Party and the nationalist Tory Right combined to call a halt to a similar adventure but only because a relatively weak leader actually bothered to listen to public opinion and his own Party.
As a 'sotto voce' aspect of the recent Labour failure, alongside the growing resistance to metropolitan liberalism and multiculturalism, we may add a growing sense that it is time for British politicians to attend to British (perhaps English in some quarters) interests.
Otherwise, the book is a useful reminder of the events of the first five years of New Labour rule. As the years pass, its lustre fades. It appears to be more show than substance but it leaves one big question unaddressed by Naughtie and his class - a fundamental question.
How is it that we still have a system (and this could apply to much of the Western world) in the Twenty First Century in which the destiny of some 64 million human beings are in the hands of what amount to coup-mongers within one or two organisations (political parties).
The Labour Party contains 190,000 members (the other parties less) but these members have little say over policy. Incredibly small groups of people conspire and collaborate to acquire power and hold on to it.
That two men in a restaurant can carve up a candidacy or two brothers be the only persons deemed fit to lead a 'great party of state' strikes me as a sign of decadence.
The decadence of New Labour is unspoken in this book because Naughtie is part of the elite group that loves the narrative, loves the soap opera and is not paid to question deeply what is presented before him.
As with all such books, enjoy the story if you are of that type but try to go behind what is being said and start asking some questions for yourself about whether this system is any longer fit to rule a country of such size and (still) world importance.
Still, we now have five years of a relatively strong Government (good) without a massive majority (good) based on 51% of the House of Commons (331 seats) but 36.9% of the vote in which only two thirds of the eligible voting population participated.
Labour meanwhile got 36% of the seats on 30.4% of the vote so it might be in a tail spin but it has not crashed yet. Yet, in 1945, the national turnout was 72.4% and Labour got 393 seats and 47.7% of the vote.
The New Labour experiment clearly failed to sustain the triumph of 1997 and it might be interesting to ask why. Simply blaming Ed Miliband is always going to be an evasion.
Notes are private!
May 12, 2015
Oct 01, 2003
Dec 01, 2003
A solid reasonably well written primer for anyone interested in all the ways that our species has tried to explain the world with limited data and on
A solid reasonably well written primer for anyone interested in all the ways that our species has tried to explain the world with limited data and on dubious assumptions.
Perhaps Burton and Grandy are a little too kind to some irrational thinking in the past. Perhaps we could do with a little more critical thinking in here about these ways of thought.
However, the book serves as a decent introduction for newbies to the varieties of occult thought in Western culture. Even 'old hands' will find something new or thought-provoking somewhere in it.
The judgments are generally sound. The sensible reader will take out of it what interests him or her and look deeper as they wish. The illustrations are also useful and attractively positioned. ...more
Notes are private!
Apr 14, 2015
Oct 28, 2014
Oct 28, 2014
The idea is a good one - to get 50 sets of political scientist and 'expert' to produce short four-page summaries of their research as a reference poin
The idea is a good one - to get 50 sets of political scientist and 'expert' to produce short four-page summaries of their research as a reference point for those interested in how democracy works.
However, we are probably told more about contemporary late capitalist democracy by the fact that a trite 51st contribution has been added on sex and politics to help with the title and the sales.
In fact, the whole is not going to be particularly enlightening except for political nerds and perhaps for professional manipulators without the time or energy to go and search out the relevant papers.
It confirms, of course, that British democracy is a pretty ramshackle business in which a huge class of parasites seeks to manipulate their favoured ones into power but we knew that anyway.
The contributions strike this reader as academically sound if uninspiring. Once or twice we find normative positions creeping in, as they do, by the academic back door - mostly liberal-left.
What more is there to say. We are expected to accept this political system as the 'least worst' option on offer. Clearly large numbers of people can get just as excited about it as trainspotters can about their hobby.
Personally, I don't think this is good enough. The total system, at the end of the day, is a huge circus designed merely to give gloss and guide to a bureaucratic State that still holds all the reserve power.
In that context, there are few insights in the book that really matter although the discussion on reducing the voting age to 16 made me think again about the complexities and fairness to the kids.
Similarly, the 'bourgeois' nature of ethnic candidates in British Elections should (but won't) raise questions about class and the con-trick perpetrated on the masses by left-wing identity politics.
Yes, the book is informative but in a confirmatory way to anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear the political process as we see and hear it every day. Maybe that, in itself, is useful.
I wil be giving my copy to a political activist friend of mine and leaving it to him to do the dirty work from now on. Activists will, I am sure, find useful nuggets in the book.
Meanwhile, the format could be used to good effect in covering more substantive issues - class, gender, ethnicity, media conduct, the nature of the State and then latest research in 'real' science.
I will not lie awake at night expecting a publisher to deliver what is really needed - political education on substantive issues related to actual policy rather than the fluff involved in fooling large numbers of people into participating in a spectacle that does very little for them.
Notes are private!
Mar 25, 2015
Sep 01, 2011
Jun 25, 2010
A disappointment but perhaps not an unexpected one. Thomas Ligotti happens to be one of the greatest exponents of uncanny fiction, equal to his earlie
A disappointment but perhaps not an unexpected one. Thomas Ligotti happens to be one of the greatest exponents of uncanny fiction, equal to his earlier masters Poe and Lovecraft - but in small doses.
We have already reviewed some of his short stories which are magnificently disturbing and thought-provoking but have also noted that he has difficulty in developing them to novella length.
His art is that of the short story. This foray into non-fiction is little more than an opinionated, often repetitive, often very dull, literary rant, bad philosophy and weak literary criticism.
But perhaps it serves a purpose because it takes existential pessimism to such absolute extremes that, if even the argument is not accepted, it manages to demolish all lesser forms of the death instinct on the way.
The nearest analogy I can find is a book that appeared on the shelves briefly some years ago - a pseudo-existentialist rant by a child murderer, Ian Brady, one of the two notorious Moors Murders.
According to the Daily Mail of January 21st, Mr. Brady (77) wished he had taken his own life many years ago (poor bunny!) and the same negativity about life infects this philosophical pot boiler.
The quality of thinking is exemplified by the amount of time taken up by literary figures and by an obscure Norwegian post-Schopenhauerian merchant of gloom, one Peter Wessel Zapffe.
The writing is uninspiring and the 'narrative' incoherent - others have liked it less even than I have done. There is too much repetition of both themes and language ('vehicular misadventure'!).
At times, it appears to swerve away from the major theme to be a disjointed essay on supernatural fiction and on his favourite short story theme of the uncanny puppet.
Nietzsche, the ignorant excuse for the crimes of Brady and the Nazis but actually a force for Life and defiance of the death instinct, gets a few dismissive paragraphs. The major existentialists ... nothing!
Zapffe was the depressive exponent of something called antinatalism which assigned a negative valuation to the very fact of being born. The implication is that the human race should eventually genocide itself through non-procreation.
This is a mentality that can be found amongst a certain class of life-negative conservative thinkers whose political heirs are the deep green planet lovers who think of us humans are mere scum on their Gaia.
But Ligotti goes further than this - future specicide, implicit in his callous and unemotional view of the world, is presented as a rational claim that should have the security state checking out anyone found marking the margins of a copy in green ink.
Let us be frank. The human condition is one of considerable variation and it is no surpise that, within that variation, there should be highly articulate and literary extreme self-hating pessimists.
This is their book - and that of adolescents going through a temporary Goth phase, those sinking into black and irreversible clinical depression and those facing a death they cannot come to terms with.
If this book gives them 'comfort' (and does not result in some dim-witted nut trying to bring forward human extinction by a few millennia), then it is simply (ironically) part of life's rich pattern.
And the book has its uses even to us who think its thesis to be absurd and silly - just another literary confection by someone trying to fight above their intellectual weight.
The sheer extremity of the analysis - which contains a legitimate position on the meaninglessness of existence which even us optimists can share - usefully smashes to pieces lesser pessimisms.
The knife job done on Buddhism - the most life negative of religions - is decisive: no sane person could be a Buddhist after this and confirmation that Pope John Paul II could get at least one thing right.
Similarly, Ligotti is prepared to face off the nature of evolved human consciousness and be 'logical' about it. He pins down that point where choices between Life and Death are made.
On the one hand, we have apparently suffered horribly because we can think yet (it would seem) thinking suggests that we can end that suffering with suicide in the short and specicide in the long term.
It has to be said that his arguments for euthanasia stand up in this context. For those who really are this clinically depressed, then perhaps a voluntary removal is fair to them and the gene pool.
On the other, his is still merely a stance based on chance and biochemistry. He has no right to impute negative value to meaninglessness if someone can accept lack of meaning and live well.
For him and Zapffe, self awareness, the Self itself and consciousness are horrors that make life unbearable. He accuses the rest of us who do not share this view of evasion and delusion.
This is part of that fashionable philosophical negativity that insists on ego death as a good, that there is no Self really and that we have no self determination - a fashionable petit-bourgeois stance.
This is the province of a certain type of over-thinking continental philosopher, new age users of 'mind-expanding' (ho, hum!) drugs and people who crave non-duality as substitute for reality.
To be fair, he gives short shrift to such fools which makes his position at least one of some integrity but the same seed of denial of our evolved nature is there but as Reason murdered by Reason.
But, as he admits, he cannot prove his point any more than we optimists can prove ours. The stance of being depressed about meaninglessness is merely that - a stance, a temperamental sentiment.
He has his unjustified normative stand against the alleged evasions of the masses yet seems not to consider it possible that a person can accept the fact of meaninglessness and still choose Life.
The problem strikes me as this. Given the condition of things on which we both agree, there is no reason to choose radical pessimism if a positive optimism is equally valid with the same shared facts.
The only difference between us is that my life and that of optimists is happy while it can be happy and he and his pessimists is carried out in a blue funk until extinction. You choose, matey!
My world takes life as it is - with all its chance and necessity - and makes the best of it, far nearer to his praised animal state than he can manage. But he seems to want a final Ragnarok, the destruction of creation itself.
Here, tolerance is in danger of collapsing as much as it does with Ian Brady. If he is serious, then he is my enemy or at least his followers may be, so perhaps, all things being equal, Ligotti delenda est
I would not go so far as this because his efforts are for armchair depressives whose greatest act is to reach for the whisky bottle yet this book should be on the reading list of our security services.
Why? Because, as we have seen in the case of Breivik (another gloomy Norwegian), the death instinct is a material factor in the near-infinite variation to be found within the species and it can act.
To understand where this death instinct might go in the hands of less literary hands, this book should be studied much as one would study the work of Ian Brady for the underpinnings of child murder.
After all, a cursory reading of some of the very Deep Green lunacy on the internet or the radical reaches of occult fascism indicate levels of pessimism that make Schopenhauer look like Pollyanna.
This is not ever to say that Mr. Ligotti means in any way to do bad things in the world - he is probably far too pessimistic to do anything actively. He is a litterateur. Such types do nothing.
But that there are radical pessimists who present themselves in these terms, far beyond all previous forms of radical pessimism, unleavened by Buddhist evasions or literary tropes, should be watched.
The book has its purpose as part of the radical liberal literature of extremity. It will continue to be read not by philosophers but by those interested in the psychology of weird fiction.
It is a necessary excrescence on the decadent corpse of late liberal capitalist culture, that point where everything must be said and freedom insisted upon to permit all to be said.
I am tempted to upset liberal sensibilities by burning this book.
Notes are private!
Mar 24, 2015
[This review is dedicated to the anarchist and occasional friend Steve Ash who sadly died last year. This book meant a great deal to him.]
[This review is dedicated to the anarchist and occasional friend Steve Ash who sadly died last year. This book meant a great deal to him.]
Wrongly sold as science fiction, this is an anarcho-libertarian bit of mischief mashing up some serious indirect philosophy and psychology with popular cultural memes, conspiracy theory, erotica, the occult and a lot of dated political satire.
It is so deliberately occult in places as to become occasionally (and ironically) a bit pompous, much like its 'hero' Hagbard Celine, the Captain Nemo of the story. The satire is somewhat jaded and the three novels taken together are too long and sometimes over-written.
But, having said this, the book is mostly a great deal of fun and, once you get used to the technique of having apparently disconnected tales flow into each other without any clear sign that the narrator has changed, easy enough to get through.
It is a classic text because it introduced into popular culture an entire alternative way of thinking about the world which, though sometimes as absurd as the 'morning of the magicians', is genuinely liberatory and, ultimately, 'true' or 'as true' as anything else.
We have to remember the time when it was written - the depressingly reactionary period in early 1970s America that emerged in response to the counter-cultural liberatory aspects of the 1960s.
Yes, the 1960s were an era of unorganised narcissism whose final result was Hillary Clinton but, in that specific context, Shea and Anton Wilson provide us with a cogent popular explanation of why anarchic narcissism may be the only appropriate response to authority.
The themes in these book - Lovecraftian, erotic, science fiction, conspiracy, new age - have, for better or worse, embedded themselves in the minds of those who will not accept that state authority is anything other than oppressive.
In this respect, the seeds laid by Shea and Anton Wilson in the 1970s act as counterpoint to those laid by Saul Alinsky, as alternative democratic sub-socialist and anarchic sub-libertarian responses to Leviathan, the State - or rather to Man's determination to submit.
The dominant model of political organisation in relation to the American State on the American Left is a sort of 'femininised' or beta male baring of the arse in order to be buggered in the hope that eventually the old beast will die and the buggered beast will inherit.
The anarcho-libertarian model seems to abandon all notions of Right or Left (which confuses the traditionalists of the Left) and laud the trickster, freethinker, pirate and even criminal against the very notion of order.
It is a view of human nature as good in the very end - or at least as less bad than when it is in under orders. The politics may be questionable but the psychological and philosophical insights are less so, even if presented in quasi-Zen parables and obfuscatory occultism.
The Trilogy (and the 'serious' Appendices, with no more 'truth' in them than any other part of the books) offers us versions of a number of theories questioning the reality that we create out of our sense perceptions and, in particular, social reality.
This questioning of social reality will last far longer than the political satire and the book's somewhat stock appropriation of cultural memes, such as Lovecraftian monsters and Nazis waiting to rise to make blood sacrifices to 'immanentize the eschaton'.
The book is justified by its bringing these thoughts about social reality subliminally to thousands of young people in every generation although, sadly, for every one who gets it, ten or a hundred will not and cease to be as functional in their own interest as they might.
Many observers have not noted that, as a book of constant paradox, the Trilogy, with its twists and turns has inherent fascistic aspects too - the elite eroticism, the leadership principle underpinning Hagbard, the cyclical views of history, the appropriation of traditionalism.
There is also implicit in the vision a disturbing sense of history as elites manipulating masses but without any real outrage being expressed - the Discordians seem simply to wish to play in the game on equal terms, disrupting the forces of order to restore 'balance'.
In this world view, there is still a hierarchical view of humanity. The masses could have their eyes open, and the Discordians devoutly wish that this would happen, yet a deep conservative pessimism in the game players leads them to accept that it will not.
The clever trick played in the book is that the naive reader who thinks he has 'got it' is really being manipulated into the false belief that, because he has 'got it', he is now part of the same elite that gave 'it' to him. He is not. The authors warn but not directly.
Look hard and there is a paragraph in the Appendices where an argument for human sacrifice of a most primitive type is made too plausible to be ironical, a nod perhaps to Evola, yet contrasted with horror at the mass immolations of war and that 1970s preoccupation, the Holocaust.
This is where the 1960s Generation can be seen to be bifurcating into an authoritarian and ideological optimism on the one side and a tendency to inverted rage and pessimism. The slave now adopts guerrilla tactics to undermine what cannot be destroyed frontally.
Magick and the occult in particular are the tools of the frustrated and the outsider and this book is heavily imbued with magical thinking.
Contemporary anarchism, Goth culture, popular horror, fantasy and the occult are now very much combined as a model for libertarian resistance to Leviathan - and the fantastic aspects do not stop police raids even today on those who withdraw from the system and wear black.
Culturally this is an important book, a tour de force in terms of its organisation of literary references and even plot. Its weaknesses are those of its time and we can only understand it by referring back to that time.
Beyond the politics, the book must be marked out as a text that introduced radically new ways of thinking to a mass audience - even if its subtleties have bypassed and will bypass those who read the New York Times and the Guardian and think they represent reality.
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6... - the history of magical grimoires and their use as forms of resistance
Notes are private!
Jan 01, 2015
Jun 30, 2014
Jun 30, 2014
Self published but no less useful for that - indeed, although there are disadvantages (one or two lapses in editing, design infelicities and a structu
Self published but no less useful for that - indeed, although there are disadvantages (one or two lapses in editing, design infelicities and a structural approach which we will come on to), self-publishing enables new and important material to come into the public domain.
What William Cross has done is provide the raw data (unusual in itself) about a rather unpleasant incident in British social history that allows us to make up our own mind about its meaning, sandwiched between acute and humane analysis and an excellent series of notes.
This incident was the prosecution of over twenty homosexuals in a small Welsh town in the middle of the second world war. It is a foot-note in the long and grim story of gay persecution in the UK before the 1960s but an important one.
I am not convinced by the speculative attempt to pull Evan Morgan, Viscount Tredegar, into the story but Cross seems to have an almost obsessive research interest in this aristocrat and his circle. The appendix (for that is what it is) does not detract from the whole.
However, the benefit of having the full raw data creates the structural problem. The book is analysis and data but not always easy to read narrative or analysis of the raw data itself. He leaves much of the interpretation to us.
I tend to approve of this because I find a lot of narrative history to be half-truth by selection but most readers will not find it helpful so it loses a GoodReads point. They want an easy read and not to have to do the researchers job for them - fair enough up to a point.
The problem of narrative in history is the same as the 'story' in journalism. We like stories and stories are fiction. Making facts easy to digest and culturally palatable immediately partly fictionalises them. Most journalism and history is, in fact, part-fiction.
Although not a set narrative (but Cross writes clearly), his account (other than the speculation around Tredegar) sounds true to me. One learns more about the actuality of 'gay' life in mid-twentieth century Britain from Cross than from many others in this field.
And what do we learn? Obviously that homosexuals were treated appallingly in British Imperial Christian culture, not from malice (at least in most cases) but from ignorance and prejudice. This much we knew.
What this book pinpoints is the complexity of that culture with its internal contradictions that are not easy to see in simple black and white terms.
The evidence tends to show that this ignorant and prejudiced culture still expressed itself in terms that were far from sadistic and often moderated through a kind of random if judgmental compassion that inherited the unthinking instincts of the wider culture.
Nasty authoritarian types tended to grab hold of the legislative process to make changes regardless of the lack of interest and even compassion of the 'masses' and then impose draconian laws on a judicial system that then tried to square it with human reality.
There is no doubt that an underground sexual culture must tend to viciousness - the anxious, frightened and those with most to lose will be deterred from their instinctive practices but the hard and sociopathic cases will not.
As a result, the continuum from consensual sex between adults back into grooming and exploitation of young poor working class males (ephebophilia shading into paedophilia) meant that we are dealing in this book not just with some standard alleged witch hunt against gays.
We are dealing with what would be recognised as a paedophiliac network embedded within a gay culture and there is much to learn from this about the sociology of sex and the law, what happens when the State hunts as a pack and how things can go wrong.
The overwhelming lesson is that sexual culture is incredibly contingent on a wider cultural set of assumptions about what is right and wrong. Observation today of Greater Syria, Moscow and Uganda tells us as much.
We, in the West, seem currently to have settled on the notion of consent and the reasonable notion that minds that are not fully developed cannot be said to be consenting minds.
This allows us to bring homosexual (and indeed bisexual and polyamorous) relationships into the mainstream as simply private matters, while ensuring that we have laws that protect at least under-16s from exploitative grooming (even if appallingly enforced).
But we all know that in the UK this is a bit of an arbitrary fix and, as more liberal interpretations of consent are under siege and on the wane, conservative models are placing the system under pressure by extending exploitation upwards into consensual sexual trade.
The decisions about what is a private matter in sexual relations thus remain fluid in time and somewhat arbitrary even today. Even the 16-age limit in the UK is an arbitrary fix which other cultures refuse to pull into the ambit of the criminal law.
In the Abergavenny Case, we have an enormous range of individual stances - the uncertain and lonely vulnerable lad unsure of his identity, the manipulative sociopath and the victim of rape and this extends up in time to 21 as much as down to 14/15.
The same range of attitudes to sexuality probably applies to young women in the current grooming cases so deeper questions lie in at what stage do young people take rights over their own bodies and lives and what actual (rather than presumed) harms are involved.
This is all too sophisticated for the blunt instrument of the law and English and Welsh practice has tended to try to treat the powers it has as reserve powers and not inquire too deeply into private life lest it uncover the sheer scale and unmanageability of things.
This has two effects. The first is that horrible things as well as a great deal of freedom carry on as if there was no law. Administrators and coppers muddle through - with dreadful consequences when they get it wrong as they have done over child abuse.
The second is that, every now and then, there is a political or moral panic or some unfortunate case is forced on the Establishment and 'justice has to be seen to be done'. Some show trial or investigation becomes necessary 'pour encourager les autres'.
In the last two decades, this has degenerated into 'law enforcement for the cameras' - camera crews watching doors being beaten down by troops of armoured men when a knock on the door by a local copper would have sufficed - and sudden surges of draconian idiocy.
It started with the asinine 'tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime' that resulted in kids being neglected to get better records of property crime in northern cities - what a disaster New Labour was! - and ends with Cameron denying evidence on drugs harms.
This is, in short, a mid-twentieth century system out of its depth, administratively incompetent and unable to see the wood for the trees. William Cross' book helps us to see that a system that was inhumane but sort of worked is now in its final degenerate stage.
A lot of the problem comes from the flip dark side of the social revolution of the 1960s and 1970s that enabled marginal populations like the gay population their freedoms and which undermined the cultural primacy of the 'Establishment'.
No one will face the facts that the human condition is complex, that the millions of people in a modern State will act in diverse ways if they are free to do so and that the State, shorn of its terror and monoculture, has to find new ways to administer this.
At the moment, every activist and NGO or lobby group drives Government this way and that to place more and more demands on a second rank administrative service hobbled by procedures and processes driven by rights legalism. Yet there is not, fact, the funds for such a system.
The Soviets could not handle this problem of the human condition - our very nature - and yet they could print money and order people around at will. The Fascists just took the dark side and directed it outwards.
Our establishment, quite rightly (as the Fiona Woolf case has shown) is now surplus to requirements, our political class is despised and at sea and our administrators are asked to do more than is humanly possible and then are frightened by the risk of failure into inaction.
Take paedophilia. NGO lobbyists pushed a single policy (so typically because NGOs think in simplicities) of hunting down those who downloaded kiddy porn, largely to create a 'strategy of fear' for those who remained.
The police, reasonably, followed the law, did their best and used their very limited resources to undertake intelligence-based policing to round up networks. Taking kiddy porn off the internet is a 'good' but it is not a strategy against organised crime which is what this is.
It now transpires that the fear factor only works on non-dangerous males dabbling on the internet, that something like 60,000 people are still looking at these images and that only something like 2% have been apprehended and sentenced at huge cost.
Worse, about 30% of those charged are judged informally by law enforcement as actually not dangerous to children but their lives have been ruined. They do time because they are idiots (which is not really a crime per se) and because others like them need to be terrorised.
If we postulate that the sociopathic predators and dangers to children are so committed to their ways of life that they will become increasingly devious within their networks and create counter-measures, then it sounds to me like the dangers are getting worse.
This single issue approach is like concentrating on bringing down celebrities for the tabloids instead of going deep into the state's own care home system, the public schools or into the churches (oh, no, never touch the churches) to root out organised child abuse.
There is much in William Cross' book to give us food for thought in this context - for welfare state, read warfare state. The imperial system seemed oddly tolerant of public school sexual exploitation while a theme of military homosexuality runs through the book.
In other words, in dealing with 'sexual crimes' we seem to have learned nothing since 1942 - we have not learned to define the harm, we have not learned the difference between harms and we have evaded investigating institutional structures that promote crime.
The strategy remains one of evasion and fear - targeting scapegoats, failing to frame laws on evidence, failing to invest funds in strategic law enforcement, using cultural terror as an instrument of policy and allowing policy to be dictated by passionate activism.
The bottom line on our current crisis (paedophilia) is still that of consent and of vulnerability.
We have to face the fact that we have tens of thousands of people driven, like homosexuals a century earlier, by sexual urges but, because of the harms and unlike homosexuals, who need to be contained in a dynamic, aggressive but feasible and (I believe) humane way.
We also have to face the fact that we have pockets of mostly migrant but also underclass males with an instinctive view of women as 'things' and we also need to deal directly and immediately with the harms involved in an evidence-based way.
Again, Cross' book is suggestive - homosexuals had many different atitudes to their own 'condition' (seen as not much better then than paedophilia) and no doubt modern abusers are much the same.
However, if we had had a serious understanding of harm in 1942, no consenting adult would have had to go to jail and every adult guilty of sexually molesting or grooming someone immature would have been dealt with solely on that basis in a draconian way.
Things seem to be better now because at least we understand that the harm to the young is proven but the language is still absurdly based on moral disgust and not on an evidence-based commitment to protecting all young people instead of running down those who disgust us.
This creates a simulacrum of that underground that existed for homosexuals in the first half of the twentieth cetury, a world of misery, loneliness, desperation and fear but also of increased viciousness and exploitation.
An evidence-based policy on child abuse would evade nothing - not the minor public schools, not the care system, not the churches and, above all, the most evaded of all and yet the largest source of abuse in society, the family.
So, this self-published book on local history acts as a window on our own times, a reflection on how far we have not progressed. The re-telling of the story of the gay trials of 1942 is welcome in that context.
Notes are private!
Nov 01, 2014
Oct 24, 1996
Nevin produces a perhaps overly generous but nevertheless useful account of one of the last century's most important European intellectuals, giving po
Nevin produces a perhaps overly generous but nevertheless useful account of one of the last century's most important European intellectuals, giving powerful insights into the 'German mind'.
Of course, Junger was an exceptional - a hysterical personality hidden behind an icy persona. His morbid and intense fanaticism presented in cool and refined terms, the aesthete of collectivised death.
The book only covers half his life. This would mean the story of a young man in most cases but here covers five decades at the heart of a terrible history. Junger's responses to them have things to tell us.
The master works are two-fold - immediate post-war and then polished memoirs of what a fanatic feels and does in mechanised trench warfare and diaries of Nazi occupation from a consummate aesthete.
The first, notably 'Storm of Steel', created an hysterical mythology that undoubtedly helped fuel the Radical Right capture of power in Germany in 1933.
The second, the 'Paris Diaries', should be reissued as an insight of immense value into what it means to occupy and what it means to resist.
But how to evaluate this important figure who represented the German haute bourgeoisie's adoption of faux-aristocratic elitism and its subsequent conversion, after trauma, into conservative revolutionism?
The writings in the interwar era bear all the hall marks of a form of literary post-traumatic stress response - the violence and morbidity packaged into grand schemes detached from all observable reality.
During that period, like many committed ideologues, Junger would find that national socialism was somehow not quite right, too demotic, too pragmatic, not cosmic enough perhaps.
He entered into what we now identify as National Bolshevik circles - the Left critics within the broad national socialist ideology associated with Niekisch and the Strassers.
Junger - a minor political figure as much as he was a major cultural figure - was by-passed by the Night of the Long Knives as he escaped the terror after the July bomb plot. He was both lucky and protected.
In the 1930s, his aestheticism dominates. He writes the spectacularly effective and misunderstood 'Auf den Marmorklippen' and sees through Hitler early but his politics remain fundamentally militarist.
Back in military service in the early 1940s, without changing his radical conservative views, merely adapting them, aesthetic distaste for the modern techno-brutality of demotic Hitlerism grows.
Does this redeem him? That case is hard to make. He is complicit. His aestheticism of elite domination, his disregard for the ordinary person, his sentiment - all these remain.
All he does is write beautifully and with acute observational skill (to the delight or horror of other highly educated intellectuals) about monstrosities and what the rich do on their holidays.
As a result of his brutal and cold honesty, there is far more to be learned about the human condition, however, than there is from the worthy whining and dishonesty of liberals.
The only place where this author's writings (which are not covered after 1945) filled me with an almost physical repulsion was at the very end when he discovers 'religion'.
Nevin tries his best to make this 'turn' interesting but the effect is part deadening and part visceral gut-wrenching disgust. In the midst of hell, with defeat on the horizon, he turns intellectual coward.
But the malign political influence does not stop with this intense new round of hogwash - it starts all over again.
We have written elsewhere of the attempt to whitewash the conservative nationalist hog in today's Europe. Here we see more of the origins of that whitewash in the 'programme' for post-war Europe.
Junger's interwar influence is still to be found reborn, alongside Evola's, in the rise of the political soldier and National Bolshevik activists' dabbling in Kiev and the undergrowth of European Rightism.
What is not so well appreciated is the influence of the wartime conservative nationalist idea of a united Europe based on 'Christian' values - little more than a ploy to win back the alienated occupied.
Junger's programme was not alone in this but it was part of the implicit strategy of the July plotters. Nevin's description of its main thesis is worth quoting at length.
... Junger seeks an authoritarian state that will unify Europe. He cites as visionaries of this union Richelieu, Cromwell [sic], and Bismarck, champions of statism but not certain friends of individual conscience. Suggesting that a democracy can be both authoritarian and liberal, he likens the state's security and the individual's prosperity to a mussel: hard outside so that the pearl may grow. .... He envisages an imperial state in tandem with a virtually established church, a tableau that conjures authoritarian Prussia.
We must always remember that Junger is rarely an original thinker on politics. What he does is take the general belief of his broader circle and the National Right and extend it into imaginative extremity.
He does this with the enthusiasm for war in 1914 and its ideology of the disciplined violence. And with the demand for integralist fascist order on the 1930s. And now with conservative survival.
The model for Europe, nurtured in the viper's nest of the German conservative elite and amongst complicit church-goers, the lesser evil to the satanic hatreds of national socialism, is that of today's Right.
The demand for peace - the leitmotif of the pro-European movement - is still cast on the Right in terms developed before 1914 by anti-Bolshevist conservatives under conditions of impending defeat.
This is the ultimate 'detournement' - turning defeat into ultimate victory. One wonders if the distaste of German liberal intellectuals for Junger is partly awareness of his partial victory.
The implication is that German violence can only be straight-jacketed by Europeanism and the Church (to the Right) and can never be a free liberal and democratic nation in its own right.
I want to praise Nevin for one minor innovation. When he cites an article or a book at the back he describes what is in it and whether he thinks it stands up to scrutiny or not.
I wish more academic authors would do this. It helps us get a better sense of controversy and the possible differences of opinion on how a work is to be interpreted. Junger must be seen in this way.
Finally, I think this book reminds us why books should never be banned or forgotten. Junger's work is very important and not as an 'object lesson' (as left-liberals might like it to be).
They are important because they are emotionally and intellectually 'true'. The blood-lust, grand schemes, detachment, controlled hysteria and fantastic essentialism are true to what we are as a species.
The paradox is that Junger is in good faith about laying out his limitations and bad faith. It is no accident that Celine and Bloy appear in the pages on occupation.
We need to know not only what we are but what we could be and therefore what others could be if we give them authority and power. Junger is what we all could be under certain conditions.
I find I cannot relate to some aspects of this conservative extremist but that he does speak to other aspects of me as possibly no other writer can.
Junger dances around the dark demonic without ever becoming quite satanic himself. His world visions are fusions of pessimism and dark hope, clear observation and the fantastic.
At one point, some passage or other triggers thoughts of the cosmic despair of a Ligotti. At another, he appears to get into the very heart of what it is to be compassionate, almost by accident.
But remember that the story ends in 1945. There is another 53 years of life to go - some may consider that long and full life mere proof of a godless universe but his work remains of inestimable value.
Notes are private!
Apr 26, 2014
Oct 18, 1988
I will come clean - I generally find South Asian spirituality obscurantist (not helped by its Sanskrit technical terminology) and tend to avoid it.
I will come clean - I generally find South Asian spirituality obscurantist (not helped by its Sanskrit technical terminology) and tend to avoid it.
However, this book is a worthy addition to the library. It is scholarly and as clear as can be expected with the subject matter.
Silburn was Honorary Research Director at the French CNRS and has taken seriously her task of comprehensively studying the texts that are available and works hard to explain what we have to hand.
Many modern readers will be most interested in what the texts have to say about the esoteric sexual practice of tantra in the third part and the book certainly has insights.
Sexual transgression was still transgression in early medieval Vedic India so the obscurity of some practices will remain a secret forever unless a new hidden cache of texts is found.
Nevertheless, what we have here is a recognition of the transcendental orgasmic response identified as a very real phenomenon by Dr. Jenny Wade and others and an attempt to explain it along traditional lines.
My own view is that the spiritual language of universal consciousness is sincere obfuscation - the sort that we are used to hearing from drug-happy Californians - but there is still something to learn here.
The egalitarian attitude between men and women is refreshing but the real interest lies in the awareness of sexual union and transgressive behaviour as in themselves potentially personally transformative.
There is a certain gnostic pessimism in the texts about just how many people might benefit and the claims are extreme to say the least but something very real in terms of experience was going on here.
The precise techniques are probably lost though they clearly involved self-generated sound and vibration, concentrated mental effort and breath control but not scientifically non-recoverable if we will it.
The question is whether our culture can will it because the process clearly requires a particular sexual dynamic that is counter-intuitive to Western habits and separate from 'household sexuality'.
The question beneath the question is how much people want to be transformed in line with their inner nature. This is the real barrier then and now to adoption of sex as transformation tool.
The adoption of sanskrit gobbledygook (by Westerners) is really a sign of evasion and resistance to early medieval South Asian discoveries. Sexuality has to be cloaked even now in invented 'meaning'.
I am pleased to see scholars - professional and amateur such as Phil Hine - working hard to uncover the real meaning of sanskrit texts to contemporaries and their subsequent interpretation.
This is a major service to culture but, if the discoveries are to be productive, the texts have to be not merely translated into terms we can understand but understood as suggestive rather than scripture.
The discoveries need to be considered in a modern materialist context as matters for bio-physical, neuro-scientific and psychological investigation and offered as possibilities and tools for today.
Hidden in the coded language of South Asian and alchemical texts are important insights into the way we can control our bio-mental faculties to remove past encodings and realign ourselves.
One of the tools for this has to be a non-neurotic approach to sexuality that permits it to be a tool for such an alignment and not just a bonding mechanism to keep society ticking along.
This dual nature of sexuality - as trigger for bonding and as source for personal transformation - has never been accepted fully in Western society and not always wholly or healthily elsewhere.
Perhaps the lesson of seeking sexual means to non-dualism is that we need to deal with the dualism of society as part of the process of general species transformation.
To be uncharacteristically idealistic for a moment, one can envisage a situation where people are so economically, socially, culturally and sexually secure that they can integrate these two sexualities.
A society of multiple bondings between transformed and non-neurotic individuals is a pipe dream at the moment because economic insecurity, social and cultural competition and sexual neurosis are normal.
Once the bonding element is sorted out (which is really a sub-set of anxiety), then minds can turn to sexuality as a tool in conditions where 'detachment' and 'love' are not incompatible.
Still, this book at least offers a small corner of the history of the world where, in a perhaps unsatisfactory way, men and women could consider practical measures on equal terms to achieve transcendence.
Notes are private!
Apr 18, 2014
Jan 01, 2013
Oct 01, 2013
This is a wise and highly intelligent, if very long, attempt to come to grips with the slippery term 'strategy' by a prominent British academic distil
This is a wise and highly intelligent, if very long, attempt to come to grips with the slippery term 'strategy' by a prominent British academic distilling at least two decades of thinking on the subject.
Although a Professor of War Studies, Freedman does not restrict himself to the conduct of war but reviews revolutionary and dissident stategy on the one hand and business strategy on the other.
He is highly critical of some of the nonsense (he is too kind to call it that) from business gurus and I can only be pleased that I smelled the rat throughout the 1980s and 1990s and read few of them.
Where he gets to is a sceptical view of what we can possibly know about our own futures or control them.
He outlines, in the final section, the role of narratives and scripts in giving us the illusion of control.
This is not a counsel of despair. There is no fatalism in Freedman's approach but he does suggest that 'real life' requires a degree of detachment from scripts and narratives while making use of them as tools.
Educated readers will probably not be surprised by the general thrust of the section on war where there is a sort of master in Clausewitz (and the influence of Jomini) but it will bring you up to date.
As we write, a rather odd crisis between the 'West' (whatever that is) and Russia, after some egregious blundering by the European Union, has allowed all sorts of absurd 'narratives' free rein.
Trying to rein in historic stories about fascism and appeasement as well as more recent tales of humanitarian intervention and self determination has been part of the problem for intelligent diplomats.
The Ukraine remains unresolved as we write but the undoubted strategic skills of Putin and Lavrov on the one hand and Obama and Kerry might be enhanced by having this text at their sides.
The second section on the strategic attempts to overturn elites and systems gives due weight to the role of Marxism but is perhaps too easily seduced into a highly US-centred picture of political struggle.
This provides us with one of the few 'strategic' criticisms of the book - the elephant in the room that Freedman assiduously dances around: the State.
Military strategy is the expression of the force of the State, revolutionary strategies seek to overturn or capture the State and business strategies compete with the State ... but what of the State?
The State, emergent out of warlordism and dynasticism (or small trading communities), is the thing that should interest us most because we are most stuck inside its narratives and scripts.
Perhaps it was simply a matter of space (the book is over 600 pages long) but one senses sometimes that the broader academic community is always nervous of telling us the truth about what feeds it.
But this may be unfair. The book is mostly easy reading (though the idiocies of academic social scientists often cause one to lose patience) and the assessments are honest and fair to all parties.
Indeed, it is good to find a book that both gives due to the troubled struggle by educated revolutionaries to speak for the masses and to the games businessmen play to try to control what cannot be controlled.
A book which treats Rockefeller of Standard Oil and Karl Marx fairly, let alone Tom Hayden, has a lot going for it though maybe Freedman should throw up his hands at Sun Tzu as perpetual strategic cliche.
Will this book make you a better 'strategist'? Well, it will do a service if it makes you sceptical about books that claim to offer that particular pot of gold.
Strategists are probably born rather than made but many of the skills can be learned - or rather 'bad' unstrategic narratives might be unlearned and 'scripts' recognised.
His story of continuous failures to 'get it right' becomes a bit cheerier when rationalist progressives begin to be challenged by the behaviourial economists.
Though I remain unconvinced by this particular discipline - and consider political science to be an utterly absurd concept - cognitive psychology has helped us here.
Increasingly, we are beginning to stop whining that we are not 'rational' (or rather autistic academics are) and beginning to see our mentalities as extremely good survival machines for uncertainty.
Freedman is persuasive that we have a sort of double action mind where intuition and 'art' working in real time gets things right most of the time under most conditions (his System 1 strategic thinking).
Habit and narratives and scripts can get in our way in a crisis and the reasoning abilities of his System 2 thinking enable us analytically and critically correct our own biases and errors.
However, we can only do this in real time, constantly adjusting to realities that are, in themselves, way beyond any form of reasonable long term analysis because of so many variables and unknowns.
Perhaps the thinking started with John Boyd's simple but productive concept of OODA (observation, orientation, decision, action) but Freedman here develops a more interesting model of struggle.
In essence, the only strategy is the intuitive positioning of oneself to win each battle as it comes within a general vision of where one wants to be - and this is not a matter for mathematicians.
Notes are private!
Apr 13, 2014
May 01, 2001
Feb 01, 2010
This is a highly recommended work of intellectual history with major insights into the construction of the American mind. Menand's approach can be eas This is a highly recommended work of intellectual history with major insights into the construction of the American mind. Menand's approach can be easily summarised. He takes the lives of four significant American intellectuals - William James, Charles Peirce, Oliver Wendell Holmes and John Dewey - and weaves a history around them, their associates and historical events.
The purpose is to elucidate the pragmatic turn of mind that emerged as a central element in American political and intellectual life after the horrors of the Civil War. It reached its high point in the first half of the next century. He presents pragmatism in its various forms as a reaction to the absolutism and certainty that had led to war.
He closes by hinting (though not going much further) that the ways of seeing represented by these men have been replaced by more absolutist attitudes in more recent decades.
This book has so much breadth and depth to it that it is hard to suggest anything more than that it should be read. There is no easy summary of its contents. This is fitting. Pragmatic thinking is a response to the human complexity that became increasingly obvious in industrial society.
This required a turning away from simplicities offered by Christian Fundamentalists, Kantians, Hegelians and other believers in the Absolute. Pierce, for example, remained someone with a sense of the absolute but his role is much like that of Kierkegaard's in the equivalent European existentialist revolt against intellectual grand design.
Both men were trying to understand how the world might be interpreted in the light of experience while retaining God. Peirce's philosophy of signs and wonders and Kierkegaard's leap of faith created pragmatic tools for others who required no deity - not what either man intended.
Pragmatism may even be the reason why Marxism could never take hold in the American elite. The central aspect of pragmatism is its lack of ideology - ideas and concepts are just tools. Tolerance of the struggle for mastery over ideas was to be the hall mark of Americanism expressed as democracy.
Pragmatism happens to be the philosophy of action (alongside existentialism as philosophy of being) that I find most amenable so I have a bias here.
Nevertheless, it would be hard to find a more basically decent human being than William James, one of the key figures in Menand's analysis. It is rare to read a book nowadays where a major figure comes out better than you expected - usually, 'great men' (a silly concept) come out human-all-too-human in the worst sense.
Here, James comes out human-all-too-human in the best sense - inquiring, tolerant, decent, humane and providing space for possibility at every opportunity when it comes to us humans. This is a progressive man, not in the sense of the interfering matriarchical busybody who wants us to be 'better' but as someone who sees life as a process of improvement and development from within.
James also re-opened the door for religion not as an imposed morality instigated from above but as a life choice that could be respected even if it was 'wrong'.
What also comes across in the book is just how interconnected the American intellectual class was in the nineteenth century. Make no mistake - American democracy was constructed by elites. Although this changes as the century progresses, the story is almost entirely one of a network of individuals who all knew each other and had family connections in New England.
These are people who grow up and go to war together and deal together with problems raised by the piety, real or assumed, of their parents' generation through argument and struggle. These are not radicals at all. Quite the contrary. They are reacting to a political radicalism about principle that had resulted in violence. Menand is persuasive on this.
These are also highly intelligent people struggling with the processes of transition within a relatively undeveloped proto-industrial economy.
In traditional capitalist New England, merchant families maintained order and morality through an appeal to a puritan God. After the Civil War, a rival conservative culture based on agrarian values was crushed but modernity did not allow the New Englanders much time to bask in their absolute values of righteousness and good order.
Industrial society became continent-wide and complex, leading to tensions between bourgeois paternalism and labour rights. This was compounded by the 'pull' of migrants from overseas looking for a better life and the complex interweaving of science and race with the politics of interest.
Pragmatic thought was the right philosophy for the times. It recognised the sheer scale of the problem of differing interests and the uselessness of resolutions of difference by force and violence.
It is interesting perhaps that 'absolutism' (in the form of the aggressive export of democratic values in the declaration of war of 1917) emerged from the circle of a Southern Democrat. This declaration of war was also associated with an aggressive use of the law to supppress dissent. Many of the New England 'liberals' (William James was conscious of his debt to JS Mill) opposed the war.
Dewey, the youngest, who straddled the liberal/progressive divide, was one of the war mongers but later regretted his position. This became a breach between the true pragmatists and the militant progressives and is underestimated as a longstanding tension between two responses to American democracy.
The liberal pragmatist's prime concern is in making democracy work well in and for itself to avoid disorder and violence. The progressive, like the socialist, wants to make it work for a prior idea or interest.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, for example, was interested in process to ensure the law worked well in a pragmatic way. Personally quite conservative, this might often result in liberal or progressive results. Sometimes this meant that he was supportive of the more tyrannical statist changes and sometimes resistant of them.
The total effect of this pragmatic philosophy of letting judges make the law out of the law was a constant liberal adjustment to changed conditions despite his own conservatism. Menand makes his case well that the construction of American liberal democracy owes a great deal to the confluence of views and adaptation to new realities of this relatively small group of intellectuals.
Perhaps in some ways pragmatism went too far, opening the door to a new phase that was to prove more problematic but this would still accord with pragmatic philosophy. Although I happen to think there is a flaw in this approach, the pragmatist would tend to see process as value-free eventually leading to the best outcome - a counterpart to the market.
In fact, the argument for a struggle of interests within democracy eventually degenerated into the identity politics we see today. Although Menand does not deal with the later period, he gives insights. Ethnic and religious individuals began to see no future in being American alone but in becoming competing blocks within American democracy as ethnic or faith-based Americans.
The pragmatists cannot be held responsible for this development because pragmatism presupposes a common core culture within which other socio-economic interests struggle but the philosophy enabled it to happen. They were not to know that the struggle between socio-economic interests would come to involve the revival of race and of ethnicity, and then of gender and sexual orientation, as organising principles.
A democracy designed to manage the clash of labour and capital in the wake of the traumatic Pullman Strike eventually became a vehicle for culture wars between vast coalitions of identity groups. By the twenty-first century, these were constructing themselves in opposition to each other in a blind process of call and response. Voters would vote on tribal attribute rather than individual interest.
Perhaps the most degenerate phase will be when a woman president is elected not because she is the best person but because liberal women will vote en masse for one of their own.
The State also became powerful in itself as arbiter between labour and capital and so was enabled to become, in stages, 'imperial'. It had learned to undertake war internally between 1860 and 1865 and then practised these dark arts against Indian tribes and the little brown brothers in Cuba and the Philippines.
The new rampant State ceased to be liberal without ceasing to be democratic when it entered the European War with a specific brief to spread values which had by then ceased to be 'pragmatic'. Menand does not deal with this late phase but we can. Pragmatism was displaced by a new democratic absolutism - American democracy not as organic creation but as exportable total system against 'tyranny'.
In the twentieth century, not just in 1917 but in stages throughout the century, America became an illiberal democracy (in the sense that a British person or New Englander would have understood 'liberal'). The new 'liberalism' that has emerged is, like its counterpart conservatism, definitely not a pragmatism but closer to the transcendental belief system of pre 1860 New England radicals.
If conservatism has not lost God. American liberalism (or progressivism) has a vision of what is absolutely right that is not wholly without merit. Sometimes 'real' liberalism fails to deliver. Menand rightly points out that it took an absolutist who believed in God (Martin Luther King) to trigger the changes required to move forward in dealing with racial discrimination.
However, cultural struggle in America today, a stand-off between cultural conservatives and liberals, means partial disconnection from basic socio-economic struggles and this not quite so 'pragmatic'. American democracy is not all that it often claims to be. The current struggle, expressed in terms of Democrats and Republicans, certainly works within certain rules set by the Constitution.
However, the US is not the common culture on which pragmatists had relied for their philosophy of tolerance and pluralism to work, the function of a meritocratic elite which crushed its main rival in war. The America of the twenty-first century is different in fundamental ways from the world of the pragmatists while, in practical terms, within a complicated legal framework, Americans remain pragmatic.
However, making democracy work as process (the aim of political pragmatists) has been replaced by a determination to treat the state, judiciary and legislature as instrumental in a different way. The Constitution is robust but the cultural wars within the US and the imperial adventuring outside seem to have reached a pitch of intensity where the Constitution simply no longer has all the answers required.
Since 2003, the US has engaged in a series of wars that have been fruitless and expensive, culminating in a bloodless defeat in Syria, without any sense of the nation being united any more than in 1917. Similarly, the state's surveillance operations seem to have been undertaken by an executive that is out of control, without legislative scrutiny or opportunity for judicial review.
Neither of these issues appear to engage the mass of Americans who seem to live under the radar screen of any politics that is not pre-set by their cultural identity. The economic losers (once the interest group of concern to pragmatists) are now wholly without a voice, not even the voice that Menand noted existed a hundred years earlier simply by dint of them existing.
Something is up with America. Some crisis that has not yet expressed itself. This book is an invaluable guide in trying to think through what that crisis might be and how it might have come to be. Perhaps, by thinking about the strengths and weaknesses of pragmatic thinking, it might also help Americans think about what might be done to overcome that crisis as it unfolds over the coming years. ...more
Notes are private!
Dec 22, 2013
Feb 18, 1988
Feb 18, 1988
This quarter century old basic introduction to the history of continental philosophy still stands up to scrutiny. Robert Solomon has a mildly polemica This quarter century old basic introduction to the history of continental philosophy still stands up to scrutiny. Robert Solomon has a mildly polemical intent in that (in my opinon quite correctly) he clearly wants us to be unpersuaded by the transcendental claims of the great essentialists - Rousseau, Kant, Hegel and their followers.
The book's narrative perhaps hinges on the great anti-philosopher and so the greatest philosopher of the continental tradition, Nietzsche. It is as if progress was not possible until he had spoken though we can offer some thanks to the intellect of Kierkegaard.
Looking back, everything before Nietzsche looks increasingly like ideology and everything after him an attempt at science, the striving towards a philosophy that had the measure of man as he is in relation to the world or a somewhat futile attempt to salvage what he wrecked.
Of course, ideology returns in the synthesis between it and existentialism of the flawed genius Sartre, the squabbles with Camus (untreated here) and the important explorations of identity of De Beauvoir but it has to take account of the existential impulse in order to salvage a somewhat intense and over-wrought version of meaning.
By the time we get to the last chapter, we are too close to the period in which Solomon is writing. He is wisely cautious about what will and will not matter to future generations. In the mid-1980s he can reasonably judge that Althusser and Lacan were effectively damp squibs and have the jury out on Derrida and Foucault (though the last is clearly joining the greats as time passes).
In fact, what does strike us is just how good Solomon's judgment is in nearly every case. Even today, we would give Marx the due given by Solomon and we have since thrown Freud over board as influence on philosophy perhaps too easily.
But (given the closing of the story in effect in the middle of the twentieth century) what remains striking is that the long tail of Kantian and Hegelian nonsense is still so culturally dominant today outside philosophy itself.
We can push to one side the clowning of Zizek but philosophy today is either soundly analytical but increasingly sceptical of itself, striving to give up bits of itself to the cognitive sciences, or it is attempting to find out what it is to be human (the followers of Heidegger) or how power, text, language and the social actually operate (Foucault) rather than piddle around with non-existent universals.
Philosophy remains dynamic and questioning and yet our political and artistic culture, having disposed of both Freud and Marx, seems stuck in the world created by the absolutist transcendentalists.
My own theory on this relates to psychology. The class that sits in a manipulative position over the masses has no tools left but an invented idealism in order to guide and control them.
It is not that Kantian rights theory or Hegelian dialectic (shorn of its Marxist overlay now) are true but that, as tools, they are useful, whereas the insights on what it is to be human of Heidegger (after Nietzsche) or Foucault may be true but they are not useful except to individuals and (were they but to know it) the masses themselves.
The search for meaning thus intersects with a struggle over power and the Absolute has become a pragmatically useful replacement for God. It can both give a spurious meaning to people desperate for meaning (even if it not be true) and be a tool for power while posturing as progressive or advanced thought.
No wonder the liberal intelligentsia and administrative classes find it difficult to give these essentialisms up - it would be like the cynical Constantine giving up Christianity even after someone had pointed out that it was based on invented nonsense.
The invented nonsenses of Christianity were too obvious by the Enlightenment so the arrival of Rousseau and his ilk was like (excuse the joke) a 'deus ex machina', ready and waiting for the new 'democratic' ideologies of conscription and manipulation.
Heidegger and Sartre drifted into the same trap in different ways (and were unlike Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, even if a perverted form of the last was utilised by evil forces later).
Heidegger, whose early and core philosophy stands as the most profoundly 'realistic' account of how we humans exist in the world, drifted into a mystical stance later that might easily have become transcendental in its own right if taken further.
Sartre, a true manipulative genius, merged existentialism with Cartesianism to turn philosophy into a weapon once again but (as Marx did) one for the damned and discontented of the earth to use if they were so minded. That Sartre turned to Marx as tool to hand should occasion no surprise.
Neither 'turn' was persuasive because both wanted to reinvent meaning where there was no necessity for it, either for the individual in the world or as a tool for action in the world. Neither seemed to be able to reconstruct sufficient 'pagan virtue' but had to invent alienations where none need have existed. The theory of alienation, of course, actually being at its worse in the hysterically ridiculous value judgments emerging in the 'horreur' of commodification and objectification from the dimmer type of late Marxist.
Today, we seem to live in a world where philosophy exists in three layers: a top layer of serious investigation that informs how science is being done and how people may live in the world; an intermediate layer of celebrity performance whose sole purpose appears to be pander to the prejudices of a certain type of graduate terrified of becoming declasse; and the level below this where liberal rights activism and administrative conservatism rely on philosophical systems that are outdated and, bluntly, plain wrong.
Below these three layers are the population at large, controlled by the layer immediately above (and half persuaded where they are not holding to traditional world views of their rightness), confused by and disconnected from the layer above that and not realising that the things that will decide their future and their world live in that fertile top layer.
What we have as the world trundles towards a revolutionary situation based on technological change is a cultural milieu in which rights and the dialectic have simply replaced traditional religion. It is no surprise to see, equally threatened by the new world, faith-based groups and many intellectual 'Leftists' converging in conservative opposition to the technological and freedom agenda emerging (albeit mostly accidentally) out of much current philosophy.
We are entering a time of struggle. The reactionary forces in this struggle include Enlightenment absolutism as much as people who believe in supernatural forces - both the Absolute and God are really simply variations on the same theme. However, that is looking at things a quarter of a century on from this book.
In the meantime, Solomon's narrative should be taken as one of the best short and very readable guides to the continental tradition, from Rousseau to the existentialists and phenomenologists, and is recommended.
Notes are private!
Oct 27, 2013
Jun 01, 1987
Although now (in its 1987 edition) a quarter of a century old, this book remains valuable not so much for its argument in favour of the development of Although now (in its 1987 edition) a quarter of a century old, this book remains valuable not so much for its argument in favour of the development of the then relatively new discipline of cognitive science as for its insights into how science actually works.
Regardless of that, the book remains a useful history of six loosely related disciplines - the humanistic social 'science' of anthropology and the hard science of neuroscience at the edges of the proposed (in 1984) new science and its core cognitive disciplines of philosophy, psychology, linguistics and artificial intelligence.
Gardner's argument is that these disciplines are the basis for a science of cognition covering such problems as how we perceive the world (contributing to epistemology), how we imagine the world, how we categorise and classify the world and not only how we reason but if we can be said to be rational at all.
These are questions that do not replace philosophy - certainly not the ontological basis for existentialism or any viable philosophy of meaning - but they usefully limit the claims of philosophy to what cannot be known by evidence-based scientific method (so that philosophy still includes core questions not only of meaning but of value).
Gardner takes his story no further than 1987 (in the paperback edition). Much has happened since yet this is still an excellent guide to the relevant sciences up to the mid-1980s.
However, the general reader should be warned that he writes clearly but that he is telling a complex story for the benefit of his peers. You should expect to be stretched and perhaps to find it a difficult book if rewarding one.
Gardner's judgments strike me as generally sound and especially useful when helping us to understand why the mid-twentieth century behaviourist model crumbled so quickly and how the more simple models applying computing analogies to the human condition were already becoming unsustainable as he was writing his book.
The dialectic between computing and brain studies has been fruitful but a basic awareness of continental philosophy would have cast doubt on any project that would make simple analogies betwen evolved brain and the technology of calculation and analysis.
'Being human' is a highly complex business that owes a great deal to our inheritance as an evolved biological entity with predispositions for survival in a hostile world.
The 'social' or cultural is simply an extension of the peculiarities of our condition so that research that shows that our rationality is suspect should not be confused with any value judgment that our lack of rationality is necessarily a bad thing.
The serious follower of the relevant sciences may find this book merely a reference point for a subsequent 25 years of discovery and theory but the book remains valuable and cautionary, regardless, as a description of how scientific paradigms (in the Kuhnian sense) rise and fall.
Gardner is assiduous in arguing for his thesis but not being polemical. There is no case (it would seem) where he is not prepared not merely to put an argument but to put all the criticisms of the argument. He is wholly fair-minded and generous - and scientific.
The result is that we get a strong picture both of progress in science and theory (not the same thing) but also of the very contingent nature of all theory and even of much experimentation at any particular moment in time.
This is important because a belief in science and scepticism about claims made by scientists are not incompatible. This book helps us to understand why - it is something to be borne in mind when evaluating claims about any application of science as technology or public policy.
What might be true now (as behaviourism once affected public policy in the 1950s) might not be true tomorrow. Caution is the appropriate response to all applications of science that are directed ultimately at society or the individual - whether they be claims about 'nudge', climate change, 'peak oil', GMOs or whatever.
What science can do is tell us what is true to all intents and purposes when dealing with matter (rather than with consciousness working on and in relation to matter as in the social) and what is negatively proven to be not possible or to be unlikely.
However, in dealing with mind and societies, let alone meaning and values, its paradigms are going to be unreliable when it comes to telling us much about what we are or should do when our complexity and reflexiveness is taken into account.
The cognitive science project is an important project to pursue but will be dangerous if it moves from the descriptive to the normative or the prescriptive.
While there is no sense that Gardner wishes to pursue anything but responsible science, one cannot be so sure of policymakers or vested interests that stand between us and the top end of the scientific community.
We certainly cannot be sure of those in the twenty-first century who want to get in on the band wagon of state funding of cognitive science for purposes that are political - the manipulation of the population into a state of order or compliance.
And even amongst scientists, there are those who are deluded into value and meaning from self interest, creating problems, diseases and conditions for which cognitive manipulations are assumed to be the solution.
In other words, while we may fear that cognitive science may assist in creating some monster of the Singularity, a cognitively advanced AI, we would do better to be frightened of the use of cognitive science in the hands of authority to force us into compliance with its values rather than our own.
Fortunately, no matter how much funding is thrown at the new neuroscience or at the militarisation of anthropology or at the core investigations of cognition, there is reason to be optimistic.
Human resistance and creativity, the nature of man in time, his desires and wilfulness and the sheer complexity of the social, more complex than the weather which can never be predicted beyond a short period, guarantee the utter failure of such projects in the long run.
With luck the new investment in these sets of 'sciences' (actually rational evidence-based investigations that fall between the hard science of matter and the non-science of the so-called social sciences) will find some cures for genuine suffering.
They may also provide people with improved choices in life and give us insights into the destructive modelling of such idiocies as religion and ideology. We should not be luddite - just cautious.
As with so much in the twenty-first century, the intellectual class sits between the people and states made up of coalitions of special interests.
The quasi-hard sciences, while expressing a 'truth' of sorts, are tools and weapons that might be made available to either side in what amounts to a large-scale but covert social war. ...more
Notes are private!
Sep 23, 2013
Feb 25, 2003
May 01, 2005
This is an important work in the undermining of the universalism that has afflicted private discourse and public policy in the West since the age of P This is an important work in the undermining of the universalism that has afflicted private discourse and public policy in the West since the age of Plato.
Nisbett explores a simple issue - whether, how and why East Asians and Americans (though he insists on referring to them as Westerners) think in different ways.
It is more exploratory than decisive. There is no psychological experiment that is not contingent in time and space by the very nature of its subject matter but much of his material is persuasive.
In essence, Nisbett is suggesting that East Asians in general and Americans more particularly have different modes of thought and different ways of seeing the world that inform their actions.
The implications are important in international relations but also in the types of respect we accord the 'other'.
The book dates from 2003 and, of course, is a thesis not a proof. It demands more research from a social science perspective but anyone involved in inter-cultural relations does not have to wait on the intellectuals.
Common sense and praxis teaches us that, while the situation is always as variable as the number of persons in the world, systems do approach problems in different ways that are fundamentally cultural.
There is, of course, little or no evidence (perhaps some at the margins in rare cases not covered in this book) that actual brain structures have evolved differently. This is not the issue by any means.
Nisbett's evidence seems to suggest quite the contrary - that people from one culture aculturate to the norms of thought of another with some ease if obliged to by circumstances.
This leads to an interesting short debate at the end about the degree to which one mode of thought (Western or East Asian) is functionally superior. It also raises questions about the benefits of cultural hybridisation that he does not address.
Naturally, there is no simple answer to 'superiority' because the types of situation that humans find themselves in could suggest an either/or or perhaps a neither/nor. Nisbett does not look into European distinctiveness, 'Latin' or Russian or African thought processes.
However, what is clear is that, once we accept one simple universal - the huge variability in problem-solving and ways of seeing the world - most of the other claimed universals start to disappear.
A paradox intrudes here. The lack of universalism in ways of seeing and thinking reinforces mutual respect at the most basic level of humanity - we really are all equal just differently circumstanced.
It also condemns all forms of aggressive mental imperialism and forces each side to adapt to the other if it wants to solve a problem involving both.
Again, we must say that Nisbett is hypothesising for further research and the social sciences are not like the hard sciences in that they are contingent and probabilistic. We must always be cautious.
We are currently in the middle of a series of crises where international relations has not yet caught up with these findings. There is often a thirty year lag between knowing amongst the few and doing amongst the many.
Most senior American policymakers, for example, are still embedded in the enlightenment liberal universalism of their schooling in the 1970s and 1980s.
The result has been the twin lunacies of multiculturalism (which is patronising) and the exports of rights ideology, sometimes through the barrel of a gun.
The last has been a consistent foreign policy disaster where it is clear that its proponents are inadequately equipped to understand why. They simply continue, creating negative reactions that undermine their own security.
The coup in Egypt and the protests in Turkey that are happening as I write this suggest that there is no simple equation between rights, democracy and freedom where democracy simply aids the arrival of obscurantism and authoritarian soldiers may be defenders of freedom.
The Middle East is distinctive but it still part of the 'Western sphere' but East Asia is different again. Relations between China and its neighbours and between China and America are probably of far more global significance even than protection of Israel and energy flows.
Nisbett's research and that of others - Nisbett has also done important work on honour cultures which could usefully inform strategy in relation to the Arab world - must now be working through the system.
The rethinking of 'universalism' should start to inform the more intelligent Westerners within a decade or two. Sadly, a lot of people may have to die before it gets to the sort of person who may be President in 2016 or, more likely, 2020.
If so, however, we may see some interesting changes in approach, especially to negotiations - continued differences of ambition, stance and opinion but mutual appropriations of method, especially when use of artificial intelligence is added to the analytical pot.
It is my own belief that the difference between, say, European and American culture is no less significant in the long term and that constant hybridisation of cultural forms, far from creating the future prospect of universalisation of culture, promises the exact opposite - almost infinite variation and 'difference'.
I see this in my own family - difference within a common core way of seeing. More widely, this owes a great deal to the sheer range of mental inputs provided by the internet.
The way that the internet 'ennobles' difference that might have been forced into a 'norm' within more rigid cultural systems - whether Western or other - is liberatory in a way that elites seem unable to cope with because their mental models belong to the past already.
This all suggests that the human mid-century will be very different, not merely from the age of competing ideologies but also from the now-rapidly degenerating age of imperial liberal universalism.
There are universal values - mutual respect, equality of persons, very basic aspirations (not rights which are after the fact inventions), maybe one or two clear rights (to cognitive freedom, the means to live reasonably well and a good death) - but these are surprisingly few.
We just need a generation of rigid thinkers, raised on post-Marxism and the rejection of Marxism, to move on and for genuinely liberal minds to resist the reactionary rise of past obscurantisms and let them die out of their own accord with prosperity and education.
As for the book, it is obviously recommended but be aware, as a general reader, that the central sections are rather dry accounts of psychological and social scientific experimentation that it will be hard to evaluate if you are a layman or woman. ...more
Notes are private!
Jul 04, 2013
Jan 01, 2008
Nov 18, 2008
I would advise being wary of getting over-excited by this book. It is popular social science journalism, distilling the findings of others with just a I would advise being wary of getting over-excited by this book. It is popular social science journalism, distilling the findings of others with just a hint of breathlessness. Yet it still has great value.
As with so many compendia of recent research, the data is shoe-horned into a general thesis which probably grossly over-simplifies the facts of the matter.
Gladwell is trying to tell us that we have gone too far in believing our own myths about success and that chance and history have far more influence on how we achieve than we think. So far, so well argued.
He demonstrates his case very well but he fails utterly to question the social construction of 'success' We have here that odd thing that is quite fashionable now - the questioning of Western ways of doing things without ever really questioning our aims and objectives as Westerners.
'Outliers' will please the puzzled and confused progressive liberal looking for a way out of the dilemma posed by the evident failures of a meritocratic and egalitarian ideology.
Progressives dug a whole for themselves with 'blank slate' thinking and now find themselves uncomfortable with the rather obvious fact that their society seems to be falling apart and that this threatens their somewhat tenuous hold on things.
Needless to say, they cannot question their own core values and so they must - like Hitler in the bunker - blame their charges or - in a less unpleasant but patronising manner - regard their charges as children who require more discipline.
The talented do not work hard enough but this is not their fault because of 'society' and 'history' so these wise progressives must intervene and change the circumstances.
This is the panicky contemporary drift of a failed bourgeoisie to ensure that its values are not merely imposed on society but that '68 be reversed and old-style authoritarian methods be reintroduced without actually ever admitting failure.
In this context, and as so often with 'bourgeois liberals', Gladwell wants his cake and to eat it. He wants the return of old virtues but he wants a progressive society and that's where the shoe-horning comes in.
But he is right about two truths - if you want conventional success, there is no substitute for making your luck work for you with intense hard work (his 10,000 hours of practice) and if we want a 'productive society' then we may need to change the luck of the lost talented.
But he does not get that his model of 'success' - a neat bourgeois one reflecting the rise of his own black British family - is an ideology and that there may be costs of consequence to the interventions required to change the game of chance in favour of his values.
In short, a top-down progressive vision of what is right and proper is based on a particular class stance - the educated minority middle class winner in a progressive socio-political game where it is assumed that what must be achieved is a rise to the top of a hill owned by others.
It is a dominant ideology but it is not the only one. It begins to show its true colours in an account of a boot camp of a school in Brooklyn where parents compete, understandably enough, to turn their children into junior mandarins at the expense of play and pleasure.
Read this in association with his account of social psychological research into the difference between ambitious middle class parents and working class deference and culture and you are beginning to see what the game is - all must be bourgeois if we are to be equal!
We might call this socialism-lite without the real redistributive bits. Milk and water socialism, designed to find the kids with an IQ over 120 and make them work for bourgeois order through effective social 'intervention', making parental ambition work for the social.
Can society only develop the undoubtedly lost talent in the working classes by making the working class think like the middle class, using positive discrimination if necessary to drive change, and by removing young kids from their birth culture to the culture of the master class?
This now prevalent attitude in the metropolitan Anglo-Saxon middle classes is a sign of panic that the reverse is, in fact, happening - that, in the internet age, the 'virtues' of hard work will be lost and society crumble.
What they really fear is a transvaluation of values where 'success' might not quite mean what it has meant since the Protestant revolution and printing was made widespread, that is, a ratcheting up a ladder of property-owning with one's cultural status based on book-learning.
The book is riddled with a hidden anxiety. Social psychological 'facts' are drawn into a game where society demands the use of all talents to meet its needs, using the claim that such a demand is in the interests of the individuals concerned. But this claim is dubious.
I was one of those 10,000 hour kids through an accident of history and personality and I then spent 30 years unwinding the absurd value system involved. It did me a great deal of good in terms of the forms of society, a great deal of bad in terms of the substance of the person.
It should not have to be an either/or - the successful particiopation in the social at the expense of the individual's questioning and searching substance - but that is what we have.
To develop an ideology of the social where the individual is defined by the social alone is as absurd as an individualist ideology where society is defined by the individual alone.
This book is one of a number of contemporary intellectual marker texts where fears engendered by individualistic baby boomer failures are simply resulting in a lurch to the neo-social right - much as Fabians caused a lurch from the alleged failures of Victorian individualism.
The middle classes as narcissistic libertarians or as authoritarian nannies changes nothing in terms of the base line here - a greater population guided by the ideology of the few.
The middle classes became rich on the market and, now that it is turning on them, they are frightened of it ... the propensity of any class to create ideologies of power based on particular readings of 'science' is never-ending.
Gladwell's account of the Brooklyn School broke my heart as I saw yet another generation of kids, this time minority black, being driven into the state of becoming social automata.
This is a world where it is to be regarded as noble and great to become an accountant, a well paid servitor to capital. Or rather - it is enough to rise comparatively ... every worker or minority child who 'rises' also endorses the power of the class they rise into.
It matches the equally depressing story of 'genius' Chris Langan which Gladwell correctly interprets as an indictment of social failures by parents and teachers. Gladwell fails to understand fully a magnificent example of triumph not only over adversity but towards creativity.
Gladwell rightly points out that a personality aspect of Langan, created by his condition, played a major role in his bad luck but he misses the social policy implications.
Instead of driving the brightest from their cultures into a new culture through force-fed education, a higher education would be to work with the population - all the population - on its own ability to understand itself, engage in critical thought and become assertive.
Ay, there's the rub. What self-aware bourgeois liberal actually wants a population that is self-aware, critical, questioning and assertive? This is the same liberal elite that is busy cutting deals with obscurantist traditional faiths at home and abroad.
Cut under the skin of liberal progressive culture and you find a fundamental and very old-fashioned fear of the 'mob' that has been suppressed under 'Leftist' ideology for half a century but which rises like the fear of Bane in 'The Dark Knight Rises'.
Bane is the nightmare of this class - unknowable, effective, intelligent, brutal, vengeful - and the hidden sub-text is the fear of retribution. Social science's purpose today is to manage this monster rising from the deep - which, of course, is a fiction.
I may not agree with Langan's account of how intelligent design is possible but it has to be said that I, as a confirmed existentialist materialist, found his account (on the internet) of how it might be conceivable to be the first persuasive account that I have ever come across.
In other words for all the negativity in his life and suffering, Langan is his own man and not the creature of another. This is what we should be creating - autonomous, responsible individuals - not automata trained into submissive props for a crumbling order.
Langan is a triumph against the odds but I fear that the attempt to help a select group of humanity through what amount to progressivist terror tactics will simply create a sub-nation of fearful sheep, trying to manage an increasingly resentful and not stupid mass.
The real way forward simply involves sufficient redistribution of resources and protections to allow the talented to find their own path where they can do their 10,000 hours at what they love. But, er, that would mean cutting into the nest eggs of the middle classes ... oops!
Others may choose simply to live and love without inordinate pressure to meet the 'competitive advantage' ideological demands of those who are already winners and fear becoming losers. And why not if they can pay their way through sufficient work.
The new social sciences certainly give us important insights - the work of Nisbett on cultural difference and cultural baggage is of the greatest importance if only because it shatters the universalist nonsense on which our liberal friends have relied to date - but they are guidance notes and not commands.
The aims of humanity are not and can never be scientific or commanded by social science. When social scientists start offering fixed advice, one must always ask 'for whom' are these commands made - the claim that they are commands for the individual are usually spurious.
This is still a very useful book - each chapter is filled with important insights - but it is vital that such books draw us towards independent thought and do not become a substitute for it.
Notes are private!
Jun 23, 2013
Jan 01, 1986
Although almost thirty years old, Searle's (relatively) easy to read popular classic of analytical philosophy still stands up as a corrective to the e Although almost thirty years old, Searle's (relatively) easy to read popular classic of analytical philosophy still stands up as a corrective to the exuberant claims of non-philosophers about the nature of the mind and of the world.
The book is the slightly adapted text of six radio lectures for the BBC and, like Merleau-Ponty before him, Searle rose well to the challenge of concision and clarity for an educated lay audience.
The book should be seen as a strike back by the Anglo-Saxon analytical tradition at failures to use terms (such as science) correctly and logically in the enthusiasm to promote the (then) new cognitive sciences.
In general, Searle make his case and the book was influential in forcing cognitive scientists and social scientists to stop and start to 'think' about how they thought.
Philosophy is now much more integrated into the technological projects surrounding machine intelligence and neuroscience, albeit with sloppy thinking still rife amongst the more excitable transhumanist element.
Nevertheless, the text is not a Bible and things move on. Analytical philosophy is a primary tool for removing obfuscations and defining possible meanings but it often comes to a halt in making the world meaningful.
Searle himself expresses something of this in his inconclusive approach to the hoary old determinism and free will debate.
He successfully (in my view) explains why the equally hoary old mind-body problem was a non-problem but analytical approaches that work so well here seem to fail him on free will which we will come to again towards the end of this review.
Nevertheless, his criticisms of assumptions that were then popular about artificial intelligence and the applicability of the term 'scientific' to the social sciences still, broadly, stand up.
But there are comments and criticisms to be made, if only that analytical philosophy takes us a long way in removing stupidity and obscurantism from debate but that it can get stuck in its own logic.
For example, Searle is very assertive that his claims that artificial intelligence cannot become conscious stand regardless of exponential growth in computing power.
His analysis of the difference between the syntactical and the semantic strike me as sensible but his famous Chinese Locked Room thought experiment is not as conclusive as first appears.
He describes the actuality of intelligence based on formal processes but what he does not take into account is the emergence of self-reflexion by artificial intelligence that has access to a different but equal range of (sensory) inputs and can evolve into a mode of being based on a determination to exist for itself.
Now, before we go too far, this is not to accept the nonsense of much of the singularity brigade who continue to misunderstand what consciousness is (much as Searle pointed out) but it is to suggest that, just as we evolved into consciousness from a material substrate so might a technological invention of ours.
Similarly, his rather sharp negative view of the social sciences as science is also unanswerable as it stands but we should not confuse a terminological problem with an actual problem in the world.
Writing thirty years ago, Searle was still dealing with the false claims of such analogical and magical thinking as Freudianism which constructed vast edifices and lucrative careers on a bed of sand.
Indeed, the twin intellectual absurdities of behaviourism and Freudianism implicitly underpin the very Anglo-Saxon determination of Searle to find a middle way that actually works.
Today, we are more critical but we are also in danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water insofar as the social sciences are not credibly scientific but they are still useful.
The question becomes now almost a political one - how are they useful and to whom are they useful and a dash of Foucault might help us here alongside our 'analysis'.
Perhaps we need a new term for what the social sciences are, based on their probabilistic and contingent nature and (certainly and unlike the hard sciences) they need to be placed under much more aggressive individual and social scrutiny in regard to their claims.
The problem area today is something that Searle might not have predicted - the claims of 'hard' neuroscientists to be able (in due course) to provide explanations for default human behaviour.
From this comes the theoretical model of all human behaviour being predictable no less than the weather - that is, not in the specifics which prove to be unknowable after only a short period of forward analysis but in the general processes and systems.
The danger here is not only 'hubris' but the prediction becoming true not because it is true but because it can be made to be true by intervention. This 'nudge' interventionism which has become fashionable amongst the dimmer sort of centrist politician desperate to control what cannot be controled.
Such projects are either doomed to failure because of the chaotic system in which they operate or they will require the type of de-humanising tyrannical interventions that Aldous Huxley feared in order to be (or seem to be) effective.
In this respect, the work that Searle has started requires continuation for a new generation of simple minds with funds and careers on the line and weak politicians holding the grant strings.
The final area where criticism may be due is in his surprisingly limited analysis of the determinism and free will debate where there is no analytical solution because determinism is logical and yet the actuality of choice is embedded in our experience of the world.
Of course, the set of philosophers who have tended to have the most cogent criticism of determinism are the continental existentialists but, hey, this book was written at a time when the analytical and continental schools did not talk to each other.
Searle is moving towards categorising the determinism/free will problem as a non-problem as he ably does with the mind-body problem which I characterise (again, in quasi-existentialist terms) as one of consciousness being an emergent property of matter where only matter exists.
However, he cannot make the same leap and I suspect that is because determinism is logical but not true and an analytical philosopher cannot accept that something that appears logical (and the assumptions are sound) may not be true - that is, consistently meaningful.
The point here is that free will is also an emergent property of consciousness which is an emergent property of matter and that, though matter is determined all things being equal, the arrival of self-reflexion and thought, within constraints, can change the nature of the matter that would otherwise have been predetermined.
To say that the subsequent matter was predetermined is logical but not true because it is meaningless in the context of the arrival into the system of an emergent consciousness.
Searle offers a useful corrective to the dreamy new age invention of quantum physics as cause for consciousness (though one should retain an open mind) and, since then, as cause for the last ditch defence of platonic mathematical truths.
In essence, the quantum elements within classical physics simply cohere into the physical substrate from which we derive.
My consequent argument is that, just as indeterminacy is lost as the system organises itself into the material substrate of the world, so indeterminacy re-appears at the higher level with awareness of oneself as having choices, even if these choices are heavily constrained by the nature of matter.
We might take the invention of manned flight as an example where it was not determined that man fly but that a will to fly created sets of choices whereby he did fly but was constrained by the determinism of matter as to what was possible and thereby following certain technologically determined paths once the choices were made.
The other factor not taken into account in assessing free will is the illusion of the future. The future is always assumed to exist but it only exists as an extrapolation of the unfolding of materiality.
In fact, the future is as probabilistic as the social sciences. It probably will happen but it need not exist unlike the past which has unfolded already as a result of the working out of material laws (and some choices) that have been experienced.
This, of course, is the problem of time but arguments from cosmology, physics and mathematics (and science fiction) do not trump this philosophical truth that the future only exists when it has happened.
This rather puts the kybosh on a lot of ideas about time including those of J. W Dunne which were a last refuge for many spiritualists and other romantics.
In the real world, our understanding of scientific rules and processes makes the world thoroughly predictable regardless of this fact that the future does not exist until it has happened but the indeterminacy of consciousness means that the future can also be changed.
It is this latter indeterminacy that creates the science fiction hope that the future determined by the working out of what we see around us might be changed by an act of will.
Again, in the real world, human power to change the future is limited, suffers from inadequate knowledge of consequences and is often collective (that is, it averages out in the 'wisdom of crowds' or serious change gets 'croweded out' by a default thinking which is barely conscious).
We must be clear here. Being human does not intrinsically mean that a human being is capable of self-reflexive choice and so of not being determined.
It is the exercise of a capability of being human - self-reflexive choice and the 'weighing up' of intentionalities - that creates freedom.
Most people most of the time are determined by their conditions and, of course, most people most of the time may have little choice in their conditions. Free will is thus a possibility but not inherent in being human simply by dint of being an evolved ape.
Nevertheless, the fact that indeterminacy is an evolved quality of consciousness in the context of a state of being where the future is only set because of determinacy and not because it exists means that evolved consciousness can change the 'determined' future.
This is not an argument for the hysteria surrounding multiverses which is another extreme mathematical invention but it is an argument for accepting that free will and effective determinism within classical physics can co-exist, especially as the free will is extremely limited in scope.
Free will can rearrange existing molecules for micro-utilitarian purposes but it cannot change the structure of reality that permits the survival of the organism. In any case, the organism's sphere of influence is tiny and highly localised in space and time.
So, there is no free will/determinism problem any more than there is a mind/body problem.
The value of this book is the value implicit in the discussion above. It makes you ask questions. Like all the best philosophers, Searle does not assert the truth but gives a view of the truth that keeps open the door to disagreement.
In a time when we are surrounded by the rise of dim-witted text-based religious assertion, new age wish-fulfilment flummery and ecstatic claims by 'scientists' who think that science fiction is a true representation of the world, this sort of thinking is invaluable.
Notes are private!
Jun 05, 2013
Aug 03, 2002
This book was produced to accompany what may have been the first major exhibition of video gaming in an art gallery (in both Edinburgh and London) in This book was produced to accompany what may have been the first major exhibition of video gaming in an art gallery (in both Edinburgh and London) in 2002.
The exhibition was excellent and no doubt helped one member of my family to feel even better about (eventually) choosing video gaming as the subject of his university course.
But, in retrospect, I regret that there seemed not to be a traditional catalogue available (or else I was misled into thinking that this book was such an artefact for the future).
Instead, what we have here is a series of essays, of varying quality, one or two of which are arch and truly awful, with some added eco-cant at the beginning.
It all looks very dated about one of the fastest moving industries in history. A catalogue of the exhibits would have been far more useful, giving us a base-line history of the genre in the last century.
Having said that, the better essays give us a decent picture of what people thought was important in 2002 and we can use the book to compare and contrast what was expected and what actually happened.
For example, there is no reference to the massively fast growth in social media gaming and mobile platforms and tablets simply because, well, they weren't available then.
Other things are talked up that have not had much impact - notably machanima which became crass to an extreme and virtual worlds which rather stagnated despite the massive rise of the MMORPG.
What has changed are the graphics. The graphics of 2002 look clunky in the extreme and would be wholly unacceptable today in a world where games can show us a remarkable hyper reality.
Video gaming has been immensely influential - Hollywood adventure movies routinely use the 'level' meme to structure their narratives - and is more sophisticated but the book has one insight to hold on to.
This is that video games are, well, games. That is, they are not to be confused with the narrative forms of other arts like film or the novel.
The gamer is not simply watching or passively allowing words to create mental images away from reality. The gamer is actively engaged in manipulating formal rules for particular outcomes, usually competitive.
This may explain one of the great frustrations for many outside observers - the inability of the gaming industry to do more than add beautifully designed bells and whistles to a very few narrative forms.
Gaming is immersion in a restricted set of possibilities that are usually linked to a very few and simplified primary drives - hunting, being hunted, winning, acquiring, raising status, being 'more than'.
It is skill-honing and wish-fulfilment but it is not often subtlety though this is not how it needs to be in the hands of some coming genius of the genre.
Someone is going to enter into this field, on the back of increased computing power and the availability of artificial intelligence, and introduce subtlety much as the Renaissance introduced perspective.
What this needs, of course, is a market (which is probably sufficiently there) but also the ability to understand a very advanced technology alongside a creative and artistic mentality.
This mentality, though, will be very different from the expected one of the individual genius. It is more likely to be the Disney type leader who can collaborate equally with workshop and purchasers.
We are on the edge of this change. Some masterpieces - Myst, The Sims, Final Fantasy perhaps - have drawn us closer to a point where, eventually, we will see interaction guided into self-discovery.
Instead of the mere expression of desires and clan-based competition, the game may mature not into the 'vision of the artist' but of a 'guided shared vision' that has a process-based and not a fixed 'form'.
In a 'guided shared vision', the prime creators and the game players would be co-creators of an inward reality that is personally transformative. At that point, we will have a high art on our hands. ...more
Notes are private!
Jun 05, 2013
May 06, 2010
This is quite an angry book from a man who, clearly with some regret, kick-started the popular fashion for true crime in the United Kingdom with his f This is quite an angry book from a man who, clearly with some regret, kick-started the popular fashion for true crime in the United Kingdom with his first biography of the Kray Twins back in the 1960s.
'The Profession of Violence' is, like the 'The Wicker Man' in film and 'The Communist Manifesto' in politics, an example of the remorselessness of the law of unintended consequences.
This book should be read as the 'most considered' account of the Kray Twins thirty five years on but also as an exercise in self-reflexion on the popular biographers' art by a doyen of the trade.
His anger may be a little with himself but it is most reasonably expressed as anger at the two sides of the Kray Twins' coin.
There is an anger with both the sheer violence and (certainly in Ron Kray's case) psychopathy of the Krays' world and with the way that the establishment connived at their celebrity game in order to avoid scandal.
Sometimes, it is hard to know which is more evil - the thuggery of the Krays making their way up from the slums or the protection of truly psychopathic, narcissistic and weak men like Driberg and Boothby by their own class in both major parties.
If I had to choose a poster boy for true social evil, I am afraid that I would have to choose Arnold, Lord Goodman over Reg Kray any day. Goodman epitomises the intellectual manipulation of power and rules to protect a pack of social jackals - Ron's perverted desires seem small feed in comparison.
These ruminations are not merely historical. As we write, good policemen and women and good journalists - notably those at www.exaronews.com with whom I am proud to be associated but also many others - are digging in the slime of similar cover-ups related to child abuse only a decade or two later.
The child abuse scandals of the 1970s and 1980s (and perhaps beyond as they morph into internet rings) can now be seen as natural extensions of a total world of abuse in which the Krays are really a mere incident.
What underlay the exploitative evil of the Krays was the convergence of a culture of sexual repression (in terms of homosexuality) where the laws were not enforced where they existed, a hypocritical ruling order where 'bad' conduct needed to be repressed but was otherwise accepted amongst their own and the usefulness of outsiders, raised in social neglect to be totally self-regarding, as allies and tools.
This was a culture that pragmatically kept a lid on things that perhaps could not have been ordered in any other way given the society and politics of the country but which became extremely deviant at its dark edges.
Narscisitic gay psychopaths converged on one another and built networks and alliances which the 'establishment', where it knew of these things, preferred to turn a blind eye. It became too easy for the deviants to exploit the vulnerable and to feel that they could do so with impunity, This is Poliakoff country.
For be in no doubt that the Krays were 'peculiar' in many senses. There are other gangland familes and networks which are perhaps only now being addressed by the formation of the National Crime Agency but these never sought the celebrity of the Krays. They were and are primarily 'business men' like the mafia, not 'legends'.
Pearson is good on the influence of the American gangster film and the allure of the mafia (this was the mafia's high point of global influence) for Reg and Ron but it is clear that our native born thugs were little more than occasionally useful tools for their sophisticated counterparts from New York - somewhat of a metaphor for the British relationship with the US after Suez!
The only caveat I would have with the book is that the psychological profiling of the Twins, while plausible in many ways, is over-played.
Pearson is part-establishment himself - he was famously biographer of Ian Fleming and 'James Bond' - and he remains, like all his journalistic ilk, rather weak on the 'sociology' of resistance to the system implicit in organised crime.
Yes, organised crime is wolf-like, opportunistic and psychopathic but it does not arise from nothing. These systems are businesses organised by the more or less intelligent to provide real services for alienated and bulied populations as well as cruel and vicious exploitative ones.
Even the cruelty and exploitation is more morally ambiguous than any abstract believer in justice may think. Famously, Capone did more to eliminate adulteration of milk for children than the lack-lustre local government.
If the State dumps disturbed kids in hell-holes and abandons them, then being noticed by gangsters and given a chance to relieve their misery or get money may still be preferable to being trained to be a grunt in the military or a shelf-stacker in a retail chain.
Even sex workers who were introduced to the 'industry' by these grim routes are not simple victims but have sometimes seized a chance to use their assets for lives that they would now consider themselves to have chosen.
Indeed, many now fear that criminalisation of their trade by do-gooding establishment dim-wits whose cruelty is no less than the gangsters will slash their incomes and throw them back into the hands of the underworld.
Gang and state, state and gang, sometimes two sides of the same coin, drones and pub-shootings, taxes and protection money, the law of the street and no snitching or the law of the state and no whistleblowing.
The real route to crime of the Krays was their own natures as violent psychopaths but in the context of localities completely abandoned by the middle classes but where enough of the middle classes still wanted things that their own 'values' denied them.
Repressive cultures combined with class neglect inevitable lead to collusive relationships between weak ruling classes and the wolves at the bottom.
In this case, we had the collusion extending to the narratives of eager journalists, photographers and film-makers who wished to tell the tale in terms of glamour - of Camelot, if you like.
Pearson cannot be accused of this - or, if he once glamourised the Krays, it was out of youthful naivete. This book makes ample amends.
He writes well. The account of the murder of Frank Mitchell is genuinely moving and has all the hall-marks of a Greek tragedy.
Even the Krays, without moral complicity (and when he is not getting angry and spouting cod-psychology), come across as complex persons rather than mere monsters. That is no mean achievement.
He adds as an appendix photographs of his own correspondence from Ron Kray in prison. His poor education, street intelligence and sentimentality cast a different light on the man without diminishing the horror of his conduct as killer and exponent of GBH.
But the question remains, while other gangsters run multinational businesses and prepare for war with the National Crime Agency, there is no doubt that the Krays are not forgotten in the white working classes of London, even today.
Their funerals were pure theatre, 20,000-40,000 being prepared to attend the last one. Their criminal associates and rivals have given themselves pensions on well-selling true crime memoirs.
Figures like Freddy Foreman and 'Mad' Frankie Fraser have iconic status and even some sympathy when true tales of 'toughness' in standing up to the old prison system are recounted.
If people can think like that - as they think of the murderous Salvatore Giuliani in Sicily - then something is going on that must be understood before it is condemned by armchair moralists.
Recent 'cop killings' in the UK have exposed a culture of hate for the police at the margins of society. The official news narrative is countered with a social media narrative of deep resentment and a preparedness for self-immolation that reminds one of Jean-Paul Belmondo's last scene in 'Breathless'.
There is a dialectic here between popular culture (film and now video games) and criminality that is not a simple one of cause and effect. The 'rage' in the machine is prior to the popular culture which lives off it - the popular culture merely gives it theatrical form in real life.
Millions lose themselves in the rage or the fantasy without acting on it in the world. A few are so filled with anger and resentment that they code their suicidal actions in the language of the Joker or Get Carter.
This should not be taken overly seriously but it should also not be ignored or over-simplified. Something is going on 'out there' and the London Riots, a narrative heavily suppressed and rewritten in the last two years, are part of the story.
John Pearson gives us no answers here but his personal re-evaluation of his own relationship with these iconic organised crime figures must be added to the raw material from which an analysis will come.
And not only in relation to the origins of resentment but also to the handling of collusion.
The Boothby-Driberg scandal involving the undoubted sustained sexual exploitation of teenage boys must be put in the scales with Kincora as a sexual exploitation story in which some people at very high levels were collusive and complicit in covering up what took place.
As we write, child abuse investigations have now extended from the celebrities who were permitted excesses by a 'see no evil' BBC to the care home system which we have all known for far too long have been grooming grounds for the underground sex industry.
The question is not the free choice of disturbed youngsters to engage in that industry as their way into the world but the collusion of their carers in driving them into that world without informed consent and of sections of the political and law enforcement community in protecting and even providing custom.
Beyond that, despite the publicity, the 'establishment' still shies clear of investigating the cruelties and brutalities not only within the Catholic Church but other institutional structures that are politically powerful.
Only this weekend, the BBC reports our much-loved RAF finding itself embroiled in an old scandal. In short, this culture of exploitation was endemic at the margins of institutional life and the victims have been ignored and bullied for far too long.
In this brutal context of humiliation and abuse, the Krays start to look like minor excesses in a rotten system, even perhaps as a form of undirected revenge by the humiliated as a class on their ultimate humiliators, the worst parts of the ruling order.
So, we may expect attempts at cover-ups and damage limitation (and weaselly demands for 'closure' and 'drawing a line under the past'), but the story is out.
Perhaps, at the end of all this, we will see the gangsters at the top and those at the bottom for what they really are ... somehow, I think both sets of hyena will survive this crisis and reappear in a different form. For that is the way of the world ...
Notes are private!
Feb 10, 2013
Dec 05, 2002
This is a superb bit of diplomatic micro-history covering a series of foreign policy crises between 1933 and 1939, using the question of what facts Hi This is a superb bit of diplomatic micro-history covering a series of foreign policy crises between 1933 and 1939, using the question of what facts Hitler had to hand when he made a number of important decisions.
This book is illuminating about German and European history in the run-up to the cataclysmic Second World War but it should really be seen as a contribution to a much deeper contemporary concern - how can we be sure that we have true information in making policy decisions?
This issue is going to become one of ever more vital importance under conditions where the veracity of any claim being made about the world is increasingly subject to serious questions about the prior manipulation of information, as well as about its control by interested parties.
Shore refers to the contemporary Middle East in passing in his conclusions - the book was published in 2003 - and we have our own intimate experiences during precisely that period of how information was supplied, blocked and hidden as inconvenient by officials.
He covers each of six cases in intimate but not dull detail. I admire, above all, his courage in making intelligent judgments about what would most likely have filled those gaps where evidence is not direct and clear.
I argued in a Lobster article before this book was published that 'truth' in contemporary political analysis required both a rigorous attitude to the evidence but equally a sensible judgment on the gaps in the record.
There is a tendency in the less intelligent historian to restrict themselves only to the evidence to hand yet where the gaps are is where something happened. We must adopt a Japanese approach to silences and voids as things of a sort.
Our founding engasgement with the Exaro project - www.exaronews.com - represents the first part of the necessary equation: the forensic uncovering of evidence without making conspiratorial leaps or allowing ideology or partisanship get in the way.
Shore is a good historian and fulfils this primary requirement brilliantly. However, he goes further, as he should do, and becomes an equally brilliant intelligence analyst in interpreting the facts in the most probable way.
Once or twice I might demur on his judgments - once or twice - but that goes with the territory. For example, he possibly over-eggs the 'terror' aspect of Naziism in policy-making as opposed to the impacts of careerism and the standard bureaucratic obsession with position.
This is not to deny the terror represented by the Nazi regime or the reality of collaboration and resistance amongst the conservative elite - the case of Von Papen is instructive in how terror can work with almost scalpel-like precision in the hands of political genius.
It is simply to point out that second-guessing human motivation is perhaps a judgment too far and to say that much of the conduct Shore describes in closed political and bureaucratic systems is far from unique to national socialist Germany.
Our own experience of working inside the New Labour culture from 1992 to 1996 indicated precisely the same processes of competitive control of information, manipulation of facts, deliberate denial of access for bearers of inconvenient truths and so on. The rest is history.
Almost all political and state systems operate in much the same way - as do corporations, churches, NGOs and probably clubs and societies - anywhere where individuals have a career or personal stake in the retention or acquisition of power.
As for the history, Shore throws new insight on several problems that make this book an invaluable additional secondary source to set against the 'big histories' that most people will buy.
I draw attention here to only two of many - the factional struggle about whether to support Ethiopia or not in its struggle against Italian imperialism in 1934 and the final decision of Hitler and Stalin to cut a deal before partitioning Poland.
The first provides particular insight on the balance of power betwen traditional conservate realism and the more intuitive and ideological approach of Hitler.
It is interesting that conservative realist and ideological aims were similar in terms of the issue at hand - ultimately anschluss with Austria - but the conservatives took a traditional line of national interest that saw Italy as threat to the dream of German unification.
Hitler saw things differently, bigger perhaps, exploiting Italian resentments at Western refusal to respect its rights in order to build an axis of resentful powers (Germany, Italy and Japan) where anschluss could be positioned as relatively small beer to imperial domination of 'spheres'.
It is not too fanciful to see the struggle between traditional State Department realism and the hysteria of both neo-conservatism and liberal internationalism mirroring this story in our own time.
The second set of insights come from the account of the information flows surrounding the Nazi-Soviet Pact which is positioned in our conventional history as a particularly heinous act - it looks less so in the light of the information provided by Zachary Shore.
On the contrary, Stalin now looks as if he had no alternative because of the blundering of that utter fool Chamberlain whose commitment to appeasement seems to have been much deeper than any of us might ever have thought.
We can never know what might have happened if Chamberlain had not blundered, working behind the backs of his own nation and much of his party.
Chamberlain gave Germany the opportunity to demonstrate itself and have demonstrated by the facts to the Soviet Union that Britain would never provide the security guarantees for the Soviet Union that might have saved Poland.
Litvinov was only the first of many sacrifices to Chamberlain's errors of judgment.
The Soviet Union left the decision to join with Germany very late but it had every cause to make that decision given the asinine handling of the situation by the British Government - I refer you to Chapter 6 which is damning.
We have got into the habit of pouring all the blame for killing on the tyrants but blundering fools must also take their share of the blame.
If Chamberlain had not been such a fool, it is quite possible that millions would not have died, or at least have had some more years of life.
Never again should not just mean no war but no more blundering fools - regrettably they still continue to appear with alarming regularity.
As Shore points out if indirectly, the information flow at the hands of Saddam was a material fact in a fairly recent war. We now know that a misreading of a diplomat's statements were interpreted as giving the green light to an invasion that need not have happened.
This brings us back to information flow in our culture and the importance of process, system and transparency (within limits).
Elected politicians can and should define the national interest as the needs and desires of the people through the democratic process (which must be more than competing party cadres)
But, as in war, the performance of policy needs to be left to the professionals. By all means get new professionals if the old ones are not up to the job but let them be professionals.
Hitler's 'achievements' from a German nationalist perspective were quite remarkable but he was, in my opinion, pushing at an open door.
Most of Europe, fifteen years on from Versailles, knew that Germany had to be accommodated. There is scarcely a claim of the nationalists that might not have been 'sorted out' by professional diplomacy within ten or twenty years of a determined commitment to do so.
What Germany required was Bismarckian conservatism or internal transformation from its militaristic and rather strange culture into something truly liberal. What it got was a violent emotional reaction to humiliation under a charismatic hysteric.
One of the virtues of this book is that it raises questions about Hitler himself. He was undoubtedly a political genius but he was not and never could be a statesman.
The stories here should help knock on the head any lingering idea that he was quite the decisive all-knowing courageous leader (in foreign policy) who just went too far of revisionist legend.
The real story is that he was an ideologue and fantasist about power - just like today's liberal internationalists, neo-conservatives and Islamists - riding for a fall.
His tactical genius in domestic politics was translated into 'wins' in foreign policy but he was well served by his supine (UK) or weak (France) or distracted (Italy) potential opponents.
But underlying his tactical skills was a degree of strategic nonsense that had defeat in-built into it - the exact reverse of Stalin whose domestic ideology had ultimate defeat written into it while his realist foreign policy built a short-lived empire.
Germans are ashamed of Hitler for some very good reasons - thuggery being one - but they should add to the charge sheet that they allowed a genuine ideologue to operate the machinery of state. Let us hope we never make the same mistake today. ...more
Notes are private!
Jan 31, 2013
Nov 19, 2007
This is a fairly substantial and worthy account of the history of anarchism, largely built around review chapters of prominent figures and historical This is a fairly substantial and worthy account of the history of anarchism, largely built around review chapters of prominent figures and historical reviews of anarchism in action. It takes a broad view by including writers and thinkers who might better or equally be considered liberal or libertarian, although Marshall is always at pains to show their differences from classical anarchist thought.
It has to be said that it can be a little dull at times and there is a lack of a sustained overview, something that would give us a better idea of what it all may mean. It was also written in or around 1991/2 so the 'action' (such as it is) takes place at one of the low points in anarchist history - a quarter of a century after the collapse of the student hopes of the 1960s.
Similarly, Marshall is writing at least a decade and probably more before the internet permits the creation of a new politically-directed hacker activism and the emergence of the post-2008 insurrectionism that, one suspects, would have thoroughly confused the somewhat earnest intellectuals who dominate his book.
Indeed, that is the problem with the tale told here. This is mostly a story of intellectuals pontificating from on high about ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ and about the nature of humanity and the world in a way that bears little relationship to the actual lived-in world of the people they claim that they want to liberate.
And it gets worse over time. The culmination of the book is a deathly dull (I skimmed in the end) account of the thoughts of that dodgy old Hegelian Murray Bookchin, a throw-back to the nineteenth century if ever there was one.
Marshall is old-school. The succession of (mostly) dead and nearly-dead white males leaves one, ultimately, less minded to anarchism at the end than one was at the beginning, partly because of the brutal realization that, if most of these gentlemen could have achieved their utopian dreams, the rest of us would have been oppressed and miserable before very long, certainly from utter boredom in their craftsman/peasant, neighbourly, crushingly dull, little communities.
At the end of the day, most of these thinkers (as opposed to the far more interesting practical seizures of power by anarchists in the Latin street) have no real language for accepting humanity as it is and so they rapidly go scuttling into a world of claimed reason where you can read petit-bourgeois tyranny on every page, at least when the people do not match up to the dreams of their saviours.
The Green Anarchism of Murray Bookchin is typical. His is a turgid and unrealistic Hegelianism that has very little to do with real freedom, calling us back to what amounts to the faith-based politics of dreamers like Kropotkin and Tolstoy via that German theoretician.
Anything that is ultimately faith-based or essentialist is definitely a bit creepy to anyone with their two feet placed firmly on the earth and many anarchists can be lumped with the Marxists and New Age loons in that respect.
In the end, one is thrown back to a place somewhere between the minimal state libertarianism and a humane left-libertarianism that permits some state action to enable all to be autonomous on equal terms. Grand theory has little to say to us here, praxis everything.
But even the praxis leaves us with a romantic bad taste in the mouth because every decent anarchist experiment – the Paris Commune, the Kronstadt rebellion, Makhno in the Ukraine, the POUM in Catalonia, the Evenements of ‘68 and many others – is quite simply crushed by superior reality.
Not just by superior force but by the fact that the force represents something – the reality of the situation. As a romantic, I am definitely with all these rebellions but, let's face it, participation is heroic but futile, an act of suicide. It would be like Mishima's hari-kiri only for the goodies.
It is not enough to say that these experiments ‘should have won’ because they were ‘right’. The truth is they did not win for very good reasons related to what we are as human beings. The only successful anarchist rebellion would be one that could change humanity – and that is very dangerous territory indeed, a repetition by force of what the Bolsheviks tried and failed to do.
All in all, this book, which is highly sympathetic to the movement, tells us that anarchic thinking is like a chair that is very appealing to the eye but falls apart when someone tries to sit on it. If it did not exist, it would have to be invented but only as a constraint or restraint on power, by promising rebellion if lines were crossed but not as an option for any social organization that is actually viable.
This has implications for the four main current strands of quasi-anarchic thinking in the world today – hacker activism, greenery (which has already compromised with reality to gain a power that it probably does not deserve), the Occupy Movement and anarcho-capitalist libertarianism.
All of these are troublesome for the prevailing order but none of them represent a terminal threat – indeed, the Occupy Movement’s achievement may have been little more than mobilizing the vote for Tweedledum Obama over Tweedledee Romney and giving the State some populist welly when it is minded to bring the capitalists to heel for its own tax-raising purposes. It is interesting that the State did not even bother to do that.
Occupy is particularly daft from a classical anarchist perspective. It is led by naïve middle class students and activists whose sole purpose seems to be to get more cash into the hands of the State from the private sector or give the NGOs a bit more oomph in the street so that money can then be diverted to their latest pet project. The general public, of course, has seen through this.
The most threatening to the State may be hacker activism and then only because its more louche side is quite prepared to act as intellectual muscle for organized crime. But it can just as easily be co-opted into the State Department’s manipulative cyberwars against states it does not approve of and it is most effective as trail-blazer for anarcho-capitalism’s darker side. Kim Dotcom is an anarchist of sorts but not quite what Prince Pyotr Kropotkin had in mind.
Even in Greece today, where one would most expect insurrection, the struggle for mastery over a corrupt and failed bourgeois elite, backed by the European Union, is in the hands either of sensible Leftists who have no intention of unraveling the State and a bunch of gangster fascists. In Catalonia, the drive for independence is also no longer associated with anarchist ideology but with a revived Leftism.
Worse, this Euro-Leftism is not only not anarchist in the traditional sense but is imbued with an ideology of identity politics that wholly relies on the State to impose its cultural agenda on an increasingly resentful mass (at least that proportion of the mass not on the State pay roll, admittedly a decreasing proportion).
Having said all that, if we winnow out perhaps seven out of ten of the anarcho-intellectuals as either faith-based essentialists (and we include the Hegelians) or narcissistic imposers of their values and personality on the world, we are left with some good people and good thinking. The American Paul Goodman stood out in this respect. And it was good to see Foucault briefly included as gad fly.
There is real value in anarchism but not as praxis or ideology. Its value lies in it being a reminder of the core value to humanity of personal autonomy and of individuation. People of anarchist bent would do much better to hold their noses and engage with the political process and the State through improved organization, if only to halt the growing power of authoritarian Leftists, fascists and religious believers. Camus' concept of rebellion as preferable to revolution holds water here - we can all constantly rebel against the unwarranted demands and claims of others.
The final pages of the book raise issues with anarchism as practical politics but by this time we have all made our mind up – either we are anarchists or we are not. I am not – more so after reading the book than before. My initial sympathies dissipated chapter by chapter as I realized that I would be filled with a terminal boredom by these men and their utopias.
Anarchists are too often people who have lost their sense of reality, equally as much as the religious types they claim to despise. In some cases (horror of horrors!), they will even claim to have found a better God or reality as did Tolstoy. Any politics that has a place for invented beings and universal consciousnesses must be considered dangerous and yet a small minority of anarchists persist in this sort of flummery.
Like Marxism, anarchism can be religion by other means and so deeply dangerous to non-believers in the long run. Nevertheless, this book is strongly recommended as a sound guide to what anarchists have thought in the past and what they did in history.
Notes are private!
Nov 11, 2012
Jan 01, 2010
Sep 10, 2010
Pilkington has produced a highly intelligent book on the UFO phenomenon that makes a good starting point for anyone interested in the subject. I shall Pilkington has produced a highly intelligent book on the UFO phenomenon that makes a good starting point for anyone interested in the subject. I shall only quibble with his evident tolerance for the dumb asses who need to believe anything to hand.
Nevertheless, he is more critical than most and it is true that, if you have to believe something, the presence of aliens on this planet is no more daft than believing that Iron Age texts can tell us anything about how the modern world works.
The main thrust of the book lies in its investigation of the possibility (or rather probability) of periodic entries into the UFO mythos by security interests.
Pilkington is persuasive that a small group of intelligence players have dabbled in the UFO world but he is not foolish enough to assume some master conspiracy.
On the contrary, Pilkington is very sophisticated in understanding that small tactical interventions for specific purposes (inter-agency rivalries over funding, cover for advanced but very human technologies or behavioural experimentation) can take on a life of their own.
There are undoubtedly trickster personalities at work here, psychic predators who cannot resist enjoying themselves at the expense of vulnerable and confused souls, the sad people who have the Mulderian ‘need to belief’ that seems to affect a large proportion of the human species.
The rest of us may simply be indifferent or possibilian about anything not evidenced by facts or scientific method – we may concede that aliens may be among us but that it really does not matter so much that we have to enter into the realm of paranoia based on an unlikelihood.
There is little evidence for aliens on earth. Pilkington, definitely not a crude debunker, opens our eyes to a whole range of manipulative security possibilities that would be perhaps cruel but are also tactical and rational ways of solving short term problems for the State.
We are in the world of Ronson’s ‘Men Who Stare At Goats’, with bits of the excessively feather-bedded and itself paranoid military-industrial complex being allowed to do ridiculous things without much scrutiny.
If I have a problem with the book it is that it falls into the populist ‘Ronson trap’ of telling a personal narrative to get us amused at the cost of any decently coherent and sustained ‘analysis’. As we will see, this personal stance leads us into an unhelpful tricksy doubt.
The UFO phenomenon desperately needs analysis, not po-faced radical criticism of the military but a proper consideration not only of the general need to believe in unlikely things but of the sociology of memetic manipulation.
Being in this manipulative world myself (though as defence and never offence), I am aware of how a surprisingly few activist agents can wreak amazing reputational damage on an individual or an enemy through a few carefully placed false or conspiratorial memes.
My own theory on the intelligence engagement in UFOs is that it has all simply got out of hand because the perpetrators themselves have imperfectly understood a revolution in communications. They will not have anticipated the self-replicating and uncontrollable nature of the meme.
Closed experiments in manipulation and operations designed to muddy the waters in closed communities explode periodically into popular culture. The security community did not understand how the UFO belief system could escalate to become what amounts to a world religion.
Conspiracy theorists believe that the authorities are deliberately creating confusion and paranoia for their own purposes. They are simply not that clever. If you want to see short-term destructive memetic war in operation, look at the primitive garbage coming out of Western psy-ops about Syria.
Short-termism only means that authority is more likely to be undermined by irrational distrust and paranoia. Vast floating belief systems are now out of control – from ufologists and trans-humanists at one end to rights activists, Islamists and tea party primitives at the other.
Still, if Pilkington fails to get out of the ‘popular journalism’ trap, he does make a very good fist of being sensible about this mess of disinformation and paranoia. There is some good hard data in here and some interesting personal testimony.
But, in my copy, Pilkington has hand-written ‘Every word is a lie’, then crossed out ‘lie’ and replaced it with ‘true’. He also reveals his own UFO experience in a way that creates doubt as to his intentions even though one of his informants has a plausible technological explanation.
This attempt to be a trickster is fun but it diminishes the book and him – if we say we cannot believe him, even in jest, then perhaps it is true that he is running rings round us on everything.
Maybe Rick and Bill do not exist. Maybe the advanced aircraft in the picture selection are faked.
This may be good chaos magic but it is lousy real world management. Slightly more worrying, if a few lower level trickster state agents are screwing up the minds of the weak-minded, then that is not fun, it is cruel and malign – and, in the case of Paul Bennewitz, downright evil.
Manipulation of others is not fun. It is bullying. I see no ethical condemnation in the book. It is all too much fun. Cruelty is only fun to the immature.
Thick and weak people (and a lot of people are not very bright or are bright but vulnerable) either require silence (for reasons of State) or the truth – they do not deserve having their minds shattered or to be sent into a fantasy world that wrecks lives and families.
What we need now is a proper exposure of anyone engaged in these cruelties and for their superior officers to regain control of the agenda if only for one extremely good reason – the manipulation of the masses is counter-productive to the State and order. Loki is undermining Asgard.
In the week when a disturbed neuro-science student (why the media silence on his studies at the time of writing? are they too stupid to investigate them?) re-enacts the fantasy of a comic book psychopathic and kills en masse, memetic manipulation is a public policy issue.
This is no argument against freedom or for censorship, but an argument for the exposure of manipulation, for critical judgment, for an enlightenment attitude to a hierarchy of evidenced facts and for a profound skepticism but one that keeps in mind any possibility as, well, possible.
As for aliens, they could be here from the past or from the future and their presence could be covered up by the State but these propositions are all unlikely. And, amazingly, irrelevant.
What is more relevant is the lack of a mental attitude amongst the population that, having held to the possibility of aliens, is mentally prepared for that possibility and is not frightened by that possibility to the extent of becoming paranoid or supine before authority.
The hysteria over Al-Qaeda has created over a decade of dangerous imposition of surveillance and social control which is now being developed as neuro-scientific ‘nudge’ and the re-creation of newly created social conservatisms through State tolerance of faith-based idiocies.
If conspiracy theorists persist in believing in an alien invasion that will impose the New World Order on us, they are missing the point.
An NWO of sorts is happening anyway because they and others like them live in permanent states of irrational autistic fantasy without any ability to organise practical resistance to their own enslavement.
Tyranny does not need aliens or Al-Qaeda – it only needs a cynical elite and a stupid and distracted population. At this point in history, we have both.
Notes are private!
Jul 24, 2012
Mar 01, 2012
Jul 05, 2012
This is an excellent and easy-to-read run-through of some of the key technological and cultural changes that we are facing at the beginning of the twe This is an excellent and easy-to-read run-through of some of the key technological and cultural changes that we are facing at the beginning of the twenty-first century.
It is not perfect. His list falters a bit near the end and his short sharp chapters sometimes leave out too much where more on one subject might have been more useful than one of the other 64 - but what he does well is give us a check-list of things that we ought to be more aware of.
Some things are perhaps not directly relevant. Others are things that most of us (though not all of us) have already come to terms with. But I will certainly be pricking up my ears for threats and opportunities in such areas as bio-hacking, net neutrality and geo-engineering.
And, although I have little interest in, say, the Quantified Self Movement (which seems like anxious narcissism taken to the nth degree), I have a short-list now of developments that I actively want to know more about, master the jargon and make work for me and mine.
I work in the world of memes professionally but I now know that I have to understand better the semantic web, techno-nomadism, the open data movement and the effects of cyber war. I also need to think, really think, about the internet’s effects on personal freedom and public accountability.
I need to know more about Anonymous, hacker culture, the ‘dark net’ and hacktivism and about artificial intelligence and the (possibly dubious) ‘singularity’. The struggle between States and order on the one hand and an advanced and creative avant-garde has started already.
My world is certainly going to be changed by 3-D printing, improved video conferencing and the internet of things. I am more convinced, if cautiously, that there may be something in the transition town movement, but these latter are all relatively superficial developments compared to the massive and wider cultural and psychological changes under way.
This book is not, and does not claim to be, a book of answers but it does a damn fine job of introducing us to the basic ideas that should, if we have any sense of personal and family survival, force us to ask all the right questions.
Highly recommended, especially for those we elect and the bureaucrats they purport to control and manage on our behalf.
Notes are private!
Jul 15, 2012
This book is now forty years old but it still stands as excellent basic background to the history of secret societies and political conspiracy in the
This book is now forty years old but it still stands as excellent basic background to the history of secret societies and political conspiracy in the eighteenth and first quarter of the nineteenth centuries.
Of course, much of the detail will have been overtaken by the work of two generations of scholar. Roberts is also contesting his case during a period when the grand narrative of Marxism was treated with more respect than it is today.
He is writing as part of the very serious business of countering the persistence of conspiracy in political discourse, especially on the radical right and amongst anti-semites. He writes only thirty years after a holocaust whose raison d'etre was based on a conspiracy theory.
A mildly conservative pessimism – as in the best of the British school of historiography – questions delicately whether conspiracy theory will ever be removed from political discourse by rational men. History, in the age of 9/11 and the New World Order, has shown that his concerns were valid.
The book is measured and serious and there is so much meat in it – essential to understanding why, even today, Europe is ‘different’ in political culture from Britain – that we can only pinpoint three themes here.
The first is to argue cogently that, with the exception of the radicalism of the Illuminati, most esoteric activity in the eighteenth century was political only insofar as it shared the mood of the time. Claims by Barruel and others of a deliberate Enlightenment conspiracy against Kings and Church are untenable.
The second is that the creation of the myth of conspiracy resulted in the creation of political conspiracy after the French Revolution and not the other way around.
Political conspiracies, almost entirely ineffective, were no serious threat to the State during this later period but developed in a sort of call-and-response to the paranoia of States about their very existence. Roberts is illuminating (excuse the pun) on the lack of success of the Carbonari.
The third theme comes late in the book and is only touched upon because its denouement comes after the collapse of utopian socialism and the rise of Marxism.
This is the myth of Buonarroti and, through him, Babeuf spinning a tale of professional revolutionary fervour that was later redrafted to serve history.
Bounarroti, an Italian aristocrat turned radical, was a singular failure during his life time, like (in political terms) Cagliostro and Weisshaupt before him.
However, his obsessive plotting and tradecraft fuelled an anarchist and, subsequently, Leninist reality of secret cadres planning the overthrow of States.
When Lenin spoke of the necessity of a revolutionary cadre to effect a revolution (when economic crisis and a collapse in the ruling order had enabled a seizure of power), he was re-inventing the French Revolution along conspiratorial lines - no less than Nesta Webster and Barruel.
Anarchist revolutionaries, especially the Nihilists, continued to demonstrate the utter ineffectiveness of secrecy and plotting as more than the occasion of violence and murder (and of intensified repression such as Metternich might have approved).
Lenin, a political genius, turned the myth into reality through intellectual discipline. But that is another story ... this book ends in the late 1820s just before the Revolutions of the 1830s would switch our attention back to the great tidal waves of history that Marx and Engels were more interested in.
In that context, Lenin is a sort of synthesis between European political narratives. He 'industrialises' secret conspiracy.
Where I have my doubts about the book is where I have my doubts about nearly all formal academic writing on conspiracy – an imaginative inability to understand or explore the psychological importance of such theories in filling a vacuum of knowledge in times of fear and insecurity.
To be fair, this is a book of history and not psychology and Roberts does touch at the end on the psychological aspects, if all too briefly.
I would argue that conspiracy theory and paranoia are legitimate actors (if with tragic consequences) under conditions where Power holds all the informational cards.
The difference between Roberts’ and our world is the internet - and Roberts is, of course, closer to the mental world of Lenin than that of Assange.
The establishment’s fear of the internet as the basis for a revival of the worst sort of conspiracy theory may be misplaced for a curious reason.
When the internet first appears, it appears suddenly in the face of an Authority (Power) that has defined the political narratives of the population, with diminishing competition, over the whole industrialising process.
The grand narratives of the elite have succeeded one another with little contribution from below except as walk-on parts as rioters or lobby fodder. The Arab World is going through this process now.
Suddenly, Power's ability to define narrative collapses from above with the arrival of the internet and the first reaction of the population is to flood the vacuum with alternative stories based on poor critical faculties, natural distrust, limited experience of Power (except as subjects of it) and very poor reasoning ability.
Although this condition persists across much of the world (and 9/11 and the Iraq War hit the internet formation process at a critical juncture in this respect), the internet is rapidly becoming self-organising through rational hacktivism, community management and a responsiveness on the part of the more intelligent parts of Power
The information vacuum that fed paranoia is beginning to fill with real information. That information is being pumped into a market that is learning not only to be more critical but to argue a critical stance within itself against its more ignorant members.
The social networks are becoming huge political education machines rather than, as originally thought, huge machines for political mobilisation (the rioter and outraged NGO model).
The next stage is actual political organisation which we are beginning to see with the Pirate Party and, conceivably though uncertainly, Zero State. Occupy will feel very naive, the last gasp of Obama-ism, against the rise of new organisations from below that can capture electoral space.
Wikileaks is only part of this massive revolution which embraces the coming semantic web and the creation of focused ‘gardens’ of accessible knowledge.
The numbers of the truly ignorant and passive are still large but the informationally engaged and active population is increasingly in command of its own analysis while selected non-elite leadership groups are self-teaching themselves politics under new conditions.
There is no need for grand conspiracy theory today because we now know that Power largely consists of surprisingly incompetent people only with access to force and the passive complicity of the population between them and dissolution.
If the population becomes questioning and resists force from a sense of its own potential and a cessation of socially constructed fear of consequences, it has no need for a myth justifying its own impotence.
Yes, there are still ‘conspiracies’ but these are the small-scale conspiracies that are practical, rational ones of interest – of bankers, vote-grabbers and special interests.
Adam Smith referred to these and they will always be with us. Indeed, they will replicate within the new self-organising politics because no utopian idealist can escape the actuality of the human condition.
The current political machine can now be seen as ramshackle, so ramshackle that the brutal failure of the Leninist seizure of power can now be explained. Anyone who seizes the levers of power without having built a popular base of some sort can do little than use terror and rely on zombie-like habit to get anything useful done.
Bolsheviks could ignore an election because they could seize a State with a monopoly of information - today, no State can expect to hold onto that monopoly for long.
Conspiracy theory is thus the product of impotence in the face of rapid change. The question becomes today whether the internet will change the situation by transferring new potencies to the masses. If so, there may be much less need for paranoia.
If anything, it is the State that has now become paranoid, what with drones, terror alerts and mass surveillance and nudge strategies to hold back, Canute-like, the spread of questioning and community organisation. Roles are being reversed.
Notes are private!
Jul 07, 2012
Jan 01, 2001
Oct 01, 2001
Almost hypnotically repetitively at times, this might be the book that Machiavelli could have written about love if he had been a jaded modern.
Almost hypnotically repetitively at times, this might be the book that Machiavelli could have written about love if he had been a jaded modern.
Unfortunately for those determined to be 'nice' in the world, there is scarcely a line in this book that does not ring true.
For better or worse (depending on your stance), Greene is persuasive that seduction is a game between equal partners where the 'victim' is willing enough for what they will get out of the process.
It is about the flow of power between sexually alive people and no means to be compared with the 'game' genre of Neil Strauss and others.
Far more sophisticated than Strauss' manuals for adolescent losers and the sexually autistic, Greene is not interested in seduction as a mechanical application of rules for sex. He writes of art, not science.
What he is showing us is something closer to a dance or a ritual (think of the tango perhaps) which obeys rules derived from a deeper level of shared or unconscious desires and fears and where, while the sexual element is central, it is the process that matters.
The book is also pleasurable for entirely different reasons. Greene is master of the historical anecdote. Every chapter has well chosen illustrative examples from literature and history.
Although he does not preclude rational love between consenting adults by any means, there is enough evidence here of eternal truths about sexual relations which apply to male and female alike (albeit with different ‘modes’) and in homosexual liaisons as well.
We are talking here about a flow of power and desire between equals. There is no game if the other is not a free and equal participant. It is chess played by bodies in time and space.
One’s reaction to this book will come down to aesthetics and to anxiety. It is a very unromantic book by conventional and Anglo-Saxon standards but it is not reductionist about sex.
The person who will be entranced by this book will be the natural seducer, one who takes simple pleasure in pleasure and treats life like a game. I was not entranced, just interested and appreciative.
Many of the tales derive from high-ranking courtly cultures where seduction and romance were bound by rules of conduct that were strict enough to suggest appropriate behavior but not so strict as to introduce bourgeois guilt or shame into the game of sexual conquest.
Indeed, there is no room at all for shame or guilt, only for winning and losing … or perhaps for playing elegantly and still losing, more than winning too easily or in an ignoble way.
The attitude to sex is also counter-intuitive to Anglo-Saxon moderns. It is presented as a prize and not as some 'sacred' thing alienated from the bodies that couple. It is a fact on the ground. A pleasure.
Greene occasionally applies his analysis of technique to politics and there are many ‘democratic’ era cases of seductive power – Marilyn Monroe, Errol Flynn, Duke Ellington are all cited at length.
If the cynicism of his political analysis reminds us that people are stupid rather than eliciting admiration for the political seducers, when it comes to sex, there is no question of stupidity.
In every tale of sexual seduction, we are not dealing with coercion but with something like a willing suspension of disbelief where the seduced often gets precisely what they want, whatever the rest of us may think.
He refers to the festival and to the theatre often, but also to seduction as the means by which our 'dark side', which is important to us to recognise in order to be whole persons, is allowed full play.
I would add that the transgressive aspects of seduction can allow individuation to both parties – it would often seem that seducers get trapped in the game, while the seduced move on into something different.
Greene more than once tells stories that suggest that a seduction becomes an integral memory that moulds the future mind for the better, removing someone from past habits that do not reflect who they are.
Naturally ‘Les Liaisons Dangereuses’ pops up as a case study in more than one chapter (designed to be a sequence that draws you into the seduction process).
The Presidente de Tourvel is presented as being liberated from her boredom and obligations by the cynical seduction by Valmont. There is truth in this.
Greene is far too simplistic here about politics (one wishes he would just say ‘people are stupid’ and have done with it) but he is far from simplistic on sexual psychology.
He offers a sound corrective to moralists who, like repressed ideologues in politics, seem to leave more pain and suffering in their wake than do cynics and a-moralists.
Strangely and counter-intuitively, while some seducers come across as the worst sort of bully (D H Lawrence was an utter monster), others come across in quite a different way - providing a sort of liberatory service that costs them far more than it costs their alleged ‘victims’.
In short, seduction emerges to be morally far more interesting than we thought. Quite often we see the ostensible predator out-classed by a skilful 'victim' so that roles are reversed ...
If morality is good order as dictated by some Iron Age text, then seduction is to be consigned to the pits of hell. But if it is the hand-maiden or servant of creative individuation, then it is conventional morality that might stand in the dock.
Of course, nothing is so simple. Just as religion brings solace as well as repression, so some seducers are simply cynical and cruel while others are exciting and challenging.
This book is recommended not as a ‘how to’ (since, for most people, it is would be like reading a book on how to win an Olympic Medal), but as an insight into what we are as human beings.
If we all had developed the art of seduction and of being seduced to meet our own dark desires, then perhaps there might be a lot less boredom and neurosis in the world.
If we knew how to play our own part in the game with others who knew how to play theirs (if, in fact, the aristocratic court of Japan or Louis XVI became democratised with leisure and an instinct for pleasure for all) might not life be not only more interesting but less deadly dull?
But anyone who thinks that human beings are basically ‘good’, that ‘caring’ cannot become unutterably boring and intrusive or who thinks that most relationships can last forever without some transgression and hysteria will hate this book. It is only for grown-ups.
Notes are private!
May 13, 2012
Apr 17, 2004
It may seem odd to give this book only four stars and yet give the older Bahn book on Ice Age art five - see http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/11... It may seem odd to give this book only four stars and yet give the older Bahn book on Ice Age art five - see http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/11... - but there is a reason.
There is absolutely no doubt of the value of Lewis-Williams attempt to create a theory of cave art nor the insights that he provides into consciousness studies and what such studies may be able to tell us about the motivations and culture of palaeolithic homo sapiens.
The doubt derives from the same scepticism about what we can ever actually know that we recorded in our review of the earlier work. The data is too spread out over too great a length of time and is too represented by what can survive materially to allow any strong claims of knowledge.
All theory in this area tends to tell us more about our preoccupations than those of pre-historic man and woman, although one must concede that each intervention by the Academy does add something, a new angle to compare with the angles shown to us in the past.
But caution is inevitable, much as one should be deeply cautious about constructing theories of rampant matriarchalism from fat little stone ladies when textiles, wood carvings and body decoration have long since decayed, let alone social structures and micro-environments.
Yes, there are limitations on what might have been thought which arise from simple ecological truths and which do permit some analogy from current indigenous activity but modern indigenes are not ancient peoples – though, to be fair, Lewis-Williams does put in his own caveats here.
But the real warning signs that we may be jumping too far ahead in our thought processes lies in the closing words of the book.
The author quotes Julian Jaynes in his claim that we see a break in consciousness in the break between the Iliad and the Odyssey in order to make his own claim. Oh dear! What is it with academics who take textual history as human history?
Forget Jaynes. Lewis-Williams dumps text but replaces it with art, equally unwarrantably. There is no evidence of actual brain structures changing very much in thousands of years for the simple reason that brain structure is an evolved function and evolution is a slow and wasteful process.
Indeed, Lewis-Williams’ core argument depends on comparative consciousness studies that assume such long range structural similarities for them to make any sense - and yet here we have appeal to the sort of radical view of consciousness change that appeals to New Agers.
Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens will have had very different modes of consciousness because of their different speciation (meaning different brain structures) but we see no necessity for the nature of the sapient form to provide more than the fact of art rather than its precise forms.
This does not diminish the thesis that rock art forms have some derivation from altered states and that, possibly (which I find plausible), 'artists' and shamans could manipulate social conditions to their own benefit. Both those propositions are highly plausible.
I have no doubt that homo sapiens has heard ‘inner voices’ in the palaeolithic age but we are equally certain that those ‘inner voices’ are not of one kind that morphs into another kind over time but were as variant then amongst individuals as they are now.
The artistic impulse may just as likely then, as now, be much more complex in its relationship to so-called spiritual, magical and community impulses than we like to think. Lewis-Williams’ theorizing seems plausible but, I repeat, we should not be seduced into believing we know.
What we have to be careful of is assuming that the rock art we see and the social change being postulated is quite so neatly connected as the theory suggests. The truth – we do not, cannot and never will know. In some cases, they may be and, in others, not. Grand narratives are presumptuous.
Nevertheless, though perhaps a trifle intellectually confused at the end (simply pushing Jaynes back a few thousand years with no sounder evidence than Jaynes has for the claims he makes), this book is still highly recommended.
It is full of scholarly and intelligent material on a number of related issues – Western European cave art itself, consciousness studies, the history of archaeology and the rock art of Africa and the Americas. There is easily enough evidence to come to an independent view of one’s own.
Notes are private!
Apr 28, 2012
Feb 01, 2012
May 01, 2012
This is a common sense account of the state of our 'understanding' (if that is the right word) of the supernatural - as it stands at the beginning of This is a common sense account of the state of our 'understanding' (if that is the right word) of the supernatural - as it stands at the beginning of the twenty-first century.
Ruickbie's book is a game of two halves. The first half looks at the phenomena (ghosts, the undead, angels, demons and extraterrestrials) and the second explores approaches to the phenomena, from magic through spiritualism to parapsychology and to the application of scientific method.
It is not encyclopedic about the supernatural in general (shape-shifters and werewolves are notable for their absence) but is almost encyclopedic within the categories, with detail, for example, on the history of angels and demons in our culture that really is enlightening.
His method is helpful too. He starts each section with a well written keystone narrative, from Borley Rectory in the ghost section through to the story of Mesmer in the section on science, before going into the history of the phenomena.
He also adds copious footnotes which may not prove that X exists but which certainly show that he is not making things up as far as reporting that others believed that X existed or manifested itself.
He also keeps a bit of excitement in the narrative so that you are allowed to consider a phenomenon as reasonably considered to be real by sound minds until there is some material proof of fraud or error. His account of the Fox sisters is exemplary in this regard.
So where are we at the end of all this? The sensible conclusion is that human interest in anomalies is perfectly reasonable because a lot of anomalies exist but whether those anomalies demonstrate a world that is essentially spiritual is far from proven and more unlikely than not.
But if the evidence for the actual entities that men believe in is extremely tenuous, nevertheless the world of ghosts, angels, demons and ETs (if certainly not mummies, vampires and zombies) does arise from some events that may be material but are not fully understood.
The question is whether what is being experienced are tricks of the mind, that is, of the material brain, or are mental observations of real events outside the self which are being interpreted in anthropomorphic terms as particular types of entity or phenomena.
The jury is out but both ‘tricks of the mind’ and ‘external but falsely interpreted events’ can be understood within an essentially materialist world view. Indeed, both are more easily explicable in terms of unknown physics and neuroscience than in terms of gods and monsters.
This is why the so-called progress from magic to science through the Christianised attempt to cope with the phenomena in nineteenth century spiritualism may not be as clear cut as we would like.
It might be that ‘magical’ thinking, clearly absurd at the core level of correspondences and sympathetic magic, may simply be an over-elaboration of truths about the functioning of the unconscious or the body-mind in the world that science may never have the tools to describe.
In other words, a skeptical approach (as opposed to a sceptical one), as held by hard-line positivists, may be appropriate towards religion and to the ways our species reinvents the phenomena culturally but it may not be helpful in understanding the phenomena themselves.
The virtue of the scientific approach may be paradoxical. Parapsychology and scientific method cannot do much more than confirm what underlies the phenomena – that there are anomalies in our understanding of the world which cannot yet be explained as obvious cause and effect.
It is not that cause and effect are not central to the phenomena but that that we do not have the perceptual tools to identify connections that are anomalous and certainly not simple. We do not see the linkages but just because we do not see them does not mean that they are not there.
Science allows the possibility of an unknown material cause and effect to displace imaginative and culturally bound attempts to explain what may never be explained and, even if explained, can almost certainly never be utilized.
One important thing that Ruickbie does in the book is to re-establish the centrality of Judaeo-Christianity as the grounding for explanations in past approaches to the supernatural within our culture. This is not only in relation to angels and demons but also to the adoption of spiritualism.
The secularization of our society has since shifted the supernatural into popular culture and into the new religions, both of which find Christianity uncomfortable – as they should, because it is nonsense designed to explain the inexplicable. But the new forms are not much better at the job.
Just as the creation of our artistic and musical traditions cannot be understood without reference to Christianity, so our perceptions of the supernatural, especially a persistent and neurotic belief in a life everlasting, rely on Christianity’s reinterpretation of our instinctive shamanism and magical thought.
Ruickbie’s account references Christian magical thinking at every turn – in ghosts, angels and demons – showing how it reinterpreted older shamanistic and pagan traditions and, as it receded as a force in our culture, left the space for extraterrestrials, ultraterrestrials, wandering souls and shadow people.
The conclusion has to be that it continues to be worth investing in further research into parapsychological anomalies, into the psychology of perception and consciousness and into the furthest reaches of speculative activity into the laws of our universe.
However, such enquiries must be understood to be at the limit of what we as humans can cope with mentally. The core anxieties of our species about death and the world will mean that most minds most of the time will either choose not to think at all or to think only in magical terms.
In short, an excellent brief guide to a subject that is not trivial but is at the core of our understanding of ourselves.
Notes are private!
Mar 31, 2012
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